Posts filed under ‘CD/music reviews’

Fractured Chamber Music

Vinny GoliaMusic for Woodwinds, Strings, Piano, and Percussion (pfMentum, 2017)

golia-woodwinds“Don’t make a mess in my brand new Edgar suit!” is one of the more normal titles in this collection of modern chamber music. One of the less normal titles is “Mr. Pisaro, are all your papers in order? (and his lovely wife too…).”

The psychologically scattered phrases seem like warnings not to take this music too seriously — but it feels like serious music, albeit with a prankster’s touch. Strings set the mood, while composer/bandleader Vinny Golia’s woodwinds furnish the attitude in the form of soloing — sometimes in frenzied free-jazz mode, sometimes with placid flute that could pass for “straight” modern chamber music. Some tracks add piano for elegant depth (“Fish is Fish but that’s another matter”) or artfully jazzy splashes (“Something about a Carnival?”), and Golia occasionally does double duty by adding percussion or sound effects.

My guess is that Golia wrote many, if not all, of these tracks as exercises in improvising over a complicated, through-composed background (although I think the strings get some improv moments as well). On “Edgar suit,” that background is a tense pulsing, egged on by some dissonant piano chords. Here’s a passage where the pulse starts freeing up, and Golia flourishes nicely when the strings glide into a set of unison chords.

 
In another direction, “‘they look like monkeys, yes!’ (the zeegoes…)” feels steeped in chamber music, with its dense strings and a flute lead that’s mostly choppy and abrasive in this clip, although elsewhere it gets mellifluous and oh-so-chamber-sounding.

 
The album is part of a chamber-music series Golia is releasing on pfMentum. Syncquistic Linear Expositions and their Geopolitical Outcomes (…we are all still here…) is a standard-looking jazz quartet playing songs with another set of wordy, phase-shifting titles, while Intercommunications matches Golia’s woodwind arsenal with percussion. (pfMentum, 2018).

September 3, 2018 at 6:28 pm Leave a comment

When Music on the Airplane Is Surprisingly Good

Emile Parisien Quartet with Joachim KühnSfumato (ACT Music, 2016)

I can’t believe I discovered this album on an airplane.

Sfumato_teaser_550xIt was one of those longer flights with the personalized video screens for each passenger. Which is a nice way to catch up on movies, but I like it more when there’s a handful of short films to watch. It’s stuff I wouldn’t otherwise discover, and my propensity to fall asleep on planes doesn’t get in the way so much.

I’m also one of the few passengers who checks out the audio programs. Classical music is out of the question (too much dynamic variation — the long quiet stretches are inaudible) but something tolerable usually shows up in the jazz section. That’s how Sfumato came up. Recognizing the ACT Music cover-art style, I figured it was worth a listen.

Turns out Sfumato covers a lot of ground. The music is led by Emile Parisien’s soprano sax and the steadfast piano of veteran Joachim Kühn … and if you don’t know what’s coming (as I didn’t), the appearances of accordion, not-so-placid electric guitar, and even electric bass are welcome delights, little surprise bonbons spread throughout the tracks. Mostly, the territory is European jazz, steeped with hints of classical and old-world folk — but it’s got an edge. I was ready to enjoy this album but still got more than I was expecting.

Accordion shows some virtuosity and even some free-jazzy moments during the suite, “Le Clown Tueur de la Fete Foraine.” The suite opens with sad nostalgia, evoking images of a big-top era gone by … but the title translates to “The Killer Clown of the Fair.” It doesn’t get outright sinister, but Part 2 includes a fuzzy electric-guitar solo, and Part 3 gets into some fast-paced jazz with a light dramatic tinge.

“Le Clown” doesn’t get too dark, but if that’s your thing, “Brainmachine” goes there, swaying between two heavy chords. In a brighter mode, “Arome de l’Air” lets Manu Codjia chop away on guitar and gives Parisien a nifty solo as well, sometimes almost buzzing like a harmonica.

Sfumato won an Album of the Year award in France, and the band has since released a live album that includes a Wynton Marsalis appearance. I’m going to have to check that out.

July 14, 2018 at 10:52 pm Leave a comment

Can You Handle This Much Accordion?

One instrument I never even considered getting “into” was the accordion. Not only is it associated with old, corny music, but it also creates chords with a squelchy sound that I don’t find so attractive.

Pauline Oliveros plays accordion, of course, but that’s different. Then again, it also tells you that the accordion can do more than polka.

The turning point for me was classical accordionist Bjarke Mogensen, whose solo album Winter Sketches (Orchid, 2011) got me interested in the instrument’s musical possibilities and emotional range. It’s been a few years, and while I haven’t become an accordion fanatic, I’ve found myself wondering what else Mogensen has done.

