|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Michael Formanek
ILK 195 CD
ILK 191 CD
By Ken Waxman
Recorded five days apart in Copenhagen in 2010, these CDs from two young veterans of the Danish improv scene, present differing versions of defining contemporary music. They also demonstrate the demand for the talents of tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Chris Speed, featured on both discs. If the Brooklyn-based Speed doesn’t have enough to do stateside, helping to run Skirl Records and playing with many so-called downtowners, he frequently gigs in Europe. Connections go deeper than that, of course. Guitarist Mark Solborg and pianist Jacob Anderskov, the CDs’ leaders, earlier forged connections with Speed while working and studying in New York. Anderskov’s Granular Alchemy and Solborg 4+4+1 are among the dozens of musical projects in which each is involved.
The second CD with this band, the pianist’s session features four interlocking tracks, specifically composed for this configuration. More Americans, veteran bassist Michael Formanek and inventive drummer Gerald Cleaver complete the quartet. Overall Granular Alchemy is a fine example of high-quality no BS playing. More ambitious in scope, Solborg 4+4+, recorded during Copenhagen’s jazz festival, adds additional horn players to the guitarist’s basic quartet of saxophonist/clarinetist Anders Banke, bassist Jeppe Skovbakke and drummer Bjørn Heebøl for perfectly balanced, multi-hued compositions where each instrument fits snugly into a grander scheme. Joining the Solberg quarter are trumpeter Gunnar Halle, trombonist/tubaist Jakob Munck, alto saxophonist Laura Toxværd and saxophonist/clarinetist Torben Snekkestad plus Speed: thus 4+4+1.
In all honesty, despite his featured status Speed is more upfront on Anderskov’s session than on Solborg’s. Distinctly group music, consecrated to equilibrium, exposure of complex harmonies or contrapuntal patterns is more important than individual solos on the guitarist’s date. That said each of the reed soloists acquits him or herself admirably, with contributions ranging from harsh and squawking to smooth and swinging. Otherwise Munch’s mid-range trombone guffaws or distant tuba pedal points provide necessary contrast and continuum. “The Whispers” for instance is an atmospheric study that relies on unison sound modulations rather than groove or flashy solos. With the eight players harmonized and moving as one, only angular guitar jabs, swabbed bass strings and reed whistles pierce the dense arrangement. Eventually the narrative is deconstructed as discursive trumpet grace notes, a chalumeau bass clarinet line and slurred fingering from the guitarist jockey to end the piece. Throughout the disc, sympathetic polyphony is the compositions’ main component as balanced textures from a single player or groups of players are subtly added and quickly subtracted. Recapitulating the strategy in miniature, the concert climaxes with “Open Parenthesis (with BOB)”. Bouncing from a duet of focused guitar licks and mid-range sax smears to drum pops and cymbal clatters before horns play the exposition, bright clarinet split tones, explosive guitar flanging and splintering sax vamps create contrapuntal variations of the dense theme. Gradually descending reed quivers and bass plucks mark the thoroughly grounded ending.
If Solborg’s CD impresses due to predetermined patterns and formal balance, then Anderskov’s session does so because of its looseness. With the Americans all having worked in altoist Tim Berne’s combos among other situations, a familiarity of form and skills is shared. Cleaver’s bumping and smacking provides rhythmic variations, while Formanek’s tremolo pacing cements the bottom. Whether playing lyrical clarinet lines or vibrating rugged tenor saxophone fills, Speed maintains his individuality. Recurrently and with equivalent high energy, he frequently parallels the pianist’s staccato improvisations. Besides using repeated runs to match Speed’s shrills, at points Anderskov’s arpeggio sprinkling or sudden octave jumps complete a percussive sound collage otherwise consisting of the bassist’s stentorian slaps and the drummer’s ruffs and drags.
This integrated improvisation reaches a climax with the final “Suite: Wind/Skin”. Dramatically set up with passing chords from Anderskov, Cleaver’s unvarying thumps and Speed’s pressurized clarinet chirps, the narrative tension only dissipates when the pianist’s patterning halves the tempo to introduce the second theme. As the pianist piles tremolo chords on top of one other, Speed’s theme variations shrilly wheeze for emphasis. Exhibiting his most abstract work here, the reedist stretches the textures with strident glossolalia, until the pianist redirects the final section to moderated motion.
