Thursday, December 31, 2015

Kim Nazarian, Some Morning

With all the hoopla surrounding Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday we are reminded just how much the swinging jazz-inflected singing of "standards" and contemporary song remains very much alive. Of course Frank was a master artist and deserves remembrance regardless of what is stylish nowadays or no. But frankly there seem to be so many singers working within the standards jazz paradigm that I marvel at the current superabundance. So I hear a great deal of it in the course of my preliminary listens, but I only have the time and space to cover the very best of them.

And it perhaps all fits with the looking-back masterpiece series "Madmen," doesn't it? I watched with rapt attention as the paradoxical complexities of the era were re-presented to us. Why has to do perhaps with the shock of recognition: the past is very past by now, whatever it represented. Plus the bachelor pad phenom has come to our collective folk memory and vocal jazz fits in that mold often enough. I should not be surprised that a rethinking of the music of that era should be very much with us.

Kim Nazarian rises to the top of the many vocalists practicing today, and so I am happy to write about her album Some Morning (KIMG Music). This is Kim's first solo outing. She has been an integral member of New York Voices, whose music I've happily covered here. The album and Kim's beautiful vocal instrument is greatly aided by her full-band arrangements and the appearance of some notable sidemen, including Gary Burton, Paquito d'Rivera, John Pizzarelli, and Roger Humphries or my old Boston roomie Jamey Haddad on drums.

We get some fine standards in "Robbin's Nest" and "What'll I Do" and some things that stand out in the newer, original vein, such as the very lyrical "All in My Heart."

Kim's beautiful tone, impeccable phrasing, hip scatting and jazz immediacy carry the day. It is an album put together with great artistry and attention to detail. And so it no doubt serves as a model of how to do it right. Most importantly, though, it establishes Ms. Nazarian as at the forefront of mainstream jazz vocalists today. And it grabs you and enthralls you the more you listen. A breakthrough vocal talent and a very worthy album this represents!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mack Goldsbury, Andreas Scotty Bottcher, Lou Grassi, Inner Cinema, 1997

From the netherworld of unreleased concert recordings emerges an unexpected gem in Inner Cinema, a 1997 date from Dresden. It features a very creative threesome in Mack Goldsbury on soprano, tenor and flute; Andreas Scotty Bottcher on piano, bass and synthesizer; and Lou Grassi on drums and percussion.

What is remarkable about the trio convergence is the wealth of invention generated by all concerned. Mack Goldsbury (who fruitfully teamed again with Grassi recently on The Last of the Beboppers; see the March 26, 2015 post here) fires up with beautiful sounds and much to say linearly in his solo space. Andreas Scotty Bottcher brings pianistic maelstroms of declamatory extroversion and then surprises with some very together bass/bass synth; Lou Grassi shows roots and freedom excellence as he swings, freely articulates and funks out (the latter for the final piece), all in ways that demonstrate his eminent vitality as one of the premiere nujazz drummers of our time.

There are seven spontaneous eruptions of instant composition to be heard here, not always in the free-jazz idiom in terms of notes, but always significant and art-creationist.

Goldsbury and Bottcher can explode with soulful fire at times while Grassi stokes the flames with powerful, exuberant swing and some considerably loose-taut and accomplished solo time as well.

This is a band caught in an especially lucid frozen moment. They are inspired and unpredictably original--moving from station-to-station with multi-stylistic force and cogency. There are some synth-bass and piano simultaneities that are nothing short of breathtaking, but then Lou is doing something exceptional in a free-quasi-Latin mode and Mack comes back in on soprano and the band travels further onward to other realms, moving from strength-to-strength.

This is free music in Sam Rivers' classic sense--they play what they feel is right at any point in time, disregarding anything save the necessity of doing what their musicality suggests in the moment. So it can get soulful, or go linear-tonal, can worry some phrases or rhythmic patterns, or just blaze ahead. The many shifting moods and inspirations are what cauterize the concert and keep your ears ready for whatever may come.

It is the complete freedom, and even freedom from the usual freedom, the ever-swerving barometer of musical direction and inspiration that mark this set as special for all three, singularly and collectively.

Yeah, man. Good music, this!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

John Wetton and the Les Paul Trio, New York Minute, Live at the Irridium, New York, 2013

John Wetton is one of the iconic vocalists of our times. His work with King Crimson and UK, and later on his own, put him in that special original stylistic vocal place in prog along with Jon Anderson and Greg Lake. He appears in a slightly different context before us here in a live date at Irridium in New York, 2013, with the Les Paul Trio after Les had left us.

New York Minute (Primary Purpose 003) brings together Wetting in great vocal form with Nikki Parrott on bass, Rodney Holmes on piano and Lou Pallo on guitar. It is a program of modern standards from the rock and pop of the later 20th century and then a couple of Wetton songs for good measure.

This is not precisely jazz, nor is it precisely rock in the hard-hitting sense. It is a sincere effort to showcase some songs that Wetton has found transformative, as have many who lived in his times, including me. So we get Steely Dan's "Do It Again," Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?", Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows," Winwood's "Can't Find My Way Back Home" and Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," among others.

The combination of Wetton's clarion voice and the straightforward treatment of the well-known songs outside of Wetton's usual purvey may perhaps seem like something puzzling before you hear it. Once you do, well if you are like me, there you are. It is the power of Wetton's voice that carries it convincingly, along with a solid instrumental backing.