So I checked out The Song I’ll Never Sing (Decapo, 2012), a program combining solo pieces with string duets and an accordion duo. The common thread is the pen of Danish composer Kasper Rofelt.

mogensen-thesong.jpg

I don’t know what really counts as virtuoso playing on an according. But the fast, accurate flurries on the “Vivace Corrente” movement of Concert Studies for Classical Accordion, First Book (2008-2009) sound great to me, as do the rapid-fire moments in the “Twilight Toccata” movement of Shadow Pieces. In the latter case, it’s the quiet, spattery passages that impress and thrill the most, not the big-flourish chords.

 
But I wonder if there’s a touch to the slow, gentle playing, as there is with a saxophone or piano. On the list of moments that should impress me, what about the thin, shimmering notes that open the track “Midnight?” What about “Nightsong 2,” played with violinist Christina Åstrand, where Mogensen lays down atmospheric chords, softly painting the background?

What’s kept me interested in Mogensen is his experimental side, which Rofelt indulges on pieces such as “Quasi Statico,” using drones and quavers to move into Oliveros territory, sounding almost like an analog-synth impersonation. In a different vein, “Light Falling,” pairs Mogensen with cellist Toke Møldrup for a tense and often subtle 10-minute piece that sometimes feels like a nighttime chase scene, sometimes like an over-the-top stage drama.

 
Then there’s the sparse, moody “Charybdis, played by MYTHOS, the accordion duo of Morgensen and childhood friend Rasmus Kjøller. It’s tense and aggressive, sometimes feeling like the instruments are chasing each other.

And it made me wonder whether Kjøller had any other output I could find. His career couldn’t just consist of being the “other” accordionist in MYTHOS, right?

alstedI found him on Agnete’s Laughter (Dacapo, 2013), an album of electronics and experimental-vocal pieces by composer Birgitte Alsted.Her liner notes describe him as a newcomer whose “official debut” was in 2013, in which case it makes sense that his resume doesn’t seem as long as Mogensen’s.

Amid the album’s array of ghostly, abstract electro-acoustic work, Alsted added a solo accordion composition: The 12-minute “Melancolia.” It’s full of icy drama and grand, slow emoting — and, in its latter half, soaring crescendos like this one:

 
Kjøller’s playing seems to hit higher and lower notes than I’ve heard on Mogensen’s albums. I don’t know if that’s a function of the type of accordion he’s playing or my own tin ears.

I do find I need a break from the accordion after a long listen. This isn’t going to become an all-consuming obsession. But I’ve enjoyed this little detour — and I haven’t even gotten to the real jazz/improv accordion heroes, Guy Klucevcek and Rüdiger Carl.

June 23, 2018 at 11:46 am 1 comment

Two Sides of Rent Romus

Rent Romus’ Life’s Blood EnsembleRogue Star (Edgetone, 2018)

Rent Romus’ Lords of OutlandIn the Darkness We Speak a Sound Brightness and Life (Edgetone, 2018)

Saxophonist Rent Romus has been more prolific than ever in the last couple of years, or at least it seems that way to me. He has a spate of new material out on his Edgetone Records label, including these two CDs from a couple of longstanding bands.

 
Rogue Star, by Romus’ Life’s Blood Ensemble, presents his more formalized side — compositions rooted in concert-hall jazz styles, with dynamic multi-horn themes, the cool touch of Mark Clifford on vibraphone, and, of course, plenty of space for group improvisation.

The Life’s Blood Ensemble started in 1999 as a trio including drummer Timothy Orr, and the group was introduced to the world on Blood Motions (Edgetone, 2001), built around compositions from Romus’ time in Copenhagen. The band has since grown in size and ambition, becoming a three-horn septet playing backed by the dual basses of Max Johnson and Safa Shokrai, who get an unaccompanied duet to start “Cassini” and in the middle of “Think!” Tracks like “Emotism” are intelligently plotted, with polished unison lines and crisply energetic solos.

“Think!” operates in bursts of ’60s-feeling energy, interspersed with composed lines shaping cohesive group improvisation. “Space Is Expanding” features big-band-style solos and drumming, possibly a nod to Sun Ra. And I love the way the title track blossoms into a loose multi-horn improvisation with a relaxed, sunny feel.

 
romus-darknessI think of Lords of Outland as Romus’ more gutteral outlet, rooted in jazz but with a contrary streak. This is one of Romus’ earliest bands, created more than 20 years ago and reviewed on this blog multiple times.

