Monday, November 28, 2011

A Users Guide To Rob Garcia

Rob Garcia (drums)

Diversity is always a key element for outstanding jazz composers. Rob Garcia covers this path and more. While he has performed with wide array of jazz artists, including Steve Davis, Joe Lovano, Reggie Workman, Dave Kikoski and Bruce Barth, he is always a well grounded personality with a degree in holistic medicine and a even rarer distinction of being an ordained minister. This might explain his ever expanding duties and participation (currently two community/collective groups) in helping fellow musicians in New York City gain greater access and exposure.

This openness and desire to grow as an individual and a musician can be seen throughout Rob Garcia's work. On his debut, Place Of Resonance (Consolidated Artist Productions), Garcia emits a personal ethos that carries through his arrangements and the musicians who are performing them.

A unique sense of direction and calm flows on every tune. "(A Jump In) Quicksand" is one of those moments. A peaceful number that is delicate and touching as a result of Michel Gentile's fiery flute work and Garcia's crisp precision (especially on the solo towards the end). But also the masterful, pulsating work that Michael Formanek gives to the bass will make your heart start to beat in unison with the piece.

"Resonance" showcases, Dave Kikoski's immense talent and he gently crafts Garcia's piece into a sublime set of movements with patterns that would easily make Oscar Peterson smile. Kikoski has always been one of the under-rated pianist of the last 20 years but within Garcias arrangement he really does shine. Matt Renzi's performance is bold and yet understated. Garcia adds strong timing and punctuations to compliment his bandmates but when it comes time to step up he lets things rip and the listener has to take notice. 

"Somewhere Along The Path" and "Fleurette African" (a lesser known piece by Duke Ellington) showcase a more gentle side to Garcia's compositions. Both have a lovely melodic tone that captures the group in a contemporary form but also completely soulful in a spiritual way. Originally recorded in 1998 (released in 2001), you would have thought it was recorded a week ago. An incredibly strong debut. Overall, Place Of Resonance is a stellar debut that when you find it, it is well worth every dollar and will repay you with every note.

While side projects and performing with other musicians consumed a good portion of time after the excellent debut, Rob Garcia would return in 2007 with a completely different lineup (except Michel Gentile on flute) on Heart's Fire (Connection Works Record).

A set that has elements of modern/contemporary jazz as well as some lovely Latin tinged numbers. The addition of Yoon Sun Choi on vocals feels fresh and vibrant. Choi emits an almost Karrin Allyson (or British R&B/Jazz vocalist, Juliet Roberts) quality through numbers like "It's Ruby" and "Be A Lover". Heart's Fire delivers with delicious and infectious rhythms that still contain the spiritual undertones that were present on Place Of Resonance.

Garcia performances sound energized by the new group and the joyous atmosphere here really gets your toes tapping and your body moving. Daniel Kelly takes over piano duties on Heart's Fire and while not as gentle and introspective as Kikoski, his playing fits perfectly with Garcia's global arrangements. "Sangha" (also the nickname of the Garcia's group) is a Buddhist term meaning community. This is obviously one of the stellar pieces on the set. Garcia's drum and percussion work is essential to the movement of this piece. It's reminds me of some of the early work by Mongo Santamaria. Along with Choi and Kelly this "Sangha" floods your consciousness with a sense of belonging. "Thank You" adds that little bit of latter period Elvin Jones/Rashid Ali circa Coltrane bliss to make for a beautiful closing number.

Growing as a composer, leader and performer, Garcia would move on to be a part of another collective, this time as a member of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground which would release his third album, Perennial (BJU Records; 2009). While his previous two releases were vibrant and searching for a different type of peace, Perennial feels like Garcia has achieved the spiritual balance between composition and performance (both from within and with is band).

Settling in with a new quartet instead of the ensembles of his first two albums brings the tunes into very tight focus. Noah Preminger on sax has a more personal tone that stands before like a mirror. Dan Tepfer, whose work with George Schuller had struck me a few years ago, sounds immaculate here.

