Monday, October 5, 2015

Nick Finzer, The Chase

The trombone in jazz has a rich legacy. Time does not stand still for either the instrument or the music, of course. Nick Finzer is a vibrant new trombonist on the scene. We can hear what he is up to on his recent second album, The Chase (Origin 82695).

The album gives plenty of space to Finzer's noteful-soulful approach, ten of his originals and the fine band assembled for the date. Nick brings in five associates for this sextet, all who have had a close association with the bandleader and work very well together. They are Lucas Pino on tenor and bass clarinet, Alex Wintz on electric guitar, Glenn Zaleski on piano, Dave Baron, bass, and Jimmy MacBride on drums.

The frontline all have something to say as soloists, the rhythm section swings mightily, and the Finzer originals and arrangements have that sort of Blue Note bop-and-after inflection but cover new ground and set the stage well. It's a testament to Finzer's bandleading acumen and his prowess as a soloist.

Nick studied with Wycliffe Gordon, got advanced degrees from the Eastman School of Music and Julliard, and played in Truesdale's Gil Evans Project, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Frank Wess, Lew Tabackin, Frank Kimbrough and others.

He is an excellent exponent of the bop-and-after trombone, with an acuity, a sense of sound and noting that put him among the elite of mainstream trombonists and an emerging original voice in his own light.

The music to be heard on the album is, as they used to say, a solid gas. It is serious business, serious changes-based music with excellent trombonista flourish. And the band is something else, too. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Casa Futuro, Pedro Sousa, Johan Berthling, Gabriel Ferrandini

Casa Futuro (Clean Feed 334)? Well, yes indeed. All of us old enough lived through the promise of a future that would somehow be utopian, modular, modern in the fullest sense of the word. And then the future came, almost as a parody of that future, with zombies walking the earth staring at their cell phones for what? The ad that reminds them to stop at a burger place who paid for the recommendation? One of my friends the last time I saw him before he died interrupted his what turned out to be last meeting by finding on his cell phone a suggestion to go to a burger place down the street. Eat one before you die. You must fulfill your destiny on planet earth. Leave your friends now and go consume!

Just about everybody I run into on the street, they are madly texting god-knows-what to god-knows-who as they traverse through a world that no longer is here-and-now, but rather there-in-then? But hey, there's water on Mars so everything may be coming about after all, our long dead Martian brethren may speak to us out of the remains of their civilization, who can say? Meanwhile everybody goes somewhere in order to capture their selfie with the "there" as backdrop. So where ARE we, really?

Casa Futuro reminds us that the future has been here for many years, even though most people do not recognize its existence. The avant garde in architecture, art and music has ever posited that future. And the trio whose album we contemplate today is firmly attached to the tradition of that future in the "jazz" realm, as first experienced so shockingly (for those who listened) in the '60s free jazz, new thing movement.

Pedro Sousa (tenor sax, etc.), Johan Berthling (double bass) and Gabriel Ferrandini (drums) give us some worthwhile free sounds from across the pond (for those reading this in the States), from Portugal, where things are still hopping, a center for modernity as is New York, Chicago, Berlin and a good deal of other places, though ironically most folks out there don't know a thing about it much.

Anyway as we press forward this is a trio that comes out of the "new jazz" convincingly and movingly. It's all about the three-way improvisations that make of the trio a weighted, multi-beinged entity. Pedro shouts out incantations and epithets that follow and expand the footprints of the multi-timbred saxophonists like Ayler and Shepp, Trane and Pharoah, all those initiatory cats that heard Ornette's cry and responded with cries of their own. Pedro Sousa has that in him and he brings out his own version nicely. It is a language of sorts after all, and he speaks it well.

Key to the sound of the music is Pedro's multi-phonic approach and its interactions with multiphonic and wooden toned bass excursions by Johan. Johan too builds from the free roots of the tradition--of Silva, Grimes, Parker, and all the pioneering avant bassists who have given us the sounds and the possibility of new sounds to come. Johan has heard them, internalized them and made something of his own from them.

Drummer Gabriel works out of the new thing tradition too, with the open stance Murray, Graves, Ali, Altschul and the others put forward in the first period of freetime playing. He too has carved a domain of his own out of the tradition of the future.

So there are three improvised segments to be heard on this album, with plenty of nicely imaginative freeplay to be heard from three instrumentalists any avant player of notes would be happy, I'd imagine. to join together with. As it is the trio fills our sonic airspace quite effectively without the assistance of others. They are a casa futuro unto themselves.

The Beats were sometimes obsessed with the need to be instantaneously in the now. The New Thing wanted to create the same in terms of sound. Our cell phone texting brethren may think they are also virtually present in "nowness," but it is not direct. This music IS.

