Monday, October 31, 2011

Ted Rosenthal: Out Of This World

Ted Rosenthal (piano)
Out Of This World (Playscape Recordings)
Noriko Ueda (bass)
Quincy Davis (drums)

It is difficult to judge a standards album sometimes. Many argue, "why repeat perfection?" Or "that version doesn't sound as good as the original?" Well, those are obviously the wrong/thick-headed way of thinking about standards material done by new artists, especially over the last 20 years. But similar to David Berkman's NY Standards Quartet releases, pianist Ted Rosenthal has done a wonderful job re-imagining ten standards in his own vision.

Throughout his entire career, Rosenthal has been able to travel between various settings and arrangements. Whether it's with legends like Gerry Mulligan or Benny Golson, or with his trio through classical compositions on his last record, Impromptu, he turns the pieces into his own and add a new vitality to them that is intoxicating and engaging.

On The Rosenthal Trio's newest release, Out Of This World, Rosenthal continues with his previous trio lineup which balances a tight and well-woven relationship with the timeless history they are re-interpreting. Opening with the title track written by Mercer & Arlen, Rosenthal and Co. sound fresh and pepper the piece with colourful shades of happiness. Ueda's bass is pounding with bright tones like the sound of a good Ray Brown beat.  Cole Porter's "So In Love" swings with a happy beat and Ueda and Rosenthal have a comfortable banter that make it a festive listen.

"Embraceable You" stays relatively intact with Gershwin's arrangement, but here Rosenthal and Davis add a feather like touch that lets you close your eyes and slowly drift away with the notes. "Cry Me a River" while exuberant, has a humble and blues-like manner that is delicious to the ear. Rosenthal delivers a mixture of Cedar Walton, Ahmad Jamal and Thelonious Monk all the while shining with his own voice and texture.

Out Of This World has all the designs of a beautiful club date - Vibrant, exciting and bouncing with energy that really gets a crowd hoppin'. But what makes this studio session so remarkable is the creative manner in which Rosenthal, Davis and Ueda work with such sweet unison that the tunes have urgency and new life. This is a real sleeper of a record that would really benefit any one's record collection.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sunna Gunnlaugs: Long Pair Bond

Sunna Gunnlaugs (piano)
Long Pair Bond  (self produced; 2011)
Scott McLemore (drums)
Thorgrimur Jonsson (bass)

I discovered Sunna Gunnlaugs only earlier this year, but since then I have consumed alot of her music and have been truly captivated. Her style is intimate and her use of space is exciting and has you hanging on every note.

Sunna Gunnlaugs is an independent artist who has created her own path with seven unbelievable albums that go from strength to strength. I loved her last album The Dream (in fact I raved about it). But I think her new album, Long Pair Bond is phenomenal! An even more intimate and introspective album than its predecessor, Gunnlaugs continues to elevate as a composer and a musician.

The trio setting demands more of the listener. It's an opportunity to absorb the emotion of the session and feel the movement of each instrument. "Long Pair Bond" sets sail with a lovely tone. Gunnlaug's playing carries you along slowly and gently down a rugged stream. Jonsson's bass fills the room but never overpowers the notes. McLemore adds poignant timing that gives a "Long Pair Bond" an additional punch towards its conclusion. On "Thema" Gunnlaugs and Jonsson's mixture of Latin and classical merged into a solemn progression that somehow is still quietly uplifting.

"Crab Cannon," a piece originally performed by the same trio a year ago, sounds more invigorating here in the studio. The production is obviously more crisp than its live sister version but Gunnlaugs obviously performed this piece on a number of occasions so this version delivers more impact through experience. McLemore's drummer jumps out with freedom and spirit that should really get any listener excited. "Fyrir Byrnhildi", a richly driven piece buoyed by Jonsson and Gunnlaugs, is warm and inviting. A delicately crafted number with almost gospel touches that has quietly become my personal favourite on Long Pair Bond.

"Vicious World" closes the album beautifully, with the focus squarely on Gunnlaugs. McLemore and Jonsson add light swatches of colour to the outside but momentum lays within the vibrant and inspirational performance of Gunnlaugs. This is an intimate piece that would probably bring the house down in a large recital hall.