Garcia again creates a sound world that is both personal and forward looking. There is a sense of search for what comes next. Another reference to the spiritual nature of the man and his music. "Season Of Stone" exemplifies that ethereal calling with superb deliver from each member. Garcia gives them all opportunities to shine through. Bassist, Chris Lightcap has a steady rhythm and blends well with Tepfer and Preminger's melodic tones. Garcia keeps the group in line with some subtle taps and swathes but it is the rolling nature of the "Season Of Stone" that keeps the listener engage from note to note, chord change to chord change. Intense and exhilarating.

"Vortex" feels like it could fit snug onto a Monk record. A close beatnik-like feel comes over me while focusing on Lightcap performance. It's just under the crisp notes of Preminger but you get a real free movement here that Garcia hadn't shown on previous albums. The tune switches gears quickly midway through and group stretches in multi-layered fashion but revolves back to a lay the tune gentle back on its feet. "Little Trees" might be the most forceful, fragmented and raucous of Garcia's pieces on the album. Feeling like a suite it encompasses a number of different themes which each member there moment. They all intersect with Garcia's changing patterns and timing. This group has a definite identity and sense of adventure which is catapulted by Garcia's writing.

The sense of adventure and ever-moving forward get solidified with The Drop And The Ocean (BJU Records; 2011). An album that is solid from start to finish, Garcia seem to have settled in on the quartet format (for the time being) and it works well for his compositions.

The stability Preminger and Tepfer carries over, now added by the increasingly omnipresent and cerebral bassist, John Hebert. And while there is adventure on The Drop And The Ocean, there is more a feeling of oneness that permeates through each piece.

Garcia's spiritual concepts come into play again as The Drop And The Ocean is a journey to finding inner peace. "Will" swirls with freedom and imagination that the individual can do what she or he plans to do. Perminger opens things up with a length set out resounding notes quickly joined in by the rest of the group. Tepfer and Garcia have a beautiful exchange early on that seems both improvised and uniquely written. "Lost By Morning" will have you imagining sitting at a table on clubnight listening to this quartet softly carry you and your thoughts far away. A ballad that's real focus is to make you stop, relax, think, listen and move on. The fast environment that we live sometimes doesn't allow that to happen.

"Humility" is simply that--a thoughtful and introspective ballad in which the group with a few surprising twist in melody but it maintains a touching vibe. The quartet turns moves from emotional to improvised and back again. But even the uninitiated would not feel the effects. This is a brilliant piece.  "The Return" sets this long journey straight. We the passengers have travel a great distance in both body and spirit. This piece helps bring everything back to a constant but with a new outlook. There's an all-around more emotional connection one will find on The Drop And The Ocean that the previous albums only alluded to. This Garcia's best record to date.

Usually when a jazz artist works within the eastern philosophy or spiritual aesthetics they tend to lean heavily on the latter work of Coltrane. Rob Garcia doesn't do that. His spirituality/philosophical thoughts may lay in the same camp but he is working in a completely different direction. His compositions and playing are both compelling and inspiring. Garcia is quickly and quietly turning into a unique voice within the jazz scene.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Jason Stein: The Story This Time

Jason Stein (clarinet)
The Story This Time (Delmark; 2011)
Keefe Jackson (sax)
Joshua Abrams (bass)
Frank Rosaly (drums)

I know Jason Stein's work more through the projects he has been a member of than his solo material. He has worked with Ken Vnadermark, Rob Mazurek and Keefe Jackson to name a few. His main instrument is bass clarinet. Stein has a style that is big and with an ability to move up and down the scale with ease, he creates a joyful and adventurous atmosphere with each recording.

Stein is quickly becoming an in-demand member as well as confident leader in the Chicago scene since landing there just under half a decade ago. Stein plays rare instrument in genre, but it is coming back in fashion thanks to strong creative performances and releases like his latest, The Story This Time (Delmark).

