Monday, December 24, 2012

Anat Cohen: Claroscuro

Anat Cohen (clarinet, sax)
Claroscuro (Anzic Records; 2012)
Jason Linder (piano)
Danile Freedman (drums)
Joe Martin (bass)

I don't own a lot of Anat Cohen's music. Which actually see a bit of mistake on my part, that needs correcting. With a love colour, Anat Cohen has always created a sensual a fun palette with each record. On her most recent, Claroscuro, she delivers another multi-faceted affair. With her mainstay bandmates Linder, Freedman and Martin and the addition of Wycliffe Gordon, Gilmar Gomes and Paquito D'Rivera on selected tracks, Cohen moves from various themes with Brazilian, African and New Orleans influences.

Cohen takes us on a journey with playful imagines and lovely blues melodies on "La Vie En Rose." With Gordon taking on the classic vocals. At first, I was a little taken aback as didn't read the credits and was expecting an instrumental. As it turns out the vocals work perfectly. Cohen's tone is delightful, airy and caring. "Nightmare' (the classic Artie Shaw tune) is transformed by the transcendent melody of Cohen's clarinet and melodic yet groove-filled pace of Martin's fingers along the bass.

"Kick Off" is a Cohen original and I love the rhythm and percussion that dominates the piece. It's slow building and the Gomes adds a lot of detail to the conversation with Cohen. It's intense and very much a tune for introspection. "Anat's Dance" similarly shows the versatility of Cohen as leader and musician. While the tune was written by Linder, it is very much Cohen's piece. But she gives each member an opportunity to move freely in and out the lines. This is a group that knows each other very well and their freedom shows on this piece and through the session.

So, another bright session at a close. Claroscuro is an exciting, lively and fresh work that should be in the hands of as many jazz fans a possible. It took me a long time to discover Anat Cohen's music but I have never been disappoint by anything I've heard. Well all the time and effort seeking out.

Friday, December 21, 2012

PascAli: Suspicious Activity

Pascal Niggenkemper (bass)
Sean Ali (bass)
Suspicious Activity (Creative Sources Recordings; 2012)

Pascal Niggenkemper has been on my radar for the last year or so, thanks to some fantastic albums as leader and co-leader. He's shown calm skill as a bassist and a unique sense of imagination as a composer.

With Suspicious Activity, he has teamed with fellow bassist, Sean Ali, to craft twelve short sets of improvised yet well structured pieces for prepared bass. The results are intense and superbly performed.

The track names might be arbitrary and sometimes funny/ironic, but it's the emotion and soundscapes that the two musicians conjure which will really capture your attention. "Endpin" refers to the standing spike at the bottom of the bass or cello. I'm really wondering if its this that is creating the sound or not. But either way it's very interesting to see what they have chosen to do with it. It's an opening piece that describes the creative spirit on display over the next 40 minutes.

Percussion is in the air on "Chinese Mask," with one bassist taking on the pounding and plucking in rhythmic time. And the other advancing in a darker lyric fashion. "Machines" feels like typewriters and sewing machines in battle. It slowly builds and becomes faster and faster, each musician finding space spinning a similar tale on fierce sportsmanship.

"Kissing" is an extended piece in which both bassists seem to have turned into muted trumpets with staccato breath movements. It's very eerie and exciting. The same could be said for "Witch Tricks," as it climbs a high mountain of sound. The basses are scratched, screwed and stretched to far and deep ends, that at times becomes a combination of short wave radio and saxophone harmonics.

Suspicious Activity is an intense session. It's the album that only you might enjoy. It's the album that will annoy the neighbors, eliminate the bad people from your party and influence people. Suspicious Activity is the beautiful document of the vocabulary of sound and space. Highly Recommended.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Norris Trio: 300

Norris Trio
300 (Enonane Records; 2012)
Enrique Norris (piano; trumpet)
Pablo Diaz (drums)
Cristian Bortoli (bass)

Argentine trio The Norris Trio have been on the South American jazz scene since 2007 but have a distinct modern quality that should appeal to fans in both hemispheres. A blend of classic bop and free jazz, built in the same tradition as Dennis Gonzalez, The Norris Trio provides an exciting listening experience. Especially when you've been given a dose of the trio's fourth album, 300.

"La Risa Del Eco" is fueled by sharp lines from Norris and an insatiable rhythm laid out by Diaz. Norris' trumpet lines have an elegance of Dizzy Reece or Clifford Brown - bright and crisp. Bortoli's bass rises as the piece moves into the middle stages. The trio turns quieter and extends into more improvisational exchanges while still managing to keep a traditional edge. Wonderful stuff.

"Tres Pronosticos" and "P.M." both provide element free movement and minimalism. The added touch of keyboards on "Tres Pronoosticos" makes the track a little ominous. While "P.M." may refer to that late night dream that keeps you up til all hours, the rampaging drums and circular tones of Bartoli and Norris will pull you into a violent black hole. But it's probably worth it.

"A veer" is as the title suggests, a slight change in direction. A stoic ballad in minimal notes. Norris and Diaz utilize the space between and during their exchanges, and Bortoli weaves his way back and forth. The echos of Diaz' drum kit add a hauntingly beautiful flavour to session.

