Todd McComb: Jazz archive, 10/2010-06/2011

To main page.

I decided to start something a little different here and write some ongoing comments about jazz... mostly recordings, but some live performances, and some thoughts on relationships with other music.

After a long time spent focusing on Western medieval music (and related historical styles), as well as traditional styles from a variety of other cultures, I have been looking to connect more with contemporary music again. (I will also be rewriting some of the modern music pages soon.) I am finding that reconnecting with contemporary music is working better for me through the general heading of "jazz" than turning straight back to the "classical" umbrella. As some readers might know, I was more connected to contemporary classical music prior to embarking on the "early music" journey.

Perhaps this is naturally the case both because of my earlier interest in composers (such as Scelsi) who involved improvisational elements in their so-called classical music, and because of the many world improvisational styles that grew to fascinate me over the years. In any event, I am finding that the young group of 20-something performers in jazz is creating music that I particularly enjoy, and many talented musicians are focusing on stylistic areas that I am inclined to appreciate. That is certainly a good feeling, an invigorating feeling generally speaking.

So to that end, not only am I starting this page, which will be freeform, but also reintroducing to the web my prior series on music and aesthetics which ran on a subscription basis from 1997 to 2006. I doubt that I still agree with everything I wrote then, but it is probably worth putting back out there.

I am also continuing with my remarks on recent CDs rotating page on the EMFAQ site, as well as doing record of the year writeups for medieval music.

12 October 2010

A definite bias of mine when writing this page will be a reliance on recordings. Although I've been attending jazz concerts, if I like something, I have the urge to hear it again, to study it. That will color these pages, to be sure, as recordings which are repeatedly enjoyable will draw my attention.

This has been true of any genre on the site, of course. I'll readily admit that I neglected going to medieval recitals, although like many interesting niches, it would have required more travel than I was willing to devote. World music recitals here in the Bay Area are relatively plentiful (and of course we're probably the second best place in the US to find medieval music live), and I was attending those quite regularly for some years. Certainly in the case of Carnatic music, I've always felt that recordings contained basically a truncated version of a great concert, even the best of them.

That said, Carnatic concerts by major performers are often three hours or more in length. In my experience, and I'm sure there are exceptions, jazz sets have been CD-length or even shorter. Jazz fits well onto CD, maybe a double CD. So, whereas, unquestionably, performances which make a strong first impression do not necessarily hold up as well as some others, skewing preferences versus live sets, the CD is a fairly natural medium — it developed alongside the jazz idiom.

(I do not want to even think about the idea of downloading single mp3 tracks. Putting in an hour-ish recording and sitting back and enjoying it is a comfortable feeling for me. I have a CD system that sounds good, and obviously I have not been ready to embrace the idea of downloading music on my computer. At some point, there might be no alternative, but I am avoiding the subject for now.)

A live performance is simply a different medium from a recording... it's physically different for the listener, there's a different energy & timing about it, and of course the opportunty to simply listen again if one doesn't follow something might not be there.

So with that major disclaimer, I think I'm about ready to dive into some specific material.

7 November 2010

One thing I've been struggling with, besides just finding the time to get some of these thoughts onto the page/pixels, is with the idea of "What is the first jazz CD I'm going to mention?" I do think it's silly to feel pressure around that question, and obviously I take myself far too seriously to even be concerned.

That said, I went ahead and started a CD index for this portion of the site, and added the small stack (7) of CDs I have that I've enjoyed and/or wanted to talk about all at the same time. (For the nerds and/or mildly curious, I used the exact same indexing program I wrote back in the 1990s. It still works fine.)

8 November 2010

As promised in the intro, I did manage to update both the Messiaen (although I do need to make an update on the recording recommendation for his massive piano set) & Sorabji articles from the modern section of this site. My interest in their music goes back to the 1980s, and was not expressed very well here, writing after the fact. However, I had been hearing echoes of Messiaen in particular in jazz piano solos I've enjoyed lately, and that spurred me to listen again. Actually, it was somewhat simultaneous, in that it happened together with my general desire to reconnect with contemporary music that also spurred me to jazz. In the case of Sorabji, I am really not hearing that his sense of pianistic chromaticism has had much or any influence in jazz, and I think it could bear attention.

That said, feeling less swamped, I did also want to start talking about some actual jazz recordings. For something released this year, I want to mention Woody Witt's second recording for Blue Bamboo Music, using an entirely different ensemble from the first, which has become something of a favorite of mine. Witt has been recording with different performers, and in this case brought the French pianist Franck Amsallem to work with him in Houston. I have consistently found Witt's music to be interesting and appealing, time after time. It isn't super high-energy, frenetic music, but more pensive and with a keen sense of rhythm and a certain understatement about harmonic context. Witt is a music professor at a small school in Houston, and is originally from Nebraska. (Strangely? My smallish circle of friends contains a couple of people from Nebraska.)

That said, I also don't understand the inclination to release the recording with no documentation. It has the names of the tracks and the names of the musicians, and that is all, with a lot of empty black paper. Personally, I don't generally read what musicians have to say about their approach until after I've listened to a recording, and I do not necessarily need that information. However, some basic factual documentation of what is on a recording, such as who wrote what, when it was recorded etc. just seems like common sense to me. Maybe I'm not "hip" enough.

Anyway, that said, I do intend to emphasize more recent performers and performances here. I've been listening to many of the classics, and frankly, I find them kind of repetitive & dull. (I should also add that the era, being shortly before I was born, has a certain feel to it for me that I associate with my parents or grandparents, which I guess somehow I find more offputting than much older music — seeds of rebellion, no doubt.) As a scholar & historian, I can recognize the impact, but the ideas have been so thoroughly copied & imitated — not to mention infused into various mainstream products, of all sorts, from TV theme songs to jingles — that it seems played out, at least in some ways. (I'll add also that the heyday of jazz, at least in terms of popular sales, was also the heyday of the development of marketing theory.) Obviously, I'm stepping right into the exact same question that's been going around jazz circles since the classic era 50 years ago or so, namely what's next? It seems to me there is a lot of good music being made, so I'm not too concerned to answer that question in any specific way. Or rather, I should say, I'm not finding a lot of values in labels when perusing what's available. While that sounds nice & fairly non-judgmental, it does mean that finding new things I like seems like a shot-in-the-dark sometimes.

1 December 2010

I also have a second recording by Seamus Blake listed here. His Live in Italy got a fair amount of attention online, and was my favorite jazz album for a while, in particular the second disc. The second disc has compositions by other performers, although it does include Spacing by David Kikoski of Blake's Quartet, and that was the first piece I particularly liked. Later, I warmed up to Blake's own compositions on the first disc, which also feature some electronic effects that I found initially offputting (and an older, more traditional friend couldn't get through that first disc at all).

My first impression of Bellwether was also not that strong, beginning as it does with Scofield's Dance Me Home that ends the earlier live set, and also includes another related track by Debussy. The program seemed too similar. Actually, the closeness between these two programs was something I came to enjoy over time, with Dance Me Home beginning the studio program where the live program left off, and then ending in the Debussy movement from the same piece that had been the longest track on the live set. It seems very much like a consolidation of what Blake and his group gained during the Italian tour, established in a studio recording as a distinct stake in the ground, so to speak.

It's also a very enjoyable and energetic style. Having played with Scofield for a while, Blake has more mainstream connections than some other artists I've listed here, but I'm finding his music just as original and compelling. I do miss the bass line a bit from the live set, but am also particularly taken with Bill Stewart on the drums (such great, understated timing!). Hearing Blake in a quintet with guitar is also enjoyable too... I like the configuration he uses here. Finally, I've particularly appreciated Kikoski's playing on piano, expanding on that sort of Messiaen–Beatles nexus I've mentioned. He has also recorded with Woody Witt, as coincidence would have it (I did not know this until more recently).

Maybe I should return to my comments on electronic effects. This is surely a product of my long emphasis on classical and acoustic music. Even in classical music, although I studied some electronic music in the 1980s, I generally shied away from the genre. Why? I am not sure, but I guess my suspicion is that the number of possibilities just seemed too high. So perhaps there was an intimidation factor around "What can be done with electronic music?" I also put a lot of emphasis on the human dynamic, which fits in wonderfully with the interplay of a jazz ensemble.

2 December 2010

An item I added to the CD listing in the first batch here is basically a fusion program with Monteverdi and related repertory from Italy (circa 1600). Obviously, this is a fairly natural fit with this website more broadly, and the group La Venexiana is well-known for performing vocal works of the period. The jazz item, Monteverdi meets Jazz, is rather pleasant & enjoyable. I didn't find it held a lot of my attention over time, but it was a valuable listen for perspective. Roberta Mameli has a very nice voice, and the jazz ensemble is creative in an understated way.

There have been suggestions over the years that the Ars Subtilior repertory of circa 1400 owes much of its free-wheeling structure to an improvisational origin, and that the manuscripts consist of subsequently notated improvisations. While the latter idea has met some backlash, it isn't too hard to believe that these ideas were often developed via improvisation. When this repertory was originally studied in modern times, it was called unplayable. Now there are quite a few quality recordings (last section of the linked page), ones I find enjoyable.

Likewise, the early history of organum, and the origin of Western polyphony around a thousand years ago, is tied to improvisation. In this case, there is a general consensus that the two-voice music, which basically started as tropes (i.e. filling in with commentary), had its second voice improvised. In other words, someone (or a group) would sing an established chant, and then a soloist would improvise a faster part above that with a text that was commenting on the original text.

I've also found that a lot of jazz musicians don't realize that classical music training contained a major element of improvisation. Basso continuo is basically improvised by nature, for instance, from the Baroque period, and solos in concertos were typically improvised. It was composers like Beethoven who wanted to get away from this, by writing their own solos. Even after that, improvisation was a major element of e.g. the French organ school, well into the early 20th century.

