Friday, October 29, 2010

Jacob Melchior Carries the Torch on "It's About Time"

You know something hip is up from the opening of the first track, where drummer Jacob Melchior plays the head melody of Johnny Hodges' "Squatty Roo" on the traps to a walking bass underpinning. And It's About Time (Self Released C2010) turns out to live up to that promising beginning. It's a straight-ahead date with a piano trio that integrates the three contributors and at the same time creates interesting group arrangements that accentuate the rhythmic and melodic-chordal aspects for a kind of little-big-band sound. In that they are like the classic Oscar Peterson, Red Garland, Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal trios.

This trio is Tadataka Unno at the piano, Hassan JJ Shakur on acoustic bass, and of course Mr. Melchior at the drums. Frank Senior jumps in for a gorgeous vocal rendition of "For All We Know."

There is a more or less even split between band originals and standards in the widest sense of the term (like with a samba version of Stevie Wonder's "Bird of Beauty," which goes quite well). The trio has been together for a while and it shows in the tight-loose approach. It's a showcase for the subtle yet swinging Melchior. But all three players are doing some fine swinging work here. It exudes the sincere commitment to a traditional bop-and-after style of playing that makes such traditionalism enjoyable and moving. This is the music they want to be doing and it's clear they live it every day.

It might be easy to miss this one. If you love the piano trio thing you might want to make a point of hearing "It's About Time." It is an excellent example of how, with the right players, the older style is far from dead. It is vitally alive in the hands of Melchior's trio.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Andrew Lamb Trio Performs "New Orleans Suite"

From Engine Records (019) comes New Orleans Suite by the Andrew Lamb Trio. We are talking about Warren Smith on drums and recitation, Tom Abbs, bass, and Andrew Lamb working the tenor, flute. clarinet and harmonica.

There is a long narrative in the first part of the recording where Warren Smith expresses sardonic outrage at the handling of the Katrina event. I still feel that sense of outrage myself and so I cannot say I did not respond to the words.

The rest of the program centers on some fine free oriented improvisation from the potent trio. There are times where the direction reminds a little of AACM/Art Ensemble excursions of the looser sort, with Warren Smith taking a major role in producing the little sounds, but all joining in from time to time. This is not music of a technical tour de force sort. It is an expression of heartfelt anguish at the Katrina disaster and ultimately love, affection and hope for NOLA and its rebirth.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rued Langgaard and the Visionary "Music of the Spheres," 1916-18

Danish composer Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) never received his due during his lifetime. He lived in the shadow of his more famous compatriot Carl Nielsen. His native Denmark afforded him few performance opportunities and, so it seems, he was faced with hostility and incomprehension.

Ironically part of the contemporary audience incomprehension was because he was simultaneously somewhat conventional at one moment (romantic) and presciently ahead of his time, surely with the Music of the Spheres work for large orchestra and chorus.

A recent recording by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choirs under Thomas Dausgaard (Da Capo 6.220535) brings together all the stylistic elements of this Langgaard masterpiece for our wonder and appreciation. This is music with a mystical vision at work. The massed forces of full orchestra, choir, soprano solo and a smaller orchestra playing at a distance make for some deeply varied tone colors and gargantuan potency, the latter of which is only fully unleashed 30 minutes into the work.

What is most startling about the piece is not the post-Mahler reveries and Straussian thickness of texture of the tutti orchestra (though it all makes for an exciting piece of music). It is rather when Langgaard seeks to express the more cosmic programmatic elements of the music. There are soundscape-like ambiances, proto-minimalistic repetitions, and bold strokes of musical impasto.

A full analysis would be beyond the scope of this review article. It is a one-of-a-kind work; Langaard did some later interesting, and apparently, not as interesting work after his Music of the Spheres failed to capture the Danish imagination. But he never approached this level of invention.

