Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Julius Hemphill/Peter Kowald, "Live at Kassiopeia," 1987

When two artists the caliber of Julius Hemphill and Peter Kowald left this world, they left a creative vacuum in their wake. Certainly there were and are others carrying the torch for the new improvisational music, but the singular musical personalities of these two artists were not and cannot be replaced. So when new and vital performance recordings emerge of either these days, it is an occasion. And when they are playing together as a duet, even more so.

Such is the case with the new issue Live in Kassiopeia (No Business 2-CD NBCD 35-36), captured live in January 1987. The first disk features long solo improvisations by both artists individually; the second brings them together in duet.

The two are in great form. They generate the kind of results together that can only come about when the chemistry is right. It most certainly was. Hemphill is in extraordinary voice, his dry and whirlwind way around both soprano and alto is impeded by no obstacles and Kowald responds in kind with a barrage of notes and textures that complement what Mr. Hemphill is doing with all the melodic-vertical and double-stop brilliance he can conjure.

It IS a night of brilliance. The root-scaffolding of the music is left visible at times, like in the boppish solo improv Hemphill inaugurates the set with. But the going beyond puts us all in a place that one can only contemplate with a certain awe.

These were two masters, frozen in time now, 1987, but living and breathing through this recording as the titans they were, and are.

I'll say no more. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Desiring Machines, "MicroMeditations," Paul Hartsaw and Company's Poignant Essay in Pure Avant

Desiring Machines is an improvisa- tional quartet dedicated to realizing a pure sound poetics that avoids conven- tional musical phrases and periodicity for an abstract series of essays in sound color spontaneity. The electronics and live processing of Brian Labycz conjoin with the no-output turntable manipulations of Aaron Zarzutski to form the unconventional sound production half of the group; Paul Hartsaw on soprano, tenor and pocket trumpet & Kevin William Davis on cello work at advanced sound production techniques on conventional instruments.

MicroMeditations (MetastableSound 014) is the 2010 release of their music, which has the rigor of the later Stockhausen improvisational ensembles plus the AMM, MEV attention to space and semi-flatness of trajectory that owes something to the pioneering works of John Cage from the later '50s-early-'60s.

For this sort of thing to work, there should be keen attention and focus from all participants, a desire to interact without responding strictly in kind, a sure and imaginative sense of the sound color blend to be achieved at any given moment.

This group has all of that. They create a worthy tapestry of sound in 45 minutes of sustained inspiration. Nice job!!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Joe McPhee/Michael Zerang, Creole Gardens (A New Orleans Suite)

It has now been well over 50 years since Ornette Coleman recorded his classic Free Jazz date. The music of open improvisation continues to thrive, as it has steadily marched forward through the rein of nine US Presidents (one of course currently ongoing), the rising and fading of countless ephemeral fads, wars, recessions, moon landings, voodoo economics, the leveraged buyout, disco and the rise and fall of CB radio. So why is it still controversial? The answer to that is complex, and the dumbing down of the cultural terrain no doubt plays a part.

So we press on, leaving aside for now the question of the reception of cultural legacies over time.

One of the scene's most consistent innovators in open improvisation is Joe McPhee. He has held forth for many years as master of tenor, alto, soprano and trumpet, a member of Trio X, a bandleader of stature, a player of striking creativity and inventiveness, a composer of both instant and considered form.

In September of 2009 he and drummer Michael Zerang played a live duo concert at the BIG TOP in New Orleans. Fortunately the recording machines were rolling. We now have the results of that gig in the form of a newly released CD/LP Creole Gardens (A New Orleans Suite) (No Business NBCD32). The music is dedicated to NOLA legend, master drummer Alvin Fielder.

The music is in the form of a continuous hour of creative improvisation, McPhee going to pocket trumpet and alto sax, Michael Zerang concentrating on his drum kit. The result is some genuine music of adventure. Echoes of NOLA's past can be heard as an understated and implied backdrop, but primarily this is spontaneous interaction of an advanced sort. Michael Zerang is limber and articulate, freely creating timeless figuration or dropping into various loose grooves. Joe McPhee generally builds each section around melodic phrases that he uses as springboards to variations and excursions of pure discursive soul.

