Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rallidae, Paper Birds

Not everything I hear gives me a clear, immediate reaction. The trio Rallidae and their EP Paper Birds (self-released) made me pause. What is it? What is my reaction? I was not sure at first. It's a trio of Angela Morris on tenor sax and vocals. These are her compositions. Alex Samaras vocalizes. Scott Colberg plays the contrabass and joins in on vocals at certain points.

This is open, free jazz oriented music, yet arranged in such a way that there are song elements as well, sometimes at the forefront. Angela plays tenor creatively and can be listened to with profit for what she alone is doing. Scott plays some quite appropriate bass. Alex sometimes scats and other times gets into the song-composed elements. The others contribute vocal harmonies or densities. Sometimes Angela takes the lead vocal and sounds fine.

That's the basic overview. But then what you get is so...peculiar in a creative way that it took me a while to absorb what is going on.

And then it came together for me, though it still is off-kilter enough to make me scratch my head now and again.

There is humor, poeticism, and the vocals have a slightly lounge-lizard meets modern-compositional-progressive feel to them. And after a while you get with that, appreciate the freedom inherent, dig into the compositions more fully.

And you are left with a feeling that this is NEW. So ultimately I came down on the side of, "yeah, alright"! If you are like me you may take a few listens to get there. Angela Morris has a concept, for sure. Let's see where she goes with it. In the meantime, this one has a provocative and fresh quality. Listen and hear for yourself.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mark Turner Quartet, Lathe of Heaven

There was a time several decades ago when tenor player Mark Turner seemed poised for a major career as a jazz leader. What happened? Nothing, really. I mean nothing that had to do directly with Mark Tuner as an artist. It turned out that various factors in the economy and the difficulties faced by the music industry translated into the partial eclipse of the jazz world as a star-making apparatus. It wasn't that Mark's music wasn't up to snuff, it was a matter of the launch into super-stardom. Very few if any serious players have dominated in this way in the recent past.

I am not here to lament that, nor am I here to approve of it. It simply is a factor of the present-day. But here we have a new Mark Turner album on ECM, the Mark Turner Quartet coming forth with Lathe of Heaven (ECM 2357). It is a deceptively subtle outing, filled with mid-tempo music that is not exactly laid back, but musically concentric in a way that sometimes reminds of parts of Miles' Filles de Kilimanjaro in its attention to the chamber sophistication of the writing and the two-horn interplay.

The band is a good one, with Mark of course on tenor, Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Joe Martin on double bass, and Marcus Gilmore on drums. All contribute to the whole as a group, and the compositions set the mood, which is more introspective than perhaps one might expect from Turner. Yet that quality is accentuated by the tenor-trumpet interplay and the significant soloing of Mark especially. There is a melodic immediacy in his playing which was always there but seems further developed in its fluidity more now than ever. Avishai Cohen also has some beautiful solo moments here.

It is an album that has its way and creates real beauty, yet may take a few listens to really appreciate. Chamber jazz of a high level is the order of the day, and all excel under Turner's sure leadership. This may be the most exemplary instance of Mark making a impactful musical statement as a leader. Not that anything was lacking before, just that Mark Turner has come closer to realizing an original group sound. The ECM ethos is all over this music, true, but it is completely personalized to express what Mark Turner has become so completely. Himself.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Jon Di Fiore, Yellow Petals

When it comes to piano trio jazz, it is unusual to find the drummer in the leadership position. I can think of a few instances but it is nonetheless infrequent. If the drummer writes the music and has a very musical touch then it makes sense. That is what we get on John Di Fiore's album Yellow Petals (Third Freedom Music 1003).

The album contains nine Di Fiore compositions of interest, played well by the trio of Di Fiore, Adrian Moring on acoustic bass and Billy Test on piano. This is music that has some debt to the classic Evans and Bley trios (and then some of the early Tyner outfits too) in the subtle finesse, harmonic richness and/or contemporary melodic-brittle qualities. The band can swing like mad and of course can settle into a dreamily sophisticated reverie. Or they can straddle in the territory that combines both. They do that sometimes.

Each player makes an excellent contribution. Jon's drumming bears close attention. Billy Test channels in his own way the sensitive pianism of the tradition. Adrian Moring has the beyond-walking presence we would expect.

But the compositions stand out, too. "Demise" is an excellent reworking of a Chopin Prelude. Other pieces have various dedications, to family and loved ones but also to the music of North Africa, Spain, minimalism, Guillermo Klein.

It is music in the grand tradition of the modern piano trio, and a very good addition to it at that. Listen and dig into it. It wears well.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Girma Yifrashewa, Love & Peace

We go through life and every so often we are surprised, pleasantly so, to experience something we didn't expect. That's the case for me with Ethiopian pianist-composer Girma Yifrashewa and his album Love & Peace (Unseen Worlds 13). This is an album of compositions for solo piano, played by the composer.

What's striking for starters is how Yifrashewa uses Ethiopian minor and pentatonic modes in the service of a hauntingly atmospheric, at times almost Satie-esque introspection. Then there are more rollicking numbers, too. But all reflects a classical poise and the vibrant Ethiopian sense of tonal form, something which if we had a time machine we would see goes back many centuries, I suspect.

You might say that Girma Yifrashewa does for Ethiopian music what Abdullah Ibrahim did for the music of South Africa. That is, he puts the essence of his home music into a very pianistic set of expressions. Only perhaps here the music is less obviously jazz-influenced, more classically oriented. But only in degree. One can certainly imagine jazz musicians doing versions of this music with authentic success. But that's for another time, perhaps.