And so this is a fine album, I am saying in so many words. The future may indeed be coming, but in the meantime we have good examples of its intimations in music such as this. Hear it if you can!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin, Ichigo Ichie

From composer-pianist Satoko Fujii comes the initial recording of her first European-based big band, Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin. Ichigo Ichie (Libra 212-037) features the band giving us high spirited readings of the long title piece (in four parts) and a 15-minute rendering of "ABCD." The orchestra is a logical outgrowth of Satoko and husband Matsuki Tamura's move to Berlin in 2011.

Satoko on piano is joined by 11 musicians, including Matsuki Tamura and two others on trumpets, Matthias Schubert and Gebhard Ullmann on tenor saxes, plus baritone, trombone, guitar, bass and two drummers (Michael Griener and Peter Orins).

"Ichigo Ichie" means "once in a lifetime." Satoko composed it for the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2013 and it receives an excellent performance here for the recorded premiere. It is filled with rousing tutti passages and improvised interludes for various instruments alone or in varying combinations.

"ABCD" continues Satoko's special avant jazz approach. The parts were written and numbered. On the day of performance each member selects at will one of the numbered parts, so that each performance will have a maximal spontaneity and freshness, as one can readily hear in the version recorded for this album.

If you already know Fujii's large-ensemble music, this music very much is a continuation of it. It is excellent at any rate, filled with energy and zest, good conceptual thinking and very spirited playing from all concerned.

It is one of her very best. So if you cannot go for the complete set of 70-plus albums she has recorded (!), certainly include this one in your library. It moves along well and has the special total wash of sound that Satoko's large band recordings have in abundance. A great band, too!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Nu Band, The Cosmological Constant

Nu Band is a significant gathering of contemporary avant jazzmen, an all-star lineup, who dedicate their recent album The Cosmological Constant (Not Two 923-2) to the memory of Roy Campbell, a close musical associate and former band member who was taken from us so sadly and unexpectedly a few years ago. If I am not mistaken yesterday would have been Roy's 63rd birthday, so this posting is timely, though of course the NY jazz community's anguish over his loss does not diminish via such anniversaries.

Nu Band carries on with a fine set of originals and some first-rate avant improvisations. The current lineup features the cornet of Thomas Heberer (who also celebrated a birthday recently), the alto sax and clarinet of Mark Whitecage, the bass of Joe Fonda and the drums of Lou Grassi.

These four of course are seasoned masters who show us that their creative powers are anything but diminished with the passage of time. On the contrary. The originals serve to identify the band and set up their solowork. Heberer contributes two, Fonda three, Whitecage one and Grassi three. They stand out as very worthy fare and very conducive performance platforms.

All four players get equal billing, which fits with the high artistry of each and makes this a cooperative venture in the best sense. Each is an important force, an innovator on his respective instrument(s), and we hear that fully on this set. The solo routines give space to all four players in varying combinations.

Grassi and Fonda, as one might expect, are more than a rhythm section--they are equally articulate melodists with the frontline so that the distinction between the two often enough becomes moot. But when they elect to swing ahead in rhythmic fashion they do so with impact and authority.

Heberer and Whitecage work wonderfully well in tandem as well as via their solo selves. Everybody has an original leg-up on post-bop avant line rendering and as you might expect the hearing is a revelation as well as a solid gas.

There are no dull moments to this music--and that's as you would expect with such a gathering. It's a very fine example of a great band carrying on with subtlety and fire. Roy would have appreciated the tribute. We all can appreciate the here and now of the music on this excellent set!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Kenny Werner, The Melody

In the later '80s, with graduate school behind me, back in the NY Metro area, I had one of those kind of deja-vu experiences one has all too infrequently. My friends and I decided to catch a set with the Eddie Gomez group at the now defunct New York club Fat Tuesday's. We had a good table and the band sounded well. I took a look at the piano player and it hit me that I somehow knew the guy, while I was digging what he was doing. It eventually dawned on me that this fellow was a classmate of mine some 15 years before at Berklee, that I had seen him around in the halls though I never actually knew him. It was Kenny Werner, by then well established as a jazz artist around the scene. I knew his name from record albums, knew and appreciated his work, but his face in person told me that our paths had crossed physically those years ago.

Time has gone by, Kenny has further enhanced his reputation as a pianist of true importance with Joe Lovano and others, he has written a fine book about musical mastery, and now here he is again--with a piano trio album, The Melody (Pirouet 3083).

Just because we passed each other in the hallways in 1971 is of course no reason to like his music. That is something one either hears and appreciates or does not. I have found him to be an excellent exponent of modern harmonically rich jazz for some time now. He clearly has grown out of the Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea acoustic modes, but over the years and now especially has turned that into his own completely original sound.