Hey, this is one very nice set. Recommended.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ran Blake & Dominique Eade, "Whirlpool"

After countless decades of pianistic probings and keenly original recomposi- tions it would be no exaggeration to assert that Ran Blake has become a national musical institution in his own right. Maestro Blake can take a well or lesser known standard and reharmonize it so radically and naturally that the melody line can stand out as suddenly sounding uncannily strange, no matter how familiar to the listener from previous exposure. This most certainly is so of his new collaborative album with singer Dominique Eade, Whirlpool (Jazz Project 3002).

Thirteen songs--twelve standards and one excellent song composition by Ms. Eade ("Go Gently to the Water") comprise the totality of this set. Ms. Eade has a stong and appealing instrument, great pitch control and eloquent phrasing. I would not go so far as to say she plays the "straight man" to Maestro Blake's wide recasting of meta-substitutions and reworkings of the accompaniment, but she most certainly at times subtly makes the melody line soar and contrast with its recontextualization.

She centers Ran Blake's orbital flights but in the process creates her own universe of vocal-interpretive excellence. Listen to "Old Devil Moon" and you get a good idea of the brilliant rethinking that goes on here. That brings out an important aspect of Blake's approach and Ms. Eade's complicity with it. That is, you never get the sense that the restructuring, the recompositions come about for anything but the right reason: that Ms. Eade and Mr. Blake love these songs and seek to extend their impact and make of them something wholly new. They do. Exceptionally so.

Thank you for this wonderful music!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

FAB Trio, "History of Jazz in Reverse," Billy Bang, Joe Fonda, Barry Altschul

We are approaching the year point since violinist Billy Bang left us for another plane of existence (it was last April). The only consolation for those who appreciate his music is that there still remains the body of recorded works. So of course any new and substantial additions to his recorded legacy are most welcome. His recording of History of Jazz in Reverse (TUM CDE 028) as a member of the FAB Trio, with Barry Altschul and Joe Fonda, is all the more so, because it is some beautiful music.

It's the three in top form, freely kicking out the jams for an extended studio set. They engage in highly inspired, sometimes greatly swinging improvisations throughout, with Barry in top form, Joe meshing inventively and skillfully with the rhythmic and harmonic implications of the other two and adding his own good-idea styling, and then there's Billy. He sounds especially cohesive, inspired, at a peak.

The rest is probably silence this morning. Maestro Bang sounds as great as ever here, which makes you feel the loss all the more. This album is pure PRESENCE, a celebration of music. So we should hear it with the joy and appreciation of what remains! RIP Billy Bang.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Andrea Centazzo, Moon in Winter, for Quintet

Today we continue our survey of the recent recordings of drummer-percussionist-composer Andrea Centazzo, this time out with his quintet doing Moon in Winter (Ictus 155). The emphasis is on a distinctive ensemble blend, a compositional thrust, and improvisations that go a long way to establish the identity of the players--Andrea on perc-drums and kat mallet, Dave Ballou, trumpet, Daniel Barbiero on double bass, Nobu Stowe at the piano, and Achille Succi on alto, clarinets and shakuhachi.

Ensemble pieces alternate with three "Winter Duets," the latter featuring Centazzo and trumpet, flute, and piano, respectively.

This is yet another example of the orchestral range and sonor brilliance of Andrea the complete percussionist. He again uses a full battery of instruments to vary his sound color and does it with his own phrasing and sense of control. The other soloists are inspired to contribute something equally distinctive as well.

But in the end it is the overall sound of this ensemble and its Zen-like attention to sonic ambiance and thrust that shows Centazzo to have mastered the full presentation, his sidemen to have in turn been inspired to nail their contributions right on the head, so to speak.