It came to me as a pleasant surprise. It rings true. It may not topple the applecarts of the establishment, but that's not what it is for. It's quite nice, I must say. And it leaves you feeling like you've heard something worthy. And so you come back to it again and feel again the pleasure of it. That's how it is. Check it out.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mette Henriette

From Norway we experience today the music of young tenor saxophonist-composer Mette Henriette in a self-titled two-CD set of her chamber jazz (ECM).

The full complement of artists on the set are as follows--Mette Henriette: saxophone; Eivind Lønning: trumpet; Henrik Nørstebø: trombone; Andreas Rokseth: bandoneon; Johan Lindvall: piano; Sara Övinge: violin; Karin Hellqvist: violin; Odd Hannisdal: violin; Bendik Bjørnstad Foss: viola; Ingvild Nesdal Sandnes: violoncello: Katrine Schiøtt: violoncello; Per Zanussi: double bass; Per Oddvar Johansen: drums, saw.

The first disk features trio music with Mette, pianist Johan Lindvall and Katrine Schiøtt on cello for composed-improvised chamber jazz both at times very lyrical and other times quite dramatic. Disk two unveils the 13-piece ensemble for an ambitious music that straddles classical and modern jazz zones in ways that defy easy categorization.

Mette has a lucid, fluid, expressive tenor style that for this music is firmly a part of the whole yet stands out in original ways. It is the compositional confluence in the end that establishes Mette here as a new voice, however. This is at times music of a post-Weill, post-Carla Bley, post-Mantler strength, winding its way organically through intricate part writing, expressive moments of improvisational power with contrasting lyrical reflectiveness. It is the bi-polar arcs of mood and instrumental texture that define Mette Henriette as rooted in the modern yet determined to say her say as a voice of our times. In the end it goes beyond Weill-Bley-Mantler models in ways not easily defined, and that is great.

It is not music easily described because it does not sit comfortably in a single genre. It is avant and sound-color oriented, yet melodically singular when she chooses to evoke a tonal palette. There is ever a sure sense of direction, of strength and fragility, beauty and brashness.

If "third stream" were still a term that has cogency today I could evoke such a term. But in doing that it nonetheless does not do justice to the unexpectedness of Mette Henriette's vision.

Instead I would underscore the idea that we have a new voice of great promise to be heard on this set. Those who gravitate toward "serious" jazz-classical hybrids should most definitely hear this music several times. It is NEW with all the connotations that word has had for us over the years. And it is exceptionally so. I look forward to more of her in the coming years!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Katie Bull Group Project, All Hot Bodies Radiate

I happen to believe that the hardest thing to get right in modern avant jazz is the vocals. Using the human voice as an expressive instrument is no simple matter. It calls for dexterity, imagination, and exceptional musicality. Katie Bull finds her own way on these often treacherous paths. Perhaps her very best effort just came out--The Katie Bull Group Project and All Hot Bodies Radiate (Ashokan Indie 101).

It's a band that coheres with Katie's compositions at the center. Joining her is a select group of players that can take things wherever they need to go. Landon Knobloch is on piano and electronics, George Schuller is on drums, Jeff Lederer on soprano and tenor, and Joe Fonda on bass. These are some of the most inventive on the New York scene today and they respond to Katie's music with a free propulsiveness and creative improvisational stance that puts it all together.

Other than the beautiful standard "If I Loved You" these are all Katie's compositions, with poetic immediacy and substance. The combination of the musically astute qualities of the band and Katie's unforced, natural, multitextured vocalizations is a winning one. She utilizes all the dictional and timbral resources that go into being herself. And she knows when, critically, to stretch into the outside realms and when to root herself in a jazz-noted rubato. It of course exemplifies her own personal, original approach to new jazz vocals. It is not the only way to go out there, but it is a way that establishes Ms. Bull as very musically herself.

Now beyond saying all this, there is something that clicks throughout the album, something beyond words, different enough that you may need to hear this a few times to get used to it. I did. And in the end I come away from this one with a clear sense of Katie Bull the artist. She is a poet, a finely honed instrument, a force in the improvisatory arts. And the band works with her to create something unified and strong, new and ahead yet rooted and structured.

She is a vocalist and artist of completion and broad horizons, a great phraser, a golden instrument and a poet-composer and bandleader that comes through here with beautiful artistry. She is at the top of her game. And it's a great game! I am glad to have this one and I think you will be, too.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Rich Halley 4, Eleven

Tenor stalwart Rich Halley and his quartet continue to grow and get the kind of togetherness that only happens over time. You can hear this especially on the latest by the Halley 4: Eleven (Pine Eagle 008). If I say it's one of the very best of his albums, it has to do with how the four have grown together. Trombonist Michael Vlatkovich is the newest member, but that was by now quite some time ago. The chemistry of Halley, Vlatkovich, Clyde Reed on bass and Rich's son Carson Halley on drums is becoming striking in its power and free discipline.

Vlatkovich is more and more an intertwining force in the front line with Rich, and they both sound terrific together and alone. Still rather young Carson has turned out to be a great drummer, in time and sound. And Clyde holds his own on bass in important ways.

Another factor, always critical to this band but ever more so is Rich's compositions. His "Reification Suite" and the eight other originals featured in the album run a gamut of possibilities and in the process create memorable matrices for the grooves and excellent soloing.

