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Canada Day Octet
482 Music 482-1080
Canada Day III
Songlines SGL 1596-2
Modest to a fault, despite Canadians’ contribution to Jazz since its beginnings, it took the 21st century and Brooklyn-based percussionist Harris Eisenstadt to trumpet his native land in his band name. Formed for a series of gigs beginning on July 1, Canada Day, the quintet has since become one of the Toronto-born drummer’s main touring vehicles. Finally now including another Canadian-in-the-U.S. – powerful and unfussy bassist Garth Stevenson – in the band, the high-quality CDs here demonstrate the flexibility of the core unit plus the percussionist’s compositional heft when writing for both the regular group and an expanded octet.
With an otherwise consistent line-up of some of New York’s most accomplished and flexible players – trumpeter Nate Wooley tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder and vibist Chris Dingman – the expanded Canada Day is joined by more Americans: veteran trombonist Ray Anderson, tubaist Dan Peck and alto saxophonist Jason Mears to make up the Canada Day Octet. Because of this wealth of talent, Eisenstadt can, for instance on the Octet program, use unique harmonies engendered from the juxtaposition of additional instrumental timbres, to expand the parameters of “The Ombudsman”, previously recorded by the quintet.
Presented as a four-part tour-de-force that takes up most of the Octet’s CD, “The Ombudsman” provides each soloist with enough space to bring new nuances to the enhanced creation. Tellingly, the lengthened showpiece isn’t padded with flashy work. Instead, the connective pieces skillfully soars with singular expressions that unfolds on top of a recurring and connective leitmotif involving bass and drum patterning, vibraphone pops plus riffing horns. A generation older than the other players, justly celebrated Anderson’s skills are apparent as early as “The Ombudsman 1”, where his extended capillary cries encompass guffaws and gutbucket slurs. Adding to the staccato excitement are Eisenstadt’s shuffles, drags, flams and rattles, polyphonic expansion from the horn section and a Dingman four-mallet excursion. On his own, the vibraphonist provides a sharp and spacey intro to “The Ombudsman 4”, which itself includes an unforeseen Latin tinge. At the same time Mears offers up finger vibratos and reed bites, while Bauer, not wanting to upset the horn harmonies, sticks to a descriptive obbligato. With the session narrative kept linear with balance among various groupings – percussion and vibes, for instance, or tuba and trombone – it’s Wooley whose playing is furthest out. As the others concentrate on mellow harmonies, on “The Ombudsman 3”, for example, he uses slurs, slides and unique fingering to great effect, deconstructing the line without ever letting it escape from his grasp.
No afterthought, Canada Day III stands on its own. Recorded after a North American tour by the band, the now-sutured ensemble brings a mature interpretation to eight Eisenstadt originals. Each man acquits himself admirably. An accomplished brass explorer, here Wooley mostly confines himself to muted asides or sputtering expansions. He is given his head on the cut-time tempo “Shuttle off this Mortal Coil” however, where his arrhythmic, twisted tongue flutters and rubato blats are paralleled by Bauer’s chromatic output. Appending waltz-time and march-time inferences, the tune also confirms the percussionist’s rhythmic sophistication as well as Dingman’s restrained and connective role.
Earlier on, whether a tune is oriented more towards contemporary swing or allows scope for sonic exploration, each soloist demonstrates his particular musical smarts without overstaying his welcome. Additionally, while Stevenson mostly confines himself to ensuring the time is measured with thumps and slaps, Eisenstadt shows off his command of Western and non-Western beats. “The Magician of Lublin” for instance maintains a sufficiently airy interface as his smacks and pops help centre the exposition as the theme is advanced by the harmonized lead instruments. Alternately he thickens the stop-time exposition on “A Whole New Amount of Interactivity” so that Wooly – smeared and muted – and Bauer – vibrating irregularly and inventively – have the proper back-up to amply express their ideas.
All and all both Canada Days provide high-class, up-to-date programs of improvised music that will be enjoyed by many. If other Canadian musicians could become more self-assertive and nationalist, the country’s musical contribution may be recognized for what it has provided to Jazz and improvised music.
