Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Outhouse: Straw, Sticks + Bricks

Outhouse (quartet)
Straws, Sticks + Bricks (Loop/Babel Music; 2011)
Robin Fincker (sax, clarinet)
Tom Challenger (sax)
Johnny Brierley (bass)
Dave Smith (drums)

Hilmar Jensson (guitar)

On their third outing, Outhouse seem to be completely focused and created a solid and highly auspicious album with Straw, Sticks + Bricks. It's big, loud, scratchy and sometimes brooding. But at it's center, Outhouse have made another statement as to why they are becoming one of the most exciting British bands on the scene.

At times you might think Outhouse were actually part of the Chicago scene. The set of horns, bass and drums provides a unique, bold and cacophonous quality that is sometimes associated with the aforementioned scene. But once you get into the heart of pieces like the opener, "Kitchen In The Middle" you realize this quartet have different intent altogether. I got the feeling I should be reading a creepy version of Jack and the Beanstalk. The succinct one beat of the drum kit and sax helped me tap out "fe fi fo fom." Pretty funny for me. You may not notice this. The addition of Hilmar Jensson on guitar pulls out a grit that was always there on previous Outhouse's records but is more crystallized on Straws, Sticks + Bricks.

"Fool" builds slowly and compounds a number of tones and rhythms. Finker and Challenger worked brilliantly off each other while Brierley and Smith add perfect time and pace. Jensson's guitar cuts across the patterns at just the acute time. "Fool" works it way to a quiet conclusion in its last two minutes. Steady and unwavering. A number of disjointed and aggressive emotions balance neatly like Kurt Rosenwinkel mixing it up with John Zorn and Ken Vandermark. Great work.

"Alignment," more of a ballad, opens with a gentle but steady beat from Smith before the rest of the group join in to provide a calm hypnotic aesthetic. The vibe was reminiscent of Aram Shelton's recent work. This is exploratory and emotional with deep revolving effects. "Long Notes" led by Smith's rolling patterns, some soft plucking from Brierley and some intersecting notes from the rest of the group create an intense, expressionist closing number but still manages to leave the listener hypnotized by Outhouse's ability to craft some really evocative notes.

Unlike a number of their compatriots, Outhouse don't tend to go for the thundering beat. They are an investigative quartet that seems to be searching for next process in the rhythm. This is a journey we at JazzWrap are always willing to go on. The British scene is definitely rising. And with Straw, Sticks + Bricks, Outhouse are continuing to stay right up there with Acoustic Ladyland/Polar Bear, Neil Cowley, et al. Brilliant stuff.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Oscar Penas: From Now On

Oscar Penas (guitar)
From Now On (BJU Records; 2011)
Dan Blake (sax)
Moto Fukushima (bass)
Richie Barshay (drums)
Franco Pinna (bombo leguero)
Gil Goldstein (piano, accordion)

Oscar Penas is an artist whose cultural heritage shines through in his work. And his latest, From Now On is no different. Penas fuses contemporary motifs around Spanish rhythms with delightful and romantic effect.

"Continuum" opens with a dreamy set of chords from Penas quickly joined by some absorbing tones employed by Blake. This is a lengthy piece that allows the musicians to stretch and expand. Penas creates a nice passage of time for the listener. This is a tune that moves up and down thanks to a number of different transition points but always remains rich, elegant, well composed. Gil Goldstein adds a delicious touch to "From Now On."

Penas has a delicate lyricism to his writing that makes this piece very personal and captures you on the first spin. Goldstein's playing is extremely engaging. "Julia" is one of my favourite tracks on the album. A midtempo ballad that celebrates passion, life and love. The piece is dedicated to Penas cousin but you really will get your own personal affection out of "Julia" without ever knowing the source of the selection. Barshay's soft brushes blend with Goldstein's accordion creating a truly divine and soulful overture that leaves you in awe.

