Thursday, July 28, 2011

Down-Home Funk and Hard Bop on Native Soul's "Soul Step"

A soulful way is what the Native Soul quartet brings to the table. Their second release Soul Step (Talking Drum 2010) gives the listener a generous 70 minutes of originals and standards that cover a kind of updated approach to the funk (in the Horace Silver sense) and late hard bop current as part of the scene in the late '60s-early '70s. In there too is a little of the electricity of the earthy forms of fusion from that time and a little of the Blue Note Tyner et al swing-and-blow-against-piano-riffs style. It's a world of samba, jazz waltz, all-out funk rootsyness.

Peter Branin (tenor sax, soprano, flute) has a sort of early middle Shorter-channels-Trane sound much of the time. Pianist Noah Haidu gets the Tyner-meets-Cedar Walton elementality going and can also hit the hard bop route with that "soul" so present in the group name/album name.

The rhythm section of Marcus McLaurine, bass, and Steve Johns, drums, does what is needed at the right times to get it all rolling.

The only thing I might say that is less than positive, is that I would have liked this disk even more if the solos took a little more chances. They are firmly in the realm of what the "proper" pressure points, the right notes, the amount of push should be in this kind of music. My ears hear opportunities to take on more fire, to take it out a little more. They no doubt do not wish to do that, and so instead of a Lee Morgan at the Lighthouse full-burn you get a slightly less evolved form of the music. No doubt they hang back slightly because that's what they hear and that's how they wish to communicate with the listeners. I am sure that the path they have chosen will make them acceptable to the more timid jazz radioplay formats. And if that's what they feel, all the better for them.

It's very well done. It doesn't hit as hard, and it doesn't hit me as hard as I would like. Others may find it more agreeable. This one is for them.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Alan Silva's Celestrial Communication Orchestra and the Big Box Set

Bassist, key- boardist, sometimes violinist, composer, bandleader, father-figure of the new thing, Alan Silva cannot be dismissed and will not go away. You don't like avant jazz? That's your business. But to anyone else, he's been a seminal force in the new jazz (now coming onto 50 years of age) from the very beginning, playing bass with the greats, giving the music a personal stamp on his small-group recordings, and leading off and on one of the titanic avant big bands, the Celestrial Communication Orchestra. His 1969 three-record set on BYG gives you the cream of the avant garde musicians then in Paris. They aren't just there to blow (though, man, they sure do that). Silva fabricates for them a compositional framework that puts their music into a collective maelstrom that is ever-shifting, creating a sound like no other, though clearly Trane's Ascension, Sun Ra's conductions, some of Mingus's larger band collectivities, and Ornette's Free jazz were and are important forerunners.

Sun Ra will always be remembered for what he did for the big band. Alan Silva should be too.

So we come to the box set released some time ago on Eremite HR 57 I-IV (Catalog number 039-042). In many ways this is an extension of the 1969 set in approach. Directed collective freedom.... The box itself is OOP but the four individual CDs can still be had, sans box. I've spent some time immersing myself in this huge body of music. I emerge to report in.

The music was recorded live in four lengthy sets at Poschiavo, Switzerland in 2001. Some 23 of the finest avant improvisers of today assembled for the music, and collectively they raise the rafters. Alan is on synth and conducts the proceedings. There's O. Thomas, Borca, Allen, Mateen, Carter, F. Wong, Jordan, Parran, Few, J. Bauer, J. Bowie, Swell, B. Lowe, J. Daley, Carroll, Campbell, Oki, W. Parker, J. Krall, W. Morris, W. Smith, and Ijeoma Thomas on vocals. Now that is a heady gathering. Maestro Silva puts them through their paces with arranged/written material, conduction, group collective improvisation and solo-background situations.

Ijeoma Thomas sometimes improvises with (what I believe are) the words of a US Govt resolution honoring jazz music. She introduces the band with a musical backdrop on each set. Now I think what she is doing is very creative. But I did end up with the feeling that by the nature of the attention we give to the human voice (probably it's in our genes) the times she is wordily present she dominates in ways that I think take something away from the impact the master improvisers have on their own. Now that doesn't mean she is not good. I just don't hear her fitting in as well as a Jeannie Lee would have. That may be something personal with me, I do not know. She commands a lot of the attention with an improvised declamatory style. (Of course this is quite desirable when she introduces the band, less so with the resolution recitation-improvisation). When she fits in as another voice among voices (wordlessly) things go better.

