Monday, June 19, 2017

Staub Quartet, House Full of Colors

Put together a sort of "string quartet" of Portuguese free jazz/new improvised music stars Miguel Mira on cello, Carlos "Zingaro" on violin, Hernani Faustino on bass and Marcelo dos Reis on acoustic and prepared guitar, and you get the Staub Quartet. Their debut CD House Full of Colors (JACC Records 33) is so much more than a chance meeting that you sit up and take notice from the first notes onward.

Those who know these four and their freely inventive prowess should not be surprised. Though I am not in the position to keep score, they have all played together in various combinations and surely belong together. There is nothing casual about these improvisers--everything I've heard of them has a huge sense of purpose and an advanced open form seriousness that often enough verges on the sublime. So I naturally had lots of expectations when I put this CD on my player.

To say I was not disappointed is to say that all the four can be inventively is very much present here. The whole is the greater for the Staub Quartet formation. Each plays a role and as you listen to the six segments you revel in how the colors and textures of the instruments in the hands of these masters come to create totalities that are consistently near breathtaking and sometimes well beyond that.

There often enough is a kind of gestural complementarity between bass and cello, for reasons that have to do with their potential as rhythm section choices in more conventional jazz, but then both Mira and Faustino can of course function as horns and convincingly so. Or of course both are supreme colorists and find a place when there are two-, three-, or four-way blends of that kind of thing. Make no mistake however, this music channels historic jazz only in the most convoluted and indirect ways. There is a kind of "soul" to it all, but a different kind. And the lining is not naked linearity but collectively simultaneous. So does it sound like Armstrong and Oliver? Well, no, not really! So do not expect that. Do expect the outer fringes of avant jazz and new music to have some relation to what you hear.

Zingaro is a supreme solo line-weaver on violin but he can and does also blend his special ways into the whole. Marcelo transforms his guitar sound (whether prepared or otherwise) into the totality so much so that you have to remind yourself that the fourth line is a guitar line. Sometimes he becomes such a shape-changer that he transcends his instrument to become a pure aural force in the complex mix. Listen once through just for him and you'll be surprised and enlightened as to what he comes up with.

All four of course form the matrix that makes all the difference on this album. Nobody is the "star;" the various organic growths they nurture in the six segments have a natural yet uncannily "forward" quality that you must hear with focused intent, to expose yourself repeatedly and gradually to get the full appreciation this album demands and deserves.

It is one of the best outings of all four and it is one of the best "fours" in avant music outings today.

You want to know what is new and important ion free improv? This is one for sure! Excellent!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Michael Pedicin, As it Should Be, Ballads 2

We have come some distance from the time in jazz where the ballad was a fixture (think for example early Miles, Coleman Hawkins) of a typical set by the most advanced of musicians. An entire album of ballads is a rare thing these days, and you certainly do not expect a ballad in a typical set by today's stalwarts. I do not, anyway.

So to me a new release of just ballads is unusual, more so than perhaps it used to be. Tenor-soprano Michael Pedicin is one of the exceptions, as he shows with a second volume of ballads: As it Should Be, Ballads 2 (Groundblue Records).

The album is nicely put together, with eight worthwhile compositions by Johnny Valentino (the guitarist here as well), plus "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" and Coltrane's "Crescent". Pedicin is out front with some very fine effusions on tenor and soprano. He is well seconded by Valentino on guitar and Frank Strauss on piano and Rhodes. The rhythm team has a subtle but swinging role. Mike Boone on bass, Justin Faulkner on drums and the well-known  Alex Acuna on percussion distinguish themselves with a proper backdrop for the pellucid and stirring solos.

It is one of those CDs that can be ear candy for the uninitiated yet have full artistic presence for the cultivated jazz listener.

Give this a spin!


Friday, June 9, 2017

Zack Clarke, Random Acts of Order

More interesting free-avant improvisation-jazz by artists I am not very familiar with? I am happy to say yes. Today it is a matter of one Zack Clarke, pianist, electronician, leader of a very capable trio on the album Random Acts of Order (Clean Feed 409).

This is a free trio with a decided difference. Henry Fraser is the double bassist, Dre Hocevar the drummer, and they both contribute much to the outcome. But it is Clarke's pianism that especially wins me over. He has a well developed harmonic sense and a great touch, yet he fits in not much at all with the Paul Bley vs Keith Jarrett-Bill Evans vs Cecil Taylor schools. Actually if I think about it he may have some affinity with early Burton Greene, but not in any obvious way. And there is a jagged quality that may channel Bley but only in the most whispie sense.

He covers spooky ambiance and topsy-turvey free rolling post-swing. And he does it in his very own way. It is an album that hangs together very well.

Zack and trio bring to us another way to slice the avant pie. It is a pleasure to hear and experience this. Something new!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Leap of Faith Orchestra, Supernovae

Leap of Faith Orchestra is New England sax-jazz composer-bandleader PEK's large ensemble. It returns with an ambitious new album, Supernovae (Evil Clown 9125). For this recording the band numbers some 21 musicians conversant with the vocabulary and thrust of free jazz today.

Supernovae is a live, nearly 80-minute sonic extravaganza that the group let loose with at the Somerville Armory last year. There are endless combinations and permutations of the vast instrumental capabilities and timbral combinations of which the ensemble is capable. Some sort of compositional-conductional schema is clearly at work throughout.

