Thursday, December 20, 2012

TranceFormation, In Concert, Andrea Wolper, Connie Crothers, Ken Filiano

It takes musicians of real imagination and ability to launch music involving 100% improvisation and have it satisfy the listener on every level. Of course with an artist of the stature of pianist-conceptualist Connie Crothers, you know you are going to get that along with her extraordinary originality and pianism. With contrabassist Ken Filiano, the same applies. I'll admit that vocalist and prose-poetess Andrea Wolper was an unknown factor for me.

So when I opened the package that contained the three artists together on the CD TranceFormation in Concert (New Artists 1054CD) I wasn't quite sure what it would be like.

Now that I've listened a bunch of times I am happy to say that the CD made a Wolper believer out of me. She improvises recitations, creates rhythmic patter that hangs together as content as well as sound pattern, and she sings and does sound color vocalisms that sound right and show a very inventive creative soul at work.

Combine Andrea with Connie and Ken, and something special results. That's In Concert. It's Ms. Wolpers, Ms. Crothers and Mr. Filiano at their creative best. And it shows you in the process that "jazz vocals" can be whatever they might be and be very good, without resorting to the usual standards and scatting formations so prevalent these days.

That's the case, and on top of that you have a very wonderful three-way interaction at work here. Inspiring improvisation at its best!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

M'lumbo, Tuning In To Tomorrow

No doubt there will be "jazz purists" who will dislike this album on the grounds that there are things that don't belong. Collage, voice and other sampling, electricity, hip-hop elements, things that relate to drums n' bass, synthesizers, oh you know, the litany of things.

But Tuning In To Tomorrow (Pursuance 04) by M'lumbo works. It works as a kind of large band multi-voiced paean to retro-futurism.

There's the core band: Robert Jordan Ray Flateau on keys and sampling, Cecil Young on trumpet, Dehran Duckworth on congas and percussion, Jaz Sawyer on drums, Brian O'Neill, guitar and sampling. Sax players Vin Veloso and Paul Alexandre Meurens head up the reed section. Then there are two additional horns that expand the band from time-to-time: special guest Jane Ira Bloom on soprano and Adrian Mira on alto and clarinet.

There are some nice charts for larger band that coexist with the samples. They are retro-future related and so fit in well. There are funk/jazz-rock rhythmic feels, good solos when called for, serious swinging and a kind of psychedelic-electric ambiance and general outness at times. The Dehran-Jaz nexus is something good to hear, too.

It's not quite like anything else out there. The first listen may find you scratching your head. But keep listening. There is a lot to absorb and once you start doing that, you'll start hearing it as a whole.

These folks are into something.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Nobuyasu Furuya Quintet, The General (Complete Version)

I reviewed the original LP version of Nobuyasu Furuya's The General last June 5th (see that posting). It turns out that to fit on LP the full version had to be shortened a bit. As good as the LP is, the full CD version is even better. But it's only around as far as I know as a Japanese import. Amazon Japan has it

The Nu Band, Relentlessness, Live at the Sunset, Roy Campbell, Mark Whitecage, Joe Fonda, Lou Grassi

When a very good band in the improvisatory arts achieves a certain comfort level playing together, in some cases that may take years, the music they produce when they are on the mark can be both very together collectively, and individually on a very high level.

That was certainly the case with the Nu Band when they recorded earlier this year at the Sunset in Paris. The resultant CD Relentlessness (Disques Futura et Marge 49) bears this out quite nicely.

For it has a great group dynamic going, loosely swings and speaks poetically and coherently, and gives you some of the best playing of Roy Campbell, Jr., Mark Whitecage, Joe Fonda, and Lou Grassi on record.

There are effective compositions by all the band members, and some sterling improvisations from the trumpet, reeds, contrabass and drums. Each artist is an original stylist of course, and the band has a direct kind of improv immediacy that comes about when all is right. This music, understandably given the players' deep roots in the music and long time immersion in it, is the evolution and extension of the new jazz, the new improv, as it stands today, state-of-the-art.

So naturally I would advise you to hear this one!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Matthew Shipp, Greatest Hits

Late next month, Matthew Shipp will release a Greatest Hits (Thirsty Ear 57205.2) compilation covering some of his best work from 2000 to the present. Eleven albums are represented.

And listening to this compendium makes at least one thing clear (if not many things): Matthew Shipp has been a critical force in the new jazz not by holding steady to the same routines and patterns that have made for new jazz orthodoxy, but by opening up to the sounds around him, by not following trends, but by making trends follow him.

So we have not only Matthew Shipp the masterful, innovative pianist, but also Matthew Shipp the composer, the conceptual innovator.

Listen to "Cohesion," by his trio of the time of William Parker and Gerald Cleaver, plus Khan Jamal on vibes and Flam on synths/programming. The drums have that drums n' bass sound--very funky but also electronically worked over. Yet listening to the piece you do not feel that this is Shipp gone commercial, any more than Trane's quartet sounded that way doing "Chim Chim Cheree." It's Matthew Shipp incorporating new elements into his music--but it's always foremost his music and not anyone else's, by any standards.

