Monday, March 31, 2014

Mark Dresser Quintet, Nourishments

Mark Dresser, acoustic bass master, has not had an album under his own name in some time. So something new in that guise is an event, and in the case of his quintet doing Nourishments (Clean Feed 279), it's something of a triumph, too.

Dresser has assembled a unit of heavys and given them some appropriately tensile and involved originals to work with.

Rudresh Mahanthappa can pretty much be counted upon to blaze forth in whatever context he is in, and here on alto he does so, in addition to co-writing one of the originals. Michael Dessen is a trombonist who has color, power and finesse. He makes an excellent counterfoil to Rudresh in the front line. Denman Maroney has impressed over time as a pianist who can take things just about anywhere and do it his own way, and he shows that again on this date. At times he changes the sound of the piano radically by inserting something metallic onto the strings for a prepared-slide feel that is very interesting to hear. Tom Rainey and Michael Sarin alternate in the drum chair. Both have what it takes.

The band is very together, well-attuned to one another and well-routined in what they do. There's room for Dresser's impressive bass playing, as you would hope, and each band member gets his say.

Important free music this is, on any number of levels. A highlight of the season for me! Hear it, buy it, keep it!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Pascal Niggenkemper Vision7, Lucky Prime

Bassist and composer Pascal Niggenkemper has been around a while, but I must confess that other than hearing and appreciating his acoustic bass playing in other ensembles, I have not had the pleasure to hear his own bands. That now is remedied via his recent album with a group he calls Vision7. Lucky Prime (Clean Feed 283) brings together the free playing of a fortuitous combination of players with Pascal's unique compositional vision.

It's a different sort of mix here. Pascal of course is on bass, Frank Gratowski is wielding the bass clarinet and alto sax, Emilie Lesbros sings and recites her texts, Eve Risser plays piano, both conventional and prepared, Frantz Loriot appears on viola, Els Vandeweyer on vibes and marimba, and Christian Lillinger on drums.

The album has new music-free music affiliations and combines free pointillism and rolling-tumbling cascades of collective utterances with pre-composed melody lines, all of which work together to give listeners a fascinating melange of new sounds. The colors gained from the unusual instrumentation and the free/composed elements leave you with an impression of something new and enlivening being developed.

It is a live recording with the kind of concentrated expression such gatherings can inspire. I must say I am impressed with the music--and find that even after five listens it remains quite fresh as well as somewhat enigmatic. I think I will need to listen more to get a strong grasp of what this music is all about. That is a good sign!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dreadnaught, The American Standard

Cutting-edge rock today flourishes where the popular top-40 version struggles, in terms of its presence on the pop charts compared to decades ago. It no longer dominates the lowest-common-denominator realms. But in a way following in the footsteps of the evolution of jazz, the art form of rock is alive and growing, as I've tried to show on these pages when something comes along that warrants mentioning.

Another such something is up today. For your consideration (as Rod Serling used to say), the power trio Dreadnaught. Their album The American Standard (Red Fez Records). I believe this one goes back to 2001 but it in no way sounds dated.

The line-up is Richard Habib on drums, Robert Lord on electric bass and Justin Walton on electric guitar.

What struck me as I listened was the pleasingly elaborate interplay in the arrangements for all three players. They lock together with multi-sectioned notefulness that does not have a machine-gun fusion feel so much as a through-composed brilliance that still has the hard edge of rock. In that they are not at all the expected. They are a pretty rare thing--pristinely original prog-metal artists-composers.

They bring in various guests to extend the sound but the trio is continually in the foreground. They have an effective and interesting solo presence in guitarist Justin. He is no slouch and when he solos it is of a piece with the ensemble sections--bright and unexpected.

There are vocals and they do the job well enough without being spectacular, standing-ovation flag wavers. But the band does tend to fall into a kind of post-prog feel with the extended song forms they unwind at those points in the program.

A good sign with this band is that I am hard-pressed to come up with a name or two of bands they sound like. Because they sound like themselves.

