Posts filed under ‘CD/music reviews’
I don’t know if I’m supposed to think of Bill Evans when I listen to Dave King’s I’ll Be Ringing You. I don’t think it’s strictly an Evans-trio tribute. But when I’m deep in the throes of a song like “This Nearly Was Mine,” hearing that gentle piano melody, and the subtle, airy cymbal taps that recall Paul Motian’s wisps of sound, my mind goes straight to Evans.
It’s not as though King is just imitating Motian here. (In fact, if he was, it would be a later-era Motian; Paul swung comparatively hard in that Evans band, even on ballads.) It’s just that pieces of that same wide-open strategy certainly pop up, and when you combine it with that laid-back piano, well …
But no, the trio here isn’t meant to be a clone. King and his trio keep the mood gentle, and King does enter that Motian mode of framing the beat more than actually stating it — but does so in a rougher, more forceful voice than Motian. You hear it in the swingy, brisk brushed-drum opening to “So in Love.” Elsewhere, King packs real attitude behind “People Will Say We’re in Love,” which starts with a free interlude, followed by King accompanying the gently swinging chords with a tumult of snare and cymbal play that doesn’t disrupt the comforting late-night vibe.
So, here’s what’s I think is going on. I’ll Be Ringing You is a love letter to the love-song standards of classic piano trios. It’s a patient album filled with the afterglow of remembering old, good times. The back cover shows a blurred image of a party, and that’s about the right feeling. This isn’t the raucous sound of a party; it’s the overdubbed music on a home-video montage of good times filmed long ago.
I bought the CD sight-unseen, so to speak. King is best known for being the drummer in The Bad Plus, which initially built a name on pop covers and piano bombast, but like his Bad Plus bandmates, he’s got an extensive knowledge and appreciation of jazz. This CD looked different. If it was the same Dave King, it was a chance to hear him in a different setting — which, in fact, it is.
The album was recorded in a church in Minnesota — the state where King once helped start the bubbling and creative indie-jazz group called Happy Apple — and features two north-midwestern compatriots: Bill Carrothers (piano), who apparently hails from the non-mitten-looking part of Michigan, and Billy Peterson (bass), whose long resume in the business includes a chair with the Steve Miller Band, of all things.
At 38 minutes, the CD is a cozy and relatively short trip, a chance to just enjoy the scenery going by.
Sunnyside has a Bandcamp-like interface to let you sample and purchase the album.
Ian Carey Quintet + 1 will perform Sunday afternoon, June 2, 2013 at Chez Hanny (San Francisco) ….. Carey’s Takoyaki 3, a subset of the band, plays free at Yoshi’s Lounge (San Francisco) May 30 and July 11 ….. Carey performs as a duo with Ben Stolorow at the Garden Gate Creative Center (Berkeley) May 9.
Ian Carey Quintet + 1 — Roads & Codes (Kabocha, 2013)
I think she meant “lovely but intense,” but at any rate, she liked the music.
Ian Carey is like that. Roads and Codes presents more of his jazz composing with that comforting post-bop feel that also includes attractive quirks in the composing and a leeway for sneaky, free/outside moments. He’s not trying to create a purely free-blowing session, and neither is he doing cocktail jazz. I like it.
At the same time, I’d written before about the marketability of such music. “Too edgy for California, not edgy enough for NYC” is the comment he relays on the album’s graphic-novel cover, like an anti-testimonial. My daughter was saying the same thing, I think, but meaning it as a double-compliment. Carey has produced some pretty tunes based on challenging compositional footwork, and he’s got a band that leaps from that platform into some intense exploration.
The music is not a Steve Coleman dimensional vortex or a Naked City frontal assault, but you can get a cerebral fix out of the 5/4 rhythms supporting “Rain Tune” and Neil Young’s “Dead Man.” Carey perks up the listener’s intellect while putting his puzzles in a comfortable jazz setting.