So throughout the compilation you get solo piano, trios, and larger configurations, fascinating to hear broken into a more-or-less chronological sequence. It's Shipp the pianist at the top of his conceptual game, the artist free to create with the great players he has surrounded himself with, free to evolve his direction as he sees fit.

That, as the late Sam Rivers defined it, is what "free" is about. The artist is free to follow what path he or she chooses, where the music swings, takes it out into open air, or works within hip-hop/funk/rock rhythmic feels, or records with a large orchestra. Listening to the thirteen years of music making so nicely represented on this disk, you feel that Matthew Shipp has been true to himself, and what that is speaks truth to us all. This is important music, pianistically, group-wise, compositionally and conceptually.

So grab a copy next month if you don't know these sides!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nik Bartsch's Ronin Live

I have been following Nik Bartsch's musical development with interest. He is a kind of minimalist and his ensemble Ronin plays a music that proffers a mesmeric sort of jazz-rock. The current lineup consists of Bartsch on piano and Fender Rhodes, plus bass clarinet/alto sax, one or two electric basses, drums and percussion.

The latest, a 2-CD set entitled Nik Bartsch's Ronin Live (ECM 2302/03), brings us his fullest musical flowering to date.

Imagine the classical minimalism of Steve Reich in his first African-influenced period, with grooved repetition and multi-stranded polyrhythms abounding, then give it Nik's own personal twist and have it performed by a jazz-rock sort of ensemble.

The ensemble has gotten fully into the total effect of this music and each instrumentalist's part within it--and created some really compelling live versions. There doesn't appear to be a lot of improvisation in this music per se, so far as I can tell, at least not in terms of a set solo routine--it's more concerned with realizing the interlocking parts and then allowing for a certain amount of improvisation within the structures realized.

But it is such a fascinating set of grooves that you don't worry so much about expectations, but sit back and let the whole matrix give you a jolt. And yes, this music is very funky in a very advanced sense.

I've been enthralled with almost every minute of this recording, from the first hearing on. If you are into advanced grooves, minimalism you can dance to, I suspect you'll feel the same way.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Frank Wright Quartet, Blues for Albert Ayler, 1977

Frank Wright may not be a name that has crossed over from avant jazz circles to the general public (and how many have?) but he was a moving force on tenor from nearly the very beginning and the body of recordings he left behind still sound fresh and engaging.

And now ESP has released one we have not known of before, Blues for Albert Ayler, a long set recorded at Ali's Alley in 1977.

The band is into the moment in a good way. Rashied Ali pushes continuously with his open-form, complex freetime. He sounds very motivated. He puts the band in overdrive. James "Blood" Ulmer is in an out groove, inspired. Benny Wilson toils steadily behind the bass, giving the ground base a solid foundation while the others soar. And Frank Wright gets his tenor into the stratosphere and stays there.

This is very high-level free jazz, the recorded sound is decent and it is a very welcome addition to Frank Wright's discography. Quite worth having if you are into the avant roots.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Trio 3D, Remi Alvarez, Joe Fonda, Harvey Sorgen

Tenorist Remi Alvarez is Mexico's secret weapon. No, not in some military sense. If there are such things as cultural wars, then Remi is Mexico's avant jazz equalizer. Well of course avant jazz doesn't have much bearing on international politics, but my point is that Remi Alvarez is a formidable player.

He has a slightly dark tone a la Sam Rivers, and he is very inventive. His work on the recent Trio 3D (Konnex 5286) is some of his very best. He is in excellent company with Joe Fonda at the Bass and Harvey Sorgen on drums. They run through twelve varied three-way collective improvisations in the course of the album, with everybody on top of it and working together very well.

But it's Remi Alvarez that especially shines here. He is a tenor for today and this is one of his very best performances on disk, so you need to catch it if you can. And this trio is a hum-dinger.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Jane Monheit & Sara Gazarek, Come Spend Christmas With Me

If you are sick of too much of the same holiday songs and would like something new, there's one just out that's has a nice ring to it, "Come Spend Christmas with Me," (Palmetto) by vocalists Jane Monheit and Sara Gazarek.

All proceeds from this single release will be donated to the ASPCA, in support of animal rights, so that's an added plus.

You can hear the song on soundcloud by pasting the following url into your browser window and hitting enter:

You can purchase it here or on iTunes or amazon:


Mikkel Mark Trio Featuring Luther Thomas, 2007

Freebop is not bebop. That's obvious I suppose. Freebop often uses the bebop repertoire and sometimes the changes. Freebop may reference bebop lines in the course of the improvisations. But freebop takes the music past bebop in ways that would probably have gotten many players kicked off the bandstand if they had played some of those lines/harmonies at Mintons back in the day. And of course the players are not trying to play bebop as much as they are commenting on the form and making something new of it.

This is what runs through my head as I listen to the Mikkel Mark Trio Featuring Luther Thomas (JaZt TAPES CD-028). It's a 2007 live date from Copenhagen featuring Mark on piano, Thomas on alto, Guffi Pallesen, bass, and Kresten Osgood at the drums.