The music intrigues. It is in its own way outstanding--and the post-prog crowd who favors excellent power trio arrangements should gravitate towards this one. In its own way something to hear, most definitely!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Adam Lane Quartet, Oh Freedom

The Adam Lane Quartet, as I alluded to in the review of the first disk several weeks ago (type "Lane" in the search box above for that), recorded not one but two sets of traditional roots songs in 2009. The first, originally intended as a demo, came out on Cadence Jazz, and the second, Oh Freedom (CIMP 392), I take on today. This one has the full dynamic sonarity typical of Cadence-CIMP productions. In fact it is an especially good one for that, with climaxes in dynamics well defined by the uncompressed acoustics.

It is the same great band, with Adam on bass, Avram Fefer on tenor, the late Roy Campbell on trumpet and flugel and Vijay Anderson on drums. As with the first, this is not Lane going traditional as much as it is his respectful nod to the roots, the foundations of jazz. The song are arranged well to frame the melodies/structures in a way that enables the quartet to blow freely and modernly. It certainly comes off exceptionally well. There is no feeling of cut and paste here; the songs naturally lend themselves to Adam's treatment and the solos are of a piece with the tonality of the songs.

No matter what tune, from the folk rooted "This Train", to the spiritual "Go Down Moses" or the haunting ballad "Wayfaring Stranger", everything works toward a measured free blowing session. With players of this caliber of course that is what gives it two-dimensions-in-one.

Once again our recent loss of trumpet great Roy Campbell makes these sessions especially poignant, as by definition they become some of his last sessions. He sounds great. Avram Fefer does too. Adam as you expect has a presence in his ensemble and solo roles that remind you what a monumental bassist he is. Vijay Anderson makes a virtually ideal teammate too, swinging, fired-up and subtle as needed.

There's no flagging from cut to cut, so the 70-minutes of the full program goes by quickly and happily.

Of course a parallel of these two albums with the classic Mingus Blues and Roots comes to mind. The similarity lies mostly in the presence of those roots and the gesture of recognition, since Mingus adapted his own music to the roots idea. There have been others too. But none of them have quite the chemistry of modern blowing and root tunes the way these Adam Lane sets do. The blowing is great and attuned to the tunes in a special way. It's a particular pleasure to hear this one as I surely will many times before I head, I hope, for those golden gates!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Jeff Platz, Past & Present Futures

Much good music these days comes from smaller, independent, sometimes musician-owned labels, especially with the sorts of music that appeal to a more specialized group of connoisseur-listeners.

We have a very good example of that today with guitarist Jeff Platz' Past & Present Futures (Glitch Records).

The session has definite, continuous liveliness. A free improv date it is, with a very motivated, together quartet of Jeff on electric guitar, Daniel Carter on saxophones, trumpet, clarinet and flute, Francois Grillot on contrabass and Federico Ughi on drums.

The rhythm section churns a continuous barrage that swings overtly or latently and does so with real grit and determination. Grillot sounds beautiful and his playing gives a cohesive bottom to it all. Ughi lays down a continuous wash of sound that makes a Zen sort of backdrop for the front line to bounce over and into.

Daniel Carter sounds excellent on all his instruments, turning in some of his best recent performances to date. And Jeff Platz mixes it up with outside lines that keep one listening, out chording and sound color jabs that leave space and let the rhythm build up various heads of steam. You get some blues and roots too in certain sections.

This gives you the sort of free music that goes back to "new thing" days in its continual torque. Like Steve Lacy's classic The Forest and the Zoo it has drive and near-infinite space to develop long-form ideas. Like that recording Platz and Carter give space and solo simultaneously or individually as the spirit moves, in ways that resonate with how Lacy and Rava interacted on that date. Of course what is being played is entirely different. Platz and Carter are themselves throughout.

