What's in this issue? OCTOBER 2007: Interview with Horatiu Radulescu... Giuseppe Ielasi has an ear for transformative composition...English saxophonist Evan Parker's career reaches its fourth decade...Reedman Nathan Davis offers up a hard-swinging and rich sextet...it's not just about the music: tongue-in-cheek art proliferate on paris walls...Saxophonist and cornetist Joe McPhee recorded Soprano more than two decades after the powerful stamp of Tenor...Lacy-philes get caught up in how Monk was a vehicle to the "other side" and it's easy to forget what was so important about his fascination with the repertoire in the first place...This may very well be the year that puts Chicago guitarist Scott Fields firmly on the improvisational map...Opitope is resolute in their determination to find a personal language through melody and signal processes... You could call the El Gallo Rojo catalogue the latest return-serve in a game of cultural pingpong...Goold has devised an earbending approach that involves superimposing 12-tone series over conventional jazz changes...Hook, Drift & Shuffle was recorded in Brussels in February 1983, just a month after the Parker/Guy/Lytton trio's debut Tracks; both albums originally appeared on Incus...Hard to complain about Hess's sticking to a formula, though, since the sequence of CDs has gotten stronger with each entry...Brisbane's improvised music scene has been enjoying a surge of activity in recent months including Nervous Cattle (what a name, almost as good as Opitope)...Elliott Sharp once named a piece "Triumph of the Won't"...
August (12k CD1044)
Giuseppe Ielasi has an ear for transformative composition. He creates full-bodied works marked by great detail and intricate shifts; wafting layers of looping melody are offset by sonic subtleties, ranging from crushing distortion to microns of processed glitch. This aesthetic finds ideal crystallization on his latest effort for 12K, August. Live instrumentation forms the music's core, as Ielasi wraps warm gusts of processing around looped instrumental lines. The cloudy string motive of ‘02', for instance, establishes a pulse that suggests Reich's music (albeit slowed to within an inch of stopping), as well as a playful sense of space recalling Tony Conrad's work (sans the sharper overdriven edge). ‘04', by contrast, is a delicate organ-ridden environment caressed with softly bubbling electronics. Not least because of their subtle use of movement across the stereo field, these contemplative works suggest a sense of expansion for Ielasi – an attempt to break out beyond the confines of his earlier works and reach out to something altogether more ethereal, a daydream that works its way into the listener's subconscious.
EVAN PARKER TRIO
A Glancing Blow
Clean Feed 085
As English saxophonist Evan Parker's career reaches its fourth decade, his improvisational acumen has become extraordinarily honed – two of his longstanding groups are in their third decade of playing together, and even if the glove is only tried on once every few years, the comforting result is interesting, if occasionally predictable. The regularly-working group and its fine-tuned language is certainly something many improvisers hope to attain, but an improviser can learn just as much from ad hoc situations or new blood. This latter scenario brings us to the live disc A Glancing Blow , Parker's new Clean Feed installment with expatriate American drummer Chris Corsano and countryman, bassist John Edwards.
This unit is, despite sharing instrumentation, a relatively distant cousin to the saxophonist's trio with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton, which has been active since the mid-70s. Corsano's approach to the kit is decidedly rooted in dense acrobatics rather than textural concerns, opting for loose timekeeping and the inversion of nearly every phrase Parker spits out, rather than the long tones and piercing harmonics that often characterize Lytton's work. Edwards is the inverse of Guy's panoply of tricks, rather taking a taut angle on texture in the realm of Buschi Niebergall's painterly activity. Parker, for his part, seems genuinely spurred on by this mix-up of rhythm section, his keen given a bit more exuberance as Corsano and Edwards dissect with elemental surprise. The two collective improvisations contained on this disc are full of room for the rhythm section to stretch out in duo or unaccompanied (especially Edwards), the saxophonist at times augmenting with dervish-like soprano or slapping tenor honks. Yet even if it's a new ensemble, there's a definite unity to the proceedings – Parker's mournful Coltrane-like tenor reentering the fold after a lengthy, unaccompanied pizzicato bass solo on “Out of the Pocket,” the collective frenzy incrementally increasing and halting with the measurement of a well-traveled group.