Whether you prefer your jazz free-form and energetic or stunningly built up from a palate of tonal colors, each of these mostly Danish CDs will satisfy. Plus on the evidence of his contributions to these dates, it’s understandable why Speed continues to rack up frequent flyer points with his European jaunts.
Tracks: Granular; Sediments; Sand; Metal; Suite: Wind/Skin
Personnel: Granular: Chris Speed: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Jacob Anderskov: piano; Michael Formanek: bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums
Tracks: 4+4: Mrs. Pedersen takes the Tram; 2620; Almost; The Whispers; Open Parenthesis (with BOB)
Personnel: 4+4: Gunnar Halle: trumpet; Jakob Munck: tuba, trombone; Laura Toxværd: alto saxophone; Torben Snekkestad: tenor, soprano saxophone, clarinet; Anders Banke: tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Mark Solborg: guitar; Jeppe Skovbakke: bass; Bjørn Heebøl: drums
--For New York City Jazz Record December 2012
December 10, 2012
The Rub And Spare Change
Clean Feed CF 201 CD
Leadership’s loss is a sideman’s gain as these quartet sessions demonstrate. That’s because alto saxophonist Tim Berne, who hasn’t made a CD under his own name for about half a decade, instead adds his skills to these bassist-led quartet sessions. Instructively as well, while one combo is completed by Americans with whom Berne has often played in the past, the other is made up of younger Portuguese Jazzers who recently toured with the American reedist.
Nebulosa – and its five-part title suite –is designed to show off the composing and improvising skills of bassist Hugo Carvalhais, who along with pianist Gabriel Pinto, often backs singer Maria João Mendes. Carvalhais also plays electronics on this CD and Pinto synthesizer; drummer Mário Costa the fourth man.
The Rub And Spare Change on the other hand is a completely acoustic showcase for six compositions and the magisterial bass playing of Michael Formanek, whose role leading the Jazz orchestra at Baltimore`s Peabody Conservatory of Music leaves him little time for extracurricular activities. Working on-and-off with Berne since the early 1990s, after having backed everyone from saxophonist Stan Getz to trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, this is the first CD Formanek has lead since 1998. The other players aren’t exactly neophytes either. Drummer Gerald Cleaver has worked with saxophonists as different as Lotte Anker and Roscoe Mitchell, while he and pianist Craig Taborn have both been part of Berne’s and Mitchell’s regular working bands.
Familiar with each others’ technical skills the four players on The Rub And Spare Change are able to move from Funk to Impressionism and back again seemingly without breaking a sweat. This is most noticeable on the CD’s most extensive track, the 17-minute plus “Tonal Suite”. In truth as atonal as it is tonal, the piece encompasses several movements beginning with an exposition of walking bass and drum backbeats accompanying Berne’s irregularly voiced split tones as they and Taborn’s piano plucks weave around one another. While Berne keeps reed biting, the pianist’s next variant includes key clipping and hard-paced arpeggios, which while advancing chromatically also motivate the saxophonist’s intervallic lines into downward-slurring split tones. Well paced drum beats and understated bull fiddle plucks contribute their own percussive variations, so that with the backing taken care of, the saxophonist and pianist can harmonize moving lines from agitato to moderato and from staccato to legato. A final variant with a teasing false ending, features extended cadenzas from Taborn. Then a traditional recap of the head precedes a trebly piano coda.
Although he takes no extended solos, Formanek, emphasizes his compositions here. And well he should, for their range is wide. “Too Big To Fail” is another exercise in multiple, multiphonics, while the title track is a convincing Freebop piece, built around soulful tension and release. As Cleaver rhythmically locks down an elastic shuffle beat, Berne vibrates the head with chirps and side-slipping tones while Taborn’s low-frequency strummed chords expand to define the piece as a skipping etude.
