Posts tagged ‘free jazz’
“Spontaneous compositions,” Adam Lane calls them, rather than group improvisations, and the way these pieces build, the term seems to fit. Some of these improv-jazz pieces feel like they’ve got the blueprint of a composition behind them.
Take the very gradual buildup at the start of “Absolute Horizon.” When Darius Jones enters with his trademark sax wailing (the microtone-packed faltering that comes close to a human voice), he parses out the melody obeying bars-of-four patterns from bassist Lane and drummer Vijay Anderson. The group stops for a Lane bass solo that eventually becomes the intro to a slower, more tense group segment — a nicely planned trajectory that wasn’t formally planned.
Here’s a bit of that weepy Jones sax:
“Run to Infinity” could been a monumental ’60s free-jazz classic, if you hadn’t told me who was playing. The early improvising builds up to a fast bass/drums rhythm, over which Jones chooses to play a slow, serious melody — shades of free speech and radical ideas coming up through the ages — sounding meaningful even as he starts digging and swinging hard. This is free jazz getting down to business, picking a spot to groove and letting the music ride from there.
I’ve always used the word “fluidity” to describe Lane’s bass playing, and you get plenty of that effect here. On the cautiously quiet start to “Apparent Horizon,” you can really savor Lane’s bass against Jones’ sax. He plays in faster modes — both improvising and really fast bebop-bass walking — during the breezy, fast first half of “Light.” He also gets to play rock star in spots; “Stars” pulls out some electric effects that turn the bass into a staticky maelstrom battling the other two players.
Jones himself — who’s previously included Lane in his band — is at home on this album with his storytelling style of sax improvising, freely flowing and emoting in solos that seem more like conversations. Anderson is his usual hyperkinetic self, hammering out blindingly fast, precise rhythms, even when playing with abandon.
“Apparent Horizon,” after its quiet intro, dives into a serious groove around a Lane bass riff. Here you get Jones soloing in a more traditional free-jazz role, with Anderson clattering away on sturdy toms and tapped cymbals.
On “Light,” Anderson and Lane mess with playful beats, letting a couple of upbeat, rhythms (one that’s almost silly) develop into toe-tapping segments. It’s nice material for Jones to work with, and it makes for a bright closer to the album.
Every other Monday at Duende, the musicians’ collective of the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society takes over over the restaurant’s music loft — a continuation of a series formerly held at The Layover. They present some outstanding local music along with some jazz vinyl DJ’ing before the show and between sets.
The vinyl part shouldn’t be underestimated. I didn’t look through the crate they brought, but it seemed like a pretty deep cut of history. Between sets on the night I attended, the musicians were marveling at the early, early Rahsaan Roland Kirk LP that was spinning.
Overall, the evening has the vibe of a cozy jazz hangout, complete with really good food and wine downstairs. I’m glad I finally made it out there a couple of Mondays ago.
Both bands that night played improvised music in jazz settings. The first set was by the BAG Trio — Vijay Anderson (drums), Sheldon Brown (sax), and Ben Goldberg (clarinet), who have been playing in this configuration for a while.
Anderson set down an aggressive groove while Goldberg and Brown wandered jointly, often pushing each other’s energy level up to a breaking point, then receding. One of these surges ended in both of them playing long, shrill tones — kind of a guitar-hero climax that was followed by babbling quick notes to bring the mood back to earth. I found myself paying the most attention to Anderson, though, his quick hands doing some impossibly fast clacketing to lay down those aggressive rhythms.
The second set, by the Darren Johnston Quintet, was just what a late-night set ought to be — maybe less white-hot, but still intense, with David Boyce’s sax and Johnston’s trumpet jamming over vibraphone harmonies. The music settled into more traditional patterns of soloing, including one nice stretch where just Boyce and Jordan Glenn (drums) took over, really digging their heels in.
Johnston pushed the sound outward with a lot of extended tricks — squeaks, air-through-the-horn, plunger-mute antics. It was great stuff, and I found myself thinking these guys would have been a great listen on a more inside, composition-based gig as well.