A few years ago, I watched as Parker sat in with the Minneapolis, Minnesota trio of drummer J.T. Bates, saxophonist Mike Lewis and bassist Adam Linz (Fat Kid Wednesdays). The veteran hornman was visibly excited by the opportunity to let a young, bit-chomping freebop trio take the reins, getting back to his post-Coltrane roots in a lickety-split blowing session. Certainly A Glancing Blow is more studied, but there's a similar impulse towards a fresh situation. This is a fine entry into the discographies of all three participants, and hopefully paves the way for more varied summits.
Brisbane's improvised music scene has been enjoying a surge of activity in recent months, with a growing number of musicians participating in events such as the Audio Pollen Social Club (a weekly music meet in a small loading bay behind a much loved local café in the West End neighbourhood). This vinyl-only release documents one such informal grouping, having been edited down from four hours of recordings by Alan Nguyen, Kahl Monticone, Jimi Kritzler and Peta G. The music is slow-moving free improvisation, varied by passages of pastoral free jazz and devolved rock energy. Monticone's guitar work is often melodic even as he frenziedly tears at the strings; he's well matched by Nguyen's chaotic approach to the kit. The results, though, are mixed: some pieces meander without much focus or sense of effort, whilst others feature scorching passages of sonic fire.
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Reedman Nathan Davis, an American expatriate on the Paris scene from the early ‘60s until 1969, offers up a hard-swinging and rich sextet on his second date as a leader, Peace Treaty (SFP, 1965), back in print through Mo'Records and extended by the addition of two tenor-and-rhythm tracks. The leader is joined here by three others who had staked claim in Europe – drummer Kenny Clarke, bassist Jimmy Woode and trumpeter Woody Shaw – as well as Frenchmen René Urtreger (piano) and Jean-Louis Chautemps (baritone saxophone). The program includes four Davis originals and one each by Woode and Monk; Clarke's position in the Clarke-Boland Big Band (indeed, both Clarke and Francy Boland appeared on The Hip Walk , Davis's third LP, for Saba) probably lent something to the massive and multi-part thematic arrangements on this date. Alternate takes of “Sconsolato” and the Basie-like “Kansas City Special” feature guitarist Jimmy Gourley (who worked with Clarke in organist Eddy Louiss's band), with the leader as the only horn.
Davis, who along with Shaw was one of the last musicians to work with Eric Dolphy before his untimely death, is often compared to Coltrane in terms of tone and phrasing. It's easy to see why on “Ruby My Dear,” where his tenor is out in the open, buoyed by lean rhythmic support. Davis has that similarly edgy keen on the highs, contrasted with a supple breathiness on the lows of Monk's theme. As the rhythm section picks up, Davis surely gives chords a workout, but there is more to his phraseology than Trane-isms. He delicately weaves snatches of phrase that impart Monk's wistful framework, husky sound-blocks that could easily be caught in a breeze or change shape like thin fabric (in this sense, he may have learned something else from listening to Monk). Urtreger's comping, while subtle, follows the spry turns and irregular rhythms of the composer, and his hands and the leader's lungs seem quite intertwined. He's given a couple of choruses of his own and, while not stretching out on the material as much as Davis, certainly imbues “Ruby” with an elegantly cobbled personality.
“Klook's Theme” seems straight out of the CBBB book, tightly-arranged with spry unison tenor-trumpet lines and a hefty bottom, all woven above a surging 4/4. Davis is first out of the gates restating and disassembling the theme in his brief, heel-digging solo. Shaw's brainy ellipses point to a different, expanded architecture, while Chautemps is the brawn. Urtreger provides a sped-up Monk over the rock-solid drive of Woode and Clarke, but too quickly the knots are retied and the tune is brought home. Like the CBBB, many of the tunes on Peace Treaty are rather short performances, swinging madly and well-arranged but without much stretching room. Despite the interesting contrasts between the A and B sections of the title piece, one gets the feeling that Davis and his mates are rushing to fit their ideas into a few moments, even as Urtreger and the leader blow fiercely on the tune's legs. Despite this shortcoming – the original LP clocked in around 28 minutes – Peace Treaty provides fierce and catchy hardbop with significant harmonic freedom. In lieu of catching the band live at the Blue Note or Chat qui Peche, this session comes highly recommended.
