Posts filed under ‘CD/music reviews’

Alex Jenkins Trio

Alex Jenkins Trio will perform on Feb. 15 at Studio Grand (3234 Grand Ave, Oakland), opening for the Ross Hammond Group.

Alex Jenkins TrioJumping Ship (self-released, 2015)

jenkins-lessonsJumping Ship is an easygoing inside-jazz session with rigorous drumming by the leader, Sacramento-based Alex Jenkins. The interplay of the sax-bass-drums trio is strong and always performed in service of the straightforward, friendly construction of the tunes.

The simplicity is attractive. “For Laura” might be the strongest composition on the record — not a fiery one, but a compelling melody with a plaintive intensity, where the theme feeds directly into some spiraling and dancing sax twirls by Jacam Manricks. Bassist Gerry Pineda also gets showcased on the track, first with an unaccompanied intro and then with the best of his solos on the album, a passage that’s brief but densely involved. Jenkins caps it off with a nifty solo of his own.

The album opens with “Lessons Learned,” a straightahead composition where the hook is a lone heartbeat-skip bar of 5/4 — catchy, once you latch onto it. “Slither” is an upbeat groove driven by simple sax riffs in a buzzy, forceful tone. It’s anchored by Jenkins laying down a gritty groove with a bit of funk. The title track features Manricks’ flute spinning a lightly mysterious melody that starts with a slow, grand Persian feel.

Jenkins gets to show off on two short solo tracks. “Djemke” is a springy display on hand drums, while “Dedication” has him preaching from the drum kit.

As often happens in jazz, the record leaves you wondering if the band can dial it up a notch in a live setting — such as Jenkins’ regular gig at Sacamento’s Shady Lady saloon. They’ll get a chance to show Oakland their stuff on Feb. 15, playing at Studio Grand as part of the ongoing Oakland Freedom Jazz Society series.

You can find Jumping Ship on CDBaby. Here’s a bit of “For Laura,” including some of the main theme and the introductory part of Manricks’ solo:

February 8, 2016 at 8:43 am Leave a comment

Marco Eneidi Streamin’ 4

Marco Eneidi Streamin’ 4Panta Rei (ForTune, 2014)

eneidi-pantaMarco Eneidi’s alto sax is commonly associated with Jimmy Lyons’ fleet, liquid playing, so it’s unexpected to hear “Can’t Stop, Won’t Start” open Panta Rei with austere emotional wails. Eneidi and tenor saxophonist Marek Pospieszalski take turns overblowing in slow, ragged screams that sound like pure emotion unbounded — whether despair, anger, or even unfathomable joy is partly up to you.

That kind of raw-nerve emotion abounds on this quartet album, which pairs Eneidi with a trio of Polish musicians in a muscular improvised-jazz session. Things do heat up later. On tracks like “White Bats Yodelling” [sic] and “Arco M.,” we get a long, unadulterated doses of Eneidi spattering quick, fluid phrases in an exciting diatribe. “Made in Pole Land” gives us Eneidi’s slickest solo, followed by Pospieszalski demonstrating his own aggressive style.

Back on “Can’t Stop, Won’t Start,” Eneidi and Pospieszalski’s sparse choice of opening salvo provides us with a clearer introduction to Ksawery Wójciński on bass and Michał Trela on drums. Trela, in particular, plays a rapid-fire patter that arguably becomes the center of attention, a lead line behind the “rhythm” of the slow saxophone peals.

Though it’s an improvised record, Panta Rei walks along the border of spontaneous composition, with near-unison phrases materializing between the two saxophones, or from Pospieszalki and Wójciński on tenor sax and bass. It’s possible these are actually composed (although every track is credited to all four musicians) or communicated on-the-fly through hand signals — or maybe it’s a follow-the-leader exercise that the musicians consciously utilized.

In any event, these moments provide some guideposts in a couple of the album’s four long tracks, each clocking in at 9 to 18 minutes.

One sticking point for me — and it’s a small one — involves one of Eneidi’s go-to riffs: a fluttering between a root note and a scale progression, like a pianist keeping the thumb on one note while the other four fingers wander. It’s a trademark of his, but here, it seems to appear a little more often than it should. That I can even recognize this might simply be a sign that I’ve listened to that much of Eneidi’s music. Given the sparseness of his recorded output, that’s not a bad thing.

Having spent a decade in Vienna, Eneidi has now taken up residence in Mexico, where he’s been working with a trio called Cosmic Brujo Mutafuka — here’s some video of what they’re up to.