You can follow the Oakland Freedom Jazz Society on Facebook or just keep checking the Duende calendar for upcoming shows. Darren Johnston reappears on Dec. 9, this time with a trio; Michael Coleman’s Sleepover (led by pianist Coleman) will perform as well. And Vijay Anderson’s trio (is it really his trio, or more a collective thing?) performs on Dec. 23 along with the Aram Shelton Group.
Han Bennik Trio — Parken (ILK, 2009)
Daniele D’Agaro, Bruno Marini, Han Bennik — The Tempest (Artesuono, 2008)
I sometimes wonder if other musicians think Han Bennik‘s clowning around dilutes the seriousness of the music — or, more properly, the substance of it. Maybe the audience is watching him too gleefully to really hear what he’s playing. But I think the avant-garde world needs messengers like him, players who can cross audience boundaries. And I enjoy a good musical clown act. I think he’s terrific, albeit exhausting.
On record, his presence is still manic but more subtle. You just don’t get to see him, say, run backstage and invisibly pound on a piano back there. (That happened during one Mills College concert. It was pretty funny.) Parken is a good example, and like many Dutch jazz albums, it presents a good blend of the jazz tradition with well constructed improvisation.
“Music for Camping,” though freeform, is rooted in swingy piano and clarinet. And “Lady of the Lavender Mist” is a lovely ballad with some light clarinet melody. Bennik is content to linger in the background on brushes while the clarinet takes its slow riverboat ride through the piece.
“Fleimsche March” is more overtly “out.” The piano sputters out high notes like a paint sprayer gone mad. Joaquim Badenhorst’s clarinet offers squashed curls of sound, a warped non-Euclidean melody. And Bennik just goes nuts behind it all, of course. “Reedeater” is a slower piece that rambles nicely until it builds into a dark improv jam. Then there’s the two-minute seizure titled “Myckewelk.”
“Isfahan” is more what you’d expect, in terms of abstract improvising. It’s a slowly creeping piece, pushed along by the crackling bursts of Bennik’s drum work. Badenhorst lurks on clarinet, and Simon Toldam keeps the piano quiet for a time, before taking the lead with some nicely jazzy runs.
The final track, “Parken,” is a lovely slow song that features a (Dutch?) female vocalist. I don’t know who; that’s the handicap of using eMusic.
Speaking of eMusic — imagine my surprise at surfing around there and finding what I thought was an ECM release with Han Bennik on it. Turns out it’s on the Artesuono label, and — surprise again — it’s not the darkly moody, introspective material I’d expected after seeing that album cover. No, it’s an old-school organ-jazz trio, doing a hopping set of tunes based (apparently) on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
And while they do break the mold in several places, the old-school segments go hardcore old-school. The lead horn is Daniele D’Agaro’s clarinet, which is certainly different, but the album opens with swingy organ splashing from Bruno Marini on “An Evening at Prospero’s,” turning the grand wizard into more of a jazz-club-owning hep cat. That’s followed with the less traditional “Caliban,” which crackles with post-bop energy and spattering clarinet lines, a free-jazz good time.
“Goodbye” and “So” are slower, warmer numbers. You can totally picture the ’50s album cover with the sweater girl listening to her hi-fi. “Ariel in Clarinetville” gets into a more free-form kind of improvising, but when the chord-heavy organ solo starts up, watch out! You’re plunged way back into ’50s TV territory.
As for Bennik, he’s content to slip into a sideman’s outfit and do his part to swing along, maybe with a little extra activity bubbling beneath the surface. Even his drum solo on “Claribel, the Queen of Tunis” fits right in the pocket. Another solo, on “Caliban,” is full of quietude and subtlety — it’s delicious stuff, playful but not audacious.
It’s true that you often can judge a CD by its cover. Marketing people and artists do a great job conveying the mood of the music. But every now and then, as on The Tempest, you get a pleasant surprise.
Rent Romus’ Lords of Outland — Thee Unhip (Edgetone, 2012)
The Outsound New Music Summit is a labor of love for all volunteers but especially for Rent Romus, who not only runs the whole shebang but does an aces job raising funds and gathering sponsors. It’s been a while since he’s booked himself to play at the festival, though.