And then there is Rich's tenor, ever in an original zone that synthesizes the history of the music and makes of it something other. He sounds as inspired as ever here.

If you do not know the Halley 4 and crave some original jazz that reflects the new thing of Ornette and Archie Shepp and goes with that and high bop roots to get someplace different, Eleven is a great way to introduce you to the music. If you know some of the others, this one is an essential.

Kudos to the Rich Halley 4!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Super Hi-Fi, Yule Analog, Vol. II

For you last-minute holiday types, I just received a fun Christmas album by Super Hi-Fi, namely Yule Analog, Vol. II (superhifimusic). It is trombone reggae-dub versions of Christmas music all will know, plus "Please Santa Bring Me an Echoplex", an original.

You get the old Trojan Records dub sound in all its brashness, including echo of course. The band has plenty of trombone with Rick Parker and Curtis Fowlkes and a good rhythm section in Jon Lipscomb on electric guitar, Ezra Gales on bass (and a bit of vocal), Madhu Siddappa on drums and a few guests here and there.

It's all great fun as they blast their way through some seemingly unlikely chestnuts like "Silent Night," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" and "What Child is This?" But it works and puts you in a rollicking mood that leaves you reaching for the eggnog.

It would not be the choice for those wishing to create a reverent sort of atmosphere, surely, but I think you might already figure that. It is a blast, though! A hoot! And at the end it gets pretty out there.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Josh Berman Trio, A Dance and A Hop

No kidding, Chicago is producing some of the finest new jazz on the planet. The new generation of players have stayed put in Chi-town and/or they have expanded outward to form a Chicago diaspora in other urban centers both in the US and abroad.

There are some great recordings being made of the new Chicago thing. Delmark as to be expected has covered an excellent sampling of it and today we have another: cornetist Josh Berman and his trio doing A Dance and A Hop (Delmark 5021). It is album number three for Josh, comprising a trio of players very familiar with each other, with a long history of playing together.

Josh is joined by Jason Roebke on acoustic bass and Frank Rosaly on drums, one of the very best rhythm teams to be had, certainly. And the originals here have the newness of the unexpected along with jazz roots. The band brings out the astute rhythmic and melodic hipness in the best ensemble trio-work manner.

Berman shows that he nowadays can thrive mightily in an exposed trio context. And that he does, with a fluidity of invention, a pinched clarion purity spiced by expressive swoops, growls and split notes. The mid-to-upper range is prominent and his tone is distinctively his.

Jason Roebke gets plenty of space to give us both the solo and ensemble version of his bass inspirations. And Frank Rosaly as ever has the potent swing and musical flexibility to stretch time and mark compositional figures or comment on improvisational doings with all the earmarkings of a percussion colossus. And check out his solo on "Luggage"!

When you combine the compositionally striking material with the improvisational prowess of a trio who knows where to go and heads out in the right ways every time, you have an album that stands out as an outstanding document of why Chicago is a center of the new jazz, as it just about always has been.

The Berman Trio gives you every reason to celebrate the new on A Dance and A Hop. I strongly recommend this one.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

David S. Ware / Apogee, Birth of A Being (Expanded), 1977

How much we have lost with the passing of tenor titan David S. Ware is especially clear when you listen to the expanded edition of his first recording as a leader in 1977 with his trio Apogee, Birth of A Being (AUM Fidelity 096/97 2-CDs).

Plain and simply, it is a remarkable recording. The original, shorter version was put out by Hat Hut as an LP in 1979. And now for the first time we hear the complete session. Joining David's tenor is the energetic all-over piano of Cooper-Moore and the virtuoso force of drummer Marc Edwards. This is the right band for David's avant-spiritual power debut as each member of the group comes through with performances that parallel Ware's in their creative onslaught of significant sound.

For the expanded version of the album we get the Hat Hut material remixed plus a full CD of additional music, including a worthy alternate take of "Prayer," the lengthy numbers "Cry" and "Stop Time, a brief "Ashimba" (Cooper-Moore on his hand-made xylophone) and a Ware unaccompanied solo tenor spot. Put that together with the original released version and you have a hugely impressive date, with David on fire with passion, energy and that great big sound he had already mastered.

Marc Edwards by then had perfected his very busy, driving and dense free drum style (he and David were key figures in Cecil Taylor's band during this period) and Cooper-Moore had developed a strong presence as a convincingly engaged, extroverted and very musical splatter-note pianist. They form with David a highly combustible unit at its peak, absolutely driven and devastating in their expressive power.

The music goes from strength-to-strength in a blazing meteoric flight across the firmament. This is some of the most engaging free jazz of its time, without a doubt. It's been 30 years since the original LP went out of print, but the time is most definitely now for a re-appraisal of this trio and the full impact of the complete session. It is phenomenal music!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Food, This is Not A Miracle

We linger today on the Norwegian-UK duo Food, a group who first saw the light of day in 1998 as a quartet but later paired down to the present configuration of Thomas Stronen on drums, electronics, percussion, Moog and Rhodes; and Iain Ballamy on saxophones and electronics. For their latest album, This is Not A Miracle (ECM 2417) they are joined by Christian Fennesz on guitar and electronics.

This is a most happy blend of ECM ambiance and electronics, alternatingly deeply flowing and sometimes somewhat disjunctively turbulant.

