|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Matt Turner
To The Moon
Ayler Records AYLCD-112
Tim Daisy Vox Arcana
Allos Documents 004
Daniel Levin Quartet
Clean Freed CF 195 CD
Extended Play: Chamber Improvisations
By Ken Waxman
Derided in the past as effete or derivative, chamber-style improvising has fascinated musicians at least since the 1920s, both on the jazz (Benny Goodman, Red Norvo) and classical (George Gershwin, Ferde Grofé) sides. However, as this group of CDs demonstrates, with contemporary musicians conversant with both strains of sound, the transitional awkwardness of the past has been replaced by inspired flexibility
Take for instance, Jean-Marc Foltz’s To The Moon Ayler Records AYLCD-112 Although at first it seems as if the 10 sparkling miniatures performed by the French clarinetist and his American sidemen pianist Bill Carrothers and cellist Matt Turner, are high-gloss examples of composed music, careful investigation reveals just the opposite. All of these instant compositions were improvised by the trio in one studio session. Inspiration came partially from the tale that inspired Schönberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” plus the wintery moonlight of the studio setting. The result is atmospheric and elegiac in equal doses. Often showcased are the chalumeau textures of Foltz’s bass clarinet which soar and buzz as they contrapuntally meet up with doleful cello slides and strummed metronomic passages from the piano. As improvisers, the three expose a subversive post-modernity as well. “Crosses”, for instance begins with Carrothers recital-styled harmonies melding with vibrated slides from Turner. Yet while the broken octave-style theme is played by an unperturbed pianist, Foltz constantly interrupts with twittering atonal chirps from the highest regions of his clarinet. The pianist’s reflective thumps which shake his instrument’s capotes and speaking length perform a similar function on “Knitting Needles”. Elsewhere the cello’s quivering vibrations and low frequency organic patterning from the piano are often only there to sooth Foltz’s more intense flutter tonguing.
Comfortably probing this third stream is Vox Arcana Aerial Age Allos Documents 004, a similarly constituted trio with Tim Daisy’s percussion and marimba, clarinetist James Falzone and Fred Lonberg-Holm’s cello and electronics. Daisy’s eight compositions equally reference minimalism, the so-called New York school as well as the improvisation which permeates the music of the trio’s home town Chicago. Throughout, the instrumental tones often hocket and undulate in triple or double counterpoint. Perfectly illustrating this cohesion is “Falling”. After the tutti exposition splinters into episodes of reed-biting intensity, driven by the drummer’s pumps and rebounds, Lonberg-Holm lets loose. Doubled sul ponticello runs are extended almost infinitely without breaking the glissandi, and only gradually superseded by single-note reed twitters. Reverberating kettle-drum-like pops set up a final variant of plucked cello and melodic mid-range clarinet whistles. Another example of this skill occurs on “Chi Harp Call in E”. While no one could mistake Falzone’s coloratura trills or Daisy’s popping marimba rolls for the harmonica-led blues the tune salutes, the cellist’s scraping his strings into an agitated polyphonic mass easily equals timbres produced by blues guitarists. Still, the roiling marimba strokes and liquid clarinet asides link the melody to the ongoing European sound tradition.
Strings and percussion – with vibraphone played by Matt Moran – are also featured on cellist Daniel Levin Quartet’s Bacalhau Clean Freed CF 195 CD But Peter Bitenc’s bass is added and the horn is Nate Wooley’s trumpet. Paradoxically a full-time bassist makes this the most “jazzy” of these sessions. It also means that on a piece such as “Bronx #3”, when agitato bass lines combine with the trumpet’s sputtering triplets, the subsequent contrapuntal framing gives Levin a staccato forum to practically duet with himself. More impressive still is the epic “Soul Retrieval”, which evolves in several distinct sections. Initially a mid-tempo mix of brassy trumpet and mournful cello, a mid-section expansion of sul tasto bass work and downward string slides moves the trumpeter towards an interlude of tongue-stopping intensity. Chiming vibraphone pulses then collide with intense, discordant bowing from both string players, only to have the theme re-developed with broken-octave concordance by the end.
Not all this chamber improv comes from jazzers however, as bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano demonstrates with Open. Classically trained and co-founder of the Kitchener-Waterloo Improvisers Collective, Ladano mixes solo and group pieces; notated music with improv. Her swelling glissandi, harsh flutter tonguing and aleatoric trills give her work a definite identity. While an episode of broken chord variants that matches her breathy echoes with ringing vibraphone tones is particularly noteworthy, elsewhere her repetitive trills, which confirm impressive reed control, are needed to modulate feverish interface from some of the other players. Overall, multiphonic inventions on composed material may be her strongest attribute.
