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.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Dreaming Tree, Silverfade

If you search around for it, and you care to hear new and interesting bands in the alt-prog zone, there are such things. A good example that has come my way is the band Dreaming Tree and their CD Silverfade (BOMTOT CD004).

It's new, song-centric rock with well-crafted guitar-keys-bass-drums-vocal arrangements and tunes that have some definite musical punch. The vocals are straightforwardly musical, the guitarist has some great power chord parts and can get in some effective short solo work, the keys have an important role that goes along with the style, and the bass-drums rhythm team kick ahead on the figures built into the arrangements and get a nice leverage that the lead guitar hits on with them much of the time.

It has a bit of a metal edge to it between the song-form moments. And it all comes across as quite musical and nicely executed.

They don't quite sound like they are in the wayback retro mode. This is an extension on classic rock elements, not a hearkening back. And so for that it is about the new growth from a venerable tree, so to speak.

Anyone who digs classic prog with an edge will find this one a new twist on it all. Something worthwhile! And so I close out the week of reviews on my three blogs while wishing you good times ahead. I'll be back Monday with more.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Max Ridgway Trio, Deep Memory Scan

We have come across guitarist Max Ridgway happily with Kazhargan World and Cheryl Pyle on these pages and on the Gapplegate Music Blog. He is a creative guitarist and very capable cat, who always seems to come through with something worthwhile. Today we take a look at a trio under his own leadership and their album Deep Memory Scan (self-released).

It is Max of course on electric guitar, plus Richard Martin on bass and Tony Swafford on the drums. The program puts Max front and center with some lively jazz-rock that makes excellent use of a bluesy point-of-view. Richard and Tony lay down rock-solid grooves that play on the riffing-hitting Max tunes and give Max a chance to excel.

And that he does. He has a beautiful sense of line and chord in the rootsy mode and he stays with it for all eight tracks. The sense of space and note-ing makes the music rock and funk out with hard soul--nothing smooth about it.

I love his articulation here. He makes his guitar speak and say something with what is perhaps is a widely spoken language over the years. But he makes it all seem fresh and the band hits it hard with him.

Max is a player. This is good rocking, tonight or any night. Check it out.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Jason Roebke, Every Sunday

Jason Roebke is part of a very creative bunch of contemporary jazzmen centered around Chicago today. He is to the bass what Jason Adasiewicz is to the vibes. He is a central player in the mix of new Chicago jazzmen, someone who has absorbed the roots of adventurous avant jazz both in Chicago and at large. And he has done something with all of that.

Roebke has been a key member in many Chicago configurations. Here he steps out as a leader, live with a together trio at Chicago's Hungry Brain club, on a recent album titled Every Sunday (Clean Feed 339).

This is the sort of date that has a near-total spontaneity, born of improvisations centered around a key, loose and involved three-way interactions that have an intimacy and a linear developmental arc.

Jason's presence on the bass is key and out-front. Electric guitarist Matthew Schneider fills an important role with chordal quietude, fragile gossamer-woven lines. Marcus Evans drums with creative looseness and momentum.

It all has a sort of after-hours sincerity to it, a music where all three get deeply inside what they are doing and perhaps go beyond just pleasing an audience into a zone where creation is all.

And in that way this album is by no means typical. It is not much in the way of extroverted barn storming, of raising the jazz roof. It is a quietly subtle interplay that is remarkably selfless. All three contribute to a total sound that doesn't always call attention to individual parts so much as the threesome-ness of what is being done. Jason can be profitably listened to for his contribution to the mix, and he solos in interesting ways, too. Matthew and Marcus are also very worth following in their individual roles. But it is in the coming together of the trio that the music thrives.

This is not your typical bassist's album. The vision of the trio is paramount. It is a very subtle, intricately understated thing that they do. It succeeds nicely. But to fully appreciate it you must listen closely and allow it time to speak to you. Bravo!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Matt Panayides, Conduits

Guitarist Matt Panayides has been leading groups around New York and places far afield for 15 years. Dues he has paid and his playing and composing reflects that and a good bit of talent besides.

