Friday, April 30, 2010

Swarmius Return with New EP

We took a look at Swarmius's first CD a few days ago (see listing below). Today it's time for their EP follow-up, Also Normal (Aleppo), and it's another good one. Jozefius and company create orchestrally conceived music that does not fit easily into the ready-made categories. There's a modern classical component but the drive of rock and the electronic wizardry of the best of hip-hop. They conflate genres the way Zappa and Zorn do, but in ways that distinguish them as original.

The thirty-some-odd minute EP ranges over wide and relatively uncharted territory. "Cali' Karsilama" is a wild romp through the mid-east-near Asian-Semitic zone and it has a joyous quality."Orpheus is a Tiptoed Steamhorse" has lively contrapuntal passages that punch through all obstacles and communicate with widely varied textures and timbres in ways that will not leave you somnolent. "Moonlight Beach Chaconne" adds voices to the mix and some really captivating solo violin for a choral opus that plays out its musical cards in a poker game where Swarmius's hand takes all the chips.

In short, this is another intriguing offering and well-worth your listening time. What's next for them? I look forward to whatever it is, and I suspect there are more surprises in store for all of us.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Clarinetist Michael Thieke with Christian Weber & Michael Griener

If there is a flow to the sequence of these blogposts, it is sometimes serendipitous. German clarinetist Michael Thieke, for example, has been a member of Gebhart Ullmann's Clarinet Trio; Ullmann was a featured artist on yesterday's posting. That just happens to be the case; I did not plan it.

However the segue is logical and sensible. The Ayler Download Series recording The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse pits Michael Thieke's clarinet, alto clarinet and alto sax with Christian Weber's bass and Michael Griener's drums for a most fruitful trio session.

Thieke's three-pronged attack on the reed instruments he favors on this recording is limber and freely creative. In the seven relatively brief tracks on this release, Thieke lets loose with compelling, snakingly writhing lines of very good free invention while Weber and Griener put forth appropriate and interesting counterlines.

The moods are freely but contrastingly constructed; they show good variety with timeless, punctuating or pulsating attacks, energetic forays or more quietly meditative ruminations, exotic timbres or musical line-weaving of good provenance.

Here are three more European players well worth hearing, captured in a good point in time where all are relaxed and inspired. Listen and like.

It's a download only release, so click away at the Ayler link on this page if you want to find out how that works.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Steve Swell, Gebhart Ullmann, Desert Songs, 2004

The thing about most, if not all of the music covered in this blog is that it does not expire. The CD package does not provide a "good until [x date]" notice on it. If the music is worthwhile, it will fill your ears for far longer than a single season, and not as an oldie either. So if I am only now reviewing a CD from 2004, it is with the idea that the music contained within it is timeless.

We are talking about the Gebhard Ullmann-Steve Swell Quartet and their Desert Songs and Other Landscapes (CIMP). I'll tell you why I think this recording is important. First off, it has a really dynamic and exciting series of interactions between Ullmann on tenor or bass clarinet and Swell on the trombone. Gebhard may not be all that familiar to many listeners, but listen to his command and fluidity on this one and you'll wonder why. Steve Swell is the modern trombonist personified. He has great tonal range, power and very inventive and eloquent improvisational vocabulary, all in great evidence here.

Second, this recording features drummer Barry Altschul in fine form. He has a busy style that pushes the band mercilessly and inspires the front line to ever greater heights of energy and inspiration. Since his halcyon days as a key member of Circle, then the Braxton and Rivers groups and finally in a series of recordings with his own bands, he established himself as one of the premier drummers of the new music. In the period that followed, at least in the States, he wasn't quite as visible (or I should say, audible). This recording surely helps re-establish Mr. Altschul at the forefront and you can hear how his playing has developed considerably as well. Bassist Hilliard Greene fits right in with everything and meshes with Barry in classic free-form fashion.