In the independent spirit of the 21st Century, Sunna Gunnlaugs has taken the exciting and adventurous journey into the fan-supported release world (a grass-roots version of venture capital). Utilizing the organization of Kickstarter we can all support the physical production of Long Pair Bond with a small donation to the creation of the album. There are a number of different levels of support that we can contribute. Each with the right and appropriate reward for you.

This is a great opportunity for artists and fans to be a part of something special. If you are a fan of Sunna. A fan of jazz. A fan of exemplary jazz. Then this is an opportunity for us all to put our collective spirit and force together for the good of great music.

Join Sunna Gunnlaugs and enjoy a truly phenomenal album--Long Pair Bond.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Side A: A New Margin

Side A (group)
A New Margin (Clean Feed; 2011)
Ken Vandermark (sax; clarinet)
Havard Wiik (piano)
Chad Taylor (drums)

A Ken Vandermark record is always a welcomed addition in the JazzWrap office. And Vandermark's newest project, Side A is a massive inclusion to the catalog.

The trio formed last year but somehow it feels like they've played together for much longer; Vandermark and Wiik have been together in various projects (Vandermark 5, Atomic/School Days, and Free Fall). A New Margin (Clean Feed), the trio's debut, is a document of their collaborative efforts over the last year. 

Side A kicks the proceedings off with the slow moving and haunting "Boxer." It's like a mystery ride that never seems to end and you're constantly turned on to some new element in the piece. Whether it's the plodding downward keys of Wiik, the sky-rocketing velocity of Vandermark on sax, or Taylor's free-wheeling movement on the kit--this is a journey that's going to take many different shapes before its done.

"Arborizaltion" flows peacefully with each member improvising in between the space. It's not wild movements; more a steady pattern of ideas that all fold together in one harmonic gesture.

When "The Kreuzberg Variations" first came on I was startled by the spacial depth of the piece. It's a classical movement as the title would suggest but with more owed to the Steve Reich motif than Brandenberg. The piece builds and builds until its boisterous conclusion where musician and sound collide in what is quite a beautiful noise.

"Giacometti" is a blustery but euphoric number that sees the trio bouncing sound off each other. Taylor adds a delicate touch in the beginning, while Vandermark and Wiik create some vivid colour spectrums. This comes to a rousing denouement that nicely bookends the possession filled opening of the "Boxer."

Side A is yet another in long list of progressive outings from Ken Vandermark and company that challenges the way we think of jazz and how it will expand. A New Margin is by far one Vandermark's best projects (outside of Vandermark 5) of the last 12 months. Great stuff.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Anne Mette Iversen: Milo Songs

Anne Mette Iversen (bass)
Milo Songs (Brooklyn Jazz Underground; 2011)
Otis Brown III (drums)
John Ellis (sax)
Danny Grissett (piano)
(photo: Courtney Winston)

With a background in classical you would expect the compositions of the Danish born bassist turned Brooklynite, Anne Mette Iversen, to be more subdued and wrapped in more chamber tones. Well, you do get that but you also get a whole lot more to study. With skill and theories that personal and complex, Iversen is slowly rising above that "best-kept secret" theme. She will be one of the stars of the new generation of composers over the next decade.

With three stellar albums already under her belt and a quartet that has remained intact for well over five years, Iversen has a certain vocabulary and mediation with this group that is unique among even the longest running quartets/ensembles. This closeness allows the musicians to move freely within Iverson's compositions. And Iversen has grown as a composer as well as a bassist. Not to mention the founder of the quickly rising and important label Brooklyn Jazz Underground.

With her latest album, Milo Songs, Iversen shows a deeper understanding of the human conscience as well as uncanny way of crafting tunes from a child's eye (meaning her own). Milo Songs was born out of a number of musical ideas brought out through her children. The music moves and grows like one's life. There are uptempo movements and exquisite somber moments all with calculated effectiveness.

Milo Songs opens gently with "The Terrace," a piece that slowly builds on the dexterity of Grissett and Ellis. Iversen settles in the background adding nice tonality and steady space to the rolling patterns her bandmates have created with her composition. It's a lovely piece that is playful and engrossing.

