Friday, December 30, 2011

Alex Brown, Pianist: Engaging Latin Jazz Progressive-Style

Alex Brown, young piano fire-starter, seems well on the way to a long tenure as a Latin Jazz adept, with instrumentality, leadership and conceptual-compositional flair. His first album, Alex Brown, Pianist (Paquito 4552) bears this out. It's a program of mostly Brown originals and the spark is there, from Brown and some choice sidemen.

Altoist Paquito d'Rivera, with whom Brown has had an important association, "presents" this recording and adds his alto to the brew. Warren Wolf's marimba, Ben Williams' contrabass, Eric Doob's drums, Vivek Patel's fluegel, and Pedro Martinez's Latin percussion grace the proceedings, some in and some laying out on occasion.

Danilo Perez may suggest himself for comparison. Like Perez, Brown is working on the expansion of the Latin Jazz sound to include modern jazz elements, further rhythmic sophistications and a piano style that includes some of the developments that McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Chic Corea have worked out for themselves over time. That is only to say that both pianists are of their time and have listened to what has been going on on their instrument.

But Brown is still Brown, a musician moving onward to his own turf and bringing a vibrant compositional-ensemble sound to the forefront. And in the process there is some serious burning going on!

If you like Latin Jazz you should definitely check this one out. Alex Brown is headed somewhere and we can go along for the journey.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tony Jones Trio, "Pitch, Rhythm and Consciousness:" Explorations in Chamber Jazz

Tenor saxophonist Tony Jones has gathered together a singular trio and put together a vivid set on the vinyl release Pitch, Rhythm and Consciousness (New Artists 1049LP). They manage to give out with a kind of synthesis between the chamber jazz of the classic Jimmy Giuffre trios and the exploratory subtleties of some of the early AACM small group excursions.

It's Tony on tenor, Charles Burnham on violin and Kenny Wollesen on percussion.

They go from Jones's "Dear Toy," which sounds like a sort of paraphrase of "Don't Explain" with reminiscences of "My Funny Valentine," to more absolute realms of evocative abstract improvisation.

The subtle play of Wollesen's gongs, cymbals and bells sets up a contemplative world that allows for some very introspective tenor and unadorned modernistic violin. There are winding written lines juxtiposed with spatially sensitive freely quiet musical utterances, purely free-form junkets and almost Eastern sounding periodicities.

It's music that does not easily translate into words because it is highly singular. And it is all the more interesting for it.

The album comes with a free access code for a download of the music, so you can have it in analog and digital forms if you wish.

This is a highly interesting, very worthwhile set. Apply your ears to it with earnestness and I believe you will agree.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

TRP (The Reese Project), "Evening in Vermont"

Some music can be straight-ahead without being typical in any predictable sense. Such is the music of TRP (The Reese Project), here in their 9th CD, Evening in Vermont (Rhombus 7016). First off, the group's time together shows in the very flexible but tight ensemble feel. Everything swings with a plasticity that comes about only after mutually rewarding exploratory music-making. Second, the somewhat exotic instrumentation of Tom Reese on flutes, Laurie Haines Reese, cello, Kirk Reese, piano, Dave Young on drums, and guest Tish Haines Brown on violin and viola, gives the group a unique chamber jazz texture, slightly reminiscent of Chico Hamilton's groups of the '50s, but nevertheless singular in its development of that sound.

The band visits some traditional folk and popular melodies newly arranged, some originals of merit by Tom, and a couple of well chosen songbook and jazz classics.

The emphasis is on solid flutework and some nice piano soloing, coupled with the cello walking bass lines, a swinging rhythm section and adept string work.

TRP comes up with some winning music here. It might not be setting the pace for the new century, but it is a very pleasant excursion indeed, by some very accomplished musicians.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Keith Jarrett, Rio, New Solo Piano Improvisations, 2011

Keith Jarrett has been making music in the public eye for more than 45 years. He has made countless appearances and racked up countless releases on solo piano. So when the two-CD set Rio ECM 2198/99 came out, a solo concert appearance made in Rio de Janeiro in April of 2011, I was quite eager to find out what he had done. With all these solo appearances behind him, where Keith has gone into the arena mostly without a pre-set series of compositions to work off of, would he still be fresh? Would he still have plenty of musical ideas to put across to us, as he has done so many times before? The answer is yes. And the answer is also that the Keith Jarrett solo concert of 2011 is not the same as the solo concert of 1973.