Third and finally, the compositional frameworks, improvising routines and overall ambiance of this record make for a superior session. Things are just right for a meaningful gathering, and that's just what takes place. See the CIMP link on this page for more info.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

John Vanore & Abstract Truth: Vivid Big Band Jazz

Jazz composer, big-band leader and trumpeter John Vanore shows he is a force with which to be reckoned on his new release Curiosity (Acoustical Concepts). Vanore studied with the somewhat legendary Philly pedagogue Dennis Sandole, played with Woody Herman and has perfected his writing-arranging craft in various dues-paying situations.

His band, recorded here in 1991, is tight and hard hitting. There's a very impressive brass section of eight strong players, but the entire band has ensemble presence that brings out the best in Vanore's charts. There are seven interesting band originals (four from Vanore) plus a Frank Foster gem.

If you like a powerfully modern big band sound, you certainly should be pleased with this one. I hope Mr. Vanore gets the attention he deserves and follows up with more releases like this.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Thomas-Parker Wells-Blanco Trio Extends the Music of Albert Ayler

You are at the Glenn Miller Cafe in Stockholm, Sweden, March 2007. The trio of Luther Thomas, alto sax, Jair-Rohm Parker Wells, bass, and Tony Bianco, drums, has gotten together to pay tribute to Albert Ayler in a supercharged set of freewheeling improvisations.

That's the setting for the Ayler download release Meditations on Albert Ayler. Familiar Albert themes and an old hymn are the launching pads for two extended cuts, but what matters is the group dynamic that bounds off the bandstand and engulfs the listener.

This is no clone of an Ayler session. It's in the tradition that comes out of Ayler, yes, but it is not some remapping of the licks and timbres of an old Ayler trio recording. Everyone in this ensemble contributes with their own take on the free improvisational genre. Drummer Bianco is busy, energetic without overwhelming the group context; Parker Wells brings the bottom up and lays down a spectral fullness; and, perhaps most of all, Luther Thomas plays an alto that has real projection and a virtual arsenal of sounds. He plays strongly rhetorical lines that power over the free wash, gets a wide range of sound colors and can play overarching cries and rapid figurations without sounding at all like an Ayler clone. He's a strong player and makes a strong statement and a cogent musical argument for why he is a player definitely worth hearing.

The sound is decent, the price is right and the music is very recommended. Go to to download.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jim Cooper Reissue for Those of the Vibraphonic Persuasion

The vibes are a difficult instrument and perhaps playing them is a relatively unsung art. You get a sound with a particular hardness of mallets, you get a sound with the rotary motor on or off, you get a sound that is harder to vary than, say, a tenor sax. Establishing your own sound depends on many subtle factors--all those factors plus how you use the sustain bar, the manner of attack, multi-mallet techniques versus two-fisted percussiveness, and so on.

Jim Cooper, not necessarily a household name, has his own way. He absorbs the tradition from Bags to Hutcherson and then puts his own spin on it.

You can hear that to very good advantage on his 1991 album Nutville (Delmark) just re-released on CD. It brings together a crack team of hard boppers, the great Ira Sullivan on trumpet, soprano and tenor, the hiply swinging piano of Bob Dogan, and a very good rhythm section.

The art of evolved hard bop is well-advanced and Sullivan and Dogan sound really on top of it. Bob Cooper, though, is the man at the center. He plays with great rhythmic vitality, executing lines flawlessly with truly swinging, nuanced phrasing. And he often favors a more percussive, harder, less sustained sound than what you get with the Bag's bag.

Nutville fills a solid CD's worth of time with nicely turned blowing originals, plus tunes by Monk, Horace Silver and Dizzy. Whether in a Latin mode or just charging hard in a swinging enclave, Cooper and Company give you solid delight. Great to have this one available again!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Swarmius Defies Categorization

Swarmius is a four-man unit. Their music combines industrial, modern classical, world influenced music and a bunch of other things for a mix that has its own trajectory.