Iversen has a style that reminds me of both the calm pace of Jimmy Garrison and jubilant nature of Paul Chambers. This is on display throughout Milo Songs but on tracks like "The Storm" and "Milo's Brother" you get a sense of both. "The Storm" unfolds rotating conversation between Ellis and Grissett before Brown and Iversen join in on the build up. The piece soon takes off and each member makes a creative impact on the piece. It's weirdly soft but fierce at the same time. "Milo's Brother" employs a softer tone that Chambers could effortlessly switch on and off. This is a caring piece that both holds the attention of its audience but give you moments to think about the session as a whole and the point at Milo is at (or even yourself) in relation to life and family.

"Cortot's Wheel" ends Milo's journey on a sweet but touching note. A number of passages on "Cortot's Wheel" allows the group to stretch and speak in a tone that connects to the listener more personally than most other compositions you might hear all year.

Anne Mette Iversen is no longer and an up and coming bassist/composer, she is part of the next standard in jazz. And everyone needs to know about her. Her ability to combine modern themes and classic structures into something that reaches on a deeply personally level with each record is rare among composers in recent years. Milo Songs is a definite must listen for everyone.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Miles Davis: Tutu

Miles Davis (trumpet)
Tutu Deluxe Edition (Warner; 2011)

Well, its been a very busy year on the Miles Davis estate front. There have been a slew of official and unofficial releases. All surprisingly with good merit. The latest, a deluxe edition of the the 1986 album, Tutu.

Originally both loved and derided by fans and critics alike, it has somehow stood the test of time. It's not a terrific album by any means but it does show Miles continuing to play with funky/snyth rhythms of the early '80s and trying to carve out a new voice.

On Tutu, his trumpet sounds inspired even while it lacks a little bit of the strength that even the last few Columbia records possessed. The production was crisp and musicianship also pretty sharp (for the '80s). The album marked one of the few moments when Miles would make subtle political statements, hence the tilted, named after Bishop Desmond Tutu. Miles didn't really speak about the political message he was trying to convey; instead keeping the focus on the music. He had only discussed it a few times in interviews.

The album opens with the forceful impact of the blues funk title track. Miles has a soft tone that actually blends well with the synthesizers and thumping basslines provided by the soon to be long relationship with Marcus Miller. One of the best tracks from the session, "Portia" is a sweet ballad which Miles allows the band to move from freely. The drums and percussion provided by Paulinho da Costa are simplified here but complement Miller's Brazilian vibe that the piece captures. As with Miles' expanding venture into pop music, he includes a cover of British pop/alternative band Scritti Politti's "Perfect Way," which is startling (if you already know the original) but still quite affective in this funky jazz arrangement.

The snyth sound that Miles had absorbed on his last few Columbia albums blossoms under the influence of Marcus Miller here. While Tutu obviously doesn't stand up against anything Miles produced prior it is one of the last albums (with the addition of its follow up Amandla) that still retain a rich source of quality instrumentation and organization. 

The deluxe edition of Tutu comes with a bonus CD of live material from the Nice Festival in 1986. This concert is more a stage for the band than it is Miles but its a solid performance nonetheless. A Chicago blues treatment is given to the classic "New Blues" that makes it feel fresh and lively. Roben Ford plays guitar in this octet and feels a lot more steady than John Scofield did a few years prior.

Bob Berg, always superb, standout throughout this evening of hot jazz-funk. His extended solo work on "Maze" is smokin', while Steve Thornton and Felton Crews provide a pounding backbeat on percussion and drums. "Splatch" features some heavy percussion and bass but is offset by Berg and Miles employing some beautiful harmonic work. This concert has some great sound quality and stands up better than the studio album. It's feels like a giant jam session.