This is music of space, music of sound color, music with an almost Asiatic sense of focus and concentration, music of singular light.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mike Longo Trio + 2, "Surprise:" Hard Bopping and Burning Contemporary Jazz

Pianist Mike Longo came to fame as a member of Cannonball Adderly's and Dizzy Gillespie's units and, well, he's been around the scene ever since. If he doesn't always get his due, his new CD To My Surprise (CAP 1030) may help fix that. It's his formidable trio of himself, Bob Cranshaw, bass, and Lewis Nash, drums, plus the welcome addition of two excellent horn players in Jimmy Owens (trumpet and fluegel) and tenorist Lance Bryant.

The quintet barrels through some new bop, blues and gospel funk by Mike and one by Jimmy Owen, some jazz chestnuts (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock) and standards. Everyone sounds great, not the least being Maestro Longo himself.

It has that burning fire, smoldering in the balladic interludes, breaking into full flame on the swingers.

It's as good a place as any to dig into Mike Longo the artist. This is center-of-the-pavement mainstem jazz done right.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hasler-Paeffgen-Berger, Thoughtful Open-Ended Trio Freedom

(Werner) Hasler-(Gilbert) Paeffgen-(Karl) Berger (No Business NBCD 33), trumpet & electronics, drums, and vibes, respectively. This is alternatingly subtle and bracing, free-floating and rhythmically driving music. Paeffgen plays some well conceived drum improvisations, Hasler's trumpet is engaging, his electronics colorful, and Berger is his always exploratory self throughout.

I suppose this is chamber jazz, though it hardly matters what you call it on the level of the music itself. The sparseness of the instrumentation gives plenty of room for all three to collaborate dynamically, to use the space allocated to them for strongly creative interactions. The notes denote a fully healthy, fully concious musical animal. It is alive with vibrant improvisations restricted to no formal limitations.

If you needed evidence that Karl Berger keeps trudging forward after so many years, here it is. He is unassumingly central, still. And the other two thirds of the trio are no less important to this music gem.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bill Dixon, "Intents and Purposes," Beautifully Done Reissue of a Classic

Bill Dixon's Intents and Purposes (RCA) came out in 1967. It probably would have had a much greater impact had it stayed in print longer. By the early '70s it was only available as a hard-to-find, expensive import in the States.

Thankfully an excellent reissue has been made available to us by International Phonograph for the RCA reissue series. It has an LP style gatefold cover with the original art and liner notes, the CD is imprinted with the original label, and there is a paper insert with the liner notes updated for today. The remastering is excellent.

This was Bill Dixon appearing before the public as a startling trumpet master of avant sounds and a jazz composer of major stature. It's a mid-sized group for "Metamorphosis," a smaller group for "Voices," and trumpet and flute only for the "Nightfall Pieces." They seque together as a cohesive, massively innovative essay in evocative sound color. It is the fully mature Dixon and it is a masterpiece.

If we have the pain of losing Bill Dixon the living artist, we DO have the joy of hearing his music in recorded form. This one is essential!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Skaller/Holt Duo, Music of Mark Dresser: Two Keyboard Excursions into Free-Modern

When something doesn't quite fit into your preconceived notions of what goes with what, you can do a number of things: ignore it, get angry with it, or listen to it carefully and get somewhere with it. Naturally I tend toward the latter. The Skaller/Holt Duo (Philip and Danny, respectively) is decidedly different. They combine a free improv sensibility with a new music approach and get someplace very expressive. That is, on their Music of Mark Dresser (pfMentum CD 062). Where the Dresser compositions leave off and the improvisation kicks in is not clear-cut, and that too is interesting.

The duo gets to the music on pianos, prepared pianos, toy pianos, celeste, melodica and percussion. And what they do is a kind of Cecil Taylor-meets-John Cage-meets-Skaller/Holt. It is music of energy, ultra-expressiveness and a little slapdash helter-skelter thrown in besides.

I find it quite invigorating and really interesting. Recommended.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kali Fasteau, "Comraderie," 1998

Several days ago I covered an interesting album of duets by Kali Fasteau and Donald Garrett. Today we push the clock forward to 1998 and an album of Kali with six avant players of note, Comraderie (Flying Note 9006).