This is in all a vibrant, exalting, exuberant, flaming conflagration of voices, a gathering of the free tribe, a melding of the many ultra-individual voices into a massively powerful whole. The compositional-conductional element brings cohesion and structure points into what otherwise could have been chaos. And the elements do so in ways that are pure Alan Silva. Brilliant.

I liked the last volume the best. There is so much music here that it is best experienced a disk at a time. Even after five listens to the set I know there is much more to experience here, more ways the music can and will grow inside me.

That's what Alan Silva's big-band music is all about. Maximalism. A wealth of detail.

If you are a serious student of the avant arts, you owe it to yourself to study (and enjoy) what Alan and the master musicians are up to here. It's a monumental achievement. Whether it's a monument as well time will decide. One thing is sure. Alan Silva must be heard. He is a critical musical voice of his generation. So listen!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cylinder Plays New Jazz with A Thoughtful Smoulder

We met up with bassist Lisa Mezzacappa and her notable first album on the Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog (see link on this page). We cross paths with her again today, this time with the group Cylinder (Clean Feed 219). This, as the liner notes tell us, is a San Francisco-based cooperative group. The players share the composition duties, and the compositions form interesting and substantial frameworks for the freestyle improvisations on the album. It's a well-matched group of players. Darren Johnston plays a trumpet that has personality and imagination. He is a definite voice in development. Aram Shelton, now in Frisco by way of Chicago, plays alto, bass clarinet and clarinet with a wryness and large ears. Lisa is fully grounded on her instrument and bows or pizzes in ways that make one listen. Kjell Nordeson plies the drums freely and swingingly, depending.

A four-way dialog ensues throughout, which the compositions tend to encourage in the main. It comes out of their truly cooperative stance at any rate. This is "free" music but not primarily "energy" music so much, though there are moments. The improvisations tend to be somewhat more temperate rather than hotter; though there is fire, just not a great deal of the ecstatic rafter-raising some groups are known for. That is of course not necessarily a bad thing. In going in a kind of melody-line intertwining direction, the emphasis is more on the notes themselves than it is on the timbres. They are captured well on this disk and they come through with music that holds my interest throughout.


Friday, July 22, 2011

New York Encuentro: Blaise Siwula in Excellent Form with K. Itakura and R. Gilman-Opalsky

Now that what was once called the "new thing" is nearly 50 years young, we have a chance to assess what has gone on so far. Not today, however, since as I write this New Jersey is headed toward 100-plus-degree weather and my office is rapidly becoming an oven with yours truly as the tuna casserole. Nevertheless there are substyles in "free" improv that are well marked out and players are working within the various parameters with increasing economy of expression and a kind of certainty years of experimentation and musically genetic drift have made possible.

The trio of Katsuyuki Itakura, piano, Blaise Siwula, alto and tenor saxes, and Richard Gilman-Opalsky on drums serves as a good example. New York Encuentro (No Frills Music 002) finds them in a free-blowing set that has the consistency of music by players who know where they are coming from, know where they want to be, and then get there.

Itakura comes out of the Cecil Taylor school of pianistic all-overness. He's quite good at keeping the lines and clusters coming. Gilman-Opalsky has the Sunny Murray-and-after freetime drumming down and interacts well with the others. Then there is Blaise Siwula. He has a way of his own that relates to what has gone before but does so in ways that are endlessly inventive. It's not so much a timbral sound sculpting that goes on with Blaise on this set, though he does of course have a sound. It's the way he keeps coming up with lines of interest, setting up a dialog especially with the piano, laying out line after line of musical improvisation with a lucidity of someone who knows what he is about...that is what makes New York Encuentro music well worth hearing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba's Intimate and Engaging Solo Album "Faith"

Anyone who has followed the career of Cuba's pianistic dynamo Gonzalo Rubalcaba no doubt has some favorite recordings they especially like of his. Since his wider exposure as an artist to the world there have been many very good and some great ones. But to my knowledge there has been nothing that compares with his recent CD Faith (5 Pasion).

