Friday, May 29, 2015

Jason Roebke Octet, High/Red/Center

Those who follow the Chicago jazz scene and those who regularly read my blogs know that there is an important, loosely federated group of Chicago jazz artist-composers who have been quite active in the last decade or so making some very good music in various ever-changing configurations.

The music has compositional and improvisatory influences that range from mature Eric Dolphy and perhaps Mingus, the early Shepp-Dixon-Tchicai-Cherry bands, to the AACM and beyond, and they manage to make something new and very good out of it all. I will not run down a complete list of these musicians. The album at hand today features a good number of them in an octet under the leadership of bassist Jason Roebke. High/Red/Center (Delmark 5014) is the title of the album.

Roebke plays some very accomplished bass on this one, but the primary emphasis is on the structure of his compositions and what the entire octet makes of them. The band is an exemplary gathering of some of the new Chicago artists, Roebke of course but also Greg Ward on alto, Keefe Jackson on tenor, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Josh Berman on cornet, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Jason Adasiewicz on vibes and Mike Reed on drums. All have at one time led subgroupings of their own and all belong to the loose confederation I speak of.

The music is highly complex, accomplished and varied, showing both roots and the ultra-contemporary avant stance of the present. The pieces have much room for individual and collective spontaneous contributions, which this band very much excels at. You hear eleven pieces in all, varied and fascinating, convincing and very today.

High/Red/Center stands out as one of the typically fantastic examples of the new Chicago music. If you were only to have a handful of new Chicago sounds, this should be one of them. What is so interesting about this band and the movement in general is that the music somehow captures the enthusiasm and joy of the new jazz in its early stages, yet it gives us a very contemporary spin on that moment with an accomplished conceptual and rousingly free attitude. Excellent it is!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mark Weber and Michael Vlatkovich, Elasticity

The fusion of modern poetry and modern jazz can be filled with variables that can sometimes make for disappointing results. The poetry of course must be strong and recited with a certain panache; the music must fit into the picture without slavishly following the poetry, at least that is my take.

All such things happen and happen well with the collaborative synergy between poet Mark Weber and trombonist-composer Michael Vlatkovich, on the album Elasticity (pfMentum 087).

Weber writes prose-ish free verse that describes scenes from everyday life while also injecting poetic personal inner states and cosmic wanderings and speculations. There of course is no one particular form of poetry that is meant to go with jazz, just like there is no one form of jazz that should go with poetic recitation. The combination of Weber's poetry and Vlatkovich's music makes an excellent match.

Vlatkovich on trombone joins together with the band he calls Ion Zoo. Carol Sawyer sings, Steve Bagnell wields the tenor sax and bass clarinet, Lisa Miller is on piano and Clyde Reed on the double bass. Much of the music is through composed with some free improv to be heard in the interstices. It works wonderfully well as music but also sets the varying moods of Mark Weber's poetic utterances.

It is the meeting of two parallel worlds. Both music and poetry are not so much synchronized as they are two sides of a complete aesthetic statement.

It is one of the more successful such meldings I have heard. That is a testament to all involved, but of course especially Weber and Vlatkovich. Don't miss this one, whether you are a lover of poetry and jazz combinations, a fan of Mark Weber's or Michael Vlatkovich's or both, or even if you just want something different. It's a good one!

Mikko Innanen with William Parker and Andrew Cyrille, Song for a New Decade

The Finnish world of young avant saxophonist Mikko Innanen joins with the New York vet worlds of William Parker and Andrew Cyrille (bass and drums, if you need to be told) on a recent two-CD set Song for a New Decade (TUM 042-2). The first disk features the trio in full flower, the second a series of fascinating duets by Innanen and Cyrille.

The first album contains head compositions by Innanen except for one collective improvisation. The second is a free-formed collective improv with thematic spontaneity.

All of it works very well. Innanen in spite of his youth sounds mature and well into his way of playing, on alto especially but also baritone and miscellaneous winds.

Parker and Cyrille sound excellent throughout, with no signs of slowing down, at a peak of inventive creativity. If you were to focus on following either or both players throughout the program, your ears would profit greatly by the experience. Neither player can be mistaken for someone else once you get familiar with their playing and both can get free or swing or both with their own special way.

What they provide Innanen is an ideal playing situation. Wherever he goes, they are not only there, they virtually anticipate.

Innanen is a stylist in the free-zone who is well on the way to a real originality that is nevertheless rooted in the late improv and free tradition. Playing with the two masters here he is inspired to outdo himself.

There is much excellent music to be heard on the two-CD set. None of it sounds rote or routine. Quite the opposite. Hear this one, by all means!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Myra Melford, Snowy Egret

The first installment of pianist-composer Myra Melford's band Snowy Egret has been upon us for several months. I finally get to it today. It is self-titled (Enja) but otherwise there is nothing generic about it.