There are times when The Norris Trio can sound like some of the best trio and quartets of the hard bop era. But then you realize this is only the foundation. Then you listen closer and you can hear the adventurous nature in every tune. The Norris Trio, I hope, will gain more traction among a wider audience in the coming year. This is a trio that has probably been a secret for far too long. 300 is a definitely must listen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Max Richter: Vivaldi Four Seasons Recomposed

Max Richter (conductor, composer)
Recomposed: Vivaldi Four Seasons (Deutsche Grammophon)
Daniel Hope (violin)
Konzerthaus Orchester

Every few years or so, classical labels due their best to make the genre more accessible to younger audiences. Yes, a marketing ploy. But a marketing ploy that I've always agreed with. I don't always like the choices that are made, but the idea of spreading the word about some of the greatest musical pieces ever written, I completely agree with. With the most recent entry into this realm, Max Richter's Vivladi: Four Seasons Recomposed, quite easily is one of the best and beautifully visionary approaches for a new generation.

Richter, best known for his soundtrack work and some very intriguing minimalist electronic compositions, takes a bold approach to Vivaldi's classic benchmark. Previous entries in the ongoing Recomposed series (this is the sixth entry) have focused more on a modern electronic interpretations. Richter has decided to stay in the classical area and simply re-imagine the piece altogether.

Richter brings a modern urgency to a piece that already embodies the highest degree of fervor. While the opening movement "Spring" brings the joy and rise of a new season it's second movement is what illustrates Richter's imaginative spirit. A slow, calm passage with accentuation by the emotional delivery of the Daniel Hope.

The movement "Summer" could stand alone as its own album. Moving through both the peaceful and violent nature of what this season can bring, the final movement is brash and cinematic. In many ways it stays close to the original writings of the piece. And is sublimely turned on its head by the ambient outro.

As you would expect the crowning (and probably most debated) piece would be "Autumn." Richter again uses the original theme but slightly turns it in ways most listeners won't notice. A delicate balance and very reverent. The orchestra perform with absolute grace and even exude an element of fun that is very audible. "Winter," another revered piece (heard on almost every jewelry commercial) is treated in a similar fashion. Scaling immense heights early but closing with a third movement that is absorbing and highly effective. A wonderful conclusion to a subtle yet invigorating re-interpretation.

Max Richter has done a brilliant job creating an new atmosphere for a beloved and legendary piece. Bringing Vivaldi's Four Seasons into the modern age and making it exciting for new listeners. Recomposed is a highly recommend and demanding piece of music you should rush out and purchase--now.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Eric Revis: Parallax

Eric Revis (bass)
Parallax (Clean Feed; 2012)
Ken Vandermark (sax, clarinet)
Nasheet Waits (drums)
Jason Moran (piano)

So I'm really writing this as I listen. I'm so excited that I wanted to immediately start talking about this record. Four incredible musicians on the scene today. And two of my favourite musicians of the modern era (Vandermark and Moran) joining forces under the direction of Eric Revis to create a cinematic and powerful document of free jazz.

This really unbelievable line-up formed in 2009 briefly for a few shows in New York before actually putting pen to chart in the studio. But the results of this session, Parallax, are some of the best you will have heard all year. And what better time for it to arrive than the final few weeks of the year. 

The opening "Prelusion" and "Hyperthral" present the combination of styles of the modern free movement and the crisp traditions each musician inhabits. Revis' composition tone is calm but always with a crisp sense of experimentalism through the spectrum. The trio of Vandermark, Waits and Moran sounds quite commanding and mature with Moran and Waits tearing through lines at a fierce pace. Vandermark sounds brilliant in an almost laid back manner than previous sessions.

"MXR" is a pounding march led by Vandermark (on clarinet), Waits and Revis. It's fun yet tricky intertwined lines provide a challenging but fruitful listen. "Celestial Hobo" is a well structured improvised piece. Revis allows each musician an opportunity chart a course that is introspective and works the lines of the tunes dedication to author Robert Kaufman.

"Winin' Boy Blues" sees the quartet gently reworking the Jelly Roll Morton classic. It's a beautiful Sunday Morning blues sent through a corkscrew. The group rise to the top of this piece with superb performances. This is one number I would love to see live.

Eric Revis doesn't have a lot titles as leader. He is widely known as an essential band member. But with Parallax, Revis has entered the realm of significant composer. This session is simply outstanding and should not be missed by any jazz fan; you don't get a set of musicians together like this in today's modern scene. Don't miss out. Parallax is one of the best records of the year. Highly Recommended!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Celebrating Dave Brubeck

In celebration of his life and music I thought it would be nice to revisit this column again. Dave your music will live with us always.

Dave Brubeck (piano; b. 1920 - 2012)

The Definitive Dave Brubeck (Concord Records; 2010)
Legacy Of A Legend (Columbia/Legacy Recordings; 2010)

For many, Dave Brubeck may only be known for his iconic and landmark album, Time Out--definitely one of the most important jazz albums in history. But there is so much more to Dave Brubeck that you need to hear, see and know. Two new compilations and a documentary by Clint Eastwood chronicle this living legend as he celebrates his 90th birthday. Trust me he doesn't look 90 or even play like he's 90.

This former veterinarian student turned jazz legend began penning material as a young college student. A style that is both swinging, upbeat, hard bop and classically proficient has captivated audiences since his first recordings in 1948. His is one of the few jazz musicians to appear on the cover Time magazine (a huge deal back in the day). His "everyman" clean-crisp performing was a major hit among college students and has continued to appeal to masses of all ages today. He is not to be missed if he comes to your town.

