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PATRICK ZIMMERLI & OCTURN
The Book of Hours
17 Themes for Ockodektet
PfMentum CD 010
Fashioning large-scale compositions for a group of improvising players can be approached in at least two ways. One is to create parts for particular musicians, go over every semidemiquaver of the score and through a series of rehearsals and road trips perfect the performance so its note-perfect and ready to be recorded under optimum studio conditions.
Another way is to gather a bunch of your friends and associates for a live concert honoring some important occasion, bring along a bunch of charts which they may or may not have seen before and have them play them. Capture the whole thing direct to DAT and release the resulting product. Saxophonist Patrick Zimmerli and trumpeter Jeff Kaisers CDs offer examples of each of these approaches.
New Yorker Zimmerli has won music prizes, written film scores, string quartets and piano concertos as well as pieces for chamber orchestras, jazz combos and jazz bands. THE BOOK OF HOURS is a 56-minute jazz suite, referencing a medieval monastic tradition when a different prayer was said at seven different times of the day. A superior exercise in chamber jazz, the piece was commissioned and is played by Octurn, a 10-year-old Brussels-based collective led by baritone saxophonist Bo Van der Werf. Before recording in a formation that added American guitarist Ben Monder to the 10-piece ensemble plus Zimmerli on soprano sax, the band with the composer on board toured the composition throughout Belgium for a month.
Ventura, Calif.-based Kaiser conducts, teaches music privately, organizes New music concerts, performs with his own groups and with trombonist Michael Vlatkovichs Brass Trio, multi-reedist Vinny Golias Large Ensemble and anarchistic guitarist Eugene Chadbourne among many others. An ad hoc large orchestra, a bit distantly recorded runs though Kaisers newest creations on 17 THEMES. A 40th birthday present to himself, hes now seven years older than Zimmerli.
As evidenced by his playing partners the Left Coast trumpeter is also from the anything goes school of free improvisation, while the saxophonist could be slotted in the more formal compositional and orchestrational stream that includes the likes of Gil Evans and Gunther Schuller. Besides the fact that that the 17 (sic) musicians on Kaisers CD play only 14 (sic) separate tunes, the cheerful anarchy that characterizes the rest of his work extends to the packaging. His disc comes in a paper sleeve inserted inside a two- color cardboard wraparound, illustrated with what looks like items copied from a fanciful mechanical catalogue. In a proper jewel case, the Zimmerli disc on the other hand is beautifully illustrated as if it was a faux medieval illuminated manuscript, with attractive designs depicted on both the booklet cover and the CD itself.
Proper clean lines and bright pastel colors that are part of BOOK OF HOURS illustrations reflect the discs contents as well. Moving faultlessly through a variety of time signatures, harmonies, melodies and compositional colors, the band members play their parts seemingly without a note out of place. You can often almost sense score pages being turned. More engaging, though, is how Zimmerli has taken the outlines of a pious ceremony and used compositional alchemy to make the multi-movement suite both secular and energetic. By the same token he hasnt let the ensembles (in this case) two drummers, two electric guitarists and two electric bassists force the sounds into a harder fusion mold. Instead his BOOK OF HOURS seems to be ticking away somewhere near the time when cool was born.
Among the themes are four small group contrapuntal interludes which allude to John Coltranes A Love Supreme. Featuring no more than fleeting recapitulations of the famous riff, they add to the suites reverent quality.
Dont imagine this as a jazz version of monastic plainchant, though. Octurn can certainly swing, albeit lightly. Over the course of the disc you hear thick bass guitar vamps; metre-changing drumming which sometimes sounds like horses hooves and other times distinctive Afro-Cuban percussion; thick ostinato chords; muted trumpet and ethereal soprano saxophone sections. There are times when the entire ensemble swells to resemble a medieval cathedral organ; plus piano parts which suggest montuneando at certain points or the output of a 16th century virginal elsewhere. There are references to the rondo, alternating melodies, 12-tone structures and even the blues.