The trio sports excellent players in Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Art Hoenig on drums. A fine piano trio demands much these days from its bassists and drummers, and this trio is no exception. We get a sensitive and evolved way of building foundations and launching outwards from them with this rhythm section.

But especially worthy of your ears is the finely wrought, complete pianism of Kenny. He sounds better than ever here, with some excellent compositional springboards (and a jazz standard or two), a finely honed, brilliant harmonic-melodic way about him and a beautiful sense of touch.

He asserts in this set his supremacy in the changes-centered realm of jazz piano artistry, both as fine and innovative a player as you will hear today in this zone and a way about him that will bring joy to those open to pianistic excellence. This for sure is one of his finest albums. The mature Kenny Werner is something to hear, a master of the idiom, greatly swinging as well as finely subtle.

Thanks Kenny for giving us this music! Very much recommended.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Old Time Musketry, Drifter

Old Time Musketry and their album Drifter (NCM East 40139) have a certain appealing quirkiness. The quartet occupies its own niche in the contemporary jazz landscape. They are composition oriented, structured in a sort of "progressive" way, sometimes overtly avant, always most definitely "new" and unusual.

Part of that has to do with the musicians involved, part with the instrumentation and the roles each instrument plays in the totality. The group consists of Adam Schneit on tenor and clarinet, who also contributes two of the compositions, JP Schlegelmilch on accordion and piano, who crafted the bulk of the compositions here, plus Phil Rowan on acoustic bass and Max Goldman on drums (and tambourine and melodica). Brian Drye guests on trombone for one cut.

Everybody is first-rate musically. The tenor-accordion frontline makes for a sonic identity, not just by virtue of the actual sound of the instruments together but also importantly in how the music is arranged and the improvisatory skills of the two. Alternately they can switch to, for example, clarinet and piano, which then gives the music another dimension. Both are interesting and accomplished soloists, as is bassist Rowan.

The composed approach defines the music especially. The writing is quite nicely involved and intricate in a modern folksy-cafe-meets-contemporary manner. And there are through composed elements the ensemble takes on for the solo segments that continue to mark off the sound as unique.

The words I have used so far to describe the music relate to my experience of listening to it, but do not do full justice to how this music sounds. Imagine then some lineage that includes Weill and Carla Bley. Somehow Old Time Musketry relates to those roots but very much goes its own way. Schneit and Schlegelmilch have much to do with that in their writing and improvisatory interactions. Both are original and the rhythm section greately adds to the sound via what it plays and how it helps in creating the song-composition structures.

It is a fine album. It is a different kind of contemporary sound that resonates with roots but goes well along on its own path.

Listen to this one!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

All Included, Satan in Plain Clothes

From last December at Oslo's Nasjonal Jazzscene we have the very potent free-avant jazz quintet All Included and their Satan in Plain Clothes (Clean Feed 326). It is a vibrant showing firmly in the post-new thing realm more so than a new music orientation, which is only to say that it has especially strong jazz roots more than not.

It is a European gathering of heavies perhaps not as especially well known in the States as they should be, but worthy of our ears in all senses.

In the quintet is saxophonist Martin Kuchen, trumpet wielding Thomas Johansson, trombonist Mats Aleklint, double bassist Jon Rune Strom and drummer Tollef Ostvang. They are markedly intent on articulating some excellent head compositions, three by Strom, two by Martin Kuchen and one by Leo and Martin Kuchen. The frameworks are classic sounding vehicles in a new thing zone.

The originals set things up for a free falling or swinging excellence from the rhythm team of Strom and Ostvang, who spike the music and at the same time bring an irresistible momentum to it all.

Martin carries a saxophonic torch heroically and lucidly. Thomas shows a good deal of the old/new jazz tradition in his well healed performances. And Mats has a bit of the old tailgating exuberance along with an avant soulful drive. The three in the frontline work very well together in realizing the heads, engaging in three way improvs and in their individual solo spots.

If I sometimes hear a little of the New York Contemporary 5 and the New York Art Quartet in the music it is only to say that they are extremely mindful of the roots of free jazz and work as an ensemble in ways that reflect the lessons to be learned from those seminal '60s groups without slavishly copying or consciously setting about to create parallels. They have roots but they also have something to say about how we can work out new sounds that go beyond those roots in happy ways.

If someone were to ask me, right now, to play some exemplary free jazz made today, I might certainly put this one on, along with perhaps a good deal else. That is how much I value this date, obviously. It is a genuine goodie. So get a copy if you will! I expect you'll feel like I do after a few listens.