He was grown, matured, and for various reasons he is not quite the boiling-over cauldron of energy he once was. That, however, can only be expected in an artist of his stature in later years. There was a youthful fire in his past music; with maturity there is a thoughtful re-appraisal of the various sorts of Jarrettian modes. So in this concert he gives us some of the Jarrettian boogie, the gospel-like voicings, the lyrical, harmonically intricate improvisations, the tumult of improvised notes, in fact everything except some of those long trance-repetition-rituals he used to undergo, and no obvious references to standards. And his technique is not worn on his sleeve so much any longer for various reasons. He makes every note count nowadays.

And that's what makes this concert recording more than "just another" one. The introspective Jarrett comes to be the central expressive fulcrum around which everything else revolves. And it's a pure Jarrettian series of musical statements, ever more boiled down to the essence, sometimes starkly so.

The two CDs rush past the ears in a hurry because the music is so concentrated that time seems to become suspended. It's a very focused Jarrett, older in years, confident in the expression of his life in music. Rio comes off, ultimately, as a real addition to his solo work of a near half century. May there be much more to come.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Andrea Centazzo, Deep Space Adventure Soundtrack, 2011

Many readers will know Andrea Centazzo as that monumental drummer-percussionist who made so many interesting albums with Steve Lacy and a slew of European avant jazz artists for Ictus records. He has another side, however, that you may not be familiar with. He is also a composer.

It is in this latter guise as well as the percussionist of stature that we encounter him on the soundtrack to the Adler Planetarium's new extravaganza, Deep Space Adventure (Ictus 210). I'll admit I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I first put this one on. Knowing the cosmic nature of planetarium shows I knew it would have some sort of space element. Beyond that I was clueless.

It turns out there is a great deal of substance going on. It's Andrea on a battery of percussion instruments, orchestral instrumentalists, and some MIDI synth and sampling production for a large-scale orchestral sound. The result is not jazz or improv, nor is it intended to be. It is a very appealing, spacey-symphonic new music excursion.

At times the percussion leads the music into minimalist-pulse directions, at times there are droning soundscapes, mysterious long notes, rich orchestral largos, spaced out gong envelopes and resonant altered tones. Sometimes the music sounds "progressive" (minus ELP or Jon Anderson). It is tonal centered for the most part, but modern sounding at the same time. And quite lyrical as well.

This is music that holds its own as music in and of itself, as composition. It is very engaging and no small feather in Maestro Centazzo's hat. Check it out.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Colin Stranahan, Glenn Zaleski, Rick Rosato, "Anticipation:" A Different Sort of Piano Trio

If you think that there is nothing new under the sun you may be wrong. Even if it is the same sun, the same "under," nothing really repeats itself in the same way. You can't step into the same stream twice, really. So with the venerable institution of the jazz piano trio. It's the piano, bass, drums configuration each time, but it's not always the same thing over and again. At least not with the trio of Colin Stranahan (drums), Glenn Zaleski (piano), and Rick Rosato (contrabass). At least not with their album Anticipation (Capri 74112-2).

Well then, how is that? These are well-schooled players who are out to capture your ears with some new trists, new twists and turns in the musical roads they traverse. There are a couple of standards (like "I Should Care") a jazz classic (the Davis-Evans "Boplicity") and a series of originals, one or more by each member of the group, that stand out. They stand out as memorable and they stand out because of the care the trio has taken with the arrangements. The latter is true of the entire program. Solos, nicely put together, are set off by nicely patterned arrangement sequences. Like the classic Ahmad Jamal trio, they are a kind of "orchestra in a box," with each instrumentalist having a unique role to play in the whole matrix for any given piece.

And what else? It swings with the happy abandon of some of Corea's classic trios from earlier times, when the players feel the spirit. And it creates other ways to make a statement around the solos as well.

Most importantly all these things work well, thanks to the excellent musicianship on display. Anticipation is no longer a matter of waiting. It's a matter of listening. Good listening to you!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Joe McPhee's Bluette, Let Paul Robeson Sing, 2001

Joe McPhee has been coming into his own for so long, one might say that his outlook borders on continual transformation, continual variation. Good improvisation after all flourishes when players with great talent see fit to mix it up whenever they play.

