Posts filed under ‘CD/music reviews’

Rocking A Love Supreme

Karl Evangelista/GrexA Love Supreme (Brux, 2017)

coversmallYou can tell from the start that this isn’t a conventional reading of A Love Supreme, and not just because it’s guitar-based. Karl Evangelista and the band Grex start the piece with the same kind of wide-open introduction as the original, but in a voice that suggests what’s to come: a hard-digging psychedelic guitar opera.

With guitar and keys, bass and drums, and a couple of sparkling trumpet solos, it’s a satisfying treatment — a 25-minute EP being released as precursor to Grex’s next album. The structure of the four-movement piece remains intact, and there’s even a drum solo to open “Pursuance,” as on the original. What’s different is the transformation of the themes into rock form. Check out “Resolution,” where Evangelista plays the snakey composed line while Grex backs him with sinister chords.

 
The seminal moment of the original piece is Coltrane singing the “a love supreme” chant at the end of “Acknowledgement.” I can’t believe I never noticed this, but Coltrane sings his phrase in each of the 12 different keys. On Grex’s version, it’s the band who plays that theme, hopping from key to key while Evangelista’s guitar dances over the fast-shifting landscape.

The rock treatment is interesting when you consider that the original is based on wide-open modal playing — no ostinato, no riffs to clutch onto. Rock, of course, relies on repeated themes and rhythms that back the solos. It’s a fun translation, as “Pursuance” turns into a head-bobbing rocker with a solo of fuzz and feedback. “Psalm” becomes a cooldown study in slow-burning guitar and electric piano.

Listen to (and buy) the whole album at Bandcamp.

November 23, 2017 at 12:39 pm Leave a comment

Tim Berne (and Paul Motian) in 1983

Tim BerneMy First Tour: Live in Brussels (Screwgun, 2017)

berne-firstIt’s a lo-fi cassette recording but wholly satisfying, and a nice little slice of history.

My First Tour is a 1983 recording that Tim Berne is giving away on Bandcamp. It’s in the same spirit as the Unwound triple-CD that documented Berne’s Bloodcount quartet in concert (more on that in a later post).

“Why am I doing this?” Berne writes. “Because I think this has a side of Paul Motian that maybe isn’t well documented and worth hearing.”

True. Motian is often raucous and aggressive in this session, capped by his solo at the excerpt of “Mutant of Alberan.”

 
It’s not as if Motian hasn’t played loudly before. I remember him having a similarly dynamic solo on Keith Jarrett’s The Survivors’ Suite. That “Alberan” solo gets outright vicious, though. You get to hear the rawness behind the performance, and that’s an aspect that elevates this recording, as it did with Unwound.

Elsewhere, Herb Robertson delivers a tremendous trumpet solo on “Flies,” going absolutely nuts, backed by Motian’s high-speed brushwork. And if you want to hear Motian in a more contemplative mood, there’s “No Idea,” which lingers pensively around Motian’s sense of open non-timekeeping.

“Tin Ear” is one of the songs that I don’t think ever made it onto an album, and it’s a blast. After a swingy start, Berne kicks into fast free jazz, with Motian’s furious rhythm. That track has another raucous Motian solo as well.

I enjoy hearing alternate versions of tunes, so this collection is a treat from that standpoint as well. There’s more where this came from, on the 5-CD Empire Box that documents Berne’s early albums with Robertson, Motian, Alex Cline, Nels Cline, Vinny Golia, and more. Discs 4 and 5 are on Bandcamp.

UPDATE 11/22: Discs 1 through 3 are now on Bandcamp as well: The Five-Year Plan, 7X, and Spectres.

November 4, 2017 at 11:24 am 1 comment

The Roughtet: Biggi Vinkeloe’s Improv Crew

Biggi Vinkeloe RoughtetAu Quotidien (Edgetone, 2017)

vinkeloe-roughtetYou should hear this album for the friendly vibe of its quartet, their balanced approach to improvised jazz, and the solid interplay on the two live tracks included at the end.

But I’d also be happy if you read the liner notes, either with the physical CD or on Bandcamp. I happen to find them deeply insightful. And yeah, I also wrote them.

Which creates an interesting opportunity: I can review this album by plagiarizing myself. Man, is this going to be easy.

Vinkeloe, from Sweden, has been a frequent visitor to the Bay Area and a longtime participant in the music scene here. She’s also been involved in some interesting projects lately, including the Swedish jazz group Amazonas and her own Jade project blending the moods of jazz with choral sacred music

Au Quotiden is more like a meeting among friends, a mood that makes for a light and lively session.