Lords of Outland will be part of the final night’s performance, Saturday, July 27, a show subtitled “The Axiom” and running with the theme of blended composition and improvisation. (It will include Kyle Bruckmann’s large-scale, Pynchon-influenced piece, as previously mentioned.)
Originally a jazz band with Romus channeling late-era Coltrane on his sax, Lords of Outland has developed a dark side in the past several years, delving into electronics and sound-experimentation for a more ghoulish atmosphere. Ray Schaeffer’s down-in-the-mud electric bass certainly helps on that front, but outright electronics and the occasional ferocious free-for-all make for a more overtly ghoulish atmosphere.
Jazz is not dead in these tracks. “If Ornette Grew Cacti” opens up with an appropriately prickly take on what could have been one of Ornette’s danceable themes. From there, it goes into a speedy free-jazz attack — Philip Everett’s drumming fills the air with joyous cymbal clashing, and Schaeffer jams madly on bass. There’s also the tuneful and almost traditional “Temple of Dolphy, which shows off Romus’ sax soloing in a relatively light and uncluttered setting.
Throughout the album, C.J. Borosque shows some great work on trumpet. She’s positively screaming on “If Ornette Grew Cacti” and opens up “Planet of the Plutarchs” with some terrific improv, starting with vocalized growls and moving into bright, quick riffs. That track blooms into a bright free-jazz jam, with the bass adding a touch of psych here and there.
The free jazz and noise sides converge all over the place but are used to particularly good effect on “Dedicated to Lord Kraken off Titan off the Shores of Saturn,” where Romus cuts through thick electronics with somber, reverent sax in long tones, a ceremony of respect. In the end, it all explodes into a free-jazz celebration.
This final concert of the Summit should be a doozy. In addition to the Lords and Kyle Bruckmann, the bill includes Lewis Jordan’s Music at Large, a quintet bolstered by guitarist Karl Evangelista and violinist India Cooke. Here’s the Outsound “In the Field” video introducing Jordan, a veteran of the Bay Area jazz scene.
(See also: Vinny Golia Meets Lords of Outland.)
But it’s also because he returns to the Bay Area from Vienna a little more than once a year, and it always feels like an event worth noting. His current visit includes only one show that I know of: Thursday, June 27 at Duende (Oakland), as part of the trio Shattered: Eneidi, Lisa Mezzacappa (bass), and Vijay Anderson (drums). It’s the same group that played last September.
Often compared to Jimmy Lyons for his speed and fluidity, Eneidi tends to improvise in long arcs, like a master monologuist. But where Evan Parker might do that with a fluttering, studious air, Eneidi gets more gutteral, spewing calculated musical ideas at high speed.
Here’s a segment from an album I’ve always favored: Cherry Box (Eremite, 2001). It’s a trio with William Parker (bass) and Donald Robinson (drums), so Eneidi’s playing really stands out. In this segment, you’ll hear him use repeated phrases to build on an idea. After about a minute, he settles into focus on one idea, trailing a long convoluted thought like a Faulkner sentence — then he uses a suddenly mellow long tone to announce the shift into a new statement.
Marco Eneidi’s trio, Shattered, performs one set tonight (Sept. 30) at the Hemlock Tavern (San Francisco). Details here.
Free-jazz saxophonist Marco Eneidi turns out to have played in a few places I didn’t expect. Specifically, on a few interesting CDs that came out in recent years.
I thought about this after reviewing the new CD out on the NoBusiness label. (See yesterday.) So, I did a search on Stef’s Free Jazz blog, a go-to site for album reviews in this genre. So while there’s nothing comprehensive or even recent about this list, it’s interesting that I’ve let this much of Eneidi’s music pass me by.
Here’s the tally. Each album title links to the appropriate review on Free Jazz.
1. Peter Kowald & Laurence Petit-Jouvet – Off The Road (RogueArt, 2007)
Fruits from Kowald’s 2000 trip to America. I already own three albums that sprang from the Bay Area leg: Ghetto Calypso (Not Two, 2006), Illuminations (Rastascan, 2003), and Mirrors – Broken but No Dust (Balance Point Acoustics, 2001).