There are outstanding individual albums that you should pick up if you really want to get a good vibe on Dave Brubeck. But if you are interested in the basics and in today's economy this is the norm, I would highly recommend the two recently released compilations. Together they both cover the significant moments of Dave Brubeck's career. And from the economic standpoint it won't set up back a lot of money either.

The Definitive Dave Brubeck (Concord Recordings) cover two separate periods ('42 - '53) and ('82 - '04). Yes, there's a big gap there but I'll get to it in a moment. The material on The Definitive Dave Brubeck documents the "artists as a young man", mainly for the Fantasy Records label, now owned by Concord Music. Brubeck is exploring mostly standards in the first two decades but it was the manner in which he and his group performed them that made his group a successful tour outfit.

In their hands standards like "This Can't Be Love," "That Old Black Magic," "The Way You Look Tonight" and "All The Things You Are" were transformed into majestic beauty while other jazz musicians were playing it safe or working on deconstructing meters. This isn't to say Brubeck accessible or palatable. He was making this standards technically brilliant in a way that left listeners awe struck.

Leap forward a few decades and Brubeck is now the elder statesmen of jazz piano. His recordings during this period span two labels (Concord and Telarc). The last three decades has seen Brubeck composing symphonic material as well as his own material mixed in with delightful standard repertoire (of which now many of his material has become e.g. "Blue Rondo a la Turk" and "Take Five").

This era finds Brubeck in continued fine form if not better. New renditions of material such as "Koto Song," "Forty Days" and "Waltzing" and the albums during this period show a composer and performer with sheer confidence and aggressively pushing his themes forward and challenging his musicians to follow. Right now Brubeck is probably at his best. At 90!

The aptly titled Legacy Of A Legend (Columbia/Legacy Recordings) spans the most well known period of Brubeck career 1954 - 1970. This is the time period Brubeck writing and performances exploded. For jazz fans it is the era of arguably the greatest quartet, Paul Desmond (sax), Eugene Wright (bass) and Joe Morello (drums) that produced the landmark Time Out album.

While tracks from that album are highlight on Legacy Of A Legend, it is the other material that I would ask you pay more attention to. "Take A Chance On Love," " "Evenin'" with the legendary vocalist Jimmy Rushing, "Out Of Nowhere" with Gerry Mulligan and countless other tracks in this collection solidify this excellence as a musician and composer. There is also a great live version of "Mr. Broadway" from the legendary concert album Buried Treasures recorded in Mexico during the Classic Quartet's final tour.

The tracks on Legacy Of A Legend were personally chosen by Brubeck. It makes for interesting listening to see how the artist perceives his work. But this isn't an experiment is self-indulgence. This is moment for you the listener to hear an artist in prime and prolific form. A great overview indeed.

The documentary, Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way airs in the US and possibly the rest of the world starting December 6th, Brubeck's birthday, and should not be missed. Dave Brubeck is the quintessential jazz artists that if you are going to own only a few jazz records--you must own something by Brubeck. While I've said in here and in the past, the individual albums are a must--but if you have to you can't go wrong with both of these collection. They are great primers and offer a huge window into one of the greatest legends of jazz. Happy Birthday Dave!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hugo Carvalhais: Particula

Hugo Carvalhais (bass)
Particula (Clean Feed; 2012)
Emile Parisien (sax)
Mario Costa (drums)
Gabriel Pinto (piano)
Dominique Pifarely (violin)

In the last year I have become a massive fan of the exceptionally talented composer/musician, Hugo Carvalhais. His debut, Nebulosa, was one of JazzWrap's best albums of 2012. And yes, guess what, his new album, Particula, delivers the same kind of results and better.

With Particula, Carvalhais creates specific structures within very dense space. This is an album that lies somewhere between minimalism, fusion and chamber, but with all sorts creativity hiding in unsuspected places. "Chrysalis" peers into dark matter to bring forth a beautiful and introspective spirit which emanates from each instrument. Man focus being Pinto and Pifarely until the rest of group begin to intersect.

"Capsule" is possibly the most contemporary piece on Particula. With miniature melodies from Pinto and well place notes from Carvalhais all woven together early on by Pifarely and Costa, this a gorgeous piece that soon moves from contemporary to free form but still maintains a sense structure.

"Amniotic" is just as it refers and it's a great closing tone for the album. It's the same return to the dark, insular place that holds the sound in. Short bursts from Parisien, plucks from Pifarely and electronic waves from both Carvalhais and Pinto make this a eerie but special outgoing number.

The spirit and sense of adventure within the darkness is probably what draws me Hugo Carvalhais compositions. But either way Particula is one of those extremely special albums from a quickly important figure on the European scene. Highly Recommended. And one of JazzWrap favourite albums of 2012.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Intersection: The Souljazz Orchestra

The Intersection: An ongoing feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that have blended jazz, world and electronica in new and highly creative ways.

