Monday, July 30, 2012

Josh Berman: There Now

Josh Berman (cornet)
There Now (Delmark; 2012)
Jason Adasiewicz (vibes)
Joshua Abrams (bass)
Keefe Jackson (sax)
Jeb Bishop (trombone)
Frank Rosaly (drums)
Guillermo Gregorio (clarinet)
Jason Stein (bass clarinet)

Josh Berman has once again created an album built on traditional themes but with highly evolved modern structures. There Now, his latest with a revolving but closely knit contingent of the Chicago free jazz scene, Berman combines the aforementioned ideals and presents them all anew for the modern generation. It's a blast to listen to--even for the newcomer to Berman's world!

There Now is a superb homage to late '20s large ensembles, not that unsimilar to Josh Berman's outfit. But Berman also drops in his own compositions which fit nicely and build a bridge between past and future. The group work through new Berman material as well as classic but rarely heard tunes and really put their own stamp to it.

"Sugar" is almost unrecognizable under Berman's arrangement. A tune originally featuring the great Jimmy McPartland on cornet, Berman's version keep the fresh ferocity of original but infuses it with modern tempos and free movement that is reminiscent of his work with Chicago Luzern Exchange. There's a killer solo by the versatile Frank Rosaly towards the end the Gene Krupa would be proud of (or he'd probably yell at him for being so good).

"Cloudy," a Berman original, Bishop and Jackson takes the early lead with strong exchanges which are fascinating to absorb. The latter end of the piece is dominated by Adasiewicz's splendid dreamlike notes on vibes.

The ballad "Jada" sees Berman sticking slightly the traditions of the Bob Carleton original, but allowing the Gang to spin off two-thirds of the way in to improvise. Jackson stretches the sound and elevates the group upward. This is sublime compositional skill from Berman who fuses benchmarks with new forms to create a piece that is fun, intriguing and delightful.

Closing out with "Mobiles And Blues" provides the octet a chance to bring the session into the 21st Century. Harmonics and fallen structures all folding into final signal of goodbye and see you soon.

There Now swings with creativity while bridging the gap between past and future. Josh Berman is also giving all of us a nice lesson of where jazz started and a new direction of where it can go. Highly involved and highly recommended.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Interstatic & Metallic Taste Of Blood

Interstatic (trio)
Interstatic (Rare Noise Records; 2012)
Jarle Vespestad (drums)
Jacob Young (guitar)
Roy Powell (organ)

Metallic Taste Of Blood (quartet)
Metallic Taste Of Blood (Rare Noise Records; 2012)
Eraldo Bernocchi (guitars)
Colin Edwin (bass)
Jamie Saft (piano)
Balazs Pandi (drums)

Two very interesting and very different records from future fusion label, RareNoise, to talk about today. First, a lovely post-modern piece from the trio Interstatic. Then a real slice of grinding and pulsating rhythms delivered by the quartet, Metallic Taste Of Blood.

Keeping in a very similar tone as their debut, Anthem, Interstatic have delivered a delicate and enchanting self titled second effort that will resonant with fusion fans. Jacob Young seems very loose and inspired in this more free arrangement of sound. Vespestad is a bit more reserved but sound excellent as always. This seems to be the nature of this trio which provides a mellow shade of joy, reminiscent of early John McLaughlin's works.

"Stills" and "First Vision" both open the window for the listener, into a gentle almost folkish journey with swirls of psychedelia as layered by Powell's organ. "Elevrum Incident" is where this trio really rock out and sound like some of the best fusion of '70s. It's tight, crisp, funky while still maintaining a clever jazz unity. A rewarding second effort that builds on Interstatic debut.

Moving in a slightly different direction, Metallic Taste Of Blood, debut with a self-titled release that is exciting not only for a rich sense of ideas but also its solid musicianship. Featuring members from diverse sonic backgrounds (Merbow, Masada, Porcupine Tree, and ambient collaborations), Metallic Taste Of Blood is big of sound. The use of echoing effects and an all-out purpose of grandeur makes tracks like "Sectile" and "Schizopolis" powerful statements that have to be heard over and over. 