The electronics, sustained deep-welled guitar and general cavernous depths contrast with the pulsations of the drums and the saxophone's melodic-lyrical soliloquies.

What is remarkable and appealing about this album is not its virtuoso rapidity, though the drums do a bit of that now and again, but its rhapsodic, reflective space-age slowness. Worlds unfold in each selection with no hurry to get to a destination, though the 11 segments are all relatively brief. They open themselves up to your ears with careful ambient sonic design and in the end set mood without sacrificing substance.

It is music of a particularly singular way of being spacy, a way that takes us to special places where we can drift awhile, then return to our everyday life with the feeling of having dwelt in benevolent dream worlds.

It's a new space age for us to experience. Very well done and so quite recommended.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble, Changes

Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble returns with their sixth album, Changes (MeII). It is something a bit different from the ensemble, in that they do not use as source material Judaic melodies, but instead strike out on their own with a set of originals. The band retains the strengths of its fine players, Eugene Marlow on piano and arrangements, Bobby Sanabria on drums, Michael Hashim on alto and soprano, Frank Wagner on bass and Matthew Gonzalez on percussion.

There are a couple of worthy duos for piano and bass, one with a scat vocal by Marlow. There are some Latin tinged numbers, no surprise there, and some otherwise contemporary bopping/post-bopping jazz.

All the players get a chance to shine and the music ranges from the directly swinging to the edgy.

With the concentrated inspiration of the band and the nicely laid out originals time flies quickly, and before you know it you are at the program's conclusion.

This may not be the place to start with for the Heritage Ensemble, fine as the album is. The Judaic-tinged CDs give us something more startling in their combination of modern jazz and Jewish heritage. (See the search box above for my reviews of several of those albums.) Nonetheless Changes reminds us that all are very accomplished artists no matter what the setting, and the different settings give us another side of the music in nicely done terms.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Hugues Vincent, John Cuny, Tagtraum

In the musical universe we currently inhabit in time and space, there is a burgeoning school of improvisers in the new music camp that bear our scrutiny well. I speak of a loose confederation of improvising musicians in France, Portugal, Germany and elsewhere on the Continent. There are counterparts in New York and elsewhere in the US, and I have covered many of them over the last several years. Today, however we return to France.

Today a duet between cellist Hugues Vincent, who we have talked about on these pages before, and pianist John Cuny, whose playing is not as familiar to me. They give us a full set of abstract improvisations on the album Tagtraum (improvising beings 42).

This is an extended two-way interaction that models some stunning sound-color essays using extended techniques, different ways of sounding each instrument and on occasion prepared strings.

Vincent is a virtuoso at this kind of improvising, but then John Cuny very much keeps up his end of the dialogue. The different velocities and intersection of dual sonic universes range from sharp pointillisms to simultaneous barrages of thick sound-carpet emanations.

This is uncompromising fare, with little in the way of sound signposts of a secular everyday sort. Instead the two avidly carve out ever-varying shapes built from exotic sounds and quixotic silences, in ever-differing intensities and poetically spontaneous inventiveness.

If anybody but me remembers the Acting Trio album that came out on BYG in 1969, that was a lineage forbear if you need to picture in your mind's ear what to expect. But perhaps there are not so many who know that record. No matter.

Suffice to say that this is full-bore free expression of the highest kind. It will appeal to those adventurous souls who come out of avant jazz or new music camps, or perhaps no camp at all except the camp of the new unknown.

A fine set!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Grego Applegate Edwards Talks About his New Two Volume Suite, Rust Belt

Once again I beg your forbearance as I use this blog space to talk about my latest music, Rust Belt I and Rust Belt II (Ruby Flower Records), which are now available at under Grego Applegate Edwards. As before the "discussion" takes the form of a phony interview of self with self.

Blogger Grego: What made you do this music?

Artist Grego: I guess that's a story in itself. In the past decade I've been doing a lot of reflecting on the area I live in (just outside of NYC on the Jersey side, a once thriving industrial zone) and where I grew up (west of this area in Jersey, just outside a major factory town, Butler). I was taught in college to look at how economic forces help shape the culture that exists in any area and time. I accepted the idea but did not feel it as directly as I have in recent years. Recently I've spent a fair amount of my time in Hackensack, NJ, a very old town that formed as many towns did on the edge of a body of water (the Hackensack River), mostly because of the possibility of shipping-based commerce. Nowadays the town has shown much evidence of the blight of rust belt transformation...seen in the ruins and re-purposing of factory buildings that still dot the landscape. It's no accident that an old Salvation Army headquarters still stands, though perhaps ironically now a real estate office. It was built in the '20s on the eve of the Great Depression, when the beginning of industrial decline first made a real appearance in the area.

Anyway it got me thinking of my early youth. Butler was at one point one of the world's centers for the manufacturing of rubber goods, with the Butler Rubber factory there a major producer of hard rubber items like Ace combs, bowling balls, etc. There was also until 1958 and its fatal destruction by fire the Pequonnock Rubber Reclamation Center--an industrial complex that received endless shipments of scrap rubber--old tires, etc--by rail and melted it all down to create sheets of rubber which then were purchased by rubber manufacturers to make new goods. Between the two of them, Butler employed thousands to work the factories. The entire area centered around the manufacturing of rubber goods economically and socially. My dad made his living selling rubber goods himself--o-rings. Most people in eastern Jersey existed because of manufacturing, one way or another.