Track Listing: III: 1. Slow and Steady 2. Settled 3. A Whole New Amount of Interactivity 4. The Magician of Lublin 5. Song for Sara 6. Nosey Parker 7. Shuttle off this Mortal Coil 8. King of the Kutiriba
Personnel: III: Nate Wooley (trumpet); Matt Bauder (tenor saxophone); Chris Dingman (vibraphone); Garth Stevenson (bass) and Harris Eisenstadt (drums)
Track Listing: Octet: 1. The Ombudsman 1 2. The Ombudsman 2 3. The Ombudsman 3 4. The Ombudsman 4 5. Ballad for 10.6.7
Personnel: Octet: Nate Wooley (trumpet); Ray Anderson (trombone); Dan Peck (tuba); Jason Mears (alto saxophone); Matt Bauder (tenor saxophone); Chris Dingman (vibraphone); Garth Stevenson (bass) and Harris Eisenstadt (drums)
January 1, 2013
The Other Parade
Clean Feed CF 223 CD
Gligg Records 009
Contemporary trombonists’ command of multiphonics as well as more conventional techniques has made their playing more versatile. But it’s still a rare trombonist who is confident enough to have his as the only horn in any sort of ensemble. Two who face the challenge admirably are American Ray Anderson, one-third of the 33-year-old BassDrumBone band and German Christof Thewes, part of numerous Continental combinations. The Schiffweiler-based brass man has given himself an even tougher assignment than Anderson. For while the Yank has long been partnered by bassist Mark Helias of New York and drummer Gerry Hemingway, who now lives in Luzerne, 10 Pieces is a CD of stark improv involving Thewes and bassist Jan Oestreich from Saarbrücken. Still, surprisingly or not, both CDs come off as equal, demonstrations of trombone triumphs.
A veteran bull fiddler, Oestreich has played with everyone from vocalist Joe Lee Wilson to saxophonist Archie Shepp, while Thewes has played with the Globe Unity orchestra and Uli Gumpert’s Workshop band as well as in smaller ensembles with pianist Uwe Oberg and drummer Michael Griener. However in essence, this particular duo session is designed to showcase the timbral strategies of each player and demonstrate how instantaneously each can respond to what his opposite number creates.
For instance, “Piece 9” joins stop-time linear movements from the ’bone man with walking bass lines which appear after Oestreich has demonstrated his guitar-like string twanging. Soon Thewes accelerates to brassy, triple tonguing spits while simultaneously slurring adagio-paced basso timbres back into the horn`s body tube. Before a coda of staccato brass bites, the two recap the head in unison. In contrast, tracks such as “Piece 2” and “Piece 3” points out how Thewes’ plunger tone shakes respond to the bassist stretching his lines with a mixture of spiccato and shuffle bowing, guiding Oestreich to woody angled string pops on the subsequent track, which are met by an equivalent rappel up the scale with tongue stops, slurs and splutters from the trombonist. Finally, as Oestreich slaps the waist and belly of his instrument, the duo reveals a polyphonic theme that sounds as if it just wandered off the TV from the soundtrack of a Cop show.
By the last piece the trombonist and bassist have worked out a formula that allows them to switch parts back and forth with effort. Widely reverberating bass lines turn to subtle string stretching as Oestreich’s steadily thumps, then these string expressions are bisected by Thewes’ staccato bites and slides. Later the trombonist’s emphasized cries leaves enough open space for great, woody bass slaps from Oestreich, although shortly afterwards the bull fiddler’s combination string stretching and percussive vocalizing are decorated by rubato brays and tongue slurring from the brassman. Probably the most spectacular example of Thewes’ skill however is on “Piece 7”, where multiphonics make it seem as if he’s playing two horns at once. There are speedier and restrained plunger sequences which are interrupted by slower, mid-pitched basso tones. Eventually the wheezes and fortissimo cries multiply to such an extent that both brass lines appear to be moving at the same time.
If there’s another trombonist even more cognizant of what a slide, tube and valves can do then it’s Anderson. One of the first brass players not affiliated with any school, throughout the years he’s added the freak effects of pre-modern soloists to the technical smarts of the Boppers … and gone beyond even that. More than an instrumental virtuoso, he also composes pleasing themes, as he proves on The Other Parade. However compositional duties aren’t limited to one trio member, as all demonstrate throughout.
Hemingway’s sophisticated percussion adds another color to the kind of interaction Thewes and Oestreich exhibit on the other CD, but the drummer is sensitive enough to keep each side of the triangle balanced. On Anderson-penned “Lips and Grits” and “King Louisiana”, for instance, his clatter, snaps, beats and cymbal claps are close cousins to Classic Jazz, with the New Haven-born percussionist suggesting the drumming of New Orleans’ Baby Dodds. Helias’ slap bass trading fours with the drummer’s rim shots at the climax of “King Louisiana” admirably fit this post-modern conception, as do the bassist’s stentorian thumps à la Pops Foster throughout both pieces. Meanwhile the trombonist mixes up his capillary expression. Sometimes it’s back-of-the-throat sputters and rubato wah-wahs, other times his bass register guffaws stay in that clef, as chromatic spits that could come from a cornet are also heard.