That’s where the most interesting modern jazz goes. It can present such a calm demeanor yet have a bubbling intensity underneath. It doesn’t take a trained ear to find it, either, just a willingness to follow the sound.
“Dead Man” is particularly ingenious, expanding on the simple stillness of Young’s theme for the Jim Jarmusch film. Carey adds a chord sequence that’s like a blooming sunrise, a cinematic touch from a whole different movie.
Not to dwell too much on a composition that isn’t Carey’s, but later on “Dead Man,” I do love the way he overdubs a ghost trumpet to accompany what I think is his own flugelhorn solo:
The album does get into charged, bop-oriented music on “Count Up” and “Nemuri Kyoshiro,” but it’s actually “Rain Tune” that caught my daughter’s ear. It’s airy and brisk, making good use of Evan Francis’s flute to set the mood.
One more sample: From “Nemuri Kyoshiro,” part of the sax battle between Kasey Knudsen (tenor) and Evan Francis (alto) that winds up the piece.
And of course, there’s the graphic-novel art that’s all over the CD package, including the fold-out liner notes. That’s a story in itself.
Tracks 10 (titled “Thirty-Six”) and 8 (titled “Twenty-Five”) came up first. They happen to be the only two where John Escreet plays Fender Rhodes electric piano rather than acoustic piano, and they follow a similarly sparse strategy.
The transition between them was pretty cool. I’ve edited it into the soundbite below. Keep in mind that it’s the sound of “Thirty-Six” winding down followed by “Twenty-Five” making its initial explorations. It gets pretty quiet:
Well, I thought it sounded cool, anyway. Maybe you had to be there.
Now, I don’t know if the two compositions would truly work as a suite. I suppose a lot of suites operate in halves, as sides of a coin, but having gone back and listened to the combined 15 minutes again, and when you do that while thinking of the pieces as “matched,” the cohesion isn’t there.
“Twenty-five” is considerably slower and has different aims: It’s about a languid atmosphere, whereas “Thirty-Six,” for all its pensive qualities, keeps one corner reserved for flat-out blowing. “Thirty-Six” starts with Rhodes floating up some chords against Sorey’s drumming but then the Rhodes springs into in an attack-mode solo as Sorey fires sparks at the kit. Loren Stillman’s alto sax appears after about four minutes, adding new color with the sudden splash of dye thrown into water.
These are the only two tracks with Rhodes, so they needed to be spaced apart on the album. And I think they’re well served by being later tracks, due to their deliberate pacing and their long stretches without the sax/guitar front line.
To state an old lesson in an old-fashioned way, you make some fun discoveries when you take time to listen to Side 2.
Now, if you’re wondering about “Side 1,” meaning the complex and, yes, oblique composing and the drum bombardment you’d expect from Sorey, Oblique I does deliver. Not every track carries the battle-stations urgency of “Twenty,” which opens the album…
… but you still get plenty of dynamic interplay and soloing. The modern and challenging compositional elements are sometimes overt (horn/guitar unison lines) or latent (you get the feeling something organized is happening but can’t pinpoint it).
It’s thoughtful music that still gives the players a chance to howl. Tints of Steve Coleman, Henry Threadgill and Anthony Braxton — all namechecked in Sorey’s liner-notes essay — are evident. He also lists Bartok, Schoenberg and Stockhausen as influences.
Here’s a beefy compositional segment from the piece, “Forty.”
Endangered Blood — Work Your Magic (Skirl, 2013)
The first album did have “Epistrophy,” but it was a version darkened by crinkly bass clarinet. Work Your Magic has “Argento,” a breezy swing tune with Jim Black’s bustling racket going on behind the straight-faced horns. “Blues in C-Flat Minor” really is a blues, albeit in 7/8 time and propelled by some bubbly, unconventional drumming.
And “LA#5,” apparently a nod to Lester Young, is a sweet ballad. Black goes into quieter mode for this one, using brushes for a more subdued style (as on his piano album, Somatic). Trevor Dunn gets a a nice bass solo before Chris Speed’s tenor sax takes over with his tart sound.