Kowald’s passing was deeply felt by the Bay Area’s creative music community, as he was a friend to many. In fact, Mirrors, a session of bass duets, is the first album released by Damon Smith on his Balance Point Acoustics label. It’s out of print but available on eMusic.
In addition to Kowald’s great bass playing on those CDs, you get occasional bursts of his throat singing. I have to admit I have a limited tolerance for throat singing, but it’s amazing to hear in small doses, and he blends it into the group mix quite well.
RogueArt has gone a step further by putting two DVDs into this package: a road diary and a live performance, including sessions with Chicago and New York greats. It was quite a tour around the U.S. that Kowald made, and it’s nice to see it was so heavily documented.
2. Lisle Ellis – Sucker Punch Requiem (Henceforth, 2008)
Henceforth is a San Diego label that I’ve been keeping tabs on — so, technically, I did know Eneidi is on this one. It’s an homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Henceforth’s site has a detailed explanation of what that means.
Bassist Ellis is another Bay Area expatriate and a longtime collaborator of Eneidi’s. For a couple of years, Eneidi organized memorial concerts for Glenn Spearman, a great Bay Area saxophonist who’d recently passed away, and I remember Ellis doing a solo performance at one of them. In a particularly touching moment, Ellis used a sample of Spearman’s playing to close out one improvisation.
Ellis and Eneidi were on Henceforth’s first CD, by the way, with their working trio Sound on Survival. It’s good stuff.
3. The Nu Band – The Dope And The Ghost (Not Two, 2007)
I remember getting The Nu Band’s first CD at KZSU in 2002. Great stuff, sent to us courtesy of Lou Grassi, the band’s drummer, who was kind enough to supply college radio with quite a bit of east-coast jazz over the years.
What I didn’t expect was that The Nu Band would continue playing over the years. It’s a very pleasant surprise to note that they’ve now got at least five albums out. Sustaining a band in this genre for that long is quite an achievement, especially given the band’s all-star nature: Grassi (drums), Roy Campbell (trumpet), Joe Fonda (bass), and Mark Whitecage (sax) — all busy guys.
They’ve had stuff out on the Porter, NoBusiness, and Clean Feed labels, and, as referenced here, the Not Two label as well. You’ll find more about them, and audio samples, on Grassi’s “New Projects” page.
Anyway, this album was recorded live in Eneidi’s hometown of Vienna, and he sits in for one 20-minute track. Yes!
Marco Eneidi plays in the Bay Area Sept. 29 and 30 … see dates at the bottom of this post.
He also played on Sept. 28, but I wasn’t able to get this posted before then. Bummer.
Vinny Golia, Marco Eneidi, Lisa Mezzacappa, Vijay Anderson — Hell-Bent in the Pacific (NoBusiness, 2012)
Marco Eneidi‘s occasional trips back to the Bay Area are becoming a regular occurrance, so it’s nice that this time, he’s got some product to hawk at his shows, in the form of this terrific CD.
He’ll be playing the Bay Area throughout this coming weekend (the dates are listed further down).
A free-jazz saxophonist in the Jimmy Lyons mold, Eneidi lived here for nine years before relocating to Vienna in 2004, where he’s run weekly jam sessions under the auspices of The Neu New York/Vienna Institute of Improvised Music. (See also: ‘Couple other posts from 2009 here and here, and a 2010 album review.)
They’re on this CD, as is saxophonist Vinny Golia, from Los Angeles. Golia gets listed first on the CD’s spine — but really, this is one of those equal-collaboration arrangements, an improvised jazz session with equally contributed parts.
All four musicians have played together in various combinations. Eneidi used to jam weekly with Anderson. Anderson and Mezzacappa are in the quartet Go-Go Fightmaster and/or Bait and Switch (same personnel, different purposes). Mezzacappa and Golia play duets on Golia’s recent album, The Ethnic Project (which I keep meaning to review here; it’s a nifty concept).