In short, improvisation has been around a long time in European music. It's the specific idioms of jazz that were new.

21 December 2010

As far as I know, the "most mainstream" recording I have listed here so far is Vijay Iyer's Historicity. That was also the first jazz album I found myself enjoying when I was trying to reconnect with contemporary music. It's still an enjoyable recording, but I'm not getting as much out of it after many listens. Some of the pop influences definitely wear thin, although I still like the overall musical sense of harmony & rhythm. (Unfortunately, I just do not have enough jazz recordings that I really like, so I wear them out.)

I did get Vijay Iyer's solo recording which came out on the heels of the great success enjoyed by Historicity. It wasn't bad but I didn't feel like it really added anything to the trio recording. It was the same set of ideas... I didn't hear a lot of development, and then I missed the bass & drums.

Sort of opposite situation occurred with Benoît Delbecq's recordings. A solo piano recording and a trio recording were released at the same time, and I got both. In that case, I didn't feel like the extra musicians added much to Delbecq's music, and preferred the solo version. It also has a lot of different effects on it, so it suggests bass & percussion anyway. Delbecq's Circles and Calligrams is definitely the most avant garde recording I have listed so far. It does not bow to traditional jazz idioms much at all, but I've found it consistently enjoyable and interesting, suggestive as it is more of postmodernism — yet maintains a good energy and sense of momentum.

There are two other recordings I added in the first batch, and haven't had time to say much about. Both are definitely favorites.

Ryan Cohan's Another Look was an instant favorite. I really liked the energy and sense of rhythm, and just the elaborate yet straightforward musical style brought out in both his compositions and improvisations. On getting to know this recording more, there are some technical issues that some might find a little offputting... personally, I think that Cohan has some sections where he's wanting to do something infrachromatic, but doesn't have that available. It might be time for him to look at some modest electronics, to actualize some of that, although it might also distract from his otherwise very uncluttered style. Nonetheless, this is a recording I continue to greatly enjoy... love the opening track. I like the sound of vibes (my wife likes to play Bach on vibes sometimes), and really enjoy Joe Locke on this recording. I did also get Locke's own recent recording, Sticks and Strings but did not enjoy his own music much (there were some parts I liked, but not enough to sustain listening to the CD).

The other recording on the list is Contact – Five on One, mentioned last here, but certainly not least. This is a recording that made a bit of a mixed first impression, in part I imagine because there isn't a clear leader, and so the different performers are doing their own pieces at times. However, it has been very strong on repeated exposure and getting to know it more. This is quite an amazing ensemble, and I'm going to be looking into some other things these performers have done with other groups. Hopefully they'll do a followup to this release. This recording also gathered some larger media attention, in large part because of the superstar lineup, but it's well-deserved and really holds up. Great ideas and originality, and despite my comment about doing their own things, they do play off each other very well.

9 January 2011

So I have been seeking out jazz recordings more aggressively lately, especially having gotten an idea what I like, how people might describe it, and just getting a better command of the different styles.

Fortunately, the Smalls Live label has appeared at the same time as I am trying to get more in touch with this music, and is featuring high-quality live performances from the Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village.

I've been listening to several of these, have a few more on order, and am generally still pondering a bit what's out there. However, I wanted to mention a few recordings.

Since I have been enjoying Seamus Blake, seeing his Live at Smalls recording appear was a part of drawing my attention to the label. (It also didn't hurt that the releases are appearing in the Harmonia Mundi release catalog, which I am accustomed to perusing for medieval releases.) This is another appealing, high-energy performance from Blake and his quintet. I always enjoy these guys, and it's great to hear another live set that continues to show Blake's progression from Bellwether. The Subterfuge track from that album makes a great opener here. I'm not sure if Fear of Rooming is a typo or intended to be a distinct takeoff on Fear of Roaming from Live in Italy. In any case, hearing different versions of Blake's own music has been worthwhile, and makes relistening to the other versions more enjoyable.

I also want to make very definite note of the two most original recordings in this series so far, those by Ari Hoenig (b.1973) and Omer Avital (b.1971).

I have not found a clear explanation of what the "Punk" in Hoenig's "Punkbop" style means exactly, that is to say, some people I know who are familiar with punk music were not able to pick out anything in the music that seemed to indicate punk roots. However, his drumming is quite original & compelling, and the basic tightness of his ensemble in some of the more modernistic textures is impressive. The program starts with some more typical bebop-type material, although punctuated by "extra" rhythmic steps, goes through some modern sounds (reminiscent of the DnB style derived from rave music?) and ends in a self-explanatory track called "Ska." Somehow the combination works well, and I am finding this recording to be a favorite. All tracks are Hoenig originals.

Although not quite as compelling, Avital's program also contains some real gems, and great originality. There is a bit of a klezmer touch. As with the styles mentioned in the previous paragraph, I've never really gotten in to klezmer music, but it works here. I can hear a lot of potential in this style, especially around the bass playing and the way it interrelates to the horns (and Avital's other recordings have included some different horn sections), so look forward to more. The final track certainly seems like a departure from the often sacred music emphasis at this site, featuring some profanity as it does, but it wraps up the set very nicely. As a professional jazz musician family member pointed out, when we listened to these recordings together, listen to how few people are there in the audience. It's a small handful of people. Much like the medieval material I value, it is a good thing we can have these recordings distributed widely, because even in New York, the concentration of dedicated audience members seems to be rather small.

A final note on older recordings: Since looking more aggressively for recordings online, I have had a few occasions where I thought I was buying a recent recording which was actually much older... labeled 2009, but recorded in 1987, for instance. All I can say is that it's no wonder I never found much of a taste for jazz in the 1980s. Some of that stuff is downright dull, even including some musicians whose third millennium recordings I've enjoyed, and music I've never actually heard before. Progress marches on?

8 February 2011

A recording I found fairly randomly by searching around on Amazon is Dave Allen's Real and Imagined. I found it because it includes Seamus Blake & Drew Gress, two performers I had admired elsewhere. The drummer, Mark Ferber, also turns out to be outstanding. I am really quite taken with Dave Allen on guitar, however, and all of the tracks are his compositions. This album has quickly become a favorite. It combines some of the hard-driving lines that I've enjoyed from Blake with a great sense of underlying rhythmic & melodic subtlety. Allen really keeps things together with quite a technique, but much like Woody Witt's music, paying close attention to what is happening rhythmically (and the ambiguities involved) makes for a very satisfying experience. I don't know how widely known this recording is, but I can heartily recommend it, particularly for anyone interested in jazz guitar. (I should also add that the compositions themselves easily transcend simply being guitar music.)

Because I liked Real and Imagined so much, I went ahead and bought Allen's first recording. This is also enjoyable, about half of it in a trio format without the saxophone. I definitely find his second recording more compelling, however, so it'll be interesting to see where he goes from there. As I write this, it's already been a few years (2007).

I have a couple of other thoughts around these recordings. One is that the label is based in Barcelona. Here we have United States musicians performing a style of music originating in the United States and even recording it in the United States, but it appears on a European label? This is true of many other recordings I've mentioned here, and will be true of more. I think we can guess why this is, but really, it's a sorry state of affairs for this country. Thanks, though, to these European labels!

The other thought is about guitar technique, and my earlier comment about 1980s music. Guitar reached a level of prominence in jazz in that era, and a lot of that had to do with rock or metal crossover, and included a lot of the same "screechy" electronics. In more recent times, we see guitarists go back to a clear tone, and that is very welcome. The jazz guitar in these recent recordings has been a bit of a revelation to me, capturing some of the sound of the piano even (or perhaps favorites of mine like harpsichord or virginal), mainly by the precision the guitarists have to make sure each note is heard individually. I have some more thoughts about some guitar recordings in the queue, but I'll add a lament of a family member upon hearing some of these recordings. Why aren't guitarists telling us what kind of pickups they use?

10 February 2011

In the same search as finding Dave Allen's Real and Imagined, as might be implied by the above entry, I also found Drew Gress's The Irrational Numbers. I had admired Drew Gress's music on some other recordings, particularly Contact: Five on One. I have had a bit of an up & down reaction to The Irrational Numbers, although I do love the title. At first I did not like it, with the strange opening, the "bossa nova"-style track and the electronics. Other times, I found myself greatly enjoying it. It still seems to depend on mood somewhat, but it remains in my regular rotation. I subsequently bought 7 Black Butterflies, and also like that one. It's less unusual, meaning I am more likely to enjoy it, but less likely to be really transfixed. Still, it's certainly one of the more original items listed here. Gress's ensemble style has a lot of dissonance & atonality, and often a really "busy" feel with various riffs taking off from the bass line. There's a lot going on, and if you penetrate it, it definitely keeps your interest. Other times, I'm probably just not sufficiently mentally geared up to get into what is going on, and it just sorts of sits there without pulling me in. It definitely needs "active listening" in that sense. In the end, it's great to have the new ideas, both in sonority and the way the music is structured in a post-bop context.

Together with 7 Black Butterflies, I also bought Ralph Alessi's Cognitive Dissonance, since I had enjoyed his contribution on The Irrational Numbers, and because I am still looking for a trumpet player I really like. There's some good material on Cognitive Dissonance, but a bit too many different things going on, if you ask me... lots of tracks, and different styles. Maybe I'm just getting picky, but it feels more like an audition tape than a set.

Similarly, after admiring Ari Hoenig's Punkbop live CD so much, I went ahead and bought his Inversations and Bert's Playground. Both have some good material, but just don't come off with the same intensity & unity as the live CD. For one, it's different performers on different tracks, and the percussion solos seem a bit forced, in terms of feeling the need to have one. There are some covers, and it's kind of interesting to see how Hoenig's style applies there. Anyway, I hope his next recording builds what he did with Punkbop.