"Schizopolis" is a monster tune that features funky and pounding drum lines, quirky keyboards and insane guitar riffs that might make Robert Fripp smile. "Bioplar" somehow blend the ethereal aspects of Bernocchi has done with Robin Guthrie with the wall of sound of Metallica, creating a beautifully harmonic piece. "Transverse" perfectly closes this album on a cinematic tone. It's not as forceful as it proceeding numbers and has just the right blend of ambient textures.

Two stellar releases with different angles to enjoy. Interstatic with a really well balanced and advanced second effort of folkish fusion. And then the avant-rock of Metallic Taste Of Blood that combines a host of rock ideas into a other-worldly affair. Two releases well worth seeking out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers

Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet)
Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform; 2012)
The Golden Quintet and The Southwest Chamber Music

This is unlike any other Wadada Leo Smith record I've heard. It's extremely well focused and makes a real emotional impact. Smith's resurgence in the last 15 years has brought with it a slew of releases and a host of ideas. With his latest, Ten Freedom Summers, Wadada Leo Smith has produced that single masterpiece of both personal and public history. Even more so than his earlier large ensemble work on Tzadik in the mid-nineties.

Named for the summer of 1964 when a massive campaign was undertaken to register African Americans to vote, Leo Smith takes a wide look at America's historic struggle over the course of 1954-1964. Where we've come and how far we still have to go.

Performed by two ensembles, his Golden Quartet/Quintet and The Southwest Chamber Music, Leo Smith shows off two distinct sides of his compositional skills. First, his ability to continually write challenging and inspiring music in contemporary settings, and second, a staggering vision for large ensembles. This creativity was on display recently in New York as part of his birthday celebration this past winter. But with Ten Freedom Summers you get the full breath of what the live evening was probably just the rehearsal for.

"Dred Scott" is intense, dark and deeply personal. The rolling piano and Leo Smith's fierce trumpet lead the opening salvo. The quintet then proceed through a number frenzied chords which you could say resembles the chaos of the early struggles of African Americans during the late 50s. Leo Smith's playing is supreme here. You can feel this energy and life that overshadows previous efforts of the last few years. As with many of the quintet performances on this epic journey, you get a sense that he has said to the group "challenge yourself."

"Emmett Till" and "John F Kennedy" are more extended pieces that quietly carry the listener on a painful yet painful yet spiritual journey. Leo Smith's writing for the larger ensemble piece "John F Kennedy" is astounding. It's fresh and staggering. You might have expected something in the vain of Philip Glass or Steve Reich. Instead it's more Shostakovich or Wagner. Heavy and powerful.

"Freedom Summer," "Lyndon Johnson's Great Society," "The Little Rock Nine" rely on the always superb Susie Ibarra to deliver the driving open chords to present a cinematic tale. Anthony Davis on piano, Jim Foschia on clarinet and The Southwest Chamber Music give both pieces a wide open yet haunting sonic texture, with the addition of sharp intersecting lines by Leo Smith.

"Democracy," a Golden Quintet piece is the closet thing you'll get to the more recent free jazz aesthetics of Leo Smith's recent work. Leo Smith allows the musicians to roam freely throughout but all lines are squarely focused on the main themes that Leo Smith returns to at the end of piece. Short, concise and elegant tones and passages.

Ten Freedom Summers is a piece that should be listened to without thinking about the history, particularly if you are an American. American Jazz has produced a number of historical statements in reaction to oppression and in association to civil/human rights. Wadada has created a document that is about the struggles over adversity that all cultures have and will continue to grapple with. And grapple we shall. Until we truly can say we have overcome.

Highly Recommended and a truly staggering work of genius. This really ranks up there as one Wadada Leo Smith's best works.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Motif: Art Transplant

Motif (group)
Art Transplant (Clean Feed; 2011)
Havard Wiik (piano)
Ole Morten Vagan (bass)
Hakon Mjaset Johanson (drums)
Atle Nymo (sax)
Axel Dorner (trumpet)

Motif is a Norwegian quintet that is celebrating just over ten years on the scene. Each of the members has a stellar career on their own, but together they have produced four phenomenal albums that rely on modern thinking but root themselves in the traditional ethics of improvisation. Motif's latest, Art Transplant is their first for Clean Feed Records after two acclaimed records for Jazzland and Aim.