It's solo piano all the way. It is a very intimate performance. You feel like you have dropped in on Rubalcaba at his home as he is in the middle of an inspired performance with no thought of an audience. It's almost as if he is playing for himself, expressing something rather deep and almost private. He engages jazz classics, his own pieces and sheer improvisations, passages inspired by John Coltrane and some attention to his Cuban roots, though in a more abstracted way than was typically the case in some of his earlier work. The sheer liberation of a solo performance and his increasing artistic maturity bring out a side of Rubalcaba not as often seen in his recorded opus. That is, a Rubalcaba that uses his tremendous inventive facility and imagination to search within himself, so to speak.

This is a Rubalcaba that engaes the whole of his musical experience and transforms it into his personal impression of what it all means. A summing up. The title Faith is not some catchy marketing sort of thing. Because the theme as Gonzalo states in the liner notes is a kind of exploration of how people of whatever religious or belief-system persuasion rely upon their faith to get them through difficult times.

It is a very moving performance, a remarkable piece of pianism, a heart-felt searching into musical tone as an expression of something much larger than our petty everyday concerns. Beautiful!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bob Nell, Pianist, Puts One Through with "Soft & Bronze"

Those who read my blogs know that I cover many of the very new releases but also think it worthwhile to cover things that might be a few years young, when there is something good about them to contemplate and dig. And so it is that, in the course of interviewing bassist Michael Bisio for All About Jazz ( he mentioned his long association and friendship with Montana/Pacific Coast pianist Bob Nell. One thing led to another and I grabbed one of Michael's earlier CDs with Bob Nell on it (Covert Choreography, recently reviewed on the Gapplegate Guitar and Bass blog site, see link on this page), the result of which Bob Nell very graciously sent me a copy of his 2002 CD Soft & Bronze (Plechmo 4000).

I listened, found myself rather entranced with the music, and so step in this morning with a review posting on it. The Michael Bisio Cadence Jazz CD that I reviewed on the other blog had some wonderful Bob Nell pianism in a pretty outside vein. Soft & Bronze gives you a slightly different side. It's a classic piano trio configuration, with Bob, the formidable Mr. Bisio again on bass, and Brad Edwards on a churningly swinging set of drums.

It's a joyous romp through Nell's very hip originals. I am reminded listening to this one of the late Don Pullen. Not that Bob sounds like him, but they both share a rare ability to get profound musicality out of a changes-based postbop/nubop framework as well as the more outside excursions. Bob also can stay in a middle ground of Tyner-esque brightness and power with equal effectiveness.

This is a pianist that carries the full and venerable tradition of jazz piano on his shoulders. He can (and does) harness tradition's influence as an expressive means to his own musical ends. He has the touch and drive of the best of the classic players, but (and this is an important but) he speaks the language without plagiarizing the sentences, so to speak. Sometimes I hear a little Elmo Hope in there, too, and damned if I don't like to hear that!! Mr. Bisio sounds fabulous with Bob and Mr. Edwards is right there with them. A piano trio disk of brilliance, drive and complete mastery. Thank you, Bob! If you've missed this one, track it down by all means.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Walt Weiskopf's Quartet Captured Live and Fired Up

Walt Weiskopf occupies a place among the very best but perhaps lesser-known post-Trane tenors. That does not mean that he (or the others) sound like Trane in a direct way. They just have an essential quality to their playing that has some of the Trane hardness, speed of inventive thought and intensity.

There's his first live album, called rather appropriately Live (Capri 74109-2), that's been out a few months. It was recorded at the University of South Carolina in 2008, well-recorded. The quartet is a good one: Paul Gill, bass, and Tony Reedus, drums, give it that fired-up swing that make it all work. Pianist Renee Rosnes has a sort of Herbie Hancockian flair to her pianism that has gotten individually distinct over the years and she shows herself to be inspired on this one. Then of course there is Walt, sounding quite excellent. Other than Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" and Oscar Levant's under-recorded "Blame It On My Youth," this is a set of Weiskopf originals. They have the nice changes, heads that sing their way into the solos, a good kick start for whatever blowing is to be done. And there is good blowing. 70 minutes of the group going at it make for a good picture of what they are about.

Good, hard-edged, torrid nubop. Get it and you'll have an excellent Weiskopf album in your collection.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Children of the Blue Supermarket: Dan Raphael's Poetry Melds with Rich Halley's Jazz

Poetry-Jazz collaborations can vary wildly from the "Why?" to the "Wow!" The poetry of course should be worth hearing. But equally, the recitation should have a dynamism of pitch-speech performance excitement. Then of course the jazz needs to relate to all that and in the end be jazz that's worth hearing alongside the poetic meanings evoked.