The Souljazz Orchestra
Solidarity (Strut Records; 2012)

Funky for sure. Soulful, certainly. Growing with grace and hard-edge maturity...definitely. Canadian outfit, The Souljazz Orchestra have infused Latin, Caribbean, funky and greasy Lou Donaldson style grooves into their music for almost a decade now.
Solidarity, is a grittier outing and continues the socio-political vibe that all their albums inhabit. The massive floor-burning, "Conquering Lion," fills the air with infectious African percussion and commanding horns. There's really no way not to start dancing once you hear this piece. An anthem and a statement that the ensemble is back and better than ever.
"Jericho" and "Cartao Postal" both provide a ferocious reggae and humorous samba message about social inadequacies and upon further listens make you really want to go out and make some effective change in your environment. "Cartao Postal" delivers a more raw cultural groove while "Jericho encompasses all the political dub you would expect from this multi-cultural ensemble.
Solidarity is another brilliant step forward for The Souljazz Orchestra. There are very few groups on the scene today on this side of the Atlantic that can do this and do it right. Global grooves with a message that is never hidden and never overwhelming to the music as a whole. Excellent and worth seeking out.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Animation: Transparent Heart

Animation (quintet)
Transparent Heart (RareNoise; 2012)
Bob Belden (saxophone, flute)
Jacob Smith (bass)

Matt Young (drums)
Peter Clagett (trumpet)
Roberto Verastegui (keyboards)

Another stellar outing from Bob Belden and his exciting collective, Animation. While the groups groundwork may be laid in Miles Davis' fusion era material, Belden continues to make this ensemble sound like more like an on ramp to the future as oppose to a bridge between past and present.

The groups latest, Transparent Heart is an urban soundscape, with a lyrical structure that exemplifies the city which gives the group so much inspiration, New York. "Urbanoia" and "Transparent Heart" both are crisp, sharp takes on the cities inhabitants with all its hustle and bustle. Crashing drums, drifting hypnotic tones from Belden and Clagett shape the mood of both pieces. Verastegui's Hancock-meets-Corea keys draw an ocean current for the band ripple across. Dark and pulsating but with a real angular beauty.

"Provocatism" leds off some funky bass work from Smith which is soon met with battle lines from Young and Belden, placing a beautiful scripture to journey across various avenues of the city. "Occupy" refers to the semi-global movement that took over New York in which many were finally fed up with the status quo and decided that the people must speak. The piece gentle but conveys a lyrical voice that screams and demands your attention.

Transparent Heart again shows the compositional excellence of Bob Belden. But also the exquisite musicianship of Animation the group and their continued vigilance to making music with purpose and direction. Highly Recommended.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ireneusz Socha: Polin

Ireneusz Socha (electronics, percussion, found sound)
Polin (Mathka; 2012)
Jarosław Bester (bayan)
Jarosław Lipszyc (voice)

Laid somewhere between experimental, folk and history lesson, Polin is a masterful short work developed over a seven year period by Ireneusz Socha. Based around the heritage of Polish Jews, Ireneusz Socha crafts a delicate narrative through all sorts of found sounds, klezmer dialogues, electronics and sampled vocals. It's quite an enjoyable and spiritual journey.

Polin, while set as one continuous piece is broken into a number of short movements that might be slightly unnoticeable but all intensely satisfying. Early on, there is a skilled combination of various outside sounds seamlessly woven into the percussion and vocal elements. This all makes for a wildly different picture of Jewish culture over almost a span of two centuries.

The instrumentation moves from samples to electronics and textures that move up and down along with the bayan, a beautiful almost rarely used instrument. The tone of piece swirls and leaves a psychedelic nature lingering in the listeners mind as you flow toward the pieces final movements.

A great and detailed message lies within this recording. It's rich in heritage and exudes creative structure. Probably not every ones cup of tea. There's a lot going on that needs a few spins to absorb but this is a fantastic piece that deserves your undivided attention. Polin is a real must listen.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ivar Grydeland: Bathymetric Modes

Ivar Grydeland (guitar, electronics)
Bathymetric Modes (Hubro Music; 2012)

Over the last decade, Ivar Grydeland has recorded and performed on some exciting albums. Whether it's been with Dans les arbres, Ballrogg, Huntsville and more, Grydeland's beautifully textured atmospheric folk tones have graced and enhanced an number of sessions.

On his surprisingly, first (essentially) solo album, Bathymetric Modes, Grydeland shows the same grace and spacious adventure that makes many of his sessions captivating. Joined by members whom he has worked with over the years, on a couple of tracks, Bathymetric Modes feels right at home and quick to absorb as a first time listener.

"Roll" has an intriguing mixture of Brazilian and European themes which are both cold and intoxicating. A folkish quality that projects an image of a long car ride across country. Fast paced with countryside imagery.

With "Bounce" you can sense the elements of his previous works as well as shades of Steve Riech or John Abercrombie. This is a luscious fusion of space and continuous harmonic structures. As the piece moves into its middle stages the electronics take hold and it becomes angelic and transcending.

Bathymetric Modes is a real surprise for me. I did expect to like it from the first spin. But what I didn't expect was how consistently I would come back to it. Time and time again. A late entry to one of my albums of the year. Simply fantastic.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rob Mazurek: Stellar Pulsations

Rob Mazurek (trumpet)
Stellar Pulsations (Delmark; 2012)
John Herndon (drums)
Angelica Sanchez (piano)
Matthew Lux (bass)

Rob Mazurek consistently shows that he is a multi-faceted thinker. Like fellow Chicagoan, Ken Vandermark, Mazurek leads various ensembles and his latest, Pulsar Quartet, just might be one of his best.

Consisting of members of his Exploding Star Orchestra, Mazurek sets out on a journey that contains his usual avant garde spirit but this time with pieces that are more lyrical in nature. Reflective more of a straight forward hard bop ethos than many of his previous outfits. Stellar Pulsations revolves around a number of themes related to space and time.