PARIS STREETS: STICKER ART (first in a series)
photographs by Guy Livingston
Saxophonist and cornetist Joe McPhee recorded Soprano more than two decades after the powerful stamp of Tenor (Hat Hut C), his first unaccompanied recording and a decidedly clear statement on the instrument-as-sound-producer. It has taken a full thirty years for this follow-up, if one could call it that, to be released. While McPhee has waxed a number of solo recordings throughout his career, including Everything Happens for a Reason (Roaratorio 9), these records have all shown McPhee in a very diverse light instrumentally and conceptually. McPhee makes the point in the liner notes to this release that it's not unique to assemble a record of solo soprano playing, especially in the context of Steve Lacy's duckiness and Evan Parker's reverberant trills. However, McPhee's story is a bit different from these other architects of the instrument; he came to the saxophone from trumpet in the late 1960s, and his approach to the horn is that of pure sonics – working out what the instrument can do, irrespective of tradition. Sure, Tenor is filled with bluesy skronk, but it's ultimately about putting the pads, valves, bell, reed, lungs and mind through their paces.
Soprano consists of four pieces recorded at the 1998 Guelph Jazz Festival in Ontario, and is ostensibly dedicated to composer Pauline Oliveros. “A Night on Rose Mountain” features the addition of real-time electronics, but the remaining three are explorations of instrument and natural acoustics (and a beeper at the close of “In Order To Hear”). Without the rattling brashness and Ayler-esque associations of “Knox,” or the finite walls of a room in which Tenor was recorded, the cathedral spires lend the straight horn a thin and somewhat distant air. “Response Ability,” in two parts, finds McPhee extrapolating phrases into modes of circular breaths, sharply repeating cycles pierced by bent harmonics and brief elaborations. McPhee's spirals have a different quality than Parker's ringing multiphonics, appearing a natural growth into and out of given phrases. They aren't for-themselves, but rather an extension of playing (perhaps worrying) these phrases with this instrument. Like passages on “Tenor” where he digs in to repeat and elide notes, here they pick up and create “swing,” however oblique.
McPhee has recorded with electronics semi-regularly; his “Survival Unit” was a tape of pre-recorded instruments used in the absence of a real-time ensemble, and synthesizer artist John Snyder was a frequent collaborator in the 1970s. McPhee's harmonics and wispy tones blend well with electronic instruments, allowing for a diverse array of sounds that few acoustic ensembles could match. Here, McPhee's MESS (Miniaturized Electronic Support System) accompanies him in the rafters, filling the space with a spectral chorus of subtones on “A Night on Rose Mountain.” Despite the apparent contrasts between the electrical platform and McPhee's stark phrases, what would otherwise hang in a sea of resonance is ultimately filled in, creating a rather tensely-balanced soundscape.
A word should be said, too, about the recording situation and the spatial aspects of spires and a straight horn. Ironically, it's not difficult to extrapolate from Tenor to this, either – one can feel the farmhouse wall echoes from the bigger horn's blasts in narrower, straighter and smaller epiphanies. Follow-up or not, the vinyl-only Soprano is another fine notch in McPhee's discography of unaccompanied music.
Steve Lacy / Roswell Rudd
EARLY AND LATE
Like the composers with which their music is most often associated, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy (1934-2004) and trombonist Roswell Rudd (b. 1935) seemed to appear out of nowhere in the creative foment of the early 1960s. Both had played traditional jazz in the 1950s, circumventing bebop and immediate postwar developments only to be flung headlong into the jazz vanguard by decade's end. Lacy and Rudd met through bassist Buell Neidlinger, who ushered them into Cecil Taylor's early ensembles. Through Taylor, both became aware of pianist-composers like Monk and Herbie Nichols, who are unique in their own ways: Monk, while commonly ascribed the title "priest of bebop," often made music seemingly at odds with bebop's fast tempos, a high order of hunting and pecking. Nichols, on the other hand, hearkens back to swing and painterly fling, (deceptively) simplified in yet another way while retaining bebop's tempo and facility. Anomalous yet so entrenched, their oeuvres made perfect sense for Lacy and Rudd, linked early on to free jazz but with feet more firmly in their own traditions.
The Lacy-Rudd quartet of the early 1960s never made a "proper" recording date; though demos were supposedly recorded for Verve and Columbia, these have not surfaced. Until the issue of four tracks on this Cuneiform compilation, the only documented existence of the group (apart from rare tapes) was a live recording issued on Emanem as School Days (later issued on CD by Hat Hut). The band usually had Denis Charles on drums, though J.C. Moses was known to have worked with the group; the revolving cast of bassists included Bob Cunningham, Henry Grimes, Don Moore and possibly Steve Swallow. The "early" in Early and Late consists of four tunes recorded in October 1962 with Charles and Cunningham in the rhythm section, including two takes of Monk's "Eronel," one of "Think of One" and Cecil Taylor's "Tune 2." It is not clear from the liners whether these recordings are indeed those intended for Verve or Columbia, or are from a different source altogether.
