Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mary Halvorson: Bending Bridges

Mary Halvorson (guitar)
Bending Bridges (Firehouse 12 Records; 2012)
Ches Smith (drums)
Jon Irabagon (sax)
Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet)
John Hebert (bass)

So I was having an argument with a friend as I was introducing him to one of my favourite artists and I finally realized something...Mary Halvorson is a threat to jazz!

She is quickly transforming a listener's perception of what the genre is. Her incorporation of indie rock muscularity and free jazz aesthetics is blurring the lines. She is reconstructing sound in a new image and pattern. Basically, making us think and feel the music without a predetermined tag. Enjoy it the way you wish to interpret it.

Bending Bridges, her newest release with her quintet signifies that direction and forward-thinking philosophy with great brilliance. A brief member of Anthony Braxton quartet only a few years ago, Halvorson brings a bright sense of creativity and experiementalism that is reminiscent of that time. The slow building but rewarding opener, "Sink When She Rounds The Bend" revolves around some gentle delivery by Halvorson fused perfectly with the horn section until the surprising and waterfall clashing of instruments towards it's ending. This demonstrates Halvorson's interest in breaking free even from the term improvisation.

"Forgotten Men In Silver," with fluctuating time signatures and cross patterns that are sure to cause the casual listener to scratch their head wildly, is my favourite piece. Part blues, part experiment. Hebert and Smith are given the space to create their own mood. It conjures up enough diverging moments that you almost forget the moment when Halvorson returns to calm the proceedings.

"The Periphery Of Scandal" with valuable staccato movements, has Halvorson playing the mercurial leader. The band seem to improvise around but then everyone returns at once for a thunderous middle section that may owe more to hard rock nights than indie club gigs. I loved the action and strength displayed throughout this piece.

"That Old Sound" strangely applies folk and free form which send fourth a tune that becomes interpersonal, cerebral and effective. Halvorson closes out the album with an almost contemporary piece "All The Clocks." Iraboagon provides the closest thing this session gets to a standard couple of lines. Halvorson and Hebert then proceed with counterpoints that are both combative as they are beautiful. Finlayson rolls a number of notes that rise with a great deal vibrant joy.

There's a reason Mary Halvorson has quickly become one of the most important names on the scene. She thinks differently than many of her counterparts and seeks to rise above the standard definitions. Bending Bridges is the document of truth. And Mary Halvorson is an artist who is a threat of breaking the genre in half. And that's a very, very, very good thing. I have been waiting for this album for 12 months and I can pretty much tell you all right now--Bending Bridges is the JazzWrap Album Of The Year.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Intersection: Parov Stelar

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.

Parov Stelar (keyboards; programming)
The Princess (Etage Noir Recordings; 2012)
Jerry Di Monza (trumpet)
Cleo Panther (vocals)
Willie Larsson (drums)
Michael Wittner (bass)

We've discussed the amazing invention and qualities of Parov Stelar and his band of merry beatsers previously. Now they return with the massive double opus, The Princess which delivers more thumping beats, swings, twist and turns to put this DJ/Artist/Sound manipulator in a similar space as Quantic on the jazztronica mountain.

The first disc is more midtempo, thematic and lyrically focused. "Mila's Dream" starts off the journey with a soulful hip hop vibe. Deep piano and baselines and soothing shadowy vocals give the piece its dreamlike quality. "The Princess" portrays a cinematic hue that almost reminds of Massive Attack with a real focus on capturing your attention through it's repetitive and hypnotic notes on piano.

The resurrection piece "With You" has Lija Bloom sounding like Neneh Cherry at her best. It's sexy, soul and is beautifully impacted by Stelar's great orchestration and ability to write a piece that rises and falls with grace. "Beautiful Morning" with its romantic guitar, swirling cello and echo-y effects while not the closing segment of disc one, is a lovely jumping off point for what how things will dramatically change.

The second disc is where Stelar opens the group up for material that may be more familiar to the general masses (particularly North America). Yet this is no mere dancefloor session - this is a trip between time and space. Absorbing that swing era rhythm and blending it with modern dance aesthetics, Stelar creates a world that is both irreverent, reflective and futuristic. Stelar's programming and Di Monza's trumpet dominate this session but Stellar allows the ensemble to really rip through chords.