In recent years, with the steady rhythm section of Ray Schaeffer (six-string electric bass) and Philip Everett (drums), the Lords have moved into the territory of prog and cosmic rock and, increasingly, electronics played by multiple band members.

The electronics get an even bigger role on In the Darkness, mainly from the hands of Collette McCaslin. She plays trumpet and sax as well, but many of her contributions are in the form of analog blasts and bleeps, an extra touch of aggression and flamboyance. I presume it’s her delivering the solo electronics showcase on the track “Interstellar Deletion.”

The “darkness” of the title often feels like a joyous darkness, as on the nine-minute “Open Your Hand and Walk Away,” with Romus’ tenor sax calmly testifying among the din. That track also includes a good spacey showcase for Schaeffer’s bass and effects.

Many of the tracks are outright bright, really.  “From a Trunk Buried in My Closet” develops into a chaotic, celebratory flow underlaid by squelchy bass and subtle garnishes of electronics. “A Pile of Dust We Emerge” has McCaslin adding soprano sax tones for additional color.

 
“See the Path Before You” adds a touch of mysticism — a spirited sax-and-electronics duo, followed by ceremonial somberness between trumpet (also McCaslin) and sax. “As Water We Emerge Toward Us” is a more disjoint kind of free-jazz, fast-paced but with plenty of white space for a more contemplative mood.

These albums have a lot in common, starting with Romus’ fleet sax work, but they represent different angles on the process of making music. They just happen to have come out at around the same time, and they do make for a nice set.

June 17, 2018 at 10:55 am Leave a comment

This Guy Who Keeps Hanging Out With Matthew Shipp

Toxic [Mat Walerian, Matthew Shipp, and William Parker] — This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People (ESP-Disk, 2017)

walerian-toxicPolish woodwind player Mat Walerian has hit the radar in the last three years, thanks to his association with Matthew Shipp. Walerian and Shipp have appeared together on a clutch of ESP-Disk albums: a duo (calling themselves The Uppercut), a trio with drummer Hamid Drake (called Jungle), and Shipp’s recent quartet album, Sonic Fiction.

My introduction to Walerian was the trio Toxic, with Shipp bassist William Parker. You’d expect the album to excel anyway, but I find myself savoring the sections where Walerian sits out, leaving the Shipp-Parker duo that’s been working together since the ’90s. On “The Breakfast Club, Day 1,” they’re in a particularly casual, unhurried mode, stepping briskly but not urgently. It’s as if the weight of the years is gone, and they can be themselves without having to prove themselves.

But this is supposed to be about Walerian, and ESP-Disk’s seeming determination to make him famous. He’s worth the effort. Playing mostly saxes and clarinets, Walerian adeptly combines the jazz tradition with the new thing, playing with an easy, unforced confidence. He shifts gears smoothly and — with this trio at least — fits comfortably into the flow.

“The Breakfast Club, Day 1” is a good example, where his sax is in an avant-romantic mode: sweet lines of melody that swerve into brief overblown squeals or tiny bits of free rambling. It’s an easy and confident mood that sets up the Shipp-Parker passage that I enjoyed so much.

The title track has more in that vein, on clarinet, with Walerian mixing old-timey motifs and a pensively swingy feel.

I’m making the album sound happy-go-lucky, but of course there’s Shipp, adding ice-block chords and low-register piano rumbles. He also adds a light touch on “Peace and Respect” supporting Walerian’s bass clarinet with jazzy chord blips — and, later, with comping on the organ, apparently Shipp’s first recording on that instrument. Actually, that track gets happy as well, with the organ doing its sustained-chord thing and Parker’s bass providing a cool swing.

For a complete departure, “Lesson” opens with a double-flute duet (Parker on shakuhachi alongside Walerian’s western flute). The meditative space unfolds slowly, colored by Shipp’s careful splashes. Parker’s bass eventually arrives, patiently plucking notes in an unaccompanied zen atmosphere.

And if you’re looking for a full dose of Shipp, “The Breakfast Club, Day 2” has that stern hammering, sustain pedal fully down, as Walerian, dancing a lot more to the outside, still finds ways to carve melody from the wall of sound. But even that one comes to a swingy conclusion.

May 27, 2018 at 9:47 am 2 comments

Tyshawn Sorey’s New-Music Piano Trio

Tyshawn SoreyVerisimilitude (Pi Recordings, 2017)

sorey-versCompared with The Inner Spectrum of Variables, Sorey’s epic ensemble work from 2016, Verisimilitude is more contained, played only by a trio: Chris Tordini (bass), Cory Smythe (piano) and Sorey himself (drums).

It isn’t a jazz piano trio. The five-minute opening, “Cascade in Slow Motion,” is conventional enough in its contemplative manner — or you could convince yourself such, at least. But the more ambitious tracks depart starkly from the piano trio format, as you’d hope.