It's a free date with some of the finest: Bobby Few on piano, Noah Howard, alto, Joe McPhee on tenor, Sonelius Smith, piano, Warren Smith on drums, and Mike Wimberly on djembe, talking drum and percussion. Kali wrote the compositional frameworks and plays soprano, nai & kaval flutes, cello and sheng. She also does a little vocalizing.

The session makes full and exhilarating use of the possibilities such a significant gathering of reeds offers. There are passages of collective improvisation by all hands that work within a tonality and (it seems, in the main) a basic scalar scaffolding, such as with the "Joyful Blues."

Kali's eastern-post-Trane flutes and soprano are an important component throughout, and in many ways she sets the tone for what happens. Bobby Few, the master, has some beautiful things to say on piano. But of course the saxophonists do as well. Warren Smith gives things a good kick when needed. And everybody is onto what needs to be done, and does it well.

This is a kind of spiritually based freedom music, coming out of later Trane and the inspiration of Asian music and experience. But there is music that blows bluesy blue-hot too.

It's nearly 70 minutes of getting together and reaching upwards. With the players at hand there are heights to be scaled. And they DO reach the top. Retrace the climb yourself by digging on the disk. It will get you there. Beautifully.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Paul Hartsaw Quintet, "Circuitses," Post-Freebop at its Finest

Chicago tenor-soprano-composer-conceptualist Paul Hartsaw has done many good CDs in the past few years, and I've covered them in my various blogs. The new one from his Quintet, Circuitses (Metastablesound 015), certainly ranks among his very best.

It's a nicely put-together group of Hartsaw, Ryan Schultz, bass trumpet, Jim Baker, piano, Cory Biggerstaff, contrabass, and Damon Short, drums. These may not be names you know off the top of your head, but they are in fine form here. It's loose driving swing from the rhythm section and three good front-liners, who with Biggerstaff bring out the nuances of Hartsaw's worthy compositional elements and go on to get chromatic hipness going in the lines. Paul sounds especially good. Ryan and Jim get their time too and use it well.

It's post-Freebop in that it goes beyond outbop to a world where there can be twisting lines of eighth or sixteenth note runs both in the heads and solos, but they are well beyond the bop idiom and on into advanced tonal implications, stretching the key centers nicely without losing sight of them.

Good band, excellent music. This may be a sleeper but it will wake you up. Paul Hartsaw is going places and you'll want to be onboard for the trip.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Andrew Cyrille & Haitian Fascination, "Route de Freres"

Andrew Cyrille doesn't get old, really. He ages like a fine wine. Whether playing diffuse a-rhythmic patterns or digging deep into a groove, he remains ever vital. His group Haitian Fascination presents a modern improv-centered interpretation of the Haitian Tinge, so to speak, in the slam-dunk album Route de Freres (TUM 027).

Part of the vitality of the music centers around the drum dialog between Andrew and percussionist/vocalist Frisner Augustin. Listen to what they do together as a duet and in the ensemble and you definitely get some of the hippest Afro-Haitian cross-rhythms going. Mr. Cyrille re-invents his drum style with all kinds of patterns and master-drummer solo figurations, which Frisner responds to in kind.

Lisle Atkinson plays driving ostinato patterns much of the time, with the sort of dead-center pliability that helps send the groove to the top. Alix Pascal plays very earworthy acoustic guitar comps with time and chord choice right there where they need to be. His solos make some very musical statements in ways that give the ensemble presence and depth. Augustin's vocal renditions have a Haitian realness and the phrasing that works it. Then there's Hamiet Bluiett and his baritone sax, lyrically soaring, digging deep, blasting through with righteous soul. He sounds as good as ever.