For now we have this very attractive set of piano pieces that rings out true and clear! I love it. You may too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ravi Shankar, A Night at St. John the Divine, 1976, Nine Decades Vol. IV

East Meets West Music's ongoing project of digitizing and making available some of Pandit Ravi Shankar's recorded performances is surely a noble one. The fruits of this endeavor can be readily enjoyed in the latest release, A Night At St. John the Divine, Nine Decades Vol. IV (East Meets West 1013), a recording made at New York City's imposing cathedral on August 6, 1976, an all-night concert celebrating the then 20th anniversary of his first US concert.

It must have been some night, with a full troupe of Indian classical masters each giving a recital segment, climaxing with Ravi Shankar appearing with Alla Rakha for a performance of two ragas that coincided with the summer dawn.

It is of course Ravi at the peak of his powers in many ways and the performance lives up to how masterful and brilliant an artist he had become. Pandit Shankar's affiliation with tabla master Ustad Alla Rakha was his most famous, at least here in the West, and for good reason. The recording of Raga Vachaspati that concludes the recital tells you why--especially in the magical concluding movement where a rhythmic figure of four-fours plus "one-half and one half" holds sway. The pattern is brilliantly worked around by Shankar and Rakha with the exceptional creativity and rapport that they had developed working together for so long.

The performance of Multani has a long and moving alap and beyond. It is one of those magical performances that Ravi could give us, akin to his recording of Raga Bhimpalasi from the famous Monterey performance some years before. His exploration of the lower register of the sitar with shruti bends and finesse has something extra-worldly about it, but then of course he goes on from there with customary brilliance.

In short this is prime Ravi Shankar, essential though as yet unknown until now for all those who had the misfortune of missing the performance. I believe I was working the midnight shift that night in New Jersey. For myself and the rest of us who couldn't be there this is a revelation; for those who were it will be a moving reminder, an excellently recorded commemoration and celebration.

Rather essential.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Orbert Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Sketches of Spain Revisited

Jazz repertoire can be a tricky thing. If the music was poorly recorded in the early days of the 78, then there can be valid reasons to re-address the music. Otherwise, to my mind, why redo something unless you are going to do it differently?

Sketches of Spain, the Miles Davis/Gil Evans classic is a good case in point. Lew Soloff and Steve Richman did a remake of the music that I reviewed here on January 18, 2011. I liked that Lew was doing Lew and that was fine.

Now we have another version, a bit more radically reworked, by trumpeter Orbert Davis and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (316 Records 31607). Like the Davis-Evans version they start with the final movement of the beautiful "Concierto de Aranjuez" and end with Gil Evans' "Solea", but more or less that's where the commonality resides. For those two movements Evans' wind writing remains the same (minus bassoon), but the rest is changed. Orbert reduces the trumpet-brass section and adds a string quartet, oud, and another percussionist. He reframes those arrangements, more on that in a minute, and replaces the center three movements with two new originals and an arrangement of "El Albaicin", originally written for piano by Albeniz and now converted into a showcase for string quartet.

The new movements are quite Spanish in sound and give us something different to contemplate. The arrangements to the remaining outer movements have less of that Evans' impressionistic touch, the middle movements are so different that you probably are best to forget the original version as you listen, and Orbert in the solo trumpet role makes no attempt to channel Miles so much as strike off on his own. He sounds convincing as Orbert Davis. That's what counts. And the whole thing is in a slightly transposed mood.

Is this version "better" than the original? No, I would not say that. Get the original Miles/Evans recording for its magic. No one could have done what they did better because they were originals of the highest order. But the Orbert Davis version is in reality a new thing altogether, appealing in very many ways, a brand new piece of music on the whole.

So it is recommended, quite enjoyable and engrossing. It just isn't the same as the original. So start there first. If you already have, this incarnation gives you something different. And it is good. There you go.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Denny Zeitlin, Stairway to the Stars

There is more than one Denny Zeitlin--pianist, composer, electronician, advanced garde jazzman, purveyor of interpretive acumen for the standard repertoire. On the trio effort Stairway to the Stars (Sunnyside 1380), as one might gather from the title, exactingly thoroughgoing re-thinking of standards is the order of the day.

Denny assembled a trio for the San Francisco Jazz Festival and a gig following that at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, 2001. He chose bassist Buster Williams for his beautiful sound and sense, and a then-young Matt Wilson on the drums.

Fortunately the Jazz Bakery gig was well-recorded, and we now have some excellent music on disk from the stint, the recording at hand.

The trio runs through some standards well- and less-well-known, my favorite being an excellent rendering and interpretation of Wayne Shorter's "Deluge". But there are really stunning versions of such familiars as "Oleo", "You Don't Know What Love Is", and "Spring is Here", among others.

What is remarkable is the Denny Zeitlin harmonic-melodic pianistic exponent, which is at full throttle and continually to be heard on this set. He is a master of such doings in his own right, even if these days more time and attention may be given to the Evans-Jarrett contingent. Just listen to Maestro Zeitlin's excellent work here and listen again.

Buster Williams not only fits right in, he sounds inspired and at his best. The piano trio in full flourish needs an acutely aware bass master who does much more than walk, of course. And Buster comes through in rather spectacular fashion. We know now how musical Matt Wilson is as a drummer. The special subtlety and punch demanded of a trio drummer was something he already could muster up, and that he does here.

The time of the recording chronologically was 2001, but really this kind of set is without provence. When everything is right there is a timelessness. That is clearly the case on Stairway to the Stars.

This one is not to be missed!