These variants of Old Timey and New Thing ideas further separate this trio from the other duo. On careful listening however, it’s evident that Anderson is stretching trombone timbres the same way as Thewes does on the other CD, although in the song form rather than as stark New music expositions. “The Blue Light Down the Line”, the feature Helias composed for Anderson, illuminates this still further. As Hemingway stays in the background with light taps and the bassist stretches and vibrates his strings rhythmically, the trombonist moves from vocalized hand-muting to gutbucket shading, to constricted grace notes, and finally to a capella guffaws and shakes.
The Hemingway-penned title track and concluding track put a finer point on all this, with the jocularity of other tunes traded in for a mournful theme, reminiscent of a Second Line or Mummer’s funeral parade. Not in march tempo however, the bass and drum parts harmonize in such a way to move the piece forward linearly, as the trombonist purrs and buzzes first quickly than moderato. The finale matches an expansion of metallic brass textures and martial rat-tat-tats.
Should folks still doubt that trombones can’t carry their own weight musically in stripped-down situations, a quick listen to either of these CDs should change minds very quickly.
Track Listing: Parade: 1. Show Tuck 2. The Blue Light Down the Line 3. King Louisian 4. Rhythm Generation 5. Soft Shoe Mingle 6. Unforgiven 7. The Masque 8. Lips and Grits 9. The Other Parade
Personnel: Parade: Ray Anderson (trombone); Mark Helias (bass) and Gerry Hemingway (drums)
Track Listing: Pieces: 1. Piece1 2. Piece 2 3. Piece 3 4. Piece 4 5. Piece 5 6. Piece 6 7.Piece 7 8. Piece 8 9. 10. Piece 10
Personnel: Pieces: Christof Thewes (trombone) and Jan Oestreich (bass)
January 15, 2012
Barry Altschul Trio
Roi Boyé & the Gotham Mintrels
Oliver Lake/Julius Hemphill
The Solo Trombone Record
Of Blues and Dreams
Karl Berger & Dave Holland
All Kinds of Time
Something in the Air: Sackville Record’s Avant-Garde Releases Return
By Ken Waxman
Besides gaining a reputation for its demographically diverse and eminently liveable neighbourhoods, when it came to improvised music starting in the early 1970s Toronto was actually a world-class city in more than civic boosterism. That’s because on the initiative of photographer/musician Bill Smith, Sackville records was issuing LPs by some of the most significant avant-garde players from New York, Chicago and St. Louis. Recorded for the most part in local studios, these discs – and affiliated concerts – documented these emerging stylists and designated Toronto’s as part of the international free jazz firmament. Now Chicago’s Delmark label is distributing CD reissues of the original Sackville records.
Probably the most significant session was the label’s one two-disc package, saxophonist and flautist Julius Hemphill’s Roi Boyé & the Gotham Minstrels Sackville SKCD2-3014/15. It’s a solo session that’s a pioneering example of using multi-tracking to create a compelling audio drama. Best known as a founder of the World Saxophone Quartet (WSQ), Hemphill (1938-1995) was interested in programmatic story telling not reed bravado. One observation is that the often-delicate timbres of the reedist’s overdubbed flutes were showcased at a time when the cliché of advanced jazz imagined every player a discordant eardrum-assaulter. Even when playing astringent alto saxophone, as on the second track, Hemphill is so in control of his material that he doesn’t lapse into glottal punctuation. Instead he replicates a New York subway journey through an overdubbed choir of yelping saxophones. Exactly one year later, Hemphill and his WSQ colleague Oliver Lake recorded the duo disc, Buster Bee Sackville SKCD2-3016 in Toronto. As notable as their teamwork was, it lacks the revolutionary force of the solo set. On “Roi Boyé” for instance, Hemphill devotes the final track to a narrative about a black artist’s life in a materialistic society, punctuating his story-telling with harsh squeals, discordant whorls and split tones, Another track replicates a butterfly’s attraction through stacked and harmonized reed tones that meander linearly; while a third is practically a capriccio, with the theme bouncing along, propelled by carefully stacked, overdubbed horn vamps, while reed-biting and pressurized vibratos from the alto saxophone come in-and-out of aural focus for contrast; ending with a distinctive contralto textural upturn. Hemphill doesn’t neglect jazz’s bedrock, the blues, either. One extended piece positions a soulful alto saxophone riff, basso lip-bubbling from the flute and a heavily breathed soprano saxophone line that could come from a country blues harmonica, while discordant, pitches slide contrapuntally among them. Eventually the track reflects both the guttural despair and altissimo promise of the music.
