Friday, January 23, 2015

Red Trio & Mattias Stahl, North and the Red Stream

The world of free avant music, sometimes called "free jazz," continually evolves and permutes so that a simple classification of style sets doesn't always serve to clarify. Potentially every configuration of players occupies its own world, though of course that is never entirely true, since both the past and the present influence every soloist and ensemble in some way.

But nonetheless the idea that every moment of music-making is potentially open to any expression allows at least theoretically for anything to develop. The feeling of open creativity in spontaneity has been very present in the best senses with the Red Trio, a worthy gathering of pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro, contrabassist Hernani Faustino and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini. On their latest recorded outing they add vibist Mattias Stahl. With his presence there is a four-way dynamic that shows both continuity and change; his inclusion is a factor that gives the group dynamic another melodic-harmonic voice that brings a freshened set of spontaneous sounds to bear.

All this on the CD North and the Red Stream (No Business NBCD 69). It was recorded live at the VDU Jazz Festival Kaunas late in 2013. And no doubt the live gig gave them some additional inspiration because they are all locked into good things throughout.

Both the pianist and the vibist have in jazz and subsequent avant music been historically faced with dual poles of consideration. Both instruments, at least in their maturity, have the capability of creating self-sufficient harmonic-melodic worlds, yet of course in a group context and as influenced by the development of the music there has been the pull to create horn-like lines. Earl Hines was one of the more overt of the early exponents of the horn-style of soloing, but of course he never abandoned the two-handed harmonic pianism that came naturally to those who study the instrument. With the history of vibes playing it was later Red Norvo and of course Milt Jackson who did more to integrate that pianistic harmonic conception into the vibe approach. Since then both instruments variously gravitated between lining and harmonizing as the music evolved and changed.

I bring this up because Pinheiro and Stahl do a great job on this set travelling in and out from a harmonic to a lining approach. In a free context where there are implied key centers but lots of freedom of choice, the two players work especially well together in choosing lines and harmonic voicings. And by so doing you get a distinct kind of spontaneous fullness that Hernani on bass responds to rather brilliantly and Gabriel absorbs and in turn sets up various inventive pitched and unpitched washes of percussion.

And that is to say that the group sound as a four-fold voice is especially prominent and innovatively interesting on this set. That is not to say that there aren't solos here. But the solos are quite often integrated into four-way dialogue where everyone adds to the solo for a very creative ensemble sound.

These are four very talented creative souls and the freedom they espouse is extraordinarily well developed on this set. It is a set that sustains interest from start to finish. There are no tentative sounding harrumphs, no momentary fumblings for direction. They know what they are about and they go there, directly, and stay there.

And the vibes-piano tandem works especially well. That's because they, and really all four are listening--but complementing more so than simply responding to each other.

It's a very, very good outing that all interested in the free zone should hear.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Don Pullen, Richard's Tune, 1975

Don Pullen was a brilliant pianist who left us much too soon. In 1975, at the end of his several-year tenure with Charles Mingus, he recorded a solo album for Sackville records. It was reissued with extra cuts in the 1990s and from that time has taken as its title Richard's Tune (Sackville 3008). With the new Delmark distribution deal we have it very readily available again and we are all the better for it.

Of course Pullen came to national attention in the mid-'60s when he appeared as pianist for Giuseppe Logan's two ESP albums, then a little later in a duo recording with Milford Graves. These albums showcased his outside playing in brilliant fashion. He was a scatter stylist primarily, and though his playing was more like Cecil Taylor's than Paul Bley's, he nevertheless was his own person even then.

By the time Song for Richard was recorded he of course had gained a good deal more fame as a member of the Mingus entourage. And by that time he had established a sort of in-and-out duplex style that could stay within modern contemporary harmonic jazz realms or take it out into more uncharted zones, sometimes within the same solo.

And that is the Pullen we get on Richard's Tune, a seasoned, very personal stylistic brilliance that went in both directions. The compositions are strong, with outside fireworks running together with earthy gospel and well-considered changes-based numbers.