Its only on the last where the band falls down. While trombonist Geoffroy De Masure tries hard and trumpeter Laurent Blondiau even harder so that he gets a bit of grit into his solos, no one is ever going to confuse either of them for Al Gray or Cootie Williams respectively. Muted interludes and staccato blasts are handled by the brass and horns with aplomb, as are the contortions pianist Fabian Fiorini is sometimes asked to go through, but this isnt a band of distinctive soloists. Even in their brief features, Monder and Zimmerli as well, seem uncharacteristically pale.
So celebrate THE BOOK OF HOURS as an exceptionally well-written festival feature that swings gently in pristine sound.
No one would ever say the latter about 17 THEMES, which at times comes across as so distinct and murky that certain parts are almost lost. Then again Kaiser had to balance the contributions of five more musicians than Zimmerli, not to mention oddball instruments like the euphonium, tuba, prepared acoustic guitar, electronics and a theremin in an open-air space.
With titles quirkier and more complicated than Zimmerlis time-of-day themed compositions, the trumpeter has come up with two suites of music where themes run right into one another despite individually numbered tracks. Upfront though, with the band members operating at a high-energy level reminiscent of Tranes ASCENSION band or The Globe Unity Orchestra. Dense sounds like these often depend on pure emotion and stick-to-it-ness to succeed and the group has both of those attributes in spades.
In the first suite the lumbering, swaying beast takes its shape from the rumbling ostinato pulse provided by the three percussionists and Mark Weavers tuba blasts. When the cacophony lessens it often appears as if theres a contest on between shaking, screeching brass and smeary woodwind trills. As parallel echoing cries from cross blowing flutists mix with saxophone split tones while electronics and percussion build up a curtain of intense power, the odd a capella respite by vaporous oboe or muted Baroque trumpet at least lightens the mood. Other sounds that pierce the block of thick sound are Brad Dutzs subtle marimba lines plus whistles and shimmies from whats probably Ernesto Diaz-Infantes prepared acoustic guitar.
Eventually before the theme resolves itself as a close relative to those multi-percussion anthems that Sun Ras Arkestra and the Art Ensemble of Chicago encouraged others to emulate in the 1960s and 1970s, saxophone tones move from the nephritic to snaking musette-like, piccolos soar bird-like, trumpets gliss and purr, snare and bass drums go in-and-out of march tempo and it seems that every cymbal in the band is scratched for maximum ear abrasion.
Shorter by almost 20 minutes, suite two begins with some heavy Wagnerian chords played by the massed horns and what sound like strings probably produced by Wayne Peets electronic samples. Before the theme is reprised and propelled to the next sonic level by the horns, both guitarists appear to be indulging in behind the bridge flat picking. Suddenly a pastoral section faces off with what could be a distinctive, echoing steel drum tone, which itself morphs into a J. Arthur Rank style gong tone. Soon
The brass shakes and squeals, the woodwinds turn spit and grit and tongue slaps into rhythm and a distinct hunting horn resonance characterizes the euphonium. Following some EST electronic timbres and a kettle drum line, a bleating tenor saxophone and plunger trumpet introduce a bouncing near-military tempo which cements the sections together. Launched on top of Peets swelling organ passages and some straightahead rat tat tat drumming from the percussionists, the dissonance seems to reach its screaming finale as honks and vamps alternate back-and-forth. At least, that is, until the entire sonic picture fades into a final reverberating cymbal tone.
Obviously the Ockodektet made up in exertion and effort what it lacked in arrangements and pristine sound, though it would have helped to know which of the woodwind soloists played which instrument. If you can get through the often murky sound here youll hear a first-rate band playing the sort of exuberant outside sounds which define Free Jazz. Performing so much more cleanly, Octurn could have pushed its performance to a higher level still if it had adopted some of the dirt and sweat the other band showed off in abundance.
