Monday, November 30, 2015

Jean-Marc Foussat & Les Autres, Alternative Oblique

Today's program covers so vast a terrain that I find myself gathering my thoughts even as I begin to write. It is by Jean-Marc Foussat & Les Autres, a four-CD set entitled Alternative Oblique (improvising beings ib38). So what is it? It is an extraordinary gathering of musical examples of an avant sort, centered around Jean-Marc Foussat and some of the music he has made with self and "others" from 1973 to 2015.

As many readers may know (especially those who read my blogs regularly) Maestro Foussat is one of the principal practitioners of electronics & electro-acoustics on the free music scene in Europe these days, a voice of distinction in the live arena for the most part with a very creative flair that he applies to synths and other means to create tone-noise textures that often blend with live free musicians for potent and varied mixes.

This album set is a kind of retrospective, a biography in sound, of some of the music he has made over the years, I believe all of it unreleased. We begin with Jean-Marc on home-made guitar in a power trio of avant garage sorts, and experience him with various groupings that include his guitar and electronics for some raw avant adventure. In the course of this adventure we hear some of his solo electronic works, and a good deal of highly electric zonings in a shifting array of local free and free-rockers. In the end we get some recent music making with Foussat on synths and an array of avant totems along with lesser-knowns in a varied ensemble-oriented outer jazz and new music hybrid. So there are important appearances by Joe McPhee, Paul Lovens, Makoto Sato and others.

There is so much music here that a summary is difficult. There are moments of quasi art brut, raw, primal rock and beyond. And then there are essays in pure noise-sound. Then there is avant free ensemble music of the improv variety.

Altogether the listener has much work to do in absorbing the sheer infinity of possibilities. Some of it is intentionally crude, garage like, but there is a good deal that has a free sophistication as well.

Not all of it is in the masterpiece vein, but it all pushes the envelope as to what is "proper" to the avant garde at the same time as it defines what that is and has been for Jean-Marc Foussat. Some may find some of this rough going, "difficult" in various ways, but if you open yourself up you may well find yourself captivated with the sounds, the rigor, the looseness, the trajectory and even the intensive experimental foundering-floundering that some of the early work intentionally puts forward.

Much of it is exceptional in ways perhaps only Foussat can be right now. It all has that joy of underground spirit that brought many of us to the avant in earlier days. Now that does not mean that absolutely everybody will like all of it. I find it bracing but best served in single-CD doses in a sitting. There is nothing the least bit routine in this music. If you don't like electronics this may not be for you. But if you do and would like to get a real grip on the Foussat universe, this is the dope!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Mike Pride, Listening Party

Mike Pride, as many readers will know, is one of the leading, innovative drummers on the contemporary jazz scene. He's made a first solo album, Listening Party (Akord/Subkulturni Azil) that conceptually has more to it than one might expect from a solo drum album. Sure, it shows us a very inventive approach to the drum set as free music, but it extends outward to sound poetry via various means--electronics, glockenspiel, practice pads, natural sounds, vocalizing and so forth.

Making the drums eminently is not easy to do. Of course Max Roach and Andrew Cyrille (and Baby Dodds) pioneered such things in the recorded realm as well as live. This is Mike's own take on what can be done.

He succeeds in creating music-sound event worlds that keep you expectant through the sheer spectrum of events, making a contemporary new-music-improvisatory series of gestures that provoke and satisfy.

This is music that you can appreciate even if you are not a drummer, though drummers of course will find this fascinating as well.

Mike Pride is a creative cat, for sure, and he shows us just how imaginative, creative, and innovative he is on Listening Party. It's serious but it is fun to hear, too!

Bravo, Mike!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ozere, Finding Anyplace

This blog covers jazz as anybody reading it will know. But from time to time it covers other genres of interest, as yesterday's and today's post will attest.

Today, the band Ozere and their Finding Anyplace (self-released). It is a Canadian outfit that starts with the premise of a string-band instrumentation for a folk-country orientation. There is Jessica Deutsch on violin and vocals, Emily Rockarts on vocals, Adrian Gross on mandolin and acoustic and electric guitars, Lydia Munchinsky is on cello and background vocals, and Bret Higgins plays acoustic bass.