The performances are excellent, sound is good, and several bonus works are added to the the program to round out our perspective on the composer's overall style shifts. If you've never heard this work the CD at hand gives you the perfect opportunity to unveil its abundance to your listening cycle for many years to come.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Harris Eisenstadt's Remarkable "Woodblock Prints"

So here I am once again, talking about a CD I really like. What, do I like everything? No. Definitely not. The things I don't like don't usually find their way onto the postings, unless there is something exemplary or interesting about the music that illustrates some aspect of the contemporary scene. Otherwise, not.

Drummer-composer Harris Eisenstadt's new Woodblock Prints (nobusiness lp 18), is a vinyl release that showcases music for a nine-piece unit. Eisenstadt's compositions are the central focus. The unusual instrumentation (for jazz) gives the overall sound a distinct quality. There is a large group of winds (clarinet, alto sax, bassoon, French horn, trombone and tuba) plus electric guitar, contrabass and Eisenstadt on the drums. Think of it in some ways as a wind sextet with guitar and rhythm. I believe that would help you envision the musical results. The winds are treated often as a block of sound, with soloists emerging from that group from time to time. The guitar is another color and voice, and the rhythm section performs its function in a loosely attractive way.

The point, though, is that Harris puts together music that has an unmistakable burnish. It is full yet filled with various smaller combinations of instruments within the whole. Some of it has a chorale-like quality, there is well considered latitude for solo and group improvisations and each piece has an overall character to it.

The guitar and rhythm often convey a modern, slightly or definitely electric edge that contrasts nicely with the alternately old-world or modern concert-textured block of winds.

It is music that is utterly personal. And in this case that's a terrific thing because Harris Eisenstadt has an utterly personal musical mind. This is his best album yet. It is an indispensable addition to your "What's going on right now?" collection. He is getting up there with Henry Threadgill and Carla Bley with this one. Up there as somebody who follows his very musical nose in ways that lead to delightful results. Listen to this record!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stockhausen's "Mantra" in a Pleasing New Interpretation

Karlheinz Stockhausen was without doubt an enormously important composer of the last half of the 20th century. If you are reading this you may well know that. He said something after 9-11 that was apparently misquoted and he became anathema to some during the period leading up to his death. We now can put all that behind us. A resurgence in the performance of his works would indicate that it is happening.

There are many aspects to Stockhausen's music. His music for the pianoforte is very much a central part of it all. The Klavierstuck series and the sprawling two-piano work Mantra would seem to all-but-assure a permanent place in the ranks of the last century's greatest music titans (though I could go on and talk about some other seminal aspects of his output).

So it seems appropriate that his Mantra has been the center of a new spate of performances and recordings. Xenia Pestova and Pascal Meyer have done a version of the work, recently released as a Naxos CD (Naxos 8.572398).

There are a couple of factors to consider when thinking of this fine new recording. First off, I am reminded of what John Cage said about one of his Variations works after hearing it performed countless times. The gist of his comment was that, as time passed and performances continued, the piece started to transform itself. At first, the notes and silences seemed like isolated punctuations in the fabric of aural life. As further versions came about, the notes came to have a logic not previously noticed. The notes became melody; the combination of notes, harmony. In part that was a matter of the listener's (Cage's) perception; but it also appeared that the performers were grasping the score more as music than as avant experiment.

The second thing that comes to mind was a review of Mahler symphonies I read in the New York Times years ago. I forget who wrote it, but he spoke of how Mahler performances, as well as the continued performance of other originally less-known works, could be seen as following a pattern. The more familiar the musicians-conductor-audience were with a work, the slower the tempo of at least some passages. The idea was that now that most everybody was accustomed to the music, it was time to savor it in a more leisurely fashion. As one of my professors used to say, it that is not true, it should be!

All this applies to the new Pestova/Meyer version of Mantra. The original DGG recording of the work by the Kontarsky brothers may be definitive; but the Pestova/Meyer version here generally takes things slower. It is more deliberate. And it perhaps brings out more the quality of the note values in the score. The Kontarsky brothers made the music seem strange; this version makes it seem familiar.

