Thursday, September 3, 2015

Modou Toure & Ramon Goose, The West African Blues Project

Senegalese music master Modou Toure and British blues guitarist Ramon Goose create a very hip melding of stylistic universes on their album The West African Blues Project (ARC Music EUCD 2591). It is a very engaging and successful on all levels, combining the West African folk and Afrobeat grooves with traditional percussion plus drums, bass, and the fine blues-rock-Afro guitar work of Goose, in a rootsy blues meets contemporary African style. Toure handles the vocals and percussion throughout and is exceptionally strong, with overdubbed call-and-response segments and impressive lead vocalizing. Each song has much going for it. There are no fillers.

Toure comes out of the legacy of the Toure Kunda band. His father is Ousmane Toure. Goose made an impact on the UK blues scene as a member of NuBlues and went on to produce some acclaimed blues albums in the US.

The music is a cooperative venture, with the compositions showing strong African foundations and the blues element sometimes coming to the forefront, other times an underlying constant via the magnetic Goose guitar style.

It all works in impressive, moving ways. The grooves are irresistible and the blues element is a natural fit with the West African contemporary orientation. The two talents fashion a music that puts a smile on your face and makes you want to move. Very cool, indeed!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Flow, Duos Trios Quintet

Flow is an international collective ensemble devoted to ambient, progressive electric-acoustic jazz. I've covered their music here before on these blogs. Now there is a new one, or a new one to me anyway, Flow: Duos Trios Quintets (Intrinsic).

As before the ensemble appears in various groupings for a free-flowing eclectic program that runs from lyric improvisations to song-like sequences. The lineup for this outing is Cheryl Pyle on flute and poetic mantras, Oddrun Eickli on vocals and song melodies/lyrics (which are sometimes extremely attractive and at any rate always fluent), Axel Weiss on acoustic and electric guitars, compositional structures and a bit of electric piano and bass, Arne Hiorth on trumpet, Stan Zaslavski on piano and organ, and Sean O'Bryan Smith on bass.

They cover much ground, getting into free-tonal playing, sometimes a quasi-Brazilian feel, a bit of rock electricity, and a general anything goes kind of mellowness.

Cheryl's flute and Axel's guitars take on important roles with the stylistic resonance one might come to expect from them, happily. But then Oddrun comes in with a sort of post-Flora-Purim lyricalness, and Stan and Arne have very good moments.

The vocals every now and again might have benefited from one more take, but Oddrun has a most pleasant voice and it is in the end a minor consideration.

This may not be the very best album they have made, but it is musically substantial while being easy on the ears. Axel gives us his vision and some guitar brilliance. And it all most certainly does flow! Hear it!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Michael Bisio, Accortet

It has been a long road for bassist, composer, leader Michael Bisio. I measured the span of his experiences, or rather he told of them to me in my extensive interview with him published a few years ago in All About Jazz (look it up on their site). And yet of course the road rolls on, with some exceptional interactions of late with piano master Matt Shipp and, in a CD due out this September 11th, Accortet (Relative Pitch 1040).

Accortet brings together an excellent and unusual quartet in an all-Bisio composition set. What is unusual is the presence of the accordion as a central component of the sound, in place of a piano or guitar as the chordal and improvisatory fulcrum point of the music. Art Bailey plays it with true artistry, comping, lining, doing it all as perhaps only he can. On cornet is Kirk Knuffke, a player who has become a central figure in the new jazz these days. His playing here gives us many reasons why. On drums is the talented and swinging Michael Wimberly, who holds forth with a propulsive and well throught-out time-and-beyond. Then of course Michael comes at us on double bass, in the ensemble and in the solo realm.

Michael's playing processes the bass from its rootedness in jazz tradition through the avant in ways that show him one of the primary stylistic and virtuoso masters of the bass arts today. He has a pizzicato and a bowing approach that identify him immediately (in a blindfold test, let's say) as a player with the deep tone of bass greats yet a mercurial imagination that makes for noteful significance and real originality. You can hear that very much on the Accortet sides.

There are nine excellent compositional vehicles, some swinging and changes-based, others outside and multi-tempoed in a free way. They help make this release central.

