Yoni Kretzmer’s New New Dilemma

Yoni Kretzmer’s New DilemmaMonths, Weeks and Days (OutNow, 2018)

kretzmer-monthsEight years after I stumbled onto his music, Yoni Kretzmer has again recorded with New Dilemma, the group matching his sax with a string trio. It’s a welcome reunion-of-sorts and, considering the double-CD span of Months, Weeks and Days, a heftier dive into the possibilities for this grouping.

This time, the compositions mostly take the form of longer suites, such as the 19-minute opener, “Sunday Oct. 12th.” The band is also augmented with one more low voice — Josh Sinton on bass clarinet, acting as a foil to Kretzmer and complementing the low-string trio of viola, cello, and bass (Frantz Loriot, Christopher Hoffman, and Pascal Niggenkemper). Flin Van Hemmen rounds out the band on drums.

New Dilemma’s self-titled debut highlighted the compositions and the chamber-music potential of the strings. This second album emphasizes the edge of hard-digging improvisation, with raspy horns and gutty strings. Here’s a span of “Sunday Oct. 12” that features some hard-blazing soloing against composed lines.

“Nov 27th – Dec 1st” is an impressive track that starts with a chamber feel — unison melody as a backdrop to some sublime Kretzmer soloing, fast but restrained, working in a currency of burly knots and tangles. “Friday May 13th” likewise veers into the orbit of traditional chamber music, with its fluttering baroque cello line and floating melodies (and Van Hemmen clattering away with some abandon).

“Tishma” is the only title that isn’t a calendar date, and it’s a departure in another way as well, opening with a creeping overhang built of long tones, with cymbal tapping and Pascal Niggenkemper’s plucked bass breaking the surface tension. The rest is a patient piece built of small sounds.

You can sample parts of Months, Weeks and Days on Bandcamp.

Yoni Kretzmer Five

Yoni KretzmerFive (OutNow, 2016)

kretzmer-fiveLike a lot of musicians, saxophonist Yoni Kretzmer spans a range of styles, including some intriguing free improv and the strings-laden jazz of his New Dilemma band.

But it’s nice to hear him in a good old free jazz format. With Five, he’s assembled an all-star quintet that delivers brisk, exciting music across five tracks.

A taste of ’60s influence runs throughout the compositions. “Quintet I” launches you right into it, as drummer Chad Taylor and bassist Max Johnson kick off a fast-patter attack, quickly followed by a pulsing lead line from the horns. From there, it’s off to the races, with solos backed by bits of composed riffs and long passages of Johnson and Taylor delivering the heat.

Most of the compositions consist of a few riffs played as demarcation points that define a mood and a context, but the rest is left to the players, a nicely brewing stew of improvisation.Kretzmer himself is in fine form, with blazing, burning solos full of expression and variety. He’s an expert storyteller on his horn — tenor sax throughout this album. And he’s recruited top-notch bandmates in Steve Swell (trombone) and Thomas Heberer (cornet).

“Feb 23” is another quick-paced study: Kretzmer dealing a raspy, buzzing solo over Taylor and Johnson, the brass entering with a sneaky, simple whisper and a nod to spy jazz. It also includes a nice mental break, with the two brass horns and Johnson scribbling happily, occasionally accented by small sounds from Taylor. That leads into a Johnson solo and a serious, surging, slowish theme for a big, big ending.

Rounding out the five tracks: “July 19” opens the album with nearly five (!) minutes of criss-crossed group improvising. “Quintet II” starts with a quiet experimental crouch before launching into a boisterous free-jazz tumult. The theme comes at the end, a playfully halting back-and-forth swing.

And “For DC” ends the album with a slow, ritualistic composition, against which Kretzmer monologues fiercely. Swell’s trombone solo, late in the piece, plays up the drama — a big climactic scene before the piece winds down.

I’m particularly taken by Kretzmer’s solo in “Quintet II.” He’s pumped full of energy and builds up to an appropriately dramatic ending. You also get a little bit of a feel for the quintet’s full interaction. Have a listen.

 

Yoni Kretzmer: Shades of Tim Berne

Yoni Kretzmer’s New Dilemma — s/t (Earsay, 2009)

First, the story. Every now and again, I do a news search for Tim Berne — partly to see if he’s up to something that I don’t know about, but also to find like-minded artists. Berne’s name comes up often when a creatively-minded musician’s influences get listed, and he doesn’t get tossed around as lightly as John Zorn. (Zorn is apt but tends to be a go-to guy for music journalists who aren’t really into this stuff.)

Thus did I find the name of Yoni Kretzmer, an Israeli saxophonist. A search on the Downtown Music Gallery site revealed a CD of Kretzmer’s. On a visit to NYC, I asked about it; DMG had mostly sold out of the copies he’d left them while on tour, but proprietor Bruce Lee Gallanter, who knows the store better than I know my disheveled office, tracked down a stray copy in the back. It was a lucky break, because as with a lot of creative musicians, Kretzmer’s strongest distribution network is his own two feet. DMG wasn’t expecting another shipment any time soon.

Kretzmer is a tenor saxophonist with a flowing, agile style that certainly shares some colors with Berne. You can hear it early on in this CD, with an exciting, darting solo alongside Daniel Feingold’s drums on “2-700,” just the two of them, bright and joyous.

The rest of the band is a string trio: cello, bass — and, yes, viola.   They’re the rhythm section, defining the unusual and very enjoyable sound on the album.

Their parts truly are closer to a jazz rhythm section than a string quartet. Listen to the wandering, upbeat composed line on “2-700,” twisty and pleasant. You could easily picture a downtown NYC band performing with a sax and guitar. It does remind me a bit of Tim Berne’s music.

I don’t mean to make it sound like Kretzmer is a Berne clone. He’s not. It’s just a side effect of the way I discovered the CD. Plus, the artwork reminds me of Steve Byram, Berne’s artist of choice.

Look, here’s a non-Bernian moment: “Drunken Morning,” a flowery composition where the strings take the lead, opening with some elegant cello soloing and a gossamer sax accompaniment. It’s elegant, respectful, and mellow — and yet has an undercurrent of attitude. Little tricks between the cello notes — tiny glissandos or liberties taken with timing — show off a jazzy bent.

If none of this sounds out-there enough for you, “Mess in A” sometimes lives up to its name — in a good way. The track ends up in a space with viola and cello playing a deliciously tense set of chords, the backdrop for Kretzmer’s soloing and some spare but swinging bass comping by Ehud Etun.  “She Knows” starts off with a stark improvisation — slashing strings, wandering sax, quietly rumbling drums. To me, it’s the first track that really captures the stark grayness of the album cover. It gives away to a calm tune that drifts across a slow march rhythm.

I know I just said the strings don’t play like a classical quartet, but some of their best moments come from that kind of precision.  One crescendo in “Harder” includes the viola and cello sawing away at chaotic high notes, but doing so in lock step.

I like Kretzmer’s playing a lot, too. I like his control and his creativity, his attention to melody, and the careful placement of rasping or buzzing notes, just enough to add edge.

He’s playing at Downtown Music Gallery on Oct. 10. If you’re in New York, maybe you can hit him up for some CDs then.

More about this particular CD at All About Jazz.  Kretzmer can be found in a more conventional setting with the quartet Rats, hearable on Myspace and, in samples, at CD Baby.

UPDATE: Well, according to this, Kretzmer has moved to NYC and has a trio album available. So, now you’ve got no excuses.