For example, there is towards the end a long and rather exciting passage where the two pianist drive into a long series of endlessly modulating, continuous lines. The Kontarsky brothers took it at a maddening clip, as a cosmic blast of sound. Pestova/Meyer take it slower, almost at a boogie-woogie tempo. And the note values are more specifically articulated at that speed. It is more a savoring of the familiar.

There are listener-perceptual issues involved in this too, as the allusion to Cage's comment above implied. In 1970, Mantra was at the very edge of the avant garde. Its use of live electronics, its added percussion colors as performed by the pianists, the incorporation of spacial silences, the introduction of repetition. . . all that seemed vitally avant. Listening to the new version 40 years later, I hear it as much more coherently musical. I get where it is and where it goes much more readily than I did when I first heard it back then. What I hear now reassure me that it is indeed a masterpiece of the era, fully worthy of revival now and appreciation in the years to come.

The excellent performance of the Pestova/Meyer Piano Duo in the Naxos recording helps me get there. It stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the original recording. It creates another space for the work that gives it another life for us in this second decade of the millennium. Bravo for that! And bravo for the recording!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sarah Wilson's "Trapeze Project" Breaks the Rules of What Modern Jazz is Supposed to Be!

We all know that music, like anything else, develops normative standards for what is supposed to be done in a particular style category. What is played as "Free Jazz," for example, has sometimes been codified in a set of unexpressed rules for what is acceptable and what is not. It isn't free in that sense. Not if being "free" is doing something essentially unfree. In another example the sonata form originally was a rough way of composing. Only later did it become a kind of rule book of prescriptive practice, systematized into a formula that very few composers had followed in the all-or-nothing sense it later was presented as. The critic, music theorist, music commentator and/or what have you helps shape the expectations of a listening public by these means. As a form of music matures, more and more rules and expectations form around it, until artists come along and topple the system by breaking the rules and starting the game over again.

Sarah Wilson could be one such artist. She certainly is on her own turf. Whether this will be something the music community sees as emblematic of some "new" music movement or not is irrelevant I suspect in terms of her new CD as we stand today looking forward. What counts is the music and whether it's worth hearing, for now.

So we turn to her Trapeze Project CD (Brass Tonic 001). Sarah plays trumpet and sings. She is joined by a nicely balanced group of Myra Melford (piano), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Jerome Harris (bass) and Scott Amendola (drums).

What strikes me on repeated listenings to this disk is how lyrically melodic she is. Her songs are very memorable. The songs that feature her vocals have a special folk quality. She sings about longing, hope, the complex simplicity of childhood as seen in retrospect, going home, losing home....Her vocal style is warm and direct, and not what one expects for a jazz artist.

Mingus once declared that jazz is a folk music. And of course it is. When you listen to Sarah Wilson's music, you feel that strongly. It has improvisation. It has the sort of rhythm section things one expects to hear (and they sound fine). Sarah, Myra and Ben make congenial sounds together and as soloists (as does Jerome Harris in his solo time). But you get the feeling that "here is music, plain and simple in its essence." It doesn't try to kill you with fast runs or various postbop phrasings. It simply goes the way that people letting themselves articulate their music history at the cumulative point of the NOW moment are allowed and willing to do. They play what seems right for the songs. AND damned if it isn't right.

Even when they do the Goth anthem "Love Will Tear Us Apart," there is no self-conscious posturing involved in doing it. It isn't a gesture of "Oh, look at us. We can do material that comes out of rock." They just do it with straightforward conviction.