Overall though, the creations both groups successfully answer in different ways how best to write for a large improvising band.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Book: 1. Dawn 2. Interlude (Duet) 3. Morning 4. Interlude (Trio) 5. Noon 6. Interlude (Quartet) 7. Afternoon 8. Dusk 9. Interlude (Sextet) 10. Night 11. Sleep
Personnel: Book: Laurent Blondiau (trumpet; flugelhorn); Geoffroy De Masure (trombone); Patrick Zimmerli (soprano saxophone); Guillame Orti (alto saxophone); Bo Van der Werf (baritone saxophone); Fabian Fiorini (piano); Pierre Van Dormael (electric guitar); Ben Monder (acoustic and electric guitars); Otti Van der Werf and Jean-Luc Lehr (electric bass); Stéphane Galland and Chander Sardjoe (drums)
Track Listing: 17: Suite One: 1. Dirge 2. Clad Like Birds 3. Amplifying Their Parallels 4. Nothing May Be Taken Naturally 5. Even with Diagrams 6. One Absolute Material 7. Figures of this In-Between 8. Figures to be Actualities 9. Figure with Wings Suite Two: 10. Coincidentia Oppositorum 11. Where His Third Eye Could Be 12. Fulfilled by the Reflected Image 13. There is No Profit from Dreams 14. Into That Nothing-Between
Personnel: 17: Dan Clucas, Kris Tiner, Jeff Kaiser (trumpets); Eric Sbar (euphonium and valve trombone); Mark Weaver (tuba); Eric Barber, Vinny Golia, Emily Hay, Lynn Johnston (woodwinds); Ernesto Diaz-Infante (prepared acoustic guitar); G.E. Stinson (electric guitar and electronics); Wayne Peet (organ, theremin and electronics); Jim Connolly and Scott Walton (bass); Billy Mintz and Richie West (drums); Brad Dutz (percussion)
WAYNE PEET QUARTET
Live at Als Bar
Probably better-known for the exceptional engineering job he does on many Nine Winds releases, Los Angles-based Wayne Peet is also a keyboardist of note, gigging with different bands led by multi-reedist Vinny Golia and trumpeters Jeff Kaisers large Ockodektet.
But LIVE AT ALS BAR is something else again three extended jams featuring Peet on organ, present Wilco member Nels Cline on one guitar, former Shadowfax founder G.E. Smith on the other, backed by the heavy-handed drumming of studio pro Russell Bizzett, who has accompanied everyone from trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and pop-folkster José Feliciano as well as provided rhythms for TV fare like The Laverne & Shirley Show and Northern Exposure.
Considering the set was recorded about seven years ago in April 1999 and contains no more than 43½-minutes of music, one has to question its release now. Cline and Smith may have higher profiles in 2006 and fusion fans may be interested in their earlier work, but despite the guitar-organ-drums format, this isnt really a jazz date.
If anything the overwrought guitar flanges and fuzz-tones lines plus Bizzets uncompromising percussiveness suggest the heyday of rocks so-called super-sessions. Psychedelic bluesmen like guitarists Harvey Mandel, Carlos Santana organist Barry Goldberg, and, of course, guitarist Mike Bloomfield and organist Al Koopers famous SUPERSESSION created the most famous examples of this rock-indulgence. But the improv content was pretty minimal.
Peet & Co. arent that musically complacent. But still, hearing the repeated organ washes, jangling, metallic guitar licks and extended fuzz tones, not to mention the unvarying rhythm that seems determined to emphasis every beat, you feel as if youve climbed into a sonic way-back machine, with the control set way before 1999 more like 1969. Also, when Peet isnt outputting jittery pulsations, his dual keyboard skates awfully close to roller rink accompaniment, Cline and Smith seem to emphasis every fuzoid lick from crunching fuzz-tone chords to flanging to sitar-like tremolos. Additionally Bizzett never seems to have met a surface he didnt want to jab or smash repeatedly.
If LIVE AT ALS BAR has any high point, its Inner Funkdom unsurprisingly the shortest fewer than 11½ minutes and final track. With his organ bass, Peet sets up a funky beat that snakes throughout the piece. Yet any balance between the body and the cerebrum eventually vanishes underneath repeated organ licks, overloaded amplifier distortion from the dual guitars and endless drum breaks.