This unit was so storied precisely because it was so little recorded, yet figured prominently in the development of its participants. Lacy-philes get caught up in how Monk was a vehicle to the "other side" and it's easy to forget what was so important about his fascination with the repertoire in the first place. By now, perhaps, playing Monk (or, for that matter, Taylor) without a piano is less startling, but in 1962 it was a decidedly odd approach. Lacy and Rudd engage in loose call-and-response on take two of "Eronel," part clean-Dixieland with an undercurrent of dirty-blues tromboneliness, but the rhythm section is all Nichols – the way Charles is employed in unaccompanied, dense calypso drum-choir passages and trades licks with the slick front line over a churning bassist smacks of the unheralded pianist-composer (indeed, Rudd was a student of Nichols). Rudd slushes his way into the opening of "Think of One," a massive chart when the two horns are in unison, but loosely given to brass whoops and reedy trills as the foursome open up. It would be easy to say that these selections are only a slight advance on early 60s dates like Lacy's Straight Horn (Candid, 1960) and Evidence (New Jazz, 1961), but they're hard-swinging and vigorous, not as "free" as the extended improvisations on School Days , but every bit as open and honest to the material as one could hope.
Lacy and Rudd continued their creative relationship on and off throughout the ensuing forty years, through the Jazz Composers' Orchestra and a series of sides for the Black Saint/Soul Note labels in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (not to mention Rudd's knotty one-off for Japanese Philips, Blown Bone , since reissued by Emanem). Rudd distanced himself from recordings and concerts for a while until the mid ‘90s, but by the close of the millennium he'd reunited with Lacy, joining the saxophonist's regular group with bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch for a series of live concerts. Of course, both hornmen had changed in their musical approach significantly over that time, and records like School Days or the enclosed New York demos have far more in common with Lacy dates like The Forest and The Zoo (ESP, 1966, with Enrico Rava) than they do Trickles (Black Saint, 1976) or the "late" of Early and Late . The second disc interestingly combines the 1962 tracks with extended pieces from 1999 and 2002, Rudd's West Indian and highlife-inspired "Bamako," Lacy's "Bone" and Nichols' "Twelve Bars." On "Bamako," Rudd is brash, dense and firey in his dark brassy tale, while Lacy is pure contrast, creating a thematic microcosm in his pinched auto-dialogue, decidedly separate from Rudd but entirely within the tune. Though this comparison is rarely drawn, Betsch builds a solo completely out of Charles' bleached-sand rim shots before the tune is brought to a close.
One of the more intriguing things about the Lacy-Rudd combination, especially on tunes written by pianists, is how much the pair sound like a piano – Lacy playing the left hand, Rudd the fleet right – and this is in full effect on their rendition of Nichols' "Twelve Bars," a humorously homesick blues, brash but wry in all the right places. As Lacy lays down commenting chords, brass machinery flails and teases out sacred and secular from Nichols' verses. Lacy is decidedly contained in his golden whimsy, a warmly-knit "hurray for Herbie." Lacy's own pieces come decidedly from the horn, as much as his major influences lie in Monk, Nichols, Taylor and Ellington (though "Bone," included here, may be one of his more piano-friendly). "The Rent," a stomping, jittery homage to the late French jazz writer Laurent Goddet, is given fierce rendition at the outset of disc one, Rudd's slashing tailgate a stand-in for Steve Potts's uncorked alto. Even more unbridled is the take of "Blinks," its theme a combination of the easy flow of "The Way" and ducky, spiked counterpoint. Rudd's solo is an unaccompanied recital of plunger-aided guffaws and searing metallic half-quotes; when Avenel and Betsch return, Lacy echoes Rudd's bent slides, his torments ascending from grackle to lofty songbird. Betsch elevates the tempo mightily before the tune's closing caw, this set a fine testament to his percussive prowess.
Early and Late is a rare glimpse into the evolution of not just a group sound, but an interestingly complementary pair. Lacy and Rudd changed in their approach and interests over two generations of music, becoming perhaps more curiously aligned as the years and works advanced. This set is a fitting homage to their legacy, filling holes but leaving just as many beautiful gaps.