Heading up the band is Jozefius (Joseph Waters) who composes the music and uses a laptop to stretch, alter and augment the sounds created. Todd Rewoldt plays reeds, Felix Olschofka is on violin (quite adeptly so), and Joel Bluestone is the percussionist.

Their first, self-titled album (on Aleppo) has some rather startling musical content. Think of Zappa in his most ambitious vein. But don't think of his music; Swarmius does something different. There are driving pulses, exotic timbres, somewhat traditional sounding violin concerto pyrotechnics juxtiposed with rather untraditional accompaniment, and on from there.

The results are rather marvelous. Swarmius respects no rules about what goes with what. And that is most refreshing. Highly recommended.

Go to for more info.

Copernicus' First Album Reissued

Copernicus is cattiwumpus. That's a word my father used and others of his generation and no doubt generations preceding. Here I mean that Copernicus is not quite flush with the universe we inhabit in the everyday. He has at least one foot in another world.

And when you listen to his first LP, Nothing Exists (1984), just re-released on Nevermore/MoonJune, that feeling is at the fore. This is Copernicus in a kind of new wave-progressive-punkish-psychedelic mode, at least in terms of the background band, who play nicely and in various bags. Copernicus raps, howls, and recites in a kind of existential manner throughout. As I said before of his last release, it's as if the Jim Morrison of "The End" has extended and exploded his recitation imagery and spread it out over an entire album.

This recording is out there, and fascinatingly so. Copernicus is unique.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A New One From Chicago Tenor-Soprano Chris Greene

Some acoustic funkiness, straight ahead post-bop, a couple of standards, a Black Eyed Peas cover, a Latin-ish number, some blowing-vehicle originals, that's Chris Greene's new third CD Merge (Single Malt).

Mr. Greene plays the tenor and soprano in a contemporary mode. He has a nice tone on both instruments and runs lines that are not especially derivative. He tends not to play the gritty overtone harmonics that many working in his genre do, and that makes him a little different. His quartet mates of keys-bass-drums are unpretentiously articulate in a low-key sort of way and they set the stage for Greene's explorations.

All in all this is a most pleasant listen. Look to Chris Greene for further developments. As it is he has most definitely embarked on a journey to someplace that is not uninteresting.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yuganaut Return with Second Release

The three-man cooperative Yuganaut returns this month with a second offering, Sharks (Engine). As with This Musicianship (Esp, 2008), Yuganaut provides a musically choreographed soundtrack to a three-way free exploration.

Stephen Rush, Tom Abbs and Geoff Mann play a variety of instruments to create episodic, thoughtfully contrived musical events that hang together in a new-music-meets-free-improvisation sort of hybrid. It's not a particularly aggressive sound that they construct. The music does not have a bursting-with-energy denseness that characterizes much work by others in this genre. Rather they use the air of no-sound to contrast with the particular sets of timbres and textures being evoked at any given point. It is this sort of framing that sets the music apart, like many of Tom Abbs' fine earlier efforts under his own name.

Yuganaut plays trio music with narrative thrust. It is winningly crafted. You can get it as a download or a CD at ESP Disk's website, among other outlets.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Paul Austerlitz, His Bass Clarinet, His Brand of Latin Jazz

Paul Austerlitz wrote a book on meringue that I think I should read. He plays the bass clarinet, its aurally rotund brother the contrabass clarinet and the tenor sax in distinctive ways. He leads a varied group of musicians through a very hip Latin jazz program on his new album Journey (Innova).

There is some recitation of poetry (by Michael S. Harper), and it's worth hearing (and that is saying much; think of some of the not-so-great poetry one can hear in the context of these sorts of projects). His music combines Afro-Latin percussion and a polyrhythmic approach with a post-Trane-Tyner-Pharoah-Sanders sensibility that works quite well.