Joe McPhee's Bluette serves as a good example. It did away with drums and conventional harmonic underpinning instruments in favor of a four-way double duo, so to speak. The Bluette has two dual centers if you ike, one around the "horn section" of McPhee on tenor, fluegel and alto clarinet, and Joe Giardullo on flute and bass clarinet. The second dual center brings in the two-member contrabass section of Michael Bisio and Dominic Duval. The 2001 date Let Paul Robeson Sing (CIMP 257) turns the players loose on spiritual and folk themes associated with the great singer's career, original themes and motifs as well as free-form interactions that do not reference themes per se.

What's remarkable about this session and the group in general is the great wealth of possibilities it realizes: solos, duos of horns, duos of basses, trios of various combinations and of course the full quartet. In Michael Bisio and Dominic Duval one finds an ideal combination of pizz and bowed inspiration. These are two of the very best bassists playing today (and then) in an imaginative zone and they come through. Joe Giardullo has bass clarinet presence here and great flute color; Mr. McPhee of course has no shortage of ideas whatever instrument he may chose to play. His tenor work may identify him in many ways but his work on fluegel and trumpet gives him an alternate persona, and the alto clarinet provides yet another timbre to work out of. The great variety of sound combinations and permutations this ensemble comes up with in the course of the album gives one pause on occasion. It's more than a double duo or a bifurcated quartet. It's an improv kaleidoscope of color, thrust, repose and regrouping.

It is music that one should turn up a little louder than would be the case with commercially ultra-compressed recordings one finds out there. CIMP records sound best when the quietest parts are clearly audible to you in your listening space. Do that and you get the group's tremendous dynamic range, the deep resonance of the basses, the tumultuous power of the horns and the whispers of thoughtful contemplation.

This is an album that plays tribute to the powerful Robeson, his courage in the face of systemized oppression and his ultimate transcendence. The Bluette does not so much tell the story in some musical-literal sense as it uses melodic and expressive elements that capture the man and his times.

It is a marvelously invigorating musical statement. It demands long-term concentration without distraction. Listen several times in such conditions and you will begin to feel the totality of the music as it evolves and develops.

It's a set one must hear. It is a testiment to the generative creative openess and responsiveness of Joe McPhee, Joe Giardullo, Michael Bisio and Dominic Duval. Four exceptional musical minds caught in time, timelessly.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jason Stein Quartet, "The Story This Time"

This time out bass clarinetist Jason Stein puts together a program of jazz-ahead standards by Tristano, Monk, Konitz and Marsh and leavens them with five compositions of his own.

The quartet flows over with some of Chicagoland's best in a freebop mood-mode: Keefe Jackson on tenor and contrabass clarinet, an excellent counterpart on the front line; then there's the ace rhythm section of Joshua Abrams and Frank Rosaly. They can swing strongly or free it up as called for.

The band has established a definite synchronous central point to gather round and they spin in and out of its orbit as the spirit and tenor of a particular piece warrants. Jason and Keith's soloing embodies that tendency with a vengeance; nicely on display throughout are their own personal stylistic traits, which do stand out from the pack. Both can play with fire and originality, and they do most definitely here.

It's one of the best Chicago dates this season. It gives notice that Jason Stein has flowered. It's a goody you should not miss.

David Arner Trio, "Porgy and Bess, Act 2," with Michael Bisio, Jay Rosen

David Arner does not easily pigeonhole. In a way he's the complete jazz-improv pianist, with his sensibility steeped in jazz history and harmony, capable of evoking references to stylistic periods far flung from ours, then embarking on an outside excursion that expresses his modern avant stance beautifully. He encompasses and transforms.

So when he decided to record his impressions of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess it turned out to make lots of sense. For this project he gathered two of the finest improvisers and most sensitive bandmate interactors to go it with him together. There's Michael Bisio, a bassist of great depth and flexibility, and bandleader in his own right. And there's Jay Rosen, best known perhaps for his drumming with Trio X, a musician's drummer who can be called upon to add his trappist drum Monking to any sort of setting with success and artistry.

We looked at the first volume of the project some time ago (see posting from December 9, 2009). Today it is time for Porgy/Bess, Act 2 (CIMP 377), which is in no way a let down from volume one, but rather just as strong.