From Now On is one of those romantic albums that grasps hold of you quickly. Warm, opening and refreshing--Oscar Penas hopefully won't be an unkept secret from many. From Now On is an album that should be universally praised and rewarded. A definite must listen...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Baloni: Fremdenzimmer

Baloni (group)
Fremdenzimmer (Clean Feed; 2011)
Joachim Badenhorst (clarinet; sax)
Pascal Niggenkemper (bass)
Frantz Loriot (viola)

Blending the urgency of improvised music with spacial aesthetics of classical chamber music, Baloni have debuted with the phenomenal and flawless, Fremdenzimmer (Clean Feed; 2011).

If you've been with us for awhile you know I have become a huge fan of both Badenhorst and Niggenkemper in the last year. They've teamed up again along with Frantz Loriot to compile 11 tracks of beguiling expertise and beauty.

I guess a way to describe it is free form improvised classical? Maybe? I guess?

"Lokomotive" moves in just as the title says. The train leaves the station slowly and builds up steam. The music sways and shifts like a Steve Riech piece but is challenging at every turn. A hypnotic number that utilizes space and calm that leaves you motionless. Badenhorst's manipulation on clarinet with Loriot and Niggenkemper's counterpoint structures on "Searching" had me sitting intensely trying to figure out which instrument to focus in on. It's a  dense piece with moving parts that are both quiet and bold. Niggenkemper and Loriot really shine from the halfway point through to the closing notes of this piece. Their string work is impressive and full of life.

"4am" is fragile and haunting. The trio, while starting on a structured path make it clear that within the borders of this piece they will roam freely with ideas. Loriot's plucking provides the creative constant within "4am." The backdrop is Badenhorst and Niggenkemper's one tone that locks the listener in and also sets in place the next piece, "27'10 Sous Les Neons."  A playful number which feels like it could be a commissioned piece for an avant-garde ballet.

The title track, I believe meaning "guest room" in German (someone please correct me if I'm wrong), is possible not the guest room you'd want to stay in. This is a delicate and well-crafted piece that has many angles and edges. Badenhorst and Loriot are unified in sound and compliment each other even during the slightly aggressive exchanges.

At a time when music needs to move forward, Baloni is one of those rare groups that can show us the way. Fremdenzimmer is an album of unexpected exchanges, harmonies and patterns that fans of challenging and introspective sounds must give a priority listen.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tony Levin, David Torn & Alan White

Tony Levin (bass)
David Torn (guitar)
Alan White (drums)
Levin Torn White (Papa Bear Records; 2011)

To say this is a unbelievable monster lineup is an understatement. Torn, known for his mystical and cerebral soundscapes in both rock and jazz for over three decades teams up with King Crimson legendary bassist, Levin (the two previous worked together on Torn's Cloud About Mercury release) and another legend, Alan White of Yes--recording an adventurous and infectious self titled project. The musicians have played or performed with each other in various incarnations but Levin Torn White is the first as a trio. Three extraordinary musicians set loose in the studio to create a cavalcade of sonic structures that just might destroy your speakers.

At times this could resemble one of King Crimson's Projekcts from the late '90s early '00s. But unlike those experiments, this trio have set forth to rock and have fun doing it. "Ultra Mullet" has a telling feel of "Thela Hen Ginjeet"/Adrian Belew era Crimson but the trio twist this thought quickly with some high power and intense pulsations from Levin and frenetic yet beautiful passages from Torn. "White Noise" is White's opportunity to have some fun on the sticks with a number of staccato beats aided by warning signals of Torn's guitar. The pattern begins to warp towards the middle with Torn and Levin sounding like a psychedelic ambient car wreck. Exquisite stuff.

Ambience is brought to the fore on "Convergence" in which Torn is the main focus. His chords scale up and down gently and are surrounded by various sound effects. A ballad of sorts but set in a distant spacial reality. "Sleeping Horse" should be a part of a John Carpenter film. A slow moving number with heavy bass inflections and eerie guitar passages that might follow our hero down the dark corridor to the final battle scene.