Au Quotidian mixes the confidence of the familiar with the excitement of the unknown, the musicians keying off one another’s invisible cues to create a fluid, elegant machine,” I wrote.  (“Invisible” was a poor choice of word, as visual cues, even the kind that simply signal the end of a piece, probably played a large role during the recording session.)

“The band gets a ‘jazz’ infusion from [Joe] Lasqo’s piano chords, adding spots of color to a stormy track like ‘i would think so’ or the slapped groove of ‘je ne sais pas.'” (The song titles are entirely lower-case.)

Let’s see if I was right. Here’s an excerpt of ‘i would think so.’

 
And here’s part of “je ne sais pas,” which I later also cited for cellist Teddy Rankin-Parker’s “grooving bassline.”

 
I should mention that Donald Robinson on drums is a crucial part of this chemistry; he’s played with these musicians for years, including Vinkeloe. Check out Blue Reve  (Eld 2009), a trio album with Robinson, Vinkeloe, and bassist Lisle Ellis.

Au Quotidien is appended with two live tracks that feature some particularly lively interplay. Again, from the liners: “‘how wonderful'” features Vinkeloe’s joyous yet balanced overblowing and a full palette of sounds from Robinson.”

Here I’ve combined a couple of segments to give you a feel for all that:

 
To conclude: “throughout the album, Vinkeloe herself leads the crew through varying moods — the spiky excitement of “vous ne comprenez rien,” the dark, unhurried mystery of “cela commence mal.” She spins powerful tales herself on the horn, but this band carries those talents to another plane — four storytellers, weaving a narrative together.”

October 28, 2017 at 2:45 pm Leave a comment

The Cuong Vu Connection

Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny (Nonesuch, 2016)

vu-methenyHere’s how the story was told to me, by members of a Brooklyn free-jazz trio called Birth, circa 2000. Cuong Vu came home one day to a voicemail message saying: “Hi. My name’s Pat Metheny? I’m, uh, a musician…?”

And that’s how jazz star Metheny recruited Vu, a New York trumpeter hanging with the downtown scene, into this band. Metheny had heard Vu’s music and immediately heard a fit that he wanted to explore, so he dug up Vu’s phone number and tried his luck.

Metheny gets mentioned on these pages a lot more often than you’d think. But that’s because, despite his reputation for playing nice yuppie coffee-table jazz, he has an interest in free playing and noise.

Vu’s story is similar but flipped. He was part of the downtown NYC crowd but had a penchant for more lyrical, atmospheric playing — accessible stuff, in other words. At KZSU, one DJ who could never understand the whole free-jazz/free-improv thing made a point of telling me how much he loved that new Cuong Vu CD we’d added to rotation.

So in a lot of ways, the two make a good mix. Looking at it from Metheny’s point of view, Vu had the combination of atmosphere and edge that figures prominently in Metheney’s music.

Cuong Vu Trio is Vu’s band, so they play by Vu’s rules. Their new CD with Metheny has plenty of niceness, but what lands the CD on this blog are the wide-open stretches on tracks like “Acid Kiss” (below) and “Tiny Little Pieces.” Vu is happy to take his trio off the rails and seek what directions they can find, and when Metheny joins in with his trademark synth guitar sound — the one that, come to think of it, sounds like a horn — you get a gloriously noisy, tangled mix.

 
As for the side of Cuong Vu that that other DJ liked so much — it’s here, too. “Let’s Get Back” is sweet and spacious, with some light guitar menace added for weight.

 
It’s good to see this collaboration continue. Metheny plus Vu makes a lot of sense to me.

October 15, 2017 at 4:57 pm Leave a comment

Japan, by Way of Germany

Eric Shaefer — Kyoto Mon Amour (ACT, 2017)

schaefer-kyotoDropping the virtual needle on Kyoto Mon Amour by German drummer Eric Schaefer, I was expecting a meditative session with vast silences. But “Shoshu-san,” the opening track, breaks from a relaxing intro to get into busy clarinet soloing against koto and tastefully splashed cymbals.

It’s jazz, in other words, but blended with a Japanese sense of contemplation and abstractness. Schaefer’s quartet is fronted by koto and clarinet, both played by Japanese musicians who live in Europe, and his band is rounded out by John Eckhardt’s strong bass work. The results aren’t as edgy as I’d hoped, but it’s a rich blend enjoyable for reasons that go beyond the jazz sound.