January 12, 2016 at 8:12 am Leave a comment

Dave Douglas’ Take on Modern Chamber Music

Dave Douglas & Monash Art EnsembleFabliaux (Greenleaf, 2015)

dave-douglas-monash-art-ensemble-fabliaux-greenleafYou might get scared by the first strains of “Forbidden Flags,” which opens Fabliaux with regal horns indicating the start of a knightly joust or a Shakespeare play.

But there’s jazz to be had here, nestled into a setting of new chamber music. The Dave Douglas you know and love is in there as well. He’s teamed up with the Monash Art Ensemble, an Australian collective that commissions new works including a 2014 album recorded with George Lewis, to create a jazz/new-music mix, the work of a creative big band with flair.

The regal opening and the medieval album cover are nods to  Fabliaux‘s inspiration, the 14th-century French composers of the Ars Nova. (Wrong century for Shakespeare.) The concept here is not about the sound of 14th-century music; it seems to be more about building off the rhythmic ideas like hocketing or specific types of counterpoint. The music produced by the ensemble — comprised of four quartet ensembles (strings, brass, winds, percussion) plus electronics — flashes through a variety of tempraments and sounds, in the end producing something that really could sit in the jazz section.

“Forbidden Flags” soon gives way to more big-band-sounding harmonies backing a trumpet solo (Douglas himself, I assume). “Legions” has the horns charting bold big-band chords behind the opening electric piano solo and the cool 7/8 rhythm.

“Tower of the Winds” uses quirky woodwind melodies to re-create a ’50s-style soundtrack for walking down a sunny Manhattan street. Later, it mashes the winds and brass into some complex intertwining that sets up dynamic drum and electronics solos.

Most pieces move like clockwork with the slick, precise, sound of well-executed charts, but Fabliaux is also full of creative soloing. “Legions,” for instance, packs some bright, engaging solos from sax, trumpet, and violin.

 
The composing is packed with twists; not every piece is a big-band chart. “Whirlwind” is a post-minimalist experiment, built of little repeating riffs mixed together in queasy harmonies and not-quite-overlapping cycles. The start of the piece lives up to the title. “Gears” has a tumbling feeling of out-of-phase rhythms, a giant machine that seems chaotic and lumbering but is really working under its own logic.

Even though Fabliaux is a Dave Douglas composition, I’m left feeling like it’s more a Monash album than a Dave Douglas album. It’s a good introduction to the ensemble, anyway, and leaves me interested in hearing what else they can do.

January 2, 2016 at 8:34 pm 1 comment

A Perceptive Trio from Finland

Olavi TrioOh, La Vie! (TUM, 2015)

olavi-tumThis trio set from Finland presents an unhurried mix of trombone, bass, and drums by three players who share the middle name of Olavi. It’s an improv session with a casual feel.

Even the track called “Hurry Up,” with its busy percussive clacking and nervous bass bowing, doesn’t overpower. It’s certainly fast and gets the blood flowing, but it preserves a sense of space.

See if you agree. This segment of “Hurry Up” is about as densely packed as the album gets:


Most of the time, Olavi weaves a loose fabric, which makes for an engaging session with a sense of fun. One reason for that, I think, is that the trombone has more “friction” than a saxophone or a trumpet. To my ears, anyway, it seems harder for the trombone to produce fluid streams of notes. (There might be dozens of Paul Rutherford albums that disprove this theory.)

But that’s not all that I mean by “space.” Even when drummer Niilo Olavi Louhivuori is filling space with all manner of percussion, bandmates Teppo Olavi Hauta-aho (bass) and Jari Olavi Hongisto (trombone) keep a calm demeanor.

“Kalle Killi,” for instance, is playful in a calm, loping way, with a rubbery bass rhythm fronted by improvising at a pace that doesn’t break the spell, even as Hongisto’s melody intensifies and Louhivuori’s percussion gets more active.


The band doesn’t shy away from occasional tonality, and that gives distinct personalities to a few tracks. “Chaplin” hides shades of vaudeville sadness in the trombone melody. “Forest Walk” is an apt title for a casual stroll of a piece — another slice of egalitarian improvising, sustaining a balance that keeps the group moving forward — and even winds down with a traditional ending and resolution.

Another track I liked was “Evening Song,” a showcase for Hauta-aho’s bass. It’s built around an improvised trombone melody by Hongisto, but the fill-ins from Hauta-aho add up to a robust bass solo, full of rubbery plucked notes.