28 February 2011

Continuing to be motivated by Punkbop, I bought Stockholm Syndrome by Will Vinson, the alto player who often plays with Ari Hoenig. This CD has had kind of the opposite effect as The Irrational Numbers, in that I greatly enjoyed it the first time through, and then found it a little less interesting. The latter is more about missing the kinds of polyrhythm and density of ideas I enjoy in some recordings, but Stockholm Syndrome does continue to satisfy in the melodic & harmonic areas, joining my growing but short list of favorites. Lage Lund continues to impress as an accompanist (and I'll have some comments on him as a leader soon).

At the same time, I ordered the most recent CD by the guitarist of Punkbop, Jonathan Kreisberg (Shadowless), but it has yet to arrive. Amazon now says April. I guess I'll put together the guitar comments I had promised at that time.

I'm also going to branch out with a whole series of recordings set to arrive next week. We'll see. There's a lot of quality music being made out there, which is a great feeling, but I'm also kind of settling in on what goes beyond just being "quality" and enjoyable, and what really strikes me.

13 March 2011

I still have a huge backlog of things I need to discuss here, but wanted to get out some comments, not really in any kind of order at all. I've been pouring a ton of time into this music... feels like being 20 again, and just listening to music 10 hours a day. I'm putting a lot together that way, and I need to get a lot of that here in writing. I will at some point.

So I have some concrete thoughts that I feel like expressing right now about Michael Formanek's The Rub and Spare Change recording on ECM. I guess most everything on ECM is kind of minimalistic, if not slow or drawn out. In this case, it's basically a dissection of the self-labeled Downtown school of jazz (referencing New York). There's a lot of repetition here, whether in ostinatos or reprising a melodic section, and things are basically slowed down to expose more of the fundamentals of the style to the listener. It's very worthwhile in that sense. I have some favorite recordings with Tim Berne on here already, and there are several things with Craig Taborn that I really enjoy (many of those discussions are pending), so this album is using top-notch musicians. Anyway, the style is typically very frenetic and dissonant, so anyone interested in a more easy-going introduction would find this valuable. I actually find it quite catchy, with the repetition leaving the tunes resonating in my head. I intend to spread it around.

The other thing I definitely need to do, besides discuss some new material, both favorites and other items that attract my attention, is discuss some of the favorites mentioned above in more detail.

In particular, I found myself being relatively deprecatory toward Untold Stories and 7 Black Butterflies. Undoubtedly, this was part of a desire to feel discriminating regarding various albums, and hearing the followup albums by Dave Allen and Drew Gress before these. In retrospect, these are two of my absolute favorites, which I come back to time & again, and also lend variously.

Whereas I associate horn sounds quite strongly with jazz, and like the idea of belting out a tune that way, I find the more trio-oriented material on Dave Allen's first album to be highly compelling. I don't think I'll ever prefer trios, all things being equal, but the writing on Untold Stories is just so creative and dynamic, it's a fantastic album. Dave Allen's technique on guitar is outstanding, obviously, but one thing I really enjoy about this generation of guitarists is the way they've completely liberated the distinction between playing chords and playing a melody. Whether there are simultaneous notes going on in the playing, and how many, is at the service of the music & expression and not a binary choice between harmonizing and playing the lead. Certainly older guitarists have managed this blend, but I find it so natural with Dave Allen. That, on top of his tone and the way he articulates notes, make this such an appealing album to the ear. I don't like the bass playing as much as I do on the followup with Drew Gress, but there's a literal freshness to the material here that is hard to beat.

Similarly, whereas The Irrational Numbers is more "out there" (so to speak), I find 7 Black Butterflies more compelling in some ways. Comparing this with Formanek's album is natural, since he and Gress are bassists, with both using Tim Berne & Craig Taborn prominently. As alluded above, this is much more dense material... it doesn't build to a culmination so much as The Rub and Spare Change (which really must be heard as a full album), but the greater variety of material from track to track is quite welcome. Gress really holds things together, and here Berne lets loose a lot more. There's a bit of a study in contrast there, but it's played out in miniature, comparatively. Tom Rainey should also be noted as an outstanding polyrhythmic drummer, and I'll have more to say about him later. What I particularly find in this style is rhythmic & harmonic layers which in turn create space for the various front line players to operate independently but still in relation to the whole. The entire subject of creating "space" for improvisatory expression, and how to keep individuals' spaces from colliding is a full topic on its own and deserves more treatment. Suffice to say that with all the activity & dissonance, Gress's music here continues to hang together as coherent compositions... and there are several distinct ideas to enjoy.

21 April 2011

Together with Ari Hoenig's CD, the other Small's Live release that I found most striking was Omer Avital's.

I've explored a fair amount of Hoenig's other recordings, as well as music by other musicians found on that set, and that has been fertile territory to add some items here, which I mostly still need to discuss. (As I understand it, Hoenig's next release will be out later this year and will be a reunion with Jean-Michel Pilc.)

Although the Avital release received a good deal more hype in media outlets, it didn't excite me to the same degree, although it's certainly enjoyable & striking for its style. I subsequently ordered Avital's previous and subsequent recordings, on Smalls Records (the relationship to Small's Live, I don't really understand, but they have different distributors and everything). In this case, especially with the most recent one, I was expecting something new, but these are older recordings. That's something I've found rather frustrating at times when exploring this repertory. It can be very unclear when a recording was actually made, and this information seems deliberately hidden. Thoughts along the latter lines do offend me, frankly. Anyway, Room to Grow, copyright 2006, was recorded in 1997. It's a program of mostly standards in extended performance with four saxophones. It's mostly enjoyable enough, but certainly nothing special. Free Forever, copyright 2011, was recorded live in Italy in 2007, and features the same band on the Small's Live release, with the exception of Johnathan Blake. Free Forever starts out with a sort of world-elegiac quality, gets into some general "feel good" choruses, and also features a few interesting solos mainly marked as interludes. It's an enjoyable recording, with some fairly transparent world influences, but certainly not as edgy (or, for that matter, as comfortable) as the Small's Live set. The opening to the New York set has such a great buildup, the bass line into the horn duet and the piano & drums getting more involved... it still gives me goosebumps. Avital's music, while not as complicated as much of what I've been hearing lately, does seem to fit perfectly with Small's "World peace through music" dedication.

I also purchased Jason Lindner's Now vs Now recording, based on his playing (piano) with Omer Avital. It was a bit of a surprise how much of a crossover it is, featuring a couple of prominent hip hop performers and others from outside more traditional jazz. I'm not opposed to the hip hop influence at all (and have more to say later about that too), but much of this recording is very slow-moving (the more traditional "jazz" & R&B sections actually), with not much happening. It does also fit a "world peace" theme.

24 April 2011

I owe some guitar comments, and want to start with Peter Bernstein (b.1967). As I mentioned back on February 10th, growing up in the 70s & 80s, I had particular associations with guitar playing from that era, and especially the electric guitar and the kind of distorted sound that defined the period. Moreover, coming from more of a classical background, I didn't necessarily think much about that instrument and how it worked in ensemble. In classical music, it's often been a solo instrument.

I have also been prioritizing recordings with a lot of newly composed material. I've taken a bit of good-humored flack at times for ignoring the "standards" but basically I've enjoyed recordings with more new material than old. Of course, being creative with the standards is a significant form of expression in jazz, but for the most part, I'd like to jump straight to the "creative" part (and I need to write more about this). That said, I do often enjoy albums with a standard mixed into mostly new material. I find that a great way to connect more explicitly with the older material, while mainly providing new material for the listener today.

So on that count, Peter Bernstein's Monk CD is quite an exception for this list so far. I've yet to be entirely taken with any of his infrequent albums focusing on his own music (although I really like some of his originals, such as Relativity on Heart's Content), but the Monk CD comes off amazingly well. His tone & precision are impeccable, and putting this quintessentially piano-oriented music onto guitar is stunningly successful. Although an older friend of mine doesn't think it sounds much like Monk, with so many of the notes stripped away to fit in this format, the dissonant implications of the music come through with attention. This is the opposite, I suppose, of Dave Holland's dictum to "play all the notes." That sort of understated implication, both harmonically & rhythmically, plays into my interest in Woody Witt's music also, and generally throughout this list.

Although there is no question that Peter Bernstein's reputation is more than secure in the field of jazz guitar, there are other current guitarists who have caught my ear. Although I thoroughly enjoy both the overall conception & execution in Five on One with John Abercrombie (more around the ensemble interaction than the guitar technique per se), it was Monk that had a major effect on the way I'm hearing the younger generation of jazz guitar overall.

Moving on to introduce the other guitar CDs I've already added to this list....

As noted earlier, I have been particularly impressed with Lage Lund as an accompanist, the clarity of both his tone and his phrases. So it was natural to buy his most recent (second) album as a leader, Untold Stories. Lund's almost crystalline tone plays off of Edward Simon on piano quite well, and I always appreciate Bill Stewart (who has recorded frequently with Peter Bernstein) on drums. While this album doesn't always blow me away, I've enjoyed it, and decided to list it here. Lund's voicing is consistently interesting, as is his ensemble conception, although it sometimes takes a while listening to get into (I am particularly enjoying the track Drum as I write this paragraph). He apparently writes most of his music on the piano, so the act of "condensing" it (so to speak) for the guitar is directly related to Monk above, as is the clarity and openness of his playing. His tone as a guitarist is already amazing, so it'll be interesting to see where he goes as a composer.