Most of Speed’s compositions reach further afield than that, though. Manzanita” starts with written counterpoint lines for alto sax and clarinet, sometimes with one player pulsing one note while the other one weaves in and out of the fabric. It’s a summertime cerebral jazz, played out politely until the group careens into speedier form. “Kaffibarinn,” named for an Icelandic bar, uses light Glassian arpeggios and a heavy melody of stern chamber music.
It’s all executed well, as you’d expect from these guys. Speed (tenor sax/clarinet) and Jim Black (drums) have been together since the ’90s in groups like Human Feel and Tim Berne’s Bloodcount. Oscar Noriega (alto sax/bass clarinet) has been on the post-downtown scene almost as long, and he’s most recently gotten airtime as a key part of Berne’s Snakeoil band. Dunn (bass), a darling of the out-rock set, has also been delivering solid jazz chops for any number of groups, including some great Bay Area groups in the late ’90s.
You do get more of the jazz in Speed’s playing on this album, and less of the wandering microtonal musings that he often favors. I like that. There are plenty of sax or clarinet solos over a bass/drums jam, certainly, but there’s also space for untethered improv duets (as on “Ah-Le-Pa,” which includes a nice Dunn/Black workout), criss-crossing composed lines for the reeds, or delicate chamber-jazz moments.
Further toward the outer edge of things, “International Four” (written by Hilmar Jensson, who’s played with these guys in other contexts) starts with free improvisation at a fast jog, full of sax/clarinet squawking, then gets into a composition of attractive long lines, a long path of bursty notes.
Didier Petit & Alexandre Pierrepont — Passages: A Road Record (Rogue Art, 2012)
Here’s an interesting exercise in turning process into a nearly tangible contributor to the art. Cellist Didier Petit teamed up with prominent North American musicians (Marilyn Crispell, Joe Morris, Hamid Drake, Larry Ochs….) in duos and trios, improvising to the sounds of a poem that we don’t get to hear (with the exception of one short passage).
So, Alexandre Pierrepont’s poem, Le Jardin des Cranes, is reduced to context, like the walls or the weather. It’s the backbone of the entire album, but it’s invisible.
Everything about Passages is a discovery, starting with the packaging: It looks like a typical Rogue Art softpack until you tear the plastic off and realize you’re holding a 48-page booklet. The CD itself blends segues many of the music tracks together, often with an interstitial sound from Petit and Pierrepont’s travels (airplanes, street crowds, etc.) — creating a subtly shifting tableaux, like a long drive where you suddenly realize the scenery has changed. The music, excerpted from thirteen studio sessions, is a mix of lyrical moods and aggressive sparring.
Here’s how it worked. For each session, a selection of the poem was chosen and translated to English. The guest musician(s) and Petit got acquainted, warmed up a little, then improvised — with the poem segment read into their ears multiple times, including one reading by a special guest (William Parker was one) who would read the French passage phonetically. The CD takes a few minutes from each session, with any part of the musical exercise being fair game.
I love the intangible sense that the process is a major component of the art. What’s being presented is not just the music, but it’s surroundings, too.
It’s the same feeling I get from the “Drawing Restraint” series of works by artist Matthew Barney. Not the movie with Björk in it, but the actual drawings that were the earliest stages of the project. He’d set up some ridiculous physical constraint, such as swinging from the ceiling of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and draw. The MOMA example produced pencil drawings on a piece of paper attached to a wall; Barney had to swing over, draw, then swing back. The drawings themselves are a wreck, as you might imagine, and quite uninformative. It’s the whole process that gives the project the sheen of art.
(This reminds me that I’ve never written up Jean Derome’s album, Le Magasin Du Tissu, a fun application of random processes.)