There are modern singer-songwriter string band songs to be heard here. They are quite good and the vocals are excellent. Then there are instrumental adventures that take folk fiddling and otherwise folk-country styles and make something modern of them. Ms. Deutsch plays violin in a convincingly post-fiddle fashion, but the rest of the band is excellent as well. There are also world music elements to be heard with guests on darbuka and bandir, etc., and that keeps you guessing for what is coming next in the best ways.

The memorable songs, the excellent folk vocalizing, and the band's very interesting arrangements carry the day.

I find after repeated listenings that Ozere has something very much of their own going. If you like a hybrid modern folk sound that retains a modern version of authenticity yet a contemporary knack for winsome songstering, this one will give you some very satisfying music.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Komitas, The Gurdjieff Ensemble, Levon Eskenian

The Gurdjeiff Ensemble of folk instruments under Levon Eskenian received a good deal of acclaim back in 2012 with their ECM release Music of G. I. Gurdjieff. They return with Komitas (ECM 2451), an album of "ethnographically authentic" versions of the music of Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935), considered a father figure of contemporary Armenian music.

The instrumentation of the ensemble is very much indigenous to traditional Armenia and its surrounds, with santur, folk oboe, oud, and such.

Komitas's music is very much appropriate for the treatment, as well as being ravishingly beautiful in itself. We get 18 brief pieces, played with care, zeal and striking sonance.

This is essential for its arrangements and its core Komitas repertoire. It is a must for those who love things Armenian and those who would in any case welcome a musical adventure of lasting value.

Highest recommendations for this one!

Monday, November 23, 2015

William Parker, Raining on the Moon, Great Spirit

The music of Great Spirit (AUM Fidelity 098) was recorded in 2007 (except for one song, recorded in 2012) by William Parker and the Raining on the Moon ensemble at the same time as the music of the earlier album Corn Meal Dance. I have yet to hear that one but this companion volume has a completeness and togetherness so that one feels no lack whatsoever.

It is a perfect congress of songs, vocals and instrumental brightness. Leena Conquest does the vocals and she sounds wonderful, soulful and swinging, committed and just right for the song lines. William Parker is on bass of course and sounds as ever busily foundational, a titan, a force on the contrabass in the ranks of the very best. Hamid Drake, as you can imagine, locks in with William to make a formidable tandem that moves the music into that undescribable nether zone where the music not only swings but also torques forward springingly.

Rob Brown on alto, Lewis Barnes, trumpet, and Eri Yamamoto on piano drive into the great spirit of the music with real musicality and soul. They accompany and solo exceptionally well.

And the songs, the songs, they have great memorability, depth and a lyric-poetic directness. It is about the pain, resolve and spirit-ecstasy of being black in an America that is ever-changing yet at times tragically never-changing.

It is all very beautiful, a monumental set for all involved. Surely this is some of the best vocal-song oriented jazz sets I have heard since the Millennium. It is superb.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Blaise Siwula, Luciano Troja, John Murchison, Beneath the Ritual

Today, the final volume of three recent releases by Blaise Siwula, this time a trio of reeds, piano and bass, Blaise, Luciano Troja and John Murchison, respectively. Twelve improvisational segments grace Beneath the Ritual (No Frills 0009).

This is open-ended free spontaneity in the "jazz" realm. It is a measured, subtle shifting of moods that throws light on the productive possibilities that these three together realize fruitfully.

Pianist Luciano Troja has internalized the history of the music to give out with his own freewheeling exploratory style somewhere in between the absolute iconoclasm of a Cecil Taylor and the more thorough structuralism of the inner-outness of someone like Chick Corea in his adventurous days. He straddles the jazz piano tradition and finds a way to be himself here.

Bassist John Murchison brings strength of purpose and anchorage to the ensemble. He is open-endedly lucid in response to the others when that seems the way and propulsively forward-moving at other times.

Blaise brings on his arsenal of alto, tenor, soprano and clarinet. If you sometimes hear traces of Barney Bigard or Jimmy Hamilton or even Sidney Bechet in the clarinet and soprano segments, it is because Blaise embodies the tradition at the same time as he subverts it and/or converts it to his own personal expressive style. In the end you hear a perpetual motion of inventiveness here with Blaise filled with great ideas and a mastery of tone and timbre as well as his own idiosyncratic notefulness. This is another great example of the mature Siwula at his best.

But needless to say the whole totality of three way outcomes are critical to this session. If, as been famously noted by Whitney Balliett, jazz is the "sound of surprise," it is also the sound of affirmation. The ideal consists of a kind of dialectic of the two melding together and continually mutating if you are to recognize the music as being within itself, first, and innovative outside of the typical combinations, second.