Put all that together with good song-composition-arrangements that give you a Haitian bead on the music and what do you get? An album that HAS it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fred Ho, Deadly She-Wolf, Assassin at Armageddon/Momma's Song

One thing I know. You can count on Fred Ho to shake up the music scene with music that is anything but complacent. The Innova (788) release Deadly She-Wolf, Assassin at Armageddon!/Momma's Song combines two collaborative works, the first (She-Wolf) a major 50-some-odd minute suite of music intended as the soundtrack to a theater piece written by Ho and Ruth Margraff. It presents an ensemble of Ho on baritone and a small group of musicians playing western and traditional Japanese instruments.

She-Wolf fascinates and rivets your attention by pitting classical Japanese elements against Ho's version of "jazz-rock." It takes a few listens to get acclimated, but it is quite worthy of your time.

The second work, Momma's Song, adapts the music and poetic essence of Archie Shepp's "Blase" and expands on it. Christine Stark wrote the new poem and it is startling in its depiction of brutality against woman, specifically the mass murder of a group of prostitutes in Vancouver. There is 20 minutes of recitation with a simultaneous Ho reworking of Shepp's music.

The CD comes with a wonderful booklet with the text from Momma and the She-Wolf script, lavishly illustrated in Manga style.

Fred Ho cannot be ignored. This is one reason why. It may not have a wall-to-wall jazz element, but that is what Mr. Ho can be about--a fusing of jazz and other musical worlds. It gives you another way into Ho's fertile musical mind. It is music of much merit!! May Mr. Ho continue on with many more years of musical brilliance.

Marty Ehrlich's Rites Quartet, Frog Leg Logic

There are artists who go about their craft somewhat quietly, turning out album after album of very good music. I am not sure if "quietly" exactly fits Marty Ehrlich's music or demeanor. His music has relative quiet sometimes, others not. And he no doubt can be quite outspoken about his music. But his track record of beautifully pieced together improvisational music is undoubtedly formidable.

The new one is right up there among his very best. Frog Leg Logic (Clean Feed 242) pulls together some very convincing compositional material by Mr. Ehrlich with a top notch cadre of improvising artists: Marty on alto, soprano and flute; James Zollar on trumpet; Hank Roberts, cello; and Michael Sarin, drums.

The interaction of Robert's cello and Marty's alto reminds just a little of the classic Hemphill-Wadud kineticism of years ago. (And of course Marty played and tuteled with Julius . . . got those important bandstand smarts from the intensive interaction gigging can give you in the right situation.) Hank Roberts plays wonderfully throughout, whether it be bowing or pizzing a counter melody in the front line, riffing and walking bass-style, or improvising alone and in a collective. Marty has all the tools and the fire. He plays brilliantly throughout. James Zollar is a real asset to the ensemble and thrives here as an improviser of advanced lines; and Michael Sarin cooks with the best of today's drummers. Bold or subtle, driving or gliding, he helps the ensemble snap together like the Lincoln Logs I played with as a kid.

What's most impressive to me is the way interesting compositional material easily meshes with some great improvisation. Mr. Ehrlich has perfected the integration of both over the years and the band members have plenty to give to the performances, to realize the all-encompassing matrix that is present in the very best "jazz" of today.

This is one of the very best releases I've heard in a long while. That is plain. It has fire, soul, sophistication, swing and looseness. You should have your ears give it a spin.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Skuli Sverrisson, "Seria," Beyond Category. . .

Blame Skuli Sverrisson if his music does not fit neatly into any category. Which blog should I post this review on? I posted my review of Seria II on my gapplegateguitar.blogspot.com site. It fitted there, I reasoned to myself, because there are guitars in the ensemble, and in some ways it is a world music. His music could equally be defined as no-new-age classicism, or post-ECM jazz composition. It's new music. That's as specific as one needs to get, I guess.

Seria (Seria Music) is quite obviously the first album in the series. It uses a mid-sized ensemble of stringed instruments, winds and such, and also a female vocalist, to present a music that has a certain connection to Indo-Pak classicism, the music of Oregon, and any number of elements, including some relationship to tonal classicism. But all that is only like saying that pizza uses flour, cheese, tomato sauce, etc., to get to where it is. The "getting to" is what counts. In the same way Seria goes beyond its individual components to lay something on us that sounds different.