As sardonically played as its title suggests, “Too Big To Fail” mixes bass string pops, drum press rolls and rasping piano cadenzas as the saxophonist elaborates the theme in the tenor register. Before the tune is conclusively redefined contrapuntally, the pianist’s contrasting dynamics and repeated chord clusters plus Berne’s alternating of altissimo squeals and moderato split tones suggest a narrative almost as harsh and dyspeptic as what the American investment industry faced a couple of years ago.
With Nebulosa serendipitously recorded in same month as the other session, Carvalhais’ core combo is given added impetus by hired gun Berne. Although the title composition is a six-part suite of sorts, the CD’s introductory track and others – most played solely by the trio– surrounding the suite. Berne however doesn’t really start experimenting with split tones until “Part III” of the suite, before that contenting himself with paced twitters and splutters plus irregularly pitched obbligatos in his solos.
For his part, Pinto distinguishes himself by splitting his exposition between atmospheric synthesizer wave forms – matched by ululating werewolf whistles and signal-processed quivers from Carvalhais’ electronics – to more studied impressionistic piano chording. From a groove-oriented beginning, the suite affiliates itself with modulated Bop-stylings in its second section, only to have Berne’s snorting split tones and altissimo runs redefine the third part.
By the time “Nebulosa Part IV” makes its appearance, Berne’s chromatic mastication is joined by hearty double bass stops, thumps and jumps from Carvalhais, plus Costa’s flams, drags and distinctive cow bell whacks. Eventually the multi-part composition is taken out by the trio alone, as airy piano arpeggios and supple floating bass lines give way to tougher, double-stopped, but definitely un-funky rhythm, squeaky wiggling electronic pulses and concluding stops from the bassist.
Other than the suite, the most noteworthy outing is Pinto’s “North”, whose syncopation meanders into “Maiden Voyage” territory. Despite this thematic suggestion the composition is still an original statement that harmonizes triple counterpoint among airy, dynamic glissandi from the piano, pinched, intense vibrato from the saxophonist and unforced, but relentless rhythms from the bassist and drummer.
With Berne the connecting factor between them, both CDs have much to offer. The Rub And Spare Change features him in the company of familiar players, while Nebulosa links him with younger players who will help shape Jazz in the future. As good as his playing his here, one would hope nonetheless that recording as the leader of a session is still part of his game plan.
Track Listing: Nebulosa: 1. Intro 2. Nebulosa Part I 3. 3. Nebulosa Part II 4. Impala* 5. Nebulosa Part III 6. Nebulosa Part IV 7. Cobalto* 8. North 9. Nebulosa* Part V 10. Redemption*
Personnel: Nebulosa: Tim Berne (alto saxophone [except*]); Gabriel Pinto (piano and synthesizer); Hugo Carvalhais (bass and electronics) and Mário Costa (drums)
Track Listing: Rub: 1. Twenty Three Neo 2. The Rub And Spare Change 3. Inside The Box 4. Jack's Last Call 5. Tonal Suite 6. Too Big To Fail
Personnel: Rub: Tim Berne (alto saxophone); Craig Taborn (piano); Michael Formanek (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums)
March 24, 2011
Jacob Anderskov Trio
On The Loose
stuck in traffic
By Ken Waxman
April 25, 2005
Both sides of young Danish pianist Jacob Anderskov are exposed on these twinned releases from his own ILK/Scraggly label. Theres no denying his compositional and performance skills hes got the music awards from his home country to prove it but properly rating both session means deciding what he adds to these CDs, a mainstream jazz piano trio and an almost-fusion effort on which he intermittently plays electric piano.
Helped immeasurably by sensitive interaction with American bassist Michael Formanek who often works with altoist Tim Berne and veteran Danish drummer Anders Mogensen, On The Loose, the trios third outing is easily on the level of if not more elevated than similar sessions by North American mainstream pianists of an comparable age. Depending on your tolerance for electric piano, simple vamps and backbeats, however, Godot
stuck in traffic may be the Mr. Hyde to the other CDs Dr. Jekyll.
Recorded with four players of Anderskovs vintage brassman Kasper Tranberg, who has also played with Berne; reedist Anders Banke, who is part of guitarist Mark Solborgs band; bassist Jonas Westergaard and drummer Jeppe Gram the quintet outputs a variant of modern day fusion. Unfortunately, some of the heads sound a bit too familiar, the horn lines are often mere riffs rather than expositions, , and the keyboardist appears more assured when he plays acoustically rather than plugged in.
