Monday, October 13, 2014

Traeben: Looking At The Storm

Traben (quartet)
Looking At The Storm (Jarr Records ; 2014)
Jens Larsen (guitar)
Soren Ballegaard (sax)
Haye Jellema (drums)
Olaf Meijer (bass)

On their third outing, Danish quartet, Traeben, continue with a free roaming blues and groove laden formula that made their second album Push one of my favourites in 2011. Looking At The Strom sees the quartet growing further and stronger with each number. It's a well rounded continuation of the solid compositions on Push.

Opening with what felt like a fun spy-jazz themed theme, "Do You Think They're Any Good," showcases the groups depth and agility to move from fun and rugged to adventurous with ease. Ballegaard and Larsen ride swiftly here with some sharp and bold tones keep the listener focused and intrigued throughout.

"Better Than The Other One" kicks things into a different gear and feels more like a rock group moving with heavy patches of guitar and pounding bass and drums. Ballegaard's sax provides a little respite but cuts tightly against the aggression of the rest of the band. This is a band really stretching out to be more than just another European jazz ensemble.

The title track seems to be perfect way to end the album. It takes a clam relaxed tone and slowly builds to cascade of crashing symbols, lush sax melodies and harmonic guitar lines. Bluesy, bold and beautiful.

Looking At The Storm is an effort that takes chances and sees Traeben growing as band and composers. Their ability to move forward with some really creative pieces makes Looking At The Storm an exciting musical experience and worth every listen. Over and over. Definitely a record not be missed out on this year. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mostly Other People Do The Killing: Blue

Mostly Other People Do The Killing (quintet)
Blue (Hot Cup Records; 2014)
Jon Iragbagon (sax)
Kevin Shea (drums)
Peter Evans (trumpet)
Moppa Elliott (bass)
Rob Stabinsky (piano)

Mostly Other People Do The Killing, are one of the best and most challenging ensembles around. For their latest, Blue, they've surprised everyone by playing it straight. This is a wonderful love letter to Miles Davis' (and jazz in general) iconic benchmark, Kind Of Blue.

What I was expecting was a full-on avant garde re-interpretation of the jazz opus. Instead we are treated to is a delicately laid out pattern of musicianship by the quintet. It is almost a note for note transcription but you have to listen extremely closely for the subtle details in the performances.

Iragbagon's sax is crisp throughout "So What." Certainly the best straight, traditional performance I've heard from him in awhile. Beautifully crafted too are the lines from Evans, Elliott and Stabinsky. Stabinsky, Shea and Evans show real vibrancy on "All Blues" and "Flamenco Sketches," with the trumpet and piano both high in the mix (as with the original compositions). But both pieces have slightly playful feel as added by Iragabagon's softer tone--almost like listening in a nightclub setting.

Listen, we all know its easy to record a homage like Kind Of Blue. It's also easy to completely screw it up. But what's challenging is to performance it with grace and reverence. Mostly Other People Do The Killing have done just that with Blue. A phenomenal tribute to the greatest jazz musician and his most important work in the pantheon of music in general. Highly Recommended!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Alon Nechushtan: Venture Bound

Alon Nechushtan (piano)
Venture Bound (Enja; 2014)
Donny McCaslin (sax)
Chris Lightcap (bass)
John Ellis (sax)
Adam Cruz (drums)

The wonderful thing about Alon Nechushtan is his diversity with every project. Almost every one of his albums includes different musicians, settings and ideas. From dense expansive ensemble work like Dark Forces, the ethic voyage of Talat to his traditional jazz groups---this a great sign of creativity, adventure and demur.

With his new release, Venture Bound, Nechushtan seeks yet another challenge with a new set individuals which is both collaborative and well structured by the pianist/composer. "L'Avventura" is forceful and lively opener that highlights McCaslin beautifully as well shining a light on Nechushtan work at the keys. 

Nechushtan combines Middle Eastern themes into jazz traditionalism with "Dark Damsel," and its opening with sublime oud work from guest musician, Brhim Brigbane. The tune gently folds into a warm midtempo late night excursion that is is delightful and captivating. "Haunted Blues" another style Nechushtan seems pull off miraculously well with vibe that feels both like New Orleans with a gritty New York tinge. Lightcaps funky basslines meld perfectly with Nechushtan's subtle "Monk-ish" lines hidden within the grooves. Fun and funky stuff among a free flowing inventive project.

While many of Alon Nechushtan's projects are well crafted conceptual pieces, Venture Bound feels more personal and intimate for any listener (newcomer or long veteran to his sound). And its a superb album to start your experience and work backwards for a career to keeps growing leaps and bounds with each project. Excellent work.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Joana Gama & Luis Fernandes: Quest

Joana Gama (piano)
Luis Fernandes (electronics)
Quest (Shhpuma/Clean Feed; 2014)

There's a passion and beautiful that emanates from this recording that made me feel like I was listening to a mixture of Mitsuko Uchida, Harold Budd and Christian Fennesz. Quest, the stunning debut from Joana Gama and Luis Fernandes is holds elements of experiementalism as well as classical introspection.

The duo present a series of quiet yet evocative soundscapes that are both a backdrop and a window into along a beautiful journey. "Dream" (written by John Cage) is errielly performed to perfection by Gama. The addition of Fernandes atmospherics heading into the middle passages gives the piece a more transcendent feel than even the original piece.

"Twisted Moments" and "Quest" give the listener a different perspective on the duo. Both provide haunting elements of electronics with subtle melodic tones from Gama. "Twisted Moments" with it's killer bee swarm of effects is dazzling and probably shouldn't be listened to outside if you are afraid of the little black and yellow flying creatures.

While "Quest" includes all sorts of found sounds and plucking inside the piano. A creative piece that undulates in various directions all the while keeping very focus on providing a linear emotional experience.

Quest is a solid debut from Gama and Fernandes. Both experimental and traditional with a real sense of adventure and solace that is more than just ambient sounds. I really hope they do another record together very soon. Highly Recommended.