From the opening, "Background Music" (written by Warne Marsh), you can hear that Stein is out to change things. His tone and the nature of piece has a pile-driver force to it. Almost making it unrecognizable to the original Warne Marsh/Lee Konitz piece. The quartet display a sense of urgency all the while deploying some intricate improvising.

"Little Big Horse" is killer. Stein's seems to have learned a bit from his time with Vandermark about chord changes, timing and orchestration within his own group. There's a Dolphy-esque quality to the performance but you can hear the group bristling with life as the piece moves forward.

"Badlands" has an enveloping quality to it. Abrams bassline capture you at the gut just before then Jackson and Stein come crashing in like theme from Route 66 (U.S. early '60s TV show). Frank Rosaly's timing is to perfection with free-wheeling exchanges with both Jackson and Stein. Stein soon takes over the piece with a number spontaneous jump cuts and fluctuating patterns. It's all really amazing to hear and commands your full attention.

"Hoke's Dream" is definitely the more experimental piece on the album. The composition lays squarely on Stein as he improvises through a number a changes while Rosaly adds unabashed clings and clangs for full effect. Abrams and  Jackson join in towards the end to provide colour and tone but this is clearly a lead into free form that works perfectly in the Monk composition "Work." "Work" I think is a re-imagining of "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and feels completely pulled apart and reassembled into a dark free formed nightmare. I loved it!

The Story This Time is another bullet out of the Chicago scene that must be heard by a wider audience. Jason Stein has proven in just a short amount of time that scene and all of its many musicians have a lot to contribute. And each has their own voice that is distinct and bursting with ideas. The Story This Time is brilliant and invigorating.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thom Gossage: In Other Words

Thom Gossage (drums)
In Other Words (Songlines Recordings; 2011)
Frank Lozano (sax)
Remi Bolduc (sax)
Steve Raegele (guitar)
Miles Perkin (bass)

I really didn't know of Thom Gossage until I received this CD a few weeks ago. But I have to say, from the moment I heard the opening chords I was pretty hooked.

Gossage, a Montreal native, has been on the scene for over a decade. He has managed to balance his improvising aesthetics in both the areas of music and dance. While working in close association with free form dance ensembles he also takes that experimental edge into his musical collaborations. In Other Words is his 5th release with his ensemble, Other Voices. Encompassing a quartet that he has worked with in various forms over the last few years, In Other Words is a really engaging work from a drummer with many hats and thoughts.

The music on In Other Words originated out Gossage's work with the arts (specifically choreographer Isabelle Van Grimede) instead of music. Therefore this album becomes a real travelogue of ideas.

Opening with the title track, that has an investigative and almost avant garde country twang, Gossage let's the listener know this will not be your ordinary journey into improvised music. "In Other Words" revolves around multiple themes and competing chord changes, all making for an intense but highly enjoyable listen. Gossage has a style that reminds me of Andrew Cyrille or Gerry Hemingway, in the manner which he can switch from complex to simply calming structures without breaks.

The contribution of each member in Other Voices cannot be understated. Steve Raegele's work is on par with that of Marc Ribot. Both Remi Bolduc and Frank Lozano contribute stellar, visceral performances as evident on "Counter Counter Clockwise"--a virtual rollercoaster of alliteration. "Counter Counter Clockwise" encompasses all the aforementioned thoughts of Gossage's composing ability. The rollercoaster switches to a gentle tone poem with sax, electronics and drums creating a haunting but beautiful soundtrack.

"Your Number(S)" is one of my favourite pieces. For me there is a sense of play hidden inside the improvisational aspects on display here. Miles Perkins has a rich but minimal quality that you gravitate to throughout the entirety of In Other Words, but here somehow I was drawn to what was going on just underneath the explorations by rest of group. Perkins reminds me of Drew Gress, who also creates a whole different universe outside of his bandmates that pulls you in but keeps you within the context of the original piece (Drew Gress has also performed with Thom's group). The closing moments of the piece are left to Raegele and Gossage to experiment and work of each other. 