What could come off as mannered, cute or contrived in other hands speaks straight to the ears and heart. That is quite rare and Sarah Wilson's album is that. She doesn't try too hard to be different. She just IS. Check this album out for a revelation of refreshment! It's either the pause that refreshes or something more for a future way to go. Time can tell us that if we live long. Otherwise it will be up to those who aren't here yet. That's true of all music. But it may be even more true of this music. Either way it's a damned fine record.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A New One From Darrell Katz and the Jazz Composer's Alliance Orchestra

A new disk by Darrell Katz (A Wallflower in the Amazon [Accurate 5059]) and his Jazz Composer Alliance Orchestra is a matter of some occasion to me. I've followed the music over the course of a number of albums and have found that there is virtually always something to interest me in them. Mr. Katz is a well wrought sort of arranger-composer.

The new album continues Katz trend of increasingly tailoring aspects of his music for a larger audience. So there is an arrangement of Duke Ellington's "I Like the Sunrise" from "Liberian Suite," there are arrangements of a couple of classic blues numbers, and their are vocals here and there. Now the vocals should appeal to people who cannot relate to music on any level without there being some verbal-vocal content. I tend to expect the very best from jazz singers. And when I don't get it I don't like it.

The vocalists on this album are quite decent, but I do end up asking myself if they are totally necessary to the proceedings. But that is a matter of preference.

The arrangements are sonically detailed and quite well performed by the orchestra. The compositions are weighty and contemporary, they add colors and complexities that Mr. Katz does so well in creating, and there are those elements that should help more people appreciate his music.

It is a remarkable feat to keep a big band such as this one going for as long as it has, and the result is a tightly presented sonance that any lover of the larger aggregates should appreciate. It is in, but it is also out when there is an expressive need. Good!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Dave Liebman Big Band Unleashes A Corker

If you've been listening to Dave Liebman in the last few years you probably have come to recognize that he has entered a class of his own. He is an original. Those who see in his early work a heavy John Coltrane influence should come to recognize, if they haven't already, that he has gone pretty far beyond that to his own place. His extended use of chromatic passing tones and his extensive grasp of scales and modes in various juxtipositions, not to mention a commanding grasp of the technical aspects of execution and tone make him. . . a monster.

There's no better place to experience Liebman today than on his big band recording As Always (Mama 1039). Five arrangers were invited to pick from the body of Liebman originals. They then set to work creating stimulating charts that range from a McCoy-like, "Fly Like the Wind" block presentation to shades of post-Gil-Evans tone color. The compositions will be mostly familiar to anyone who has followed Liebman through the years (the wonderful "New Breed" is a great example of the pieces here).

It's a crack big band outfit setting up what in effect is a kind of concerto for Liebman's soprano with big band. His playing is marvelous to hear on this one, and the band does not flag.

In short, this is excellent jazz; excellently performed and excellently arranged. It is one of the best of the year for me so far.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bob Gluck's "Electric Brew" of Solo Piano and Electronics

A prelude-like moment for the piano, the sounding of a shofar horn and electronics set the stage for Bob Gluck's Electric Brew (EMF 069). It came out in 2007, and so it is most certainly not the flavor of the month. And it was not meant to be so. It is music for the long haul.

Bob plays a kind of improvised solo piano that has a particular sonority in mind regardless of where he is in his performance. He can go the jazz-derived improvisational route or hew more closely to the modern jazz sound. Or he can sound like he's coming out of an avant classical frame of reference. In any of these cases he remains his own person.

Electric Brew provides you with a great example of his musical personality. The piano comes across as the principal voice in his music. Electronics augment, contextualize or provide a second voice in the mix. In the case of the use of "computer-assisted" piano, the piano voice and its electronic manipulation go together. What's important is that the electronics are well-integrated and add much to what transpires. It never feels like they are an afterthought to the principal music-making.

Mr. Gluck has a fertile and richly complex musical imagination and it comes across well in this program. The music has an avant feel to it but communicates an ordered sonoral vision. The musico-structural architecture leaves the beams exposed, so to say, in that you can hear Mr. Gluck's structural sense in motion at most points.