It hangs together especially well as a cohesive quartet statement. Platz makes free guitar in his own image, so to say, and the quartet gives him inspiration throughout. An excellent date. Recommended for those stratus climbing listeners who have learned to flow with freedom music!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Foreign Motion, In Flight

Foreign Motion is a band that plays an advanced sort of fusion that reminds just slightly of Tony Williams and his second major Lifetime lineup with Allan Holdsworth, meaning there are chops and there are smarts.

The band has an album I've been checking out called In Flight (self-released). Cory Wong is on guitar--and he has technique a' plenty and ideas that are interesting to go with it. Kevin Gastonguay is on keys and he has a funky post-Tyner post-Herbie H approach that works just fine here. The rhythm section holds up its end with some power. Petar Janjic plays some driving and busy drums. Yohannes Tona gives us electric bass that punches when it should and he can do a funky chops-laiden solo that has soul. So all is right here. These are young guys who have been around a bit and their union is a fortunate thing.

If there are moments that give us a kind of funk we have heard a good deal of, just wait and something cool will happen. The composition-arrangements will change it up and refresh it. Or Cory will blast out with something.

Nice job!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Griffith Hiltz Trio, This is What You Get

The world is unstable. The music world is unstable. The universe is unstable. That's why life and music are both interesting, sometimes. So when you think "jazz-rock" don't think that it's a simple matter. Jazz-rock means anything from either world combines in whatever proportion it does with anything from the other. In the case of the Griffith Hiltz Trio and their album This is What You Get. . . (self-released) it's a different mix of elements than you are used to, I'll suspect.

They combine an interesting compositional way with folk-surf-ragtime-Stravinsky-hardbop and what-have-you. The what-have-you is what we don't usually have and so it's something to hear that will probably put you in another place.

The trio is Johnny Griffith, alto-tenor-bass clarinet, Nathan Hiltz, electric guitar and banjo, Sly Juhas, drums.

And the thing about these three is not that individually they are in any way the next Trane(s) arriving, but rather that they make something new as a together trio, that they are a Trane station where things come, so to speak.

If you are a guitarist you'll like what Hiltz is up to--what he references and how. Griffith is no slouch either. Nor is Juhas. All-in-all it's the group music that is what makes this unique. It's retro-futuristic!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Crosby-Stills Nash & Young, Fifty by Four, Half A Century of CSNY, DVD

Time creates the future. This is obvious on one level, but not on another. Crosby-Stills Nash & Young were about as big as anyone could be between 1969-1971. You couldn't walk down the street, go anywhere or do anything without hearing their music--from the first two albums. I for one got about as fed up hearing it then as I was with anything else musically. Yet now I can listen again and truly appreciate how good they were. I suspect I am not alone. Here we are 40 years later. 50 years into their careers. What happened?

A DVD is out that gives you a comprehensive view of the group, their roots and the chronology of their ups and downs: Crosby-Stills Nash & Young, Fifty by Four, Half A Century of CSNY (Pride DVD 168).

There are 165 minutes to the main section plus some extras, so there is a lot to digest. The Hollies, Byrds and Buffalo Springfield form the backdrop, and then the advent of folk-rock and ultimately the joining together of CSNY and so on. It fills in gaps, gives you an overview of the volatile personal conflicts and situates the music in the general scene.

This is in a way typical of these kinds of "unauthorized" bio-DVDs, but it also is especially good at clarifying CSNY's musical, cultural, social points of view as a model of the era. There are harrowing moments, such as Crosby's descent into substance hell, moments when their strong personalities put the entire operation at risk, and some joyous moments that made it all worth it.

Anyone with an interest in the period will get something from this DVD. Well-done!

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Matthew Finck-Jonathan Ball Project, It's Not That Far

Matthew Finck, guitarist in the afterimage of Wes Montgomery and Pat Martino and beyond, in chording and lining, a monster of sorts...Jonathan Ball, a saxman (mostly tenor) of excellent tone and soul, hip and well in advance of a copycat mode. They collaborate to excellent advantage on the Matthew Finck-Jonathan Ball Project. Their album is called It's Not That Far (self-released).

