Friday, July 3, 2015

Francois Carrier, Unknowable, with Michel Lambert and Rafal Mazur

The work of Francois Carrier, accomplished alto saxist and free-avant bandleader, has been gaining momentum in recent years. He is playing some great music these days, which is evident from listening to his recent CD Unknowable (Not Two 928-2). It is a live date from the Alchemia Jazz Klub, Krakow, Poland, recorded last year. Joining him is Michel Lambert, a driving force and long-time associate of Francois' on drums, and the busy, vibrant Rafal Mazur on doublebass.

The music is spontaneous, free, without compositional guidelines yet structured by the logic and inspiration of the trio. Bass and drums are dynamic and engaged in the best ways throughout.

And Francois on both alto and Chinese oboe has an irresistible flow to his playing. What strikes me especially lately is how lucid his improvisations have become. You hear the musical-logical inevitability of his note weaving as free and spontaneous, yet you follow the lines and you hear a compositional sensibility in what he does. The mark of a great player of course is partly this, that anything they do has the stamp of a personal force.

This live date gives you an exciting journey into free music with hairpin turns, full acceleration and expert maneuvering from the threesome.

Unknowable is a must-not-miss recording for all who appreciate the free modernism that is very much alive and flourishing today.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Andy Sheppard Quartet, Surrounded by Sea

Carla Bley a few years ago remarked in an interview that she decided to bring tenor-soprano artist Andy Sheppard into her band "because he didn't sound like Coltrane." She was looking for a different sound and Andy was well along the way to developing it.

With his third album, Surrounded By Sea, (ECM 2432 B0023141-02) we hear the Sheppard approach in full bloom. On it we get his quartet mapping out an atmospherics squarely in the ECM jazz camp, not concerned so much with vivid torrents of notes or ultra-expressivity as with a mostly quiet, lyrical spaciness that may well remind you of Jan Garbarek albums in the classic phase, only Sheppard does not mimic Garbarek so much as go his own way. He has plenty of technique and can travel with it, but the emphasis is on a sort of rhapsodic, cosmic sound.

The band is a solid one, with that ECM headroom paramount. Eivind Aarset on electric guitar gives us ambient envelopes of misty, far-away harmonies and dreamy noting. Bassist Michel Benita has the open full tone and improvisational exuberance of a Charlie Haden and/or Arild Andersen and some of the bowing presence of a Miroslav Vitous, but all harnessed to the original approach of the quartet. Sebastian Rochford plays an appealingly loose style of drumming that fits in very appropriately with the musical objectives of Sheppard.

The Sheppard compositions set the tone and mood for each number. What we get is a very listenable contemporary ECM offering, well in the tradition of the label but different enough to hold its own as a worthwhile addition. Bravo.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Vicente / Marjamaki, Opacity

We have up today some contemporary ambient avant jazz from Vicente / Marjamaki on a live album called Opacity (Jacc Records). The premise is straightforward. Jari Marjamaki creates live electronic washes as a backdrop for the solo trumpet work of Luis Vicente. They are joined by electric guitar for two pieces (Pedro Madaleno or Marcelo dos Reis) and cello (Miguel Mira or Valentin Ceccaldi) for the rest.

One cut has a pronounced rock feel a la post-Miles ("Got That Zing"). "Pollock was Right" has a driving rhythmic feel as well. The others are more cosmically ambient and free-based. Vicente shows his mettle on trumpet nicely. He chooses his notes wisely and has a contemporary sound that shows a little Miles, perhaps a shade of Cherry and Dixon, and a bit of post-Brownian brassiness, all with his own personal amalgam and improvisatory clout.

Marjamaki's electronics are orchestral at times, always varied and contrasting, vivid and spacy. His use of electronically generated drums at times adds a fourth dimension tastefully and thoughtfully.

The addition of guitar and/or cello is integral to the music, with all involved contributing nicely.

It is music that coheres, creates various sound color mixtures and does it all for a program of interest and character.

Well done. If you appreciate some electronics in the mix this one will find you intrigued I suspect. Recommended.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sonny Simmons & Moksha Samnyasin, Nomadic

Sonny Simmons returns following upon the heels of an extended box set (type his name in the search box for that review post) with a more concentrated single CD. The backing trio is called Moksha Samnyasin. Nomadic (svart 331) once again dwells on a high plane of eastern-world-neo-psychedelic cosmics.

Sonny makes his presence known on cor anglais and alto sax; Thomas Bellier lays down the bottom on electric bass; Sebastien Bismuth appears on drums, percussion and electronics; and finally Michel Kristof comes up with some characteristic atmospheric lines on sitar.

This album continues where the other recent ones left off. It is electric, exploratory music with a key-centered world voltage. Sonny as before pares down his playing to the essentials, with the sort of modal excursions he has concentrated on lately. The band gives the music a three-dimensional sonic coloring that has rock-world-zoner connotations.

