Friday, December 19, 2014

Alan Silva, Lucien Johnson, Makato Sato, Stinging Nettles

As much as time ever travels onward there are artists and musics that will not be forgotten, no matter what comes after. One of those artists on the new jazz scene of course is Alan Silva, a monster jazz composer and bandleader, a creative force on orchestral synth, and a giant of a bassist, one of the few absolutely key ones in the flowering of "free jazz."

So when just now a new recording of a date from 2006 comes our way, with a lively trio of Alan on bass, Lucien Johnson on tenor, and Makato Sato on drums, I perk up. The album is Stinging Nettles (Improvising Beings 29), and it is a real winner on all counts.

You get Alan in full-strength form on bass, a very lucid Lucien Johnson on tenor, and master drummer Makato Sato.

It's an excellent free set that brings the best playing of the three to the fore. New Zealander Johnson not only keeps up with these two iconic freewheelers, he excels in his role. This fellow surprises you with a real sense of free-form virtuosity that fits right in with the cohesive vibrance of Alan and Makato.

There are eight numbers in all here. And every one has that special something of free inspiration and enough variety that the ears and soul get plenty of spiritual-aural substance to appreciate and get rocketed out with.

You could just listen to Alan alone and get a kind of tutorial of free bass acumen in action. But then all three are saying something throughout. So if I might, I'd like to recommend this one to you heartily.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, Intents and Purposes

It may be a truism to say that some artists, when they are on a roll, can play almost anything and make it sound great. And of course it isn't entirely true. But for all that guitarist Rez Abbasi seems to be in that moment. He got the idea to do an album with his Acoustic Quartet (with Bill Ware on vibes, Stephan Crump on acoustic bass and Eric McPherson on drums) of old fusion/jazz-rock worthies in an acoustic setting. Now that isn't necessarily a bad idea, but it could also not be good if it doesn't come off. No worries, though. Intents and Purposes (Enja 9621-2), the album in question, comes off superbly.

There aren't so many guitarists who can play electric or acoustic guitar with equal impact. Gary Lucas is certainly one. John McLaughlin of course. Django. But add to that Rez Abbasi. He sounds like no one else on acoustic, with a number of different tones, all of which perhaps have something to do with his South Asian heritage and its incredible string legacy. But no, that is no guarantee that somebody who hails from there can just pick up an acoustic and, voila! There is an artistry Rez has that has enabled him to get a beautiful singing tone out of the unamplified instrument, and then make some extraordinarily original music via his own sense of note choice and velocity.

That is what is going on consistently on Intents and Purposes. The choice of music works because of the artistry of Rez and the band. But the songs are good choices, too. We get some vintage electric Zawinul, Hancock, Corea, Williams, Coryell done with love and attention. The album brings out the melodic-harmonic sophistication of these tunes without the amplification. And so you hear them anew.

RAAQ is a group that has grown into an interactive singularity. All four are mutually attuned, so that the doing makes a very poignant something of it all.

Intents and Purposes works on just about any level you could think of. It is some seminal music. And most of all it reminds us how Rez Abbasi has arrived as one of the supreme guitar artists of our time. Needless to say you have to hear this.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gary Lucas Plays Bohemian Classics

When it comes to guitarists alive and very well today Gary Lucas is one of those very rare beings whose sound is recognizable, or rather sounds are recognizable with a single note. He has captured his identity fully on acoustic, resonator and electric. You can hear his way very strongly on an album that came out a while ago on an obscure 12" vinyl release but which is now very much available in all formats on Rare Lumiere Records.

I speak of Gary Lucas Plays Bohemian Classics, which I have been listening to happily over the last few weeks. "Bohemia" for those thinking only of hipster lifestyle refers to that Czech land bordered by Poland, Moravia, Germany and Austria. So we have musical classics from that area of Middle Europe, done by Gary on solo Gibson acoustic and also his resonator guitar.

What forms the centerpiece of it all is a complete adaptation of Dvorak's "New World Symphony" (Sym. No. 9), including of course the "Going Home" movement. But then we get Janacek's interlude from his "Cunning Little Vixen" opera and Smetana's principal theme from the "Moldau." Rounding out the disk we also get some wonderful electric psychedelia atmospherics by Gary with the Plastic People of the Universe and with Urfaust.

The music speaks for itself as a very Lucasian occasion. Gary manages through picking, strumming and sliding with various tunings to capture the essence of these beautiful classics in a way only he can do. It is a triumph of creative thinking and his brilliance as a guitarist to convey to us the complex orchestral scores with shall we say a minimum of means. At the same time the very idiomatic Lucas guitar sound and style come through. His resonator work sometimes sounds almost banjo-like, his Gibson both wiry and full. Then the two electric cuts bring out the other side of Gary, the wizard of electric sound.

If you don't know the classical pieces (but surely you will know some at least of the Dvorak) not to worry, because the music is strong and Gary Lucas brings you all you need to hear of them to appreciate them. If you do, like me, know the music then you will dig how he has captured it all the more.