And then the way the foursome work together collectively and individually is something to hear. There is inspired lucidity in the improvisational interactions. Knuffke gives us some of his best work, Bailey is terrific, Wimberly does everything right and of course Michael comes through with some of his most varied and eloquent playing, channeling everything into a Bisionian expression. You can listen to what he does alone with great profit. But of course it is in the end the totality which excels, the combination of great tunes and great playing.

It is a bellweather of where Michael has gone but especially where he is. He has come far and this shows us some of that traveling as well as the current state-of-the-art.

Michael Bisio tops the list not only of bassists today, but also of complete jazz artists. The album has a beautifully totalized quality to it. It is essential as a present-day example of not just the bass arts, but the jazz arts, too. Grab a copy!!

Friday, August 28, 2015

William Parker, For Those Who Are, Still, Review: Part Three of Three

Today a third and final look at William Parker's ambitious and rewarding three-CD set, For Those Who Are Still (AUM Fidelity 092/93/94). This final post deals with the third, climactic volume of the set, "Ceremonies for Those Who Are Still," Parker's first work for symphony orchestra and soloists, a moving tribute to the late Russian musician Rustam "Roost" Abdullaev, whom William got to know and appreciate in the course of his travels.

The work was commissioned by the National Forum of Music and premiered as heard here at the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland in November of 2013. It is scored for the NFM Symphony Orchestra and soloists from the NFM Choir, along with an important improvisatory role for Charles Gayle (tenor and soprano, piano), William Parker (bass, etc.) and Mike Reed (drums).

It is a beautiful work that features long-form melodic-harmonic contemporary symphonic statements of a very poetic and masterful sort, with free improvisatory commentary by the trio, concerto-like at times but with a full integration of the trio into the rich sonic tapestry of the totality throughout. The work is divided into ten movements which flow together nicely. There is a unity to the work in its movement from choral-orchestral to orchestral to improv & orchestral and back to choral-orchestral. One feels in the end that one has traveled far, yet on a well-marked route that has a wealth of ruggedly beautiful views that somehow all partake of a common source and the connectedness of a common terrain.

The music has a palpable originality, a genuine synthesis of orchestral music and avant improvisation, a stream of excellent soloing (note William Parker's bass role especially) that gives extension to the compelling orchestral line-weaving and timbral vibrance of it all. And in the end there is great character to the whole, a life-affirming lyricism tempered by the struggles to gain a righteous end, if you like.

It is an auspicious inaugural orchestral work that I certainly hope will be the first of many.

Following the work is a 25-minute trio prelude that originally began the concert. "Escapade for Sonny (dedicated to Sonny Rollins)" pays loving tribute and sets the stage for the orchestral music to come with some stunning free improvisations that remind us how seminal these three artists are.

So that is the third volume, in every way a rousing climax to a set marked by an always provocative, ever-shifting series of compositions that shows us some of the depth and breadth of William Parker's musical streams today.

It is an absorbing listen I will return to frequently. Brilliant! If you want to know what is important about the avant music scene right now you must hear this set. It is surely one of the landmark excursions of this decade so far. Do not miss it!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

William Parker, For Those Who Are, Still, Review: Part Two of Three

As promised in yesterday's post today we continue the discussion on William Parker's landmark three-CD box set For Those Who Are, Still (AUM Fidelity 092/93/94).

The second disk is at hand today, entitled "Red Giraffe with Dreadlocks." It is a unified, multi-part work that extends the music into world zones via Indian classical vocalist Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, Senegalian griot Mola Sylla on vocals, m'bira and ngoni, world-oriented double-reedist Bill Cole, Rob Brown on alto, Klaas Heckman on bass saxophone and flute, Cooper-Moore on piano, William Parker on bass and Hamid Drake on drums.

Universal tonality is the aim. a melding of the world and the local, new improv artists of distinction and international stylists following a ravishing Parker compositional game plan in six movements, covering ethnic grooves, vocal prowess, "free" collective-solo moments, and multi-voiced compositional excellence.

We who revel in classic Don Cherry multiculti and Pharoah Sanders in his cosmic pan-African phase find common ground on this set, not in some derivative way but with its own well-defined sense and feel.

Cole, Brown, Cooper-Moore, Hekman, Parker and Drake are especially important to this offering with their open improv stance and their making-present of the compositional structure. The contributions of Sangeeta and Mola take center stage at critical points as well, happily and masterfully. And of course it's all about synthesizing and making tangible through sound the universality of musical-tonal consciousness on our planet.