And there's much else going on. Like for example a merengue version of Sonny Rollins' classic "East Broadway Rundown!" There's an Indian classical sort of number with bass clarinet acting as the solo instrument, there's a traditional Yoruba-Cuban chant adapted for a modern approach. There's no shortage of inspiration.

It's all good. It's the sort of thing I like to hear. Paul can play and he has a discerning composer's-arranger's sense of how to meld disparate sources into something new. Highly recommended.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dunmall & Corsano, "Identical Sunsets" For High Intensity Freedom

Paul Dunmall and Chris Corsano produce in the just-released Identical Sunsets (ESP) what I call a "honker." That's the word I use as a personal reference to music that is high-intensity, free from overt thematic material and rhythmic pulse, that freely traverses the latitudes and longitudes of the instruments at hand and their extended sound-producing capabilities.

The reed and drums honker configuration had its seminally formative moment in the series of duets John Coltrane and Rashied Ali so masterfully created in those last years of Coltrane's existence. Interstellar Space (Impulse) was the first album to be released of these duets; at least two others followed with the rest of that encounter. The session was by all accounts foundational.

Dunmall and Corsano reference that avant tradition in this new release. Drummer Chris Corsano has had a pretty extensive run of honkers with reedman Paul Faherty (many released on Cadence and CIMP Records) and takes a busy yet sensitively responsive approach to his role. Paul Dunmall shines forth on this disk as a very worthy constituent with field pipes (bagpipes) in a short segment, then lots of high density tenor. There are moments of relative quiescence to give the listener a break from the frenetic barrages. That just makes the return of their wailing, throttling musical flux all the more impactful.

If you like the flat-out free-for-all of a honker session, you'll love this one. They may loosen the fillings in your teeth, but they do it so well that you wont mind.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Idil Biret Plays High-Modernist Piano Compositions

Idil Biret made a series of recordings in the vinyl era that cemented her reputation as a world-class pianist. One of the more unusual ones was a set of high-modernist pieces for solo piano released on Finnadar years ago. It is now available again as part of the comprehensive re-release program put forward by the Idil Biret Archive Edition (IBA). (This is volume three.)

High Modernism peaked in the visual art world as abstract expressionism, color field, neo-geo and minimalism held sway between the early '50s and mid-sixties. It has never really disappeared altogether. Nonetheless the advent of pop art initiated a still-dominant tendency toward the synthesis of "high' and "low" forms, the use of vernacular sources, and the appropriation and transformation of the everyday leavings of industrial modernity. Music saw the peak of the High Modernist form in serialism and other formalist pan-tonal/atonal composition trends, which remained dominant until minimalism and neo-romanticism began a surgence in the later '60s.(The musical version of minimalism was much more eclectic and tended toward the incorporation and appropriation of the vernacular or folk idioms, as opposed to the radical formalism of the visual version in its original incarnation.)

Idil Biret's New Line Piano, which is the Volume Three of the Archive Edition of which we speak in today's review, tackles four lesser known pieces, "Archipel IV" by Boucourechliev, "Cangianti" by Castiglioni and the "Sonata Pian e Forte" by Brouwer. Finally there is "Session" by Mimaroglu, a kind of aural collage of piano, electronics and spoken word. This latter piece breaks somewhat with the high-abstraction of the three other works. More on that in a minute.

Listening to "pure" modernist music has to be one of the more demanding tasks set before the aesthetic pilgrim (other than listening to Wagner's complete Ring cycle more or less back-to-back at Bayreuth). But it also promises the serious listener the transformation of how he or she hears music, if sufficient time and effort goes into the experience. Because much of the music has no clear tonal center, or that center is expanded significantly, one must listen to the tones and sound color elements outside of the typical western harmonic framework. After a time, one simply hears differently, hears more fully, has a heightened awareness of intervalic connections and the sense of music as a sonic adventure.