It brings together the prodigious tuneweaving and playing of Jonathan and Matthew, adds trumpet-flugel master Randy Brecker for three cuts, and backs it all up with a very swinging rhythm section of Jay Anderson and Adam Nussbaum, bass and drums.

What is cool is how they channel the hard bop tradition to a contemporary world. This is real-deal driving jazz. Finck is a heavy and Ball stays with him all the way. The band and the tunes are something you appreciate more and more as you listen--or I did at least. If you are a guitarist Finck is going to kill you on all kinds of levels. But it isn't "just" a guitarist's album--it's for the music, it's for all the cats here and what they do. Ball makes me smile when he plays. Because he has the interesting notes and the hip sound. He and Jonathan are a matched set.

More! Encore!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Debademba, Souleymane

Debademba has some very hip Afrobeat-and-beyond sounds going for it. We take a peek at their second album Souleymane (World Village) today. It's contemporary Africa at its very best. Abdoulaye Traoré from Burkina Faso plays guitar like an angel, with all that the instrument has evolved into from both a rhythmic and a line-building viewpoint. He is countered and seconded by the finessed and driving soulfulness of Malian singer Mohamed Diaby.

Together with a crack band they fan the flames of groove on Souleymane. In a way Traoré does with the guitar what West African kora harpists have done in the past with their instrument--but not exactly because he does what a guitar player does, only he taps into that larger context of kora and lute-like instruments and how they do riff and go well beyond riffing at the same time. It's there, transformed and made newly original.

This is magnificent music--grooving with heat and smarts!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

John Brown, Quiet Time

The modern equivalent of a ballads album need not pull out every American Songbook Standard tune in the slow and quiet mode to succeed. In fact that may not always be the way to go. Bassist-bandleader John Brown for his third album does something else. Quiet Time (Brown Boulevard Records) does have a good version of "You Don't Know What Love Is". But then it has some fairly recent pop and soul tunes and compositions by jazz artists as widely spread out as Elvin Jones (John worked with him), Lonnie Smith, Oscar Peterson, and Gerald Wilson. The title cut is by John Brown himself.

What this is all about is a sterling quintet in a laid-back but very alert mode. John is on the upright and forms the unshakable backbone of everything. Brian Miller is on mostly alto and tenor, and he has soul and Bird-and-beyond facility that's very nice to hear. Ray Codrington plays a burnished, finely aged trumpet and flugel--and he doesn't sound like Miles, which is hard to do in this setting. Gabe Evans on piano sounds fine and Adonis Rose on drums keeps it sensitive and pretty light to befit the occasion.

Miller's sax work is a pleasure to hear--but everybody is in the modern mood and groove. There's nothing facile about this quiet music. It has all the good down-home grits when needed and it gets spooky quiet almost in a film noir kind of way.

It's very, very good and perfect for when you want something quiet but not empty!

Monday, March 10, 2014

DEVO, The Complete Truth about De-Evolution, DVD

The myth out there is that the '60s were totally key to Euro-American culture, especially for music. That's fine. But there are those who either remain silent about the '70s, or actively claim that the '70s were retrograde, destructive or somehow backwater. The fact is that the '70s musically played out some of the implications of the '60s and took new turns into artistic-semantic territories as well, whether it's in rock, new jazz or avant classical. It was not obvious because much of what was good was on the fringe of media coverage, even then, and not always well-known to most. But it was there if you looked for it.

I wont touch the larger issue of "everything" here on a Monday morning. I'd never finish. But only looking to rock there was much going on. New Wave in my experience then was personified by Talking Heads. Hey they did much and I am a New York sort of guy so it was natural that I was hipped to them. Frankly what I knew of DEVO was in the context of all the other things we were bombarded with then--which, looking back, was partly their fault. Anyway "Whip It" I did not get. Their videos, or what I saw of them. . . I didn't get.