Staying with the "arts" theme, the album closes with appropriately with an actually poem, "Tom Arthurs Dinner", with vocals from critically acclaimed British trumpeter, Tom Arthurs. Arthurs vocals are balanced by a heavy tone of dark atmospherics that give the piece a kind demented, tormented beat-generation quality.

In Other Words is a deep, thoughtful and complex mixture of structures from both theater and improvised music. While both have a lot in common it is quite often difficult for many musicians to meld the two together into a work that is cohesive and tangible. Thom Gossage has done that perfectly. This session feels like a chamber ensemble that decided to throw away the notes and perform from the heart not the page. This is a journey that is emotionally effective on your stereo as it would on the stage. A real pleasure of a discovery.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jon Crowley

Jon Crowley (trumpet)

I really stumbled onto Jon Crowley through a search on the web for new music. I was looking for new trumpeters to check out in New York city and his name kept popping up. So I listened to a couple of tracks I found online, watched a couple of videos and was really captured by the quality and personality of his performances.

A young trumpeter who has already cut his chops up and down the Northeast and Mid-East corridor with gigs from Philly, NYC to Boston. There are a series of live recordings that document his growth on his site but you really should take a good listen to his most recent records that really give you a more in-depth picture.

Crowley's first effort, Connections (Lonely Crow Records; 2009) is a bright young artist with an articulate voice and vision showing that he is more than just a trumpet player but also a gifted composer. The blistering nature of the title track has shades of Freddie Hubbard with a growing inner beauty that could reflect later-period Chet Baker.

Crowley's confidence in his band shines through as he allows the group to dominate and challenge each other for a good portion of the latter half of the piece. The duel between Yayoi Ikawa (piano) and Peter Schwebs (bass) is an intense listen but probably even better to watch live.

"Momentum" does pull things back a little with Crowley coming to fore. Crowley has a strong tone and sensuality that fills the space with passion and a heavy heart. Ikawa adds a well constructed post bop map for the rest of the quintet to follow. This sound is very New York. A confident quintet delivering a sense of excitement and adventure in a tradition reminiscent of early One For All.

"Tabula Rasa" while inhabiting a Middle Eastern to Sub-Asian feel, doesn't get caught inside the usual traps of American musicians trying to create an Eastern atmospheric piece. Crowley has arranged a lot of room for his band mates to improvise and experiment. Nick Anderson (drums), Beatty and Schwebs really are the highlights here with delicate notes that become more detailed as the piece carries onward.

"Right Now" is probably the one piece that comes the closest to being study in hard bop. The performances are crisp, hard driving and affective. Connections is more downplayed with emotional movements, "Icarus" and "City Mood," demonstrates Crowley as a romantic with serious thematic ideas. Similar to larger scale moments presented by Terence Blanchard, Crowley appears to be eyeing larger but also insular concepts.

That grandness would become fully apparent on his second album, the recently released, At The Edge (Lonely Crow Records; 2011). Crowley circles himself with an entirely new quintet that is just as exciting as the one on his debut. They are challenging but also more exploratory. This is mainly due to the advancement of Crowley's experiences and writing.

Opening with the brief, Philip Glass tonality of "In Real Life" which quickly shifts to Hancock-Headhunters era fusion with "Find Me", you can hear Crowley has grown and is looking beyond just the notes on the page. "Find Me" is soulful, funky, experimental and still bouncing with 21st Century originality. The addition of Ziv Ravitz on drums adds a harder edge and muscle to the session. Julian Pollack's performance on both fender and piano are creative and moving in the same way fellow New York pianist, Bobby Avey has quickly risen within the local jazz scene.

"Sadness, Suffering, Hope, Triumph" is filled with deep melodic passages but those movements are not on the dark side. On the contrary, it is more like celebration in mellow tones. Crowley, Jeremy Udden (sax) and Pollack produce some lovely, complex themes and colours allowing this piece to beam with a sense of bright introspection.