New Line Piano provides a way into such a form of consciousness, or at least a start. Biret's performances of these difficult works are exemplary and, if I might say so, take on a bravura quality. This is excellent music, very well performed. Perhaps the exception is in Mimaroglu's piece. He was a brilliant but sometimes slightly erratic composer, someone whose pioneering electronic/concret music masterpieces used unusual sound sources ingeniously, but was also willing to take chances and sometimes engage in less successful experimentation in multi-form presentations. "Session" combines some of his electronics with a piano part that is not entirely distinctive, then overlays multiple readings of political and/or self-referencing texts. It doesn't quite work, but it has a charming period-specific vibe to it that is not unappealing. Anyone who already likes Mimaroglu will probably appreciate this piece, even if it is one of his less successful ones.

Here, then, is a collection of now rather obscure piano works. Extended re-listening, however, leads to compensatory rewards. It is Biret at her most extreme, but sometimes rather astonishingly so. Bravo.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kirk Knuffke & A Bare-Bones Trumpet, Clarinet, Drum Trio

Chances are you may not have heard of Kirk Knuffke. He plays a thoughtfully burnished trumpet, puts together some singularly baroque-ish and post-boppish instrumental motifs and has the good idea to form a trio with fellow music-makers Doug Wieselman (on clarinet or guitar) and Kenny Wollesen (on drums) for Amnesia Brown (Clean Feed).

It's a set of music where the rather naked trio setting gives all concerned plenty of air and aural presence. They take good advantage of the opportunity. Knuffke writes some very interesting lines to frame the improvisations and Wollesen's drums gently swing or add color as needed. Kirk's trumpet work is introspective and direct on this date. His sound is bell-like; his note choices well played from the standpoint of gamesmanship as well as execution. Wieselman's clarinet follows along similar lines and makes for a very appropriate co-frontline voice. His guitar work is filled with loose humor and earthiness.

Amnesia Brown burns and cools alternately. It has a mood that inspires contemplation without stinting on musical content. Certainly recommended.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mike Reed's People, Places & Things and A Terrific New Album

Mike Reed's group recordings are pretty much all worth checking out. We looked at his last one earlier in this blog (see the November 2009 entry). His new one, Stories and Negotiations (482 Music), out in about a week, really puts it in overdrive. Recorded live in Millennium Park in Chicago, this is music of a very high order. The project seeks to re-introduce and re-make some important but somewhat neglected moments in Chicago's all-important earlier jazz scene, 1954-60. Reed chose some worthy compositions by John Jenkins, Sun Ra, Wilbur Campbell, Clifford Jordan, and Julian Priester. Rounding out the album are three interesting Reed originals paying tribute to three of the performers appearing in this special edition of his group, namely Priester, Ira Sullivan and Art Hoyle.

The idea was to combine current members of Reed's People, Places and Things (Greg Ward, Tim Haldeman, Jason Roebke and of course Reed himself, and the addition of the hip trombone of Jeb Bishop) with the above-mentioned masters of the music, guys that have played key roles in the historic Chicago scene yet remain very active and together players today.

The results are quite worthwhile. Hoyle's trumpet, the distinctive trombones of Priester and Bishop, the two-tenor lineup of Sullivan and Haldeman, Ward's alto plus the rhythm team of Roebke and Reed. . . make possible some phenomenally productive improvisational contrasts between two generations of players, and arrangements that take advantage of this larger instrumentation and its full sound.

What is interesting is what happens when this diverse group gets together. The fact is, everybody sounds great, hip, on top of it. They've managed to mesh stylistically so that it's not a matter of old versus new, but rather some great players out to PLAY. The results are refreshingly old-new. It has the bop-and-beyond sensibility but it's all redone to sound thoroughly contemporary. The arrangements and soloing routines work well. There are moments of simultaneous improvisation that really hit the nail on the head. And the arrangements are completely in synch with the soloists and elaborately conceived.

This is music you have to hear. It's not old school, and it's not new school. A serious listen is like GOING to a very HIP SCHOOL, though. Because the collectively combined years of blowing and dedicated attention to the music from all concerned yield big dividends.