Singly and together, the CDs confirm that persuasive improvisation can result without being fortissimo or frantic.
-- For Whole Note Vol. 16 #3
November 1, 2010
Drip Audio DA 00318
Larry Ochs/Miya Masoka/Peggy Lee
Tony Wilson/Peggy Lee/Jon Bentley
Drip Audio DA00206
Cryptogramophone CG 140
Extended Play: The “Other” Peggy Lee
By Ken Waxman
Established in Vancouver for nearly 20 years following extensive musical study in her native Toronto, Peggy Lee has become one of the most in-demand cellists in both improvised and New music. Occasionally working with her husband, drummer Dylan van der Schyff, but more frequently on her own, Lee’s string prestidigitation is prominent in meetings with Canadian, American and European musicians.
Recent discs show the range of her talents. Spiller Alley RogueArt ROG-0016 features her as part of a trio completed by Bay area saxophonist Larry Ochs and New York koto player Miya Masaoka. Meanwhile Escondido Dreams Drip Audio DA00206], is a trio with other Lower Mainlanders: guitarist Tony Wilson and saxophonist Jon Bentley. Wilson, Bentley and van der Schyff are also on the cellist’s New Code Drip Audio DA 00318 along with other West Coast luminaries – trumpeter Brad Turner; guitarist Ron Samworth, trombonist Jeremy Berkman and electric bassist André Lachance. On Continuation Cryptogramophone CG 140 percussionist Alex Cline gathered a similar group of California-based improvisers – violinist Jeff Gauthier, pianist Myra Melford, bassist Scott Walton to play his tunes. Lee is the only non-American.
Cline’s writing has an Asian feel to it. Scene-setting gong resonations color nearly every track, with Melford’s winnowing harmonium drone sometimes adding to the Far Eastern emphasis. Eclectic in execution, most of the compositions bounce from near- syrupy melodies usually advanced by the fiddler, to modern swing propelled by thumping bass and the pianist’s dynamic patterning. In between, Lee’s malleable timbres join with Gauthier’s brusque lines for thematic elaboration, or add staccato runs and spiccato jumps to advance the rhythm. “On the Bones of the Homegoing Thunder” is the most spectacular tune. It manages to wrap an exposition and recapitulation of temple bell peals and mournful cello runs around walking bass lines, kinetic piano runs plus string-clipping and triple-stopping from cello and violin.
Lee’s octet CD is less formalized, though no less eclectic, but democratic in its soloing. Both guitarists are partial to folksy twangs as well as Hard Rock-like distortions; the horns produce R&B-like vamps plus processional harmonies; Turner on flugelhorn is the languid melodist; and van der Schyff constantly pumps parts of his kit. Meanwhile the cellist personalizes the material. On “Tug” her angled sweeps tug apart into spikier runs the horns’ ceremonial grace notes. On “Not a Wake Up Call” flanged and distorted guitar licks shatter into jagged and ricocheting slurs as Lee’s spiccato multiphonics help gentle the theme so that it runs into the calming “Floating Island” – complete with muted trumpet – which follows it. Dealing with a tune as familiar as Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want To Do”, her mordant modal interjections halt a conventional, C&W-styled reading, and encourage agitato horn shrills on top of Byrds-like guitar strumming and a vocalized saxophone obbligato.
Bentley’s woodwind arsenal has more space on Escondido Dreams, proving adapt at both speedy and languid tempi. “Man and Dog” plus “Monkey Tree/Just Stories” demonstrate this. On the first, the saxophonist defines the Impressionistic theme, along with Lee’s cello obbligato. After descriptive unison passages first with the cellist, then with the guitarist, sax trills dovetail into slurs as Wilson strums mandolin-like chords and Lee sweeps across the soundfield. Tougher and animated, the later is a roller coaster of a tune built on contrapuntal reed bites and electrified guitar interjections. Following a raucous call-and-response section, the guitarist’s chromatic patterning and Lee’s spiccato runs reintroduces the note-dangling theme.
Veteran Ochs uses more advanced techniques than Bentley on Spiller Alley, while the multi functions of Masaoka’s many-stringed koto negate the need for drums. Ironically, despite the textures of the venerable Japanese instrument, and unlike Continuation, this CD has almost no Asian reflections. Expert in rasgueado and chromatics, Masaoka treats her koto as if it is a combination harp, 12-string and six-string guitar. Bringing out node striations as well the sounds of the notes struck – as does Lee – the string duo attaches and detaches timbres to mutate the program as Ochs enlivens his work with wide octave jumps, staccato blasts and circular breathing.