That we get that exceptionally well in Beneath the Ritual it is because Blaise, Luciano and John are attuned to a foundation as a place to spring forward from and transform endlessly so that in the end it is a new place to dwell within musically. It is Blaise Siwula once again in excellent form and a place where Troja and Murchison have equal say in where the inventiveness can go and does. It's a tribute to all three and a fine set! Recommended!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Zingaro" Mitzlaff Viegas Rosso 4tet, Day One

More new avant improvisation from Portugal today. It is the 4tet of Carlos "Zingaro" (violin), Ulrich Mitzlaff (cello), Joao Pedro Viegas (bass clarinet, clarinet) and Alvaro Rosso (doublebass). The album is called Day One (JACC Records).

The first thing that struck me was how the three strings interplay with the bass clarinet or clarinet. This is busy round-robin improvisations with each player staking a claim to the whole but nearly always in a contrapuntal multi-voice setting. It is strikingly situated in a new music context with less of an obvious "jazz" element. But you can find some of that if you listen carefully.

The string trio plus reeds sound is what comes straight at you. Zingaro, Mitzlaff and Rosso give us a cohesive whole most inventive and impressive. Viegas adds his considerable ears and reed-voice to put it all together.

Zingaro comes across as the monster player he is; but then everybody seems to do exactly the right thing at the right time in such profusion that there seem to be endless possibilities. The album gives us eight events. As you listen you feel they could event productively for a great deal longer, into "Day Two," "Day Three," and so forth.

Day One is one of those sessions where everything comes together. The four are truly as one, a four-headed behemoth who takes the music in definite directions in time, consistently, variably and eloquently.

I am certainly not here to tell you what to think or what to like. But this is one I would definitely point to when asked about the current state of affairs in new music improvisation. There are no hindrances. Everyone flies in an instinctive formation, a kind of musical "V"! Hear this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Shelton / Lonberg-Holm / Rosaly, Resounder

Three members of the Chicago sextet Fast Citizens come together in a trio setting with some bracing avant improvisations that incorporate electro-acoustic elements to extend and enhance the music experience. These started out as a series of inventive free improvisations that were later subjected to electro-acoustic processing by Aram Shelton, the alto saxophonist in the group. Joined with him are Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, guitar and live electronics and Frank Rosaly on drums. The album is entitled Resounder (Singlespeed Music SSM-015).

These are cutting-edge avant improvisers and what they do live here is exceptional in itself. Shelton's processing is selective and alters one track at a time, not continuously, but periodically. It broadens the sound-palette rather than obscures the initial live signal. One can always tell what the source sound is and how it fits with its momentary enhancement.

This sort of thing is an evolution of some of what Stockhausen did with his chamber ensembles in the later mid-period. Only the language is more firmly and expressively in the "free jazz" realm.

The music is most certainly not transformed due to a lack. Everybody is on the mark with some exceptional out confluences. The added processing gives the trio a fourth voice, I suppose you could say, that is born of the interactions yet colors a part of the sound and thus stretches the possibilities further and gives us a cosmically advanced texture overall.

If the musicians were not rolling forward with some peak interactions the electro-acoustic transformations would not make a difference. Here they put the music a notch forward and ultimately fit the sound design seamlessly. Purists may balk at such interventions, but then purists are free to go their own way and not be any the lesser for it.

What counts is the music in the end. This is first-chair Chicago avant. The three artists are making some exhilaratingly expressive music here. You should give it your ears and take some time to explore its complexities, its abstract coherence, its smart and soulful dialoging.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, The Whistle Blower

Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House ensemble graced these pages last July 23, 2013. I found that album interesting and unique. The new one, their eighth, is even stronger. The Whistle Blower (Fanfare Jazz FJ 1501) brings the band front and center with eight Atzmon originals. The band consists of Atzmon on soprano, alto, clarinet (along with his accordion, guitar and vocals), Frank Harrison on piano, keyboards and vocals, Yaron Stavi on double bass, electric bass and vocals, and newcomer Chris Higginbotham on drums and vocals.