Both for Peter Bernstein & Lage Lund, and also in discussing Mike Moreno, it's relevant to mention the Criss Cross Jazz label a bit. I did notice a reviewer complaining online, having to do with another artist, that Criss Cross Jazz is too conservative, and doesn't allow as much creativity as these musicians can display elsewhere. I have a few Criss Cross titles listed here, and really enjoy the label. I enjoy the balance between old & new there, and note that it's not as though all of their releases are dominated by standards. However, and I'm also not the only person to have noted this, in the case of Mike Moreno, his Criss Cross release Third Wish is far more conservative than his debut album Between the Lines, which I find quite creative and compelling. One thing I do appreciate about Criss Cross is they insist on recording an album in one day. Although I am not going to exclude heavily produced studio recordings, or really deprecate them in any way, I do think this kind of time constraint works well for musical expression. I'm not going to get into the seemingly "macho" angle of whether someone can play something in one take, but I do think the possibility of endlessly revising a studio album can actually reduce the overall quality sometimes. There's a temptation to obsess over fiddling with something that can be counterproductive; I know I do it in my own writing.

So that said, Third Wish starts off with four standards, mostly slower, with some fine but largely unremarkable playing. I've also listened to Kevin Hays in several things now, and just not gotten into his style. Once we get to the 6th track, and the seemingly consciously titled Another Way, the electric sound comes more to the forefront, and Moreno shows more originality. It's a pleasant enough album, and I'm still looking forward to Moreno's second release on Criss Cross, First in Mind with Aaron Parks on piano, due out in May.

Between the Lines, released on drummer Kendrick Scott's own label, is another story. I apparently have some affinity for Houston musicians, a fact which surprises me, but this follows my interest in Woody Witt's music (and I should note that Ari Hoenig studied with Ed Soph, the drummer on Witt's A Conversation, in college). I think Between the Lines does border on over-produced, but it's full of wonderfully creative and well-executed music. It's very striking and original. Moreno brings a bit more of a rock-influenced tone, which I'm finding easier to enjoy in the younger musicians, coming as they are through the lens of Peter Bernstein et al. Moreno has a great pallet, lending an explicit sense of conscious choice about the tone he's using at any particular time. Add to that a wonderful fluidity between melody & harmony, a keen sense of rhythm, and you get an outstanding CD. I do have a minor beef about using different musicians on different tracks (removing even the illusion that it's a single set), here and on some other albums I like, but I guess that's the nature of the business. This is mostly restless music without much stasis... kind of a skittering quality in the lines & harmonies which lead to a variety of unexpected places.

As I mentioned back in March, I tried ordering Jonathan Kreisberg's Shadowless along with Will Vinson's Stockholm Syndrome in the wake of enjoying Punkbop so much. I particularly wanted this latest album by Kreisberg, because the conception sounded more appealing to me than his couple of immediately preceding albums. I generally like this kind of straight-ahead "shine the light on something" style. Shadowless has not disappointed, being pretty much immediately appealing, if not ear-opening. I enjoy both the guitar playing itself, which also mixes in more of the "dirty" tone (I've also been "told" recently that jazz is supposed to be more about not always having such a clean tone), as well as the ensemble conception & contribution of other musicians. The pianist Henry Hey was new for me, but I have enjoyed the others elsewhere. Although I am not hearing Shadowless as an album that makes me want to go back and buy earlier albums by Kreisberg (another musician who avoids saying when he was born in his own bio), it continues to be consistently engaging & enjoyable, with a nice variety of tunes & rhythms. I particularly enjoy what they do with the Greek traditional melody, Zembékiko, and The Common Climb comes off to me somehow as a rather compelling & hard-driving (ending in a funk style) representation of making it in the music business (and then we get Defying Gravity and Nice Work if You Can Get it, so I don't think I'm exactly making much of a leap). I also must say I like the record label name, New For Now.

Finishing off a bit of an Ari Hoenig theme from the past couple of days, the latest guitar CD I've added to this list so far is Splitlife by Gilad Hekselman (b.1983). This is a live set from 2006 with Ari Hoenig. I've also ordered Hekselman's next CD, Words Unspoken, based on this. (I have to take a moment and ask what's up with having guitarists put out albums called Untold Stories, Unlikely Stories and Words Unspoken and probably others... I don't think it's me, so maybe some different titles are in order. Of course, in fairness, what I care about is the music.) Anyway, as suggested from the delay in ordering his second album, this recording did not originally make a strong impression on me. This is because I originally listened to it in a substandard acoustic environment, and really couldn't hear what was going on. There is a lot of softness & subtlety here, so it requires a good sound system and quiet setting. The playing is generally quiet... a lot of brush work from the drums... some slower tunes, and a wonderful emphasis on shades of touch & articulation. I didn't read the notes until after I had thoroughly enjoyed this recording a few times, but it turns out Hekselman has also taken sarod lessons, and the similar percussive touch on the guitar strings blends amazingly with Hoenig's brushwork. This is very striking & original playing in that sense. Likewise, the polyphonic dimension, in terms of chord voicings versus melodic flow, is quite advanced. It's almost like hearing a (very quiet) large ensemble in that sense. I'm increasingly struck by this recording, and wondering what the followup CD (a studio release, this time with Marcus Gilmore) will be like. Amusingly, the postman rang to deliver it just as I was finishing writing this.

25 April 2011

I waited a while so as to give it another chance, but since I broached the subject of Gilad Hekselman's second album Words Unspoken, I need to give my thoughts. I dislike giving a negative review, but it turns out it was Ari Hoenig's drumming in Splitlife that was creating most of the polyphonic implications, fooling me into thinking more of those ideas were coming from Hekselman. With Marcus Gilmore playing a different style, there is much less to Words Unspoken. I also don't find that including Joel Frahm on saxophone accomplishes anything. Hekselman's playing style is still very appealing, so hopefully his next project will be more interesting.

That said, I have been adding more "avant garde" material here, and need to discuss it. I'm still putting some things together, and awaiting some other material to help me understand the influences, but I'm getting ever-closer to feeling caught up with jazz and/or creative improvisation here in 2011. That's an exciting feeling.

For now, let me just say that every time I listen to Henry Threadgill's This Brings Us To, I am even more impressed. I'll kick off a second phase, so to speak, of this blog with that comment. More to follow.

8 May 2011

One thing I wanted to do, as I sort of wrap up this first chapter of the blog, is name where I found out about each recording listed here. I want to document this before I forget, and also think it's an interesting matter in terms of how people get interested in certain sorts of music, and might be informative to others, especially when it comes to promoting music.

I also owe various other discussions about the music listed here, which I will merely name today, and also a variety of conceptual conversations that have arisen with this study. That said, although I have a few loose ends awaiting, I feel as though I am very close to being "up to date" and listening to jazz in 2011 with a 2011 ear. At this point, bringing my earlier experience with divergent traditions to bear on this material becomes potentially illuminating. But that is a topic for later.

So I will go through the CD listing mostly alphabetically.

Historicity I found featured in the Allegro (distributor) new release flyer. A Conversation was featured by Premiere (distributor), and I later found First Impression via Woody Witt's site.

Mirages came from perusing the Criss Cross Jazz catalog. Bellwether via an Amazon search for Seamus Blake, after enjoying Live in Italy, which I found featured at Premiere. Unlikely Stories was an Amazon recommendation, after hearing Lage Lund as a sideman. Stockholm Syndrome came via searching for the other musicians on Punkbop , as did Shadowless. Punkbop and the Avital group CD came via the Harmonia Mundi (distributor) release flyer, and the label partly drew my attention because of the Seamus Blake live release (which I saw first in the catalog).

Pool School came via searching for the sidemen on The Irrational Numbers, which came via searching for Drew Gress, based on enjoying his work on Five on One, which came via the Qualiton (distributor) flyer. Real and Imagined came via searching for both Seamus Blake and Drew Gress, and then both Untold Stories & 7 Black Butterflies came via enjoying the later recordings by those performers.

Monteverdi Meets Jazz was via regular medieval circles (Qualiton). Another Look was in the Allegro flyer. Travail, Transformation, and Flow was a frequent Amazon suggestion that I was actually reluctant to buy. This Brings Us To was another Amazon suggestion (as was Volume II), and I had heard of Henry Threadgill previously (somewhere in the mists of the past). Steve Coleman was suggested by a friend of a friend, when I said I found most jazz to be too conventional, leading to Harvesting Semblances and Affinities. It took me a while to realize this last set of recordings — all very striking & different — came out on the same label (and that they did not have a huge catalog).

Circles and Calligrams was via the Allegro flyer. Splitlife was via Words Unspoken being a regular Amazon suggestion, and then noticing Ari Hoenig on Splitlife. Come Together was a frequent Amazon suggestion that I eventually cross-checked with Pandora. Between The Lines was via the Amazon suggestion for Third Wish, and Monk was both an Amazon suggestion and via Peter Bernstein's Live at Small's release.

Backing up, I learned of Pete Robbins entirely through Pandora, with a track from his album Centric (I forget which one). Since getting all of his recordings, Pandora continues to play tracks off of Centric for me (two within an hour yesterday). I find it strange that such a seemingly obscure release would be so emphasized, but obviously it worked. Although Robbins' debut in Centric is quite nice, I've enjoyed some of his later recordings more. Waits & Measures is, if anything, more rock-inspired. However with Do The Hate Laugh Shimmy, his own individual voice comes through even more distinctively and with more sophistication. This studio album is a fantastic application of ideas from interval music into jazz and improvisation; sometimes it seems very unusual and sometimes it seems almost simple (even including a track by Gesualdo). Silent Z Live, on Robbins' own label, uses a similar ensemble and conception, having more of the freshness of a live album, and building on the rather impressive synthesis of Robbins' influences in music as diverse as serialism and rock. Beyond that, Unnamed Quartet Live is a stunning development, really a leap in style and openness to free-form improvisation (and a step away from electronics). Noisy as it is, my partner thought I was crazy, but I listened to Live in Brooklyn over & over again when it appeared. This led me to Daniel Levin and Organic Modernism which is also amazing. I will discuss these items more in the near future, together with some others mentioned here, especially the Pi Recordings releases.