When I was four years old I remember one of my first shopping trips to downtown Butler with my mom. It was a god awful inferno of the smells of melted rubber, the thick smoke and the loud industrial sounds coming from both factories, but it was then the principal shopping area, too. So I remember walking down the sidewalk on Main Street with the huge block of wall-to-wall rubber factories going full tilt and giving me a very nauseous feeling, yet on the right of me the many shops. I had ten cents in my pocket and entered the local five and ten--now long gone as are the two factories. That time in 1957 was the end of the road for 78-rpm records but they still could be found, and so in one big bin at the five and ten there was an assortment of cut-out 78 recordings that were on sale for nine cents each. As it turns out they had a Roulette 78 of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross with Count Basie doing "Jumpin at the Woodside" b/w "Rusty Dusty Blues." I bought that one because it looked interesting (mostly because of the visual design on the label) and it turned out it was my first jazz record in what ended up to be a very long line of them.

So thinking back I realized in the last several years that the record existed, that the 5 & 10 existed, we living there existed because of the backbone of industry that thrived all over the region. Without it, everything I did or did not directly experience would have not been possible in the form things took. No job for my father, no 5 & 10, no jazz players making a living, no network of clubs offering music to people, none of it would have existed as it did then.

And now the factories are gone, industry has moved elsewhere, the local 5 & 10 is long gone, the jobs people had for better or worse in industry have disappeared, and the clubs, the record industry that fully thrived on people having spending money for things like jazz recordings, all of it has disappeared in the form that I took for granted as a kid. And looking back in this decade I relived that process lasting some 50-60 years, the process of the making of the rust belt. There was a story there, there was the sound of the factories, the music the factories made possible, the sound of everyday industrial life punctuated by church bells on Sundays, school bells, factory bells, railroad crossing bells, all gradually fading in their own ways and their place taken by whatever it is that makes the Eastern US support a population now, built over a set of crumbling factory foundations, bowling balls, combs and all the other accretions of the local historical industrial world becoming buried in time and space.

That was how I entered into a long sort of aural and mental meditation that culminated in the music of Rust Belt. I pictured the house I live in at the moment, an old one, as no doubt a house occupied by factory workers in the mid-last century. How was it to live there then? I looked around at the changes, felt very directly the economic recession and wondered what it was this part of the US could do now to support the population. Will we all work at fast-food restaurants? Wal-Marts? How can we support life if this is our future?

So it was a period where I suddenly GOT IT--that feeling of time and change and the economics shifting and de-creating a huge complex of lifeways that was the industrial Eastern US. And it gave me sounds and musical ideas that would express the time then, the disappearance, the ghost town of empty or reused factory buildings and the ghosts of the lifeways and the people that toiled and somehow made a living, ate those pancakes and hamburgers, went to high school football games, shopped in the stores, celebrated the war victories or mourned the war dead, listened to radios and TVs that told them something about their lives, raised their kids, did the everyday things we now feel exist a little less and a little less.

By now we know it all changed or is changing and now its all about texting, cell phones, making cell phones in China and selling them here, a life all seemingly centered around those phones. I started feeling vividly all the differences between then and now, for good and ill. I wanted to make that into a musical suite, though at first when I started making the music I had that gotcha enlightenment but did not give name to the music it produced. Only later as I got into it did I see the relationship of the realization of time and process into its direct creative transformation. And then it all really came together. Or I hope it did, anyway!

Blogger Grego: All that as an introduction...I see. Do you always talk/write so much?

Artist Grego: No. But this whole complex of feelings and thoughts I also envision as a novel, where there's going to be even more words, so you should be grateful I don't just spring that on you!

Blogger Grego: OK, OK. So let us get to the music. I heard you mumbling the other day how the music contrasts bell sounds with rust silence. What is that about and how did that come about?

Artist Grego: The image in my head and the sounds that grew in my head have to do with the story--of how the music then filling the world mingled with the sounds of all kinds of bells and the sounds of industry. What I was hearing I set about intuitively to create. For this project it was very much an additive process. I started with bell sounds from various sources and started to manipulate them electro-acoustically. Once I had created some of that I went into the basement studio and tried out some things that might layer atop the sounds, so I grabbed my various guitars, keyboards, drums, percussion and bass guitars that had by then congealed as instruments of choice. One thing lead to another and after trial and error and lots of time playing, listening back and thinking, a suite began to take shape. There were bell sounds, both free and composed elements all falling into various sections. The free and new music elements took shape with a bunch of sections that dealt with rust belt locations, factory rhythms and human rhythms, the punctuation of all the time with bells, the life of the workers and residents centering around periods of work, rest and break time, the ghostly feeling of the loss of all of that and the silent sound of architectural and cultural ruins.

Blogger Grego: Why do you start with "Music on Mbuti Themes"?