SCOTT FIELDS ENSEMBLE
Clean Feed 088
This may very well be the year that puts Chicago guitarist Scott Fields firmly on the improvisational map. His Clean Feed Records debut, Beckett , occupies a tense poise between measured and somewhat theatre-inspired movement and free immediacy. Joining him on the tightrope walk are percussionist John Hollenbeck, tenorman Matthias Schubert and cellist Scott Roller. On the heels of Beckett is the reissue of Dénouement , a double-trio recording initially waxed in 1997 for Fields' tiny, now-defunct Geode label. He's joined by guitarist Jeff Parker (here in a pre-Thrill Jockey guise), bassists Jason Roebke and Hans Sturm, and drummers Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang (who appeared with bassist Michael Formanek on Fields' excellent Delmark disc Mamet ).
Fields characterizes the music as “the bastard child of King Sunny Adé and Ornette Coleman” and he might not be incorrect in that assertion. Luckily not recorded in mono, each trio is audible in separate yet interweaving channels, Fields, Sturm and Drake on the right and Parker, Roebke and Zerang on the left. From the opening plinks and strums of “Her Children,” plaintive and nearly detuned, Parker and Fields underpin, addend and fragment their own dialogue, a delicate conversation in language about to collapse on itself. Pulled out from dissipation by a seemingly abrupt arrival at martial swing, the twin rhythm sections offer a steadily oppositional groove, basses and guitars walking in contrasts and a unison of throaty grasps, linked mostly by absence. After all, one reason for using two bassists or drummers in opposing rhythms is that the contrast will, rather than stagnate create a third and less deterministic pulse, stemming from “both” and “neither.”
Like musical forebears the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, these lengthy improvisations (albeit with brief written signposts) should be taken as a whole, with individual areas popping out and grabbing one's senses – dueling arco-ponticello basses catch the ear mightily, percussion hanging overhead in implied fits of near-waltz as Fields and Parker skitter from the front porch to somewhere way, way underground. A charged, fuzzy rock phrase is worried in damning repetition, Sharrock-like overtones brought out as basses, toms and a second guitar both goad and placate. It's the simultaneity of sounds, phrases and rhythms and their conflicted outcomes – or, rather, the space between these things – that makes Fields' ensembles work. Luckily for us, this early example of his music is available again.
Hau (Spekk CDKK011)
Ambient music has many crosses to bear – abuse by association with New Age music, and accusations of being a trapped aesthetic orbiting the outer rims of Eno's 1970s work, to name but two. For Date Tomoyoshi and Chihei Hatakeyama (collectively known as Opitope), ambient sound is at the heart of their music, and whilst they clearly draw from Eno's example, they are resolute in their determination to find a personal language through melody and signal processes. ‘Trees Reflecting On The Surface Of The Lake' sets the stage for their sonic journey through four seasons, travelling north to south (in Japan?), with each piece setting forth a new landscape and sonic environment. ‘A Far Room' creates a sense of displacement and change, like a landscape being agitated by wind; it's a mood that returns later in pieces like the curiously titled ‘Coral Sand's Backside'. There are moments where the music's warmth and melodicism become a touch too saccharine, but for the most part this is a fine CD by a promising new duo.
El Gallo Rojo roundup
Rope, Have You Met Miss Bates?
Henry Taylor, Crooning the Anger
Zeno de Rossi/Sultry, Plunge
Enrico Terragnoli/Orchestra Vertical, L'Anniversaire
Achille Succi/Salvatore Maiore, Pequenas flores do inferno
You could call the El Gallo Rojo catalogue the latest return-serve in a game of cultural pingpong. Hollywood westerns and Kurosawa's samurai films became Leone's spaghetti westerns. John Zorn returned the favour with The Big Gundown. Now we get an Italian reworking of the downtown New York sound of the 1980s and 1990s. The label is run by a collective of young Italian musicians, though the key movers and shakers are clearly bassist Danilo Gallo and drummer Zeno de Rossi (Italy's answer to Joey Baron – the fondness for strategically placed cowbell is a giveaway). The CDs I've heard suggest players trying to forge a style that's distinct from both Italy's traditional postbop scene and from the carnivalesque avant-gardery of the musicians associated with the Italian Instabile Orchestra. Though El Gallo Rojo's musicians are more jazz-minded and less abrasive than Zorn and co., their influences and preoccupations are familiar enough: Morricone and Bernard Herrmann, cheesy pop and rock pastiche, and Jewish musical traditions both old and new (er, Fiddler on the Roof ....?). The results are consistently appealing, and the deal is sweetened by the label's stylishly bizarre packaging and the consistently excellent studio sound. There is a downside, though: rough edges tend to be smoothed away, rather in the manner of the slicker Fresh Sound New Talent discs or Zorn's more accommodating Masada projects. What follows is a quick guide to some highlights in the label's catalogue.