It's very interesting music, a tour de force of advanced pianism and in its own way pioneering in its singular use of electronics. Very much recommended.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Greg Burk and Vicente Lebron Re-imagine Bach

Keyboardist Greg Burk and Afro-Cuban percussionist Vicente Lebron do something rather audacious in Unduality (Accurate 5061). They take J. S. Bach's First Invention for keyboard and re-work, re-think, re-contextualize and re-situate it in a variety of variational settings. It's not really a set of duets (which perhaps in part explains the title) as mostly a set of alternating solos. There are one or two where both Burk and Lebron play together but mostly not.

Mr. Burk subjects the Bach Invention to a series of sonic and musical transformations. The sonic comes through in versions that include prepared piano, synthesizer and various electronic manipulations. Musically he displaces the rhythmic movement, thickens the harmonic texture, plays off on the themes freely, uses pauses, and generally creates a good number of variations on the piece. Lebron accompanies Burk a bit but mostly provides Afro-Cuban percussion interludes that contrast and re-contextualize what you hear. Are Bach and Afro-Cuban groove similar? Different? On the same plane? Co-equal partners in our musical world? All of that, the music seems to tell us. You hear Bach and you hear Afro-Cuban percussion differently when they segue together like this.

The grooves are magnificent; Burk's creative approach is provocative, satisfying and stimulating all at the same time. The seemingly irreverence with which Burk and Lebron operate is better seen as a truly creative act, a tribute to the powers of improvisation and the structural excellence of Bach's music. . . all of that. It's fun, serious and good for your ears. What more could one ask?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Evan Parker and Urs Leimgruber Lock Horns in Avant Duets

Essentially Evan Parker has over the 40 odd years of his public career sought to perfect a style complex that makes use of punctuated sounds, rapidly swooping slurred lines, enveloped phrasings and expanded timbral resources for the saxophone. By now he can be relied on to do what he does very very well, every time out. His execution and concept are masterful. But his single-mindedness of purpose also means that some of the surprise in the music has become diminished. So he keeps it fresh by varying the players he associates with on any given project. His prolific recorded output would seem to demand such a stance. And this way of going about it gives the Parker aficionado a good deal of variety in the overall sound of the ensembles he consorts with.

So we have a new one, Twine (Clean Feed 194) which pits him in a series of involved improvisatory duets with fellow reedman Urs Leimgruber. Both alternate between the tenor and soprano. The recording was captured live in Koln.

First off Urs certainly seems well suited for such a duet. He has a long track record of avant improvisational collaborations and has a style that fits what Even Parker does from angular phrasing to a richness and variety of timbre.

Second of all the structure and content of the duets is one of all-over density and continual flow. They get rolling on a pace and set of sound producing ideas and stay in that mode for some time, seeking to explore the sorts of possibilities that approach will reveal.

The results are rarefied whirlwinds of sound. Parker and Leimgruber get locked in and stay there. Now the question is whether you would find this music stimulating and how much of this sort of thing you are interested in hearing. I cannot give you that answer. It is cutting-edge avant improv, certainly. If you already have, say, 100 Evan Parker recordings, this may not add a lot that is new to what you already have. If sound-color oriented improvisations interest you and you don't have much exposure to the artists at hand, this is a good bet. If you like the idea of a bare-bones avant duet with two of the more successfully adventurous sax players out there, again this will be of interest.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Daniel Levin Quartet's Fifth: Bacalhau

Chamber jazz is alive and well. Cellist Daniel Levin's Quartet embodies the new sensibilities to be heard and felt on multiple levels. That can be seen most particularly in their new fifth CD, Bachalhau (Clean Feed 195).

The quartet consists of Levin on cello, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Peter Bitenc on contrabass and Matt Moran on vibes. It's a sonorously well-wrought ensemble. Each instrument has its aural space (well recorded here live) and they blend in ways that give you a musical landscape that expands into the distance but is dotted with events that make the distance seem smaller, somehow.