One thing this process has accomplished, especially with the avant garde releases, is to identify some labels that have interesting catalogs, and allow me to peruse those as a semi-coherent set. Clean Feed is certainly putting out the highest volume of novel material at present, and I have been listening to a strong cross-section of their recent releases, the first two being Pool School as noted above and Tony Malaby's Voladores, based off a Drew Gress search. Most of what will follow here developed watching the output of specific performers or specific labels. I will be sure to note any departure from that.

16 May 2011

Among the three landmark recordings referenced above on the Pi label (and although Henry Threadgill's album came out in two separate releases, both are from the same recording session), that by Steve Lehman (b.1978) might be the most strikingly original. Reading the description as the "first fully realized exploration of spectral harmony in the history of recorded jazz" made me think of something new age & slow-moving and kind of hokey. However, this recording really grabbed my attention. It's quite striking, and the different compositions create very different impressions. The last track is actually out of experimental hip hop, a fact I discovered only later.

This music basically prioritizes particular harmonic overtones for each instrument, and then lets them improvise around the correspondences. It would appear to be a rather versatile structure, with different prioritizations (within practical limits) made for different compositions, and each creating its own sound world. It's also a fairly large ensemble, although not especially busy, with some instruments playing slower parts while others play faster. The vibraphone is often striking in the foreground, although played fairly slowly, and the bass includes tuba. Given the overtone correspondences, it is sometimes difficult to make out where one instrument ends & another begins, as textures transform over time. The music has sort of a seamless quality in that regard, although it's combined with angular rhythms in the horn parts & understated drumming to give it a good sense of propulsion.

Having created such a landmark, it's certainly interesting to ponder what Steve Lehman will do next. This recording was actually made at the end of 2008, so it's been a while now. In the meantime, Lehman has put out a sax collaboration with Rudresh Mahanthappa (Dual Identity) and a duo disc (Kaleidoscope & Collage) with Stephan Crump (of Vijay Iyer's trio). Neither really builds on Travail, Transformation, and Flow. The duo with Crump is quite experimental, some of it recorded prior to this disc, and the collaboration with Rudresh Mahanthappa is more in line with some of his work with Vijay Iyer in the ensemble Fieldwork. (Their CD Door appeared not long before Travail, Transformation, and Flow.) Previously, Lehman's recording On Meaning (recorded in 2007 with a similar ensemble) gives perhaps the clearest indication of what was coming, although it's not nearly so striking. His previous recording, Manifold, came out of a Portuguese festival and is kind of noisy (I'm not a fan of some of the drum work on that disc, but it's clearly not meant as a finished product). It's certainly not the case that Steve Lehman always goes for a smooth ensemble blend.

Lehman's work with Iyer and Mahanthappa has some interesting elements, and I'm still sorting out my thoughts on it. Basically, I have a lot of mixed impressions of Iyer and Mahanthappa coming from a Carnatic background into jazz. Although Iyer's Historicity was the first jazz album that really caught my attention, as I came to have more of a "jazz ear," I started to find it boring. Presumably, my background in Carnatic music made the CD interesting & accessible for me, but then as I learned the jazz side of things, the part that was actually novel for me, it became predictable. Honestly, I'm not sure what to think, but it does seem clear that world music influences in jazz, at least influences from styles with which I'm already familiar, are going to have a double-edged effect on me. These collaborations with Iyer and Mahanthappa do obviously inspire Lehman, however, as some of his tracks on these albums are quite engaging. I'm still making up my own mind about them overall, as well as how I want to approach this sort of fusion.

So although, listening retrospectively, On Meaning does not have the same immediate impact as Travail, Transformation, and Flow, it is of course impossible to say now what its impact would have been had I heard it back in 2007. On repeated listening, it is a very fine album, and well worth including here. The sense of layered rhythm, varying textures, and angular phrasing are distinctively Lehman's, and On Meaning includes some excellent material. (It probably also doesn't hurt that the title attracts me, being basically the same as the article with which I more or less concluded my aesthetics series in 2003.) The ensemble on this recording is also notable. I haven't seen Chris Dingman in much else (Canada Day being a definite exception), and he is described in some sources as a student of Lehman's. Drew Gress is, of course, everywhere. How one person manages to be directly involved with so much worthwhile music, I'm not sure. Jonathan Finlayson has also been involved with Steve Coleman, among other people. As has Tyshawn Sorey (b.1980), who has also been with Pete Robbins, wrote most of the compositions on Door, and even played a track with Mike Moreno among many other interesting appearances.

Turning back briefly to Kaleidoscope & Collage, first I find it interesting that it has that title (and those are two terms that have an ongoing significance in my own series) when it contains two tracks, Terroir & Voyages. No matter. I have yet to really get excited by a duo album, although the very spare textures here do lend an interesting feel. It's easy to hear the ghost of Scelsi in some of this music, coming as it does from an intimate attention to timbre.

17 May 2011

Steve Coleman has been very independent and creative, one might even say intentionally esoteric, for a long time. His recent Pi release is his first recording in a while with much availability in this country, although he has several older albums available for free download on his website (Alternate Dimension Series I from 2001 is probably the most worthwhile). One thing I've found listening to Steve Coleman's music is that it never seems like a finished product. With Harvesting Semblances and Affinities, he seems to have really worked out the approach to rhythm & phrasing that the earlier releases were looking for, but he moves right into new ways of using the voice as an instrument. I found the voice rather off-putting in this release for some time, which is interesting, because I often prefer vocal music in other traditions. Although it is ostensibly used "as a horn" it really stands out from the texture (unlike, say, Gretchen Parlato, who moves in and out of textures when vocalizing). Over time, though, I've come to enjoy it, and certainly do enjoy the approach to harmony & rhythm.

Harvesting Semblances and Affinities is another album that seems rather evocative of Scelsi, in this case of his Canti del Capricorno. Not only does it feature the extended vocalizing, but there is a similar tropical-equatorial mood, something Scelsi cultivated explicitly. This is not abstract music in that sense; it has a visceral quality, even a sense of "swing" to it, and is much richer harmonically than Scelsi's work. The Zodiac references are also there, of course. I can't even let my rationalist partner read Coleman's liner notes, because she would be immediately dismissive of the music. He comes off as very strange, at a minimum. However, and I have no idea if he views it this way, with music being so much about the structure & manipulation of time, referencing time structures outside of Western industrialized time-keeping makes some sense. The Western idea of continuous time is an abstraction, and frankly an abstraction that wasn't exactly carried out with great social good in mind, so referencing astronomical motion is a way of sweeping that aside. At least that's my thought.

Both because of the seemingly deliberate strangeness and the feeling that results are never quite finished, Steve Coleman's influence on other musicians is almost more satisfying than his own work. Coleman does not consider "m-base" to be a style of music, but other people have been using his label that way. If it were to be a style of music, it would involve highly layered polyrhythms and uneven phrase lengths. Among others, Vijay Iyer has been inspired by this approach.

Another pianist explicitly influenced by m-base is George Colligan. Although his album Come Together begins with the popular Beatles song, and has some slower sections, there is a lot to like about his aggressive & rhythmic approach to the piano. Many of the ideas in this album develop from the simple to the more complex, leading to what can only be described as impressive stretto sections — impressive in part because of the very precise individual fingering. Although not a ground-breaking album, I've enjoyed it, and I'm finding it difficult to find contemporary piano albums that I really enjoy. Perhaps jazz is moving beyond the piano? It isn't really capable of microtones or the precise articulation of a guitar, so maybe it is an instrument past its prime, even if it's still a basis for working out composition. The area where jazz piano seems to be thriving is in quiet, contemplative music, ballads, etc. That seems fitting, having dropped the forte from pianoforte.

At any rate, despite the various disclaimers here, Harvesting Semblances and Affinities is a landmark release, not only for its originality, but because of the way it connects with the basic feel of the older jazz idiom. Once one gets into the sound world it creates, there is almost an easy-going enjoyment involved, a sultry mood, far removed from any edgy avant garde thoughts.

18 May 2011

After the piano comments above, it's probably a good time to return to my remarks on trumpet from February 28th. To that point, I hadn't really found a trumpet-led album I particularly enjoyed, and was interested in that for a couple of basic reasons: Trumpet has quite a history in jazz, and my daughter plays trumpet.

Since then, I've found trumpet playing enjoyable on various albums, including some already named, such as Jonathan Finlayson on many Pi Records issues. I've also greatly enjoyed the playing of Nate Wooley, first in Pete Robbins Unnamed Quartet and then in Daniel Levin's Organic Modernism and elsewhere. (I owe a more extensive discussion of Daniel Levin's music soon. I should also add that I bought Wooley's [Put Your] Hands Together at the same time as Organic Modernism, but it didn't hold my attention.)

In more mainstream jazz, I have been enjoying the music of Alex Sipiagin. His album Mirages is listed here, and I've also enjoyed his next Criss Cross album, Generations - Dedicated to Woody Shaw. The latter features even more standards than the former. I do enjoy Sipiagin's take on standards, but am more interested in his own music. His next release on Criss Cross, Destinations Unknown, is imminent. One thing I find interesting about Sipiagin is that, aside from bassist Boris Kozlov (who also plays on Come Together), he records with very different ensembles. These three albums have no other performers in common, and there is plenty of stylistic variation. Regarding the music, his own playing is quite assured, but he also has a great sense of ensemble, and rhythm & counterpoint within it. Sipiagin spent time playing with the Mingus Big Band (as did George Colligan & Boris Kozlov), as well as with Dave Holland, and a resulting sophisticated sense of ensemble shows in his own releases. It will certainly be interesting to see where he goes with his music, because there is a definite sense of exploration (reflected in the name of his upcoming album), even if it is not avant garde.

19 May 2011

As already noted, Clean Feed has been putting out an enormous number of jazz recordings, in a wide variety of styles. The first to appear on my listing was Pool School, and I owe a rather complicated discussion of various earlier recordings linked to that album and in turn linked to those, in a fairly large network.