"Booty Swing" (utilized in a number of commercials globally) is a polished swing number fueled by a relentless beat that if you aren't dancing by the four chord you must be dead. Drum, bass and a heavy synth create a floor shaking event on "The Phantom." Dark but loose enough to enjoy every note and brief lyrical moment.

"Oh Yeah" drifts into Brand New Heavies/Jamiroquai territory. A funky slice of R&B that diverts from the swing jazz foundation of the set but still feels right at home somehow. "All Night," with some stomping bass and drums glistened with a vocal declaration of a return to the "old school" tailored for the dancefloor. "The Snake" adds another level of laser guided effects with a swing-era vibe that is hard to ignore - even for the ardent jazz fan.

Parov Stelar has been setting himself and his ensemble apart from most of the European dance scene for awhile now. The Princess probably does this better than any record previous. If you are adventurous with your music, Parov Stelar is a great alternative to what you've been listening to. Highly Recommended.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The October Trio: New Dream

The October Trio
New Dream (Songlines Recordings; 2012)
Evan Arntzen (tenor and soprano sax, clarinet)
Josh Cole (double bass)
Dan Gaucher (drums)

For Canadian based, The October Trio, freedom and concept come more from being apart than consistently playing together. The trio reemerged after a hiatus of sorts with their fourth album, New Dream. And it's mature, expansive and more surprising than you would think after a few years apart.

For many this trio may be unknown, but I hope by the end of this post you will venture to try one of their albums. Definitely more free flowing than their previous efforts, New Dream sees the group improvising, adding new textures and having a lot of fun. Opening with the funky, pulsating "1983," the group signal that this outing will be nothing like what you've heard them do before. A very infectious and hypnotic bassline from Cole is augmented by Arntzen and Gaucher's crisp chords that slowly rise to massive crescendo of exchanges towards the song's conclusion. An Impressive mixture for the introduction.

On "New Dream" Arntzen's sax fills the room with a beautiful introspective Coltrane-esque tone. The harmonics wrap around you quickly as Gaucher's rolling drums and Cole's emphatic plucking began to meld into one and explore some solid exchanges back and forth. Both "Potential Bog" and "The Park" show a more relaxed and even quirkier avant garde tendency that is refreshing to hear. A feeling of mid-eighties Arto Lindsay or John Zorn could be felt by this listener. Both Gaucher and Arntzen are scorching on "Potential Bog."

For a trio that hasn't worked together for a few years New Dream feels like they never went away. But The October Trio's return is welcomed and it brings a great deal of growth and experiments that are definitely new building blocks for the future. Richly rewarding stuff and demanding your attention.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Orrin Evans: Flip The Script

Orrin Evans (piano)
Flip The Script (Posi-Tone; 2012)
Donald Edwards (drums)
Ben Wolfe (bass)

Coming off a prolific year with Captain Black Big Band and his quintet recording Freedom, Orrin Evans strips down to a trio for his latest, Flip The Script. While this trio session allows the listener more intimacy with the musicians it is still delivers some electrifying and at times elegant performances.

Working with a simpler approach, Evan's material here is more rich and organic as evident on "Clean House." Here Evan's playing is focused and crisp. Every note has a real sense of passion and urgency. A buoyant tone to Evan's keys hovers softly above the bass and drums but the unity of the trio is not diminished.

Spinning in more of bluesy flavor, "When" and "Big Small" both develop slowly and with somber undertones. "Big Small" displaying more of an uplifting nature in its unique structure. These are two pieces in which Evan's is more laid back and allows Edwards and Wolfe to provide the stronger emphasis to the proceedings.

Both "Flip The Script" and "TC's Blues" swing with a bop quality to would make Thelonious Monk and Red Garland very proud. Midtempo pieces featuring a number chord changes and sharp technique that shows a solid unity and understanding as to where each musicians lies and where their going next with the tune.

The closing number, the Gamble and Huff R&B standard, "The Sound Of Philadelphia" gets a gentle re treatment here and is more personal and effective than ever. The track is most associated as the theme for the America dance/music show Soul Train. Evan's tribute to its creator, Don Cornelius is simply sublime and the absolute best manner for closing this album.