"Shine" is my favourite track on At The Edge. It hearkens to the more contemporary pieces by Dave Douglas. It's peaceful passages are bold and romantic. There's a real lush sense of closure in the piece. It holds the listener's attention and really brings you into the fold of the album's main theme--what happens once you are at the edge?

The session closes with "These Four Walls," a ballad that beautifully encapsulates the maturity of Crowley's writing; the forward thinking sensibility that an artist can move back and forth through both fusion and hard bop in one session while still sounding original and moving with every note.

At The Edge is a more intense adventure but shows a huge leap in compositional excellence from Jon Crowley. He is a voice that is worth your discovery now rather than later. Connections and At The Edge are documents of a great leader and composer in the making. Highly Recommended.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Necks: Mindset

The Necks (group)
Mindset (ReR; 2011)
Chris Abrahams (piano)
Lloyd Swanton (bass)
Tony Buck (drums)

The Necks have been on the rise the last few years. The recent global tours and wider availability of their music has helped spread the news of one of the worlds best kept secrets. The trio have a very specific and unique blend of minimalism and improvisation that rises above both jazz and experimental music.

Sometimes hard to describe to friends, I try to get them to imagine, Cecil Taylor, Philip Glass, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins locked in room to see what would evolve. Sometimes you can bring up the E.S.T. comparison but I have started to feel that the Swedish legends were actually only starting to reach the abstract heights The Necks have been creating for decades.

Built on two extended pieces, the new album, Mindset (ReR), continues their original aesthetic of slow building, highly intense, introspective pieces. But this time out there is more purpose and a heavy drive, with melodic and emotional moments that you can grab onto at various periods. The pieces settles into polar opposites - one of intense wrestle of spirit and body, the second an almost minimalist psychedelic journey through Stephen King's closet. 

"Rum Jungle" opens with a long, deep enveloping melody of all instruments at once. It's a wash of sound that become hypnotic and beautiful. Two thirds of the way through the trio turn on the atmospherics. Each instrument no longer sounds like what you think. "Rum Jungle" then rises to clattering conclusion. Like dropping off a cliff.

One of signatures to The Necks music--their ability to manipulate and create soundscapes that you thought weren't possible on these instruments. That becomes apparent on "Daylights." A piece which feels more like nighttime that morning lights. A gentle but encompassing number by which the listener is drawn in Eno or Aphex Twin-esque movements and free form crackles, plucking and other improvised expressions. "Daylights" seems to sit on top of a one note theme laid out beautifully midway through by Abrahmas. Later it does hit a sort of high gear towards the end before freezing to a close.

Mindset is surprisingly one of the shorter Necks albums in history but it still has all the elements of adventure and improvisation that make this trio one of the best forward thinking groups on scene today. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Curtis Mayfield: Super Fly (Original Soundtrack)

Curtis Mayfield
Super Fly (Curtom Records, 1972)
Arrangements and orchestrations: Johnny Pate

We've been listening to a lot of soul/funk records in recent weeks and one of those albums is the classic that has become a benchmark for both soul as well as soundtracks--Super Fly.

For Gordon Parks' legendary crime movie, Super Fly, Curtis Mayfield of the quintessential Chicago R&B band, the Impressions, recorded the greatest blaxploitation soundtrack ever — and certainly one of the best song-driven scores, period.

The film was a smash hit, but it may not have had such a substantial impact without Mayfield’s soulfully stirring funk score, released on his own Curtom Records. The album's sales outgrossed the movie's box office and launched two hit singles, "Freddie's Dead" (#2 R&B, #4 Pop) and "Super Fly" (#5 R&B, #8 Pop).

Already well known for his socially observant songwriting, Mayfield elevated Super Fly by providing songs that comment on the film’s story. Songs like “Little Child Runnin’ Wild,” “Pusherman” and “Freddie’s Dead” hit hard lyrically and with a melodic groove that never fails to hold one’s attention. Mayfield composed and performed on several other blaxploitation scores, but none measure up to his masterpiece.