The first two pieces show the vital contrasts the group can achieve. "Looken" has a post-bop-to-free orientation, with a strictly modern-jazz sounding head and wide ranging avant-before-and-beyond solos to a walking bass. "Duo Nate and Matt" gives you a more improv-oriented new music side as Matt bows his vibraphone keys and Nate sustains the grainy lowest registers of his trumpet.

The music on this fine CD continually traverses the territory between those two spectrum ends. And with the improvisatory talents of the quartet members always out front, they do it in ways that never seem contrived or tentative.

Levin-Wooley-Bitenc-Moran are making important music. It's well worth hearing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pianist Pandelis Karayorgis Plays "Caramelula"

Boston-based Pandelis Karayorgis has been the subject of several review postings on my blogs. Today there is yet another one. I suppose you can tell I like what he is doing! This one is an Ayler Download-Only recording, which goes for a good price. Caramelula (Ayler Download 078) situates Pandelis in a good trio setting, with Nate McBride (bass) and Randy Peterson (drums).

Caramelula provides nearly an hour of the trio in action, playing Karayorgis's original pieces but allowing a good deal of space for extemporaneous improvisation. There is a linear logic to the post-Monk avant doings of this recording. Everyone is relaxed and gets the opportunity to stretch out. It is another worthwhile look into the Karayorgis artistry. It may be a little more low-key than some of his other disks, but it provides you with another way into what he is doing. Anyone who wants to follow the modern improvisational piano must not miss Pandelis Karayorgis. This is one good place to get a good sampling of his style in conducive surroundings.

See the Ayler link on this site to find out more.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Powerful Music from Szymanowski's "King Roger" On A New DVD Release

Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) is known, at least here in the States, as primarily a composer of solo piano music that takes its cue from Chopin and Scriabin. His harmonically advanced and very pianistic writing has a poetic touch and a depth I for one have appreciated very much over the years.

Szymanowski the composer of large-scale orchestral and operatic works is a lesser known commodity. So when I had a chance to review the new DVD release (C Major) of his opera King Roger I welcomed the chance to get to know the work.

The opera was first performed in the mid-'20s and has not since garnered the sort of standard performance rotation that Berg's Wozzeck or Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier have achieved. How many 20th century operas enjoy that status in any event?

The work is mid-length, timing in at around 90 minutes. It is scored for soloists, choir and a fairly large orchestra. The libretto is of a symbolic-mystical bent. A charismatic prophet-shepherd comes on the scene and King Roger's people are divided between followers of the shepherd and those who wish him punished for heresy.

There is a trial scene that ends up with the shepherd summoning his followers and going off into the night. The Queen succumbs to his influence and joins him. And on from there. It's a libretto filled with mystic ideas and ambiguity. One could say it is somewhat difficult for mainstream audiences to fathom. It accounts in part for the relative neglect the opera has received.

But on the other hand this is a very well-conceived work as music. The orchestral writing is powerful and filled with affect. The principal roles have a heroic tone to them. It is a movingly beautiful work and will appeal to those who like Ravel's "Daphne and Chloe," Strauss' most advanced operas, the orchestral music of Scriabin and perhaps a little in the way of Wagner's epic largess as well.

The performance on the DVD is quite good. The Vienna Symphony under Sir Mark Elder is ravishingly sensual or stupendously gigantic when called upon to be so. The various choral groups involved achieve a glowing sonority and give their parts all they deserve. The principal roles are handled excellently by the singers involved. Scott Hendricks as King Roger is especially effective, no mean feat when singing against the massed choral and orchestral resources that would all-but-defeat a less robust vocal instrument.

The sound is good overall. It is a live recording so on occasion the vocal protagonists can vary in balance level according to where they are on stage and the relative dynamic level of the orchestra in any given passage.

David Poultney's staging is minimalist and dramatic. The stage is set up as a sort of half amphitheatre with stepped levels occupying the entire stage. It is through very effect use of spot and overall colored lighting that moods are created and sustained. It comes off quite well.