The band is in fine shape, but especially noteworthy is Gilad's reedwork. He combines a uniquely throaty mid-eastern tone with some very soulful, virtuoso lining abilities one might call post-Trane, far enough away and well enough established in its own terms that the POST part is ascendant. He has the ability to string together rapid line outbursts that are impressive and moving, a rival to Rudesh Mahanthappa in that way though stylistically distinct. He has his own approach and some tremendous artistry

The combination of compositions of a modern jazz flair and always more-or-less middle-eastern flourishes makes for a band that sounds like no other. It is a musical entity very much on its own turf, but also a platform where Gilad Atzmon has a chance to shine forth beautifully. Frank Harrison gets some spotlight segments too and he captures an advanced pianism that makes him a worthy foil to Gilad.

The Whistle Blower is prime Atzmon. He is a force! And that presence glows, smoulders and burns here. Give him a listen, by all means!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Nicolas Pouzet, Julien Palomo, Elation, A Tribute to the Masters

There are albums that come along that you may not expect. What you expect of course is a product of what you have heard. This may be obvious but it goes into my finding Nicolas Pouzet and Julien Palomo's Elation (Improvising Beings 997) something of that sort. It is subtitled "A Tribute to the Masters," and so it is. "One for Simmons," "K-RA" and "A Love Supreme (Acknowledgement)," the three cuts on the album, make clear who the masters are here.

The instrumentation of Julien on Mellotron, Farfisa and synths and Nicolas on soprano and shakuhachi make the ambiance of the session something unusual. Julien's keyboarding has very much of a kind of virtual orchestral fullness to it. He does not play a virtuoso role on this so much as he orchestrates the backdrop for Nicolas and his soprano.

And the key to the music's success and perhaps its unexpected qualities lie in that consistent contrast between the two sound worlds. It in effect puts Nicolas and his soprano in the solo role to a jazz-inflected kind of would-be concerto.

That Pouzet rises to the occasion with some elaborate strengths while Palomo makes the sound carpet lush and full is what stands out when you've heard this once or twice. Pouzet does some impressive playing and Palomo sets the musical table for it all.

After hearing this one my usual five times it stands out as both unusual and substantial. It is music with a depth-charge to it.

I must say I found it very engaging. It is very much itself and what that is has definite expressive clout. Hear this for yourself and see if it doesn't jump out at you.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Steve Swell / Leap of Faith, Factorizations

Leading avant jazz trombonist Steve Swell joins together with the Boston-based Leap of Faith group for Factorizations (Evil Clown 9075). The set was recorded at New Revolution Arts in Brooklyn in August of 2013.

Essentially Steve gives us a wide-ranging unaccompanied solo for the first half and Leap of Faith joins him for the remainder. Pek is the ensemble's leader and plays clarinet, a variety of saxes, voice, etc. Glynis Lomon is on cello and voice, Steve Norton is on clarinets and saxes and Yuri Zbitnov appears on drums and metallic objects.

The Swell solo segment gives Steve plenty of space to work out sound-color effusions and then some soulfully out motives, reminding us why he remains a central figure on New York's new jazz scene.

The full-band segment is a fully free outburst with great color and contrasts born of the intersection of Swell, the reeds, cello and percussion. The out-lining group phrasing is expressively advanced, noisy at times in the best sort of way, and filled with an excellent give-and-take. Swell spurs on Leap of Faith to their best and vice-versa. This is a fine excursion into collective breadth and musical avant power.

If you soar with out collectivity and appreciate it when the architectural inventiveness of such things reaches orbital heights, this one is for you. And of course if you appreciate great trombone in the zone, this puts Steve in a good place as well. More!

You can find this on Bandcamp among other places.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ausfegen, Paul Hartsaw, Kristian Aspelin, Damon Smith, Jerome Bryerton

Just because a release has been out a few years doesn't disqualify it for a review, if it is worthwhile. That's true of Ausfegen (BPA 012). It is a 2006 date of avant new music free jazz dedicated to abstract conceptual artist Joseph Beuys. The title refers to the performance art piece by that name where Beuys swept Karl-Marx-Platz in Berlin with a broom in 1972.

In many ways the music here represents a sort of "clearing" as well. It is a quartet of musicians dedicated to improvisations of the avant variety, as much influenced by "new music classical" as it is by "free jazz."

In the mix are musicians both familiar and unfamiliar to me. Paul Hartsaw is on tenor and soprano saxes--and I have reviewed a good number of his recordings here (type his name in the search box). Damon Smith plays contrabasses (two simultaneously for "Broom with Red Bristles"). He is now well-known to me thanks to his sending a batch of his recordings recently, of which this album is a part. Kristian Aspelin is on guitar (and broom activated guitar on the cut mentioned). Jerome Bryerton is on percussion.