This may be an unexpected offering but it is no less captivating and brilliant for it. It is Gary Lucas at his very best.

Do not miss it, you guitarists out there. And everyone else, too! I mean that. It is a beautiful listen.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog Records of the Year, 2014

It's that time of the year again. Time to look back, to sum up, to ready ourselves for the new year ahead. And so it is also time for my Record of the Year picks. There have been some fantastic sounds to hear and I am happy to be in a position to hear them. Once again I pick three out of everything I reviewed on this blog. See the other blogsites for the rest of my choices. Here are the three choices for the Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog.

Best Album, Guitar: Richard Pinhas, Oren Ambarchi, Tikkun (Cuneiform) See review, October 31, 2014.

Best Album, Bass: Benjamin Duboc, St. James Infirmary, Solo Double-Bass (Improvising Beings) See review, June 20, 2014.

Best Album, Wild Card: Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord, Liverevil (Hot Cup) See review, February 4, 2014.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Saturn's Rival

Who, or what is Saturn's Rival (pfMentum 079)? It is a collective improvisational quintet who in their recent self-titled album give us a distinctive slant on free, open-form music. The group makes much of the color contrasts naturally inherent in the instrumentation. Maxwell Gualtieri is on acoustic and sometimes very electric guitar, Susan Allen on harp, Richard Valitutto on piano, Ryan Parrish on winds and Anjilla Piazza on percussion.

The sound color of the mix foregrounds in this series of four improvisations. The "string trio" of piano (including prepared and inside-the-piano approaches), harp and guitar (played in both conventional and unconventional ways) contrasts with sax and flute. The percussion plays in part a kind of mediating role between the two sections.

It is music that straddles "free jazz" and new music improvisation, with an open sound and a creative knack of making significant statements in various combinations and groupings.

The quintet realizes music of dynamic ebb and flow. There is an episodic structure to it all, a kind of free narrative that holds together with an inner logic of expression born of close listening and unhesitant resolution.

More than that? They make music that works on many levels. It is avant atmospherics of the sort that makes for an absorbing listen. Hear this if you can!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Eric Hofbauer Quintet, Prehistoric Jazz, Volume 2, Quintet for the End of Time

We are back today for volume two of Eric Hofbauer and his Quintet and their "Prehistoric Jazz." Volume 1 (Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring") I covered here a few days ago. In the second volume Eric arranges the beautiful Messiaen WWII opus "Quartet for the End of Time," setting it in jazz terms for the quintet and so titling it Quintet for the End of Time (Creative Nation Music CNM 026).

As before the music gets fully treated by Eric's talented group: Eric on guitar, Jerry Sabatini on trumpet, Todd Brunel on clarinet and bass clarinet, Junko Fujiwara on cello, and Curt Newton on drums.

As with volume one Eric does not give you an end-to-end transcription of the original work, but instead selects key motives and sections, giving the themes to various instrumental combinations and slanting the phrases at times for a more jazzed reading. And then as before there is a good amount of room for improvisation, which comes off excellently with both avant and early jazz elements.

The Messiaen really lends itself to this treatment, maybe even more so than the Stravinsky, and Eric makes much out of the music so that it convinces fully as jazz for today. There are certain passages of the work that sound so boppish you'd think Messiaen meant them that way. But kudos to Hofbauer for hearing the potential and realizing it so well. Eric, Jerry and Todd get some really interesting solos going too, at times simultaneously.

It is no easy feat to pull this off, but Hofbauer and company do so with style, swinging heat and smarts. This one brings it on home! Many stars, if I rated things that way. Highly recommended!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Mason Razavi, Quartet Plus

Guitarist, composer, arranger Mason Razavi has it all going. He is a player of the guitar of great finesse and taste, not to mention solid technique. He plays a semi-hollow with minimal amplification at times, getting an almost classical tone but not precisely; other times he ups the volume a tad for that equally classic mainstream jazz sound. Either way he plays rather wonderfully well.

Then he writes some fine tunes and arranges them with excellent sensibilities.

You get all this on his album Quartet Plus (First Orbit Sounds 222). The title puts it to you: you get half the album with his lively quartet; the other half adds five horns for a bigger sound. The quartet includes some very nice playing from Bennett Roth-Newell on piano and keys, Dan Robbins on upright and electric bass, and Cody Rhodes on drums. These are very capable associates who negotiate the compositional nuances of the Razavi originals, swing and funk along as one would hope for, and solo when called upon with style and skill. Listen to Dan Robbins for example on "From Thoughts to Words" and you'll hear some excellent bass work.

Then the larger band pieces come through with great part writing and a flourish.

Most of all there is the showcase of Razavi as guitar enchanter, a player who picks his notes wisely and comes through with the classicism of Benson, Burrell, maybe Hall, a subtle way but soulful too when he chooses and the music fits it. There's a little boppishness and lots of postbop.

It's a fine album on every count. Mason Razavi is serious! Seriously good. Seriously talented.