The DVD medium is ideal for bringing the total gestalt of the opera across to the viewer-listener. You hear in vivid sound the score and its fine interpretation; you experience the starkly effective staging; and you experience the libretto in its full context. Szymanowski's King Roger lives or dies on the merits of its music. It is not completely convincing as a story-plot. Musically it is a very powerful work. I came away from it all with a much greater appreciation of Szymanowski's compositional breadth. In its own way King Roger constitutes a forgotten masterpiece of the 20th century. And this DVD production seems like an ideal way to appreciate its strengths. Recommended.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Propulsive Electric-Acoustic Jazz From Mikrokolektyw

When the sound of the unexpected is expected, yet what you get remains unexpected, it is a reason to sit up in your chair and take notice. Such was the case with the Polish duo Mikrokolektyw and their Delmark (591) CD Revisit when I first listened. Kuba Suchar is on the drums; Artur Majewski plays the trumpet; they both activate electronic parts, seemingly Moog derived.

What's cool and interesting about this music is the well conceived fullness they develop throughout. There are trumpet motifs that form thematic pivot points for the numbers and Artur plays within and without these motives in the course of his improvisations. Kuba plays some advanced and thought-out drum parts that have propulsion but also show a non-standard approach to the set. No unmediated backbeating on this! He's extraordinarily inventive in his pattern making and it contributes in no small part to why this is unusual music. The electronics are well conceived and in all cases add integrally to the music.

Mikrokolektyw play music of high adventure. Revisit takes the latter emanations from someone like Tomasz Stanko and builds a new edifice on top. Highly stimulating, highly absorbing sounds well worth hearing.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Jon Irabagon Blows His Top On "Foxy"!

The album is called Foxy (Hot Cup 102). F-O-X-Y.

Just skip the review and go get it right now! No, I am only kidding. What is it we are talking about? We are talking about Jon Irabagon on tenor, Barry Altschul on drums, and Peter Brendler on bass. We are talking about 78 minutes or so of Jon Irabagon blowing his top! It's a mid-up swing groove with "Jumping with Symphony Sid" as the nominal underlying implication. It's no coincidence but also very funny how the album sleeve's front panel takes Rollin's Way Out West cover art concept and burlesques it with a bikini-clad would be tenor-wielder standing in the desert in place of Rollins. Funny! But the music is something like the cover. Read on!

That does not begin to describe what goes on, though. Take Sonny Rollins at his best, mid-Period Trane on a sheets-of-sound tear, Roland Kirk on one of his most fantastic tenor solo flights, then just put an h-bomb in the bell of the sax.

This is one incredible performance. Irabagon has been known to be a man of adventure, especially as a member of Mostly Other People Do the Killing and as a guest with Puttin On the Ritz. Nothing is sacred but that stance is sacred. For Foxy the bop extended solo becomes an epic, almost a send-up of itself. But no, this is very serious blowing. They stick close to the changes (and imply them when things get over-the-top) but there is so much fire one might suspect arson is the cause.

Barry Altschul never sounded better. He fires up and never lets up for 78 minutes. He pushes Irabagon to just blow his top, man, and that's what Irabagon does.

This is some of the most impressive blowing I've heard in the last ten years. Irabagon is monstrous. He plays with musical cells, then comes out with lightening runs, he circular-breathes his way into some wild phrase repetitions and he has the hard sound of classic-wailing-gone-berserk all the way through.

I don't think I need to say anything more. Good lord, this one is hot!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Charles Tyler's "Eastern Man Alone" Reissued

Charles Tyler's Eastern Man Alone (ESP 1059) was first released in 1967 and perhaps could not be said to have caused a sensation. That was a year where so much was going on musically that some things did not get all the attention they deserved.

Now it's out again on CD and to return to it again after so many years is to hear it with all the intervening music in between as a new context. Fact is the instrumentation was unusual at the time. Tyler on alto plus David Baker on cello and the two acoustic basses of Kent Brinkley and Brent McKesson.