We have eight collective improvisations in the set. All are uncompromising in their dedication to the abstract realms of expression, splattered and scattered timbral events that follow in the path of such pioneering ensembles as the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, MEV, AMM, etc. That means a striving for a four-part group sound composed via the counterpoint-pointillism of a four-in-one totality. No one is soloing. Everyone is soloing. The distinction loses meaning in the four-part melange.

Each player brings a special instrumental approach to bear on the whole. And each is finely attuned to the others so that a totality emerges over time for each segment.

This is an excellent example of the new music side of contemporary avant improv. It remains always at the farther edge of tone and in the center of timbre. So of course a listener not used to such playing must adjust to the sound events and suppress expectations of conventional melody, pulse and form that one would ordinarily hear in less avant contexts.

In the end the question becomes, "does this ensemble express new sonances with an expressive cohesiveness, a sense of goal-orientation and sheer viscerality?" That's one question this sort of music raises, anyway. The answer is yes, most definitely. And so I do recommend this one for you for its thoroughgoing exploratory mode and its success at creating the new sounds now available to us, as listeners, as players, as humans in the post-before world. Check this one out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Joe Hertenstein, HNH, with Pascal Niggenkemper and Thomas Heberer

HNH (Clean Feed 332) is the potent trio of Joe Hertenstein on drums and compositions, Pascal Niggenkemper on contrabass and Thomas Heberer on cornet and compositions. There are four works by Joe, four by Thomas, and four collective improvisations. There was a first album on Clean Feed a while ago. I have not heard that one as yet but I plan to. This HNH is a follow-up.

Clifford Allen wrote the liner notes for this album. He pretty much says it all about the history and objectives of the trio in its lifetime from 2007 to where it is now. I suggest you read that. For this posting I come forward to give you my impressions after a careful listening to the music.

Joe Herstenstein's drumming impressed me on the recently covered Blaise Siwula album and also as a member of the Curators a while back. You can look up the reviews in the search box above if you are curious.

This second volume of HNH, as most readers would expect, covers the latest interactions between the three, who since their arrival in New York from Germany have made a definite reputation as avant-free players of distinction.

The album nicely covers free and pulsating, composed and improvised, solo and collective inspirations with contrasting segments/numbers. Joe Hertenstein once again impresses me as a very musical drummer with the sort of conversational line improvisations of timbre and periodicity that are rarely encountered except among the best of the free percussionists. In this spacious trio setting his playing is very much the equal voice in the three-way dialogues at hand.

Pascal Niggenkemper is a bassist of finesse and thoughtful invention. He fills his space with the kind of bowed and pizzed richness that helps very much to make the totality of the music something special. And his wide spectrum of extended techniques makes him essential to the sound-design of the trio.

Thomas Heberer has become an in-demand cornetist on sessions and gigs these days. To hear what he does on this second HNH is to give you some very bright moments and a key to the way he channels avant and jazz tradition into his own original stream of development. He can line with a careful free lyricism or a soulful bursting forward depending on the work at hand and the implications of the dialogue of the moment. Muted, pure or burred, he is the master of control and expressivity.

The music in the end is tightly focused, free yet considered, exemplary of the art of avant improv today. Hertenstein, Niggenkemper and Heberer are making music of real importance, music gratifying to hear, exciting to experience, filled with singular artistry.

These are three of the best and their confluence is nothing short of auspicious on this set. Get to this one if you can. It's very worth your time!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Jon Irabagon, Inaction is an Action

Today a look at one more recent example of the music of Jon Irabagon, Inaction is an Action (Irabbagast 005). Where the previous releases were ensemble oriented, composition and improvisation based, this one is devoted entirely to solo sopranino sax improvisations in an avant-free jazz mode.

The emphasis is as much on sound color and timbre as it is on line, on expression as it is on form (form follows inventive content, in other words).

For this, his ninth outing as a leader, Jon roams freely onto pathways of personal self-expression that utilize technique, subvert it and create it anew in unusual ways of sounding the instrument.

The avant history of the sax is channeled and renewed Irabagon style. From Trane and Ayler to Lacy, Braxton and beyond, Jon assumes a level of sound innovation and adds to it. There are arabesques of line sounding that identify themselves as personal and original but also as coherent partly by means of the avant tradition. There are pure moments of sound, then some things equally line and sound oriented.