Art Transplant feels like it was always going to be the right move for the band. It's risky and combines elements of the ensemble's modern thinking with more adventurous muscle than previous records. "Korean Barbeque Smokeout" starts with a bit of quiet investigation from Nymo before the rest of the band burst through with a collision of sound. The explosion rips the fabric of the harmonics and makes for a beautiful convergence of ideas; at times feeling like Ornette Coleman's quartet circa Shape of Jazz To Come.

Dorner and Nymo provide an intense but also playful exchange at the beginning of "Alkiis" which later levels off to improvised dialogue between Dorner and Wiik. Gradually each member returns and the melody ebbs into exchanges for Wiik before the group finally comes full circle for a rousing conclusion.

The inquisitiveness of "Something For The Ladies" with Nymo on clarinet playing rich lines that reminded me of Don Byron. The piece is frenetic but with a soft tone just underneath the wind instruments. It's sneaky like nice slice of spy-jazz from the 60s and great mid-section where Wiik gets to fly were some terrific improvised notes.

Motif has shown that each album is more diverse than the next. With a solid lineup that doesn't seem to change, the ensemble is always in complete unison. And with Art Tansplant, they've shown that their unity breeds exciting creativity and fluidity.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Intersection: Outerattik

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.

Outerattik (electronics)
Attic (Self-produced; 2012)

Jamie Smith, aka Outerattik, is one of those rare finds that you go, "this is too cool, I have to tell all my friends." Well, I'm kinda of gonna do that.

A well focused EP in the form of Attic, introduces us to this Edinburgh, Scotland native. Attic delivers a vibe that is rich in jazztronica but also refreshing in the way that shines with vitality and soul.

"Nineties Man" while referencing the sound of early trip-hop also has a nice slice of 70s funk in form of a hammond B-3 sound layered over the drumbeat. Smith gives the piece some real soul and charm while also providing a calm background for the senses.

"Electro Funk #50" is a space age tingler that uses some great 80s videogame vibes to create a groovy futuristic soul that will have you bobbing your head but also intrigued by the simplicity and effectiveness of piece. This is a more subdued version compared to the original which laid on a heavy bass line that pounds right into chest with verve.

"Attic Faery," probably my favourite piece is the quiet sweeping centerpiece, that while delivering soft encompassing tones, is also quite romantic. It's got the epic qualities of Thievery Corporation blended with elegance of Tosca and soulfulness of Spacek. A standout and highly appropriate closing number.

With Attic, Outerattik have created an album that is raw, soothing and funky. Chilled out? Yes. But it's a downtempo groove that you'll want to keep coming back to. And hopefully a good sign of things to come from this young musician. Worth seeking out.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bruce Barth: Three Things Of Beauty

Bruce Barth (piano)
Three Things Of Beauty (Savant; 2012)
Steve Nelson (vibes)
Ben Street (bass)
Dana Hall (drums)

Bruce Barth is one of the most respected pianist on the scene and rightfully so. A talent with a discography that stretches now to 12 albums and countless guest appearances, Barth has been consistent and always refreshing.

On his latest, Three Things Of Beauty, Barth delivers a sophisticated yet bubbly document of harmonies that is sure to have fans and newcomers enthralled. Always a delicate and nimble player, Barth orchestrates some superb lines on the opener "My Man's Gone Now." The tune jumps and burst with enthusiasm. The stellar line-up of Nelson, Street and Hall gives Barth a chance to hang back in addition, allow his mates to shine, as Nelson and Street do with some lovely exchanges.

"Wise Charlie Blues" shows the continued influence Thelonious Monk has had on Barth. A complicated playfulness I always like to call it. A dedication to a dear friend of Barth's, he mixes blues, gospel and improvisation into a health dose melodica. His bandmates add blue-ish hue to the tune while Barth places the emphasis squarely on empathetic notes.

"Three Things Of Beauty," a ballad with more emotion and dreamlike qualities than I originally thought when I first listened to the tune, is sublime. Nelson's vibes echo across the melody. While Barth's presence is key here, he also allows Street and Hall to rise a little in this setting. It's much more a group piece than a usual album title track which would focus squarely on the leader.