Flip The Script returns the art of trio back to its roots. Emotional, poignant and organic. And with that ethos, Orrin Evans continues to be one of the exciting and diverse prospects on the American scene today.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Red Trio: Stem

Red Trio (w/Nate Wooley)
Stem (Clean Feed; 2012)
Rodrigo Pinheiro (piano)
Hernani Faustino (bass)
Gabriel Ferrandini (drums)
Nate Wooley (trumpet)

Like the old saying goes, "wine gets better with age," so too does the fantastic Portuguese group, Red Trio.

A phenomenal yet minimal self-titled debut that features a wide array of improvised occurrences with stellar insights in composition went further with the follow up, EmpireEmpire featured British saxophonist, John Butcher as the interpretive foil to the trio's experimental exploits. This session seemed to awaken a challenging spirit within the band (especially on the title track). Now that inquisitive spirit has collided with the free form agility of one of my recent favourite trumpeters, Nate Wooley for the superb, Stem.

This quartet came together only a few months ago as a live collaboration but you can feel that Red Trio quickly developed a unique chemistry that makes this session even more personal and entertaining than Empire. The outstanding opener, "Flapping Flight" features jagged edges and improvised chords by the trio intersecting with short delicate notes by Wooley that rise and fall with romantic flavour. The piece expands as it moves into it's middle movements and creates similar exchanges to that shared on the trio's work with Butcher. Wooley and Pinheiro share a rolling battle of notes towards the end that is both captivating as it is complex.

Pinheiro's playing is at times very straight while delightful chaos occurs around him. "Ellipse" is one of those moments. Pinheiro's performance is almost Jarrett-esque but it is punctuated by canon of experimentalism on display by the rest of the group. Ferrandini's drums put on a quiet Billy Higgins type display. Rhyming when necessary and floating freely when called upon. Wooley goes from a stoic and melodic tone to dark quiet breathy exchanges with the trio almost silent adding a haunting yet organic nature to piece that is revelatory. 

"Weight Slice" has a frenzied pace that holds the listener in place while short burst of notes almost coalesce into one pattern but then brilliantly explode in the opposite direction. Wooley has individual dialogues with the trio throughout this piece. "Weight Slice" is probably the best example of the camaraderie this group has developed in such a short amount of time. The quiet almost ethereal departure of "Tides" is remincesent of Red Trio's debut. A spacious conclusion with slow droning effects and low tones that make you stop and investigate each note.

Stem is the best work to date by Red Trio and the addition of new musicians over the last two outings has only made this group better, inventive and fresh - like aged wine. Stem is one of those albums that will last with you all year long. Highly Recommended.

This is an older video but does highlight the creative thinking within the bands structure.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Andres Thor: Monokrom

Andres Thor (guitar)
Monokrom (Dimma; 2012)
Scott McLemore (drums)
Porgrimur Jonsson (bass)
Agnar Magnusson (piano)

Taking time off from their more electric outings as ASA Trio, the band members have returned to working on solo material. The first to release new material this year is guitarist, Andres Thor. His third solo album, Monokrom, is a fusion of traditional melodies and modern harmonics. Joining him are his fellow ASA Trio mates and Porgrimur Jonsson on drums. This fully formed quartet brings out the best in each musician over the course of almost 60 minutes.

Thor's sound continues to mature and move from strength to strength but always with calm and a playful attitude, Thor demonstrates an excellence balance between Wes Montgomery tradition and Bill Frisell or John Abercrombie modern folk. "Monokrom" opens with a sense of fruitfulness and pleasure. Soft, romantic tones emitting from Thor's guitar and accompanied with sweet agility by Magnusson. With "Pink Wilco," Thor has written a piece that allows Jonsson and Magnusson to slide in and out seamlessly with his blues like melody.

Thor displays a great deal of passion in his performances throughout Monokrom. That Frisell vibe I spoke of early is noticeable on the folkish ballad "Heima." It has a wonderful and joyous feeling to it that gives a real sense of a travelogue. Injecting a little bit of funk into the session with "1922," Thor and rest of the band begin to flex their muscle. A forceful rhythm from McLemore and penetrating notes by both Jonsson and Magnusson make "1922" a rise and infectious number that is enhanced by the echo of Thor's lap guitar.