It's not just a matter of creating new sound-colors and creating melodic form both inside and outside those parameters; it is ultimately a series of cohesive sound-images organized and framed by the parameters of slices of time, selections, pieces, eight in all.

Jon most certainly dwells in rarified territory for this album, more extreme perhaps than most of his previously recorded work, but connected to the whole of his artistry in its keen attention to timbre elements. There is no "jazz" saxophonist out there today who does not work out of a personal set of timbral possibilities. Jon is no exception, yet he can unveil a wider set of sound-color extremes than many and appears to take delight in interjecting them during the course of his soloing. Here that tendency is taken much further than usual, with the unaccompanied solo format lending Jon an unlimited freedom he makes great use of.

And then when he turns to episodes that zero in on line extensions, as in "Ambiwinxtrous," he phrases in unusual melodic clusters, then in turn phrases the extended techniques that follow in their own way, combining clusters of tone and sound as part of a totality of phrased gesture.

In the end Jon pushes his own personal boundaries of the limits of expression further beyond what we ordinarily hear from him in recorded form. In so doing he again establishes himself as an important and breakthrough player in the avant sax mode. Perhaps he will treat us to some of this outside playing with an uncompromisingly out ensemble in future. If so I will certainly want to hear it.

In the meantime we have this unaccompanied flight to the nether worlds of expression. Jon is essential listening for what's going on today. He pushes the envelope especially and satisfyingly on Inaction is an Action. Danger, bare wires? No. No danger here. Just keenly insightful explorations.

Highly recommended.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Julian Julien, Terre II

I have not been previously exposed to the music of Julian Julien before but I am very glad to make its acquaintance now. The latest, Terre II (self-released) is a set of compositions in a sort of ambient pulsating mode for a mid-sized ensemble that includes vocals, reeds, guitar, cello, percussion, keys, electronic ambiance, etc.

There is improvisation involved (well done) and an overall cohesion compositionally that gives the ensemble a spacey consistency born of Julian's clear objectives. The music is harmonically based, colored sound that has a homogenized togetherness that is on the artist side of musics that might otherwise be classified as smooth or new agey. This is music too contentful to be relegated to that realm.

Yet it has a kind of universal appeal that might attract listeners not often inclined toward the new. The writing for horns and cello stands out as singular.

I find myself liking this music as I listen more. It is distinct; it holds its own. It is not what one might expect but a good listen puts you on its wave-length. Lend your ears to this one for a new wrinkle!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Caili O'Doherty, Padme

I sometimes find myself backlogged with too much music to cover, too much that is good to cover in a timely way. Here for example I find myself writing about the music of pianist-composer Caili O'Doherty on her album Padme (ODO 7001) when it has been out for a while. Never too late if the music is worthwhile, and it is!

When I went to Berklee so long ago there were maybe two women in the student body, none in the faculty and no one thought it odd. Now it is a different world and women of excellence are very much a part of the scene. So here's one for you today.The album is a vehicle for Caili's compositions but also shows her as a pianist who can improvise in ways that fit and exceed stylistic expectancies. The music is contemporary rock-beated or swung modern jazz with changes and interesting head structures, all in a today-oriented vein, but with twists and turns that give us another wise take on things, an O'Doherty side if you will, and a sense of jazz legacy.

There is a trio of O'Doherty, Zach Brown on bass and Cory Cox on drums (who is spelled by Adam Cruz for one number). Added to the mix at various points are Mike Bono on guitar, Alex Hargreaves on violin, and the horns of Caroline Davis, alto, Ben Flocks, tenor and Eric Miller, trombone. The guests fill in the charts well and give us at times their improvisations.

Caili's music lays right, whether in a post-Herbie-Nichols way, an ECM-ish composed form, ever-changing funk in a post-M-BASE mode, or any number of sidebars. The writing is impressive, the playing very good and the musical pleasure derived substantial.

This is her first album and I must say I expect we will be hearing more and more involved things in future from her pen and piano. But the music is there right now and sounds very well. A pleasure to hear, in fact.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor, Tales of the Unforeseen

Barry Altschul is one of the undeniable avant jazz drummer innovators of our time. You only have to listen to his work with Paul Bley in the beginnings of the New Thing movement and beyond, his presence with Dave Holland and Chick Corea and then as a quartet with Anthony Braxton in the celebrated group Circle, and onward to his role with Holland in the Sam Rivers Trio and simultaneously with Anthony Braxton in some of his best ensembles in the '70s to get an idea of why that is so. An extremely creative free player with an orchestral sense, an ensemble drummer who is as much an equal melodic improvisatory voice as he is a drummer in the conventional role, his solo approach and his special way of playing time, all can be heard to great advantage on those sides.