Mayfield's not-so-secret weapon on Super Fly was Johnny Pate, another Chicago R&B legend, whose crack arrangements and orchestration give Mayfield's songs a healthy dose of gravitas. Pate went on to score some badass soundtracks as well, including one of the best of the blaxploitation genre, Shaft in Africa... but that's a story for next time.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dave Brubeck: Their Last Time Out

Dave Brubeck (piano)
Their Last Time Out (Columbia/Legacy; 2011)
Paul Desmond (sax)
Joe Morello (drums)
Eugene Wright (bass)

I seem to not write about the great Dave Brubeck enough. While other contemporaries have made waves on the piano or organ (Monk, Hancock, Smith or Young), Brubeck quietly grew in stature and popularity through consistent compositions and performances both on record and live.

His major quartet consists of Desmond, Morello and Wright--the group recording the jazz classic/benchmark, Time Out (Columbia; 1959). The quartet began recording together over a decade ago.

On December 26, 1667, the quartet would perform their very last concert together in Pittsburgh, PA (USA) and now the music is entitled Their Last Time Out. Brubeck had mentioned a few months earlier that he wanted to retire (that would later never happen). While there are a number of Brubeck concerts (a majority of them official releases), the obvious significance here is both "last" and Brubeck's greatest quartet.

This was a night where Brubeck and the group just let loose and kept swinging. Opening with the heavy-hitting "St. Louis Blues," led more by Morello's pounding beat, Desmond engrossed chords and Wright's infectious plucking, the piece will undoubtedly have in tapping your feet or getting you out of your seat to dance. "Take The "A" Train," one of Brubeck's favourite tunes has an even more poignant purpose on this evening. Each member is in smokin' form. Morello and Brubeck share some delightful and hard driving exchanges. It's wonderful to see the group having so much fun even as they know its their last gig together.

"You Go To My Head" displays all the bluesy romantic quality. Brubeck and Desmond are monstrous in a gentle way. Desmond's solo midway through is lush and emotional. This draws a stirring applause from the lucky audience. Brubeck's timing and performance is exceptional here. He notes a touching and radiant. "Set My People Free" written by Wright as a protest song to political and civil situation of the times, is powerful yet still maintain the traditional essence of the group. Brubeck and Wright swing in a gospel that fashion that will definitely have you saying amen!

And of course, the evening couldn't end without what had already become a classic standard in jazz history--"Time Out." Here though you get a lot improvising from Desmond and Morello along with a few extended solos. It's one of the stronger performances of the piece I have heard on a live recording. It's a ferocious version that even takes in a few Indian-theme chords by Desmond. Brubeck does his own bit of improvising toward the end of the piece. And the rest of group begin to follow until its raucous full-stop.

Their Last Time Out is magnificent and significant piece of history that must be heard by an jazz fan. It shows a great quartet swinging and improvising at the height of its powers but leaving us all wanting more...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Aram Shelton & Kjell Nordeson: Incline

Aram Shelton (sax)
Kjell Nordeson (drums)
Incline (Singlespeed Music; 2011)

Aram Shelton has been one of my favourite discoveries over the last few years. There's a forcefulness and deep intuitiveness to his performances that has always amazed me.

Kejell Nordeson is a terrific and inventive drummer whom I have followed since his days with Swedish outfit Aaly Trio (due to their recordings with Ken Vandermark).

It's no really surprise that these two creative forces finally found each other with their group Cylinder. The two minds are on a very distinct and similar wavelength.

While Cylinder is an improv masterclass, the duo's project, Incline (Singlespeed Music) is more a free-thinking sprawling yet very honed study of personal interplay. "Village" is an incredible opening track. A torrent of sound on par with David S. Ware/Andrew Cyrille. The piece builds rapidly as the two scream back and forth with notes that peel the skin from your eardrum. Fun, eh?!?

"Orbit" is more a solo outing for Nordeson as he picks, clangs, taps and pounds notes from the ether. Beautiful and investigating, it all flows nicely into "Test", a melodic piece that is percussive and emotional. Led by heavy, deep undertones from Shelton and Nordeson create a blossoming atmosphere that fills the space yet is completely free of structure.