On koto, Naoko Kikuchi shows wide range of styles. “Pavane de la Belle au Bois Dormant” — a 1910 Maurice Ravel composition for kids — conveys a jazz vibe within the first notes of Eckhardt’s bass, followed by traditional Japanese airs in the koto parts. “Tohoku” sounds downright Appalachian, and “Ticket to Osaka” briskly combines a deep bass pulse with lively koto riffing, including a rocking little 6/8 phrase.

 
Kazutoki Umezu’s clarinet and bass clarinet tap that European cross-current that cuts across jazz and classical styles. A good taste of this comes during the lively, bluesy clarinet solo on “Kansai Two-Face,” an otherwise contemplative track.

 
As for that zen feeling that I was anticipating, there’s plenty of it on “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” an composition that’s lyrically sad but also includes one of the album’s most “outside” segments. During a freely improvised break, Kikuchi gets downright ragged on the koto, with Umezu eventually adding ghostly moans on clarinet.

October 3, 2017 at 12:17 am Leave a comment

Feldman & Me

I’ve been listening to Morton Feldman’s second string quartet one movement at a time.

It’s similar to the strategy I undertook with Einstein on the Beach. The String Quartet (II) is nearly five hours long, and even with that kind of time on my hands, my media-saturated brain probably couldn’t take that much stillness in one dose.

feldman-2One difference, though. I listened to Einstein in order. I’m sampling the String Quartet in shuffle mode, absorbing one of the 13 movements per sitting. It’s helping me discern the “personality” of each movement. Any one of them could be described as a light, subtle pulse, but of course there are differences — the ocean-waves patience of “XII”; the slow, neon dissonance of “IX”; the irregular rhythms of “X” and its oddball ending.

Here’s a characteristic passage: the pastoral and relatively bright strokes that begin “III”.

 
You know how a line on a computer screen can be so thin that you can’t quite tell what color it is? I’m getting that effect with the string pulses. At times, they don’t sound like strings at all, but like tiny puffs of horns or woodwinds. That’s especially true during passages when the notes vanish quickly, dissolving into white space. My brain is left wondering what that sound was.

The piece certainly doesn’t sound like a traditional string quartet, but with that horn illusion at work, it doesn’t even sound like a quartet of strings

I was pleased to find that each movement does not consist of 20 minutes of the same idea. Each one is a mini-journey unto itself, going through at least two distinct phases — the surprise pizzicato section near the end of “X,” with trilly, swirly violin punctuation, is probably my favorite moment. I also didn’t expect the occasional swirls of darkness interrupting the pervasive cloudy-light mood.

What I don’t have is a feel for the large-scale narrative. Is there a trajectory here, a series of moods you’re meant to be led through? I’m suspecting not. Maybe I don’t know Feldman well enough. Or … maybe I’m doing this exactly the way I should be.

September 30, 2017 at 10:57 pm Leave a comment

Sonata for Laptop and Piano

Tim Perkis & Scott WaltonApplied Cryptography (pfMentum, 2016)

PFMCD106These tracks, many of them miniatures, pair Tim Perkis’ mastery of laptop electronics music with Scott Walton’s piano. It’s chamber music, as serious and deep as anything you’d find in classical section.

At times, Perkis’ command of the laptop rivals that of an acoustic instrument — such as a brief moment of sustain on “Oblique Compact,” so similar to a violin or saxophone holding a high note for dramatic effect. Composer Lisa Mezzacappa once noted that she not only includes Perkis in her bands but also hands him sheet music, and touches like this demonstrate why.


Much of the “classical” feel can be attributed to Walton. Even though he uses prepared piano at times, much of his playing has the feel of modern chamber music. “Naked Egg” is delicate and patient, as fragile as its title. At the other end of the scale, “Partial Ordering” uses lower-register hammering for a sense of drama, and Perkis responds with curt and relatively stiff sounds.

“Normal Form” takes that darker mood a step further, descending into heavy string-scraping on the piano and a buzzy undertone from the electronics. Here’s a segment that gets into some heavy keyboard work.


“Blind Signature” (all of these titles look like they do come from cryptography) offers a bit of crashing abandon and shrieking sounds, but it still leaves enough blank space to feel like a serious venture. It even has a mini-cadenza for some bleating, buzzy electronics. The album ends with “Zero-Knowledge Proof,” a miniature that’s peppered with the small, tightly clean sounds that Perkis does so well.

September 23, 2017 at 10:20 am Leave a comment

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