As in the first effort the principal themes of Gershwin's standards-chockablock weave in and out of the music with free interpretation, interpolation and freely articulated tangents as commentary and expressive impressions.

It's music that can be very subtle at times, very bold and assertive, others.

There is a good deal of space for Arner's fertile imagination and creative improvs. Michael and Jay play critical roles as well, and not just as accompanying fellow-travelers. There are unaccompanied solos by all as well and two- and three-way dialogues.

It shows the artistry of Mr. Arner in full bloom, and the trio at their creative best.

David Arner is one of those must-hear pianists on the scene. This is a great place to hear him. Very much recommended.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kevin Crabb, "Waltz for Dylan": Drummer-led Contemporary Jazz Quartet

If a band is playing contemporary mainstream jazz, swinging is still an important factor. Kevin Crabb's Waltz for Dylan (Crabbclaw) SWINGS.

Crabb plays very together time on drums and that is the backbone of the group's swing. Don Thompson on bass gets with the loosely jointed walking style that picks out choice notes in the changes-tonality and propulses them well. Pianist John Beasely has a Bill Evans harmonic richness and does his right hand improvs with excellent swing sensibility--and I hear the influences of Hancock and early Corea in there too, but with his own inventive flair. Finally, with all this as a set up Kelly Jefferson on tenor and soprano manages to sound mainstream without taking on the mannerisms of the flavor-of-the-month stylistic chic cliques. There is good facility, bright tone and imagination.

The tunes are by Mr. Crabb and they convince.

This may be a sleeper of an album. It is. Wake it up by playing it. Crabb and company have it going for this one.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Travis Laplante, "Heart Protector" for Solo Tenor Saxophone

In some ways the solo saxophone set is the hardest genre for the music writer to evaluate. It is by nature a very personal statement, one man (or woman) alone with the instrument, seeking to make some sort of impactful utterance. Aside from downright incompetence, what factors does one consider when listening? Who is to say that so-and-so should have done this or that, instead of what he did?

Travis Laplante's Heart Protector (Skirl 018) brought such thoughts to mind as I listened. And it was only after I had absorbed the full impact of the entire set repeatedly that a clear picture came to mind of what I was hearing.

There is no question of incompetence here. Everything shows facility and control. It's far from bebop. Now most solo sax disks are, so that isn't something that needs to detain the listener.

There is a formal kind of progression in the five parts on the disk. Laplante goes from harmonics to rapid, two-note alternations with overblowing and underblowing changing the pitch and timbre shape; to overblowing outness a la Ayler; falsetto tones and harmonics; rapid, repeated three- and four-note figurations, again over and underblown to produce variations in harmonics and pitch, evantually modulating to other note-cell structures; and finally, a somewhat pure-toned rumination on a key-centered melodic figure.

In the course of all this Laplante has in common with numerous other modern saxophonists the extension of the sound of the instrument in a jazz vein and an expressive tumultuousness.

Is he better than others doing this? No. But in the end you feel that he has put together a kind of sonic suite that after you've heard it a few times hangs together and stands out in the mind as more than a standard blow-out might in certain hands. It all fits. And it is not fashioned of cliches. So we have something well-conceived. There are only 30 minutes of music, mind you, as a vinyl release. But there is nothing superfluous here, either. It's available as a CD too.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Marquis Hill, "New Gospel" Gives A New Wrinkle to the Old Idea of Funk (in The Horace Silver Sense)

OK, we are cooking today with a vibratory excre- sence-from-good-places, namely Marquis Hill's New Gospel (self released). I can't find the press sheet for this one but no matter. I don't NEED to know. Because my ears tell me all I need. And if the ears don't tell you something all the talking in the world will not be of any use.

This is an album of Mr. Hill's earthy tunes, his hardbopped concept and his classically bop-brassed trumpet stylings. Oh, and there are six other cats doing a fine job: alto, tenor, piano, guitar, acoustic bass and drums.

It's funk in that old Horace Silver sense of plenty of gospel-soul charged natural born pounds of goodness. And when that works today, it's just fresh enough to get you there again and has the soul that transcends time and period. That's what is going on here. It's the Bluenoteyist thing going without sounding like they are just stuck in something.