Another pace-setting session took place a year earlier, with George Lewis’ The Solo Trombone Record Sackville SKCD2-3012 the first session under his own name by the musician now as famous for his computer-directed music as for his brass mastery. Audacious to the nth degree, the disc’s “Tonebursts” is another example of overdubbing. But while Hemphill was 39, with years of gigging behind him when “Roi Boyé” was recorded, Lewis was all of 24. In spite of his youth, the 20-minute track is another tour-de-force with the trombonist evidentially able to stylistically replicate key attributes of older brassmen, calling upon the color of Tricky Sam Nanton, the sophistication of Lawrence Brown and the speed of J. J. Johnson at will and blending them as needed. Here expressive lines are sometimes replaced by a sudden staccato brays, or mid-improv, a trombone choir harmonizes, with its parts segmented among bass trombone pedal-point, alto trombone open-horn linearity, and the highest textures strained though a cup mute. There are even times during which you could swear a supple saxophone is soloing accompanied by phantom guitar strokes. Besides expressive glissandi, timbres are sourced from deep within the trombone body; capillary lines are lobbed from one ‘bone to another; or rubato tones share space with polyharmonies and polytones. Eventually techniques such as oscillated mouthpiece kisses are replaced with resonating runs that maintain an almost conventional jazz-styled line while at the same time making room for growling ostinatos and altissimo cries. Lewis also provides a solo interpretation of “Lush Life”, but more impressive are other tracks such as “Untitled Dream Sequence”. Taken at the same tempo as that Billy Strayhorn classic, the piece’s note-slurping, double-tongued accents and speedy glisses from every part of the horn demonstrate that exciting improvisation doesn’t have to be fortissimo, super-fast or discordant.
Lewis was also more than just present a year previously when saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell’s Quartet on Sackville SKCD2-3009 was recorded live at Toronto’s long defunct A Space gallery. The momentous session not only captures a then-rare example of the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s saxophonist performing without the other band members, but puts him in an all-star context. Other quartet members are pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, probably the most respected Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians founder, and Detroit guitarist Spencer Barefield. Mitchell and Lewis expose sonorous counterpoint on one duo track and the trombonist alone turns Mitchell’s “Olobo” into another brass tour-de-force, blending a near ballad exposition with guttural sniggers, near-silent breaths and a coda of overblowing. Group dynamics are memorable as well. Sonic tension is almost visible on “Tnoona”. With the theme built up from the saxophonist’s tongue flutters and split tones, guitar vibration, Lewis’ sliding plunger work and Abrams’ focussed note clusters, it finally dissolves without release. Aleatory as suggested by its title, Mitchell’s “Cards” is the CD’s most fully-realized composition. Chromatic forward motion is due to the pianist’s expressive low-frequency runs, but the linear form is punctuated by Barefield’s oscillating amp reverb. Meanwhile Mitchell’s reeds bark with clown-horn-like blasts and dilating split tones, as the trombonist contributes plunger grace notes and discursive pedal point. A coda of stentorian guitar strums completes the improvisation.
Other 1970s group sessions involve a rare excursion into focused European improvisations on All Kinds of Time Sackville SKCD2-3010 by a duo of German pianist/vibist Karl Berger and British bassist Dave Holland, who now follows a more mainstream course; plus pianist Anthony Davis, best-known for operas such as X and Amistad, expressing himself with a suite and shorter composition backed by violin, cello and percussion. But it is Brahma Sackville SKCD2-3023 from 1980 which best demonstrates the musical future which was partially ushered in by these earlier discs. Led by veteran drummer Barry Altschul, the unusually constituted trio introduced two players now in the prime of their career: trombonist Ray Anderson and bassist Mark Helias. Improvising jazz is never static, and unlike uncompromising abstraction that characterizes earlier discs in this set, swinging elements are now mixed with the risk-taking solos. These rhythmic components still go far beyond the conventional. Altschul’s solo on the 17-minute title track may hit a groove, but his bulls-eye beat is amplified with timbre scrambles using mallets and sticks, ratamacues and drags on toms and snares, plus numerous interjections that bring in cymbal shaking, bell-tree resonation, waterphone scrapes, cow bell thwacks and shrills from slide whistles. The finale involves shaking a thunder sheet for fortissimo oscillations; the mid-section is based on a martial beat from the percussionist and wide-angled stops and thumps from Helias. Overall, this drum finesse is synchronized with elephant-like grunts from Anderson’s sousaphone when the brassman isn’t altering themes with flutter-tonguing, freak note whinnying and gutbucket slurs. Capable of smooth balladry on Altschul’s mid-tempo “Irina”, Anderson also whistles and slurs his way through his own Spanish-tinged “Con Alma de Noche” backed by woodblock bops and opposite sticking from the drummer. And he enlivens the bassist’s “Lism” with triplet-extended brassiness, allowing Helias to hand pump and sluice his way up-and-down the strings with guitar-like expressiveness as the stop-time tune evolves.
