Posts filed under ‘CD/music reviews’

Animals & Giraffes, Text & Music

Animals & GiraffesJuly (Edgetone, 2017)

animals-july.jpgAnimals & Giraffes is a project combining the poetry of Claudia La Rocco with sound-based improvisations by Bay Area musicians. It’s music for thinking, with La Rocco’s deadpan delivery as a central point, orbited by the stillness of the music.

That’s music in an abstract, sound-based vein most of the time. There are some tones, such as Evelyn Davis’ prepared piano on “Night Harbor,” but most tracks are closer to the slaps, scrapes, and clacking of John Shiurba’s guitar on “Grammar.”

The project is the brainchild of saxophonist Phillip Greenlief, who was looking for an avenue for mixing text and music. He appears two tracks, and he was at the remixing board for a few others, but his real contribution is the shaping of the overall project, recruiting Bay Area musicians to contribute — different players and different sounds for just about every track.

 
Tim Perkis was a inspired choice. His electronics create the perfect punctuation around two shorts: “A Partial Philosophy of the World” and “Instruction Manual.”

He also appears on “The Ferry Is Turning Course Now, Away From the Sun,” pitting small scribbles against Karen Stackpole’s muted bells and gongs. At the song’s peak, the music builds patiently against La Rocco’s traffic jam of run-on sentences and tiny bits of repetition.

 
Public Access” is an interesting departure. It appears to be a straight conversation between David Boyce and La Rocco, couched as a two-way interview. The backing of Boyce’s saxophone and electronics starts at an innocuous level but intensifies as Greenlief, at the mixing board, warps it into more sinister shape by the end of the 7-minute piece.

The poetry itself is inscrutable to me, a patchwork of mostly immediate images: settings and actions taking place now or in recent memory. But it doesn’t follow a linear flow, feeling more like stream-of-consciousness. Jennifer Krasinski summarized it well for Bomb magazine:

“One of the many things I love about her writing is how it records the particular flicker of her synapses, swerving between subjects, veering in many directions in order to find the sharpest views, no matter if fractured or fleeting.”

For me, Animals & Giraffes works better as an experience than as a document. The lingering atmosphere could be captivating in a live performance, as in the video above. The text’s shifting landscape takes a kind of concentration that I’m having trouble latching onto in CD form — but I do enjoy the variety of musicians on the disc, and the “Public Access” experiment works well.

January 28, 2018 at 9:46 am Leave a comment

MZM

Miya Masaoka, Zeena Parkins, Myra MelfordMZM (Infrequent Seams, 2017)

mzmPicture1-500New combinations of familiar names always make for a compelling bill in jazz or improv. I don’t think I’ve encountered any two of Zeena Parkins, Miya Masaoka, and Myra Melford together in any project, so the idea of all three dabbling together in the studio is irresistible.

It’s an all-strings combo — Melford on piano, Masaoka on koto, and Parkins on harp — but Parkins also adds electronics for a wider range of sounds and a sense of sustain.

They explore a wide set of strategies and moods on MZM. “Bug” goes for a straightforward attack, driven at times by a pulsing of dense piano chords. Along similar lines, “Eight-Burst” is a briskly moving piece that turns up the electronics from Parkins, coupled with some frenzied koto and splashy, jazzy piano from Melford.

MZM_1_©heike_liss_copy-845x684

Copyright Heike Liss

On the slower side, “Saturn” tracks an appropriately spacey vibe, spiced by reverb on the koto. “Rosette” and “Spiral” likewise provide good doses of creeping, lingering atmosphere. The latter builds from the koto’s rich, mysterious twang in pure form. Melford sprinkles icicles from what might be a toy keyboard, while Parkins provides a deep throb of a bassline, subtly moving underneath.


I like the tight-knit rumble in the piano on “Retina,” which eases up as the piece progresses. And then there’s “Ant,” an edgy track full of small, curled-up sounds. It plows forward on the back of a stumbling piano non-rhythm and small stabs of koto, led by squelching electronics. It feels like a conscious effort to create something different, and it works — a new shape architected by three masterful improvisers.

January 12, 2018 at 10:09 pm Leave a comment

More Grand Gestures for Piano and Drums

Dialectical Imagination performs Dec. 26 at the Octopus Literary Salon (2101 Webster St., Oakland), 7:00 p.m.

Dialectical Imagination — The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Wrath (Atma Nadi, 2017)

dialectical-wrath.jpgNote the subtle difference in title. Dialectical Imagination’s previous album referred to “Songs of Rapture,” while this new one is about songs of wrath.

The strategy remains the same: High-energy improvisations that mix classical precision with free-jazz-like abandon. Dialectical Imaginations is the piano-drums duo of Eli Wallace and Rob Pumpelly, both hammering away ecstatically.

The new album, which officially releases on Christmas Day, can be pre-ordered on Bandcamp. And on a personal note — it’s hard to find good music shows during the holidays, so I’m glad to see the Octopus cafe in Oakland booking these guys for the day after Christmas.

The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Wrath is full of lengthy high-energy segments, but it’s not just random bashing. Both players execute a deliberate accuracy even when they’re bashing away — as on “Autopoietica I,” which combines a flurry of piano sticklers with some stormy drums.

 
“Autopoietica II” shows off the duo’s more subtle side. It’s still full of bombast, but at lower intensity, with Wallace splashing fluidly around the keyboard and Pumpelly battering furiously but quietly at the toms. The piece ends with a slower movement, with the kind of drama that evokes the crashing ocean surf.

“Strength and Presence” is where the “wrath” really kicks in — a 13-minute musical attack, with both players relentlessly filling space. It’s a signature moment, albeit a long one.

The track that’s available for early sampling on Bandcamp is “Hatchling,” which builds from a quiet opening where Wallace’s jazz influences, including possibly Cecil Taylor, are more clearly on display.

December 22, 2017 at 12:52 am Leave a comment

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

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