Like Jackie Byard, who prefigured him in the Mingus group, he had assimilated the history and the new thing from the ground up and could do it all in his own way. And both he and Byard did all of this in ways that unmistakably identified them as stylistic originals.

On Richard's Tune we get an hour of Pullen at his best. If there is no one Pullen album that sums him up, this one gives us a beautiful picture of what he was about in 1975. He had a rare ability to grasp the ins and outs of improvised music from multiple perspectives, each with its own special Pullen focus.

This is a central disk. You should get some of the earlier and later ones, too. If you start here you can't go wrong. And if you already dig Pullen, you need this one, certainly!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Chris Potter Underground Orchestra, Imaginary Cities

When an artist of the stature of tenor saxophonist Chris Potter reaches something like mid-career, you sometimes see summing up, and you sometimes see a breakthrough. In Chris's case, with his Underground Orchestra and their new album Imaginary Cities (ECM B0022440-02), it is mostly breakthrough.

We've heard him grow and develop over the years into a monster tenorist, yes. Now we hear him take on a large-group project where composition and arranging are a bit more out front. The core of his Underground quartet is here in Craig Taborn, piano, Adam Rogers on guitar and Nate Smith on drums. Add to that two bass players in Scott Colley on contrabass and Fima Ephron on electric bass, Steve Nelson on mallets, and a string quartet.

The music is riveting in its compositional-arranged beauty. Strings are no afterthought but form an integral part of the music, which goes from balladry to jazz-rock to Arabic-Indian elements to new music Bartokian presence to large-group jazz per se. The Potter sax and bass clarinet artistry is central and pivotal and he sounds inspired.

Something like this can go its way with innovative groupings and still not quite succeed. Not so, this album. The group forces hold together organically thanks to the Potter arrangements and compositions, yet there still is much in the spontaneousness that keeps it fresh and jazz-worthy. And the sound of the recording is beautiful!

I'll admit the first hearing puzzled me slightly. I did not know what to expect and at first didn't get a feel for what was going on. That was completely dispelled by hearing #3. At this point I revel in the music. It may not be what you expect, exactly, but it is a major Potter opus, a remarkable achievement.

I hope he does some more of this sort of thing! It is a revelation in its own way.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast, Settle

The music still called "jazz" by most out there continues on its way with new music that can startle or confirm, depending on where it is coming from. "Startle" is more the applicable word with Ken Thomson's Slow/Fast unit, especially with their release Settle (NCM East 40138).

Compositionally Ken on bass clarinet or alto often conjoins with Russ Johnson's trumpet for line weaving that contrasts with Nir Felder's electric guitar counterpoint or chordal frame, which in turn gets strong support or counter movement from the rhythm team of Adam Armstrong on bass and Fred Kennedy on drums. Or guitar and reeds team up and let trumpet and bass take alternate routes. The point is that Thomson has a vision of the various instrumental combinations for a particular piece and goes with his creative instincts. The compositions are what startle because they don't take for granted any standard operating procedures in writing for such an ensemble. Ken hears what others might not as possibilities and realizes them in his very own way

The heft of Nir Felder's guitar work puts the music often enough in a jazz-rock zone, but an outside-avant sort of version. All three front liners can and do solo well, but in the end it is a group sound that hits you.

Extremely well-done and different. Hear this one!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms, From the Region

To say that Jason Adasiewicz is at the very top of my list of new vibes players is inaccurate. He has been around long enough that "new" seems wrong. Sure, compared to Milt Jackson he is new. But just about anybody alive save Terry Gibbs is that kind of new. So rather I should just say that he is at the very top of my list of vibists out there today.

There's a new recording of him with his Sun Rooms trio, From the Region (Delmark 5017), and it breaks new ground. Nate McBride moved from Chicago so he has been replaced by bassist Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten, who fits in wonderfully well. Mike Reed still gets things going from the drum chair (or throne, as it is called). And Jason prevails on vibes.

This is an album of Jason's compositions and they are good, edgy, rhythmically alive. There are worked out routines for the three and there is much swinging in an advanced, free sort of context.