Starting with Dr. Jekyll or On The Loose, the best of the nine compositions all written by Anderskov, as are all but one on the other CD are those which give the three players enough space in which to sprawl over the music. For proof: four interludes scattered among them, all of which are less than two minutes in length, are too self-consciously abstract. Echoing, internal key stops, key clips and pedal pressure makes it appear as if the pianist is mouthing look at me, Im avant garde throughout them all.
But Anderskovs strength as a modern mainstreamer is such that he doesnt have to flaunt technique to be noticed. On Tunesian Thorofare (sic), for instance, his clinking treble notes and adagio chording, offhandedly create the sort of hushed interface in which Keith Jarrett specializes. But he does so without demanding the sort of diva-like attention to his performance in which the American pianist specializes. Strumming lines from Formanek and barely-there snare skimming from Mogensen allow the pianist to set up an allegro swing piece with vibrated overtones. Mogensen clanks his traps exactly on the beat and Formaneks expansive bass playing becomes a canvas for more dancing chords, which in the penultimate moments reveal a glint of steely resolve.
Conversant with two-handed interface, the pianist initially advances double counterpoint on the nearly 10-minute What Roots? until the trickling melody line and dribbling chord expansions unite into a single stream. Moving from snatches of Jeepers Creepers, Anderskov backs the bassists chromatic exploration of his strings, then adding melodic vibrations, his touch become so buoyant that his instrumental timbres could be electric rather than acoustic.
Additionally Anderskov is sure enough of himself to jocularly put together another piece, Exercise in Disguise that evolves from a simple keyboard exercise that uses ringing chord patterns to make it seem more formal. Here the bassists legato bowing takes on an almost country-and-westernish accent, thus making his col legno and sul ponticello movements less than abrasive. He continues shuffle bowing, while the drummer thumps out appropriate backing figures as the keyboardists phrasing relates back to those eddying and surging melodies Jarrett and Herbie Hancock brought to post-bop.
Realize that its the acoustic Hancock piano being referenced, though. Similarly, Anderskovs playing with the energetic Doctor Structure, which has been together since 1997, is freest on Godot when the electric keys are ignored. With the electronic fillip, all five players become too extroverted, as the riffs and vamps start to inch into the sort of fusion territory bands such as the Brecker Brothers and Hancocks electric groups simplified their licks to play in the 1970s.This is unfortunate, since every one of the five has something better to offer.
In the case of tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Anders Banke, who has also been in guitarist Pierre Dørges New Jungle Orchestra, this is particularly evident on the more-than-13½-minute Peter@HeavensGate.org. Initially set up as a menacing face off between the pianists unadorned, single note tremolos and the saxophonists circling sound shards, its rescued from preciousness when Banke takes charge. Entering full force in a 1960s Traneish manner, he eventually breaks the time up into irregularly vibrated smears and snorts, doubling each one of his phrases. As trumpeter Kasper Tranberg riffs muted tones behind him, the reedist extends his notes with doits and smeared falsetto, until overblown pitch vibrated lines disintegrate into sound shards. Anderskov pounds out note clusters underneath the unevenly voiced horns, with the tunes coda a chorus of repeated, high frequency single tones.
Banke is Ben Websterish breathy elsewhere smooth as milk chocolate but with accents studding the output like nuts in a candy bar. Meanwhile Tranberg, on cornet as well as the bigger horn, moves from muted slurs to freak notes and plunger quacks, buzzing away so on his horns extremities that wah-wahs seem the most conventional result. However drummer Jeppe Gram and bassist Jonas Westergaard stay pretty much in the pocket, except for the odd splat from the former and occasional sul ponticello incision from the later. Oddly enough, as well, Anderskovs contemporary jazz/post bop manner at one point ends a piece with a splattered arpeggio that could have come from AMMs John Tilbury.