"Rig" sees Shelton in the solo role. Here stretching and constructing notes paint a slow moving Jackson Pollack-esque picture. The piece is short but moves nicely into "Soles," a mountain of a piece that rips the top off of everything. Shelton and Nordeson seems to be in a completely higher plane. The piece gets louder and louder with the two seemingly melding into one until a gentle all-halt.

Incline is an album of multi-layered complexity. The unity between the Nordeson and Shelton is very apparent through each note. This is the duo that was long in the making but we are better off for it. Incline is another keen masterpiece in the history of both Aram Shelton and Kjell Nordeson.

This video features Cylinder but gives a great insight into the two musicians unique talents as well as a fascinating look at their quartet.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kevin Brow: Dolls & Guns

Kevin Brow (drums)
Dolls & Guns (Blackout Music; 2011)

Kevin Brow has created two fantastic albums in the last three years with his band Koptor. On his third outing (under his own name), Brow explores improvisations far reaching possibilities with illuminating success.

Dolls & Guns (Blackout Music) is enlightening mixture of classical and jazz chamber pieces between Brow and a 13 well chosen musicians (either instrumentalists and vocalists). You might expect there to varying degrees of success on each piece but I have to tell you, you couldn't be more wrong in that thinking. 

"Sometimes My Thoughts Sounds Like This" rolls and pounds out as a dueling tribal match between Brow and fellow drummer, Dan Weiss. The piece while short is really more an introduction to the diversity of the Dolls & Guns.

"Light Years" expands this rising crest of sound with Brow in the opening movements and then passing gently on to Jacob Anderskov's exquisitely soft, almost motionless piano. The space the artists leave between is earthy and haunting. Brow returns in the end with a fierce cause and effect statement as both musicians head to a fade out.

"Brain Washing" is probably more in line with some may know from Brow's previous associations. The counterpoint battle between the great Tim Berne and Kevin Brow here is beautiful and their improvising somehow welds itself into harmonic structure.

One of my favourite discoveries on the vocal side this year was that of Sissel Vera Pettersen (from Equilibrium). Her work her with Brow on two tracks "An Ancient Sport" "Elegant Strut" and are both delightful, pleasing and calm. Brow allows the Pettersen's voice and vocal manipulations to be the main focus of the piece while he adds a commanding beat in background or gentle taps and brushes around the outside of lyrics.

Longtime collaborator, Mikkel Ploug also participates with "Tnf Alpha vs Remicade". Both musicians and a bit of mysticism here that straddles both improvisation and indie-rock. An instrumental that Tortoise would be proud of.

Brow closes out the albums on an interesting note with "Green Tea." A solo piece. But not the soloist you'd expect. Here Brow has chosen Jacob Sacks (piano) to carry this extraordinary session out on a subtle and touching note. It's beautiful and it also show the breath and support Brow has given to his partners on this record. It is not just a Kevin Brow solo project--its ever one's project.

Dolls & Guns is a magnificent work that is not only a study of a musician and composer that is growing in stature. It is a document of leadership and creativity among individuals. Wonderful and moving stuff.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

1982 Trio

1982 Trio (group)
Nils Okland (fiddle, violin)
Oyvind Sharbo (drums)
Sigbjorn Apeland (Harmonium, Wurlitzer)

Different, distinctive and always captivating. 1982 is a trio that evolved out of three already highly acclaimed Norwegian musicians, Nils Okland, Oyvind Sharbo and Sigbjorn Apeland.

They have been on the improvisational scene for decades and have recorded a number release with each other in duo settings or with other musicians. Only four years ago did they finally band together to record as a trio.

The group's music is a combination of Norwegian folk, improvisation and atmospherics. There are elements of classical chamber music, third stream jazz and organic ethnicity that abounds throughout their work. The trio demands the listener's focus is squarely on the music, hence there are no song titles to allow you to conjure up preconceived notions of the songs origins or meanings.