I watched the DEVO DVD The Complete Truth About De-evolution (MVD 6054D) in two evenings (there's a lot to digest) lately and I GOT IT! DEVO were a new wave outfit that in different ways were as artsy and, hmm, as subversive as Talking Heads. Just in different ways.

The DVD puts together twenty of the their best videos (with the music obviously) along with optional narrative by key group members, an interview with their video creating partner-collaborator Chuck Statler and a bunch of extras.

The point of the group was that they reflected Mid-Western Middle America as much as Talking Heads represented the NY Metro-Burbs. DEVO was all about American normalcy in the '50s-'60s-'70s as a kind of retro-futuristic nightmare dystopia. Humans were de-evolving is the theme, as shown in that fantastically dada ridiculousness of the band itself and the entire backdrop they so effectively created in their videos--which watching now I see they were poking fun at rock-pop itself and their audience, making a meta-mockery of rock-pop significance in the face of the great hype-creating machine. What's perhaps doubly ironic is that the imagery and feel of their videos were widely imitated in the later flowering of MTV's peak era, and even today.

The music is almost secondary, though it doesn't sound as dated, if you will excuse my ironic slippage, as some of the more seminally toted groups of the time.

All I can say is that if you watch the videos in sequence and then listen to the commentary by band members a second time through, you will get something that might not have been obvious then. The Evil Clowns mega-metal group sarcastically referred to in one of the videos was all too alive and real then. Big money was running much of the scene and DEVO made fun of the whole empire, which is still with us I suppose, only it's even more superficial than it was. The days of video for a short while were wide open enough that DEVO could slip into rotations and the so-called counterculture still had a presence in the media. Not now.

And that's why you should see this today.

Jake Hertzog, Throwback

Jake Hertzog plays an infectious, brash kind of jazz-rock on his album Throwback (Zoho 201314). It's jazz-rock that takes on electric and acoustic components naturally, with style. The ensemble is excellent, with Jake on electric guitar, Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugel, Harvie S on bass and Victor Jones on drums and electric drums.

The material is original Hertzogian and has rock-jazz melodiousness and changes or riff chord rock things. Both modes work well for high-voltage burning and some quieter balladisms.

Randy sounds excellent as always but seems to rise to this music--not surprising because he came up and thrived in this sort of zone. Harvie S and Victor Jones kick it like crazy.

And Jake Hertzog comes across as a very versatile player who can chord it with real grace or solofire in ways that burn but originally, not like somebody else really.

It's a lot of good music to be heard. And Jake has a vision that comes across. The fire of rock, the finesse of jazz. Good going.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Last Tribe, Dialeto

You can count on Leonardo Pavkovic to come up with interesting and even great international prog jazz-rock. He is an international guy to begin with and he's all over the world working with bookings and tours so it's only natural that he'd be up on the world and who is coming up anywhere at any time.

So we get a band today of his, the Last Tribe, doing it in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Their album Dialeto (Moon June 054) gives them space to unfold their prog metal power trio drama. And it's a real kick to hear them do so because they are very good.

Nelson Coelho plays electric guitar with a big, big sound. He writes the music, which advances the cause of mind-over-metal in a great way. Jorge Pescara on touchguitar (that includes the bass) and Miguel Angel on drums have all the toughness and power Nelson needs to make things pop.

This isn't about 90-miles-an-hour licks so much as it's about making big music that moves in big ways. It's not that the solos are technically less than stellar--it's that the emphasis is on the music and its POWER. And that it's Brazilian is mostly something you pick up on if you already know to listen for it. It's there in subtle ways.

What this is comes down to what? It is excellent power rock with the sophistication of jazz and smartness of nice compositional delivery.

So I am totally happy to have it to listen to lots of times. I look forward to more!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Will Lee, Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions

Will Lee. The bassist. The bassist you probably first got to know as part of the Late Night Band on David Letterman? He's been busy in the studio and has a nice album after a somewhat lengthy silence: Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions (Sinning Saint SSLOI7).