"Porn Night Of The Centipedes" is the closest track to resemble an "accessible" song. A groove-filled bassline covered with comforting guitar work and crisp drums. Until that is, we hit the middle passage and the group spin into a more gargantuan rock tone with rolling drum lines from White and crunching notes from Torn. You've been fooled, there's nothing tame here folks, just noise. Levin Torn White never let's you down; even in the closing moments. "Lights Out" punches left and right with each member making impassioned closing arguments with vigor and intense colour.

The Crismon comparisons are unavoidable but for those who may be unfamiliar with each member's work, you may relate to it from the perspective of recent records by Scorch Trio or Elephant9. Or even one of Torn's earlier projects, Lonely Universe. A combination of improvisation, fierce technical musicianship and calculated direction allows Levin Torn White to span multiple sonic heights over the course of just under an hour. Levin Torn White is a lot of fun and ultimate rocks. A must have session for listeners of both rock, fusion and free jazz.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Charlie Haden & Hank Jones: Come Sunday

Charlie Haden (bass)
Hank Jones (piano)
Come Sunday (Emarcy Records; 2011)

Charlie Haden reconvened with the great Hank Jones in 2010 to record a sequel to their beautiful spirituals album, Steal Away (Verve; 1995) and record another set of lovely passages entitled Come Sunday (Emarcy). The title comes from Duke Ellington album of the same name. This was also recorded just a few months before Hank Jones' passing which gives the session even more spiritual significance.

These hymns, spirituals and ballads are quiet but extremely uplifting. Just as their previous session 15 years early, the two musicians complement each other perfectly.  "Give Me That Old Time Religion" illustrates how the two work in harmonic unison. They move back and forth with each highlighting a section and then the other rejoins the rhythm. 

A spiritual favourite by Thomas Dorsey, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" sounds immaculate in the hands and Jones and Haden. Jones has a lyrical pattern that carries this somber piece and turns it into a something even more joyous upon conclusion. Haden's strings are heartfelt and warm, leaving a lasting impression.

"Nearer My God To Thee" details the journey from darkness to light. The exchanges here are deep yet Haden and Jones perform effortlessly making the tune light and fruitful. "Come Sunday" is propelled by Jones' jubilant hands and Haden's chords to feel bolder than the cello on Ellington's original. This allows for a closer inspection by the listener and forces you to pay attention to the details of every note.

Steal Away has always been one of my favourite duet records and I was excited when I heard about the recording of Come Sunday. It was a long time coming but I'm happy this time finally arrived. Come Sunday is exaltation of life and simply put--beautiful. Highly Recommended.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ehud Asherie & Harry Allen: Upper West Side

Ehud Asherie (piano)
Harry Allen (sax)
Upper West Side (Posi-Tone Records; 2012)

A classic sound and supreme mastery from Ehud Asherie and Harry Allen on their duet album, Upper West SideThis album shines with a series of standards that are performed exquisitely but aren't just your regular revisit of past benchmarks. This is a session that swings with vibrancy and class. 

The session has a lovely bebop vibe that is warm and inviting.  The classic "It Had To Be You" has bouncy and humour sprinkled throughout. Allen's playing is fresh and big. It reminds a little of Tuby Hayes. Asherie is strict and direct on the keys but knows how and where to place the playful notes. "O Pato" with it's Latin origins allows the duo to expand with strong (and should I say, funkier) passages. This is a tune they both carry with high energy and pleasure.

Billy Strayhorn's signature "Passion Flower," always a difficult piece to tackle; is performance with grace and precision. Both musicians capture the depth within the piece but Asherie's solo in the middle is a wonderful statement of his ability as performer and interpreter of standards. It has all the passion and emotion you are looking for in a ballad. Allen's soft touches both in the beginning and the end add richness to outlines of the piece.

The always consistent "My Blue Heaven" jumps in the hands Asherie. It's peppered with an almost Bud Powell inflection. There's a small bit of improvising in the middle bridge before Allen joins in and the two travel along exchanging some delightful rhythms back and forth.