Xpressions in print is another piece which welcomes an approach like that at its finale as its composer uses it and other new stratagems to expand his orchestral colors. Here the brassman adds squeezed chromatic lines to Bankes slippery, sliding bass clarinet flutter tonguing and squawking. As the reedist shifts up the scale, Anderskov contributes a sparkling, impressionistic run and Gram, a full-fledged bop cymbal thwack. When the clarinet riffs are doubled by Tranbergs expressions to almost sound like chamber music, tougher piano comping pushes the trumpet solo into jazzier growls. Finally, swelling unison horn lines and low frequency keyboard cadenzas carry the piece to the end, and a coda of descending, right-handed piano patterns.
Deplorably, most of the other work on the CD isnt up to the inventiveness cited here. At points it threatens to plummet into mainstream or fusion facelessness.
Although he lacks seasoning, Anderskov is still a talent to watch and hear. Nevertheless, until he proves otherwise, hes best to stick to the acoustic rather than the electric keys, and in trios rather than larger settings.
April 25, 2005
Gustav Mahler - Dark Flame
Winter & Winter 910-095-2
Newest chapter in pianist Uri Caines POMO recasting of the works of the so-called Great Composers, DARK FLAME showcases an almost total vocal program.
Based on lieder composed by Austrian Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), the musicianship and inventiveness here are at the same high standard as Caines earlier meditations on the work of J. S. Bach, Richard Wagner and other Mahler projects. But with 14 selections rearranged over 77 minutes, there are times the variations move from novelty to gimmickry. Mahlers oeuvre heard in gospel, Klezmer, rock or mainstream jazz variations is engaging; but linking it to turntable tricks, Oriental sounds, overwrought poetics or cocktail jazz works less well.
Caine, who still sometimes functions as a straight jazz pianist, shows that hes lost none of his facility as a player or arranger on tracks like When My Sweetheart. In its middle section he and clarinetist Don Byron make like Tony Scott and pre-1973 Herbie Hancock, creating a brief, but potent, double-time bebop motif. This contrasts with whistling tremolos from violinist Mark Feldman and a vocal from cantor Aaron Bensoussan that is more freylach than Teutonic folk song. Its also one of the times when the varied sounds from DJ Olives turntable provide a memorable fillip to the piece.
Song Of The Prisoner In The Tower showcases the same sort of antithetical coupling, except this time the clarinet and piano approximate 19th Century chamber music. In opposition to that, drummer Jim Black pounds out a hard rock rhythm that is amplified by distorted guitar reverb from David Gilmore. In conjunction with the rockers, actor Sepp Bierbichler spits out the harsh Germanic lyrics; backed by the chamber group, poet Julie Patton provides an English translation filled with homonyms, puns and onomatopoeia.
Then theres In Praise of Lofty Judgement, where gospel singer Barbara Walkers melisma and glossolalia turns a secular song of praise into a sacred one, despite -- or perhaps because -- of backing by the Kettwiger Bach Choir. Sounding as if she was feeling the spirit during the whole performance Walker suggests a match-up between gospel diva Shirley Caesar and any overwrought, classical vocal choir.
St. Anthony of Padua Preaches To The Fishes, which may have had more resonance for Mahler, who converted to Catholicism from Judaism than Caine, who hasnt abandoned his ethnic identity, is treated as a full-on, light instrumental performance. Although it takes on a modern cast, from the allegro fantasia created by the pianist, some of the other tracks here are a little too precious, especially those which include Feldmans caprices and sweeps and what sounds like Baroque trills from trumpeter Ralph Alessi.
Other recreation shortcomings include Sadiq Beys street poetry addendum to the lyrics of Labor Lost, which grates against the chamber recital accompaniment. Plus those times hen traditional Chinese instruments like the hammered dulcimer and end-blown flute and translating Mahlers words into Mandarin, which happens a couple of times here, doesnt successfully move his music from Bohemia to Beijing.
Two Blue Eyes and the title tune, two of the most ambitious and longest tracks also point out the pitfalls in this mix-and-match treatment. On the former, Bensoussans synagogue-trained voice initially meshes with Caines recomposition and arrangement of the composition. That is until a finger-snapping, swinging jazz variation has the trumpet, clarinet and violin voiced so that they sound like larger string and brass sections. This is then followed by Shulamith Wechter Caine reciting the words in hesitant Hebrew and dramatic English. Finally, Byron solos in what only could be described as a jazzbo MittleEuropean style, ending the piece with a sort of tango rhythm supplied by the acoustic instruments and turntables. Is mishmash a German or Hebrew word?