"Primitive Jupiter" opens the session with excitement and ferocity. Herndon and Sanchez shine with bright, brash chords and beats that cut along Mazurek's well placed kinetic notes. "Magic Saturn" goes in the opposite direction. A delightful ballad that highlights the ability for this quartet to shift gears from the fierce avant garde to emotionally effective song structures. Mazurek's tone felt like late period Miles Davis. Lux and Sanchez perform with a subtle grace that give the piece a light hue throughout the closing passages.

The European feel of "Spanish Venus" excels with an interesting balance of minimalist vision infused by tango motifs. Mazurek's sound is romantic. While the rest of the group portrays a more darker approach. All culminating in wonderful conversation of sound and imagery. "Folk Song Neptune" is another ballad circling around soft descriptions and tones. The quartet led by the exchanges of Sanchez and Mazurek here sounded reminiscent of Keith Jarrett's best quartet sessions.

With Stellar Pulsations, Rob Mazurek has again shown that he is one of the exciting, experimental and under appreciated composers in the American jazz scene. But he is quickly becoming one of my favourites. And the Pulsar Quartet have made of the best sessions this year that fans of both contemporary and free jazz can enjoy. Stellar Pulsations is superb!

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Intersection: Hercules And Love Affair

The Intersection: is an ongoing feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that have blended jazz, world and electronica in new and highly creative ways.

Hercules And Love Affair (group)
DJ Kicks (!K7 Records; 2012)

Some how Andy Butler, founding member of the electronic outfit, Hercules and Love Affair, has perfectly blended disco/soul motifs from 80s and 90s house/soul into 21st Century modern dance music.

While their two studio albums have these influences as well elements that remind me of 80s outfits Quando Quango and Section 25 (and a looser extent, E.S.G.), their recent adventure into the K7 DJ Kicks series is a slightly different journey altogether.

This DJ mix collection is a wonderful and deeper look into the groups influences that helped build the modern twist that is now Hercules And Love Affair. The mix is well balanced concoction where past and present turn into the future-perfect. "Don't Keep Me Waiting" an underground classic by Mankind has a sultry Chic-like vocal and is layered with a four keyboard line that is forward-thinking for the dancefloor. Hercules And Love Affair's lone contribution to this collection, the sexy "Release Me" is filled with drums and late night vocals about letting love leave. Sweaty, sexy and romantic.

Fax Yourself's "Strut Your Techno Stuff" is a friendly reminder how playful and forceful house music can sometimes feel. Great samples, handclaps and dark basslines make this a killer piece no matter what time it is during your party. "Magojiro" by In Flagranti is weird soulful electronica with lots of subtle undertones. In the latter stages the piece warps into "A Bit Of Redemption" from Haze Factory with heavy thumping bass and psychotic synth patterns.

The DJ Kicks series is always a killer set of well chosen tunes that allow you a light insight of what artist are thinking. Hercules And Love Affair show that their DJ Kicks spans the dancefloor, the heart and the bedroom. This is a great collection and well worth checking out.

Monday, November 5, 2012

1982+BJ Cole

1982 (trio)
1982+BJ Cole (Hubro Music; 2012)
Nils Okland (violin, fiddle)
Sigbjorn Appland (harmonium)
Oyvind Skarbo (drums)
BJ Cole (pedal steel guitar)

The trio 1982 formed through various collaborations and duo sessions each of the members has previously done is now what appears to be a fully functional and consistent trio. Their style weaves between atmospheric, minimal and classical chamber trios. 1982 is all about the structure of sound, creating the image for the listener. This is enhanced by the absence of song titles.

On their newest release, they are joined by pedal guitarist, BJ Cole for the simply titled, 1982+BJ Cole. Cole's addition gives the trio a more dynamic and expansive structure. The first two pieces "9:03" and "4:22", both illustrate a new, full vision for the group. "9:03" inhabits the similar ethereal nature the group constructed over its previous two albums with shifting patterns and harmonics that are breath-taking and enchanting. "4:22" is a nice balance of experimentalism and Cole's swirling sense of lonesome guitar.

"5:21" is touching, with Okland and Skarbo standing out with excellent repetitive lines and calculated percussion. This is augmented wonderfully by Cole and Appland, creating a lovely and steadied melody. "4:00" emotes a minimalism that is reminiscent of Steve Reich. It reverberates in a humble and subtle fashion that becomes more beautiful as the piece moves forward.

Again, 1982 has put together a brilliant set of soundscapes that are magnificent to hear but also intriguing once you dig deeper into it on repeated spins. This collaboration with BJ Cole only highlights the skill of this trio once more. Another strong reason why 1982 is one of those unheard groups that needs to be heard. A real must have album. And a highly recommended one from me. And one of my albums of the year!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Platform 1: Takes Off

Platform 1 (quintet)
Takes Off (Clean Feed; 2012)
Magnus Broo (trumpet)
Ken Vandermark (sax)
Steve Swell (trombone)
Joe Williamson (bass)
Michael Vatcher (drums)

Another couple of weeks and another excellent project featuring some of the best on the Free Jazz scene. Platform 1 is an international combination that has worked together in various forms (most recently as Resonance Ensemble). But what makes Takes Off slightly different is the freedom in which the musicians create and utilize the space around them to superb effect.

"Portal #33" had shades of Vandermark's main outfit, The Vandermark 5. The sound is fast paced but with a fun well-intended groove. Williamson, Swell and Vatcher are killer. The piece swerves with more improvised lines towards latter portions before Broo and Williamson lead the quintet gently out.