"Sjavargrund" is a midtempo ballad with a tinge of Brazilian flavor. Thor's playing feels very comfortable in every setting. McLemore and Jonsson provide smooth lush colors that open the sound for Magnusson's keyboards. "Munchen" is a sharp and intense closing number with the group in full swing. Each member has a shining moment on this track. Magnusson is back on piano with a rich clarity. Jonsson's bass is vibrant and McLemore rips lines with ease. All the while Thor's guitar gently cuts a path for the musicians to follow.

Monokrom is strong work from a group that knows each other inside and out. Here Andres Thor has written the right material that allows not only his musicianship to shine but also illustrates his sense of adventure and ability to move freely in different forms. This is one of those superb outings that every jazz fan would be silly to miss. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Intersection: This Ain't Chicago

Various Artists
This Ain't Chicago (Strut Records; 2012)

I guess it's probably fitting to discuss a dance record on Friday. Usually club night for the younger generation. What's not common is to be reading about it on JazzWrap. Well that's because every once in awhile I like to kick one into the terraces.

So drifting back into my youth came the new compilation, This Ain't Chicago guided by the stealth hand of DJ Richard Sen. And it is killer education into the early roots of the UK House scene. This collection isn't out until July 10th, but I couldn't hold back talking about it.

While everyone may know my affinity for Detroit and Chicago dance music and its subsequent effect on the UK (in particular A Guy Called Gerald); you may not know or remember the majority of stellar releases from the UK during the early years. We are talking mostly 12'' and maybe a few EPs. Sen has deftly compiled these into a smooth and cohesive document that is as enlightening as it is danceable.

Ability II drop an extended trance beat with "Pressure Dub" which features a pulsating bass, crunching synth patterns wrapped inside some beautifully looped vocals and hand claps. "Bang Bang, You're Mine," from Bang The Party comes crashing down sensually with what feels like a sample of New Order's "Thieves Like Us" hiding underneath (I'm not sure about that but that's what I felt). One of those late night tracks that should play work well during a live DJ set.

One of my favourite groups/artist during this period was Babyford. Here during his early period with a typical statement piece "Crashing" which is hypnotic and reverberates long after it's over. "Iron Orbit" and "1966" (by Static and M.D. Emm respectively), start a period of haunting house beats. Very electrifying and fast paced with pounding hand claps and drum effects. Excellent.

Rio Rhythm Band adds a Latin flavour to this collection. Their track "Cubba Jakkin'" has percussion layered over a furious yet fun-natured keyboard pattern and high whistles. Funky and jacked up for the floor.

With This Ain't Chicago, what Richard Sen has assembled is a stellar collection of UK house tracks that seriously stand the test of time. With a nice mixture of heavy beat tracks, vocals and dub, Sen curates a musical journey that moves with the night. This Ain't Chicago is a perfect and probably only way to get some of these gems without paying through the arse. But for the most part its a great education on what was happening as Detroit and Chicago began to influence it's counterparts across the way. Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Zero Centigrade: Umber

Zero Centigrade (duo)
Umber (Obs Music; 2012)
Tonino Taiuti (guitars)
Vincenzo de Luce (trumpet; electronics)

Crafting harmonies from nowhere is what improvisation is all about. But the duo Zero Centigrade seems to make it an easy habit. With Umber, their third release, they yet again conjured up sounds and moods that are haunting, inviting and beautiful.

Silence and the search of sound tend to make up the structure of each Zero Centigrade project. And this manifests itself early on "Tumble Down," where sudden bursts of acoustic one notes alongside stretches, creaks and found noise slowly break into your psyche like a bad nightmare.

"A Strange Season I" showers with the continued influence the blues has had on the duo. Slow patterns emerge but always evolving around Taiuti's heart tugging yet distant melody. Raw, emotional and still forward thinking. Imagine if American alt-blues guitarist Chris Whitley played with Throbbing Gristle (I sure hope some of you get that). 