If you appreciate the free-period of Hutcherson, Walt Dickerson and such then Jason's work will resonate with that for you. He has established his own turf but there is a kind of avant tradition in there, too.

As Adasiewicz says in the liners, everybody is a drummer in this band, meaning that the percussive and rhythmic momentum is very much a factor in this music. It moves you forward. Haker-Flaten and Reed do much more than accompany. Jason is very out front as you would expect but all three interlock in classic free-swinging ways.

This is a vibes album of genuine importance! It's very together and gets better every time you hear it. Do not hesitate!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Charles Lloyd, Manhattan Stories, 1965

Charles Lloyd hit the jazz world like a kind of meteor in the mid-to-later '60s. His classic quartet of a young Keith Jarrett, an equally young Jack DeJohnette, and Cecil McBee, then Ron McClure, had much going for it. There was a kinetic magnetism in that group that appealed to many in both new jazz and rock communities, for good reason. But of course Lloyd did not appear out of nowhere. He first came to some notoriety as music director for Chico Hamilton's group, then signed to Columbia for several albums with quartets that included Richard Davis, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Gabor Szabo. The signing to Atlantic and the formation of the classic quartet gave him a boost into the limelight that the previous work made possible.

A new two-CD disk of two 1965 performances with the earlier quartet (at Judson Hall and Slugs) has emerged. Manhattan Stories (Resonance 2016) is the name of the set. It gives us a great sounding, detailed look at the earlier incarnation in excellent form. On drums was Pete LaRoca Sims (instead of Tony Williams), Ron Carter on bass and Gabor Szabo on electric guitar.

It is prime Lloyd. Gabor Szabo on guitar makes for a very different ambiance to the sound of the group. He chords a good bit and does a sort of raga-ish modality that opens things up differently than the group with Jarrett. It is more sparse and the rhythm section of Carter and LaRoca subsequently is quite prominent.

They do a few numbers ("Sweet Georgia Bright" and "Dream Weaver") that remained in the repertoire of the later quartet, and they do some other things as well, such as Szabo's "Lady Gabor."

Lloyd sounds great on tenor and flute, Gabor brings in his special approach, and Ron Carter and Pete LaRoca remind us how good they were then.

It's a beautiful revelation of Lloyd taking off. The quartet has real presence. Excellent discovery! Hear it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pete Magadini, Bones Blues

When I was seriously woodshedding in my early years, Pete Magadini published a two-volume guide to polyrhythms that remains a work all serious musicians should tackle. The mathematical breakdowns of ratio-ed note groupings quickly become literally mind blowing. It certainly did that for me. Only a little bit later did I discover that Pete was an active drummer up in Canada. Eventually I came across his quartet album Bones Blues (Sackville 4004) which is once again available as part of Delmark's Sackville reissue-redistribution program.

It is the same trio that backed Buddy Tate on his Sackville album Texas Tenor which I covered a short time ago (see posting content index on the left-hand column). That is Pete of course on drums, Wray Downes on piano and Dave Young on bass. To this potent triumvirate is added Don Menza on tenor.

This is an album of cohesive and rewarding straight-ahead hard- and post-bop jazz classics with a few originals and plenty of committed playing. Three numbers are associated with Miles, namely "Old Devil Moon," "Solar" and "Freddie the Freeloader." Then "Poor Butterfly" and Golson's perennial "I Remember Clifford" get good treatments too.

No, Pete does not bring in all the brain-twisting polyrhythms in either his playing here or in the band's arrangements. It's not that sort of session! But his drumming is exemplary. Pianist Wray Downes has some real bop-chops and shows us them in no small way. Don Menza is a genuine swinger with a sort of post-Zoot acuity and soul. Dave Young gets it all right in the bass chair.

Now back in 1977 this kind of date was not unusual. With the right players, the fire was there and it sounded "authentic." These many years later it still does. The trick is that to play "trad" is not to emasculate it. If you do that you give "polite society" something inoffensive, but then the music is not what it is meant to be. So I can heartily say this sounds as good as ever, that there is nothing polite about it and it fans the fires when the players feel it.

If you take joy in old school jazz as developed in the '50s and '60s this will get you smiling.