Additionally, Pattons actorly mode almost betrays the intent of the words on the 11-minute Dark Flame. Thats because her recitation seems to flow in a tone usually reserved for childrens stories. As Ur-Romantic fiddle vibratos and legit clarinet tones meet a tinkling Ahmad Jamal overlay from Caines piano, you start to wonder how the band meandered into a cocktail lounge. From then on the piece scene shifts back and forth from Romantic chamber music-backed recitation to the jazz club, with Blacks drums provide hearty accents on one hand and Feldman lets loose with tremolo shuffling on the other.
A CD that will likely be welcomed by Caines fans eager to see what new classical mutations he has envisioned, DARK FLAME is an interesting session, but because of its overly-POMO stance, unfortunately weaker than earlier efforts in this genre.
Heres an idea. Now that Caine has proven he can reinterpret composed material, maybe its time for him to put together a jazz combo and record an all -improvised jazz session. Some have been waiting for him to do so since 1995s exceptional TOYS.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Dark Flame^& 2. Only Love Beauty& 3. In Praise of Lofty Judgement+ 4. Two Blue Eyes*~ 5. Shining Trumpets 6. The Lonely One In Autumn@% 7. Song Of The Prisoner In The Tower+^ 8. When My Sweetheart* 9. Labor Lost$ 10. On Youth%! 11. Rhinelegend+ 12. When Your Mother Comes In The Door+ 13. St. Anthony of Padua Preaches To The Fishes 14. Only Love Beauty
Personnel: Ralph Alessi (trumpet [except 2, 6, 10, 12]) Don Byron (clarinet [except 2, 6, 10, 12]) Uri Caine (piano [except 2, 6, 10]); Mark Feldman (violin[except 2, 6, 10, 12]); David Gilmore (guitar); Michael Formanek (bass [except 2, 6, 7, 10, 12]); Bao-Li Zhang! (erhu); Yi Zhou! (pipa); Sisi Chen (yanquin)%; Tao Chen (dizi)%; Jim Black (drums [except 2, 6, 10, 12, 14]); DJ Olive (turntables, electronics)#; Barbara Walker& or Sepp Bierbichler+ or Aaron Bensoussan* (vocals); Kettwiger Bach Choir with Wolfgang Klasener (conductor)&; Sadiq Bey$ or Julie Patton^ or Shulamith Wechter Caine~ or Tong Qiang Chen@ (voices)
March 24, 2004
Songlines SGL SA 1545-2
Commentators often ascribe a certain innate togetherness to the playing of married couples who record together, which in reality is no more than the sort of sympatico feelings band members can express for one another. More critically, husband and wife musicians can and should develop separate musical personalities.
Thats the fascination and interest in MIRROR ME and APPARITIONS. For while Jersey City, N.J. saxophonist Tony Malaby and pianist Angelica Sanchez have been married since 1998 and together for years before that, their albums arent that much similar than any two others by a pianist and saxophonist. The tenor and soprano man may play on his better halfs CD, in fact, but the outcome is different.
Seconded by bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tom Rainey, both of whom have a long-time association with Tim Berne, the pianists CD has more of a lyrical quality than Malabys. This perhaps relates to her background as a Mexican-American from Arizona who adored Elton John as a teenager and is still a big fan of traditional country music icons like Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn.
Ethnicity cant be used as an explanation of everything of course. For Malaby is also a Mexican-American from Tucson. Yet his CD is more hard-edged, with the reedist, best-known for his tenure in bassist Mark Helias Open Loose trio, constantly on -- producing reed-testing exhibition along the lines of earlier tenor men like Booker Ervin and Dexter Gordon.
APPARITIONS also lacks the gentling hand of his wifes piano output. While the highly inventive and subtle Rainey is present so is another drummer, Michael Sarin, who usually splits percussion duties with Rainey in Open Loose. Also, not surprising for a saxist used to playing with first-class bassists like Helias and Mark Dresser, the bass chair here is held down by Drew Gress, whose versatility lands him gigs with players ranging from romantics like pianist Fred Hersch to drummer John Hollenbecks post-modern Claudia Quintet.
