Thursday, August 28, 2014

Karmadog Live, Featuring Greg Pagel and Matt Turner at Culture Cafe

The creative possibilities of live electronics in avant garde music has blossomed in the last few decades, thanks in part to new devices, the laptop and software, among other things. Not everything done out there satisfies completely, of course, because it still has to do with musical creativity, but when everything is right we get something very good to hear.

That's true about Karmadog and their latest album recorded live at Culture Cafe (Ickerrecords), in Manitowoo, WI last year. Karmadog is Matt Turner on electronically altered cello and Greg Pagel on synthesizer. The live set we are concerned with here is a very varied presentation consisting entirely of free improvisations. It comes down on the side of new music more than jazz per se. It has an expanded tonality that usually has a key fulcrum center buried somewhere underneath yet it takes that tonality to the fringes of atonality at times. Other times it is firmly and ambiently tonal.

But it is the electronic sound colors and the pace of each musical section that distinguishes the music and makes it quite interesting. There are a great many more of these open-form live electronic groups out there today than might have been the case 30 years ago, so the competition (for what? Recognition, I guess. Surely not riches) is more fierce. Yet these two artists hold their own quite well in their own way.

I don't suppose I need to tell you that if Billy Joel is your idea of great music this may jar you to the roots of your teeth. But to make comparisons this is not as much a noise-oriented music than some other outfits out there so that if anybody will win over the Billy Joel fan, it will be Matt and Greg. Seriously though, that is not going to happen very often. This music will satisfy the dedicated follower of avant garde fashion. But no, fashion does not fit either, since this sort of thing is more anti-fashion.

The truth is, this may not be the place to start if you know nothing of the avant garde. Now if you Google "avant garde" as I just did you'd get 79,700,000 results in 0.37 seconds, so we are not talking about anything ephemeral any more. We have had 100 years or more of it. It may not surface in homespun circles very often, but it is very real and very much alive. Is it universally beloved? Hardly. And all 79,700,000 hits may not be positive. My partner's blank-to-English dictionary from years ago defined "beatnik" as a particular group of godless, immoral people, which perhaps misses the essence of that movement! So some things don't get beyond the "in" group intact, as that definition shows dramatically. Just an aside. It's what I face every day when communicating in these missives. How to get others involved outside of the usual converts?

Nevertheless Karmadog fits in well with all of it. This album is no marginal exercise in obscurity. It is pleasingly mellifluous, out music from two cogent improvisers who hit on good things throughout the set.

So go for it if you can see yourself listening to this and liking it. I did. Like it, I mean.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cory Wright Outfit, Apples + Oranges

Cory Wright has conquered musical space. It's incontrovertable, as the old Castro Convertible ad jingle used to have it (if anybody remembers that). He's done it especially with his album Apples + Oranges (SingleSpeed Music 012).

What we have on this set is a freely propulsive outing by the Cory Wright Outfit, which has Cory on tenor sax and b-flat clarinet, Evan Francis on alto sax and flute. Rob Ewing on trombone, Lisa Mezzacappa on contrabass and Jordan Glenn, drums.

This is freebop at times, other times free new music that swings brightly, a collective froth well-structured and well-played by all involved. Cory writes some excellent charts here and the band comes through with fire and individual sounds that blend wonderfully well.

It has the tang of modern harmony, the afterbop glow and personal expression of a Dolphy or Mingus of today. That does not mean that anyone as a soloist has reached that plane, and after all how many today could you say that of? But they are very much playing every note right and with feeling, and the compositions give you a great deal to appreciate.

It's a kicker with an iconoclastic razz to the complacent and staid. It is the opposite of a safe and middle-of-the-road old man version of jazz. We need that opposite, that friction against the obvious more than ever if the music is to stay healthy and relevant.

This one is as healthy and relevant as anything today. It's freely outside but composed and performed with a real flair.

I wish this outfit much success. More from them would do just fine with me.

Definitely important music. I recommended you hear it!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sly 5th Ave Presents Akuma

Sly 5th Ave (aka Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II) makes his debut with Akuma (TRR-014). Still in his early 20s, Sly plays sax (tenor mostly) and writes/arranges a series of pieces for a full ensemble--a sextet augmented at times by additional winds, piano-organ, guitar, violin and voice. The music as Bob Belden in Sly's liners points out represents jazz out of the African diaspora. Sly presents an attractive Afro-jazz blend that does strongly resonate with some of the very promising sounds of jazz that were happening from the time of Coltrane's death through to the mid-'70s.

What that means is you get a mostly straight-eight percussive togetherness overlayed by well-composed horn and rhythm lines. It has affinities to late Lee Morgan, early-to-mid Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders, Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi, mid-period McCoy Tyner, and perhaps even a little Norman Connors.

But that doesn't mean it mimics these artists and their bands as much it draws strength from that tradition. Sly on tenor and Jay Jennings, trumpet, have strong solo presences, among others. The rhythm section of Ross Pederson, drums, Daniel Foose, acoustic bass, Keita Ogawa, percussion, and Cory Henry, keys, gets strong foundational grooves going and locks in.

The compositions have tensile strength and power. It's great to hear a band play in this zone, for there is still much potential to be had from this style of playing. Sly is already making a very good contribution with this music.

It's an album that impresses, an auspicious debut from a very promising tenor-composer-bandleader.