The music is loose, open and creative, with post-Milesian electricity but its own cosmic domain. If you don't expect to hear Sonny in his earlier incarnations and simply relax and flow along with the music you find yourself in good places throughout.

It may not be a masterpiece but it has direction and depth. That Sonny has in a way reinvented himself and managed to make a different music is a good thing. As long as you realize the earlier music is still out there to hear, you can open up to this music and appreciate it on its own terms. And you may well find yourself digging it. Listen.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Maria Schneider Orchestra, The Thompson Fields

The big band music of Maria Schneider over the years has been original and particular. She follows her own muse. After eight years without a release she returns with her orchestra for a winning set of works on an album entitled The Thompson Fields (artistShare as0137).

It is an album with a rather unified feel to it, lyric, poetic and pastoral for the most part, rhapsodic and melodically alive. The group is a rather large one, 18 members plus additional percussion on one piece. I will list who solos on the album to keep it brief: Scott Robinson, alto clarinet and baritone sax, Marshall Gilkes, trombone, Greg Gisbert, fluegelhorn, Donny McCaslin, tenor sax, Frank Kimbrough, piano, Lage Lund, guitar, Rich Perry, tenor sax, Steve Wilson, alto sax and Gary Versace on accordion. Each gives us soloing that extends the mood of the music at hand while also showing their artistry.

What's satisfying about this set is the unified mood, nature-oriented, expressive, melodically eloquent, well-integrated....It shows us a Maria Schneider at peace with the natural world, using her gifts to create a tapestry of well-orchestrated big band music. But don't expect from this a new age limpidity. This is must of lyric heights but it has thrust and power too. And so we get a big-band jazz of a special sort. In some ways it has a familial relation to the impressionism of Gil Evans at his best, with a rejoinder that this is all Maria Schneider. She occupies her very own branch of a lyrical tree. We can admire the music on its own and appreciate it for its singularity. I am doing just that.

There is a great deal of music on the album, and all of it seems to piece together to give us a very vivid picture of Ms. Schneider today. Beautiful.

Highly recommended.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble, Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland

To those that remember the music of Gary McFarland, the jazz composer and arranger who had some genuine recognition and a real presence on the serious jazz scene in the '60s especially, one must admit that he is not much remembered these days. All the more reason for the disk up for discussion today, Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland (Planet Arts 301523). It features a quintet billed as the Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble. Michael Benedict, the drummer and one of the arrangers for the program, heads the ensemble and gets co-credit with Kerry McFarland as Creative Director.

The band is a nice combination of Benedict, Joe Locke on vibes, Sharel Cassity on saxophones, Bruce Barth on piano, and Mike Lawrence on bass. Arrangements for the all-McFarland program are by Benedict, Barth and Kerry McFarland. They sound right.

McFarland died suddenly in 1971 at aged 38. But by then he had amassed a sizable legacy of compositions. The eleven numbers performed by the quintet here remind us of the substantial excellence of his music. His death was indeed a true loss.

Barth, Lawrence and Benedict have been playing together as a trio for a long while. Their closeness and empathy lay the foundations for some strong jazz. The addition of Locke and Cassity, both very accomplished musicians, complete the picture. All the front-liners are by now very much into their own thing and showcase the McFarland repertoire with a contemporary post-bop immediacy. The rhythm team puts a very solid foundation underneath it all.

The album is a real treat, a surprise to me because I had no special expectations at the first listening stage, yet it all jumped out and grabbed me straight off.

It is very first-rate music all the way. The McFarland compositions come to life again with a real presence, and the improvising & swinging manage to give the whole session living, breathing relevance and a contemporary timelessness.

This one is a winner!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Dan Brubeck Quartet, Live From the Cellar, Celebrating the Music and Lyrics of Dave & Iola Brubeck

Iola Brubeck, life partner of Dave Brubeck, set a number of Brubeck's songs to lyrics. The Dan Brubeck Quartet got the good idea to address some of this music on their new release Live From the Cellar (Blue Forest DB15001 2-CD set).

It's a good group consisting of Dan Brubeck (son of Dave) on drums, Adam Thomas on bass and vocals, Steve Kaldestad on saxophone and Tony Foster at the piano. Everyone sounds well in a modern bop-ish-and-beyond context not far removed from Dave's classic gatherings yet contemporized.

The vocal numbers are some very familiar items, some obscure, but all worthwhile. So we get "In Your Own Sweet Way," but then also "Summer Song," "Lord, Lord," originally sung by Carmen McRae, and others. They all fare well with Iola's lyrics, as sung in a matter-of-fact way here by bassist Adan Thomas, who may remind just slightly of Chet Baker as a vocalist, only without the croon element.

It's a beautiful program, spiced by new instrumental versions of "Blue Rondo a la Turk" and "Take Five," which given the talent of the group are much more than throw-ins.

Anyone who admired Brubeck the composer will no doubt appreciate as I did the vocal versions and the revelations of hearing them well-done.

The album is most enjoyable. I recommend you listen to this one.