There's 36 minutes of it. Just enough. You don't NEED to know who these cats are. Just that these cats ARE. "Bells, ding-dong," as Lester would have said.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oscar Perez Nuevo Comienzo, "Afropean Affair:" Latin Jazz with Lift and Fire

Young pianist-composer Oscar Perez fields a hot group of young lions and gives them some very nice compositions-arrangements on a nuevo Latin Jazz outing entitled Afropean Affair (Chandra 8094). There is a Blue Note-ish classicism-cum-Latin going on much of the time here. These are in essence two horn, piano and rhythm hard-bop charts, but thoroughly Latinized.

Perez plays an occasionally Tyner-influenced and always classic jazz-informed Latin piano; Greg Glassman has the trumpet brassiness of Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro through Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan and Woody Shaw; and Tenorist Stacy Dillard has eclectic roots in titans like Mobley, Shorter, Golson & early Trane. He makes something contemporary and personal out of the tradition.

The rhythm section has nice Latin jazz leverage.

It's all quite good. This is a new Latin jazz outfit that bears close watching!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Geoff Vidal, "She Likes That," Contemporary Jazz From A New Tenor

There's a group of tenor saxists coming up these days that have affinities with Lovano, Brecker, Garzone, Potter and Bergonzi. It's a language and sound they have in common and a base from which they work off of. One of them, a very good one, is Geoff Vidal. He has a debut recording for us, She Likes That (Arts & Music Factory), and it's one to hear. Geoff wrote the material for the session, plays the tenor and heads the Quintet of tenor-trumpet-guitar-contrabass-drums.

These are new names to me but they are good players all. A contemporary set is what's happening, with rhythmic swing-rock-motion, good soloing all around and nicely turned compositional-harmonic-melodic vehicles to work off of. Joe Hundertmark's guitar has an electricity and a sophistication that combines a hint of rock vibrancy with the complete jazz guitarist's grasp of advanced modern jazz practice, and a little bit of Abercrombian tone on occasion. He works well off of Geoff's noteful and soulful soloing.

She Likes That is an auspicious beginning for someone who could become important to the music as time goes forward. It of course depends upon how much and how thoroughly he finds his inner voice. We'll see, but for now we have a very good listen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Szilard Mezel Wind Quartet, "Innen:" More Chamber Jazz From an Innovative Ensemble

The Szilard Mezel Wind Quartet have made a number of very interesting albums over the last several years. The latest is Innen (Ayler 122) and it is one of their very best. The somewhat unusual instrumentation of viola (Szilard Mezel), alto sax, bass clarient, clarinet (Bogdan Rankovic), trombone (Branislav Aksin), and tuba (Kornel Papista) gives the group an unusual sound. As in previous outings the compositions are by Mezel. Some of the earlier releases tended to have a dark sound color, partly because the instrumentation lends itself to this, partly because of the tenor of Mezel's compositions during that period. There was some excellent music but some of it was an acquired taste.

For the new album the sound palette is a bit brighter, but no less distinctive for that. All four artists interpret and phrase the pre-planned passages with a very worthy attention to ensemble blend and they can and do improvise in ways that extend and enhance the feel and mood of the composition at hand. There are seemingly totally free improvisational sections too which are handled well and offset the written sections nicely.

This is chamber jazz of a high order with inventive writing and an almost art-deco-for-today stance. The music can be ornate at times, straightforwardly plain other times, but all with a kind of modern timelessness. It is music of our era but resonates with the last 100 years and the sort of innovative ensemble writing of Milhaud and Weill without the timeworn period jazz flavor. But one would not mistake Mezel's writing for those earlier composers because it has its unique sound and very contemporary flavor. The improvisations are somewhat free-avant as well and that brings the music squarely into the new jazz camp.

This is one of those recordings that needs to be heard several times before the memory of recognition and familiarity assures the listener that there is a great deal to this music. Mezel does important work and he seems to be growing in his handling of the flow of ideas and their meaningful quality. The ensemble is one-of-a-kind as well.

I've read criticisms of critics who seem to like everything they review. Is it disingenuous? In my case at any rate I tend to review what I like. Who wants to read that a CD by someone you don't know is not that great? Well now, did you have any intention of getting it? Probably not. So I'll cover music/artists in my reviews that may not be perfect but have something or many things about them that seem worth experiencing, or they may raise issues about the music scene today and how it is evolving. Or they may simply be great.