Artist Grego: I can't rationally answer that. The Mbuti peoples of Central Africa make some extraordinarily beautiful music and at the same time as this rusty industrial buzz was playing out in my head, there was the contrasting elaborately primal beauty of the Mbuti music that seemed to flicker back and forth in my mind with the music of industry. We all come out of Africa, ultimately, and the Mbuti music symbolized a very different life that we all must have experienced in some way, that we all carry with us in the deep recesses of our DNA and our unconscious music minds. So that seemed like a way to begin--to go back to a beginning and then shoot forward to the industrial revolution, skipping agricultural byways I know, but kind of making a point about the industrial world and how it changed us all quite radically, while also musically giving us other things in response. So that I guess was why. But I just HEARD it as a starting point. I wasn't thinking then WHY I was doing it.

Blogger Grego: And then there are some sections that are more obviously rock oriented, psychedelic in ways.

Artist Grego: Yes--again that all just fell into place because I felt that the music contrasted, gave punctuation, that those passages were like time marking bells of their own, since that style of rock was a big part of my upbringing in this pre-rust world, too.

Blogger Grego: So you ended up with this two-volume suite of music. Is it supposed to show off your being able to play a bunch of instruments?

Artist Grego: No, not really. It has some leeway for just playing, yes, but in no way am I putting myself forward as a guitarist, a keyboardist, or an anything-ist. I play composer's instruments. It was a way to create an orchestral blanket of sounds, to think pretty carefully about sound colors and electric-acoustic blends that expressed the tolling of the bells and the coming of the rust. I hope that each section tells a sonic part of the story, which the song titles pretty much explain. It probably doesn't make sense to talk about the music much further, as the listening will I hope have a kind of narrative beyond my words.

Blogger Grego: "No Putt-Putt for Pop-Pop?"

Artist Grego: Well, yes, at the end Pop-Pop is unemployed, or can't have a car, or is making a hasty retirement from the work world, like it or not!

Blogger Grego: So these albums are out now?

Artist Grego: Yes, happily. I thank Ruby Flower records for putting them out and all who have encouraged me in the last rather tough year I've had. They are priced at $10 per volume, not to make money but to make the music available so that people can hear it. The Amazon link is Copy and paste the url into your browser to get to that page.

Blogger Grego: Anything else you'd like to say?

Artist Grego: Sure, but I think I've said enough already. I humbly put this music out in the hope that it will express something of how I have felt over the last few years about how it is to live through huge changes in your world, OUR world, and what that might sound like. Thanks to everybody out there who reads my blogs and, I hope, might listen to my music, too!

Titi Robin & Mehdi Nassouli, Taziri

From the traditional blues inflected Gnawa music and other strains of traditional Morocco we encounter the fine vocal and guembri bass-toned stringed lute personified in the artistry of Mehdi Nassouli. He joins guitarist Titi Robin in a program of music that extends the music into contemporary world folk avenues without losing the soulful bluesiness of the roots. All this can be heard to great effect on the album Taziri (World Village).

The songs are hybrid collaborations that add traditional Moroccan percussion, European accordion, other instruments and pan-Mediterranean elements for a mesmerizing musical infectiousness. There is plenty of musical content and striking blends of noteful inventiveness.

Sometimes it sounds like a kind of folk-ethnic fusion in its elaborateness. Other times it digs deeply into the centuries of intercultural creative commerce that has marked Eastern Africa and Europe so strikingly over the history of the area.

Our musical heritage on this planet has been sparked and enriched by the love, the coveting if you will, of the music of the other and its respectful incorporation into the musical folkways of the self. This music is an accretion of the endless development of musical culture, an active and positive force ever since humanity first sounded notes and set out rhythms.

Titi and Mehdi give us a set of beautiful music that we need only listen to on this CD to incorporate into our musical beings. It is striking, beautiful, contemporary music that reminds us of our roots in universal humanity.

Striking! Very recommended.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Shujaat Husain Khan, Katayoun Goudarzi, Ruby

I was planning to cover today's album regardless of world events, but Donald Trump's vitriolic racism of late prompted me to respond immediately with this musical example. Only a racist sees the culture and practice of major world religious groups as monumentally singular and evil. Fact is Eye-sill is a rogue upstart in a Mideastern world, a dangerous group threatening to all other Mideastern polities as well as the West. They are no more representative of Islam than Hitler was of Christianity, or for that matter, Trump is of Christianity. They are barbarians in a region where Judaic, Christian, and Islamic civilizations continue to thrive, where it was born. The three "people of the book" have much in common, a shared heritage belied by extremists alien to the traditions of civilization's heartland.

So to counter that we have some beautiful music based on the poetry of the Persian master poet Rumi, one of the cornerstones of world civilization, a genius among geniuses. It is music in the Indo-Pak classical tradition, arranged by sitarist Shujaat Husain Khan and sung beautifully by Katayoun Goudarzi. The words are in Persian, based on the poetry of Rumi, but it is not necessary to know Persian to appreciate the lovely music here.

Along with Khan's lively sitar we have a fairly large Indo-Pak ensemble of master players of the flute, tabla, sarangi, santoor and percussion. It is very engaging and inspired music. Music brings peace. I hope people can hear this music in the spirit of appreciation and yes, in the spirit of solidarity with those oppressed and in opposition to our common enemy.

Very recommended!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Romain Collin, Press Enter

Some albums leave such a vivid impression on me that the review that follows practically writes itself. That feeling comes over me as I write today about pianist Romain Collin and his Press Enter (ACT 9583-2).

This is Romain's third album and it is a very memorable one. It is mostly a set of originals with his trio and some guests here and there. The trio is a lively entity thanks not only to Romain but his very accomplished trio-mates Luques Curtis (doublebass) and Kendrick Scott (drums).