This isn't old music. It's not new music. It's timeless music. Mike Reed swings the band into an orbit anyone with a penchant for the music will love. I'd venture to say it's one of the hippest, most enjoyable such outings I've heard so far this year. In short, do not miss it!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Peter Van Huffel Quartet, "Like the Rusted Key"

Peter Van Huffel plays alto sax in his own way, composes interesting frameworks and full-fledged works for his improvisatory quartet and fronts a well-chosen group of instrumentalists who mesh completely with the style Peter sets forth. All this for his second album Like the Rusted Key (Fresh Sound New Talent).

The band consists of Peter, Jesse Stacken, piano, Miles Perkin on the upright, and Samuel Rohrer, drums. Each of the ten pieces on the disc are well conceived and has it's own distinct musical world. They operate in an expanded tonal universe that alternately sets up a kind of modal pulsating groove, or goes flat-out orbital, works out complex rhythmic and melodic cell development, allows space for van Huffel and pianist Stacken to stretch out in free or modal terms, gives plenty of room for group dynamic and interaction, gives out with some free rocking fire, turns in a quiet spacey interlude or two, and kicks out the jams for some total free-energy moments. This is well-paced, thoughtful yet vigorous music. Van Huffel plays as well as he writes and the band is on target for the entire program.

There is no wasted space. Everything counts and nothing sounds tentative. That is a credit to Mr. Van Huffel's clear musical vision and the deft execution given by all involved. Very much recommended.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Fikret Amirov: Azerbaijani Symphonic Works

The traditional folk strains of Azerbaijan have that lyrical minor-mode sound that much music of the middle-east is known for. Fikret Amirov (1922-1984) was a pioneering "nationalist" composer who incorporated his native Azerbaijani folk music into symphonic works of charm and appeal. The Naxos release at hand presents four such works, written between 1948 and 1971.

Admittedly Amirov's style is a bit of an anachronism. He sounds like a nationalist composer of the turn of the century or even earlier. Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky were important influences. If J. S. Bach is any example, we should not automatically disdain the anachronistic! Not that Amirov is a Bach. But his music deftly expresses the folk vernacular of his native land in sophisticated symphonic terms. The Russian Philharmonic under Dmitry Yablonsky do a quite respectable job realizing the passion and melodic poignancy of his scores.

This is a nicely exotic addition to your symphonic collection. If you are like me, and respond readily to the music of this area, you will find this release most welcome. If you are looking for something different and quite charming, again, this will appeal.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

James Zollar, Trumpet

James Zollar plays the trumpet. He plays it well. He plays it primarily in the sort of mid-sixties Blue Note style, though he does not directly mimic the Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard models that usually find their way into the musical language of such an improviser. James Zollar's Zollar Systems (JZRZ) came out this past February and it's time to give it some thought.

Zollar is joined by a solid cast of fellow musicians. Stacy Dillard on soprano and tenor has good facility; Rick Germanson mans the piano with skill and taste, and so on. The tracks are a mix of appealing straight-ahead numbers, a standard, a couple of straightforward songs with a guest vocalist, and something decidedly odd, which we'll get to in a minute.

I should also note that Don Byron makes a very nice cameo clarinet appearance on the up "Spasmodic Movements."

Now for the oddity. "Time to Say Goodbye" is the classical crossover song that was a huge hit, wonderfully done by Bocelli and Brightman. James Zollar does a version here, which begins nicely in a shimmering out-of-time way with undulating piano and Zollar on the lead melody. Then it rapidly gets a bit out there. Enter mezzo-soprano Sahoto Sako singing a "straight" version of the melody while Zollar takes it out. It's a rather weird combination and I don't know what to make of it. It's a joke? I like what James is doing and the free Tranesque piano shimmer underneath. But what a combination, and what a jarring conclusion to what otherwise is a good mainstream effort. Actually, I'd like to hear more of this second side of Zollar. It reminds a little of Dave Burrell's outside version of La Boheme done years ago for BYG. That took some getting used to. . . and so does this. No matter.

