Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Raymond MacDonald and Marilyn Crispell, Parallel Moments

From the somewhat obscure British label Babel Label comes a fine series of improvised duets between Scottish saxophonist Raymond MacDonald and American pianist Marilyn Crispell, Parallel Moments (Babel Label BDV 13125).

It's a dynamic encounter with avant jazz turbulence, new music explorations and a testifying lyric sensibility, depending on the piece. Both artists acquit themselves well on both the individual and the interactive levels.

There are times when one hears a hint of an influential rechanneling of Anthony Braxton in MacDonald's more acerbic moments, but other times he seems to be searching and finding his own personal line-creating, sound-poetic personality. That he finds a center and melds it with Marilyn's very personal modern piano makes all this music worthwhile.

Marilyn is never one to be pinned down. She comes across in this set with excellent inventiveness and pianistic thrust.

A far-ranging set of variations on music making can be had here. All is well-conceived and can be heard for your musical profit and edification. MacDonald and Crispell come through with a winner!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Connie Crothers, Concert in Paris

One of the beautiful things about improvised music of course is that the place and time the music is created can have a huge effect on the performance. Inspiration can be heightened by those intersections, and we can get music that surpasses even what we might come to expect from an artist of the first rank. Connie Crothers' Concert in Paris (New Artists 1059) has that quality.

Both Connie's presence in Paris for the occasion of this concert and her first trip there as a student in the late '50s, which was a life-changing epiphany as the liners recount, give impetus to some really inspired pianism. "Deuxieme Naissance" and "Dans Mes Reves" open the concert with some truly transcendent music related to the here and now and the there and then, and yet beyond both. It's as if Maestro Crothers takes all the music that followed from the kismetic trip and synthesizes it into a total summing. Blues phrasing, bop implications are there and yet the full pallet of all the notes are harnessed to an ultra-expressive, ultra-pianistic narrative of feelings. On this opening segment its as if she pulls together everything she is, everything she has been, and puts it all together in total oneness.

Not that the music that follows is in any way lacking, it keeps the momentum going. "How Deep is the Ocean", "Come Rain or Come Shine" and an earlier Crothers piece "Carol's Dream" come into play as she revels in expressive high after high. Avant atonality and jazz-rooted tonality mix together seamlessly for some very poetic stratus elevations.

"Hommage Aux Commundards" has a rather sober cast to it compared to the elation of the earlier segments, but it is quite understandable given her subject--the Paris Commune of earlier times and its fervent aspirations for freedom and a new order. The music does not flag so much as it becomes more introspective, more searching in its dynamic, initially. This might be the place to comment that somehow Connie channels avant classical composers, but really I don't think she does that directly so much as she widens her scope to phrase outside of considerations of jazz per se in the historic sense. It's still all Connie, just as Cecil plays all Cecil and if you can draw parallels to modern classical they have been transformed. So also Connie. This is about an in-the-moment expressiveness coupled with an internally cultivated originality. To me it still epitomises what jazz is about--the lines and the blocks of chordality are about the telling, not so much the form the telling takes, though that too is innovative. It's a matter of emphasis.

"Espoir" gives us the concluding segment of the concert. I'd like to say, "there, you can hear her channeling Roy Eldridge" but she has long gone beyond her well-loved influences, the giants that have come before her and us, to create Connie-music. "Espoir" reflects almost nostalgically on "Come Rain or Come Shine" and it is poetic, filled perhaps with those thoughts we get when we recall a formative past that is now distant yet never really gone. After all the expression that has gone into the concert, we seem to feel, like Billy Strayhorn, "after all...", after all, there we are today, filled with our lives, codifying, condensing, transforming all we have lived through into our art. Certainly Connie does that on this very beautiful recording.

And perhaps, given the exceptional quality of the music here, we can learn from what a master of music does after a lifetime of playing and living. She does not go back. She goes forward but perhaps with a new feeling for all that has gone into who she is now, musically and personally.

I do not wish to put words in her mouth. The music itself speaks to us. It says, "this is what my life has made me. This is the music that most expresses that." And so it is. Concert in Paris gives us a high point among high points. It is all that makes Connie a great artist. It is seminal music. I cannot say more because there is no need to say more.

Just get this one!!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Jean-Marc Foussat, L'oiseau, Victor 1985-2012

Jean-Marc Foussat has an active presence in Europe as an avant-garde composer-improvisor who occupies a space on the free-avant jazz scene. The CD at hand today would appear to be pure composition, an elaborate noise-and-tone electronic music suite, L'oiseau (FOU CD-01). It is in memory of his son Victor (1985-2012), a memento mori honoring his passing.