Myra originally formed the group for a specific project, a suite based on author Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy. From there they went on to record this, their first album. Melford is joined by Tyshawn Sorey, Ron Miles, Liberty Ellman, and Stomu Takeishi.

The music is both open and composed. There are some very intriguing moments where Ms. Melford's piano sensibilities are at the forefront. There are ensemble moments of compositional interest, ranging the gamut from rock-funk-ish to free to balladic, but all of it bears the Melford stamp of identity. And there is space for some excellent group and individual improvisational adventures.

Everyone sounds very good. It is in every way a showcase for Myra and her musical vision and the entire band adds much to it. Recommended!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cene Resnik Quartet, Live, From the Sky

On the docket today is a lesser-known (in the States) European free-avant jazz quartet live the the Ljubljana Jazz Festival in 2013. More specifically it is the Cene Resnik Quartet and their album From the Sky (Clean Feed 299). Resnik fronts the band on tenor sax in a program of free music that makes good use of Emanuele Parrini on violin, Giovanni Maier on double bass and Aljosa Jeric on drums.

Resnik has a sort of post-Sam-Rivers, post-Ayler dynamic expressiveness which sounds well throughout. He is consistently inventive. Parrini and Maier sometimes sound as a two-person string section, other times pair off as front-line soloist-rhythm, though the boundaries are fluid. Both are players of imagination, impressive each in her/his own way. Jeric drums freely and appropriately.

It is real-deal free-avantness and perhaps not likely to appeal to those who do not dwell in those realms. Those who do, however, will find this a very interesting set, perhaps not one of the most astounding of the decade, but quite competent, imaginative and dedicated.

I look forward to hearing more from these four improvisers. They are true artists and come off well here.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ask 7, Michael Vlatkovich Septet

Some jazz artists you can count on to make quality music year-after-year. They may not always win popularity contests, yet their music lives and breathes well. Trombonist jazz-composer Michael Vlatkovich is one of those. With his own bands/projects and now as a member of the Rich Halley group he comes through consistently. Being a West Coaster he may not have as large a presence on the scene than if he was in New York, for example, but that has nothing to do with the music.

So today another fine one, the Michael Vlatkovich Septet's Ask 7 (pfMentum CD089). It is Michael, his trombone and compositions along with a multi-wind outfit of Ron Miles on cornet, Wade Sander on bass trombone, Mark Harris on alto sax/clarinet/bass clarinet, Glenn Nitta on tenor sax, Kent McLagen on acoustic bass and Chris Lee on drums.

It is a game outfit that handles the composed ensemble music well and has a deep pocket of good improvisers to get the music moving. These are some of Vlatkovich's most compelling compositions, modern and on the outside edge but also somehow timeless in a classic sort of way.

Combine the music with some very nice voicings and performances, good solos and a loosely swinging rhythm team and you have some excellent music. That is what you get. Vlatkovich's trombone is in good evidence and as always has high artistry. The other wind players get some good things going solo-wise. Harris and Nitta get my ear especially.

Hearing this I felt strongly that Vlatkovich would write some excellent big band charts but no matter because we get a very full-sounding septet that allows for some very ambitious and successful Vlatkovich music here.

It's one of his very best and so I heartily recommend you hear it. Encore!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Reggie Quinerly, Invictus

If Reggie Quinerly is not a familiar name to you, you are not alone. Yet on his album Invictus (Redefinition) we get a good chance to know him, his finely honed, swinging drumming, his earthy and appealing compositions and his bandleading.

The album revels in a post-bop directness. A quintet holds forth very nicely with Reggie on drums, Warren Wolf on vibes, Yotam Silberstein on guitar, Christian Sands on piano and Alan Hampton on bass. They are all very good players, in fact excellent for this date. The Jacksonian roots of Wolf are apparent, though there is more to him than that, and in many ways his sound helps shape the ensemble into a kind of post-MJQ, post-Bagsian cool-hot fundamentality that builds more modern edifices on top of the foundation.

Wolf and pianist Sands work very well together, taking the harmonic synergy in hand and making it work well. That's key to the success of such an ensemble and they do it in ways that give your ears a jump-start. At the same time guitarist Silberstein contributes with single lines and a light touch harmonically that never clashes. Clearly they form a working relationship that makes it all come together. Hampton does an excellent job in the bass chair. Quinerly propulses the band with fabulous time and solos that have a post-Roachian inventiveness and thrust.

But then as far as solos go the front line excels with an ease and conviction that does not make this date seem calculated to assert a tradition as much as it naturally falls into it out of conviction and a shared passion for the language of jazz in the later '50s-'60s mode. It is the opposite of stale. It is fresh, alive, swinging like hell. And I must say I get much from listening to the vibes, piano, guitar loquacity.

The tunes give new life to the sound also. There is only one standard, the rest some fine Quinerly originals.

No doubt this band would be a treat to hear live. They have an in-the-moment quality that embodies live jazz.

So that is my take. It's a fine album! Quinerly knows how to set it all up. I hope he can gives us lots more in the years to come.