Advanced improvisations featuring out-of-towners, not to mention the burgeoning local free music community, continues to be recorded in the GTA. These historically important and musically impressive albums show how one series of discs successfully captured musical changes.
-- For Whole Note Vol. 16 #10
July 12, 2011
Winter & Winter 910 093-2
The Current Underneath
Leo CD LR 379
Two approaches to the standard jazz piano trio end up with vastly different results with only one making a major statement.
On THE CURRENT UNDERNEATH, Swiss pianist Michel Wintsch puts aside the sentimental streak that undermined earlier efforts with his Euro-American WHO Trio to create nine slices of thoughtful improvised music. Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi and his two famous American sidemen in Tethered Moon, seems to have picked up all the indolent romanticism cast aside by Wintsch however, making EXPERIENCING TOSCA, a torpid and somewhat lugubrious exercise, more notable for lockstep methodology and top-flight recording sound than a range of emotions.
Kikuchi insists that he doesnt like opera, because the visual aspect undermines his imagination. But the melodramatic details of Giacomo Puccinis tale of the painter Cavaradossi, awaiting execution, thinking of his beloved Tosca are so established in Western musical thought that the mere act of homage to the composer provides a syrupy undertone to the eight improvisations.
Intentionally or not this back story isnt helped by the fact that the pianist is a musical chameleon. He has dabbled in everything from contemporary jazz with trumpeter Terumasa Hino and as part of drummer Elvin Jones combo to funk with his All-Night All-Right Off-White Boogie Band. Tethered Moon, formed in 1990, has released earlier tribute CDs to singer Edith Piaf and composer Kurt Weill. It also happens to be completed by veteran bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian, both of whom put in time in the bands of two of jazzs Ur-romantic pianists: Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett.
That means that almost every tune here is taken adagio or andante with the odd blues change or outright swinging section making its incongruent appearance like a hand-made clay bowl in the midst of a room full of fine crystal. Not that theres too much of that either. One tune is even labeled a blues, but its not the sort of blues Bobby Timmons or even Oscar Peterson would recognize. Motian may highlight powerful cross sticking and Peacock a thumping beat, but the pianists standard changes, characterized by a single, flashy glissando, dont re-imagine the form, the way someone like Uri Caine has down with lieder.
Its the same story for most of the other numbers, low frequency ballads for the most part, filled with vibrated fantasia. In Part II for instance, the output is so subdued and tasteful that it almost sounds as if Kikuchi is referencing It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. Should you want to hear a link to Jarrett or Peterson, however, that comes via the piano mans over-recorded vocalisms. Grunts, retches and groans punctuate the daintiest etudes.
As all this is going on Peacock, whose ability to fit in with any situation has allowed him to work with folks as disparate as ethereal guitarist Ralph Towner and New Thing sax pioneer Albert Ayler, sticks to the pianist like seaweed on rice. Every time Kikuchi makes a particularly salient point, its echoed by the perfect tone from the bassist -- arco or pizzicato. Additionally, when Kikuchi rouses himself from ravishing impressionistic harmonies to showcase swinging left-handed pressure or tremolo voicings, Motians right there, adding a wasabi of knife-sharp cymbal slaps or spherical ratamacues.
Anything but skyward bound, the performances on the CD are actually tethered to the ground, rather than the moon.
Together for a shorter period, The Who Trio has fused into an exceptional performance unit. Peripatetic American drummer Gerry Hemingway, who is occupied with numerous bands on both sides of the Atlantic, adds pinpoint percussion accents exactly where needed, and Swiss bassist Bänz Oester is the consummate accompanist. Chief composer Wintsch, who as a rule sounds less-than-comfortable in freer situations like his CD with guitarist Fred Frith and vocalist Franziska Baumann, may have found the perfect setting for his ideas.