"Wondering Why" is soulful, midtempo piece that is casual and yet still bouncy enough for you to get lost in the rhythm. The album closes with a duet between Nelson and Barth, "The Song Is You." A sweet tone and upbeat theme, the two joyously carry the listener out on a positive and festive note.

Bruce Barth has once again shown what a agile and perfect leader, composer and performer he is in almost any setting. The group he has circled himself with, while having played with them in various sessions in the past--this time they have really made sparks from beginning to end. If you haven't heard Bruce Barth before, now is the time to start taking notice. Three Things Of Beauty is one the best albums of an already glistening career. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Troyka: Moxxy

Tryoka (trio)
Moxxy (Editions; 2012)
Kit Downes (organ)
Chris Montague (guitar)
Joshua Blackmore (drums)

There's a rock element that is enveloping British jazz at the moment. And that's actually a good thing. A new generation of musicians raised on a number of different forms are incorporating those themes into a fusion that is both adventurous and unique.

Troyka is one of those few of hybrid groups and they have delivered their second release, the intoxicating Moxxy.

Moxxy, is a mature sophomore effort from the UK trio. As with their debut, the rocking combustible time signatures are still there but now a sense of complete confidence arises within each piece. "Rarebit" bounces with electric funk and curling rhythmic structures creating a young Weather Report or King Crimson vibe across the top of the chords.

"Crawler," a beautiful slow moving blues piece is one of the highlights of the album. It plods along like being stuck in a recurring childhood fairytale with no end. Montague and Blackmore set the tone. Montague has some fantastic lines that are passionate and wrenching. Blackmore and Downes drag you along into the final passages where Montague finally lets loose with some licks that would be right home in a Chicago blues club.

"Island" and "Zebra" are both gentle, funky and cerebral. Both are raw with soft psychedelic touches of Downes' keys which on "Island" provides an other-worldly quality. And on "Zebra," the motif is more organic and a fluctuating level of funk. This is a sound that could sit neatly next John Scofield or Charlie Hunter. The sound gets big and gargantuan but maintains a clear focus that never allows the listener's ears to stray.

Troyka seems to have found their voice with Moxxy. The group has been playing together off and on since 2007 but this is the first time you feel that have captured what they really wanted to say. Moxxy is real gem for 2012. Highly Recommended.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Joseph Santa Maria: The Illustrated Man

Joseph Santa Maria (sax)
The Illustrated Man (Self Produced; 2012)
Andrew Lessman (drums)
Emilio Terranova (bass)
Larry Koonse (guitar)

The extremely versatile Joseph Santa Maria shows once again that he can bend a rhythm and conjure up something new with each album. His latest, The Illustrated Man is great example of a crisp no nonsense modern jazz record.

I first came across Santa Maria's work through the brilliant album he did with his former group, A Giraffe, an album which was one of JazzWrap's 2011 Albums of the Year. For The Illustrated Man, Santa Maria has assembled another quartet of musicians he has worked with for awhile to present a classic view with modern muscularity.

I loved the brashness of "Open Air." Strong, confident yet playful notes eminate from Santa Maria's sax followed by a complex set of patterns from Lessman's kit. The group then get into a groove with "Bud Powell" led by Santa Maria with Terranova and Koonse, performing some soft lines that give the piece a nice romantic feel underneath Santa Maria's bold and intricate notes. It's groovy but complicated, and that's a perfect mixture.

"I Saw A Color Box," a piece originally writing with A Griaffe, sounds more free form with Koonse on guitar (replacing the original piano lines). In addition, Terranova gives the bass lines a lot more muscle. "I Saw A Color Box" feels more fleshed out and I love it.

"Green And Black" a midtempo ballad with a revolving melody, allows the quartet to expriement and move in various directions but not in an avant garde fashion. This is more like floating along the edges of the original chords and creates an extra tapestry of notes that interconnect. "Making Music Time" holds a few soulful and blues-like tones and quietly leads the listener down the closing path to the conclusion of The Illustrated Man's journey.