Upper West Side is one those highly enjoyable sessions that doesn't try re-invent the past as much as it pays homage. But while it's a look into our musical history, it is also a beautiful document of two excellent performers. Ehud Asherie and Harry Allen are well-known within the jazz circle but this is a record all your non-jazz friends should definitely own. Tell them all...

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Intersection: Scent Of Soil

The Intersection is an ongoing segment dedicated to global artists that are pushing and changing our definitions of genres.

Scent Of Soil (group)
Scent Of Soil (Hubro Music; 2012)
Tore Brunborg (sax)
Rune Nergaard (bass)
Petter Vagan (guitar)
Kirsti Huke (vocals, keyboards)
Gard Nilssen (drums)

Swinging in a completely different direction for the Intersection, we were sent the self titled debut from Scent Of Soil and I have to say it is spellbinding. Created by vocalist, Kirsti Huke and Torn Brunborg (an original member of the legendary group Masqualero), the group explores a unique combination of folk, indie and jazz that is stunningly rich and heavenly. 

Kirsti Huke's vocals are caressing and passionate. It gives similarities to early Anja Garbarek, Sarah McLaughlin and the more notably comparison, Ricki Lee Jones. The lovely rich voice combined with the ethereal sound of the group conjured up memories of a hybrid His Name Is Alive/Azimuth/This Mortal Coil. But those are only touch points for those who need a descriptive starter, Scent Of Soil is something altogether different and worth every dollar, pound, yen, pesos or euro you decide to spend.

While the opener, "Breeze" feels like Ricki Lee Jones and Nick Drake in harmony, it signals that Scent Of Soil will be a beauty description of the genres led by dynamic vocals and majestic musicianship. The piece is originally built around a poem by Robert Frost and illustrates a longing and desire to find an answer to sorrow. The quintet show a more indie sound on "Ocean." Vagan and Huke present an uplifting vibe with rising guitar lines. Nergaard and Nilssen add the groove while Brunborg's notes come in delicately and provide a romantic overtone to the piece.

"Ease" gently drifts along from its opening notes and Huke's sultry vocals until Brunborg, Vagan and Nilssen come crashing through in the middle with shimmering dark beauty. Huke returns to lay the piece softly upon conclusion. "Trondervise" is a more ambient piece that floats along led more by Brunborg in a bold yet understated performance.

"Go Charm!" is probably the closet you may get to rock on this set. The band rise with bashing drums, wah wah guitars and operatic vocals. It's a crash sounds that glistens with maturity and luster. The title track is somber and bluesy, yet appropriate for closing out this texture and diverse session. It's soft and climbs quietly like an elevator up the highest of skyscrapers. 

Scent Of Soil is an astounding, well balanced and genre-bending debut that truly deserves your attention. While each of the members of Scent Of Soil have their own groups and established careers, here's to hoping that this supergroup of sorts is here to stay. Highly Recommended.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

David S. Ware: Organica

David S. Ware (sax)
Organica (Aum Fidelity; 2011)

Organica is the second volume in a series of solo saxophone performances that the great David S. Ware has begun to record and is even more amazing than the first outing. Recorded live over the course of 2010 at two separate performances in Brooklyn and Chicago, Ware illustrates why he is one of the most technically proficient and exciting free-thinkers on the scene today.

Both performances feature two selections ("Minus Gravity," "Organica"). The concept other than the fact it is a solo performance, is Ware's use of multiple saxophones. For these concerts, Ware's main instruments are the sopranino and tenor. "Minus Gravity" is the more intimate piece of the two on both evenings. Ware uses the sopranino here and it provides a more clear and high tone that gives the piece a lot of air to breathe. In addition it allows "Minus Gravity" becomes more of a spiritual journey.

The difference in the performances can be felt in the intimacy of the rooms and production. The first performance in Brooklyn feels closer and deep. The Chicago show has a little more distance but still travels along a heavenly vibe, and the both versions have wonderful cascading endings that are sublime.