The band runs through some bop and beyond classics, "Straight No Chaser" and "Groovin' High" but also "All Blues" and "Equinox." What we get is a nicely loose blowing session with a solid rhythm section. Luther Thomas is in very good form, coming up with some blazing lines and going at it with conviction. Mikkel Mark comps sparingly and with expansive harmonic sensibilities and solos in a sparse, super-monkish way much of the time.

It may not be a recording that will set the jazz world aflame this year, but it is quite enjoyable and shows all in a nice place. Go to to find out more about this release and the JaZt TAPES series in general.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lou Marini, Starmaker

I never paid much attention to Lou Marini in the past, even though he's been pretty ubiquitous. Listening to his new solo album Starmaker (BluJazz 3394), I hear something that gets my attention. It's a straight-ahead, somewhat commercial, somewhat electric date, with some very competent sidemen and arrangements that are just fine. The tunes are interesting from a compositional standpoint.

But what is the main thing going for this is Lou Marini's playing. He's something else. He has a soulful rasp when he wants it and his lines are not at all typical, having bop-Trane and after in there in unusual ways. He sings a little but that's some band vocal stuff.

It's an album that shows you that Lou Marini is a player with a capital "p". Gil Goldstein, by the way, plays some hip things on piano too.

Now I'd like to hear Lou do an acoustic quartet session and let it all hang out!

Frank Lowe, The Loweski

Frank Lowe's seminal Black Beings (ESP) was what turns out to be only the first part of a concert recorded in 1973. What was initially released on that LP was one of the wildest excursions into the avant jazz of the era, with Frank Lowe and Joseph Jarman breathing fire and the rest of the band stoking the flames for an extended rant that still has the capacity to excite and unsettle.

ESP has recently released The Loweski, which is the rest of that concert, almost 40 minutes worth of unreleased music.

It's the same musicians, of course. Lowe on tenor, Jarman on soprano and alto, Raymond Lee Cheng (The Wizard) on violin, William Parker on bass and Rashid Sinan on drums.

After a short solo intro by Lowe the group launches into another collective onslaught of high energy expression. This mix is different--with Lowe and Jarman coming though at somewhat lower levels and so you hear the rhythm section and Chang's violin at the front of the audio stage for a time. And they are engaged and holding forth in very good ways, so it gives you something very much worth hearing. From there Chang plays some extreme pizzicato electrified, then back to the bow. He is possessed and inspired.

After that the horns get rolling again with just the rhythm section, but again they are low in the mix and not as audible as one might expect. William Parker steps in though with his bow and does some nice things. Towards the end the saxes become more centered for a bit and then the improvisation ends with drums and Parker's bowed dirgy two-chord plus harmonics.

So in the end this is especially interesting for what you hear of Cheng, Parker and Sinan. It is less of a horn showcase. But it is still vital free jazz of the era and will be appreciated as such by those so inclined. I am very glad to have it. Black Beings is the one to start with, however, if you haven't checked that out yet.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Marilyn Lerner, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi, Arms Spread Wide, 2008

I am catching up with a release from 2009 that I am glad to hear repeatedly. It's an avant piano trio date recorded in 2008 for a No Business (NBCD 5) CD, Arms Spread Wide. The band is an excellent one: Marilyn Lerner at the piano, Ken Filiano, contrabass, and Lou Grassi at the drums.

All three players are inextricably intertwined in a very musical dialog. Ms. Lerner is an imaginative improviser who has listened to Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley and made her own way through those stylistic influences. Ken Filiano and Lou Grassi are well known and so need no introduction. They sound especially good here with Ms. Lerner. Lou's freetime is superb and mightily inventive; Ken is rhythmically and melodically alive in the best sense; both work with Marilyn to create long strands of improvised coherence and excitement.

It has connection with the roots of the music and yet it soars far and wide in its collective intelligence. That's a pretty good way to go! This one needs to be heard.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Claudio Scolari, Synthesis

When you aren't sure what to expect, then what you get can be anything and not surprise you, I suppose. But in the case of Claudio Scolari's second offering, Synthesis (Principal 05), I was surprised anyway. One factor that is quite unusual about his Project (as he calls it) is the instrumentation. Claudio is on drums, percussion, electronics (synth/computer) and flute; Daniel Cavalca plays drums, vibes, piano, melodica and bass; and Simone Scolari plays trumpet.

What this means is that there is some very hot drumming, some very hip trumpet wielding, and then somewhere in the middle there is the overlap/center of each piece with electronics and percussive melodic motifs.

They may not be the only group doing this sort of thing (Mazurek etc.) but they do it well; they thoroughly build sound structures for each piece. They go many places in the course of the disk but the groove quotient and free quality consistently come together well to create some memorable moments. It's a testament to the multi-instrumental flexibility of Claudio and Daniele (and the prowess of Simone) that things do not falter. It's all refreshingly DIY, faux casual, but never amateurish. And it gets you listening and liking.

Call it contemporary. Then grab an earful!