His initial bandleading days, too, give us superior playing and a leader of sensitivity and forward momentum. On the State side at least he became less present over the years, though in Europe he remained active and vital.

Now in the last decade or so he has re-emerged full-force as both extraordinary drummer and leader of essential bands. Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor with Jon Irabagon on tenor, soprano-sopranino and flute and Joe Fonda on double bass is especially vital, both as a showcase for Barry's drumming and group concept and as a leading avant gathering.

We get a new album with Tales of the Unforeseen (TUM 044) and it lacks nothing for driving free excitement and instrumental excellence. The overarching construction is a suite of freely improvised segments with the interjection of three compositions--Monk's "Ask Me Now," Annette Peacock's "Miracles" and Barry's own "A Drummer's Tale."

This is free music in the tradition of Barry's earlier bands and his work with Bley, Circle, Braxton and Rivers. Barry sounds better than ever in all the ways that make him special, a free style that is busy but focused, a supreme sense of kit sonarity and use of space, an ability to straddle time and freetime to ever-varying degrees, and a sense of percussive gesture that, with the right players along for the ride, creates depth and movement. Just listen to Barry alone and what he is doing here and you get a seminar on state-of-the-art edgy percussiveness Altschul style.

But of course it is the presence of Fonda and Irabagon in the trio that puts it all together in the end. Joe Fonda is the sort of all-around free and linear-harmonic bassist that thrives in a spacious trio setting and Altschul's use of spacetime. Joe is a critical force here, just right for this gathering.

Jon Irabagon, as this blog continually attests, is one of the extraordinary reedists on the avant-modern jazz scene and he fits in completely with the 3Dom approach in very virtuoso ways. You hear him at first with a bit of Trane channeling but then he expands continually throughout to create significant improvisations in keeping with Barry's legacy but helping also to stretch that legacy into the present.

In short this is one of the most potent, cutting-edge avant jazz ensembles operating today and Tales of the Unforeseen shows them at their very best. It is a triumph for Barry and all concerned. It is trio music of the highest order, free and structured with inspired musicianship, a definite classic-in-the-making! Do not miss this.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Jon Irabagon, Behind the Sky

Jon Irabagon has been quite prolific of late. I covered the new MOPDtK the other day on these pages, there is a solo album that I'll be covering soon and a Barry Altschul Trio recording as well. But today a quintet gathering--for Behind the Sky (Irabbagast 004). It is about loss and the mourning process, as well as a celebration of the life of some loved ones and mentors he has lost recently.

Now none of the music sounds like a funeral march, mind you, because Jon channels his feelings in affirming ways. What it all is about is a series of 11 originals that work themselves out with a changes-oriented approach that I suppose one could call "mainstream," yet it all has a living quality that doesn't put it in the "safe" music realm. It all breathes.

Joining Jon is his regular trio of Luis Perdomo on piano, Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Rudy Royston on drums (!), and they sound absolutely great here. Then trumpet and flugel icon Tom Harrell joins in on three numbers and sounds as masterful as ever.

For all the hubbub of Blue, which MOPDtK released a while ago and apparently still is raising hackles out there, in Jon's playing on the album I cannot help but detect just a pinch of mid-period Trane and Cannonball. Not so much as you would say he is channeling them, because it is all Jon, but in the phrasings and masterboplicitous flow of his exceptional noteful barrages you can hear a little of them, but made original as one would expect from Jon at all times. So Blue in the end was a stepping stone to something new as much as it was a statement in itself. Artists work that way, yes. Growth is a growth "through," not just a willy-nilly sprouting upwards like the wild weeds of seasons come and gone.

All this is secondary to the music at hand, which is something to hear and appreciate, and, of course is another stepping-stone to future Irabagonian developments. If he looks back as he looks ahead, it is fitting here especially as a memorialisation of those he has lost, of our continual loss of the old present made way for, the inexorable movement we sometimes wish could stop for a while, but both organically, culturally and historically it cannot.