Its Gresss rock-solid bass undercurrent that holds together the 10 tunes on Malabys disc, all self-composed, as are the eight pieces on Sanchezs CD. Unconsciously perhaps echoing those New Thing bands of the 1960s that had two percussionists, the saxman says he used the double trap sets because playing in this structure is like taking a warm bath, just being surrounded by that sound and falling into it.
But that means that as early as Picacho, Gresss four square bass line must anchor the serpentine theme as both percussionists bounce cascading rhythms around and back-and-forth -- sometimes sounding as if theyre hand drumming -- and Malaby snorts, rhythmically note bends, and uses semi-squeals to expand his improvisational field.
This southwestern sense of space, visualized both externally and internally helps give some compositions such as the title track a certain borderlessness. Built around an irregular drumbeat and shaking, maracas-like timbres from the percussionists, eventually the four players appear to split into two duos. Gress and Malaby are the second duo, reacting to one another like a couple of ballroom dancers. Although the split tones and whistles Malaby formulates seem to come from his gooseneck more than any other part of his horn, the bassists cello-register sweeps and high-on-the-neck plucks amplify and extends the others reed work until the crowing theme is reprised.
Living up to its title, Fast Tip gets its momentum from the drummers supercharged bounces, ruffs and cymbal crashes, while Malaby with his flinty bop-toned honks in double time moves back and forth between chesty centre horn emphasis and light-fingered, frequently expelled squeals.
His ability to spin out chorus after chorus of impenetrable tough tenor timbres à la Ervin is framed in a more traditional setting on Mambo Chueco. Rainey and Sarin pound behind him, Gress double stops and Malabys airy swing and pronounced slurs evolve into digressions on thematic variations. Among the cross rhythms from the percussionists though, there seems to be a sophisticated display of trading fours until the saxman ends with a foghorn-like vibration.
Recorded 16 months earlier, it appears that Malaby is on hand to toughen up what could be heard as the straightforwardness in Sanchezs compositions. On Ajo Comino, for instance, the line seems to flow on its own momentum until the saxist introduces some offside, obtuse murmuring that livens up what almost sounds like equal temperament from the pianist. Soon shes splashing out concise, right-handed octaves adding subtle inflections from her left hand every so often. His double tonguing and note squeezes amplify her steady comping throughout.
Tragón -- which certainly doesnt paint a sound picture of her translation of the Spanish as big slob -- is another tune based on rolling piano arpeggios. As her fingers skip over the keyboard adding syncopated, seesaw piano lines with striking pedal pressure. Rainey contributes nerve beats and rim shots, Malaby andante alto-like trills and Formanek a speedy doubled-stopping bass solo that moves around the strings until settling into a steady plucked Paul Chambers-like pace.
Here and on his own disc Malaby shows off his reed prowess. Besides regular, well-proportioned tones from his tenor, hes able to make his soprano and even the bigger horn variously resemble an alto saxophone, a clarinet or a flute. His wavering clarinet tone is especially noticeable on Mirror me as is his indefatigable ability to keep sounding variations on the theme. Raineys snare and rim shot stylings are as impressive as always, both here and on Malabys CD. But hes such an understated drummer that he doesnt get the same sort of accolades that routinely go to flashier players.
Other tunes revolve on the counterpoint that the pianist and saxman can produce playing together. However, theres still the uneasy feeling throughout that if he -- or someone else -- didnt push her she wouldnt loosen up hers soloing. Thats why the flashing octave runs she snakes out on Quick Tipper are so welcome.
On the downside however theres one balladic piece and another track where her soloing is half-ECM-like float and half restrained mainstream swing. These are so mired in low frequency vibrations and softer dynamics that they never inspire.