It's his first album as a leader in 20 years. And it gathers a pretty impressive cast of sideman, including Pat Metheny, Steve Lukather, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Peter Erskine, Steve Gadd, Narada Michael Walden, Allen Toussaint, Paul Shaffer, you get the idea.

The album is a game combination of nicely reworked covers, pop and progressive originals (and some remind me pleasantly of Steely Dan and the Police, but in a vague sense) with Will singing in an engaging way (he's good), of course playing the electric bass like he does so well and everybody in excellent form.

His parting bass solo on the old standard "Smile" is something else and it all works. Hard to believe he was the bassist on one of my only two early recording sessions as a player-producer-arranger around 1975. I doubt if he'd remember it. He's come far!! Nice album!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sound Liberation, Days

Gene Pritsker's Sound Liberation holds in a kind of stylistic liquid suspension rap, hip hop, r&b, rock and modern composed classical elements. The new album Days (Composers Concordance 0013) continues the development we've heard in the earlier albums (type the group's name in the index window box above to access the other reviews). The voice of Chanda Rule is back, thankfully, because she is really good. And Gene's song-compositions are ever-strong. There is no flagging.

So we have songs adapted from Gene's operas, mostly Money but also The Varieties of Religious Experience, we have the single cuts Sound Liberation came out with a while back, "Days" being especially haunting.

It's rap that gives you a streetwise view of life in the rough--well rhythmed, worded and articulated by Gene himself and David Gotay (who also plays cello here!). It's hip hop in all you imagine. Gene adds heft with his guitar and there is a small string ensemble and other classical-associated instruments that give you another world yet it's all the same world, at least where Sound Liberation is concerned.

It all hangs together in ways you remember as you listen a few times. It's not just that things are combined that don't ordinarily come together, it is that they do so with a musical result that grabs you and does not let go.

It's probably their very best. Pritsker and Sound Liberation go where nobody else goes before, like Star Trek only we ARE in space now, in a very personal space, all of us, seeking community. You can find it in this music. Check it out!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Zevious, Passing Through the Wall

Zevious is a power trio with the usual guitar-bass-drums thing happening. But the music is anything but usual. On their album Passing Through the Wall (Cuneiform) it's even- and odd-metered trance repetitions done blisteringly and then some very heated jamming with all hell breaking loose.

They have a way of worrying figures that is post-minimalist in that they hit them so hard that you groove-trance more than you do the "floating in heaven" thing.

By now the whole gol-dangered world has reviewed this album. Some of the writers even got paid (I mean by their publishers)! So what have I to add? Nothing. Except to say that they are right. It's hot Crimsonic controlled chaos the way it oughta be. Jazz-rock? Yeah but these folks are possessed! Recommended.

Monday, March 3, 2014

John Hebert Trio, Floodstage

When a bassist of the stature of John Hebert steps out as a bandleader with his own album, his sheer inventiveness means you should not assume what to expect. As it turns out, not surprisingly, you get something worthwhile, and that is a given, but it is not in any way routine either.

This outing, Floodstage (Clean Feed 290), is for piano trio. Benoit Delbecq is on piano but also spices things up with the addition of analog synths on the first two cuts and also the last one. Gerald Cleaver turns in a strong performance on the drums. And of course John is on double bass.

It's a free-wheeling open trio sound they get, with some nicely turned compositions by Hebert, one by Delbecq and a spiritual.

There's plenty of room for Hebert's magnificent bass obbligatos, which are worth listening to alone. Delbecq gives us a post-Paul-Bley harmonically rich outness that's a pleasure to hear with this trio.

Beautiful, subtle balladry mixes with some rock-tinged acoustics, some very cool muted-prepared piano on "Saints" and "Sinners" and the whole thing ends with a free, uptempo corker with excellent space for Gerald, "On the Half Shell".

You go away from this one smiling. Because, hey, this is high art!