In the meantime, a few comments about Pool School itself. This is an album I originally downloaded, because the CD was not available and the listed price was outrageous anyway. Subsequently, I've learned that Clean Feed itself sells CDs for $15.90 and will ship worldwide for free. So that is quite reasonable (but if you're in the US, be sure to get the US price, instead of the Euro price). I've also learned I really do not want to download albums. The 128bit retail standard leaves too much inaudible (and so I paid for Pool School twice).

This is a weird album, frankly. It has a kitschy cover in complete dissonance with the very "out there" avant garde contents. I found myself regularly revisiting it, trying to determine if I was actually enjoying it, or if it was just so strange that I felt a perverse attraction. At this point, I am fairly certain I am enjoying it, and that led to a wide-ranging exploration of some earlier recordings (I hit a snag on obtaining one item I really want to include in a discussion, so hopefully that will resolve itself soon and the resulting discussion will be worth the wait.) It often makes sense to talk about music as the organization of time, and Pool School is among the most radical — yet coherent — reorganizations of time to be found. Rainey's very sophisticated drumming is obviously a significant ingredient, but the extended sonorities and textural manipulations from Laubrock & Halvorson are a big factor also. Halvorson, in particular, sounds like no one else on the guitar, whereas Laubrock's transitions from foreground to background and back set much of the textural context. This album is sparse at times, but not slow-moving. The dozen pieces on the recording feature fairly rapid development, and a great deal of variety between them. In a few minutes, they create their own singular worlds, largely through manipulation of time & texture.

The next Clean Feed recording to appear on my listing, Organic Modernism, whereas perhaps not quite as challenging, was an instant favorite for its originality, sophistication & creativity. Daniel Levin's fully improvised recording with Pete Robbins (Nate Wooley appears on both) was a revelation, and his own work is just as striking. Besides the novel instrumentation of cello, trumpet, vibraphone & bass, Organic Modernism also shows the development & coordination of this ensemble working together for several years. This music is based on sophisticated compositions, with an equally sophisticated & individually developed sense of group improvisation. Whereas the group's older studio recordings, Some Trees & Blurry, rely more on composition (and even material by Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Steve Lacy, and Charlie Parker), the later recordings take on a more intimate group dynamic. The early recordings do establish what is almost an "electric" sound out of this combination of instruments (and I guess the vibraphone is technically an electric instrument), but have a slower-moving & more straightforward feel. Levin followed these two (and there is an earlier recording with a different horn player on Riti) with the trio recording Fuhuffah, featuring bass & drums. I have seen discussions of the Daniel Levin Quartet emphasizing the effect of playing without a drummer, and how that contributes to their distinctive development. While undoubtedly true, I think it's very easy to overstate, and as the trio recording (and also the Pete Robbins Live in Brooklyn album) shows, Levin's musical ideas work quite well with percussion. I would put the emphasis more on his thinking through, and being open to, sonic combinations that fit the particular players & instruments in his ensemble, a much more wide-open talent than simply playing without a drummer. This basic concept comes to the fore especially with Live at Roulette, as a fairly decisive recording in the Quartet's evolution toward playing in a more open & intuitive manner. Although without some of the polish of Organic Modernism, the almost rough-hewn manner that this concert has at times can make it quite independently compelling. The next recording on Clean Feed, and the next live recording, is Bacalhau. This is live music at its best, really coming together in a deeply satisfying way, and almost more enjoyable than Organic Modernism for its wonderful energy. Recorded both a month before and after Bacalhau, but released very recently on Clean Feed, is Levin's solo recording Inner Landscape. There is some very intriguing material on this fully improvised disc, which is well worth hearing, but much of what I like in Levin's groups (and in collaborative improvisation generally) is the interaction between performers, which is obviously absent from this album.

One thing that is really impossible to do is to go back and hear the Daniel Levin Quartet's first recordings as if they were new. I heard Organic Modernism first and then the two live recordings, and only then the Hatology recordings (and the trio). I imagine the first recordings were rather striking for their instrumentation and style. Besides Levin, Nate Wooley is an amazing trumpet player, able to to merge sounds together with the cello or vibes, or pull out independently. He seems to be able to get any sound out of the instrument. Matt Moran on vibraphone also has an extended pallet and is a distinctive player. I have only heard Peter Bitenc with this ensemble, and he has only been on their last 3 CDs (the first bass player was Joe Morris, the guitarist), but certainly collaborates nicely. Coming back to the trio recording Fuhuffah with Gerald Cleaver (and the opening track is quite enjoyable, as is the album generally), this seems like an interesting transition from the Quartet recordings with Joe Morris to the later set where the group has such a mature & distinctive style, a chance to reexamine ensemble characteristics. It will certainly be interesting to see where Levin goes from here.

7 June 2011

Stepping back from the avant garde realm, although I only had a chance to write about Alex Sipiagin's older recording Mirages last month, I knew that his Destinations Unknown was imminent, and discussed the variety of ensembles he uses, with the resulting sense of striving for a more distinctive personal style. Whereas Destinations Unknown is explicitly described as relating to some world travel Sipiagin was doing, it's hard not to read it as a description of where he's going with his music. Indeed, this latest release affirms my earlier comments regarding his counterpoint, rhythm & ensemble. Although fairly traditional in some ways, his is also becoming a rather distinctive voice for his writing and the way the front line plays together. Perhaps this is the decisive release for Sipiagin in that regard, but at the very least it's an extensive & recommendable program of mostly originals.

In contrast, Mike Moreno's simultaneous new release on Criss Cross, First in Mind, contains only one original (the opening, fairly simple, piece). Although Moreno continues to be a quality guitarist, I did not get much of out this program. However, the notes mention that he will be releasing another album of mostly? originals soon on the World Culture Music label, hopefully building off of his debut.

7 June 2011

As mentioned last month, Henry Threadgill's This Brings Us To made a big impression on me. Although it's not an album (and this is true of the second volume as well) that has an immediately distinctive sonic quality, as the neighboring Pi releases by Steve Coleman and Steve Lehman do, the basic organization of melody, harmony & rhythm is particularly compelling & original over time. This is basically improvised interval music, in this case, based on assigning particular interval combinations to different instruments. For me, the test of an improvisational system is whether individual pieces take on an individual character, and that is emphatically true of Threadgill's music. Already in the first two tracks, the sort of opening hazy vibe of White Wednesday off the wall yields to the trombone groove of To undertake my corners open, which itself yields to different instrument combinations and sonorities. I find the use of flute played by Threadgill on about half the tracks to be very effective, and the combination of the two differently pitched guitars and the low brass player also provides some very distinctive interactions. Although I said earlier that the music isn't distinctive in an immediate sonic way, and is based more on musical structure, these unusual instrument combinations do yield a meaningful flavor. The discussion on the Pi Records site is actually quite a good one, an unusually helpful discussion of a new jazz style. Beyond that, I have to wholeheartedly agree that Threadgill's style really does "swing" and that the rhythmic complexity gives it an exciting visceral quality that creates some of the same feel as more traditional jazz. To me, this is much of what makes this music so compelling. It's extremely abstract at a certain level (I mean, where else does one use the terms "interval music" and swing together?), but once penetrated, really opens up into well-developed emotionally-laden tunes. That this is done in an improvisational context makes it all the more impressive in some ways, although one could argue that that's exactly what gives it its soul in the first place. The other thing I would add is that the music is never extremely dense sonically; there is usually some open space, so to speak, and that space is very important in terms of giving the improvising musicians room to operate.

Besides being rather taken with Threadgill's music itself, this release prompted me to reexamine my preconceptions upon coming to the jazz idiom. Basically, from what I had heard of classic jazz, I was never terribly interested, and this certainly carried through with my encounters with "jazz music" through the 1980s. For the most part, I have had no reason to reconsider this impression. For instance, because it was cited so often as an influence, I did listen to Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch (1964) recently. Whereas I can hear the influences, and found it interesting in that regard, it seems kind of simple & tentative to my ear. That said, the area where I was clearly mistaken was in focusing entirely on younger musicians here in the 21st century, and ignoring jazz musicians such as Henry Threadgill (b.1944) who had been active back to the 60s. With musicians such as Ornette Coleman or Sonny Rollins, their more recent music sounds much like their older music, stylistically. I've enjoyed some of Coleman's music, for instance, from various decades, but I also don't hear much of a progression there. (I also happen to think this is why these two musicians have been getting more mainstream acclaim; if you want wide recognition, don't challenge or surprise your fans.) However, in hindsight, I should have reminded myself that many of the composers I admire in the classical realm wrote some of their best music later in life. It should therefore come as no surprise that members of the jazz avant garde of the 60s are continuing to challenge themselves & others with new & innovative ideas. That they continue to be top-notch performers is perhaps more surprising.

Armed with this realization, I listened to other recent recordings produced by musicians associated with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Although none struck me to the same degree as Threadgill's, this exercise was quite worthwhile in placing the music of the 2010s more into context. There were surprises too. As per the musicians named above, I had associated this kind of playing more with "squeaks" (as did some friends), so I was kind of amazed by the pure tone of Roscoe Mitchell and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Their basic format of a combination of free horn improvisers over a drum & bass rhythm section continues to be rather traditional, but I was impressed by how flat-out pretty the music was, for something so "out there" in some ways. It seems Roscoe Mitchell is in no danger whatsoever of losing his ability to play a horn, even at 70. I was shocked at what a gorgeous speaking voice he had when introducing the other players on Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City too. Muhal Richard Abrams himself seems to be even more ageless. He looks like a young man in the pages of Streaming, and that album shows a ceaseless imagination. Much of the action seems to be driven by George Lewis with his electronics, but the basic concept of Abrams "navigating" these musical hazards, so to speak, verges on incisive social commentary. I'm amazed the three musicians (with Mitchell) are able to keep a steady pulse through all this fast-paced melodic & chordal activity across the gamut, and without a rhythm section. Are they just doing it mentally, or is there something else keeping time? That said, this impressive quality, the steady pulse, also holds things back a bit.