TUM is a Finnish label that’s been releasing works by American artists such as Billy Bang, Barry Altschul, and Wadada Leo Smith — so it’s about time I listened to some players from TUM’s native land. It’s yet another example of a European label taking up the task of documenting the American art form (Clean Feed, NoBusiness, Not Two, and countless others are in this group as well).

November 28, 2015 at 9:51 am Leave a comment

Viv Corringham, Greek Songs, and Electronics

Vocalist Viv Corringham is in the Bay Area this week, joining up with a local band to perform a combination of improvisation, electronics, and Greek rembetika singing.

vivc-australia-2

Source: VivCorringham.org

Rembetika, also spelled rebetika and technically the plural of rebetiko, is an early 20th-century Greek music with genes from the Baltic region and Eastern Europe. But it’s not music born of joy; like the blues, it’s the music of a downtrodden people (outcasts from Asia Minor) and the struggles they faced.

Drugs seem to be a prevailing theme in rembetika, which explains the name of Corringham’s mini-tour: “Life Is Clearer Seen Through Smoke.”

The line comes from a 2011 album, Rembetronika, that pairs Corringham’s singing with the side guitar of Mike Cooper, backed by electronics and joined in spots by legendary British improv players.

Rembetronika — available for free at archive.org — gives you a taste of what to expect from Corringham’s tour. Despite the electronica-sounding title, the album is rich with acoustic sounds of strings and voice, the electronics serving as shading to heighten the drama. (We’re talking laptop-style electronics, not electronic dance music, although a downtrodden dance beat does appear on at least one track.)

Corringham’s Bay Area consort will be an experience beyond that album. The band is all woodwinds — shakuhachi, recorder, and didgeridoo — plus electronics and piano. It’s also going to be a multimedia event, with on-the-spot “film and light abstractions” by Anna Geyer.

You’ve got two more chances to see them:

Tuesday, November 24, 8:00 p.m., Center for New Music (55 Taylor St., San Francisco)

Wednesday, November 25, 7:30 p.m., Canessa Gallery (708 Montgomery St., San Francisco)

Joe Lasqo (playing laptop and keyboards in the band) has blogged a more detailed explanation of the band, the music, and Ms. Corringham.

rembetronika-3011

As for that “clearer through smoke” line — it comes from one of the few Rembetronika tracks sung in English, “White Powder.” And it’s a tough story: a plea for drugs so that the singer can find some escape from this hellish world. “Like is clearer seen through smoke,” Corringham sings, summarizing what seems to be the prevailing attitude in rembetika.

It’s not much different from blues songs about alcohol. It seems there’s something universal about misery and the human condition.

Against those lines, a gentle ramble of off-rhythm guitar drifts like a cloak of madness settling on the singer. Those kinds of unsettling moments are a highlight of Rembetronika. As another example, “Bournovalia” drenches Corringham’s voice in old-timey reverb, backed with a ghostly procession of electronic smudges and untuned chimes for an unsettling effect.

The acoustic sounds of guitar and voice remain at the forefront, though. Pairing a high-toned lilt (think the golden age of radio) with Cooper’s cowboy-style slide guitar — which isn’t the same as the traditional bouzouki but flavors the sound richly.

Those natural sounds take the foreground on the mournful “San Ton Exoristo,” backed by the crackle of faux vinyl and comet-tail slashes of background sound. “Smyrneiko Minore” adds Chris Abrahams’ tumbling, bluesy piano, some slashing guitar, and Corringham’s bright, clear voice singing a wavering, haunting melody. It’s very much the blues.

November 24, 2015 at 1:03 am Leave a comment

A Stormy Piano Trio out of Detroit

Michael Malis TrioLifted from the No of All Nothing (Polyfold, 2015)

Michael Malis is on tour in the midwest through Nov. 15: Champaign, Bloomington, Chicago, South Bend, and Kalamazoo. Check his web site for dates and venues, or look below.

malis-noFrom Detroit comes Michael Malis, bending the idea of the traditional piano trio. His music starts on the crystalline end of classically influenced jazz piano, but he’s willing to veer into adventurous territory. He’ll hammer on the lower registers for a stormy mood, or parse the music into minimalist-influenced diffraction patterns.

Lifted from the No of All Nothing is the trio’s debut album. They’ve been working together in various combinations and have served as the rhythm section for Detroit saxophonist Marcus Elliot, and the album is a chance for pianist Malis to show his chops as a bandleader, handling the role with creativity and confidence.