The Tutu deluxe edition is well worth whatever you pay for it. An important document in the late and final period of Miles' career. You may feel it's dated from an ideas point of view but if you think about the jazz of that decade you start to realize Tutu was one of few treasured moments. Recommended.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tomasz Licak/Artur Tuznik Quintet

Tomasz Licak (sax) & Artur Tuznik (piano)
Quintet (Blackout Music; 2011)
Andreas Lang (bass)
Anders Mogensen (drums)
Tomasz Dabrowski (trumpet)

A wonderful discovery for me in the last few days has been a quintet session from Tomasz Licak and Artur Tuznik. This fairly new (in terms of lineup) Polish/Danish quintet are young but possess the great energy and punch of their influences. The group combine a sensual style of contemporary modern with well crafted improvisation. Their latest release, simply titled, Quintet feels like mid-period Branford Marsalis or an adventurous One For All.

The group manage to sound well at home in the modern hard bop setting as they do when they let the rhythm fly. "Uwaga" comes pounding out of the speaker with vigour. Tuznik and Mogensen drive the beat with cinematic effect. Tuznik shapes the piece with somber relaxed movements intertwined with improvised changes. These are cut across boisterous chords from the horn section which make "Uwaga" a massive opening statement.

"Lightblub In Green" reminds me of the best moments of being in a jazz club and closing my eyes to the rhythm. Lang and Licak have a lovely exchange midway through that could resemble Jackie Mclean and Paul Chambers at their Blue Note best. The quintet quietly swing with verve and each member's contribution is heard crystal clear. The tone is lowered on the melodic and beautiful "Nardis" (also featured on their previous album as Last Call). It's a technical and introspective piece where Tuznik takes center stage and delivers a performance that slowly envelops you with very powerful emotions. Tearful.

While most of the material on Quintet has a contemporary atmosphere, "Hobbit" rips the cover off the box and the group conjure up a funky groove built inside patterns of free jazz. It may have the uninitiated shaking their heads and they will eventually be sucked into the groove. There are individual moments where band members create subtle colours and tones and then return to the fire free form of their original theme.

Quintet is a stellar addition to the brief catalog of Licak and Tuznik and they will definitely be one of the creative duos that we will be talking about in the next few years. I loved this record and think its a must for every music fan. And I'm not just talking jazz fans. This is the wonderful balance between contemporary and free jazz.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Orrin Evans: Freedom

Orrin Evans (piano) 
Freedom (Posi-Tone Records; 2011)
Byron Landham (drums)
Anwar Marshall (drums)
Larry Mckenna (sax)
Dwayne Burno (bass)

This has been a revealing or may even an extremely eye-opening year for me when it comes to Orrin Evans. I have always liked his music but never fully focused my attention on it in such detail as I have this year. With the release of Captain Black earlier this year, and a number of constructive arguments with fellow fans I have finally decided to pay attention. So when his latest release, Freedom, came out I have to say I was more eager to listen and I concentrated on every note.  I also have to say it is all worth it.

Freedom is one of the tightest and most well focused sessions from Evans in years. It's a tribute to a few of his influences and members he has performed with in the past.  This is essentially a trio record with McKenna adding some full-bodied and blues-like emotion to two tracks ("Gray's Ferry" and "Time After Time"). His playing feels like a young fearless Ben Webster. He packs a punch, especially on "Time After Time" in which Evans gives him rolling freedom throughout the opening few minutes before rising into the forefront with a potent dexterity that keeps the tune jumpin'. Both Burno and Landham (drums on this number), adds a lot of rich and fast paced texture to the number to really give it a timeless quality.

"One For Honour" rips along softly but with an uptempo theme. Evan's allows Burno and Marshall (drums) to lead the way. And they really craft this Charles Fambrough number into their own. Evans' performance is fierce, fluid and bright. "Oasis", written by Shirley Scott, contains an infectious rumba applied by Landham. Evans gives a steady hand to guide the melody. Burno pumps in some really nice patterns along the bassline.

While the album has its modern bebop sensibilities, Evans manages to round things off with calming effects on Herbie Hancock's "Just Enough." This soulful ballad pulls Evans in both classical (by technique) and jazz (by emotion and theme) directions and he gently guides the listener out from what has been a vibrant and fun journey.

Freedom is a strong statement and return to a small group format that helps Evans compositional skills shine as well as the talents of his band members. This year has really turned me around on the work of Orrin Evans and I hope everyone else too. Solid stuff indeed.