A good place to start is Have You Met Miss Bates?, by the piano trio Rope (Fabrizio Puglisi, piano; Stefano Senni, bass; Zeno de Rossi, drums). This is very much in the mode of Anthony Coleman's Sephardic Tinge , with a dash of Misha Mengelberg's Avant trio dates. It's a tight, relaxedly swinging disc; Puglisi's work has Monk's wry economy, though he replaces the master's abruptness with a more conventional elegance. The expertly chosen program ranges from the theme from Hitchcock's Rope to the slinky glamour of the Beny Moré-associated “Te Quedaras”. Monk, Duke, Jelly Roll and (yes) Zorn feature strongly, as well as Misha's evergreen “Hypochrismutreefuzz” and a tune by the obscure Bill Triglia, best known as the pianist on Mingus's Tijuana Moods . The luridly Psycho -esque cover-art is a treat, too.
Achtung! is by Wergeld, a trio of guitarist Domenico Caliri, bassist Giovanni Maier, and de Rossi again on the drums. (In the ancient Anglo-Saxon social system, wergeld was money paid to a murdered man's family by his murderer, in lieu of a blood feud between clans. So now you know.) Like Marc Ribot, Caliri is an Ayler man. A superb slow-burn reading of Ayler's “Light in Darkness” works its way to a rousing punk catharsis, with Maier's arco in the central improv paying indirect homage to Ayler's use of strings on the original recording. Donald Ayler's “Our Prayer” is a musical séance, as the trio patiently summons the melody out of ghostly moans and taps before getting down to some countrified balladry à la Frisell. Caliri could tone the squealy FX down on the noisier tracks, but otherwise he's got an ideal combination of chops, passion and taste; his take on Carla Bley's “Ipa Lupino” is exquisite, a perfect slice of jazz-pop that's as smoothly hypnotic as a highway tapering to a distant point on the horizon.
Another Bley classic, “Jesus Maria”, features on Crooning the Anger by Henry Taylor – which is not an individual person but a quartet led by clarinettist/alto saxophonist Enrico Sartori. His throaty, low-register approach is very much in the Jimmy Giuffre mould, and there's also a welcome dose of Ornette's freewheeling spirit on the album. The great man is namechecked on de Rossi's “O.C.”, and the result is a terrific combo of weirdly trilling piano and hambone rhythms; Sartori's oddball solo suggests Pee Wee Russell grappling with harmolodics. Indeed, he has a habit of approaching solos from unexpected angles: compare the demented inarticulacy of his work on “Underdog” with the droopy swing clarinet on “The Crooner” (dedicated to Tristan Honsinger), and then listen to the hushed interplay between Sartori, Puglisi and bassist Antonio Borghini on “Dvije Kune” (a drummerless trio that would have Giuffre nodding in approval). This is one of the best items in El Gallo Rojo's catalogue to date.
De Rossi's Plunge features his well-named ensemble Sultry, a trio with saxophonist/clarinettist Chris Speed and bassist Stefano Senni that already has a self-titled Splasc(h) disc to its credit. The new CD, recorded on a New York visit, augments the band with Anthony Coleman (on organ and electric keyboards) and guitarist Enrico Terragnoli. Their presence gives the music a funky/cheesy retro vibe, tilted towards atmospheric exoticism rather than Naked City-style raunch. It's tremendously enjoyable, even if Speed is a little anonymous: a tricky odd-meter groove like “Ida y Vuelta” is addictive but might have benefitted from the aggressive flash and abstruseness of a Chris Potter. The obligatory nods towards the movies here include a cover of “Audio Bongo” from Dr. No and a chunk of Kim Novak and Frank Sinatra's dialogue from The Man with the Golden Arm .
Enrico Terragnoli's own disc, L'Anniversaire, is credited to the Orchestra Vertical, i.e. a rotating cast of characters that includes just about every member of the El Gallo Rojo stable. It's an enjoyably stylized take on Cuban-flavoured dance orchestras, with suitably moody organ, accordion and Fender Rhodes thrown in for good measure, not to mention looped samples from Don Nauro and His Caribbean Bar-Sextett and (yes) Ry Cooder. Claudia Bidoli's baleful but seductive vocals admirably serve the hyperbolic disenchantment of the (French) lyrics. “Je prends ma revanche / Je prends ma revanche sur la vie qui ne m'aime pas,” she sings, and judging from the cover image – someone haplessly waving as they're sucked into a whirlpool – I certainly wouldn't mess with her.