Joseph Santa Maria again circles himself with a stellar band that not only helps interpret his material to perfection--they also make their notes their own. Santa Maria continues to grow with each project. The Illustrated Man is a more focused and linear project than his diverse work with A Giraffe--but both equally great starting points. The Illustrated Man is a solid effect from an artist that is still developing his voice but I think you'll tell your friends about this after one spin.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Arts & Sciences: New You

Arts & Sciences (quartet)
New You (Singlespeed; 2012)
Jordan Glenn (drums)
Jacob Zimmerman (sax)
Michael Coleman (fender rhodes)
Matt Nelson (sax)

The American west coast continues to bubble with urgency, at least on the improvised front, so we turn to Oakland, CA and the dynamic talents of a new quartet, Arts & Sciences. On their second release, New You, released on Aram Shelton's Singlespeed Music (he also plays on one track), this quartet show that they have a lot of improvisational ideas that can fight with the best of the New York and Chicago scenes.

"Baby Boner" slowly rises with delicately paced improvised notes, then folds into a high octane, pulse-pounding collision of sound. It felt like a segment of Miles Davis' Agharta. Dueling tenor and alto saxophones cause a cacophony in the middle section which sound beautiful smashed against Coleman's keys and Glenn's unyielding kit. The quartet later come down gently in a psychedelic interlude of squeals on the rhodes and tiny percussion tones that give off a Steve Reich ambiance. 

The band site Tim Berne is an influence. It can be heard and felt in throughout but that's just the building blocks. Nelson and Zimmerman take that influence and turn it into their own fun, free floating  nihilistic structure. "Scram" illustrates this with a number of challenging expositions and exchanges between the horn section and clashing notes from Coleman and Glenn. The rhythm is easy to pick up but you'll probably be more entranced by how much fun they're having with this piece...brilliant!

"Scientology" is wonderful ensemble piece featuring Aram Shelton on clarinet, Rob Ewing (trombone), Theo Padouvas (trumpet) and Andrew Conklin (guitar). It's almost an improvised balled with echoes of Joe Zawinul sprinkled about. Pleasant yet strikingly bold. It's an expansive piece that allows the musicians a lot of freedom while maintaining a real clear direction.

Arts & Sciences did a brief tour last month; hopefully they'll be able to add some more dates soon. They are band that is worth every effort to see. New You not is a signal that more beautiful sounds keep coming from the west--its also an album deserving of much wider attention here and abroad. Highly Recommended!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Niski Szum: Songs From The Woods

Niski Szum (guitar)
Songs From The Woods (Audio Tong; 2011)

I'm actually more familiar with Polish electronic/guitarist, Marcin Dymiter's work with Arszyn than his solo material. But upon listening to his most recent release, Songs From The Woods, I have a lot of catching up to do. This is a brilliant work of sonic sculpture that at times is cold and dreamy yet romantic and spacious. It reminded me of Sonic Boom (ex-Spacemen 3). And that's impressive!

"Blues From The Green Hills" rides along like an American western. A bluesy theme accompanied by electronic manipulations/reverb provides for surrealistic journey into Dymiter new soundscape.

"The Woods Parts I-II" are Dymiter emitting a lush ambient tone that is reflective as it is cold. The piece is based on Robert Frost poem Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening with Dymiter utilizing soft well masked vocals. It's passages provide a somber level of comfort and move the listen into dark territory--but you will actually like going there.

The highlight piece is "The River," a long dense droning number, with chords that eventually envelope you like a cocoon. Dymiter's use of guitars and electronics manifold into a swirling hypnotic blur as you enter the middle section of the piece. But somehow he pulls through to the other side with grace and beauty. It's that night you look up into the sky and everything seems almost perfect (for awhile) and then you brought  back to earth.

Songs From The Woods is a nice discovery and well balanced mixture of electronics, blues, folk and minimalism. So if you enjoy your music with touch of adventure and solitude, you would be well served by checking out Marcin Dymiter.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Esbjorn Svensson Trio: 301

Esbjorn Svensson Trio
301 (ACT Music; 2012)
Esbjorn Svensson (piano)
Dan Berglund (bass)
Magnus Ostrom (drums)

E.S.T. are perennial favourites in the JazzWrap office. So when word came at the beginning of the year that new studio material was on the way, I was stoked with excitement.

