Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ran Blake - Ghost Tones

Ran Blake
Ghost Tones
a-side records
Available through CD Baby

Ran Blake - Piano, electric piano
Peter Kenagy - Trumpet
Aaron Hartley - Trombone
Doug Pet - Tenor saxophone
Eric Lane - Piano, electric piano
Jason Yeager - Piano
Ryan Dugre - Guitar
Dave "Knife" Fabris - Pedal steel guitar
Rachel Massey - Violin
Brad Barrett - Acoustic bass, electric bass
David Flaherty - Drums, tympani
Charles Burchell - Drums, tympani, vibraphone
Luke Moldof - Electronics

Ghost Tones is Ran Blake’s tribute to his former colleague at the New England Conservatory of Music, the late composer and theoretician George Russell. The album was originally slated to be released on HatOLOGY, but was rescued when that label went through some tough times and has been issued on a-side records.

The abstract cover of the CD shows a mottled, fuzzy image of Mr. Russell, and the music matches the visual perfectly. Ghost Tones features a mix of standards, Blake’s own songs, and radically reworked versions of Russell compositions such as Stratusphunk, Ezz-Thetic and a segment from Vertical Form. You’ve never heard You Are My Sunshine like this before, a funhouse ride through C&W, avant-garde and who knows what else.

The words I thought of when listening to Ghost Tones was “fever dream”. Through various solo, duo and group performances, a languid mood is sustained, mixed with Mr. Blake’s trademark Noir sensibilities. There are some subtle electronic touches that appear, and even though there are contributions from thirteen musicians sprinkled through the CD, a consistent tone and mood carries through all seventeen tracks. Ghost Tones plays as one continual piece, taking the listener through a time capsule of various aspects of Mr. Russell’s music and Mr. Blake’s signature conception.

The CD begins and ends with Ran alone, with two gorgeous versions of Autumn in New York, beautiful harmonies capturing the perfect fall day in the city with a touch of sentiment and regret.

Ghost Tones will take you to a Lonely Place, but it’s a place you’ll want to visit with Mr. Blake as your guide.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Vicente/Marajamaki - Opacity


Luis Vicente - Trumpet
Jari Marajamaki - Electronics
Pedro Madaleno - Guitar on track 01
Marcelo dos Reis - Guitar on track 02
Miguel Mira - Cello on track 03
Valentin Ceccaldi - Cello on tracks 04, 06, 07

Opacity represents a change of pace from what I’ve heard of Portuguese trumpeter Luis Vicente, who has emerged over the past couple of years as a strong player, with Clocks and Clouds from 2014 one example that has garnered very positive reviews, including one from this blog. For this record Vicente teams up for the second time with Finland-born electronics artist Jari Marjamaki, the two having collaborated previously on Alternate Translations (Mimi Records, 2013). Contributions from either guitar or cello are also featured on six of the seven tracks.

The combination of trumpet with electronic textures immediately brings to mind those who have explored this area before, particularly Jon Hassell and Nils Petter Molvaer. Parts of Opacity have that Hassell/Molvaer/Ambient vibe you’d expect, but overall Vicente and Marjamaki do a good job subverting the genre by adding grit via the electronics and especially Vicente’s trumpet. It’s a tribute to the strength of Vicente’s conception that he for the most part avoids the two ditches that line this road: sounding bland and generic on the one hand, or like a straight-up Miles clone on the other.

Both musicians throw in enough variations in texture, tempo and rhythm to keep things interesting. Overall, Opacity conjures up frozen, forbidding landscapes, perfect for listening on a day in which winter will not yet give up its grip to spring.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

GuitCussion - Blue Congo

Blue Congo
Brakophonic Records

Henrik Wartel - Drums
Stefan Thorpenberg - Electric Guitars
Per Anders Skytt - Drums
Gunnar Backman - Fretless and Fretted 25 string Virtual Guitar, Live Loops

I tend to look at guitar groups in the area I’ll loosely describe as free jazz with suspicion. Too often it seems there’s latent heavy metal tendencies lurking in the background, looking for the moment to make themselves known with some inopportune “shredding”.

Still, the premise of the Swedish group GuitCussion is intriguing. Consisting of two guitarists and two drummers, the group wants to create a powerful form of free music in a non-idiomatic fashion. Whether GuitCussion fulfills the non-idiomatic part of the equation is open to debate, but ultimately beside the point, because they create some interesting atmospheres and textures on Blue Congo. Parts of it sound like what would have happened if Larry Coryell had played with Tony Oxley back in ’75 instead of Alphonse Mouzon, and the band can bring the heat when it wants to, as on the track Broken View.

Blue Congo is an embarrassment of riches, with over 70 minutes of music, and I could have been just as happy with a little editing. But that’s a minor quibble. It seems that fans of free improv are frequently also fans of bands like King Crimson. I think those folks will like this a lot, as to my ears they successfully bridge both genres.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Astral Spirits Records

Astral Spirits is a neat little Austin-based label whose releases are in cassette tape format with digital download in editions of 100 - 150. They’re fun to collect, because the simple graphics are appealing and the format is such a throwback. Part of the fun is finding something to play them on; I broke out my old boombox to give them a spin!