There is some very interesting music happening here. Beyond that at this point I would suggest you listen to it and hear for yourself what it is about. It is lyrical, mellow, but in a spaced out kind of way. A good use of your time, I would think.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Zusaan Kali Fasteau & Donald Rafael Garrett, "Memoirs of a Dream," 1975, 1977

Zusaan Kali Fasteau, now better known as Kali Z. Fasteau, has a wealth of CDs available on the Flying Note label. Some are earlier recordings, some later. All have that sense of adventure and exploration so central to the new improvisational music that began coming out of jazz from the early '60s on.

Today's 2-CD set brings that idea home, with two albums recorded by Kali and the rather unsung musical explorer Donald Rafael Garrett. He recorded four albums with Trane, played with many of the masters of his era, made a couple of very interesting albums, and sadly for us, left this earth in 1989.

Memoirs of a Dream (Flying Note FNCD 9008) covers two previous unreleased duet sessions, "Streaming Love," a studio date from 1975, and "Come From Deep," recorded in concert in Ankara, Turkey in 1977. Both feature the two on any manner and number of instruments, piano, reeds, percussion, bass, vocals, etc., to produce a lively, vibrant mix of universal ethnic musics, free-form improvisations and free jazz, so called.

What's refreshing about hearing these sessions, for one thing, is how unpretentious the music is. There is plenty of musicality but it comes out with a natural quality, like Don Cherry in later years. It's human music.

Mr. Garrett takes care of the clarinet and contrabass parts; Ms. Fasteau puts together cello and piano statements; both address a battery of flutes, winds and percussion and bring in vocaleses that fit the mood of the improvs at any given point.

What in the end you hear is an evocative, atmospheric kind of free aural poetry of music. It's a good listen, a very good example of Donald Rafael Garrett in his prime, all the more valuable because there isn't enough of it, and Kali Z. Fasteau as she began her playing career, with most all the elements she has expanded upon and perfected over the years.

I'll be investigating some of Kali Fasteau's other recordings in the coming months. But meanwhile you have what was a most promising start. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms, "Spacer," A Fine Trio Outing From A Vibes Master

Jason Adasiewicz, in his many appear- ances in advanced Chicago lineups and his previous trio effort, has established his credentials as a most-promising cutting-edge vibist for today. With the latest trio effort from his Sun Rooms outfit, Spacer (Delmark 2012), he moves beyond the promising to the realized. The trio of Jason, Nate McBride on bass and Mike Reed, drums, presents a very swinging set of mostly Adasiewicz originals.

The group interplay is first rate, the compositional vehicles forward moving and open-ended, the performances satisfying and classical-modern. There is something of the early Bobby Hutcherson in there, but Jason takes it further into an orchestral fullness of his own. He makes good use of the sustain pedal as in the previous trio outing, but this time he zeros in on the linear creativity which was so important an element of his presence in the larger ensembles he has been a part of.

McBride and Reed propel in classic new thing ways, with their own take on the open form that brings this trio into the 21st century.

So there you have it, model performances, innovation, swinging looseness, and open-form improvisational prowess that is anything but formulaic. We see. We hear. We dig. And thanks, Sun Rooms, for the musical joy and brightness you bring to our ears.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kris Davis, "Aeriol Piano," Decidedly Different Solo Work

Kris Davis comes out of avant improv/ jazz, or at least that is where the cognitive playing space I know of hers takes place. On her solo disk Aeriol Piano (Clean Feed 233) she incorporates sensibilities from jazz (an abstracted version of "All the Things You Are") new music-classical ("Saturn Return," which uses a partially prepared piano and reflects a free rumination on the Cagean pianistic aura), free-balladic/new music confrontations ("A Different Kind of Sleep") Post-Cecilian agitation ("Good Citizen"), whirling osinato post-minimalism ("Stone"), and on from there.