The crowd at Als Bar sounds as if its having a good time with the bombastic effects here. While an audience exists for this sort of rock-fusion effort, most people though, can find better sessions that add a tincture of the cerebral to the bluster.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Five Swirls: a. Swirl b. Big Lumps c. Soft Foot d. Another Room e. Points 2. Five Doors: a. Creepsville b. Mellow c. Surges d. Driving Time e. Cross Stick Coda 3. Inner Funkdom
Personnel: Nels Cline (guitar); G.E. Stinson (guitar and mangled recordings); Wayne Peet (organ and organ bass); Russell Bizzett (drums)
March 13, 2006
JEFF KAISER OCKODEKTET
Themes for a Triskaidekaphobic
pfMentum CD 013
Maybe its something in the water earthquake run off perhaps? but its evident that an awfully large number of Southern Californian improvisers are forming themselves into larger groups.
Oh sure SoCal has always had large groups usually studio-musician staffed dream bands or kicks bands that play the arrangements of Glenn Miller, Stan Kenton or Count Basie. But these newer ensembles work out a way that multiple players can mix freeform improvisation with conducted, polyphonic work.
Los Angeles-based multi-reedist Vinny Golia organized a succession of large groups over the years, drummer Adam Rudolph has his Organic Orchestra and drummer Moe Staiano his MOE!kestra. Percussionist Nathan Hubbards Skeleton Key Orchestra is in San Diegos, and trumpeter Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet, featured here, is a fixture in Ventura.
Kaiser, whose 19-piece aggregation includes West Coast pacesetters like Golia, trombonist Michael Vlatkovich and acoustic guitarist Ernesto Diaz-Infante, demonstrates the pros and cons of these kinds of sessions with this CD.
Inventive, well orchestrated and staffed with as many exceptional soloists as youd find anywhere, THEMES FOR A TRISKAIDEKAPHOBIC is no surprise a 13-section suite. Built around 13, cleverly titled compositions that run from slightly more than a minute to less than nine minute, there are few tutti passages and plenty of room for nearly every player to express herself or himself, solo or in duos and choirs.
However, at a titch over 73 minutes in length, the performance seems to be nearly endless. At points the listener is reduced to voyeur, adding up the themes and instrumental outbreaks as they lumber by. Furthermore, local support apparently allows the band to record at Ventura City Hall. The size and properties of the room arent noted, but its no recording studio. Solos and passages are frequently dampened, with the sonorous timbres of tuba player Mark Weaver suffering the most.
From the stirrings offbeat harmonies of the first theme: My Uncle Tobys Apologetical Oration, which sounds sort of like an out-of-tune Mariachi Christmas carol with its massed brass and crashing cymbals to I wish My Uncle Toby Had Been a Water-drinker, track number 13, theres much to like here. The finale, for instance, features Tom McNalley, G.E. Stinson, or perhaps both guitarists, blasting out speedy distorted reverb, while drummer Richie West lays on the backbeat and Wayne Peet resonates organ lines over the horn section that references Jimmy Smiths big band sessions. Finally a menagerie of duck quacks, honks and rattles from all concerned allow the piece to slink away.
Using polyharmony and polyphony, Kaisers themes sneak and shuffle around one another, or are built up in layers, with squeaking reeds, for instance, playing on top of contrapuntal clarinet tremolos and sliced by guitar counterlines. Appropriately as well, the orchestral voicing clears away just in time for impassioned cadenzas from suitable soloists.
One who always impresses is trombonist Vlatkovich. An associate of Kaiser, in his own Brass Trio, and in Golias projects, his avant-tailgate slurs are put to good use here. Most excitingly, his braying rubato lines and the trumpeters hocketing screeches hook up to drizzle heraldic notes on top of bell-ringing percussion and the reed section moving forward in lockstep.