This gives way to a steady, quiet and introspective "Stations," in which Broo's passages have a sweet delicate beauty to them. Williamson has a great quiet solo towards the end that is later joined by Vandermark. Really touching harmonies of dedication.

"Deep Beige/For Derek's Kids," a double melodic suite written by both Williamson and Swell, moves with dark entrancing tones through subtle notes from the horn section and some free movement by Vandermark on clarinet. This first portion lulls the listener into a quiet sense of abandon.

The mood becomes slightly more open and spacious with the second movement. Swell adds a blues-like touch that soon ventures into a very calculated abstraction and cacophony of the final album track "In Between Chairs." An excellent closing number that brings the session full circle with a boisterous bit humour but also a solid sense that Platform 1 could be one of Vandermark's more adventurous groups going forward. Solid stuff worth your listening pleasure.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Wadada Leo Smith/Louis Moholo-Moholo: Ancestors

Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet)
Louis Moholo-Moholo (drums)
Ancestors (Tum Records Oy; 2012)

A spiritual journey filled with verve and creativity. Surprisingly the first collaborative meeting between Wadada Leo Smith and Louis Moholo-Moholo. Both have worked together in various combinations but never alone - together. So this meeting and document, Ancestors, has a real sense of excitement with possibilities that are endless and intriguing.

On the opener, "Moholo-Moholo/Golden Spirit," both artists give their respective upbringing's credits. Leo Smith's southern roots provide a blues-like hue tied next to Moholo-Moholo's rich African tradition. The introspective spirit and deeply passionate tones create an ominous texture that slowly pulls you into their world. "Jackson Pollock-Action" is more a free flowing experiment between the two musicians, finding various jumping off points that create short motifs that shine with each sporadic note. 

The epic title "Ancestors" is a suite of five improvised movements. Part 2& 3 add touches of melody and groove intertwined with their improvised moments. While the closing movements (4& 5) are a more determined piece of African percussion and poetic adventure. Leo Smith's fast and steady pace in the begining is a powerful harmonic force only tempered in the final movement by Moholo-Moholo's vocal tribute to greats past and present.

In the past twelve months Wadada Leo Smith has been an inspiring form. A stellar selection of diverse releases that are all worth digging into. Ancestors is no exception. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii: Muku

Natsuki Tamura (trumpet)
Satoko Fujii (piano)
Muku (Libra Records; 2012)

Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura are improvisers on the same level of exploration as Morton Feldman and Sylvie Courvoisier. Their work together is far-reaching and minimalistic but provide a hidden harmonies that slowly open up to the listener.

Over the span of four albums they have continued to expand on these themes in various ways. On their fifth album Muku, Fujii and Tamura go deeper and further than before.

Muku is a haunting and imaginative mixture of compositional structures. The pieces seem simple on the outset, before growing more complex as you move forward. "Dune And Star" open this passageway with dark, subtle tones from Tamura with suspenseful and palpitating notes provided by Fujii. All this results in a sublime but easily digestible piece experimental chamber music in a duo setting.

"Muku" should give anyone a chill. It quietly creeps inside and might even bring a tear and sense of sadness to you. A ballad that is delicately structured and resonates across the entire session. "Clone" is vibrant but still carries an improvised structure. Fujii has a number rolling hypnotic lines while Tamura lays a palate of diverse hues making it a ferocious ending to very calm, experiment driven journey.

Always challenging Natsuki Tamura and Satoko Fujii once again create a document that can be enjoyed on various levels. While not everyone may like the improvised pieces, there are elements of subtle beauty laid throughout Muku that should make this a richly satisfying experiment for those seeking something different to listen to right now.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Jacam Manricks: Cloud Nine

Jacam Manricks (sax)
Cloud Nine (Posi-Tone; 2012)
Sam Yahel (organ)
Adam Rogers (guitar)
Matt Wilson (drums)

I really hadn't listen to much from Jacam Manricks. I had seen his music around town and seen his name a few random times on bills for different clubs. But for some reason it just never stuck. Until I sat and finally listened to his fourth album on Posi-Tone, Cloud Nine. It is simply fantastic and maintains close contemporary themes.

Manricks' compositions are rich and sophisticated. "Cloud Nine" introduces a strong, romantic and very tight set of musicians. Rogers and the always superb, Yahel set a quiet but impulsive tone that sits just underneath Manricks chords.

On "Take The Five Train" Manricks tears across the sheet music with some urgent lines that show that he can really move with the best of his contemporaries. His opening solo could have been the entire song and I would have recommended it. Yahel's accompaniment stays close but never overtakes the leader. The number is a real standout.

"Alibis And Lullabies" features some lovely interchanges with guest trumpeter, David Weiss. It's an idyllic piece with great passages from Yahel that are subtle in nature. The main focus for most listeners will be on Weiss and Manricks. Wilson shines on "Loaf," an uptempo piece with Manricks coming in loud and clear. He has real command of the setting. Here he lets Rogers ride through most of the tune. And Roges delivers with a full bodied performance that  is deep with harmony.

Cloud Nine is an uplifting and emmensely satisfying effort from a sill young and growing talent. Jacam Manricks, while being one to watch is most certainly one to start spreading the news after you've experienced it. Great stuff.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fred Hersch: Alive At The Vanguard

Fred Hersch (piano)
Alive At The Vanguard (Palmetto Records; 2012)
John Hebert (bass)
Eric McPherson (drums)

On a typical cold night in February a friend of mine and I made our what seems annual pilgrimage to see Fred Hersch play a series of dates at the legendary Village Vanguard.