Getting back to Hell-Bent in the Pacific — it’s an album full of life and energy. Eneidi sounds great going for the energy-jazz thing, with his barking, clipped sax grooving through ecstatic bursts. His alto sax also sounds songlike and toneful during slower passages — the CD was very well recorded at Oakland’s New, Improved Records — making for some luscious passages on tracks like “Everything Imaginable Can Be Dreamed” or the dark forest of “Pendulum.”
I don’t mean to make the CD sound like Eneidi’s show; the bass and drum work, such as a terrific duet opening “Catholic Cornstocking Smut-Hound,” make for some of the best moments on the album. And Vinny Golia puts in some vital contributions, which goes without saying. But it’s great to hear long doses of Eneidi — not just the rapid-fire free-jazz moments, but the more easygoing passages too, where you get a good sense of the blues and jazz history layered into his improvising.
Among the tracks that are less obvious — those that you might miss on a first listen — I was really taken by “Prisoner of a Gaudy and Unlivable Present,” which I think consists of just the Shattered trio. It starts in a calm place, Eneidi in a conversational mode with bass and drums in a low-key banter. As the music starts building, Eneidi ups the flow just slightly, while Anderson moves to a light snare patter, then into tom rolls and more furious cymbals. After about four minutes, Eneidi is rising to a squall on sax — and the trio kicks back down to a quiet place, almost a misty blues. It all ends with a three-minute cooldown, back in that conversational zone.
Marco Eneidi dates:
- Fri. Sept. 28 @ Berkeley Arts Festival — Shattered (trio of Eneidi, Mezzacappa, Anderson) playing two sets starting at 8:00 p.m.
- Sat. Sept 29 @ Omiiroo gallery (400 14th St., Oakland) — Eneidi duet with Marshall Trammell (drums), 6:00 p.m.
- Sun. Sept. 30 @ Hemlock Tavern (San Francisco), 9:00 p.m. It’s a full evening of noisy jazzy rocky elements (complete listing at Bayimproviser):
The “Sonic Poetry” program naturally featured a few poets with one or two musical improvisers, small settings meant to cede center stage to the words. I’d already mentioned Carla Harryman‘s set with Jon Raskin, who played sax and helped recite some of the poems; they were joined by Gino Robair, playing prepared piano among other things. Read the full Catsynth review of the three poetic acts (the others being rAmu Aki of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district and Ronald Sauer, part of the North Beach crew) here.
I really wish I could have made it to that show. A few of the @catsynth comments that I found particularly intriguing:
- “I appreciate hearing solo performances. Jack Wright‘s featured a lot of timbres an techniques in a compact space.”
- “Now that was a real jazz set fron Dave Bryant. All the rhythms chords and cadences. and bass.”
- “Vinny Golia as usual has quite a collection of wind instruments.”
- “The Thin Air Orchestra is looking Thick as the cover the whole stage. … It’s a big funky and slightly weird orchestra. With scat singing.”
- “I think the Thin Air Orchestra just had their Miles Davis moment.”
- “A big chaotic chord concludes this set, tonight’s concert, and the entire Outsound Music Summit for 2012.”
“Ascension” has become a signature piece for the ROVA Saxophone Quartet, or at least a favored experiment-in-progress. They’ve performed the album-length Coltrane epic at least seven times, usually under the auspices of “OrkestROVA,” where the quartet gets augmented with other great musicians. They’ve recorded it twice, once in acoustic form (on Black Saint, 1998) and later — with Nels Cline and others on hand — in a searing reading called “Electric Ascension” (on Atavistic, 2005).
They’d like to document the next performance of “Electric Ascension” on video, and there’s a Kickstarter fund underway to help with the substantial costs.
The performance, at September’s Guelph Jazz Festival (an hour west of Toronto), will feature a stellar crew of current and former Bay Area musicians, most (if not all) of whom have played a ROVA “Ascension” before. Special guests augmenting the band will include cornetist Rob Mazurek and drummer Hamid Drake. The “electric” part will be provided by Nels Cline (guitar), Fred Frith (bass), and Ikue Mori and Chris Brown (electronics).
