Monday, December 23, 2013

Wadada Leo Smith: Occupy The World/Twine Forest

Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet)
Angelica Sanchez (piano)
Twine Forest (Clean Feed; 2013)
Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet)
Tumo Orchestra
Occupy The World (Tum Records; 2013)

Intimacy and intricacy are the best ways to describe two recent collaborations from Wadada Leo Smith this year. The first, with Tumo Orchestra and then in a duo session with pianist Anglecia Sanchez.

Occupy The World is another epic orchestral work with lots of improvisation and intense mood setting movements. Inspired by the global Occupy movement from the past few years, this session is not as enveloping as last years Ten Freedom Summers but it is just as broad in scope.

"Queen Hatshepsut" inspired by the Egyptian queen of the same name, is a piece flows up and down with rough chords from both Smith, the string section and Kantonen's fierce and sublime piano performance. The title track has various stages of deep reflection, as in the middle sections filled with atmospherics and free float trumpet lines.

In a similar inspirational voyage, Smith explores more intimacy with Angelica Sanchez on Twine Forest. The two have worked together for years, Sanchez is part of Smith's Golden Quartet and Organic group. Surprising that this is their first outing as a duo. Either way, it's bright, personal and highly captivating.

"Retinal Sand" sees Sanchez experimenting with the insides of the piano strings and Smith swirling with haunting accuracy. In addition to explosive outburst that blend seamlessly with the rolling and very punctuated notes from Sanchez. "In The Falls Of" while being improvised shapes itself into a lovely almost romantic ballad. The notes are soft with a melody and sparseness that stretches the piece and the imagination making for a devotional experience.

Two excellent sessions featuring similar deep, inspiring thoughts but with very clear distinction and execution. Wadada Leo Smith makes clear that with Occupy The World and Twine Forest, he is one of the most creative and prolific composers among his elder statesman colleagues on the scene today.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mary Halvorson: Illusionary Sea

Mary Halvorson (guitar)
Illusionary Sea (Firehouse 12 Records; 2013)
Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet)
Ches Smith (drums)
John Hebert (bass)
Jon Irabagon (alto sax)
Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax)
Jacob Garchik (trombone)

With Illusionary Sea, Mary Halvorson has taken another leap forward in both her compositions and leadership. This expansive septet rich combines the versatile structure of the New York scene to date. Halvorson's jazz and rock aesthetics blend seamlessly into the tradition and always exploding free forms of her bandmates--with wondrous results.

At times the combination raised eerie images of the Count Basie's Band led by Sonny Sharrock. Halvorson gives her friends/band mates all the freedom they need to mold her compositions. This is present on the fun and vivid "Four Pages Of Robots." A rousing mixture of jagged tempos, scattered percussion and later, blues elements. These are juxtaposed against Halvorson's investigative chords that splice there way into the piece when you least expect it. Superb.

While complex themes are always a trademark of Halvorson's work, "Nairam" is something different in the Halvorson cannon. It's contains all the usual twists and turns in the structure. But this piece is more lyrical and compassionate. It's a composition that could easily have words applied to it and still remain emotionally resonant. Garchik and Finlayson raise above on this number but Halvorson's direction and steady chords are what draw you to the undercurrent of the song. A highly effective piece.

There's so much within Illusionary Sea to explore that we could write about every track. But its really important for you the listener to absorb this on your own. It's one of the best Mary Halvorson records to date. That includes her work with her own bands as well as with other various groups. With Illusionary Sea, Mary Halvorson has shown another enthusiastic step beyond the critical praise (she richly deserved) into one of the most important leaders and musicians in the current working scene today. Highly Recommended. And one of JazzWrap's albums of the year.