We have before us Matt's second album as a leader, Conduits (Pacific Coast Jazz 93430). It is a very nice showcase for Matt the contemporary changes-oriented plectrist and nicely open-ended composer of frameworks for the quartet featured here. It is Matt on electric guitar, Rich Perry in his own version of a Lovano-Garzone-Bergonzi sort of contemporary tenor style, Thomson Kneeland on acoustic bass and Mark Ferber on drums. (I reviewed Matt's first album favorably here. See the February 8, 2011 post for that.)

The rhythm team propulses and anchors well, the tunes have plenty of distinctive moods and modes to vary the program, and both Matt and Rich have space to lay out their good improvisatory ideas.

Matt has a line-orientation that is creative, satisfying and very spontaneously inventive. He post-bops with an immediacy, can invent some chordal figures that stand out, and generally carries himself very well indeed. Rich Perry gives out with contrasting lines that are supple and lively.

In short this is a fine example of a vital mainstream jazz guitarist and his band. It is a portrait that shines with a luster built out of long-time shedding, gigging and prevailing.

Thank you Matt and band! Recommended!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Minua, In Passing

From Switzerland today we have the trio known as Minua and their CD In Passing (self-released limited edition CD). The instrumentation is not the usual and the music takes excellent advantage of the sonarities available to the three instruments. Fabian Willmann is on bass clarinet, and on electric guitars are Kristinn Smari Kristinsson and Luca Aaron.

This is very much a composed music with the immediacy of improvisation; the compositional structures dominate in excellent ways. Kristinn gives us three compositions; Luca and Fabian each provide two.

They are contemporary sounding works that alternate between rock-influenced new music and more introspective and sound color avantness. There is a special memorability and melodiousness throughout. The two guitars work together with the bass clarinet extraordinarily well. This is a group music, a chamber sort of ensemble that isn't afraid to throw in guitar ambient psychedelic feedback tones or a series of power chords.

There is something very different about the end result. Beautiful blends, excellent musicianship, and sometimes startling lyricism. And the way the roles of each instrument shift with every composition shows real creativity and artistry.

At the bottom may be an ECM sort of ambiance, but very original and extended.

Minua makes some really worthwhile music on In Passing. Get this one now while you can. I look very much forward to more! Go to Bandcamp to order.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Stephen Micus, Nomad Songs

Stephen Micus comes to us with some grooving and reflective pan-ethnic music that he built up track-by-track, playing effectively a diverse mix of world instruments on this, his 21st album, Nomad Songs (ECM 2409).

Notable and very present on this one is his skillful, soulful playing of the Moroccan Gnawa bass lute known as the genbri. For those where the genbri is featured there are powerful bass riffs and improvisations. As always he plays a multitude of instruments including guitar, ndingo, suling flute, nay oboe, rewab and rabab fiddle. He also sings effectively and appropriately when the spirit moves him.

This is not new age music. It is a genuine synthesis of world traditions with a strong sense of how compositionally and instrumentally to pull it together in ways that end up sounding very much in the ECM open mode.

I won't try to give a cut-by-cut description of the music. Stephen Micus stands out as his very own stylist, in spite of the huge number of traditions and instruments he embodies. As the title suggests, this music has some of the desert sand, the heat and the motion of a traversal across open spaces to find a good stopping-place.

It succeeds and does so with a deliberation and a personal touch which is inimitably Micusian. Definitely recommended!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Michael Calvert, Rhapsody on a Riff, Matthew Marshall, Guitar

Modern classical music for classical guitar? There is a good one out, featuring the music of New Zealand composer Michael Calvert as played by guitarist Matthew Marshall. Rhapsody on a Riff (Ravello 7907) is the name of the album and also of the opening composition from 1994.