They journey together across some very animated, lyrical melodic-harmonic-contemporary jazz-rock fare that is far from ordinary. It all has some of the lyricism of Jarrett in his early-mid period, without at all sounding derivative for this is Collin music through-and-through.

The compositions are stated loose-tight creatively (with some rubato stretching yet tightly moving forward) and the improvisations are often enough within the song structure architecture.

But the compositions are so strongly put together and memorable you do not find yourself clamoring for more blowing time. There is enough but the songs carry everything forward beautifully. And the improvisatory passages show plenty of pianistic fluidity.

So you are left with some really striking music. Can I leave it at that and suggest you listen? It is very worthwhile music and so I do not hesitate to recommend it to you.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Phil Haynes, Sanctuary

Phil Haynes is a drummer-bandleader of stature and creative...brilliance, I think you could say. His latest album, Sanctuary (Corner Store Jazz 0086), is just him, his drum set and a set of percussive found objects.

So this is a solo drums album, an unusual one in its sonically innovative qualities. He embarks on a five-part suite that makes full use of the various ways of sounding the instrument, from sticks to hands to mallets to brushes, the breath, etc. The segments range from the modern abstract to the mystical to the swinging, and all come together as a unified statement.

The entire program hangs together as a series of sonic poems with a sometimes almost-Asian use of space, but also a mastery of new jazz drumming ways and a sense of melodics that comes out of an acute sense of sound colors in alternation.

It holds its own impressively as percussion music as much or more so than drum soloing. And in that way there are new music elements as well as jazz improvisatory attacks.

In the end we get a very creative approach to the art of drumming, a long episodic essay in sound and one of the more important solo drum offerings in this yet young new century of ours.

Haynes is a dynamo of good ideas here. Anyone who appreciates the power and depth to be had from drumming in our times will find this a great example of the percussive arts. Very recommended.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Creative Music Studio, Archive Selections, Volume 2

In the latest release, Creative Music Studio, Archive Selections, Volume 2 (Planet Arts 301547 3-CDs) we get a wide assortment of never before released gems from Karl Berger's Creative Music Foundation concerts at their center in upstate New York during the fertile period of 1976 to 1981.

There is so much here that is very good and absorbing in varied ways that it defies easy summarization. Each disk in the three-CD set is devoted to a particular ensemble configuration. CD One covers Small Ensembles. To be heard are a duet between Anthony Braxton and Marilyn Crispell, the Kalaparusha Trio, a two piano piece by Frederic Rzewski and Karl Berger, the Paul Motian Trio (with David Izenzon and Charles Brakeen), and Lee Konitz doing a version of "Oleo" with Berger and quintet.

CD Two looks at three large ensembles--headed by Don Cherry, Bakida Carroll and Gerry Hemingway, respectively.

CD Three covers world music and perhaps is the most surprising of the three disks in its thoroughly advanced world eclecticism. There is an ensemble headed by tablaist Ismet Siral, a vina solo by Ustad Dagar, a duet between percussionist Aiyb Dieng and Karl Berger, a trio headed by Paulo Moura on reeds, a djembe solo by Amadou Jarr, and a Colin Walcott ensemble with Colin on sitar, Nana Vasconcelos on percussion, Trilok Gurtu on percussion and Aiyb Dieng on percussion.

What's most important is that it captures a broad spectrum of new improvised music/jazz at a crucial period and documents music and ensembles with examples that flesh out the recorded legacy of these artists with music that differs from or extends the recorded repertoire in very good ways.

To hear those now gone in rare settings--Walcott, Cherry, Motian, Kalaparusha--is to be given very good examples of why they are so missed by us all today. But there are many good and unusual performances from those still with us, too.

It is a testament to the importance and vibrancy of the Creative Music Studio and the artists that graced us with their presence there. The three-CDs are welcome additions, fertile explorations, genuine adventures made at the height of the loft scene and the aftermath. And it of course is a tribute to Karl Berger and his creative presence both in the musical examples and as the organizing force behind a critical institution.

It is all very worthwhile, music you I think will be glad to have and hear repeatedly. Outstanding!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Free Form Improvisation Ensemble 2013, Abdelhai Bennani, Burton Greene, Alan Silva, Chris Henderson

If you want to experience the roots of new thing-avant free jazz-avant improvisation, you of course can go back to Ornette Coleman's classic first recordings, early Paul Bley, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler's first recordings and . . . the Free-Form Improvisation Ensemble. The latter is no doubt the least known but very important and pathbreaking. The original version of the band (which features Burton Greene and Alan Silva) can be heard in a recording from 1964 (see my review from February 19, 2010 that is astoundingly ahead musically.

Now some 40 years later, we get a new incarnation of the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble 2013 (improvising beings 40, 2-CDs) and it is a fine thing to hear. Back are Burton Greene on piano, Alan Silva on orchestral synthesizer, plus Abdelhai Bennani on tenor (who passed away, sadly, not long ago) and Chris Henderson on electric drums.

With so much time passing, so much music by Greene and Silva happily coming to our ears, one would not expect for this fortuitous reunion that the artists would sound precisely the same as they did then. And of course with Bennani and Henderson in the mix, there are important new voices to contribute as well.