This is made most clear on Seduna in Wallis parts1 and 2, which combined are 14¼-minutes of definite EuroJazz, designated that way because the two draw on both the jazz and classical traditions without straining. A sensible swinger that begins with flashing octaves and key pats from Wintsch, its extended by Hemingways steady snare and cymbal beats plus prickly bent notes from Oester.
Moving into part 2, the tune is decorated with anthem-like harmonies and two handed, two tempo piano notes arriving from different places to intersect. Soon hard-handed touch and pedal extensions ratchet up the tautness and excitement level, as one of Wintschs hands appears to be reaching out across the keyboard to stroke different patterns, augmented with forearm force. Speedy arpeggios roll back and forth with contrasting patterns in either hand, with the pianist generating a dramatic waterfall of slinky, bent notes. Rocketing up the impetus, the drummer contributes rim and cymbal shots and a military tattoo on snare, riding nearly every part of the kit with double flams, bounces and rebounds. Finally the tension dissipates after ponticello shuffle bowing from Oester and what seems to be Wintsch playing the opening strain from Ornette Colemans Focus On Sanity.
European chansonnier-linked ballads make their appearance here as they did on earlier WHO CDs. Yet this time the pianist overcomes their innate mawkishness, using
key clips, pedal pumps and other pragmatic strategies to strip them down to the musical core. Thus a piece like Ma ptite chanson, aided by Oesters thwacks and string-stretching evolves from tinkly piano fluff to a polyrhythmic exercise in tempo changing abstraction. Would that Kikuchi had done the same on his disc.
Other compositions -- by Wintsch, other pop tunesmiths or jointly from the trio --benefit from other surprises. Clacking railway track sounds from the drummer and strummed octaves and cross-handed exercises from pianist livens them up. Meanwhile, the bassists invention is characterized by slapping bow wood against the bull fiddles wood for effect or riding the strings pizzicato like a skateboarder on an incline.
Trombonist Ray Anderson adds his slurring plunger work to the final tune with Wintsch introducing echoing electric piano tones. Yet with WHO members functioning on the same high level as before, Jirai is more a conformation of their talents than a change of pace.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Current: 1. Quartier Lointain 2. Swantra 3. Jerusalem 4. Seduna in Wallis, part 1 5. Seduna in Wallis, part 2 6. Ma ptite chanson 7. Rabin's cat 8. Mir mag halt niemert öppis günnee 9. Jirai*
Personnel: Current: Ray Anderson (trombone)*; Michel Wintsch (piano, electric piano*); Bänz Oester (bass); Gerry Hemingway (drums)
Track Listing: Tosca: 1. Prologue 2. Part I 3. Part II 4. Part III 5. Homage to Puccini 6. Ballad 7. Blues for Tosca 8. Part IV
Personnel: Tosca: Masabumi Kikuchi (piano); Gary Peacock (bass); Paul Motian (drums)
July 12, 2004
BOBBY PREVITE & BUMP
Just Add Water
Palmetto PM 2081
For years the definition of the so-called downtown New York drummer, Bobby Previte has never stopped moving for long. He has mixed it up with everyone from saxophonist John Zorn to guitarist Elliott Sharp, helmed a variety of bands with ever more bizarre names, scored indie films, appeared as an actor in a Robert Altman movie, given percussion workshops, and written music for the Moscow Circus.
Organized as a combo to tour Europe playing the music of his remarkable debut LP in 1987, the dynamism of this Bump band encouraged him to write new tunes and this CD is the happy result. Built around a rhythm section of veteran electric bass player Steve Swallow, pianist and old friend Wayne Horvitz and Previte, the group has space age tailgate specialist trombonist Ray Anderson, Marty Ehrlich, unexpectedly on tenor saxophone, as its front line. Bumps blowers are expanded by Defunkt trombonist Joseph Bowie on this disc.
Exploring that POMO netherworld where the shades of Albert Ayler, Red Garland and Tricky Sam Nanton and the Bar Keys seem to coexist, the music is held together by Prevites powerful, yet moderated rumbles and tumbles.
Biggest surprise is Ehrlich, recording on the larger sax for the first time, or first time in a long, long while. Divorced from his expected clarinet, bass clarinet or soprano and alto saxophone he seems to be channeling the spirit of Big Al Sears, who was both an Ellington band member and pioneer R&B honker. On Stingray for instance, which is driven like the Corvette by Prevites drum rolls, he and the bones voice what could easily be a Stax/Volt horn line, complimenting Horvitzs piano which mixed rockabilly and a Garland of Reds blues. Additionally, his bar walking tenor squeals on the funky 53 Maserati, may reference his early apprenticeship in St. Louis avant Black Artists Group, yet probably sound very familiar to the drummer, reminding him of the honky tonks of his Niagara Falls, N.Y. boyhood. One the other hand, Ehrlich exhibits a deep chested Swing era vibrato on Put Away Your Crayons and his solo feature, Nice Try.