That performance will happen regardless. The Kickstarter money would fund a highly professional filming of the concert, capturing this epic work in its entirety, with a visual scope to go along with the audio documents of the past. As ROVA’s Kickstarter pitch puts it, “a five-camera, high quality video of Electric Ascension, performed in its entirety, will be an unprecedented musical document.”
There’s more: The concert footage would punctuate Cleaning the Mirror, a documentary about the evolution of “Electric Ascension.” The film, four years in the making, follows the musicians as they develop “Electric Ascension” and explore their relationships with Coltrane’s music and this epic piece.
The original Ascension is probably familiar to anybody who’s curious enough to find this blog. The idea is deceptively simple: a majestic theme, played by the band, followed by a succession of solos, with composed or pre-arranged material appearing between solos.
It’s not just a 50-minute blowout. In past ROVA shows, a band leader used hand cues to indicate which pre-written segment would emerge next, and to trigger a soloing section or a large-group attack. (Coltrane apparently used hand cues as well, according to the liner notes to the Black Saint album.) The music is big, aggressive and mighty, but it adheres to a plan. The concert audience gets a taste of that plan, and now a video audience would be able to as well.
(There’s also the fact that the band playing “Ascension” has to be big. As I’d remarked before, the song takes on a different vibe when played by a smaller group.)
I don’t think it’s out of character with Coltrane’s late period to consider “Ascension” to be a live quest for a truth. It’s a spirit rally, a “seance,” as one review put it. That’s what makes the piece worth revisiting, and it’s what makes the process worth documenting.
Plenty of worthy concerts, CDs, and tours are seeking funds on Kickstarter. This film is a little different — more ambitious, more historic. Let’s help make it happen.
Seeing Cecil Taylor was great fun on my New York trip in May, but I was also glad to finally meet Jeff Arnal.
He’s a formerly Brooklyn-based drummer who relocated to Philadelphia sometime in the last couple of weeks to start a new job. I’d gotten acquainted with him through KZSU, which has been on the correspondance list for his Generate Records label. He’s put out some good stuff, and I’ve been glad to play it.
Arnal also played in an improvising quartet called Transit, which has two albums on Clean Feed. Good stuff.
So, I finally got to see him in person and chat for a bit. We talked a little about college radio, and about his pending move to Philadelphia (he’s working with a Pew Center program there). It was good. There are a few people whose names and music became familiar, in a good way, during my KZSU jazz-director tenure, and it’s nice to have finally met a couple of them, even if only briefly.
The occasion was a show at IBeam in Brooklyn. Arnal and longtime piano partner Gordon Beeferman played in a trio improv setting with Evan Rapport on sax, and trumpeter Nate Wooley took up the second set with his quintet, playing new tunes.
Arnal and Beeferman have played together for more than a decade, I think, and it shows. Their set with Rapport consisted of a few long improvisations, with Arnal and Beeferman showing great intuition for pushing the flow of the music, more than once picking a stopping point or transition point simultaneously. Beeferman’s piano playing was a joy to watch, with his spidery fingers applying an invisibly light touch to produce runs and chords. Rapport put up some good, aggressive sax, often favoring long wails and squeals.
As for Arnal, his drumming is wonderful when it’s aggressive and loud, but what really caught my ear in this particular session were the quieter moments, the airy breaks showing off moments of delicacy and a sensitivity to the way sounds can communicate.
The Nate Wooley Quintet followed, furthering the bebop tradition with adventurous composing and some terrific soloing. Matt Moran on vibraphone was an unmissable voice in the band, but the whole ensemble was great, from solos to group passages. The new songs seemed to be inspired mostly from Wooley’s time in California, and they were all pleasant jazz tunes with some off-kilter touches in the writing. This stuff wouldn’t be out of place in a jazz club, although the music’s departures from tradition and free-soloing tendencies might distract some audiences. After my trip, I went and bought their first album , (Put Your) Hands Together, on eMusic and I’ll be in line to get the second, I’m sure.
The photo below is a random shot of the neighborhood around iBeam, right around sunset. I think it captures the quiet of the area.