Tyler began his career in the limelight as a member of Albert Ayler's group and by 1967 he was taking some steps away from the speaking-in-tongues frenetic solo style he initially adopted. Eastern Man moves toward a chamber jazz. The three strings and sax combination allows for a more intimate sound, with the strings playing foil to Charles's stringent alto. The melody heads still have an Ayleresque down-home folkishness to them, but Charles' solos tend to bounce off the ceiling a little less.

It was a rather different offering to the typical "new thing" sides that preceded it. But the music is still on the outside track.

It bears hearing again. There is much to like in the interactions of the quartet. It innovated and it turns out that similar instrumentations became quite ordinary in later years. There are moments where intonation is non-standard, but that gives the music some rawness and guarantees that those who are looking for a slicker veneer will not take to it. Perhaps that explains it's relative neglect over the years.

Listening again now, though, I find that there was much that was prophetic. The music has a conviction to it. Listen a few times and you'll no doubt see what I mean.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Markevitch: Complete Orchestral Music Volume Six

The story of Igor Markevitch the composer is most unusual and rather tragic. For eight years he was considered one of the brightest lights of European new music and he turned out a series of orchestral works that show a remarkable maturity for someone of his age. More important the compositions show a mastery of the orchestral palate and an originality that shine through today as you hear the best of the works. Then, abruptly, he stopped composing completely and went on to international acclaim as a conductor. He never went back. At the time of his death in 1983 only one of his works had been recorded, and that on a set of inferior shellac 78-rpm dubs.

Volume Six (Naxos 8.572156) of Naxos's Complete Orchestral Works introduces us to a major work he composed toward the end (1938-39) of his compositional career. La Taille de l'Homme was left unfinished, only half of the projected work survives. But those 55 or so minutes are impressive evidence of Markevitch's stature.

Scored for soprano (Lucy Shelton on this recording) and symphony orchestra (the Arnhem Philharmonic under Lydon-Gee here), the work has depth, orchestral luminescence, a bittersweet ethos and scherzo-like moments with a kind of grotesque, macabre quality. The world premiere recording is a very good one and gives you an excellent look at how Markevitch by that point had mastered his art. There are the influences of Stravinsky, Prokofiev and perhaps Milhaud, but the more you listen the more you realize that the at-first vague feeling that he doesn't fit into any of those model exemplifications has grown as you become more familiar with his work. Perhaps no more so than with the work at hand.

Anyone with an interest in the 20th-century music world cannot afford to miss the experience of Igor Markevitch. This recording of La Taille de l'Homme is a very good place to start.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Amina Figarova Returns with the Ravishing "Sketches"

Amina Figarova weights in with a new album, "Sketches" (BMCD 507). Once again it's Amina at the piano with 13 new pieces, scored for the mid-sized group that gives her a chance again to show what she can do with the three-man horn frontline. Bart Platteau once more brings his eloquent and warm-toned flute and we also have Ernie Hammes on trumpet and flugelhorn as well as Marc Mommans on the tenor.

Ms. Figarova's music is cool, deceptively cool. It's cool in the way that Herbie Hancock's Speak Like A Child is cool. It has moments of fire but it's the legato piano soloing and the lush carpet of beautifully voiced horns that gives everything a gentle quality, cool-like.

To appreciate Figarova's music you have to listen more than a few times because it's pretty subtle. It's music of a pleasant sort, but that initial impression broadens on repeated listening as one comes to understand the sophisticated melodic writing-voicings and the lyrically inspired Figarova piano.

This new one may be the most subtle of them all. We have a very well-rehearsed group with very capable soloists playing a baker's dozen of Figarova's jazz compositions. It's a real pleasure to hear, but it has a latent punch you'll feel as you keep listening. Get a copy and put it on a few times and you'll see what I mean.

Ms. Figarova is carving out her niche with some wonderful music. Hear it.