The music is not a wreck. It’s very good. There’s even a trajectory: It starts in stern tones with Andrea Parkins and Gerald Cleaver, followed by Chicago sessions that are quite sublime, such as the gentle, jazzy groove of Nicole Mitchell’s flute backed by Petit’s cello and singing. His piece with drummers Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang is like an ominous little tribal dance, full of tension and rhythm, topped off by some gruff vocal howling by Petit.
François Houle, on clarinet, gets to represent Canada during the L.A. sessions. He’s got an extended dialogue with Petit that floats from lyrical tones to a choppy call-and-response. Bay Area hero Larry Ochs closes out the album with a session that includes the one time we get to hear the poem.
The booklet is more than liner notes; it’s a template and a road journal. It includes a poetic textual “map” of the 13 studio sessions, the entirety of Pierrepont’s poem, and an explanation of the whole project, written by Yves Citton. And photos, of course, taken during Petit and Pierrepont’s sojourn from Woodstock to New York City to Chicago to Los Angeles.
Passages is a wonderful pack of surprises and a good argument as to why the CD can still have a place in the digital world.
Ron Anderson, Robert L. Pepper, David Tamura, Philippe Petit — Closed Encounters of the 4 Minds (Public Eyesore, 2012)
It’s musical dodgeball, a bombardment that starts early in the first track: incoming sci-fi volleys and the fast tremor of Ron Anderson’s guitar. David Tamura’s sax blazes and squeaks with high lung power.
It’s the sax and the guitars spike the energy levels (you might be familiar with Anderson’s frenetic tendencies from The Molecules or PAK) and provide a semblance of rhythm. But don’t picture metal or ferocious speed-punk. In fact, there’s a cross between wildness and musicality in here. Crazy sax or guitar scribblings in one moment, a near-pleasant melodicism (backed by the same crazed, pulsing attitude) in the next.
Even a relatively calmer track like number 5 (they’re all untitled), with its zoned-out buzzing like a synthetic sitar, has the disquiet of David Tamura’s cranky sax and some ominous guitar electronics.
The album is often like a conversation where everybody wants to be heard at once, and in many contexts, that wouldn’t be a good thing. But you have to consider the intent. This music aims to be dynamic and aggressive — they fill the page with scribbles — and I love the bustling chaos it creates. It works.
That said, some points are a bit much. I’m torn as to whether I enjoy Track 4. It’s got an alarm-blare sound that just goes and goes and goes. Some days, I can take it as part of the scenery. Other days, I’m ready to reach through the speakers and rip out somebody’s laptop battery to end the pain. The loops of saxophones and of a keyboard-like sound (as on The Who’s “Eminence Front” — it might be the electric psalterion (harp) played by Petit) can feel either nicely juxtaposed or relentlessly annoying, depending on my mood.
But on most tracks, I enjoy the musical assault, and I like the structures they’ve built with the music. The 10-minute finale (track 8) progresses through phases that could each be described as a descent into madness. One segment has the feeling of shooting down a tunnel, with a pulsing fuzz in the bass spectrum representing the walls speeding past, until it disintegrates into a crunchy, staticky sound bed for the other instruments. It finally gives way to a rhythmic guitar chop that sets up the noisy ending.
The first moments of the album:
Track 5. Zoned-out buzzing that’s still not peaceable:
Track 4, with that alarm blare. You decide:
The “tunnel” from track 8:
When we last left Ross Hammond, he was in a psychedelic sunburst with top-notch L.A. free-jazzers.
This time, he’s taken a rootsy approach, using African music as an influence and a slow-burning blues/rock guitar sound as his paintbrush.
It starts with a stripped-down take on Afropop — a lot of that quick-clicking playing that’s familiar in African music — usually leading into a generous soloing space with a bluesy flavor. A superficial comparison to Charlie Hunter is really tempting.
The intro to “Time to Wake Up” is a pretty good example:
Vanessa Cruz’s drumming shapes the sound with the energy and light I’ve come to associate with Afropop and African jazz. She fills the beat with tumbling clacks that don’t so much define the rhythm as outline it. I suppose that’s a common idea in jazz and in African music, but she makes it sound especially bright, as in this excerpt of “The Lion and the Bell.”