Wadada Leo Smith likewise seems like a young man with his recent electric big band album, Heart's Reflections, still with a funky groove at 70, and exploring various limits in electronic sounds. I'm interested in how his electric trumpet is built; I wasn't able to find a discussion anywhere, and it produces some rather interesting music. I'll end this entry by mentioning Anthony Braxton, who has been a teacher for Steve Lehman and other musicians appearing on some of my favorite recordings. Clearly Braxton has found his niche in academia, although he continues to produce his own music in extremely long pieces, often packaged into multi-disc sets. Braxton's emphasis on ensemble texture & blend with slow development around low winds is interesting, although his music is definitely long and slow-moving. This kind of textural exploration has obviously had a fairly deep influence on the newer generation and their choice of ensemble constitution. I am also intrigued by his "standards" albums, but have yet to commit to paying for a limited issue 4CD set.

13 June 2011

One thing I've read here & there, usually about a particular recording, is that it "proves" that New York isn't the center of the jazz universe. I wanted to take a look at this issue, and survey some recordings accordingly.

I started this exploration of jazz without any particular opinion regarding New York, or what the center of jazz might be, or anything like that, so it was basically an emergent conclusion. In fact, I first mentioned Woody Witt, who remains in Houston, in what seems to be a respectable jazz scene. However, as time went on, it quickly became apparent that most of the recordings of most interest to me are made in New York, and that most of the musicians who play on them live in New York, etc. So although one can certainly note quality performers or work being done elsewhere, it is rather difficult to escape the conclusion that New York is indeed the center of the jazz universe. If anything, the recent economic problems have only intensified the situation, as more musicians relocate. I can only think that when someone makes a claim that New York isn't the center, they really mean that some worthwhile jazz is being made elsewhere. That's a different claim, and one can hardly disagree.

Of course, the city usually singled out to rival New York is Chicago. This is partly historical. The AACM began there, and many significant developments in jazz took place in Chicago in earlier decades. These days, e.g. Henry Threadgill lives and records in New York. I did, however, have a listen to the creative improvisation coming out of Chicago in the past few years, from the so-called post-Vandermark generation. (Vandermark's improvisatory music is very rock-inspired, with solos on jazz instruments reminiscent of heavy metal riffs, and a rather straightforward polyphonic conception geared toward soloing.) This turns out to be, at least on record, a fairly narrow group of musicians. A player who appears on many of these recordings is vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz (b.1977), and I've generally found his style to be the most strikingly original of this cohort of Chicago players. (Ryan Cohan's enjoyable straight-ahead jazz album Another Look was also recorded in Chicago. I would not say that it pushes any real boundaries.)

The first recording I heard with Adasiewicz was Sun Rooms, his trio recording from 2009 (this was an Amazon recommendation). It has some very intriguing material, but I ultimately did not find the vibes-bass-drums trio particularly rich over the long term (some critics have praised its sparseness), and the original material on that album is under half an hour in length. I'd describe it more as the kernel of something really interesting, needing more elaboration. I thought to myself that I'd be interested in hearing Adasiewicz with horns, and so listened to various other albums led by different Chicago musicians. I generally found Adasiewicz to be the most interesting player on the albums, and so didn't find quite the right combination to fully satisfy. Aram Shelton's There Was..., on Clean Feed, had some appeal, for instance (and Shelton is a part-time West Coast musician too). Adasiewicz has a quintet (Rolldown) including horns, and so I thought I'd enjoy Varmint, but it doesn't quite come together for me into something compelling. All of this music seems to have many rock influences, and doesn't enter into the same sort of polyphonic or polyrhythmic sense of ensemble that comes out of the more classical influences (presumably) in New York. It's a bit "retro" in some ways.

I was getting ready to write up this entry, possibly retaining Sun Rooms for my list (and seeing as that was the first item I heard, and after several others, hadn't heard anything more appealing, I have to say I was feeling disappointed), when I happened to spot the just-released trio album by Adasiewicz, cornettist Rob Mazurek (b.1965), and drummer John Herndon, Double Demon. Underscored by iconography, this recording clearly has a heavy metal basis, but this is the first time I was listening to the leader at least as much as Adasiewicz, so it's seeming like quite a success. Mazurek says he was searching for this sound for 20 years, whereas it's only been since March for me (coincidentally the month this recording was made?), and it does seem like something of a milestone. The shimmering overtone blend with the cornet launching over it assembles many of the most interesting musical ideas out of today's Chicago, in a strikingly original format.

Tangentially, I've enjoyed Canada Day II on Songlines too, by a sort of intercity group assembled by itinerant drummer Harris Eisenstadt. This ensemble has connections in Chicago, in New York, and on the West Coast. The album might well be described as toned down avant garde instrumental technique put to the service of more straightforward jazzy tunes. With Nate Wooley, Elvind Opsvik, and Chris Dingman, the ensemble includes performers from some of my favorite boundary-pushing jazz albums. The result is enjoyable, and makes a good entry for less adventurous listeners, but isn't an album that really grabs my attention with any force.

There's no question that there are good musicians outside of New York, and some interesting albums being made, but it does seem as though it's difficult to find the critical mass to really forge a new style somewhere else. That said, I should put in the big disclaimer that I really have not yet sought to survey scenes outside the US, and am mainly reacting to European musicians based on what they do here or with New York musicians.

16 June 2011

Because Pool School appeared on the market so soon after it was recorded, I have yet to actually hear anything by these performers from after this 2010 release. The Tom Rainey (b.1957) Trio has toured subsequently, but this discussion will be about earlier recordings.

In discussing the ramifications of Pool School, so to speak, it is probably best to loosely follow some kind of chronology, in terms of when I heard these recordings. I was particularly taken with Mary Halvorson's playing on the guitar, and so got her quintet album, Saturn Sings. I did enjoy her guitar on that recording, but never felt that the ensemble came together very well, as if the horn players were never really part of things. Subsequently, I came to hear the writing as fairly simple, buoyed by exotic sounds from the guitar, and the tunes as played by the horns didn't do much for me. This was partly from going back to hear Dragon's Head (her debut trio album, which drew much acclaim), and Electric Fruit (a trio album appearing in 2011, but recorded in 2009 a month before Saturn Sings). I expected Dragon's Head to be more aggressive somehow, but it highlighted more the simplicity of the writing and was fairly chordal. Electric Fruit was more interesting in some ways, including Weasel Walter (a drummer with more of a rock background) and Peter Evans. I was impressed with Peter Evans playing on trumpet. In any event, I realized that Pool School was kind of unprecedented for Halvorson (b.1980), although not without its foreshadowing. At times, it seems that Saturn Sings is looking for a more precise polyrhythmic conception that never quite arrives. (I should also note that, like her teacher Anthony Braxton, Halvorson has been numbering her compositions. I don't know how the group compositions of Pool School play into that.)

Where this story becomes more complicated is with Paradoxical Frog, the trio recording by Ingrid Laubrock (b.1970), Tyshawn Sorey & Kris Davis. Obviously I've already enjoyed Sorey's contributions, in a supporting role, on various projects. Here, he is one of the main composers, and it's a very sparse & generally slow-moving album. The last track, although by Davis, "Feldman" kind of sums things up. As a first digression, when I was studying and writing about Scelsi's music extensively around 1990, I was also asked on more than one occasion to do a similar study of Feldman. Here we are 20 years later, and both seem very relevant to contemporary improvisation. However, the length of Feldman's works have always proven to be an obstacle for me, not only because of the time involved, but because of the cost involved in hearing a dozen pieces on a dozen recordings instead of on three. In my life today, slow & quiet just does not work for me over extended stretches... I have too many interruptions, and more than that, I have a very loud environment. There's some kind of street noise going on just about all the time. So in some sense, that is a disclaimer for why I cannot evaluate Paradoxical Frog on the presumably correct terms. In more blunt fashion, although it has its moments, such as the opening, I don't enjoy it much. This brings me fairly naturally to a couple of other tangents. Tyshawn Sorey is responsible for composing the majority of pieces on Door, the third Fieldwork album. I mentioned it last month around a discussion of Steve Lehman, and also (further tangent alert!) world music influences. Vijay Iyer has been the one constant in Fieldwork. At any rate, although Sorey has some "heavy" music on Door, there is a similar slow development of rhythm & texture at other times. I like Lehman's contribution to Door, though, even if ultimately I wish for more. Likewise Dual Identity, where I just don't hear a sense of counterpoint from Mahanthappa, even if his frenetic style has some initial appeal.

This is probably my own bias or affectation or what-have-you, but these Asian-inspired jazz albums are just not doing much for me, after a very brief initial infatuation. They don't seem sophisticated or compelling in either genre. I certainly respect & admire what Pi Recordings has done with releasing Lehman's music, as well as their recent landmark offerings of music by Steve Coleman and Henry Threadgill. However all this "world" stuff? I was extremely reluctant to listen to their Radif Suite, simply scared by my own visceral reaction, and what I'm about to say, but seeing it listed there in the midst of such amazing improvisational material, I almost had to listen. The first section, by Hafez Modirzadeh, was not to my liking at all. I thought it was shallow as Persian music, and clichéed as jazz. Frankly, I felt personally insulted by listening to it. Perhaps the correct approach is to evaluate it as neither Persian music nor as jazz, and come up with some context where it sounds good. This is clearly beyond me. After that, I was so offended, I was prepared to really hate Amir ElSaffar's contribution, but after listening to it a bit, I decided it was OK. Hearing it again, it's kind of thin and so gets old quickly, but I think he does have a nugget of something that could be elaborated into something more interesting.