The inward nature of "Stalk" and "Reflections" makes for a compelling listen. You will hear the strains of forgotten notes passing between each musician. "Far Horizon" feels distant and aching. Propelled by de Luce's superb use of electronics and Taiuti almost folkish improvisation this piece travels a long way very quickly before fading. 

Another stellar almost "third-stream" outing for Zero Centigrade that shows a continued growth and desire to see what soundscapes they can capture in a short period of time. Umber is an album that won't treat you nicely unless you let it. The beauty lies in the details. Not designed for everyone but you will find elements that will affect you in different ways. Worth seeking out.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Intersection: Ebo Taylor

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.

Ebo Taylor (vocals; guitar)
Appia Kwa Bridge (Strut Records; 2012)

Pretty much since arriving back on the scene (acclaim-wise) in the last five years, Ebo Taylor has become one of most notable world music/Afrobeat artists around. His last record, Love And Death was one of JazzWrap's records of the year in 2010. Now Taylor has done it again for us with the release of Appia Kwa Bridge.

A terrific blend of jazz, Africa and folk rhythms that is emotional powerful and musically stunning. Built around love, loss, fear and rejuvenation, Taylor takes you on a journey that is for brave. Beginning brightly is "Ayesama," a victory song of the Ghanain ethic group Taylor belongs to, the Akan people. This group holds great stature throughout the community, not in the sense of elites but in sense of standing up for what they believe. This anthem could easily be adopted as the sign of strength for others feeling oppressed and need to be uplifted and reach higher for victory.

"Nsu Na Kwan" builds on a number of percussive beats but is also driven by Taylor's soft and enthralling delivery both on guitar and vocals. "Appia Kwa Bridge" is a meeting place for friends, lovers and more to express their views and outlook on life, love and beyond. Boyuant and filled with dreams, this bridge could tell the story of many Ghanaians.

"Barrima" is the most affecting track on the album. Speaking directly to the loss of his wife just a few months ago, this track has all the emotional impact that live on its own from the rest of the album.  The piece is Ebo alone, on acoustic guitar with only his soul on show. Touching and embodying why music is important to our lives.

With Appia Kwa Bridge, Ebo Taylor has going back to his acoustic and lyrical roots. It's even more dynamic than Love And Death but shows the living legend has more messages to deliver to us all about life and how to live it. One of our albums of the year. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Tom Tallitsch: Heads Or Tales

Tom Tallitsch (sax)
Heads Or Tales (Posi-Tone Records; 2012)
Dave Allen (guitar)
Mark Ferber (drums)
Jared Gold (organ)

You know those albums that you fall in love with immediately after about two songs in--well this one of those albums. Tom Tallitsch delivers a killer does on hard bop that is fueled by both some heavy chops as well as crisp songwriting. His fourth album (first for Posi-Tone), Heads Or Tales is simply an awesome display of muscle and dynamics.

Like a late night jam session, Heads Or Tales kicks off in fine form with "Coming Around," a real barn-burner. Tallitsch rips through a number of chords and his newly assembled quartet adds fuel to the fire with Allen and Gold sparking hot exchanges that match the saxophonist's muscle.

The luscious ballad, "Perry's Place," is absorbing. Tallitsch gives a deep soulful performance that instantly grabs you. Gold's organ stays close with a rhythm providing strong effect. Feber's drums are tempered here but still add soft touches just under the melody.

"Travel Companion" is a well paced midtempo piece in which Tallitsch allows Gold and Allen to show-off some solid individuality. Tallitsch comes back in to bring the band home with some warm tones as closing notes.

"Dunes" moves along swiftly and sweetly. Ferber conjures up some nice patterns that rise and fall alongside Tallitsch rhythms. Allen lays down some chords that felt almost early George Benson-esque. For some reason I kept gravitating back to this track. There's something quietly entrancing and beautiful about the harmonies that you might find as well.

Closing out on Neil Young's "Don't Let Bring You Down" is pretty brave. And you almost don't recognize it until you get to the chorus. This introspective ballad gets a heavy treatment that ends up being more surprising than you would originally imagine. It's treated with care but still creating its own identity.

Heads Or Tales is more than just another solid session for Tom Tallitsch. It's a document that really should awaken the eyes and ears of many would need to know his name and his skill as a composer and musician.