The 18-minute “Obsidian” starts with sounds that don’t seem like piano, bass, or drums. Instead, there’s a ghostly ringing created by a bow — either bass harmonics, cymbals, or both. “Obsidian” is a spacious, patient piece, with the drum kit often limited to small taps. Sorey introduces wood blocks and metal chimes as well — including a nice passage around the 7-minute mark, accompanied only by piano. Later on, though, “Obsidian” gets stormy, recalling the steel sounds of Fieldwork, the trio of Sorey (drums), Vijay Iyer (piano), and Steve Lehman (sax). “Obsidian” is loud but purposeful, with a stern finale that’s more regal than frenzied.

 
And then there’s the 30-minute “Algid November.” The sound is again sparse at first, unfolding in tiny motions surrounded by savory emptiness, and eventually building into a probing improvised segment that could be considered “normal” for a modern jazz trio. It’s quite nice.

When “Algid November” gets torrid, building off a sour-toned, low-register piano riff, it becomes a percussion showcase, built on a sour-toned, low-register piano riff and long drum rolls and cymbal waves, wood blocks, and one very long, cathartic gong crash that completes the segment, plunging us back into silence momentarily. It’s never a frenzied piece, but Tordani keeps the energy level elevated with a wiry bass ramble, pulsing around a small range of notes. There’s plenty more to come after that: slow bells and quieter bass, like calm sunshine after a rainstorm, but with a mood that’s still unsettled.

The whole album draws from Sorey’s work in new classical music, of course, but there’s an especially strong dose of “classical” in the brooding “Flowers for Prashant,” which combines images of desolation and moments of spare beauty.

It’s still fun to watch Sorey go nuts in a jazz context, of course. But his path into composing has been gratifying to follow as well, from NYC downtown jazz into these more contemplative projects. He’s building a fascinating career.

April 25, 2018 at 8:37 pm 1 comment

The Mixed Media of Orfeo 5

Orfeo 5In the Green Castle (Discus, 2017)

24585Orfeo 5’s blend of jazz instruments and electronics builds on a sense of mystery, even on the tracks that display outright grooves. The results land somewhere in a far corner of improvised jazz, bordering noise, electronica, and psychedelia.

For me, some of the mystery comes from not knowing who this group is or where they came from. This was a nearly blind purchase on the Squidco site, after I’d gotten intrigued by a couple of samples. I do this sometimes, and it’s kind of a stab at reliving my youth — those days when I was just beginning to delve into free jazz (or jazz of any type) and every album was a discovery. (Orfeo 5 appears to be British, by the way.)

But the mysterious sound isn’t just in my head. Most tracks on In the Green Castle are backgrounded by a wall of electronics and samples from Shaun Blezard. He shapes the mood of most pieces, whether it’s through the orchestral waves on the title track, or a steady, crunchy beat on “In a Flower’s Radiance, Part 2,” or just the added dimension of sampled bandmates played back through distortion and echo. Other tracks feature flute rather than saxophone, creating an air of inscrutable stillness.

The title track pits a bright soloing saxophone, maybe a little too bright, over a slightly crunchy electronics loop, with some piano spatters thrown in for good measure. It’s a good piece, and I like the sax playing a lot, but sometimes it feels like it hobbles the mood, interrupting the silvery sheen created by the other instruments. I prefer the sax’s percolating sound on “And Miles Away I Saw,” where it bounces off a quiet, patient bassline (Matt Bourne on cello) for a calmly free vibe.

“Transformed by Fire” is where the band really gets their jazz on. Blezard sets down a beat that inspires some stern piano chords (Bourne again). It all builds into a midtempo jam, eventually dissolving into an unaccompanied piano passage with a deep, classical-recital jazz sound. “Fearful Beauty,” plays out like a jazz ballad, with sax leading the way over mournfully bowed cello.

Vocals and spoken word are part of the Orfeo 5 schematic as well, and they take a leading role on “A Prayer to the Sea,” where Mary Oliver, possibly with Blezard’s help, mixes children’s voices, spoken vocals, and some artistic singing and poetry.

Despite the name, Orfeo 5 apparently started out as a duo, just Blezard and saxophonist Keith Jafrate. I prefer this larger, fleshed-out version. There are still soloing moments to tickle your brain’s jazz center, but there are also passages where it’s a little difficult to tell which instrument is making which sound. Those moments create some of the album’s most intriguing heights.

April 22, 2018 at 10:02 am Leave a comment

Older Posts


Calendar

October 2018
M T W T F S S
« Sep    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

Posts by Month

Posts by Category