The first video is a great, interesting and fun look at the who, what and where of Evans' history.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sebastien Bouhana: Tambour pas tant

Sebastien Bouhana (drums)
Tambour pas tant (Insubordinations Netlabel; 2011)

The deconstruction of the music industry over the last decade has resulted in a lot unfortunately things. But one of the positive byproducts was the rise of many strong independent labels and artists releasing their own music on their own.

Labels such as Rune Grammofon, Clean Feed, Brooklyn Jazz Underground, Audio Tong among others, globally have reinvigorated the creative scene. One new label has also taken the independent spirit one step further--Insubordinations Netlabel.

Insubordinations feel more like an artists collective than a label. The artists issue albums both as available downloads and physical CDs. Many of the artists and their material is very forward thinking. One artist that has captured my attention this year has been French drummer/experimentalist, Sebastien Bouhana.

Sebastien Bouhana solo release, Tambour pas tant (Translation: Drum Not So Much) is a real treat and challenge for any listener. And drum not so much is a good description of how this project moves along. Built around atmospheric themes and improvised movements, Tambour past tant is a refreshing look at the soundscapes an artist can create with the drum. "Evoquee" sees Bouhana sounding like searing guitar or a buzzsaw than drummer. It's an adventurous and dense piece that moves rapidly but very concentrated focus.

"Une Vieille Connaissance" provides a host of colours, crackles, swirls and found sounds that are like slow broken down train moving through a tunnel. "Tres Nettement" rounds out the three lengthy pieces on this disc. Consisting of the same elements as the proceeding pieces it does develop a small beat and rhythmic pattern underneath the chaos. Bouhana works in a similar realm as Jim O'Rouke or Sonic Youth. He is helping the listener search for their own conclusion within the soundscape--and that's the best thing music can do for a listen.

Tambour pas tant may be a challenge for many but its one of those records that will have asking questions of yourself. It is intense and will have you concentrating on every aspect of Bouhana's movements. Challenge and refreshing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tim Hagans: The Moon Is Waiting

Tim Hagans (trumpet)
The Moon Is Waiting (Palmetto Records; 2011)
Vic Juris (guitar)
Jukkis Uotila (drums, piano)
Rufus Reed (bass)

I have to admit I haven't listened to much of Tim Hagans' music in recent years. But I have always admired his ability to float and absorb different styles with each record. His Blue Note recordings from the late '90s (especially Animation Imagination) were early experiments of jazz and electronica that mostly European artists were exploring at the time. His latest, The Moon Is Waiting is a return of sorts, with less emphasis on electronics but still holding an expansion on his fusion ideals.

The opening three tracks were originally part of a dance ensemble performance but you would really never know that if you didn't read the liner notes. Hagans effectively has crafted three pieces that work perfectly on record as they do for the stage. This is a real sign of great compositional skill. The loose, funky rhythms of "Ornette's Waking Dream Of Woman" are powerful reminders of the best fusion material from Miles, McLaughlin and Zawinul. "First Jazz" is a beautiful number which Uotila and Juris sizzle. Their performs are measured but Hagans gives them a lot freedom within the piece. Hagans own perform is on fire when he breaks in midway. Uotila and Hagans then have a nice duet later in the piece that is killer. Both are flying with really intensity and depth.

"Boo" sees the quartet fusing a blues motif that Chicago and New Orleans would be proud of. Juris takes on a soulful and crying tone that is matched by the rest of the group. A rolling repetition in the chords allows you to sink into this number more than when it was originally recorded a few years back with a large ensemble. This time you get a deeper impact that is more heartfelt. "Things Happen In A Convertible" unfolds like a suite. It's midtempo throughout and each segment seems to highlight a different member. Romantic and endearing, "Things Happen In A Convertible" is a loving way to close out the experiments of the last hour. Great stuff.

While not having the chance to listening to Hagans music for quite a few years I was surprised how easy it was for me to fall back in love with his compositions and his playing. This just might be one of those under-the-radar records that you have must hear to believe. The Moon Is Waiting is wonderful.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tonbruket: Dig It To The End

Tonbruket (group)
Dig It To The End (ACT Music; 2011)
Dan Berglund (bass)
Johan Lindstrom (guitars)
Andereas Werliin (drums)
Martin Hederos (piano)

Riveting and re-imagining everything on both the jazz and rock front, Tonbruket return very quickly with their second record, Dig It To The End (ACT Music). And it is truly an outstanding second effort.