And so with "Red Giraffe with Dreadlocks" we get another spin on the Parkerian realm with music that stands out in its openness, its compositional integrity and brilliance.

Tomorrow, we continue with the final installment and a look at the third volume in the set. Until then.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

William Parker, For Those Who Are, Still, Review: Part One of Three

William Parker has a gigantic presence on the US avant improvised-jazz scene today. Operating primarily out of New York, he is one of the very most innovative and accomplished bassists in the new jazz world, a bandleader and concert organizer of enormous stature, and a composer-conceptualist of the highest rank. He gives us an extended offering of his substantial composer-leader gifts in a new 3-CD box set just out, For Those Who Are, Still (AUM Fidelity 092/93/94). The overall theme of all the music is life and death itself, living life with unstinting compassion for others, living with universal respect for fellow humans on this earth in peaceful, fruitful co-existence.

Because the three volumes contained in the set cover so much ground, I am reviewing each volume separately on these pages over the next three days. Today, the first volume, "For Fannie Lou Hamer + Vermeer."

"For Fannie Lou Hamer" is a half-hour work commissioned by and performed at the Kitchen in New York, 2000. It is for the ten-member Kitchen "House Blend" ensemble and Leena Conquest on vocals and recitation. Ms. Hamer was a courageous civil rights leader who endured much and made a huge impact in forwarding the landmark Voting Rights Act among many other things.

The music has a world flavor with Afro-American and pan-international elements joining together with long developed compositional sequences, vocal-lyric melodic lines and recitations on Hamer's devastating treatment by the forces of reaction. It is a work that holds together in a unified way yet combines new thing, new music and new world components. It is very moving and memorable.

The second part of the volume focuses on nine compositions-improvisations for Leena Conquest plus William Parker on bass and hocchiku, Darryl Foster on soprano and tenor, and Eri Yamamoto on piano. The music for this second ensemble is structured compositionally in excellent ways, sometimes with song form, sometimes motive ostinatos, etc., but also allows for a good amount of improvisation. Everyone contributes importantly to the end result. The music stands out with its many twists and turns.

So that is what volume one is about. It is fascinating, masterful music that straddles compositional and improvisational worlds, shows off the considerable artistry of Leena Conquest and the other participants (including Maestro Parker's iconic bass work), and gives us a number of facets of William Parker's composing and conceptualizing brilliance.

Tomorrow I will describe the second volume. And on Friday volume three.

Meanwhile the first CD in the set begins the program with music that is strong and memorable.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Robert Sabin, Humanity Part II

There are bassists who are thought of primarily as performers and there are those who are also bandleaders and/or composer-conceptualists. Robert Sabin is an excellent bassist who belongs in the latter category. He shows us that very nicely on his latest album, Humanity Part II (Ranula Music 2015). It is music of a pronounced composer-arranged nature, featuring a very full ten-piece ensemble of Sabin on bass plus Jason Rigby on tenor, Aaron Irwin on alto, Dan Urness and Matt Holman on trumpets, Chris Komer on horn, John Yao on trombone, Ben Stapp on tuba, Jesse Lewis on electric guitar and Jeremy Noller on drums.

Musically the sound very much informed by the art of film. The title track "Humanity Part II" is a nice arrangement of two of Ennio Morricone's themes for the movie The Thing. Many of the Sabin compositions here take direct inspiration from movies that have made deep impressions on him. And the music subsequently has a evocative feel to it, a series of moods not unlike vignettes in a classic film.

But in the end this is jazz composition of a high sort, with some memorable long-formed themes and an excellent sense of group sound that shows Sabin's very sophisticated and uncanny orchestrational sense. He makes via his voicings this ten-member aggregate sound at times like a much larger band.

There are plenty of good soloists who come front and center in turn and the rhythm team of guitarist Lewis, bassist Sabin and drummer Noller make the music swing with a nice subtlety that sets up the horn scorings well.

It all shows Robert Sabin as a very talented musician, composer, player, leader, arranger. And it is a rewarding listen that may take a few times through to fully appreciate but grows on you the more you hear it. First rate modern ensemble jazz! Very recommended.