"Organica" is the more free moving and improvised of the two numbers. On tenor this time, Ware shows why he is one the most creative players about a quarter of the way through when he switches direction from moves up and down through about two or three cords. It may seems like screeches to the uninitiated but to the Ware fans at heart this is pure mystification. Ware gets more expressive and humorous as the piece enters its middle section before it's return to a settled and constructive conclusion.

The Chicago version feels dense and reflects an almost blues tone to it. There's a lot more emotion in the power laid into this evening's version than Brooklyn. The notes are short, sharp and tense. Ware seems to have found a groove that makes a definite impact from start to finish in Chicago.

Organica is an explosive and emotional recording. A real lesson on what a solo performance is suppose to feel like. And a superb treat for fans of David S. Ware. An artist who seems to go from strength to strength. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ada Rave Cuartet: La Continuidad

Ada Rave Cuarteto (group)
La Continuidad (Pan Y Rosas Discos; 2011)
Ada Rave (sax)
Wenchi Lazo (guitars)
Martin de Lassaletta (bass)
Martin Lopez Grande (drums)

Argentine, Ada Rave, has produced an exciting and enterprising debut with La Continuidad (Pan Y Rosas Discos). A bright collection of avant garde/free jazz and bop that is reminiscent to Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman and even a little bit John Zorn. For a modern correlation, you might imagine is a calmer, Ingrid Laubrock. Ada delivers a maximum punch on sax but she also possess a nice shifting array of themes with her quartet's debut.

"Jardin Chino" lights sparks in every direction. Short, crisp improvised notes from Rave and Lazo are augmented by quiet, searching notes by Grande and de Lassaletta. It almost feels like I was sitting in a club in Chicago listening to one of the various Ken Vandermark outfits. "Balia Con Monk" is an delicious little nod to the legendary pianist. Rave delivers with some superb playing that really does feel like you are experiencing Monk's piano instead of the power melody of a saxophone. It's odd but works perfectly.

Rave is bold and direct. "El Modo y la Etica Braxtono" illustrates a brave composers/improviser utilizing expression, melody and freedom for her bandmates to move and create at their own pace. Grande and de Lassaletta shine with counterpoints that are both simpatico and discordant. Lazo's performance here lies somewhere between Arto Lindsay and Marc Riot. All around killer expressionism.

"Out To Lunch" has a more disjointed more slightly introspective quality to it that becomes inviting and unique all at once. Lazo provides a weird presence that gives the piece more originality and not your standard cover version. "Uptopias Humanicas" provides a postmodern stoppage point on this journey that is both free form and inspired bop. Rave mixes Vandermark inspiration with Laubrock aggression and it's a sonic harmony that concludes the album with beauty.
La Continuidad is an impressive debut from the wildly talented Ada Rave and her quartet. A brilliant combination of abstract expressionism and fluid modernism. Excellent. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Dan Blake: The Aquarian Suite

Dan Blake (sax)
The Aquarian Suite (BJU Records; 2011)
Jason Palmer (trumpet)
Jorge Roeder (bass)
Richie Barshay (drums)

Dan Blake is a significantly rising talent on the scene today. He has garnered a number of strong awards and played with a good array of musicians (including Julian Lage and Ricardo Gallo) along the way. While only releasing two albums in six years, he is still one of the most in-demand and definitely "one to watch out for" of the most recent list of saxophonists of the last ten years. He has a quality that is both attuned to tradition but also looking to the future.

While listening to Dan Blake's latest record, The Aquarian Suite (BJU Records) you will automatically harken back to a bebop era when music was fresh and vibrant with life. But you will also witness an artist creating a vital spin on tradition. I sense shades of Sonny Rollins or Jackie McLean but with new ideas that are bursting at the seams. "The Whistler" bleeds with variant colours that are both exciting and enchanting. A calm and clever tune that moves up and down providing excellent moments of expression by Blake and a number conversations between each member of the quartet.