Innen may not be quite in the "great" category. The Szilard Mezel Wind Quartet is making music that is provocative and memorable, however. And that's a great thing. This one will get you thinking and listening.

Motif, "Art Transplant:" Avant Jazz Quintet

Sometimes I am unfamiliar with a group, don't quite know what to expect, and it takes me a few listens to get acclimated. Like with Motif and their Art Transplant (Clean Feed 225).

The CD starts out with a minute or so of quiet air-through-instrument noises and then launches into the first composition, all except one of these written by contrabassist Ole Morten Vagan, who plays a forward role in the album as a bassist with style, imagination and melodic front-line aspirations. Axel Dorner handles the trumpet with some panache. Judging from the title billing ("with...") and the liner blurb he is a guest on this date. Atle Nemo does some good work on tenor sax and, for one cut, bass clarinet. Pianist Havard Wiik, who we favorably encountered several days ago on the Side A trio session with Ken Vandermark and Chad Taylor, is firmly planted at the center of the proceedings on piano in a role that has something of Andrew Hill's harmonic-melodic feel to it. Hakon Mjaset Johansen drives loosely on drums.

This is a date the sneaks up on you. The compositions are subtle and filled with some nice twists and turns. The improvisations are avant-melodic, new thing chromatics that expand the tonality to the edge and then bring it back for a moment, only to stray to the edge again. All four melody instruments do something worth hearing, and the drums are charged and give the forward momentum a kick as needed.

By the fourth listen I knew that this had something to it. If you like a freely articulated date with some interesting compositional underpinnings, with an overall thrust not unlike Andrew Hill's later Blue Notes, this one will take care of your needs and give you pleasure. It's another one of those Clean Feed sleepers. And it will wake you up. A good go of it!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chris Donnelly, "Metamorphosis:" Solo Piano Excursions

Though Chris Donnelly's Meta- morphosis (Alma 32212) comes with a cover which will surely not win any graphic design awards, the music contained within has much to interest lovers of solo jazz piano. First things first: unless a pianist is coming out of the freely driving camp of players headed by the remarkable Cecil Taylor, the influence of Keith Jarrett almost invariably makes itself felt, to greater or lesser degrees. That's true in a sort of formal sense with Chris Donnelly's opus. There are turns of harmonic-melodic phrases here and there that suggest that, as there is an overall musico-dynamic arch that shows the influence of Jarrett's modern romanticism. That's the case up to a point with this recital, but then the rest is what Chris does, his originality. Part of that can be heard in the contrapuntal independence of left and right hands even as he is playing a changes-based passage. It's not the standard chords in the left hand and melody solo in the right, most of the time.

This is a pianist of stature and originality. He works himself out of the bop/postbop tradition to some new spinoffs that show creativity, imagination and a mastery of the underpinning modern jazz structures.

Piano solo aficionados, you should hear this. Most definitely.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Woody Witt, "Pots and Kettles," Fourth Album From Tenor Saxist

Woody Witt has been playing tenor in the public eye for a while. His fourth CD, Pots and Kettles (Blue Bamboo 017), reminds us how that is a very good thing. He joins a well heeled quartet of Gary Norian, piano, Mark Simmons, drums, Anthony Sapp, bass, and then as guest for around half the album, Chris Cortez on guitar. Norian has good comping smarts and solos in a modern post-bop manner, with some Jarrett/Corea lineage influences. The rhythm section brings on the finesse, and Cortez has some nice moments. The mostly originals program of Witt or Norian numbers is memorable, changes-based for the most part, and melodically rather strong.

Woody makes an album here that might have been made by Michael Brecker had he lived. By that I mean that there is space for solos, loosely structured soloing routines, sponaneity and form in a contemporary sense. But Witt doesn't sound like Brecker. He is strong and in a lineage that would come out the post-Trane post-Shorter players of which Brecker was most certainly an important member. Witt is a fairly new member yet he does have his own directly communicating version of the language and most certainly is a player that is adding to the conversation, so to speak.

