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.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Preservation Hall Jazz Band: 50th Anniversary Collection

Preservation Hall Jazz Band (ensemble)
50th Anniversary Collection (Sony Legacy; 2012)
Various Artists

Finally a welcomed document of one of the most famous yet under appreciated ensemble within the jazz scene, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. More an ethos of jazz - New Orleans jazz in particular - than the face of its musicians. The music was the essence of the cultural nature of America's swing and later early bop era. This massive collection spans the rich, vibrant and highly influential pieces performed by the ensemble of fifty years.

The beginnings were mainly to have a performance space for the ever-growing jazz scene. It turned into a breeding ground of talent. "Eh La Bas" opens the set and shows the jubilation and energy the ensemble creates every time they set foot on stage or in the studio. The call to arms by Dee Dee Pierce (and cornet) along with ferocious playing from the horn section will have you dancing out of seat faster than you know it; a lot learned from Armstrong's Hot Five Hot Sevens.

The versions of "Corina, Corina" and "St. James Infirmary" are fantastic. Wendell Brunious and Thadddeus Richard (trumpet and piano respectively) are killer standouts on Corina. While Lewis Nelson (trombone) and Billie Pierce tear it up on the vamp-tastic "...Infirmary" It is dark beauty and bluesy.

A more recent recording with Del McCoury (guitar, vocals) on the lovely "I'll Fly Away" stretches across gospel, jazz, bluegrass and country with ease, all with a special New Orleans flare. Another call-and-response barn burner "Shake That Thing" led by John Brunious (vocals, trumpet), Michael White (clarinet) and Joe Lastie (drums) pounds its rhythm into soul with passion and lots of humour.

"I'm Confessing That I Love You" and "Precious Lord" are those classic heart-gutting numbers that will make you reflect and cry but also show you the long way home through adversity. Sublime without a doubt.

There are so many tracks on this collection that it just will take way to long to talk about. And there are a number of collections that have been released already. But make no mistake this is one of those archival records that is a serious must have for music fans of any genre.

This set has been years in the making and it is well worth the wait. You can hear and think of almost every jazz artist you love at present that owes everything to this ensemble. Preservation Hall Jazz Band 50th Anniversary Collection is not only one of the best reissues of year--it should easily be one of the best records of year. It may cost some many but its definitely--HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.