The foundational rhythm tends to be more the job of Shawn Hale, who plays acoustic bass instead of the bubbly electric bass that’s so common in Afropop. That helps define the trio on its own terms, giving its grooves more of a relaxed pace even when Hammond’s soloing goes for the gut. “All Our Dogs,” the closing track, gets into that kind of extended jam, replacing African funk with touches of cowboy hoedown in the guitar twang and a healthy, insistent pace set down by Hale.
A sucker as I am for odd time signatures, I can’t resist “Strikebreaker,” played out in a snappy 5/8, like a ball that keeps bouncing back just a little too soon. Hammond delivers a fiery solo later on.
Cruz has left California for New York, so the Revival Trio is on hiatus, as Hammond puts it. How much more the trio had to say anyway, we might never know; I have to admit, the Afropop ingredients make a lot of the tracks blend together for me on repeated listens. What I love, though, is that the band has a distinctive sound and fleshed out its concept well.
Hear the album, and read all about it, at Bandcamp. This is one instance where buying the CD, instead of the digital download might be really interesting (the Bandcamp page explains why).
Edmund Welles — Hymns for Christmas (Zeroth Law, 2012)
I’ve been a fan of Edmund Welles (the bass clarinet quaret) and recently posted about how their latest album took a turn for the metal. So I had to wonder what dark horrors would be dredged up when Edmund Welles went and did a Christmas album.
None, it turns out. Unless you count Christmas music itself as a horror. I have to admit, I’m in that camp, due to decades of exposure to syrupy muzak and cloying lite rock. There’s a Bay Area station that plays that stuff 24 hours a day during December — and they brag about it, and the Law does nothing to stop them. What a world.
I tend to forget that Christmas music started out as simple classical/folk songs. That’s what Hymns for Christmas delivers, an elegant, stripped-down approach that’s so refreshing.
Cornelius Boots, the brains behind Edmund Welles, wrote some eloquent notes (and a nice blog entry) about what the music means to him and how he shaped his approach, citing Dickens and handbell choirs along the way. It’s that kind of Christmas music, without the artificial sweeteners, played as gently as falling snow.
That, I can live with. And while listening, you can marvel at the range of the bass clarinet — which, as Boots points out, comes close to the range of male vocalizing. It’s possibly the most enjoyable Christmas caroling I’ve ever heard.
Listen for yourself at Bandcamp, CD Baby, or Cornelius Boots’ store … which is part of a snazzy new web site for all his work in general. This entry is peppered with links to it, but here’s one more just to be gratuitous.
DJ Post-Pink of KUSF In Exile played all of Taglish on a recent edition of her Innerworld show. Catch the full podcast here.
Karl Evangelista/Grex Quintet — Taglish (self-released, 2012)
I mentioned this one before but wanted to give it a more thorough look, given the free time over the holidays.
Taglish comes across as a mix of jazz and prog, with spirited sax solos by Francis Wong and Cory Wright, among others, and a variety of guitar licks from Karl Evangelista, with shades of blues and classical.
The word “Taglish” — and it’s a real word, not something made up for the album — refers to a spoken mix of Tagalog and English. Like Spanglish. Evangelista explains in the liner notes that the title reflects the personal mix of cultures and mindsets that comes from being Asian-American in general and also to the mix of musical traditions and knowledge infused into the music.
It’s a project inspired by Asian Improv Arts, the organization and record label that’s been producing Asian-American jazz for 25 years.
That range of ideas is evident in the first three tracks. “Iloilo Ang Banwa Ko” is an actual Filipino song. “Hymn” has the sunny sound of South African jazz, primed by John-Carlos Perea’s warm electric bass. (The tune is apparently derived from the Filipino national anthem.) And “Reb” has a short, honest-to-goodness jazz vocal from Scampavia, followed by some bright, sunburst guitar backed by gospel piano chords.