Both Fieldwork and Paradoxical Frog raise the issue of horn-piano-drum trios. I cannot say as I know the real history of this combination, but despite my negative comments here, I am interested in the format. Also on Clean Feed, Eldorado Trio, by Louis Sclavis on bass clarinet with Craig Taborn & Tom Rainey, is another album that has some points of interest. I really liked it the first time through, but ultimately I mainly liked what Taborn & Rainey were doing, whereas it's Sclavis's album. I like the sound of bass clarinet, but I think this is also related to the perceptions I expressed just above: Sclavis is known for his exploration in French folk song, and with my medieval background, I'm just not finding his melodic contribution to be terribly original. This also raises the issue of albums where the sidemen are more compelling than the leader, and it's an interesting question. Does it matter? I have a few thoughts.

Before that, and sort of after all those tangents, my opinion of Ingrid Laubrock was not aided by Paradoxical Frog. In fact, her playing there is quite simple & tonal, although she does do some variation of range & dynamics. Consequently, I did not immediate seek Anti-House, and then as alluded in an earlier entry, there was a snag in obtaining it. So that is where I will pause with this particular narrative.

Together with Pool School, I also downloaded Tony Malaby's Voladores. I liked his playing, the range he has on the saxophone, both in terms of where he can produce a clear tone and in his effects, but overall his compositions didn't hold my attention. This is an example of an album with really compelling sidemen, and I can easily find myself listening to Drew Gress, which is indeed why I got this album in the first place. Anyway, I was interested in hearing Malaby with other ensembles, and had had that kind of in my mind. Also, there were my previously expressed thoughts on pianists, and an interest there, and so at about the same time, I sought both Rye Eclipse by Kris Davis and Life Between by Angelica Sanchez. There are some interesting parallels between these two recordings (both recorded in 2007 and released in 2008) which I didn't necessarily realize at the time. In the case of Rye Eclipse, although I had not enjoyed Paradoxical Frog, I continued to be intrigued by the descriptions of the recording. Also, I was interested in the drummer Jeff Davis, based on the Unnamed Quartet recording. In the case of Life Between, I noticed it on Drew Gress's discography, but it also includes Tom Rainey and Tony Malaby (and Marc Ducret).

I had already tried to ascertain, by looking at their bios, whether Kris Davis & Jeff Davis were related, and failed. It turns out they are married, as are Angelica Sanchez & Tony Malaby. Sanchez mainly plays electric piano, as she does with Wadada Leo Smith, and Life Between turns out to be one of those albums where I listen to the sidemen more than the leader. It's a great ensemble, and I can easily listen to Gress & Rainey. (With the electric piano & guitar, I was sometimes unsure whether it was Sanchez or Ducret playing, initially.) Does Sanchez deserve criticism for not standing out in such an ensemble, or credit for gathering such a group in the first place? Both I suppose. (Similarly, also found on account of Gress's participation, Jason Robinson's The Two Faces of Janus finds me mainly listening to Liberty Ellman & Drew Gress, and not to Robinson; in that case, the most interesting piece is clearly due to Marty Ehrlich, so the conclusion is more straightforward, although the end result is by no means unappealing.) The more interesting point might be that I find Malaby's playing somehow more appealing on Rye Eclipse; on Life Between he seems a bit overbearing.

After Rye Eclipse, but before Paradoxical Frog, Kris Davis recorded Good Citizen, a trio album with John Hébert & Tom Rainey. Whereas Rye Eclipse has a definite "chamber music" conception, featuring some fairly long & episodic compositions, and is also the product of a long collaboration with that four-member band, Good Citizen appears to be more of a spontaneous grouping arising from the circle of music I'm currently discussing. Ultimately, perhaps directly in spite of my earlier remarks about piano trios, I could not resist adding Good Citizen to my list here. In some ways it is rather simple, usually based on short chromatic figures that form interlocking motives cutting across tonal space, but it's also energetic and a good example of basically atonal piano music, even if the piano does have phrasing limitations. Rye Eclipse has more range, both in the music, and with Tony Malaby on saxophone. This album has been consistently appealing, presenting a vision of how a contemporary piano quartet can sound, often in music oriented toward serialism with a lot of spicy dissonance. The musicians work together well, with all of the combinations having some kind of sonic role. Rye Eclipse was apparently a bit of a summation for Davis, given where she's gone subsequently.

Returning to Anti-House, recorded in early 2010, it clearly occupies something of a central position in this circle of music, and is also the most recent album mentioned here after Pool School itself, which consists of a pared-down trio version of the quintet in Anti-House. Although I've found Laubrock's contributions to the spatial & temporal feel of Pool School to be increasingly persuasive, Anti-House does not rise to that level. Some compositions definitely have more depth than others, with an overall "hard rock" feel at times. Some of it is basically gestural. Rainey playing the glockenspiel is an interesting highlight, though.

The other musician who recurs regularly in this string of related recordings (as well as elsewhere, such as on Manifold with Steve Lehman) is bassist John Hébert (b.1972). Hébert recorded two recordings as a leader, both in 2008, but with very different ensembles. The first, Byzantine Monkey, is with three wind players (also including Malaby) and two percussionists. It starts with a sample of a cajun singer from early in the recorded era, and proceeds to display a variety of original compositional ideas in a fairly rigid ensemble setting. Compared to Rye Eclipse, the ensemble interaction is not nearly so fluid, with some fairly strict roles & spaces to improvise. However, as noted, the compositional voice is distinctive. Later from 2008 is Spiritual Lover, this time basically with a piano trio featuring Benoît Delbecq on a variety of keyboards and Gerald Cleaver on drums. This is an intriguing recording, and rather difficult to appraise. It was actually recorded right after Delbecq did his trio for Songlines, The Sixth Jump, and certainly shows his style, including one composition (which also appears on both Songlines releases). There is also one piece in common between Byzantine Monkey & Spiritual Lover. The latter album possesses a subtlety & sophistication that the more rough-hewn Byzantine Monkey doesn't, making it increasingly attention-grabbing over time, even if I have some ambivalent thoughts (which I will discuss in the future) about the vintage & electric keyboards (the sonorities of which also require a quiet environment at times). The decisive point of interest for me with Spiritual Lover is that it keeps my attention through the slow sections, and this is mostly due to the interesting bass line, and so on top of Delbecq's imposing contribution, I find myself listening at least as much to Hébert. It will be interesting to see what he does as a followup.

It should be noted by way of conclusion that, even with these other very interesting recordings to consider, Pool School continues to be a very striking release, and something of a stylistic milestone and/or pivot point for the more sonically-open trios being attempted over the past few years.

And with that, I basically feel "caught up" to the year 2011, although there might still be a couple of loose ends to appear. Soon I'll also be rotating these older blog entries onto an archive page, and starting the front page of this section fresh. This is not to say I won't discover anything new & compelling from the past again, but the intensity of that exploration has decisively shifted to the present.

21 June 2011

And the appendix does inevitably come, as I got a hold of Jeff Davis's album We Sleep Outside, which has a clear relationship to the previous entry. In fact, it was recorded a few weeks before Rye Eclipse in June of 2007 (the same month as e.g. Steve Lehman's On Meaning). I originally noted the existence of this album when researching the performers on Pete Robbins' Unnamed Quartet Live recording, but since purchase options seemed rather obscure, I didn't buy it. In the interim, both my willingness to work harder to obtain recordings has increased, and this album has appeared on Amazon.

We Sleep Outside likewise features Kris Davis (mostly on electric piano) and Eivind Opsvik (who also mixed the album). It's all music by Jeff Davis, with one group composition, and has more of a rock ethos than do Kris Davis's albums. However, with the electric piano (& electric guitar) and the somewhat wild tenor soloing from (previously unknown to me) Tony Barba, it has definite kinship with Angelica Sanchez's Life Between (recorded later in 2007). Although it doesn't make a big lasting impression, We Sleep Outside is an enjoyable recording, and presumably contributed to the ensemble interplay that makes Rye Eclipse such a great album. It seems worthwhile to contrast the relationships between rhythm & harmony between We Sleep Outside, Life Between and Rye Eclipse. In We Sleep Outside, there is (at least at its most energetic) a rock-style propulsive rhythm that drives the other instruments forward, with the horns (and consequently the most potent lines) basically sitting on top of the texture, like foam on a wave. It's sort of an ad hoc harmonic reaction to rhythm (although there are also times when Kris Davis is explicitly adding harmonic structure). In Life Between, constructed harmony almost takes on the character of a rhythmic device, with counterpoint reorganized into rhythmic responses from Sanchez & Rainey (tone as a parameter of rhythm). However, Malaby largely stays "above" this interplay, lending the impression I stated earlier. In some ways, this is the clearest precursor to Pool School in Rainey's output, but without the ensuing clarity. In Rye Eclipse, there is more of a "classical" balance in the ensemble interaction, as well as a more unified conception of (often atonal) harmony & rhythm, with the drums functioning more as color than as either propulsion or summary. (Unnamed Quartet Live likewise features a very balanced group interplay, fully improvised no less.) I might rephrase some of these comments as whether the rhythm is pushing, pulling or more "in the moment" with the melodic interplay (which might or might not have contrapuntal implications).

Jeff Davis continues to perform with a similar ensemble, so I do wonder what sort of style he is continuing to develop with his own group. It's also obvious now that Life Between made more of an impression on me than I originally thought.

Another recording I discovered only in the process of writing the previous entry is Book of Three by Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hébert, and Gerald Cleaver. I found this because of a German Wikipedia page about Hébert, when attempting to verify some biographical information. This album, recorded in 2009 & 2010, was released in late 2010 in France (2011 say some sources), and does not appear on Amazon. I wanted to mention it now because of its relationship to the previous entry, but I'll wait to say anything more substantive until this blog rolls over.

28 June 2011

To main page.

© 2010-11 Todd M. McComb