Monday, December 24, 2012

Anat Cohen: Claroscuro

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 21, 2012

PascAli: Suspicious Activity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2012

Norris Trio: 300

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Max Richter: Vivaldi Four Seasons Recomposed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Eric Revis: Parallax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Celebrating Dave Brubeck

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

Dave Brubeck (piano; b. 1920 - 2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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