Seeing Hersch live in any configuration is always going to be exciting and celebratory. Where as his solo performances are obviously more intimate and personal, in the trio setting he really lets loose and creates a sense of vitality with each performance.

This series of performances are captured splendidly on Alive At The Vanguard. "Tristesse" is a sweet tribute to the late drummer, Paul Motian. It's a ballad the embodies everything Motian projected. The piece is well crafted with subtle harmonies and a soft tone of haunting beauty.

Hersch's own "Dream Of Monk" and the Sonny Rollins classic "Doxy" are both pure delights. Hersch's intimacy and detail shine on these two pieces. The influence of both legends can be felt in the humour of "Dream Of Monk" and romantic blues-like flow of "Doxy." Hebert and McPherson give the "Doxy" a bit more jump allowing you to focus and the feel the tunes emotional impact. 

Some cool beats and fast complex notes inhabit, "Jackalope." Hebert and McPherson ignite a very uptempo rhythm for Hersch to playfully swerve in and out. Probably the fiercest track on this set, it's a compelling piece wrapped in a few layers infectious funky little notes delivered by the trio.

Combining two classic Hammerstein and Monk tunes, "The Song Is You/Played Twice" is a soft and tender touch of genius. The trio go from a compassionate slow down version of the classic "Song..." to a wonderful improvised jaunt of "Twice," that has all the energy of a Monk number. And an excellent way to close out the night.

This live session was great to see. I have no idea if any of the songs are from the night I went but its great to have a tangible memory of it. A solid document of a week long run at the legendary club. This very well could be my favourite live album from Fred HerschAlive At The Vanguard is definitely one of my albums of the year. Highly Recommended!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Igor Lumpert / Martin Kuchen

Igor Lumpert (sax)
Innertextures Live (Clean Feed; 2012)
Nasheet Waits (drums)
Christopher Tordini (bass)

Trespass Trio 
Bruder Beda (Clean Feed; 2012)
Martin Kuchen (sax)
Per Zanussi (bass)
Raymond Strid (drums)

Two divergent releases from Portuguese label, Clean Feed, filled my listening over the last few days. And they are both worth checking out for different reasons.

Born in Slovenia but raised on the diverse traditions of both American and European Jazz, Igor Lumpert has a style that is both relaxed and complex. His training and performing with the likes of Reggie Workman, Buster Williams and Chico Hamilton to name a few probably has a lot to do it. But on Innertextures Live, Lumpert's third release as leader, he begins to shape his voice, vision and destiny.

Innertextures seems to be a revolving cast of musicians that each delicately and diversely interprets Lumpert's richly molded compositions. This approach reminds me of a less cerebral approach to Chicago Underground, led by Rob Manzrek. But here, Lumpert is more concerned with taking the listener on a journey of colourful expressions and hard bop tonality. 

"Still Dreaming" gets things off to delightful start. Tordini's slow infectious bassline is wrapped tightly by the always exciting Waits kit. Lumpert throws bold and muscular notes that intersect at various points with his bandmates but shows that this live outing is going modern but with a few twist and turns. "Perug" rips along in furious succession. Tordini and Waits are giving space to create some nice, big solos with lots of creative pace. Lumpert's fury throughout this piece felt like mid-period Coltrane.

Lumpert shows great skill and beauty on "This Is For Billy Holiday." A lovely ballad with poise and passion. It's heavy and introspective but filled with Lumpert taking a delicate and exact approach. This piece really shows the diversity in his performance and compositions on Innertextures Live.

Remaining introspective but moving almost completely in the opposite direction, Swedish reedman, Martin Kuchen returns with a set from his Trespass Trio. Molded and wrapped in more layers than the previous two sessions with this trio, Kuchen explores more personal family history (which he has done in recent years). This time about his relative who was a World War I Jewish German veteran who later became a Monk. A passionate and intense celebration can be felt throughout the trio debut, Bruder Beda (named for the relative).

There is a deep sense of solitude from the piece "Don't Ruin Me." Per Zanusi and Raymond Strid provide a Jewish heritage backdrop with their steady notes and rhythm. This allows Kuchen to stretch and create a dialogue that tells the story smoothly but with thick texture. "Todays Better Than Tomorrow" feels like a suite. The opening movement is a rich cavalcade of emotions led by Kuchen. This moves effortlessly into quiet, atmospheric tones which Strid does a good majority of the improvising. The final movement sees the trio rejoining its original themes with a harder edge and then gently taking the listener downward to fade out.

The blistering "A Different Koko" and the third outtake of "Ein Krieg In Einem Kind" both present Kuchen's ability to scale the heights of free form expression but also still maintain a sense of inner depth. That density is something even the non-familiar Kuchen listener can be drawn to. Kuchen's lyricism envelops you by the end of this emotional journey. Very exciting work.