The work is in two central sections, "L'oiseau" itself, and "La vie s'arrete". In between is the voice of Victor himself, reciting a brief poem.

Foussat's music must be digested in several hearings to be fully appreciated. Loops and their subtle use contrast against sometimes very thick, noisy soundscape panoramas. Pattern and form emerge from the seeming chaos as one listens repeatedly.

It shows us an electronic composer who does not attempt to construct sounds to comfort the audience. It is rather music on the edge of itself, not disturbing as much as expressionistic. Walls of sound vary in intensity and density in ways that seem to express that which words fail to do. The bird-like, the living creation sort of sounds contrast against a sort of brutal industrialism in a dichotomy that fascinates as it perhaps gives us pause. We do live in such a multivalent world. There is no one, yet all of it gives us one experience, of our lives. Of Victor's life.

That is my impression, not necessarily exactly what Jean-Marc intended. Suffice to say that this music becomes intelligible when one listens closely and repeatedly. I find it very engaging, intense, yet also very poetic.

Recommended for those avant adventurists out there.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Clare Fischer, After the Rain

Clare Fischer (1928-2012) was a jazz composer and pianist who sometimes basked in the limelight, but sporadically so. He wrote beautiful music, some in the so-called "third stream" mode, but rarely was named in short lists of top jazz composers of his era. Nevertheless he left behind a discography of fine albums, many now rather obscure, and is remembered by those who know the history of the recent jazz present as a figure deserving a hearing, one often inspired to make music of an extraordinarily high caliber.

Thankfully, Clare towards the end of his life and posthumously has benefited by several releases of his more ambitious concert music that has otherwise been unheard. Today we look at one, an all-orchestral disk giving us three compositions well worth hearing, After the Rain (self-released CFP012201).

"The Suite for Cello & String Orchestra" is in three movements, the first two with a singing neo-romantic quality that is quite pretty and well-wrought. "After the Rain" is the title of the first movement. There is no readily apparent relation to the Coltrane piece except in mood. The second movement was penned in 1947! The others were written in the '90s it seems. The third movement brings a bit more grit into play and has more of a thematic punch to it. This is music that does not have a pronounced jazz sensibility but shows a mastery of string writing. No wonder he was busy as the string sweetening guy for artists like Prince and Michael Jackson. But the third movement is much more substantial than sweet.

"Time Piece" continues the substantiality with three movements for full orchestra that have modern complexity and compositional flow. The first movement was written out in part in 1953, completed in 1987. The other movements are partly early, partly later, but it all flows together as one unified work. There is more of a third stream quality here, with phrasings and melodic-harmonic cross-pollinations of classical and jazz. It has more of Clare Fischer's thematic knack and musical dexterity at play. This is the Clare Fischer I appreciate. Nothing is predictable and the orchestral colors and pianistic outlook is very much at hand in the best ways. Rather brilliant music, especially the "Blues" and "Fugue" sections. There are orchestrational touches of sheer inspiration and there is memorable music throughout.

"Bachludes I & II" were recorded in the 1980s. They revel in the harmonic thrust of Bach's music, but then transform in Fischer's hands to a less contrapuntal, more fully drenched string concordance. This is music with the sure musical sense of Maestro Fischer. Very beautifully done.

So here we have a disk that has spots of true brilliance, decent recordings and performances of orchestral Fischer. They are quite revealing, showing a side of his music we saw far too little of. Only the middle work has a pronounced jazz-classical nexus and that is worth the price of admission alone. The other works show a Fischer concerned with taking a compositional stance as someone in the modern classical mode. All of the strictly classical Fischer here is worth hearing, the final movement of the "Suite" and the "Bachludes" particularly.

There is a further volume (and a new one coming) that I'll cover here shortly. Fischer fans will find this an ear opener. It's good music, whether you know Fischer's work or not.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Douglas Detrick's Anywhen Ensemble, The Bright and Rushing World

Something quite beautiful this morning. It is a ten-part jazz composition called The Bright and Rushing World (Navona 5955), written by trumpeter-composer Douglas Detrick and featuring his Anywhen Ensemble, a quintet that includes trumpet (Detrick), soprano and alto sax (Hashem Assadullahi), cello (Shirley Hunt), bassoon (Steve Vacchi) and drums (Ryan Biesack).

It has some room for improvisation but the main thrust is the rather wonderfully voiced ensemble writing. The improvisations extend the mood and tonal thrust of the composition as a whole quite nicely. But it is especially in the body of the written syntax that we find a kind of musically subtle nirvana.