Pequenas flores do inferno is a duet by bass clarinettist/alto saxophonist Achille Succi and bassist Salvatore Maiore. It's the least typical entry in El Gallo Rojo's catalogue, but its fluid lyricism and generally dark hues are of a piece with other EGR releases. Succi's lines are beautifully shaded by every shift of inflection, swiftly changing from yearning to anger to resignation – rather like a slow-motion Eric Dolphy or unhinged John Surman. Maiore typically accompanies him with simple, resonant lines that reinforce the impression of Succi's improvisations as passionate outcries emerging out of near-stillness. The pieces are freely improvised, aside from a mercurially romantic reading of Pixinguinha's “Rosa” and two originals: Succi's “Night Lines” is an abrasive free ballad suggesting a Greg Osby-style reworking of Mingus's “What Love”, while Maiore's “Virus” includes an impressive bass solo and some of Succi's most on-edge playing. The CD's wacky coda breaks the spell somewhat, but the rest of the disc will please free improv fans of any stripe.
Ned Goold, March of the Malcontents
The musicians on the Smalls label are often what you'd call “characters” – the bios in the liner notes are always interesting reading – which is probably one reason they're allergic to the blanding-out tendencies of the jazz mainstream. Ned Goold remains one of the most intriguing figures on the label, a one-time Roscoe Mitchell fan nowadays inclined to be skeptical about just about everything in jazz after bebop, and taking his bearings from unfashionable figures like Frankie Trumbauer and Charlie Rouse. He also has a gadfly personality which can be sampled on his website: “I don't think any Jazz artist of the last 30 years can hold a candle to Biggie Smalls.” Goold has devised an earbending approach that involves superimposing 12-tone series over conventional jazz changes; despite that, though, he's spent much of his career in the ultra-mainstream Harry Connick Jr. band.
On the face of it March of the Malcontents seems more accessible than Goold's previous Smalls release, the trio CD The Flows , since the presence of Sacha Perry's piano fleshes out the harmonies. But the music is much dryer than before, sometimes positively dogged: the Rollinsish sense of fantasy evident on The Flows has gone missing, and Goold's usually sprightly sound is poorly caught by the recording. His solos have the air of stiffly worked-out permutations, phrase after phrase cut from the same cloth without actually building on one another, and the result is that tracks like “Boss Borden” and “What Is This Thing Called Love?” end up as intractable treadmills. Perry and bassist Neal Caine are in lively form, and it's hard for the ear not to drift towards their interplay rather than to the leader's solos. Goold's saxophonist's teenaged son Charles plays solidly but nonassertively, and one misses the quiet fire that Jason Marsalis brought to Caine's Backstabber's Ball , which remains the best place to hear Goold on record.
Evan Parker, George Lewis, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton
Hook, Drift & Shuffle
Hook, Drift & Shuffle was recorded in Brussels in February 1983, just a month after the Parker/Guy/Lytton trio's debut Tracks; both albums originally appeared on Incus. Even though this is basically the trio plus trombonist George Lewis, the results are very different from the trio's own recordings; in its use of electronics and Lytton's scrupulous avoidance of conventional drumming/percussion, it actually has much in common with contemporaneous recordings by Iskra 1903 (see the recently issued Chapter Two on Emanem). There are passages of dizzying particle-collider smashups, but on the whole the music seems far more ambiguous in its direction. There's always a tension in improv, I think, between an approach where extended-technique sounds/noises are primarily abstract, manipulable textures, without inherent expressive or referential baggage, and one which foregrounds (or plays with) existing expressive associations, delighting in making the listener think of a bird-chirp, a hiccup or a yelp. Whereas the P/G/L trio is about finding how much heat can be generated from hyper-abstraction, Hook, Drift & Shuffle is an album that works off the tension between the two approaches: it's as the music were pulled simultaneously in the direction of the ethereal and the earthy, the incredibly sophisticated and the naïve or the absurd. Parker's pressurized arabesques receive raucous caws or babyish gurgles from Lewis (very much in the vein of his work with Zorn and Bailey on Yankees ), while Guy's huge, enveloping arco shapes are answered by strangled plings and scrapes emanating from some homemade instrument of Lytton's devising. At times one feels that the music is some strange ecosystem, a network of tremulous checks and balances among harmoniously co-existing but quite varied denizens; there's also a submerged element of ritual intensity that surfaces on one or two occasions, such as the stately outer-space processional behind Parker's soprano feature on “Shuffle”. This is vintage music which should be in the collection of any free-improv fan, and one hopes it won't be too long before its sister album Tracks also surfaces in Psi's reissue program.