Former E.S.T. bassist, Dan Berglund's new group feels like a hybrid of the former and the chaos of King Crimson. But in contrast, Tonbruket manage to incorporate folkish grooves in between the fierce patterns they lay forward as a base of exploration.

Berglund appears to have let the dragons out on Dig It To The End. Mixing it up splendidly with the opening number, "Vinegar Heart," which soars from the pounding pace of the trio, Hederos, Berglund and Werliin and swamped by the frenzied chords of Lindstrom adds to the ethos that this not jazz--nor is it rock. This is a piece has multiple parts and moves in different sections all very quickly. Brilliant.

"Lilo" is a gentle number that feels like a lullaby. The effects of Lindstrom's pedal steel guitar and Werliin brushes provide an bit of the Americana genre to this piece. It's delightful and beautiful melody floats along and stays with you long after the piece is completed.

"Dig It To The End" features like horses pounding along a cobblestone street at night. It's a dark sinister piece that could slide nicely into a Nick Cave album. The crazy organ lines plied by Hederos are hilarious and haunting at the same time.

"Le Var" with it's Spanish tinge is twisted through an psychedelic lens that is both hypnotic and intriguing. Thematic and infectious with a two-step nature which folds nicely into the backbeat of "Trackpounder". "Trackpounder" shows the group in more of a rockin' mood and riffing freely. It's got all sorts of grooves that could be reminiscent of the best Spy Jazz themes of the '60s.

Dig It To The End feels a bit more diverse than the quartet's debut. With a expansive passages and themes that have a foothold in multiple genres. Tonbruket's mastery of this makes Dig It To The End highly enjoyable and adventurous at every turn.

Tonbruket is a group of various ideas and backgrounds and they have created a real standout in any musical genre this year. They will have you wondering whether this is jazz or rock or what. But then again...does it matter? Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Kris Davis: Aeriol Piano

Kris Davis (piano)
Aeriol Piano (Clean Feed; 2011)

Intimacy. That's what always strikes me about Kris Davis. The sense of intimacy.

Having been on the scene for only few short years, her visibility has grown in the last few years due to a string on releases as leader and with collaborators.

I mistakenly forgot to write about her last record Good Citizen (Fresh Sounds New Talent) as one of my albums of the year in 2010. But this year make no mistake, my two top records of years are set in stone. And I bet you can guess one of them right now, eh?!?

There is a peaceful quality to her latest release, the solo piano effort, Aeriol Piano (Clean Feed). "Saturn Return" unravels slowly with dark intentions crafted around a simply melody before moving to a more improvisational mood. It feels like an early John Cage piano work. It's complex yet gentle enough for the newest of listeners to grasp every endearing moment.

A slight reinterpretation of "Good Citizen" is intriguing to experience without the quartet from the last record. This time around it feels more climatic; with more cascading moments than the previous version may not have allowed you to hear.

"Beam The Eyes" travels methodically along a path of inversion that makes crackling and disturbing sparks of life towards its conclusion. This theme also carries through a short time later on both "Stone" and "The Last Time" with moments that parallel Keith Jarrett and even more multiform pieces by Morton Feldman. There's a serenity that is broken up with moments of fierce treatment to keyboard but with clear justification of theme. "Work For Water" closes out the album on a steady more classical trained tone. It's a soft wistful way to end a session that has interwoven so many challenging patterns.

For one to really enjoy and understand one of the best kept secrets in jazz, you have to experience Aeriol Piano for yourself. Kris Davis is one of a short handful of creative pianist on the scene today.

If you are looking for legacy of modern improvised piano since Keith Jarrett, and more recently Jason Moran--Kris Davis is it. More on Aeriol Piano towards the end of the year. But for now, I repeat what I said at the outset--Aeriol Piano is one of my two top albums of the year. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Koptor: Fire Sink

Koptor (group)
Fire Sink (Fresh Sound New Talent; 2011)
Kevin Brow (drums)
Lotte Anker (sax)
Jeppe Skoobakke (bass)
Jacob Anderskov (piano)

I have to first thank fellow blogger, Maciej at Polish Jazz for turning me on to the Canadian/Danish quartet, Koptor. The group is quietly under the radar but have created two highly original and intriguing releases. Both have been on repeat in my household for weeks.