Anderson (and possibly Bowie -- it isnt clear if hes on every track) moves comfortably through the eras, exhibiting his (their?) jungle band growl for Everything I Want then blasting into the Arkestra-explored stratosphere on All Hail Kirby! Perverse as is his wont, the drummer/composer offers subtle cymbals and brushwork on the former but distorts the later with a backbeat that appears to be derived from Lee Morgans The Sidewinder. Both bones are definitely onboard for the miniature foottapper 63 as they race around Ehrlichs upraised Ayler-like sax lines.
All together, this CD is convincing evidence of how many disparate strands of playing and thinking can be brought together. Listening to Prevites new tunes you get a rare glimpse of Ehrlichs tenor playing, Swallows more felt-than-heard bass backup away from Carla Bley and his usual associates, Horvitz playing acoustic piano jazz instead of his more derivative keyboard and electronics, and two top tooting trombonists.
Prevites recent BITCHES BREW tribute band Horse was derivative and merely one more Miles emulation. Its obvious after listening to this session that hes better off and more impressive going his own way, recalling his past rather than anothers.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Put Away Your Crayons 2. Nice Try 3. Leave Here Now 4. 53 Maserati 5. 63 6. Stingray 7. Everything I Want 8. All Hail Kirby! 9/ Theme for an Imaginary Dénouement
Personnel: Ray Anderson, Joseph Bowie (trombones); Marty Ehrlich (tenor saxophone); Wayne Horvitz (piano); Steve Swallow (electric bass); Bobby Previte (drums)
February 8, 2002
CRI Blueshift 2002
CRI Blueshift 2003
The Claudia Quartet
CRI Blueshift 2004
Moving among improv, big band jazz, New music and song-based material, percussionist/composer John Hollenbeck has made a name for himself in New York over the past half-decade. During that time, Hollenbeck, who also has a masters degree from Rochesters Eastman School of Music has worked with folks as varied as dancer/composer Meredith Monk, arranger Bob Brookmeyer, downtown trumpeter Cuong Vu and Klezmer brassman Frank London.
Taken together, these three new CDs impressively illuminate the diversity of his compositional and playing skills. But enough insubstantial music appears on them to prevent coming up with the highest rating for the entire oeuvre.
Most problematic, especially from a jazz point of view, is the Quartet Lucy disc. Even acknowledging that the drummer has characterized his vision as taking in elements of both jazz and classical music -- and what a murky Third Stream that is to swim in -- most of the tunes of this project seem too precious and wimpy.
Chief irritant is the singing voice of Theo Bleckmann, an acquired taste at best. With a timbre that resembles that of a counter-tenor or a castrato, he adds even more of a lacy front parlor feel to the 10 tunes here. Defenders would point out that the song-oriented results are skewed more towards the concepts of Meredith Monk rather than Thelonious Monk or the Monkees. But the frothy sheen of slow-moving wordless vocalizing and continuous held notes lean more towards easy listening.
When words are added to the equation, as on The Music of Life and Dreams for Tomorrow the banalities of the sentiments dont help. On the latter, which Bleckmann begins singing in a more conventional register, returns to the castrato region once Skuli Sverrison begins plucking his bajo sexto. Sverrisons ethereal, Pat Metheny-style electric bass forays dont help other numbers, nor do Dan Willis contributions on very legit-sounding English horn and flute.
The main argument against this session is that these saccharine touches detract from Hollenbecks pointed percussion excursions most of the time. Its hard to know whether Jazz Envy with its go-man-go electric bass work, tough tenor sax solo and stiff drum beat is supposed to be a parody of the music, like John Zorns Jazz Snob Eat Shit t-shirt. If it is, parodying the music with a 19th century concept doesnt prove much.
More of a showcase for the percussionists versatility is NO IMAGES, which features him in five different situations in six tracks. Very quickly passing over another track with Bleckmann and even sparser accompaniment, your ears should be directed to The Drum Major Instinct, Hollenbecks major achievement. Conceived of during his final year at Eastman, the nearly 25 minute long composition pairs the taped voice of Martin Luther King Jr. with three trombonists and the drummer. Functioning as both the church choir and a congregation energized by Kings sermon, the bones add rumble, slur, flutter and plunger sounds to his works, following the pitch and cadence of the ministers voice.