Hear Sly 5th Ave!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Vana Gierig, Making Memories, with Special Guest Paquito d' Rivera

Vana Gierig has a way with the piano--rhapsodic, rhythmically vital and as accomplished in his touch as he is in vertical-horizontal note choice. He can get a real froth going when he sees fit, but it's only part of what he is after as an artist-player-composer. His album Making Memories (Enja 9597-2) gives us beautiful evidence of this. Nicely swinging, Latin charged, sometimes classically influenced music is the order of the day with compositions of originality and flair, playing of real note from Vana, and an assortment of sidemen who tune in fully to the Gierig sound.

Stalwart Paquito d'Rivera plays clarinet for half the album and sounds every bit as good as ever, though oft'times as much a timbral color as an improvised voice. The acoustic bass chair is adeptly shared by Sean Conly and Matthew Parrish; drums are well represented by Marcello Pellitteri, with Gene Jackson substituting on one track; percussion gets its due with Vinicius Barros; and three tracks add violin and cello.

Nevertheless there is a piano trio plus percussion nucleus that makes the bulk of the sound what it is, with d'Riviera adding another inimitable voice.

The songs and arrangements stand out in an evolved way, the Latin element seeming natural and unforced as the main groove element but in conjunction with the very musical pianism of Gierig.

No notes are superfluous. Everything counts and does so with smarts. And the music is sophisticated enough that "mainstream" disappears in the sense of cliched returns and instead makes way for tonal eloquence.

Friday, August 22, 2014

David Helbock's Random/Control, Think of Two

When you "think of two", you may find yourself thinking about Thelonious Monk's classic piece, "Think of One". So then what is the "two"? In a way that's the idea behind David Helbock's Random/Control and their album title, Think of Two (Traumton Records 4599). The one and two of this album consists of the music of Thelonious Monk and Brazilian heavyweight Hermeto Pascoal.

Now I and probably you wouldn't ordinarily put the two together in the same breath. And perhaps that's part of what gives this album a certain zing. It's all about the music of the two, juxtaposed and re-arranged in very good ways by a most versatile and multi-instrumental threesome.

Leader David Helbock plays piano, toy piano, melodica and miscellania along with electronics. Johannes Bar plays all manner of brass instruments from trumpet to tuba and beyond, and seconds David in his participation with the electronics. Andreas Broger plays tenor, soprano, clarinet, bass clarinet, slide-trumpet, flute, percussion and, again, has to do with the electronics.

They are all more than creditable on the various instruments. They thrive. But it is especially the intricate, evolved and quirky arrangements in conjunction with great songs that puts this one in a special place.

They chose some Monk and Pascoal winners and weave a pretty zany web of sounds around them. The multi-instrumental capability is something in itself. And then the results are not some kind of gimmickry, but fully "orchestrated" by the instruments at hand. I assume all three had a hand in the arrangements, but in any event they take things outside now and again, creatively construct and destruct the melody lines, and come together with a great good humor and zest.

It's one of those that grows on you the more you listen. It's both fun and quite serious but regardless listening remains a pleasure of surprises throughout.

Check this one out, by all means!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tone Hunting, Anna Kaluza, Artur Majewski, Rafal Mazur, Kuba Suchar

Not everything in music today can be readily and facilely stuffed into various pre-classified cubicles. That is part of what makes new music "new", of course. It keeps me alert and on my toes, too.

So it goes with today's album, Tone Hunting (Clean Feed 285), a cooperative quartet from Poland that features Anna Kaluza on alto sax, Artur Majewski on trumpet and cornet, Rafal Mazur on acoustic bass guitar and Kuba Suchar on drums and percussion.

There are five improvisations in the free-avant jazz zone to be heard on this one. The longish "Track 1" sets the stage with a pointilistic interplay of phrases that evolves and develops over a free-rhythm background. All give notice that they are entering territory they have scouted out themselves.

The album continues and you start to realize that (connected in some way with the New York Eye and Ear Control classic from the New Thing era) this is especially strong in its collective horn interplay. But not exclusively so in that there are solo spots as well, though to a lesser degree than in a typical free sessions these days.

The textural and temporal ins-and-outs make this ensemble strong. Kaluza and Majewski bond in very interesting ways and the rhythm team provides a strongly assertive, effective underpinning and at the same time can make movements of their own towards the varied yet not obviously explicit goals.

A strong outing. Hear it if you can.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Kidd Jordan, Alvin Fielder, Peter Kowald, Trio and Duo in New Orleans

Three masters of improvised freedom gathered together for the first and only time--in New Orleans, April, 2002. The results form the first half of the 2-CD set Trio and Duo in New Orleans (No Business NBCD 64-65). Kidd Jordon on tenor, Alvin Fielder, drums, and the late Peter Kowald, bass--that's the lineup. And make beautiful music together they did. Mindful of both the past tradition of their art and the potential on the horizon, the free and clear way ahead, they perform as you might hope they would, open to the opportunity to express a significant three-way dialog.

Kidd and Alvin are no strangers to one another as co-members of the Improvisation Arts Ensemble in the '70s, but the time intervening has given them a maturity and even closer rapport without losing the fire and spontaneity of youth. Peter rises with them to the occasion for a marvelous set.

Three years later Fielder and Jordan recorded again, this time as a duet. The resultant set is in every way as good as the trio outing, perhaps even more urgently fired-up.

We all would do well to study these disks, for they contain a summing up statement of where they were at that point in time. For Peter near the end point of his journey, a salute to the excitement of being there with Jordan and Fielder, for the other two a new affirmation of the expressive power the music holds for us.

Beautiful release! Highly recommended.