Multi-reedist Golia is one of those reed players. At different times his snorting baritone saxophone fills add fiber to the other woodwinds or his buzzing bass clarinet lines take off in double counterpoint against another soloist. The Beverly Hills-based player also contributes sparse vibrations from sopranino or clarinet to link up The Accusing Spirit Which Flew Up to Heavens Chancery with one trumpeter Kaiser, Dan Clucas, Kris Tiner? who screams himself into Cat Anderson dog-whistle territory. This takes place on top of lumbering unison chords that sound as if theyve just migrated in from one of Anthony Braxtons Ghost Trance pieces, with Weavers whinnying tuba and Brad Dutz rumbling kettle drums peeking through the quasi-march tempo.
Nimble, high pitched flute work that introduce other tracks may come from Emily Hay however, and when expressive, slurring multiphonics are needed to segment or enliven rhythm section heavy passages, the go-to guys are likely alto saxophonist Jason Mears or soprano and tenor saxophonist Eric Barber no soloists are identified.
Making their presence felt among the parlando cadenzas that make up some of the other sound pictures, by virtue of being the only player on his or her instrument, certain musicians are more easily identifiable. Weaver for instance is able to use his lowing tuba to work up a powerful mid-section vamp on an early number, ricocheting smears that stand out from staccato percussion underpinning.
Diaz-Infante gets to sound his distinctive patterning over the strings, beneath the bridge and up near the tuning pegs on the penultimate track. And, throughout, if its West, who is responsible for the perfectly timed tap dance-like drum solos, then percussionist Dutz should be credited for the cymbal claps and tick-tock small instrument accents that appear elsewhere.
Adding to the polyphonic writing that revolves around a tonal centre, are massed crescendos and decrescendos, which often move the band into the compositions next section. Continuum is provided by bubbling loops and fluttering reverb, courtesy of Peets electronics and theremin.
In short, big band fanciers of the free music variety should be impressed by this session, and those who cower at the number 13 may be cured of their phobia if they hear it. Analysing the overall sound however, the only superstition that you hope Kaiser and his large groups avoid in the future is fear of recording studios.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. My Uncle Tobys Apologetical Oration 2. Gravity Was an Errant Scoundrel 3. This Sweet Fountain of Science 4. The Curates Folly Betwixt Them 5. Devout, Venerable, Hoary-headed Man, Meekly Holding Up a Box 6. The Strangers Nose was No More Heard Of 7. Uncle Toby Understood The Nature Of a Parabola 8. The Accusing Spirit Which Flew Up to Heavens Chancery 9. A Thousand of My Fathers Most Subtle Syllogisms 10. His Life Was Put in Jeopardy by Words 11. The Heat and Impatience of His Thirst 12. Nothing But the Fermentation 13. I wish My Uncle Toby Had Been a Water-drinker
Personnel: Jeff Kaiser (conductor and trumpet); Dan Clucas, Kris Tiner (trumpets); Michael Vlatkovich (trombone); Eric Sbar (euphonium and valve-trombone); Mark Weaver (tuba); Lynn Johnston (soprano and alto saxophones, clarinet and alto clarinet); Vinny Golia (sopranino, soprano and baritone saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinets, flute and bass flute); Jason Mears (alto saxophone); Eric Barber (soprano and tenor saxophones); Emily Hay (flutes); Ernesto Diaz-Infante (acoustic guitar); Tom McNalley (guitar); G.E. Stinson (guitar and electronics); Wayne Peet (organ, theremin and electronics); Jim Connolly and Hal Onserud (basses); Richie West (drums and percussion); Brad Dutz (percussion)
May 16, 2005
A Gift for the Unusual -- Music for Contrabass Saxophone
Nine Winds NWCD 0239
At this late date youd figure that there werent (m)any reeds left for Los Angeles sax maven Vinny Golia to play, let alone master. Yet the 11 tracks on this CD show the many paths a veteran improviser can follow when breaking in a new axe -- in case a specially built Eb contrabass saxophone.