Climaxing the session during the nearly 18½-minute title tune, the three criss-cross each other’s lines and runs, off-setting or cushioning when needed. With Ochs peeping and shrilling arpeggios, Masaoka unleashes a torrent of cascading tones and Lee exposes multi-string runs. The cumulative consequence showcases imperfectly formed but not unpleasant, textures from each. Operating in triple counterpoint, blurry interaction comes into focus, with the end result trilled, swept and resonated into a stripped-down mutual rapprochement.
While each musician’s skill melds to produce these notable CDs, each would be unthinkable without Lee’s talents and interactive expertise.
-- For Whole Note Vol. 14 #7
April 4, 2009
JEFF SONG & LOWBROW
Stellar Sound Productions STL 1012
Boston-area composer/cellist Jeff Song appears to have embarked on a protracted period of creativity.
His recent Trio Ex Nihilo disc showed his mastery of the miniature combo form, and now this excellent CD, recorded around the same time with a slightly larger group, extends his vision still further. Instrumentally hes seconded by some of the better improvisers in his area, while the discs themes of identity and assimilation, are filtered through the consciousness of Song, who founded the Boston version of the Asian American Jazz Festival. Nearly every track here deals at least obliquely with the Asian diasporic experience in North America, without being either strident or preachy.
Mixing pointed song titles with empathy for the folks on both sides of the immigrant/native divide, Song is helped by a stellar cast of characters. Among them are trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, who is another one-third of the Trio Ex Nihilo, understated percussionist John Mettam, violinist Jason Kao Hwang, another person who has explored his heritage in music, and freeform cellist Matt Turner.
Threats, for instance, which deals with the peril white Americans seem to fear arises from Oriental, Black and Native American (sic) immigration, is built upon military-style percussion and ominous sounding massed strings. With a cello bow cutting across the strings like a dagger, the muted trumpet and ethereal flute seem to be the only sign of hope. Later you have to consider whether the final arco arch from the cello is one of acceptance or defiance.
A piece like Amerikoritalish with its cello strums referencing the komungo or Korean zither, mixed with dark bass flute portions and percussion, brings up race mixing which confuses or angers some. Meanwhile Greengrocer M.D, with its suggestion of thwarted ambition in a new country, comes across like a classical flute and cello recital created cheek by jowl with ethnic drum patterns. Arirang for the Comfort Women, on the other hand, which refers to a shameful episode in Japanese-Korean history, reminds us that racism wasnt confined to this continent. Based on traditional Korean folk song, the meandering, melancholy melody utilizing Asian pop-style bass guitar (played by Song) contrasting with flute and violin parts that echo Imperial court music.
Mettams chameleon-like percussion, which suggests Latin stylings and Oriental court drumming at different times, aurally best illustrates the cultural miasma of North America in the title tune. Its a serpentine composition that seems to turn itself, revealing different pitches, tempos and themes that introduce what could be maracas, arco finger plucks from the violin and dissonant flute playing, and which resolves itself as mid range and full bodied by the end. Couple this with tart, full-bodied electric cello lines and more conventional drumming and individualism seems to assert itself.
Dont get the idea that DIASPORAMA offers no hope, however. Triumph of non-racially specific sounds appears to be the message of The Third Wave. Here Milesean trumpet, bird-like flute sounds and thematic scratched cello lines soon give way to full-frontal 1950s-style walking bass notes played in unison by Turner and Song, which are then succeeded by bowed and struck percussive asides from the cellists as Hwang elaborates the theme.
With the obvious thought that went into this CD and the talent involved in creating it, Song does himself and his music a disservice by naming the band Lowbrow. Certainly the conception and execution are as high brow as you can get while avoiding all of the supposed pretensions associated with that word.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. War Brides 2. Black Velvet Buddha 3. Abundant Relief 4. Amerikoritalish^% 5. Monday School+ 6. Siblings I, II, II 7. Cyan 8. The Third Wave 9. Diasporama^% 10. Threats: Native Clay, Atlantic Ebony, Pacific Copper 11. Greengrocer M.D. 12. Arirang for the Comfort Women*
Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum, Dean Laabs* (trumpet); Michel Gentile (flute); Jason Kao Hwang (violin); Matt Turner (cello, electric cello%); Jeff Song (electric cello, cello^, voice+, bass guitar*); John Mettam (percussion)
February 1, 2002
MATT TURNER/JOHN HARMON
Stellar Sounds STL 1011
The Mouse That Roared
Meniscus Records MNSCS 002
Never do anything by half measures. The truth of that hoary aphorism is made clear by the frustrating duo disc by cellist Matt Turner and pianist John Harmon.