Fred Hess, In the Grotto (Alison)
Tenor saxophonist Fred Hess has been working this seam for a while, having kept his group with trumpeter Ron Miles, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Matt Wilson together now for four albums. The basic aesthetic remains the same, too: intricately polyphonic charts, full of tight, bright dissonances so delicately balanced they feel almost weightless; an inside-out approach that feeds off the contrast between the leader's spiralling, agitated improvisations (rather like a cross between Warne Marsh and Joe Lovano) and Miles' pinpoint lyricism, deftly propelled by Filiano and the invincibly peppy Wilson – though the bassist brings a deeper, darker undertow when necessary. Hard to complain about Hess's sticking to a formula, though, since the sequence of CDs has gotten stronger with each entry. The addition of multi-instrumentalist John Gunther with the previous album, How 'Bout Now, was a welcome stroke, and he's even better on In the Grotto, especially his heated alto work on “Alison's Dream” and “Simple Steps”.
Hess approaches jazz tradition respectfully but obliquely, perhaps out of distaste for the way so much of the music has become ritual genuflection to the past. On How 'Bout Now, for instance, there's a reworking of Monk's “Evidence” that's so thoroughgoing that one has to listen carefully to hear the connection to the original piece. In the Grotto is unusual in his work for tackling The Tradition head-on. A 14-minute piece called “Ninth House” reflects on Coltrane's legacy through a dense musical collage referencing various touchstones from his career (the 12-note row of “Miles' Mode”; Garrison's bass solos; the bass line from “All Blues”). It's an admirable attempt at dealing with a formidable legacy – I wish most Coltrane tributes were this graceful and imaginative. “Hold On” is a tribute to the classic Johnny Griffin/Lockjaw Davis battles, a mutated version of Gillespie's “Bebop” that Hess and Gunther tackle with spearing momentum (more reminiscent of Marsh and Ted Brown than Jaws/Griff, come to think of it). The CD has the odd flaw – Matt Wilson's rock drumming on “Simple Steps” is too cute by half, for instance – but they that hardly matters on a disc that's among this year's most enjoyable jazz releases.
The Velocity of Hue: Live in Cologne
To the best of my knowledge, no official film of Elliott Sharp existed until now, unless you count a low-budget Italian VHS tape called Sharpness , released MANY years ago. But fear not, as director Pavel Borodin has decided to shed some light on the New Yorker's artistic persona through this beautiful documentary issued in, alas, only 70 copies in European PAL format – too bad, because it's destined to become a Holy Grail for aficionados of improvised guitar. Filmed at Loft in September 2005 by a four-camera crew, Live in Cologne runs 76 minutes; there are also extra features, including an extract from the sound check. Sharp is one of the most intelligent of modern composers, as is evident from Borodin's interview footage. The guitarist cuts a splendid figure, his low, poised articulation discussing difficult concepts (such as the use of scientific and mathematic laws as a compositional basis) with the tranquillity of someone who sees things as obvious which others might well find incomprehensible. His peculiar facial resemblance to Igor Stravinsky is even more accented when he plays, lips tightened in concentration, sinuous yet strong hands tapping the strings of a Godin Multiac electroacoustic (linked to a laptop and a mixer). Sharp's music is a blend of minimalism, cyber-tribalism and radical acousticity , and the performance here touches on all these stylistic elements. The main concert presents material from The Velocity of Hue (Emanem) and Quadrature (Zoar); it is followed by two encores, the first of which uses electronic treatments in the manner of his Tectonics project, while the second is a straightforward avant-blues that should make people who still idolize the likes of Eric Clapton and Robert Cray feel ashamed. When he's not using an eBow, Sharp strokes, rubs and claws the strings with an unerring nose for harmonics, pinched droplets of overtone sapience that sparkle like stars in the dark night of six-stringed ignorance. One couldn't expect any less from a man who once named a piece "Triumph of the Won't".
Some funky links:
>> nature project
>> our late great editor, launches his new career on camera
>> radulescu interview
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