The songs were conceived as a suite devoted to four members of Evangelista’s family — his father, mother, wife (Scampavia), and sister. The “mom” segments carry a “slightly melanchoic tinge,” as he writes inthe liner notes, based on the bittersweet notion of having left home and being unable to return in the proverbial sense.
“Birds” is the song chosen to reflect those emotions; it’s slow and heavy-hearted but with a spirit of hope. Evangelista’s pointed yet restrained blues-guitar solo speaks for the tangle of emotions being represented.
Taglish’s second half slows the tempo down considerably but gets no less interesting. Grex by itself — that is, just Evangelista and Scampavia — gets highlighted on “Night Talk,” a slow piece with a vocal intro.
“Dreams” and “Dreams (pt. C),” towards the end, might be the most interesting songs.
“Dreams” traces a slow line, with time marked out by unison horns while the piano and guitar string complex little statements. It’s got quite the Henry Cow kind of prog-rock air, and it hypnotically draws you in as the musical line bends and winds its way.
“Dreams (pt. c)” puts a jazzy swing on the concept, driven by Jordan Glenn‘s crisp drumming. Here’s part of Rob Ewing’s trombone solo, leading into sax/guitar dual soloing by Wong and Evangelista.
I glanced across Maximal Music (Arte Nova, 1997) at the public library and got curious. It’s always nice to see some curveballs included with the usual Bach, Mozart, Miles, and Duke that make up the classical and jazz sections.
The disc is subtitled “Improvisations for Violin and Piano,” and true to form, it consists of 14 purely improvised pieces, ranging from romantic to spiky and avant-garde, relatively speaking. Liana Issakadze doesn’t go nuts with extended technique on the violin, but she does get playful with bowing tricks and pizzicato flurries. Franz Hummell dives into prepared piano quite a bit.
I have to believe both players have been exposed to European improvised music — the likes of Evan Parker, Han Bennik, and so on. The liner notes are written for a normal classical audience, though, and it’s very interesting to see improvisation, which I take for granted, explained in such detail.
Such was the case in the liner notes for Keith Tippett and Andy Sheppard’s 66 Shades of Lipstick (E.G., 1990), which was probably the first improvised-music album I owned. I’d bought a World Saxophone Quartet album that had a more “free” atmosphere, and of course King Crimson’s classic stuff included improvised tracks, but this album of sax/piano duets was my first take at pure improv, a leap I took after seeing the album’s #1 ranking on a magazine’s year-end list. (I think the magazine was even Jazziz, all the more strange because they were crazy for smooth jazz at the time.)
66 Shades is a rather melodic album, and some tracks could be mistaken for composed pieces. But the liners explain the carefully unplanned nature of the sessions, the music “carved like sculpture from the air.” That’s a phrase I’ve relished ever since, and I’ve probably misappropriated it once or twice for this blog.
Maximal Music could likewise be mistaken for composed music, I suppose, but given the variety and the lack of obvious repetition that’s common even in modern classical music, that “composed” feel still amounts to a nicely bumpy journey. Most tracks stick to a single mood, so there aren’t many surprises in that regard; contrast with European free jazz, which covers a lot of different shades and hues in the span of just a few minutes. That kind of free improv can be like a dandelion seed buffeted by the winds, which is one of the things that’s wonderful about it. Maximal Music seemed to be more about settling upon a structure, then filling in the colors.
They do let the playing get adventurous, including some skewed techniques on violin by Issakadze: different bow angles, rubbery koto sounds on “Seventeen” (one of the further-out-there tracks). Some playful call-and-response crops up here and there; the track “Twenty-One” is particularly fun.
My curiosity about the album came from the idea that a classical label would take a chance on improvisation, but apparently, Arte Nova was no stranger to the genre. The front cover clearly tags this CD as an “Arte Nova Improvisation” series, as opposed to the normal “Arte Nova Classical.” A cursory check finds at least one other CD, mentioned here; I’ll have to scan the Arte Nova catalog at Allegro to see what else there might be.