The Wisconsin-based cellist usually spends his time in the so-called avant garde area, recording advanced sounds with the likes of experimental guitarist Scott Fields or, as he shows on THE MOUSE THAT ROARED, on his own.
However OUTSIDE IN appears to be an attempt to broaden his base, with six of its 11 selections given over to Tin Pan Alley or jazz standards plus an ancient hymn. With the other tunes impressive Turner/Harmon instant compositions, the CD reveals its weakness. The covers aren't performed differently enough to impress those committed to new sounds, while the five originals may alienate neo-con mainstreamers.
That's a shame, but something the two musicians should have realized. On the standards side of the fence, Harmon is pretty much cast in the accompanist role, playing Bill Evans to Turner's Miles Davis or Ralph Sharon to the cellist's Tony Bennett. Most of the tunes don't escape from their expected theme and variation presentation, with only a few audible deviations.
Unsurprisingly these digressions are most prominent on Ornette Coleman's "Roundtrip", which is also inspired choice as a purported standard. During it, Harmon manages to free himself from sideman bondage and toss in a few unconnected piano chords as Turner uses his bow to saw back and forth on the strings, after having seemingly almost pulled the neck from his instrument at the tune's beginning. Simultaneous piano thumps and cello screeches explode before the melody is reintroduced.
Turner's cello rumbling in the last third of "Solar" is probably the only other norm-deviation that could make mainstreamers queasy about the conventional tunes. Reverberating like a power lawnmower or perhaps a jet plane taking off, the sound forces Harmon into a more intense version of the theme during his solo. That theme itself remains pretty unaltered though, which is the criticism that could be leveled against the duo's treatment of the other standards.
Much more innovation goes into the originals. The cello's naturally melancholy tone perfectly personifies "Mourning". Later the sound morphs into a walking bass line to accompany what could only be termed flamenco flourishes from the piano. Turner then drums on his instrument to turn it into wood percussion before reverting to the sad, gypsy-like tone that began the piece.
"Rabid Poultry", on the other hand, features some of Harmon's most inspired comping as Turner moves from nearly inaudible forays on the instrument's bridge to what sounds can be created by hitting a cello's sides with a bow and rolling small balls within it.
The simplest, but most effective, tune is "Ground Zero", which begins as an out-and-out blues with Turner inverting and strumming his cello like a blues guitar, John Lee Hooker-style. When he reverts to playing arco, his gritty double timing and resonating strings find echoes in Harmon's foot taping, boogie-woogie technique and elongated blue notes.
More consistent, but rather hypothermic, THE MOUSE THAT ROARED was recorded four years before the duo disc at a cello festival concert. An opportunity for Turner to show off his striking technique, there's also the feeling at times that dazzling fellow cello zealot may have contributed to the flash and humorlessness he displays.
Certainly he's impressive enough on these seven improvisations to rouse the audience of middle fiddle fanciers to loud huzzahs on at least one occasion. Other times, though, no matter how hard he tries, the response resembles the sort of by-rote applause you find at classical recitals.
Maybe the restraint was caused by professional jealousy. On "Improv 6," for instance Turner is able to manipulate his strings so that he appears to be playing two instruments at once. Somehow later in the tune, he manages to transforms the cello into an Arabic flute or to at least approximate that tone. "Improv 3" finds him bowing and banging on the cello's body at the same time to produce something very close to literal Spanish guitar passages, which are then extended with four string strums. Meanwhile, the melody that appears two-thirds of the way through "Improv 4" sounds more like a rustic Klezmer air than something made up on the spot.
Still, there are times throughout the disc when his soloing seems to resemble one of those conventional classical virtuoso showpieces. The mechanics are fully on display intimidate or impress other performers in the audience.
All in all, both CDs seem most designed for cello zealots and Turner fans, who will no doubt rush out for them. Still, a drollop of levity on the solo session and a higher percentage of original material on the standards disc would have made both more palatable to all of us.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. I Fall in Love Too Easily 2. Solar 3. Rabid Poultry 4. Mourning 5. Roundtrip 6. Darn That Dream 7. I Want Jesus to Walk With Me 8. Beautiful Love 9. Forbidden Forest 10. Ground Zero 11. Blue In Green
Personnel: Matt Turner (cello); John Harmon (piano, organ)
Track Listing: 1. Improv 1 2. Improv 2 3. Improv 3 4. Improv 4 5. Improv 5 6. Improv 6 7. Improv 7
Personnel: Matt Turner (cello)
September 10, 2001