"The Best Of Intentions" is a sophisticated ballad that drips with passion and deep respect. It's a soul searching piece and can bring a tear to the eye. "Aquarian" contains a bluesy jump tone and almost spy-like bass tingling performance from Roeder. Moving quietly it begins like an experimental piece and then turns into a crackingly upbeat, as it heads toward the middle. There is a vivid and fun atmosphere that is laid out between Blake, Palmer and Barsahy that becomes inviting and infectious. "Cavemen Do It Too" is euphoric and reflective; with punchy overtones from Roeder and Blake. This is followed by a great solo period from Roeder which is killer. Definitely the hippest highlight of the session but also the perfect way to close it out.

Dan Blake has dedicated individual pieces to those that have been an influence (Monk, Mingus, Braxton, Davis) but really what he has done is created one of the few albums that bridges the gap between the benchmark and launchpad for what many composers/saxophonists should be considering. Blake is a rising talent with all the right ideas and The Aquarian Suite is another piece in a growing arsenal of brilliance.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Animation: Asiento & Agemo

Animation (group)
Asiento/Agemo (RareNoise Records; 2011)
Bob Belden (sax)
Tim Hagans (trumpet)
DJ Logic (electronics, turntables)
Guy Licata (drums)
Scott Kinsey (keyboards)
Matt Garrison (bass)

There have a been a few Miles electric-era inspired records in the last few years. Spanning Mark Isham, Bill Laswell, and Wadda Leo Smith to name just a few. All of these are excellent records and we've discussed a few in the past. But one group that seems to manage this material better than most is Animation. This sextet was originally formed by Bob Belden and Tim Hagans back in the late '90s where they recorded two exciting albums (Imagination and Re-Animation Live) for Blue Note. Well worth checking out.

As for Asiento, this is a live re-interpretation/reinvention of Bitches Brew that sounds and feels more organic than the two previous Animation albums. The music is exquisitely played and while you may want to immediately compare this with the original Miles Bitches Brew album it really doesn't make a lot of sense. "Pharaoh's Dance" has a trippy-er almost Future Sound Of London or mid-period Orb feel to it.

Each member stands out on multiple levels here. Hagans trumpet is heavier and dense on "Bitches Brew" while being wrapped in some cosmic linear passages from Kinsey and Licata. Belden's performance is killer with some really swirling, psychedelic melody. "Spanish Key" is awesome with a real dose of "drum and bass" which transforms the piece and makes it almost unrecognizable from the original.

Agemo is the expected and well deserved remix of the album over two discs. While the first disc is not drastically different, the mix adds a touch of midtempo range to Asiento versions thanks to the same production company that sound mixed the Orb's Metallic Spheres release. And in the case of "Spanish Key," transform it into a more raucous affair. On "Bitches Brew," Belden, Garrison and Hagans all seem to get a rising emphasis in this mix.

The keyboards were always hauntingly beautiful on the Asiento version but on tracks like "John McLaughlin" they feel very much in tune with the dream-like state of Miles originally conjured up four decades ago. "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down" retains the acid blues vibe it always had. Here it's driven more by Hagans and DJ Logic whom both create a sweet counterpoint that is stunning, screaming out of the stereo as well as the headphones.

The second disc really transforms into something different. Spanning dub, ambient and dance. "Bitches Brew" gets a weird and highly interesting dub reggae beat. "Miles Runs The Voodoo Down" turns into a funky orbital trip psych-out. And "Sanctuary" becomes an even slower hypnotic trance of a piece. Expertly done mixes by the likes of Bill Laswell, Joe Claussell and DJ Logic make Agemo a superior remix album than even Laswell's Panthalassa.

Asiento and Agemo are two seriously deserving documents in the ever-expanding understanding and reinterpretation of Miles Davis' seminal statement. This is a totally different way of thinking about Bitches Brew. Animation have created two albums that stand alone from their originating base work and serve as a groovy introduction to one of the best jazz albums ever recorded.