Surely this recording shows us a new, evolved freedom. It is not the same music. But look around you, see how much has changed in our world, so how would we expect seminal free music pioneers to have the same musical outlook? This is nevertheless inspired free music, music of today, and we are all the better for it.

Alan Silva's orchestral synth playing gives the group an expanded harmonic and textural base that pulls the music into new territories imaginatively and adroitly, and Burton Greene responds to that sonic directedness with playing that works excellently well, thematically inspired, fully congruent. The two form a dynamic center that Abdelhai Bennani applies his special tenor phrasings to, sounding perfectly right and in total control over his sound and its place in the whole. Chris Henderson embellishes the totality with a vibrant set of colorations wholly right for the spontaneous events at hand.

Saying all that is not saying enough, though. We get two full CDs of music that expresses a contemporary freedom rich in ideas, filled with very directed music that constitutes not a reworking but rather a culmination of 40 years playing and reflecting.

It is the work of seasoned masters, with brilliance and a richness of invention that rivals any free ensemble out there today for focus, relevance, and the excitement of the now.

This is essential listening for avantists, a treasure of the present-day scene. RIP Andelhai Bennani. Long live Alan Silva, Burton Greene and Chris Henderson!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Matt Lavelle's 12 Houses, Solidarity

The open-form freedom, new thing now jazz world of contemporary New York has a 16-member big band that shows us where the music is on a recent release. I'm talking about Matt Lavelle's 12 Houses and their album Solidarity (Unseen Rain 9945). The band runs through six Lavelle pieces that have each a special melodic mood soulfulness and act as a catalyst for the considerable collective and individual improvisational thrust of the band members.

There's Matt on cornet, flugelhorn and alto clarinet (and conduction), Ras Moshe Burnett on tenor soprano, soprano and flute, Jack DeSalvo on banjo and mandola, John Pietaro on vibes and percussion, Francois Grillot on double-bass, Anais Maviel on vocals, plus soprano and clarinet (Odom), alto and clarinet (Waters), baritone and bass clarinet (Stocker), flute and piccolo (Cherney), bassoon (de Brunner), piano (Forbes), violin (Ortman), cello (Selinger), guitar (Nillson) and drums (Sawyer). In other words a very full band with players who articulate the melodic-harmonic gamut with a special collective sound and can blow.

There are some dirge-like threnodies, some sanctified testifying and some blow-outs, all showing a very together Lavelle approach and a group that knows where to go with it all. Ras takes some blistering moments to call the spirits on tenor, Matt shines in his solo moments (dig "Cherry Swing"), but really this is for everybody in the end.

And it is a remarkable set, showing us roots and toots, troubled times and resolved transcendence, queueing up and getting there, a gentleness and a fierceness, fragility and strength, all that it takes to keep scuffling but never shuffling.

It is fabulous music from a band that I hope is destined to become an institution in the city. They have what it takes and they show it, they let loose and blow the world forward.

Lavelle is a trailblazer, a full force, a jazz composer and bandleader of stature, a player of strength and depth. And the band is on it.

So very recommended it is!! Grab one.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The AndersonPonty Band, Better Late Than Never

I promise on these pages to cover rock song and such, and so I unleash today a review of something very good in that mode.

If Yes was a different band altogether and featured Jean Luc Ponty on violin and Jon Anderson on vocals, that's pretty much what you'd get, nicely, with the AndersonPonty Band. I have been watching the DVD and listening to the CD for their recent release Better Late Than Never (Liaison Music 4034), and though I didn't know quite what to expect, it turns out that the band and all concerned are most definitely coming at us with first-rate prog-fuse.

The band is tight and "soundful" in the best sense. Anderson and Ponty are joined by Baron Browne on bass, Jamie Glaser on guitar, Rayford Griffin on drums and Wally Minko on keyboards. These sidemen have much in the way of musicianship and the arrangements give consistent ignition to the material.

Jean Luc is out front very sonorously as the principal soloist and sounds as good as ever. Jon Anderson has lost none of his vocal abilities and matches the Ponty sonority with his own special vocal timbre.

There are some redone Yes classics to be heard here, just different enough that there is freshness and genuine new life to them, even with something like "Roundabout" but also "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and "Time and a Word." There are some new songs, too. They are good.

Both on the live DVD set from a concert at Aspen and on the CD, the band has a happy confluence that I'll admit I was not ready for until I listened a couple of times. It is a beautiful set from a band who most definitely HAS it.

Well, so if you have a place in your heart for prog this will turn you on, I suspect. If my Mets baseball watching this October-November got in the way of DVD time, blame that for my late response. Better Late Than Never, of course. Dig this one.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Manu Katche, Touchstone for Manu

A change of pace today with an anthology of music by drummer Manu Katche, Touchstone for Manu (ECM 2419). We get selections from four albums, covering the period between 2004 and 2012. It is melodious and spacious ECM jazz that features Manu's very interesting jazz-rock playing with a host of sidemen from Jan Garbarek to Tomasz Stanko to Nils Petter Molvaer.

Manu is a drummer who plays an open jazz-rock style with its own twist, interjecting small cymbals and toms into a fluid pulse very nicely.

The music is first-rate ECM style jazz-rock and the soloing and tunes are well done.

I missed this music the first time around and find it quite worthwhile. It will certainly appeal to those who dig the ECM sound harnessed to a rock pulse.