Vehement in execution as King denounces the war in Vietnam and the White Citizens Council with equal fervor, the trombone choir and drums not only recall those sounds provided by a Sanctified combo, but the emotions stirred up the statements. Direct, percussive and to the point, Hollenbecks writing and playing makes concrete the link between the sermons title and his art.
Almost as impressive are the tracks which feature the drummer dueting with either tenor saxophonist Dave Liebman or tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, or those two plus tenor saxophonist Rick DiMuzio.
Top rank here should go to the mano-a-mano stop-and-start blow out with Eskelin. Using his deep breathing, abstract tones -- and overtones -- to spur the drummer to investigate all parts of his kit from miniscule cymbal and triangle tickles to protracted press rolls and bass drum accents. With a harder, heavier tone than Eskelin and an approach thats closer to the Energy music of the 1960s, Liebman growls, squeals and frog marches through the tempos as the drummer tastefully smashes and bangs at full speed and strength to keep up.
Variegated tempos and techniques enliven the more than 10 minute Bluegreenyellow as Hollenbeck sticks to a pulsating rhythmic line with percussive accents to face off against all three saxes at once. Parrying and thrusting, each reedman takes turns stepping up front to solo, with the others acting as a sort of Greek chorus. All and all the satisfying outcome sounds vaguely martial, though it does end rather suddenly.
For pure consistency, the music of the Claudia Quintet, which performs well-received club gigs throughout Manhattans Lower East Side, is most convincing. But even here a certain sameness creeps into the almost 68 minutes of the disc.
While some of the citys most accomplished downtowners are featured -- reedman Chris Speed, accordionist Ted Reichman, vibist Matt Moran and bassist Drew Gress -- the George-Shearing-meets-the-Bowery band could do with some tougher charts and execution.
Thursday 11:14am (grey), for instance, the longest track, is suffused with the sort of echoing melancholy you can find around Ground Zero these days. Between the languorous clarinet tones, tiny drumbeats and the shimmer of vibes using almost no vibrato, the effect is almost lighter than air. In the end the tune moves so slowly that you can almost sense it vanishing into thin air.
Oddly, considering its usual place in an ensemble, its the bass solo in No D, which speeds up the tempo and pushes the vibes and drums into more regular foot-patting rhythm after Hollenbeck and Moran individually have turned out restrained percussion prologues. Speeds spikier tenor sound and Reichmans swirling keys and bellows add to the new mood. On Visions of Claudia the clarinetist toys with multiphonics after hes stated the melody in mid-register. Hollenbecks military-style tattoo advances the tune, with accordion chords cushioning the exposition.
This triptych of releases certainly illustrates the three faces of John and what he can do is in his many personas. Portending well for the percussionists future as a multi-talent, they suggest that tying all the personalities together may one day allow him to aurally paint his masterpiece.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Claudia: 1. meinetwegen 2. a-b-s-t-i-n-e-n-c-e 3. Love Song for Kate 4. Thursday 7:30pm (holy) 5. Thursday 11:14am (grey) 6. Thursday 3:44pm (playground) 7. Burt and Ken 8. ...after a dance or two, we sit down for a pint with Gil and Tim... 9. No D 10. Visions of Claudia
Personnel: Claudia: Chris Speed (clarinet, tenor saxophone); Ted Reichman (accordion); Matt Moran (vibraphone, percussion); Drew Gress (bass); John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion)
Track Listing: Lucy: 1.Vanishing Lucy 2. ethel 3. Foreva 4. materna 5. dreams for tomorrow^ 6. Constant Conversation (8:29) 7.Chapel flies* 8. jazz envy 9. Vira-folha* 10. The Music of Life
Personnel: Lucy: Dan Willis (tenor and soprano saxophone, flute, English horn); Jonas Tauber (cello)*; Skuli Sverrison (electric bass, bajo sexto)^; John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion, piano, berimbau^); Theo Bleckmann (voice, piano^)
Track Listing: No: 1. Bluegreenyellow#^+& 2. Without morning 3. Liebman/Hollenbeck Vignettes+ 4. The Drum Major Instinct*~ 5. Eskelin/Hollenbeck Vignettes^ 6. No images$
Personnel: No: Tim Sessions*, David Taylor*, Ray Anderson* (trombones); Rick DiMuzio#, Ellery Eskelin^, David Liebman+ (tenor saxophones); Ben Monder (guitar%); John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion, laughter samples and autoharp with portable fan$); Theo Bleckmann (voice%); Martin Luther King Jr. (voice on tape~)
January 8, 2002