1982's self titled debut, 1982 (Norcd; 2008), is a work of found ideas and movements that travels slowly but leaves indelible marks along the way. "6:42" rolls out brightly with Sharbo and Apeland practically spray-painting new colours and shapes around your ear. It's all in gentle tones that eventually moves into levitation, lead by Apeland and Okland with Sharbo improvising in and out of the piece.

"4:39" hangs heavy and infectious. Apeland's playing is like more forceful Eno circa Thursday Afternoon or Neroli. Sharbo and Okland intersect quietly on the piece but their minimalist contribution adds an addition mysticism to the piece. The epic "17:39" produces by a Cage-ian and Emerson Quartet quality. It's minimal yet full of life and spirit. You have to let your ear settle into stoic melodic melody before being full engulfed. A wonderful and forward thinking debut.

It wouldn't be until 2011 that 1982 would return to these fertile grounds (after a series of other projects) with Pintura (Hubro Music; 2011). "10:38" explores similar folkish territory but with more depth and richer structure than before. Okland's violin sound inspired and swirls with creative movement. Sharbo delivers a number of lovely touches, strokes and clangs that while improvised are vibrant intersections to the piece. 

"6:02" feels like a suite with all the appropriate tempos (allegro, andante, adagio). They are subtle but for me they are there. Distinct and well balanced, the harmonics elevate and carry you in a joyous manner.

"3:19" and "3:52" both sheds a different light on the trio. They are heavy pieces, "3:19" even having a bit of a backbeat thanks to Sharbo's pulsating kit. Apeland and Okland explore and extend some wonderful exchanges that have a touchingly Nordic while still providing an open adventure for the listener. "3:52" closes quietly but unexpectedly for me. I think it will leave you hanging on wanting more as well.

I have been absorbed with these two records just as I have been with Equilibrium who may be on a similar path as 1982. 1982 are a completely different trio. While working in the same sphere as other European musicians; they are balancing classic traditions and improvised themes to a perfect end.

This is beautiful work from a trio that may get together only occasionally, but every opportunity is worth the time for you to listen. Ranking as one of my favourite albums this year. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fred Lonberg-Holm & Piotr Melech: Coarse Day

Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello)
Piotr Melech (clarinet)

Coarse Day (Multikulti; 2011)

Avant garde duos are pretty prevalent at the moment, no matter what the instrument(s). But what makes the best ones stand out is the quality of the musicianship and the depth of the material.

As with my earlier discussion on the Daniel Levin/Tim Daisy release, The Flower and The BearFred Lonberg-Holm and Piotr Melech have created a richly diverse and highly challenging document that is both absorbing and thought provoking.

Lonberg-Holm, a member of various outfits in Chicago (most notably The Vandermark 5) and Melech, a growing presence of the Polish avant garde scene (including his trio Enterout) together, explore a strange world of soundscapes on Coarse Day. It's a densely packed session with movements that are multi-layered and demanding of the listener's concentration.

"Cloudburst" is pops and crackles with a sense of adventure. Lonberg-Holm maneuvers up and down the scales like a cat stuck in an aqueduct. Melech's clarinet(s) create an echo chamber that is both haunting and exhilarating. "Tangle Of Loops" feels almost anti-avant garde. I felt Longberg-Holm and Melech have a number of exchanges that are humorous and well improvised. My mind drifted into a jovial exploration into Raymond Scott (although I'm certain that was not the composers intentions). The use of electronics and sound manipulation on "Tangle Of Loops" gives the piece a schizophrenic edge that is genuinely exciting.

"Mildew Gourmets" moves out melodically in a somber spiritual pattern, similar to Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." It's hypnotic and relaxing tone is a calming departure point for the session and provides further insight into the duo's composition talents.

Coarse Day while challenging, is an album that once it sinks in--will become a fixture on your stereo. Lonberg-Holm and Melech have created an album that is filled with improvisation but also subtle accessibility that deserves intense listening. Haunting, beautiful and emotional.