This is quite a good listen. Promising and realized playing, nice working compositions, excellent group dynamics. Woody and you? Just add you and you have it!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Daunik Lazro, "Some Other Zongs," Solo Baritone Sax Live at Europa Jazz Festival 2011

Ten years ago Daunik Lazro did a solo baritone sax recording, Zong Book. I've never heard it but I have been listening to his new one, Some Other Zongs (Ayler 123). It's a sequel solo bari session recorded live at Europa Jazz Festival, Paris, in February 2011.

Daunik utilizes the baritone's flexible and rich timbre possibilities to create poems of improvised sounds. I wont say "like David Mott," because it is not quite, but both artists have very good control over their instrument and complement it with a fertile imagination.

At 44:59 total length the CD does not overstay its welcome and that gives Daunik L. just the right amount of time to say something that is not uninteresting.

You like the sound of a free-form baritone sax? Get this. Get a David Mott solo CD too while you are at it, if you can. Then crank up your music unit a bit and dig the harmonics, overtones and grainy bite of the instrument in capable hands.

Monday, December 5, 2011

MTO Plays Sly: Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra Does the Music of Sly and the Family Stone

With Sly Stone reputedly at a low ebb, living in a van, financially distressed, the time is especially ripe for a revival of his music. Along comes Steven Bernstein and his Millennial Territory Orchestra and their MTO Plays Sly (Royal Potato Family). It's a joyful tribute to the man and his music with many of his well-known songs rearranged for a kind of funk-rock mini-big band, Steven Bernstein style.

The arrangements take advantage of the girth and breadth of a five-man horn section plus violin, guitar, bass, drums, vocalists and special guests to put a somewhat jazzier spin on the music. The vocalists are sometimes very good, sometimes less so but the band is filled with good sounds and solos.

This doesn't have the kind of startling quality that, say, Gil Evans's versions of Hendrix songs did. It's pretty straightforward, but sometimes somewhat quirky at the same time, like with the bluegrass meets Barney Bigard clarinet meets funk rhythm section of "Sly Motions". Guests Reid, Worrell and Laswell make their contributions count. It has a more or less broad appeal as its objective. And it succeeds in ways that do not offend the sensibilities of the keener ears out there. And let's hope the royalties Sly gets from the songs on this recording help him get back on track.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Side A, "A New Margin": Vandermark, Wiik, Taylor Get it Going

Side A? A trio of Ken Vandermark, reeds, Havard Wiik, piano, Chad Taylor, drums. Their A New Margin (Clean Feed 235) seems like the right combination of inspired improvisation, appropriate and memorable composition, and collective spark.

The compositional assignments are equally divided among the three, which makes sense since Ken and Chad do good work, and it turns out Havard does too.

"Boxer" is a fitting and stirring beginning with a sort of modified ostinato that is in a lineage to Dolphy's "Hat and Beard". Ken sounds like he is on baritone for this (and indeed for others as well, though the album jacket credits him as playing tenor and clarinet only) and he and Chad do some lively improvising. "What Is Is" switches to another interesting ostinato, and they groove on in a free rock zone, taking it out.

"Trued Right" has a chordal-melodic line in the piano that swings along well with the addition of Chad's drums. Ken's clarinet puts forth some goodly improvs.

That's a sample of what you hear. It is not all ostinato-based. There are balladic outnesses, postboppishness and some pointilistic, whole group improv phrasings too, among other things. Chad Taylor comes through with the excellent drumming he is known for. He can swing strongly in ways that reference the tradition but do so with originality. And he can get into a freetime that spurs the group on but also has a musical language going that shows you Chad the musician, the musical drummer. Havard Wiik articulates structure often enough, playing a centering role in the trio. His solos have some of the motor outness of Cecil, and the hunt-and-peck aspect of Havard's style has a kind of discursive logic--like he is saying something from A to B, B to C, sequentially. Ken V. is as always highly articulate, fired up, a person who pays as much attention to the sound he gets as to the notes he plays.

This is measured out avantness, music that has been thought through, that uses ostinato and other repetitive compositional devices in contrast with freely firey variables and/or compositionally lengthier phrasing. It is pretty tightly sequenced episodically. That makes for some exciting listening.

It's an important outing. Chad and Ken hit it off together very well here, as is no surprise, and Havard puts his piano at the center in ways that make things click. Compositional-improvisational inspiration is in no short supply throughout. One of the best out small group excursions of the year!