This is a solo album that doesn't play itself in the background. YOU are needed as an active listener for it to work. It is music-as-adventure, something we may have seen too little of in the insular worlds of various genres in recent times. With Aeriol Piano anything goes, or may go. And it goes well wherever it goes. That's healthy. That's creative. Let's see where she goes next!!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Yoko Miwa Trio, Live at Scullers Jazz Club

Yoko Miwa has come out with her fifth CD, which is a trio date Live at Scullers Jazz Club (self-released). It's a swinging affair, with Scott Goulding driving behind the drums and Greg Loughman walking and styling on the bass. Yoko manages to remind me in her block chords and left hand comps of Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal and the Milesian pianists Red Garland, Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly. But she does that so well and bubbles up a frothy head on the thing so who is complaining? The trio as a whole has that attention to detail that puts them near the top of the bop-and-after groups doing it today.

On this one the live ambiance clearly gets them cooking. They rip through a nice set of standards and less-standards, along with a couple of Yoko originals, and they do an excellent job throughout.

It may not be the music that revamps the piano trio for the future, but it swings, man, and Yoko's facility and imagination make it a delight.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Jason Kao Hwang/Edge, "Crossroads Unseen"

As we saw with Jason Kao Hwang's Symphony of Souls, a remarkable work for improvising string orchestra (see my review from last November at my classical music site: http://classicalmodernmusic.blogspot.com/2011/11/jason-kao-hwang-spontaneous-river.html), Jason is in a very creative phase. Concurrent with that release is an album with his smaller quartet ensemble Edge, Crossroads Unseen (Euonymus 02). This is an outfit that has been maturing with age since its founding in 2005, something like a fine wine, and the album shows how far they have gone. The group is a worthy match of Jason on violin and compositions, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and fluegel, Ken Filiano on contrabass, and Andrew Drury, drums. Each is known to be one of the most creative improvisors on his instrument and with Hwang's provocative and quite exceptional compositional framework things gel exceptionally well here.

It's the confluence of sound colors and zen-like musical concentration that makes this more than a mere gathering of heavies. The contrasts of open horn versus muted, pizzicato versus bow, mallets versus sticks, long notes versus movement, ensemble versus solo, all are given maximum torque with Jason's writing. It's not chamber jazz per se but it takes the idiomatic exceptionalities of each player and harnesses that (like Duke did) to a compositional vision.

There is so much going on at any given moment on this album that listening repeatedly is the only sensible way to begin to appreciate the conceptually innovative freedom that the band works out before our very ears. This is music that is more than just good; it's exceptionally so. It's one of the more important recordings of last year--Maestro Hwang is on the creative edge of the new improvisational music. If you are serious about knowing what's going on today you cannot afford to miss this one.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mozik: First Album by Contemporary Brazo-Latin Outfit

To start off the new year it's time for something that moves us along, gets us going, breaks the silence. The group Mozik and their first CD (self-released) seems like the right kind of thing. It's an internationally diverse group of musicians dedicated to the sort of samba-Latin-contemporary sound that Chick Corea, Hubert Laws and Herbie Mann gave a push to in earlier years. There are a couple of originals (by keyboardist Gilson Schachnik); otherwise the songs are central Brazilian pieces by Jobim and others, and a couple of standard songs by Monk and Hancock.

There is attention to arrangement and some solid groove building, the latter thanks to a lively rhythmn section of Schachnik along with bassist Fernando Huergo and drummer Mauricio Zottarelli. Both in time and soloing, Mauricio gives us a goodly blast of heat. Huergo has solid electric punchy-ness and sensible note choice. Schachnik straddles nicely the dual role of the pianist in this kind of ensemble: the rhythmic needs of the groove balanced with intelligent harmonic spelling. He also can turn out a nice solo. The front line of Yulia Musayelyan on flute and Gustavo Assis-Brasil (any relation to the late Victor?) on acoustic and electric guitar has consistency and poise. I am especially drawn to Mr. Assis-Brazil in his electro-samba soloing.

This music is both groove-heavy and subtle. It will appeal to lovers of the post-bossa jazz scene. And it's a promising start for Mozik.