All in all, James Zollar has given us a fine effort and some very listenable music. I am piqued with curiosity about the dual direction shown. Where is he going next?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Present Music Ensemble Tackles Pieces From the Day-Before-Yesterday

There was the beer that made Milwaukee famous and now there's the chamber ensemble that... well, no, it probably wont make Milwaukee famous. But it will put Milwaukee on the map for lively, edge-of-tomorrow concert classical music. I refer to Present Day, ably led by conductor and artistic director Kevin Stalheim. Look to their new release Graffiti (Innova) for why that is so.

The ensemble performs three compositions of this past decade. All three are by somewhat lesser-known composers but are in no way lesser in terms of impact. First up is Elena Kats-Chernin's "Village Idiot," a composition squarely situated within the minimalist camp. What's interesting though is Elena's melodic inventiveness. Themes arise out of previous ones in ways that get and maintain listener interest. Each kernal of melodic material is well considered, well voiced, and distinctive to the ear. There are both moments of rhythmic drive and more largo-esque passages to break up the blocks of sound. I might venture to say that Kats-Chernin goes about solving the problem of the pianissimo, slower section bugaboo that minimalist compositions either ignore or do not always successfully address. "Village Idiot" integrates the loud and the soft, the slow and the fast so that one does not get the feeling of let-down one sometimes encounters when the intensely motoring sections segue to those that are less so. The thematic material develops linearly with sufficient complexity and musical merit to stimulate the ear. There is repetition, of course, but on a number of levels: 1.) as short-cell motivic activity, and 2.) as wider arches, paragraphs and chapters if you will, of thematic material. It's an intriguing piece and the performance is superb.

Randall Woolf's "Motor City Requiem" begins with a sample of a Motown vocal juxtaposed with piano and strings, then goes on to present music that seems to look back with a kind of nostalgic regret on past glories of the Detroit musical scene and, by extension, the heyday of the city. If this composition does not quite have the sheer dynamism and excitement of "Village Idiot," it does provide an interesting interlude between the more substantial first and last works.

This brings us to Armando Luna's "Graffiti." Luna breaks the piece into 13 short, interconnected movements named for (and inspired by) a vast diversity of musical stalwarts. There's Haydn and Bach, and Bartok, Honegger and Schnittke, for example, but there's also Chic Corea, Dave Brubeck and Benny Goodman.

"Graffiti" exemplifies a current trend: a new kind of organicism that goes beyond eclectic "this and that" sorts of juxtipositions and instead speaks eloquently with a musical language that takes from classical traditions, modern traditions, minimal cyclicism and jazz vitalism, as well as vernacular music of all kinds. It makes all into one. And of course it's not just that Amrmando Luna does it. He does it with a grandly gestural sweep of real encompassment and ingenious musical bricolage. The best of the joiners give the finished result the appearance of a patina of longstanding wholeness, even though the putting-together has just occurred. "Graffiti" has that naturalness, that feeling of inevitableness. This music is not a Frankenstein's monster of stitching and patching. It is a complete music being, to stretch the metaphor a bit.

One should definitely give "Graffiti" a close listen. It gives a vivid picture of part of what's "new" in new music. And it does it with performances that are very close to breathtaking.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Modern Choral Music from Julian Wachner

Choral music in the contemporary classical mode perhaps has not gotten its due. There are a few composers who have excelled at it, but it is not a genre as central to our age as, for example, the instrumental chamber ensemble.

However based on volume one of the Complete Choral Music (Naxos) by Julian Wachner (b. 1969), there is excellent work being done today. The Elora Festival Singers under Noel Edison sing like angels; they do complete justice to Wachner's music. It has a touch of the aural voicings of Paert and Reich, but not in terms of style. Wachner uses the tang of modern harmonies as sound color. His music is declamatory or quiescent, depending on mood, and there is a minimalist touch here and there.