You need not know any of this to dig the music, which has an edgy fire to it, a cohesiveness of all, and three excellent soloists--Luis P. is supercharged here, too.

The rhythm section hits it hard and burningly, make no mistake. Rudy is a firebrand on the date and Yasushi is right there, also.

It may be yet another way station on the continuing Irabagon journey, but it also is vibrantly alive music, excellent for both the fire and reflectiveness of it altogether. Jon is challenging himself and his contemporaries to keep on. They do. And the music that results embodies the past and moves it to the ever-present now in very enjoyable and considerably brilliant ways.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Joe McPhee, Jamie Saft, Joe Morris, Charles Downs, Ticonderoga

If you've been reading this blog regularly you will notice that Joe McPhee has been very active of late. And so today we have his vital presence again, on a quartet date, with Joe, Jamie Saft (piano), Joe Morris (in his double bass persona) and Charles Downs (drums). The album is another goodie, called Ticonderoga (Clean Feed 345).

The four let sail with four collective, freely improvised pieces in the best tradition of post-new thing expressive heft. It's great to hear Joe carry forth with his tenor and soprano on this album. Clearly he is inspired and comes through with his personal way, fluid like crazy and able to create stunning hairpin turns of expressive color, vibrato and non-vibrato, a master of his instruments who both sounds and phrases with a linear conversational logic and fluency that puts him at the top of reedists in the "free jazz" zone.

Jamie Saft is a treat in this context because you don't hear him that often on disk in this total blow-out vein. He makes full use of the inside-the-piano possibilities as well as conventional note-ing and he creates a beautiful congress with Joe and Joe's way to get beyond. Jamie is monsterful and masterful here, beyond Cecil Taylor while in some ways channeling his legacy, but adding to it with a less cyclical, more linear horizontality.

I've said this before about Joe Morris on bass but I will say it again because it still has relevance for sure: that he is the kind of bassist who can, in the language of pitching in baseball, "expand the strike zone," that in other words he creates a busy and cogent foundation of expanded tonality that allows the soloists to go wherever they will in terms of key center and beyond and make it all seem inevitable and right. And he does it all with a rhythmic all-over quality that lets the band go in time wherever they will, too, freely.

Charles Downs has that special all-over quality on the drums as well. He establishes a multi-present open rhythmic space and ever varies it while using the kit sensitively for all the sound fields he uncovers at any point in timelessness. Whew.

And in this quartet setting all four get a oneness of result that takes years to do right like this. I never tire of exceptional freedom sets of this sort, because there is a continuity of variability and there is nothing to tire of--for there is never just one thing happening. Like the best free players, they all are bent on creating a confluence born of an open totality, an infinite variability within the free jazz parameters they come out of, which takes all of the past and makes it present in a future now, if you can dig what I am trying to say.

In short, a free gathering of total togetherness, a whole of great artistry born of linear fluidity and exceptional avant virtuosity. Is that enough? You bet it is! It is an album of vital presence and if you dig the outer realms this will make you smile and play it twice, more than twice!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Rodrigo Amado, This is Our Language

When the Portuguese avant jazz titan tenorist Rodrigo Amado fields a quartet of edgy all-stars, what do you get? You get This is Our Language (Not Two MW 922-2). And that translates to some great music. It's Rodrigo with the extraordinarily capable vets Joe McPhee on pocket trumpet and alto sax, Kent Kessler on double bass and Chris Corsano on drums.

This is a moderated free-for-all, a series of solos, duets, trios and full-band performances, with an emphasis on the latter. All four most certainly know what they are about. And they generate some exceptional kinetics. Rodrigo is inspired to create blazing mottos and sonic-expressive outburst that show him fully together, a mature artists in full bloom. Joe McPhee with both trumpet and alto brings his "A" game of ideas and lets loose with a space clearing vibrancy perfectly attuned to Amado's outbursts. Kent Kessler is a dynamo of bass energy and a very cohesive voice in the ensemble. And Chris Corsano has that raw-but-schooled explosiveness and timbral breath that spurs all forward.

It's all you could hope for in a spontaneous meeting of these four. The chemistry is all very much there. So much so that this is some of the best work of all four...and as a quartet, look out! This is one heavy quartet and Rodrigo should be proud to have brought this together so excitingly.

I recommend this album to anybody and everybody. Newcomers to Amado, newcomers to free avant, or those who know these four very well. The pump is primed and the musical riches flow abundantly and creatively. Oh, yes, it does!