Other Worlds

Axis Trio — The Hand (SNP, 2008 )

source:axistrio.comWith members whose heritages trace to Pakistan, Morocco, and Iran, you can’t help but find political meaning in the band’s name. They don’t play some world/fusion blend, though; this is a jazz piano trio: Amino Belyamani (piano), Sam Minaie (bass), and Qasim Naqvi (drums) — a straight format, but with a long list of varied influences from multiple jazz stripes, multiple cultures, and classical music.

There’s a rainy-day niceness to many of the tracks, an Enrico Pieranunzi kind of feeling. The number of influences and level of sophistication run deeper than that, though, with some avant-garde and modern-classical infusions in the composing and particularly in the soloing. The two-part suite, “Tabacs Compliqu├ęs,” gets pulsing and thundering. The title track starts with a clattery, disjoint sound and hits lots of quiet pauses, the kind of silence-savoring you don’t usually find in straight jazz.

The nice stuff is nice, though. “Peacekeeper (for Darfur)” is a sparse but surprisingly snappy (given the title) number that takes its time developing into a good groove. “Olesong” shows similar patience, starting in slow ballad mode and growing into a deeper intensity.

I’m impressed by this album. The trio is headed for the west coast in April, apparently; I wonder if I should hold out hope for them finding a Bay Area gig.

Shakers ‘n’ Bakers — YFZ (“yearning for zion”) (Little (i), 2008 )

source:cdbabyThis one’s crazier. I’m hearing a mix of all kinds of things: soul jazz, raspy near-scat vocalizing, free jazz, grooves, chaotic jams. They had fun putting this together.

Oh, and there’s Jamie Saft on electric harpsichord. Electric harpsichord! You cannot deny the electric harpsichord!

These are apparently Shaker songs and texts, taken from a 18th/19th-century religious sect that seems rather progressive, in that it preached sexual equality going all the way up to the god level. A village still exists in Maine. (The name “Yearning for Zion” comes from a Mormon sect, but there’s no connection between Shakerism and Mormonism.)

It’s with some level of respect that the band has transformed some Shaker writings into a free-jazz party. “In Me Canoe” opens the album with a soulful reggae groove and sets the stage for the vocals: Mary LaRose singing sweeter, high lines, while Miles Griffith preaches in a cartoony growl that suggests the wild abandon of psychedelia. It’s pretty crazy. “Even Shakers Get the Blues” is along similar lines but even further out-there, with music apparently based on John Adams‘ “Road Movies Part 2” (and remember, Adams wrote a famous minimalist piece called “Shaker Loops”).

“Scour and Scrub” and “Chinese!” tap the Albert Ayler well of joyous, march-like horns, although the latter then goes nuts with the electric harpsichord stuff. The harpsichord also shows up on the slow, reverent title track, for a moment of seriousness.

Shakers ‘n’ Bakers get into some pretty jazz, too. “The Roar of G D” might start silly, with rubbery sounds and crazy drumming — not to mention the repeated “I will roar, roar, roar!” monologue — but it’s got an airy, modern sound lifted by special guest Mark Feldman on violin. The album ends with “Limber Zeal,” an 11-minute piece with music derived from Arvo Part‘s “Spiegel im Spiegel.” That makes for a placid, simple backdrop, almost music-box-like, played by violin and piano … atop which you have an over-the-top Shaker sermon that even rhymes. You get weirdly intense vocalizing living in peace with patient, precise musicianship, which sums up the whole album nicely.

The band itself is built of known NYC quantities: Jeff Lederer (sax, and the bandleader responsible for all this), Mary LaRose and Miles Griffith (vocals), Jamie Saft (organ, piano, and did I mention electric harpsichord?), Chris Lightcap (bass), and Allison Miller (drums), with guests Mark Feldman (violin), Matt Wilson (extra drums), and Andrew D’Angelo (sax, especially nutso solos, and check his Web site for an amazing cancer story).