Developed by instrument maker Benedict Eppelsheim in Munich, Germany, and also called the tubax, its lighter and more responsive than the conventional contrabass saxophone, but offers the same power and depth. Swiss reedman Peter A. Schmid is its only other well-known practitioner.
Calling on five associates and a bit of studio trickery, Golia showcases the reed in a variety of solo, duo and trio situations. The results are mixed. While many of the tracks sparkle with the conjunction of distinctive reed gymnastics and textures from other instruments, a couple of times, Golia is so enamored with his new acquisition that he buries himself in technical exercises. The situation is further exacerbated by some jumbled personnel listings. It turns out that some sidepeople appear on tracks later or before theyre listed on the sleeve.
On the plus side are pieces like The Mozart of Vice, Eye My and The 15th . The last features bassist Bill Casale on deep-toned shuffle bass and Wayne Peet on wheezing theremin and oscillating synthesizer whose ghostly swipes produce a sci-fi soundtrack-like backing. In contrast to these extraterrestrial sound textures are subterraneous pitches vibrating from the contrabass sax that become so powerful that they overcome sounds from the cosmos. As the synth loops and ponticello bass chords try to maintain their place, Golias tubax tone sinks lower and lower until his slurs resemble a dense mass.
Eye My on the other hand could be termed outside swing, as honky-tonk piano voicing that follow their own internal logic mix it up with stentorian blats from the contrabass saxophone. Borne upon faint walking bass accompaniment, Peets high frequency flashing arpeggios and cascading chords make a unique rhythm team with Golias double tonguing bass clef explorations.
Double counterpoint appears on The Mozart of Vice, where Casales double-stopping walking bass lines and Golias firmly vibrated sax notes take a back seat to blustery trombone lines from Michael Vlatkovich. Blusy but airy, the trombonists verbalized nonsense syllables meet tubax snorts and smears as the two low-pitched horns meld into a single, elongated tone. With Peet comping behind him, Golia finally breaks loose to produce even deeper tones.
Adding the tubax to Peet on organ and Bill Barrett on chromatic harmonica for Once upon a time on the way to the studio is a bit iffier. While the keyboardists church organ-like continuum provides a proper improvisational pattern, the contrasts between the massive, utterly-modern sax slurs and rasping harmonica timbres that are as simple as those played by Sonny Terry is too immense to overcome.
Even more technical exercises by Golia alone fare even worse. Moving quickly from blustery, watery pitches to reed-chewing portamento tones seems to lack anything more than hubris, as does the penultimate piece which features buzzing, split-tone screams at one point and prolonged, circular-breathing bellows at another. Techniques on show, which include a collection of snorts, quick-breaths and tongue pops may impress professional woodwind players -- as they should -- but the sense of story telling obvious in other tunes is missing.
So too is it lacking on the one track which finds Golia demonstrating his new axes extreme capacity by overdubbing five different tubax parts, then outputting every imaginable timbre from earth-shaking low to grainy, sprawling high. At points the five phantom reeds free themselves from the shifting protoplasmic bulk to be heard clearly playing single parts, but studio wizardry shouldnt be an end in itself.
In short, A GIFT FOR THE UNUSUAL is perfect for long-time Golia followers or reed demons of every stripe. However, for most of us, the exceptional tracks here show that the tubaxs suppleness is best heard in a group context.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Single Booth Enclosure - Prime 2. Repetition 3. Mr. Ammons Builds His Bridge 4. Eye My 5. Single Booth Enclosure - Revisitation 6. The Mozart of Vice 7. The 15th 8. Just Something I Thought of 9. Once upon a time on the way to the studio 10. A history of everything that ever happened 11. The last of its kind
Personnel: Michael Vlatkovich (trombone); Vinny Golia (contrabass saxophone); Wayne Peet (piano, organ, electric piano, theremin and synthesizer); Bill Barrett (chromatic harmonica); Jessica Catron (cello); Bill Casale (bass)
February 7, 2005