The most ear-grabbing piece is “Parentheses.” It digs and grooves, distilling its mathematics into an irresistible swing. The bass and drums take early solos that you’re almost not aware are happening — Ben Roston plays feather-light bowings on bass against the clockwork of the groove, and later, drummer Stephen Boegenhold snaps and pops against the irregularly matched patterns played out by Roston and Malis. The whole thing ends with a spritely piano solo over Malis’ jamming left hand.

“Power Numbers,” after an ornate classical opening, plows into a wonderful run-on of a theme, a ribbon of melody that Malis just keeps unreeling and unreeling. And it’s got that jazz crispness as well — Boegehold’s light-tap cymbals and busy snare holding the form (but not the strict beats) of the rhythm, and Roston working in pulses to deepen the sound.

Smaller pieces exhibit more of the band’s experimental side. “Converge” is a heavy stomping of piano bass notes, while “Old and New” gives us 99 seconds of strident freaking-out. “The Moment” is a sprinkling of prepared piano that blossoms into a stormy mood, encouraged by grand arco bass and, eventually, sweeping drums.

The nine-minute “Sympathet” ends the album with an avant-garde excursion that eventually returns to a crisp piano-trio sound led by a composition of impressive skipping-stone counterpoint.

Michael Malis Trio is spending this week on a tour in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Here’s the itinerary, copied from Malis’ web site:

11/11: Institute 4 Creativity (Champaign, IL)

11/12: The Venue for Fine Arts and Gifts (Bloomington, IN)

11/13: Transistor (Chicago, IL)

11/14: Merriman’s Playhouse (South Bend, IN)

11/15: Kalamazoo Piano Company (Kalamazoo, MI)

… And you can listen to all of Lifted from the No of All Nothing on Bandcamp.

November 10, 2015 at 11:48 pm 1 comment

Larry Ochs’ Fictive Five

Larry OchsThe Fictive Five (Tzadik, 2015)

Larry Ochs -- The Fictive Five (Tzadik, 2015)The track “Similitude” opens with a blast from the two horns in Larry Ochs‘ latest group, the Fictive Five, and the steady blare continues for a good nine minutes. Nate Wooley blares out a trumpet solo made of crisp color and passionate growls, propelled by the rhythm section of drummer Harris Eisenstadt and two basses: Ken Filiano and Pascal Niggenkemper.

That track is the opener to another well-crafted improv album by Ochs, playing with a cast of veterans. But there’s another facet to The Fictive Five: The three major pieces that make up the album are dedicated to filmmakers — Wim Wenders, Kelly Reichardt, and installation artist William Kentridge.

As Ochs explains in his own liner notes (posted on his website and not available with the CD), the dedications reflect his feeling that there’s a visual aspect to the music, a movie of the mind. “I’m inspired to create musical landscapes that the listener when closing her eyes can then imagine her own visual images into, inspired by my music,” he writes. Like a choreographer working without music, Ochs is playing the role of soundtrack composer without a film.

While it’s common for an improvised piece to develop a particular character, what follows in The Fictive Five are well sculpted pieces that do indeed feel like narratives. Ochs is good at this; he’s frequently convened improv groups that work from compositions or skeletal structures that guide the impulses of the moment toward a common goal.

“Similitude” is forceful and bold, evoking a bright energy even as the piece moves to a slower phase in its second half — a bigger-picture view, like a camera panning back, but with plenty of action still playing out.

“By Any Other Name” opens with the groans of arco basses and dark, solemn horn statements. The mood brightens as the group works short passages of small subsets — and eventually, a kind of round-robin forms, with players hopping in and out to form duets and trios of intriguing small sounds. Trumpet and drums take a turn, then there’s a basses-and-drums moment with one bass bowed, the other plucked. It’s a musical game whose pieces fit into a macroscopic novel of music. A fiery group passage lands the piece back in the dark underworld where it began, a satisfying bit of symmetry.

“Translucent,” the Reichardt dedication, has a personality that stands out the most. It starts out choppy and high-strung, with tension surrounded by white space. Ochs abbreviates his sax phrases, a start-stop patter that plays well against Eisenstadt’s forceful snippets of drums. The sound softens as the basses and trumpet come in, building a brisk flow that’s not overwhelming. The final third of the 15-minute piece is a lingering denoument that patiently comes in for a landing.

Be sure to check out Ochs’ website for those detailed notes (again, not available elsewhere) about why he chose the song dedications.

Here’s part of the opening to “Similitude,” dedicated to Wim Wenders, incorporating some two-horn phrasing that seems to be composed:

November 5, 2015 at 9:05 pm Leave a comment

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