The Swedish trio has been in the forefront of the European jazz scene for well over a decade. The tragic passing of founding member, Esbjorn Svensson, signaled the end of one of the best trios Europe has produced in a very long time. But the final music from the session that produced Leucocyte in 2009, also included material that shows how far the trio had come and where they were about to go. It's also a statement of how important they have become.

That session is now released under the title 301, after the studio for which it was recorded. Like it's predecessor, 301 is intensely dark and experimental. The opening track "Behind The Stars" is a solo piece driven by Svensson's steady tone that always had an element of Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett. A rich modular number that rises and descends with elegance. This is reminiscent of the group's earlier work--quiet like a chamber trio.

"Behind The Stars" transitions beautifully into seismic harmonic structures of "Inner City, City Lights." A slow moving ballad that catches Berglunds haunting basslines sounding like Mick Karn (maybe a stretch, but you know what I mean). A droning synth line hovers above Svensson's notes adding the cold electronic ambiance that E.S.T. had been researching on their previous efforts to this point. It's tantalizing and brooding but somehow still bursting with sublime vitality.

The epic, "Three Falling Free I-II" exhibits a Debussy calm and mastery. A romantic ballad that circles along the calculating notes of Berglund and Svensson. The elegance of Part I gives way to the fury of Ostrom's rhythmic patterns that roll independently and create the basis of freedom and experimentation for the second movement. Ostrom leds the trio through a more aggressive, almost rock orientated workout. The group are continually pushing themselves. "Three Falling Free" is one of those pieces that probably would have made the live audience go nuts. Amazing.

The gospel tinged "The Childhood Dream" closes out 301 on a supreme note. It's blossoming with charm, soul and a well balanced sense realism. A mirror to ones on reality.

As a document of one moment in time, 301 stands alone from its parent, Leucocyte. A darker album with mixtures of E.S.T.'s past, present and future. This may have been the last statement but it is by no means studio outtakes. It is also a declaration of how important this Esbjorn Svensson, Dan Berglund and Magnus Ostrom have been to the entire jazz scene over the last decade. Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Rodrigo Amado: Burning Live At Jazz Ao Centro

Rodrigo Amado (sax)
Burning Live At Jazz Ao Centro (JACC Records; 2012)
Jeb Bishop (trombone)
Miguel Mira (cello)
Gabriel Ferrandini (drums)

A brief set but long in the compositional sense, Burning Live At Jazz Ao Centro, sees Rodrigo Amado in blistering form. This is a fierce recording of a live event that was probably exciting and very intense on concentration.

This group consists of Amado's Motion Trio augmented by trombonist Jeb Bishop (known not only for his own groups as well as his work with Ken Vandermark). For this live evening, Bishop provides strong, bold muscular lines that challenge the rest of the trio. "Burning Live" is just as it says--a fiery opener that later rounds into a rhythmic pattern that hovers almost blues-like thanks to Bishop. Ferrandini adds the abstract passages against Bishop's notes as both Amado and Mira quietly begin to re-emerge and set the piece aflame again. The quartet finally comes resting with calm clashes but still a heavy spirit.

"Imaginary Caverns" moves like a ballad but with the philosophy of free association. Quiet motifs soon rise and fall with Amado and Ferrandini's perspective on the harmonics. Midway through Amado's tone becomes a scorching mixture of Ornette Coleman/Albert Ayler. It's intense and beautiful but not for every ear. Bishop, Mira and Ferrandini beam with solid atonal exchanges that drain you until just the right moment when Amado returns to add some toppling hues to the closing bars.

Rounding out the evening is "Red Halo," led by Mira sounding fully focused and moving the group in a calm fashion toward the inevitable wall of sound. Mira's pace quickens while Amado and Bishop's dialogue starts to sound like one instrument. The quartet finally roll into one another in the final moments bringing an intense jubilant session to its logical yet bewitching end.

Truly, an absorbing performance and another very creative outing for Rodrigo Amado. There are only a handful of saxophonists on the European scene today that are as acute and descriptive as Amado. Burning Live At Jazz Ao Centro is a perfect example as to why. This same group will also have a new studio album out on Not Two later this year.