Children of the Blue Supermarket (Pine Eagle 002) qualifies on each of those levels. The CD was recorded during two live appearances in 2008 and 2009 at the Penofin Jazz Festival in Potter Valley, California. Dan Raphael does his poetry; Rich Halley responds on tenor, Carson Halley on drums.

Raphael has the hipster delivery and urgency that his postmodern poetry demands. Despair, hope, surreal-real imagery and inner-outer responses to the decaying "service"-oriented post-industrial nightmare tumble together in a series of thought-images that have a stream of poet-riff style of presentation. And that seems right. Rich and Carson Halley respond with a post-Ornettian freedom that makes for good listening with or without the poetry. The Blue Supermarket works as a totality. The poems, the urgent recitation, the counter narrative of end-modernity on a purely musical level, all of it fits. All of it works. It's hip. It's sincere. It forces you out of an everyday thought mode and into a rarified world where there are combinations like the ones we experience in everyday life, but put together in "peculiar" ways to get us thinking and feeling differently. It's a winner. "Safety is smelling bad and moving slowly," Mr. Raphael tells us. Good to remember.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Little Big-Band John Vanore and Abstract Truth Score Points for "Contagious Words"

John Vanore's big band Abstract Truth comes at you in subtle ways on their third CD Contagious Words (Acoustical Concepts 44). It's music that uses all the mainstream notes, but combines them often in ways that are different. It's a 12-person ensemble that has been hanging in since 1981. As a trumpet player himself, John has fashioned a group with a lot of brass power, John plus 3-5 others on trumpet-fluegel, then French horn and two trombones. They are augmented by two reeds. So the front line has a unique sound--and they are a terrific blend I might add. Guitar, bass and drums form the rhythm team, augmented by piano on some of the numbers.

The charts are mostly Vanore originals. And they shine. Soloists are featured now and again and do a good job of it. The Abstract Truth on the surface of things could be lumped in with other bands that more or less have become a postscript to the Jones-Lewis-Nelson sound. But it's the ensemble the way John configures it and the twists and turns he throws at us that transforms it all into something original, something of interest in its own right.

This is a band that has paid its dues and overcome the many obstacles to keeping a big band going in these tough times. And they have not just survived. They should be heard. Recommended listening.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Barcelona Holiday: Some Hip Piano Trio Music from Sperrazza-Sacks-Kamaguchi

If you dig a modern piano-bass-drums trio playing in a freebop zone, Barcelona Holiday (Fresh Sound New Talent 373) will get you feeling happy. The session came about while Jacob Sacks (piano), Masa Kamaguchi (bass) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums) were gigging in Barcelona. They were obviously ready to record and Fresh Sound was there to give them a studio date.

Barcelona Holiday finds the trio tackling some familiar and less-familiar classics: Thad Jones' "Three in One," Monk's "Ugly Beauty," Parker's "Yardbird Suite", Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" and "I Loves You Porgy," Ornette's "When Will the Blues Leave," and so on.

These are tunes that for the most part have been played and well-played by many. A challenge to make them ring out anew? Yes. But Sacks and company do that. They do it by the sheer joy of improvisation, the playful stretching of boundaries of time and space, the sheer exuberance of a nicely swinging ensemble picking through some choice solo possibilities and nailing it.

It doesn't matter who their influences have been. They are making first-class jazz that has the mark of immediacy, of in-the-moment improvisation that works because everybody goes to good places as a group and as soloists.

Occasionally I wonder (in a panicky sort of way) if the attention to tradition that we have seen so much of since around 1980 is degenerating into a school of manners, of etiquette, of sameness that some jazz programs seem to produce. I sometimes wonder if hearing the music has become like watching a school of fish swimming in synchronicity, darting here and there but as a unit, no one fish making much difference one way or another. I worry. Then I hear CDs like this and I feel better. Schooled these three are, yes. But they are not behaving like they are part of a school of fish. They go their way, with their own directional compass.

So for that and other reasons hinted at above I recommend this disk. I hope these three continue together and we get to hear more, that we get to appreciate future developments that will be in store for these players if they continue as they are going!