Detrick's music is lyrical with the tang of modernism to situate the feelings and bring us to the middle of that rush of a world. Douglas remarks in the liners that once he finished composing the work it gained a life of its own. That is certainly true of any creative act, and yet in the musical personality of the quintet's performance we find that Detrick himself still lives, of course. Not in any mundane sense. The performances are themselves a big factor in the success of the work. The ensemble has a definite personality that reflects no doubt Detrick's vision of the music.

So you put the two together and you have a disk that sings with the best of so-called "Third Stream" qualities--the modern classical and the jazz sensibility joined together for a work that has genuine thrust. It makes me want to hear Detrick write for a larger ensemble, though this quintet work stands on its own without the help of further works to validate the musical sensitivity and talent of Douglas Detrick. That's already here. Captured on disk for us.

I find this album intriguing, so much so that I do not care where it fits or what "school" it belongs to. It is an excellent work that sounds better every time I hear it.

The rise of the AACM taught us that composition and improvisation can be whatever it pleases, depending on the creativity and will of the music makers. It may partake of classical elements whenever it wishes. What counts is the result. Detrick triumphs in that way here. Give it a close listen!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Impossible, Ignition, The Unanswered Question

When my basically chronologically ordered queue piles unearth something from a while back, I sometimes have no idea how it chose to surface now. Not that the pile has a mind of its own (I hope not) but the stress and strain of getting through life blanks out the details. So when the trio known as the Impossible and their CD Ignition, The Unanswered Question (UHF-01) hit the top of the "to review" stack, I know I had heard it initially and liked it. Beyond that, zip.

The CD was recorded live in Brisbane last year, apparently came out last October, and here we are. Some things are worth the wait. As I played it the requisite times last week I remembered why I liked it. It is brash, thrashing free trio jazz from Sam O'Brien, alto, Mitch Green, acoustic bass, and Tony Irving, drums.

This has all the trappings of a DIY release. Simple graphics and production values, little info. The recording is quite reasonable and clear. It captures the trio in the throes of over-the-top spontaneity.

There is plenty of heat and frisson on this all-free two-part set. Sam O'Brien carries on throughout with some frenetic chromatic outbursts that are well-seconded by Mitch Green and especially drummer Irving.

Does this cover new territory, break new ground? Not really. But should we expect that out of every free jazz outing? No, not really. What saves this date from the dust bin is the uncompromising freedom. It will not change the world and there are others who have conquered free space with greater distinction, but for sheer abandon this one has something to offer.

It's perhaps for the free jazz completist more than anyone else. Nevertheless you have to admire the zeal with which they go about it! Tony Irving's drumming is classic bombast and virtuoso all the way. Sam O'Brien never lets up. Mitch Green thunders. You have to hand it to them for all that.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Kenny Wheeler Jazz Master Class Remembered

New England Conservatory's Jazz Studies Department Chair Ken Schaphorst remembers a Kenny Wheeler master class at the school.

Kenny Wheeler described his compositional process in a masterclass at NEC in 2002:

The process I go through to write or compose a new melody is this--I get up about 7:00 and don't wash or shave or anything, but put on a bathrobe or dressing gown and take a couple of biscuits, a tea, and sit at the piano which is an old slightly out of tune upright. Then I play through some 4-part Bach Chorales. After that I try, with my limited technique to play through some Bach 2- or-3 part Inventions or maybe Preludes. Then I fumble through some more modern music such as Ravel, Debussy, Hindemith, Bartok or maybe the English Peter Warlock.

And then begins the serious business of trying to compose something. This consists of improvising at the piano for anywhere from 1/2 hour to 3 or 4 hours or even more. What I think I'm looking for during this time is something I'm not looking for. That is, I'm trying to arrive at some semi-trance-like state where the improvising I'm doing at the piano is kind of just flowing through me or flowing past me. I don't mean at all that this is any kind of a religious state but more of a dream-like state. And then, if I do manage to arrive at this state, then I might play something that catches the nondream-like part of me by surprise. It may only be 3 or 4 notes. But it's like the dream-like part of me managed to escape for a second or two from the awake part of me and decided to play something of its own choice. But the awake part of me hears that little phrase and says "What was that? That's something I didn't expect to hear, and I like it." And that could be the beginning of your new melody.

But there is no guarantee that you will reach this semi-dream-like state. After many hours you may not get there. But you might take a break, or you might have a little argument with your wife, and go back to the piano a little bit angry and bang out a phrase in anger which makes you say "Wait a minute! What was that?" There doesn't seem to be any sure way of reaching this state of mind where you play something that surprises yourself. I just know that I can't start the day all fresh at the piano at 7:00 and say to myself "And now I will compose a melody." It seems I have to go through this process which I described.

R.I.P., Kenny Wheeler, 1930-2014.