Igor Lumpert's Innertextures Live is a wonderful work of romanticism and hard bop that is slightly not what you expect from the avant garde jazz label. Marting Kuchen again shows that he is one of the talented and well-sought after musicians on the European scene with Bruder Beda. With two ends of the spectrum represented - one with a modern approach, the other more spiritual and thought-provoking. You would do well to experience both of these great saxophonists. Highly Recommended and richly enjoyable.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Scott McLemore: Remote Location

Scott McLemore (drums)
Remote Location (Sunny Sky; 2012)
Óskar Guðjónsson (sax) 
Andrés Thor (guitar)
Sunna Gunnlaugs (piano)
Róbert Þórhallsson (bass)

I've said before that Scott McLemore has this great versatility. It's akin to Paul Motian or Billy Higgins. He moves effortlessly between gentle and fierce that the listener is never really surprised. Also, since his last album as leader, Found Music, his writing as grown immensely. Through his projects with ASA Trio and Sunna Gunnluags, McLemore has crafted a compositional skill that is both relaxed and very studied. A reflective writer that allows his group room to breathe and expand. All this is very clear on his second album out in front, Remote Location.

And mature is definitely how this outing sounds. "Remote Location" while thematically it might reference a distant place, it also gives you sense of place within yourself. An introspective feeling but with outward emotion. Porhallsson and Gunnlaugs share some beautiful exchanges within McLemore's timely construction.

"Citizen Sitting Zen" is blissful with its chirping bird sounds just underneath the Porhallsson's bass and Thor's infinite guitar. A piece that gently moves forward and back between Guojonsson's soothing melody and Gunnlaugs precision tones on piano.

McLemore continually shows his skill as a leader, allowing the quintet to freely revolve and craft the tunes. "Charlottesville" and "Woods At Night" are possibly the most contemporary I've heard McLemore from the writing perspective. They're both laid back with an almost West Coast style that is enjoyable and pleasing. McLemore's kit reverberates with grace and beauty.  More prominent on "Woods At Night," but both having a very personal feel that you will immediately connect with at first spin.

"Movement For Motian" is a loving dedication to the late drummer. The timing and emotion that slide through Thor's guitar and Guojonsson's sax add distinct colour and fragility. McLemore's touch is understated, just like the legendary drummer. A perfect and solemn tribute.

Remote Location is wonderful step forward for Scott McLemore as a composer and leader. His style, patience and performance is quietly gaining steam. You would be best to jump on board this train before it gets too crowded. Remote Location just might creep up on you and become one of your favourite records this year. It has for me...Highly Recommended.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Svenska Kaputt

Svenska Kaputt (quartet)
Svenska Kaputt (Moserobie; 2012)
Jonas Kullhammar (sax, organ)
Reine Fiske (guitar)
Torbjörn Zetterberg (bass, piano)
Johan Holmegård (drums)

One of things I enjoy about the European jazz scene is the ability for the artists to constantly want to work together and craft something different from individual material. A new supergroup of swedish jazz-rock, Svenska Kaputt delivers a solid flowing and genre-bending self-titled debut.

Opening with absorbing and ethereal piano classical textures, "Tröstlösa tårar" has a slow bassline and billowing sax chords which set a funky fusion groove. This is joined by a seductive layer of organ that provides a sound that felt like I experienced an extended set from Nucleus, Soft Machine or the very little known Mark-Almond Band. This mini album flows like a comfortable soundtrack to one of your better dreams.

"Syster Per" is dark, mythical and majestic. The quartet take a "third stream" approach here and it's very effective. The sound revolves of Kullhammer's very bold notes but Fiske, Zetterberg and Holmegard add superb swirling and entrancing lines that capture the listener to move things forward.

"Happy Ending?" really is just that. Holmegards lays down a nice set of tones on the kit. While Zetterberg's bass is funky but understated, Fiske rides high with some excellent rising chords on guitar. A nice midtempo piece that keeps the atmospherics of the album's journey but also gives you a taste what the band can do in the future.

Svenska Kaputt might be hard album to find but it is an excellent debut from the always adventurous European scene. This is great stuff. While worth seeking out. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jesper Zeuthen: Plus

Jesper Zeuthen (sax)
Plus (Barefoot Records; 2012)
Adam Pultz Melbye (bass)
Kasper Tranberg (trumpet)
Henrik Pultz Melbye (sax)
Thomas Praestegaard (drums)
Jens Kristian Bang (trombone)
Kristian Tangvik (tuba)

Discovering Jesper Zeuthen late last year was a welcomed experience. While he has been on the European scene for years, I had only heard on his material as leader until recently. His last releases with his trio and now Plus have been an artist revitalized and discovering a new voice and direction. The self-titled debut album and its follow-up live album seems to have been only building blocks to what has arrived now from the larger sextet.

Simply titled, Plus opens with the raucous "Ti Ar Og To Dage" which feels like a cross between the Dirty Dozen Brass Band with Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler leading the charge in a wall of avant garde bliss - New Orleans style. It's fun and adventurous with various moving parts, including Zeuthen's revolving sax and the bellowing march of Tangvik's tuba. "Plus" has a rural, almost folk-ish quality that moves along like a pictorial journal through the countryside.

"Den Navniose" with its subtle marching drums just underneath the horns is a commanding mid-tempo piece that this pleasant and intense all at once. It builds into a number of complex changes as the piece moves forward and Zeuthen makes it feel cinematic as you head towards the end. "Zig Maj" and "Merit" both feature the entire sextet in funky form while Zeuthen sounds fresh and commanding, with a lot multiple textural lines. Both pieces are fully effected with bold patterns and rhythms by Melbye, Bang and Tangvik. Enjoyable and refreshing with a lot of energy.

Plus is a stronger and a very well focused project - showing that Zeuthen is feeling more comfortable with his band and his ever growing book of compositions. This is big music with wide eyed direction. Plus is another excellent outing for Jesper Zeuthen. You should seeks this out.