As unpretentious as the label appears, Nate Cross of Astral Spirits (a part of Monofonus Press) is dedicated to releasing serious, challenging music. The first two releases were John Dikeman’s The Double Trio and Hexane by Icepick (Nate Wooley, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten, Chris Corsano). I believe the Dikeman is already out-of-print, but Hexane has been reissued in a different colored cassette. These were followed by Ballister’s The Ballister Monologues, Upés by Broken Trap Ensemble, and Stepped Stoned, a solo effort by drummer Will Guthrie. 

It will be interesting to see where the label goes, because one can already detect a movement away from the free jazz nature of the initial releases. Certainly Ballister fits within that description, but the links grow more tenuous with the skewed chamber music of Broken Trap Ensemble, and the previews on Astral Spirit’s Facebook page of their February 10 releases are of the avant-pop of Tredici Bacci and a minimalist composition by percussionist Nick Hennies.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Top Jazz Releases of 2014

I was asked again this year to take part in Francis Davis’ Annual Jazz Critics Poll, which is being hosted by NPR Music for the second consecutive year. There was a lot of good music released in 2104, and some right at the end of the year that will have to be lumped in with next year’s output. It was actually surprisingly easy to come up with the handful of albums that really stood out for me.

Top 10 (in order)

Steve Lehman – Mise en Abime (Pi Recordings)

Anna Webber – SIMPLE (Skirl)

RED Trio & Mattias Ståhl - North And The Red Stream (NoBusiness Records)

Max Johnson – The Prisoner (NoBusiness Records)

Jorrit Dijkstra’s Pillow Circles - Live Bimhuis Amsterdam (Driff Records)

Samuel Blaser/Benoit Delbecq/Gerry Hemingway - fourth landscape (Nuscope Recordings)

Wadada Leo Smith – The Great Lakes Suites (TUM)

Stephen Gauci/Kirk Knuffke/Ken Filiano - Chasing Tales (Relative Pitch)

Luis Vicente/Rodrigo Pinheiro/Hernani Faustino/Marco Franco - Clocks and Clouds (FMR Records)

Anthony Braxton – Trio (New Haven) 2013 (New Braxton House)

Honorable Mentions
(in alphabetical order)

Rodrigo Amado - Wire Quartet (Clean Feed)

Bobby Bradford/Frode Gjerstad Quartet – Silver Cornet (Nessa Records)

Anthony Braxton – 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012 (New Braxton House)

3d: Tomasz Dabrowski/Kris Davis/Andrew Drury – vermillion tree (ForTune)

The Danny Fox Trio- Wide Eyed (Hot Cup Records)

Ideal Bread – Beating the Teens (Cunieform Records)

Tyshawn Sorey – Alloy (Pi Recordings)

Reissues (in order)

The Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4 – New York Concerts (Elemental Music)

Miles Davis – Miles at the Fillmore: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3 (Columbia/Legacy)

Howard Riley Trio – Angle/The Day Will Come (Hux Records)

Debut Recording

Tesla Coils – S/T (Setola di Maiale) Their first as a group, although at least one member has other albums out, so I don’t know if this counts as a true “debut”.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tyshawn Sorey - Alloy

Tyshawn Sorey

Cory Smythe – Piano
Chris Tordini – Acoustic Bass
Tyshawn Sorey - Drums

Alloy is an album that draws you in with its introspective beginning, and an almost deceptive simplicity. But the four compositions Tyshawn Sorey has prepared for the listener reveal greater depths with each listen, and end up traversing a great deal of territory – from minimal gestures, to a lovely statement of a classical theme, to hip-hop rhythms, to intense lower-register excursions on the piano.

I’ve always admired the fact that Mr. Sorey’s music isn’t about the drums per se, his primary instrument, but is always in service to the composition and the group as a whole. His previous album on Pi, Oblique-I, seemed overly indebted to M-Base and was too much of a good thing – I wore out before the entire CD was finished. But on Alloy his structures support superb interaction between the trio, and I think I know which sections are composed, but I’m not sure – not that it matters in the end.

No matter how egalitarian a piano trio, it’s hard not to focus on the pianist, and Cory Smyth demands the spotlight by conjuring a remarkable range of expressiveness, from wee-hours-of-the-morning quietude to a rumbling attack that will remind one of Cecil Taylor. He can play with real economy and restraint when he chooses, without losing the thread of the narrative he’s creating. In these moments he shows a kinship with Craig Taborn’s ECM output. 

If an alloy is composed of two materials such as two metals, then this Alloy is a compound with no distinct boundary between compositional and improvisational materials. In creating a new alloy, Mr. Sorey has taken his art a step further.