Despite this the couple has produced two agreeable CDs. With is strength and bluster, Malabys is stronger. But its very likely that Sanchezs outlook has also toughened up in the 2½ years since her debut disc. Both continue to be young musicians to watch -- and hear.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Apparitions: The Mestizo Suite: 1. Picacho 2. Humo 3. Mambo Chueco 4. Talpa 5. Voladores 6. Fast Tip 7. Apparitions 8. Dos Caminos 9. Jersey Merge 10. Tula
Personnel: Apparitions: Tony Malaby (soprano and tenor saxophones); Drew Gress (bass); Michael Sarin (drums); Tom Rainey (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: Mirror: 1. Fresh Hell 2. Wisteria 3. Mirror Me 4. Tragón 6. Quick Tipper 7. Weirdo 8. Ajo Comino
Personnel: Mirror: Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone); Angelica Sanchez (piano); Michael Formanek (bass); Tom Rainey (drums)
February 23, 2004
Line on Love
Palmetto PM 2095
Dont be put off by the title of this fine CD. Despite similar curly hair and use of saxophone, multi-reedman Marty Ehrlich hasnt suddenly turned into Kenny G.
Instead he uses the almost 54 minutes of the session to prove that you can perform understated, mellifluous music without insulting anyones intelligence. The eight selections score because he and his rhythm section bring the same guts and techniques they would to an out-and-out free blow or technical experiment as they do to these more restrained ditties.
Known for his work with pianist Myra Melford, pianist Andrew Hills sextet, drummer Bobby Prevites Bump and his own groups, Ehrlich has always been the melodist among outside musicians. Able to hold his own in avant company, he has never rejected euphony just to be fashionable. LINE ON LOVE, as a matter of fact is a follow up of sorts to 2001s SONG CD. On that disc he covered tunes by singer/songwriters Robin Holcomb and Bob Dylan and pianist Jaki Byard. Here, though, while as song-like, the tunes are all his own.
On this disc, altoist Tim Bernes associate Michael Formanek returns on bass, as does drummer Billy Drummond who often works with pianist Renee Rosnes. Theres a change at the piano bench though. Instead of Uri Caine, Craig Taborn, often heard with Berne and as a part of Roscoe Mitchells band, plays a restrained acoustic piano. Ehrlich mostly plays alto saxophone, as well as bass clarinet on Solance and The Git Go.
While embracing mellifluence, Ehrlich still subtly reinforces a harder output, so that the grace notes that spread from his reed like jelly on bread often add a bit of avant-garde pepper to the currant veneer of the tunes. This include irregular vibrations and dips into false registers. For instance, Like I Said, an overly boppish line includes double-timed slurs from the reedist and straightforward cymbal work from Drummond. Jaunty Julians Theme named for Ehrlichs son, not altoist Julian Cannonball Adderley, has him overblowing ever so slightly and extending the timbres. Screeches even find their way into the fading termination of his solo on Solance.
Blues inflections from both the alto and piano, coupled with a hearty shuffle rhythm from Drummond, surface on St. Louis Summer. Still the saxmans intensity vibrato and trilling cries show that he can recreate the soul of his boyhood city if he wishes. Trained classically and someone who has performed contemporary classical music, his bass clarinet sound is a bit too legit. Aside from the odd run on The Git Go, his playing on the swollen licorice stick features none of the dissonance that has characterized jazzers on the instrument since the days of Eric Dolphy.
Taborns two-handed, arpeggio rich impressionism helps define the title tune, though as well as the definitely secular Hymn. Meanwhile his understated swing on pieces like Julians Theme and Solance also reveal more of the straightforward melodic sense that he has kept under wraps since his earliest days in Young Lion saxophonist James Carters first quartet. Eschewing showiness, Formanek maintains the underlying pulse with solid, woody resonance. His one solo showcase on Turn Circle and Spin barely departs from the rhythmic function.
No avant-garde statement, but no smooth backgrounder either, LINE ON LOVE is the sort of modern, mainstream CD that wins listeners over with its sound without boxing their ears with its abrasiveness.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Hymn 2. Like I Said 3. Line on Love 4. Julians Theme 5. Turn Circle and Spin 6. Solance 7. St. Louis Summer 8. The Git Go
Personnel: Marty Ehrlich (alto saxophone, bass clarinet); Craig Taborn (piano); Michael Formanek (bass); Billy Drummond (drums)
December 22, 2003