Mostly, though, it is Wachner's extension of choral tradition via his own contemporary vision that strikes this listener. The nine works presented on this volume one have depth and integrity. Here's a composer who feels completely at home with an a cappella choir, or voices with organ accompaniment. It is a very refreshing listen. The music has moments of true beauty. Bring on the next volume!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Red Trio Regenerates the Piano Trio in A New Offering

To be an improvisational piano trio and NOT sound like a Cecil Taylor Unit is a feat in itself. The Red Trio (Clean Feed) (Rodrigo Pinheiro, piano, Hernani Faustino, bass, Gabriel Ferrandini, drums) accomplish that feat. Yet in their own way they are playing an equally uncompromising free improvisational music that offers plenty of attractions and musical signpost to guide the listener on his or her way through the set.

The trio basically either plays with a full-out, tutti sort of free attack, or scatters the sound in more meditative meanderings. Pinheiro gets inside the piano to mute the natural sustains, plays in the extreme upper and lower register, bows piano strings and thunders away with gargantuan clusters of sound. The rhythm section keeps pace with well executed, out-of-time cascades and a solo bass moment of note. There are passages of intense quiet and intense loudness. Nothing sounds tentative. Nothing sounds pretentious. Everything sounds. Red Trio rings out pure and true.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Jorrit Dijkstra with Some Brilliant Ensemble Music

There's a new spirit in the ensemble avant jazz being created lately in some circles. At least I think so. Jorrit Dijkstra is a part of it, at least in his recent Pillow Circles (Clean Feed). Jorrit has assembled a mid-sized, eight-member group, including two reeds (Jorrit and Tony Malaby), trombone (Jeb Bishop), viola, two guitars, one doubling on banjo, acoustic bass and drums (Frank Rosaly).

This is through-composed, through-freed in form. Ensemble composition, free collective soloing and individual moments alternate and are thoroughly integrated. Rhythmic freedom and rhythmic groove alternate, sometimes within a single movement. Multi-instrumental counterpoint often prevails in written and improvised parts, rather than homeophonic blocks that relate to basic song form.

This of course is not entirely unprecedented, but there seems to be a more of it than there used to be and when it's very good, like on Pillow Circles, there is a consistency and unity of purpose that in part comes out of having hammered out a musical syntax that now seems fully mature.

Jorrit Djikstra's compositional, directional ensemble leadership takes the front stage on this set. He has created an excellent vehicle for a talented and inspired group of musicians and the results are striking. Many stylistic elements combine in ways that do not seem patched together. Jorrit integrates the free, the electric, the advanced melodic approach and the textural colorfield perspective in a seamless whole. This is extraordinarily interesting music, played by some extraordinarily open and articulate musicians.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Special Collection of New England Conservatory Jazz Performances

Boston's New England Conservatory, thanks in great part to the vision and intelligence of program founder Gunther Schuller, has been populated with an impressive cast of musical mentors and students since its first years of existence in the early '70s.

Conservatory-sponsored student-faculty performances were captured on tape over the years as a routine part of the workings of the institution. Celebrating four decades of inspired music-making, NEC has compiled a 14-track highlights anthology of some of the brightest moments and it is a delight to hear. These are previously unavailable and rewarding moments of light. A sample of what's on the CD: expressive solo piano spots for Ran Blake and Jaki Byard, a recreation of a Byard big-band composition originally performed by the legendary early Herb Pomeroy unit in the '50s, Greek-avant sounds from Joe Maneri, some classic charts by George Russell and Bob Brookmeyer, solo Steve Lacy, and some fine small-group outings by Bob Moses and George Garzone.

Anyone who wants to understand the Boston jazz scene in recent times should hear this; and of course those who resonate to the artists covered will welcome these rather rare recorded finds. It's a virtual treasure trove of goodies.