However PEK and his ensemble regulated their sound and silences, their assertions and combinatory presences, there results torrents and trickles, small activated cells and large tutti outbursts fascinating and moving to hear. All 21 players use the freedom available to them wisely.

The finished product has the excitement of the best free large ensembles of Silva, Rivers, Taylor and  JCOA. It is excellent fare for the dedicated avant jazz aficionado.

It that describes you, then this is doubtless for you! It is a very worthwhile listen. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Peter Erskine Trio, John Taylor, Palle Danielsson, As It Was, 4-CD Retrospective

In the maddening jumble of my life as it happens to be right now, I've had a release ready for review for several months. Why I am only getting to it now has nothing to do with the music and its quality. It has more to do with an unceasing serendipity that has at times sidetracked my ordered intentions.

So we plunge in, or rather I do. You are the readers. It is up to me to speak. I hope of course you will read. The Peter Erskine Trio with John Taylor on piano and Palle Danielsson on bass had four albums come out on ECM, 1992-1997: "You Never Know," "As It Is," "Time Being," and "Juni."  In the interim a good deal of time and change has effected us and our world. John Taylor is no more. We have been flung into the future willy nilly and it is not what we expected. Meanwhile the ECM folks have seen fit to re-release all four albums as a box set retrospective entitled As It Was (ECM 2490-93).

And so the music emerges once again for us to reconsider. I will now admit to you that the period of 1992 through 1997 was alternatively one of poverty and then incredibly dense activity for me. I had almost no time to follow what was coming out, and so I missed all four of these albums.

The result is that this retrospective is to me something totally new. In the end it should make no difference. What is worth hearing or rehearing now is a matter of worth TO US who still stand (or sit) in the ever-passing world of music available for the hearing. Either the music speaks to us right now or does not.

As It Was most certainly DOES speak to me at this waystation of my life. I have come to appreciate the late John Taylor as a pianist of world-class stature on the contemporary jazz scene. If I came to him via several of his own albums instead of this trio, it does not matter. Similarly of course both Palle Danielssohn and Peter Erskine I have long appreciated for their superb artistry.

These four albums today sound as fresh and current as anything coming out on ECM now. Taylor provided most of the compositions, Danielsson others and a few covers are a part of the set.

What endures and catches our ears is the enormously subtle interplay of the three. They interact in full complementary synch, with a beautifully spacious balladic sprawl or a sophisticated swinging pulse.

And as you listen you feel that the ECM piano trio legacy that has been so much a part of the label's contemporary presence is notably represented by these sides. There is harmonic lush expansion, there is a compositional rootedness and an introspective-turned-sometimes-outward feel that makes all this music as capacious (roomy) as it is understated and profound.

Any contemporary jazz piano trio adept will find in this set much to explore and grow into. It is not a loud music, but it is originally expressive and consistently so. Listen if you can!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sxip Shirey, A Bottle of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees

The smack-down of review CDs in our now very tiny space has called for my continual attention, as the hustle and bustle and multi-purposes of the space usage threaten at all times to create impossible pile jumbles. So far, so good, but it can be tough. For example somehow today's CD, Sxip Shirey's A Bottle of Whiskey and A Handful of Bees (VIA 11).  I found it at the bottom of a box that was supposed to contain new music classical. When I unearthed it again I remembered I had liked it so I gave it the requisite final listens. After those I realized that here was something special, certainly nothing to do with classical, but instead an intriguing mix of distinctive alt rock sensibilities along with a bluesiness-rootsiness and at times a hip-hoppish veneer. None of those aspects come through conventionally. That is all the more reason this one is so different and, I must say, cool.

Xavier and Sxip do the vocals and both are excellent. There are instrumentals, too. All of it has a brilliant arranger's touch and a very hip memorability. Lyrics are something to ponder but nothing I would want to categorize on this page. Some seem well beyond the range of pop radio!

The combinations of electro-synths and conventional or unconventional instruments are uncannily out of the ordinary. And the more I hear it, the more distinctively compelling the music seems.

Sxip is not an ordinary commercial artist. The commerciality is twisted and turned so that people may dig it but it speaks originally and satisfyingly on its own terms. Is Sxip the new Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks? In a way but not in a way you'd expect. Does that get your attention? Well this disk got mine!

A real ear-opener!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Kaja Draksler Octet, Gledalec

Composer-pianist Kaja Draksler and her Octet give us a decidedly different musical experience on the two-CD set Gledalec (Clean Feed 417). The group features two vocalists, two reeds (including Ab Baars), violin-viola, double bass, drums and Kaja on piano.

To describe the music is not easy. There are early music influences, folk strains, a contemporary new music element and an avant jazz aura about it. There are very gentle moments that you do not often find in this sort of music, and a thoughtful sort of expression. And there is fire!

There is no one who quite sounds like this. If you have patience and take care to give it a close listen, Glendalec will open up some very eventful and unique musical worlds within which you can dwell at length. I looked to her discography on her site and there is much more. Here is a good place to start. Then if you are like me you may want to explore what else she has been doing. Oh, look her up on my search box above for another one I reviewed and liked.