The compositions stem from the creative mind of drummer, Kevin Brow, who continues to gain notoriety both within his group as well as guest musician on records from Mikkel Plough and Bob Brough. With Koptor, Brow and his fellow musicians create a great balance between modern contemporary themes and free improvised organics.

Moving between dense and slight upbeat patterns, "21 Maaneder" features some intense lines from Skoobakke and Brow. All this is encircled by the terrific and melodic tone taken by Anderskov and Anker. It's a piece full of texture and staggered movements. Ankers playing is heartwarming and in some moments playful. 

There have been a few drummers this year that have impressed me with their compositional skills, and Brow is definitely one of them. "Intellectual Sex" is one of the great moments of Fire Sink. Revolving more around the Anderskov and Anker, Brow gives the group room to move quietly and improvise as need through this piece. Brow's performance is impressive because he layers his touches around the edges until the end where the group gives way to a very serious and enveloping solo that brings the group into an almost funky mood. Heated, powerful and inventive.

The group's European side comes to the fore on "Invisible Ikke." Anderskov plays the major role in the opening as he paints a lovely romantic picture for the listener. The majority of piece feels like a sonata but built on the freedom of movement. The rest of band join in to add to clear crisp constructive tones but the composition never leaves it peaceful origins.

"Fire Sink" has some great multi-layers. Anker really takes off on this piece. Her playing is forceful and improvising yet still inviting for the listener. At times you can sense a bit of Ornette or even Zorn floating through the notes. Brow, Skoobake and Anderskov play a perfect counterpoint Anker and manage to lay down a minimalistic groove if you can call it that.

Fire Sink is an impressive second effort from the four year old band Koptor. Koptor has quickly formed a group that is both richly creative and able to gravitate between improvised and straight ahead with ease. Fire Sink is excellent.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Levin & Daisy: The Flower & The Bear

Daniel Levin (cello)
Tim Daisy (percussion)
The Flower And The Bear (Relay Records; 2011)

Finishing off my unexpected week of duo recordings, I thought I would mention a fantastic album I just picked up a few weeks ago from Daniel Levin and Tim Daisy entitled The Flower And The Bear.

Levin has worked in a number of settings (trio, quartet, duo and ensemble), Daisy has done the same (most notably with, Klang, The Engines, The Vandermark 5 and his own Vox Arcana). They are highly creative forces on their own. Together, they have crafted an amazing duet record that is fun, raucous and inventive. 

The Flower And The Bear I have to assume relates to the two musicians themselves. Either way this is an album that shine with life and activity. Built on only five extended pieces, both musicians bristle with excitement. "Graystone" slowly builds on Levin's structured yet somehow improvised movements. These are matched with free flowing rhythm's from Daisy, until the two get midway into the piece and the wheels come flying off in beautiful rolling cacophony. 

"The Flower And The Bear" feels like a hunt for Chanukah gelt that turns out to be a creepy message from the under-world (that's the best way I could describe it). But really, its an adventure in improvisation. Percussion and cello are the perfect compliment in this setting because you can create a variety of sounds that are both rich, pure and beautiful. Daisy and Levin manage to do that with ease. "The Flower And The Bear" ventures into a scattered and diverse structures towards the end but somehow manages to keep the listener well focused. Levin and Daisy become one sound as the movement heads towards a calm conclusion.

"Steel Flags" may be the only track with a real structure, which is laid out in the beginning by Levin. At times Levin almost turns his instrument into a percussion piece. The unity that the two musicians display throughout this piece is spellbinding. It's intense but quietly affective. There are striking layers of tense beauty as well as repetitive patterns that construct the overall theme of the piece. It's engaging without being disarming. Wonderful stuff.

With The Flower And The Bear, both Daniel Levin and Tim Daisy effectively show they are at the top of a very small list of creative musicians within the free-improvisational structure of musicians. Highly Recommended.