Saturday, January 16, 2016

Some thoughts about Paul Bley

When I read that Paul Bley had passed, I realized I had some holes in my collection in regards to his output. In particular, I hadn't really kept up with him from the 90's on, apart from his infrequent collaborations with Evan Parker on ECM.

One of the recordings I acquired to correct this deficiency was Play Blue, his solo Oslo concert from 2008, also on ECM.

From the beginning of this CD you know you’re going on a journey. That’s what I love about jazz, the fact that the music takes you – “let the music take you” – from where you are to somewhere. Sometimes you come all the way back, and sometimes a part of you is left out there, at some point where your consciousness meets that of the artist, at some intersection of your experiences. 

And wherever the journey takes you, you’re left with the memory of that journey, as real as any physical trip you’ve taken. You remember those special moments when you first listen to that album that changes your life. You can recall the experience of taking the shrink wrap off the album, smelling the vinyl and the printed sleeve, and placing it on the turntable. At Beethoven Hall, New York Fall 1974, Tribute, One for One , Involution, the list is forever in your memory.

Thank you to Paul Bley, and to all the artists who are willing to take us along on their journeys.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Matt Mitchell - Vista Accumulation

Matt Mitchell
Vista Accumulation

Chris Speed - Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet
Matt Mitchell - Piano
Chris Tordini - Bass
Dan Weiss - Drums

I like albums that take you somewhere, a journey, maybe to somewhere inside of yourself, or perhaps bringing back flashes of memories. This is what happens when I listen to Vista Accumulation, pianist Matt Mitchell’s new 2 CD set on Pi.

I was skeptical when I first heard about this project, primarily because two CD’s worth of material is ambitious for an artist I perceived as relatively new on the scene. However, Mitchell is 40 and has been featured on Tim Berne’s three ECM albums as well as with Dave Douglas’ quintet. I was also curious, because Mitchell fits in with so many diverse situations I wasn’t sure what I’d hear.

Vista Accumulation manages to sustain a mood and thematic unity over the course of 95 minutes, without exhausting the underlying ideas. His approach is an intriguing mix of impressionism and modern classical, and frankly there’s nothing overtly “jazzy” in his approach to his eight compositions. Lines unfold in an unhurried way, and the mostly medium tempos give the group time to explore the material, with Chris Speed’s clarinet a highlight. Chris Tordini and Dan Weiss create subtle, shifting patterns underneath, ripples spreading across the music.

Perhaps it’s fitting that I’m absorbing Vista as the seasons change from summer to fall. I can see the flashes of dark gold and amber, mixed in with dark greens and browns. It’s a story that is yet to fully unfold, and I’m ready for the next chapter.

Bonus: For an unintentionally amusing review of Vista Accumulation, go here.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Rodrigo Amado - This Is Our Language

Rodrigo Amado
This Is Our Language
Not Two Records

Rodrigo Amado – Tenor Saxophone
Joe McPhee – Pocket Trumpet, Alto Saxophone
Kent Kessler – Double Bass
Chris Corsano - Drums

This Is Our Language is a record of an engaging conversation between Amado and McPhee, with superb interjections from bassist Kessler and drummer Corsano. Of course, with musicians of this caliber, it’s really a four-way dialog, but it’s the interplay between the horns that first gets your attention. The CD begins with a murmured conversation between tenor and alto, then things heat up on the title track as McPhee switches to pocket trumpet. Amado has a grainy, almost R&B-influenced tone, while McPhee is as nuanced as I’ve ever heard him on alto. The lack of a chordal instrument gives all four musicians space, and I like the way the pieces unfold organically. There are fiery moments, but they grow naturally out of what has come before.

As with his previous Not Two album Searching For Adam, Rodrigo Amado has aligned himself with top flight musicians and the results bear fruit.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Chamber 4 - Chamber 4

Chamber 4
Chamber 4
FMR Records

Luis Vicente - trumpet
Theo Ceccaldi - violin and viola
Valentin Ceccaldi - cello and voice
Marcelo Dos Reis - acoustic guitar, prepared guitar and voice

Chamber 4 is a very well-balanced effort from the quartet of Vicente, Dos Reis, and the Ceccaldis, all leading lights of the Portuguese free jazz scene. At first it might seem a strange assortment, trumpet with "strings" in what sounds like a freely improvised small group setting, but it works extremely well, with Vicente's trumpet engaging in dialogue, sometimes conversationally, sometimes sounding the call. All three string players create interesting arrangements and textures on the fly. You could call it chamber jazz, but it has a spark that removes it from any connotations of stuffy formalism. Another winner from Vicente and Dos Reis.

Mea Culpa

I owe musicians, labels, PR folks, and any readers who have might have wandered back to this blog an apology. Over the past couple of years i really hit a stride in terms of the frequency of my reviews. Then I accepted a challenging new job in April of this year, and my life completely changed. The hours I'm putting in leave little time for listening or writing, but I'm trying a new approach: shorter reviews that attempt to capture the essence of the record. I don't know how long this will last, frankly, but I'm trying to make good on my commitment to showcasing deserving new music. Thanks for your patience.

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.