This is an anthology of six appealing works for guitar written by Calvert between 1989 and 2011. What strikes me about the music is how well it lays upon the guitar. The music is expressively lyrical, melodically-harmonically sophisticated and very idiomatic sounding. That ease of articulation no doubt has something to do with Matthew Marshall's complete mastery of the music and his expressive way about it all.

From start to finish, the music flows very nicely and gives you much contentful substance to gravitate towards. It has something of the modern guitar tradition as exemplified by Villa-Lobos and Brouwer, as examples, and yet the music stands on its own as original.

In all we get "Rhapsody on a Riff," "Gaston Amoureaux," "Lascivious Pleasing," "Eight Studies," "Fantasia in August," and "Suma." They together comprise a very rewarding program as played with charm and the deft phrasing of Australian guitarist Matthew Marshall.

This may be something new for all of us who dwell west of the Pacific. Wherever you call home Rhapsody on a Riff gives you some brilliantly contemporary music for guitar as played by a true artist. Listen to this one, by all means.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Bret Higgins' Atlas Revolt

Double bassist, composer and bandleader Bret Higgins comes our way with the debut of his band Bret Higgins' Atlas Revolt (Tzadik 7813). It's a cohesively wild and rather wooly quintet of Bret Higgins, double bass, Aleksander Gajic, violin, Robbie Grunwald, acoustic and electric piano, Tom Juhas, electric guitar, Joshua Van Tassel, drums and percussion.

This is music that belongs smartly on the Tzadik label for its movie-soundtrack-like synthesis of Euro-Semitic advancement, with a hint of secret-agent-meets-Baltic and some advanced rock-jazz overtones.

Tom Juhas does excellent guitar work that gives a nod to surf roots and throwback avantness with some minor-mode flourishes and cosmic psychedelic electricity. Aleksander Gajic has a very vibrant violin tone and combines euro-eastern feelings with a contemporary, sometimes cosmic feel. Higgins anchors it all thoroughly on his bass, very much out-front, and the rest of the band plays an important and effective part in it all.

The compositional frameworks are all-important in ways I am sure John Zorn appreciates. They cover much ground and each band member contributes bite, color and drive to make for a program that grabs your ears and never lets go.

This one is very fun while being quite serious about what it sets out to accomplish. It succeeds very well and gives you some music that holds your attention well. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Kyrbgrinder, Chronicles of A Dark Machine

If you like a power trio that plays a very hard and involved metal with a dark shadow to it, you will probably like the UK band Kyrbgrinder and their third album Chronicals of A Dark Machine (Kyrbgrinder Records).

What strikes me about this band in their third go-round is the evolved, very percussive guitar work of Aaron Waddingham. He gets a huge forward-moving sound and takes some very nice solo moments, too. The structure of the songs centers around his power-chord riffing and the whole thing is sustained with the fine bass playing of Dave Lugay and the hard, very effective drumming of leader Johanne James, who sings lead straightforwardly without a hint of the metal affectations or exorcist paroxysms of some of the more tired vocalizing ways out there.

These are very much songs with working parts that make the "Dark Machine" function super-efficiently and to very heavy effect. I have not paid a good deal of attention to the lyrics because they are less central to it all. They seem pretty dark at times but that comes with the package.

It's the relentless onslaught of power metal from three very accomplished, locked-in players that wins the day for me. And the vocals add to it.

If you dig advanced heaviness you will find this album most interesting and worthwhile. If you hate this sort of thing, then stay away. Kyrbgrinder won't convert you to the latest metal sounds if you aren't into it but they will impress if you open up to the music. Power to the max!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Brad Allen Williams, Lamar

On the docket today is electric guitarist Brad Allen Williams fronting a contemporary organ trio with the album Lamar (Sojourn). It's Brad's debut as leader. He is joined by some serious musical personalities in Hammond organist Pat Bianchi (whose music I have covered here) and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, who needs no introduction, as the saying goes.

What's especially nice about this one is that it shows strong roots in the organ trio tradition, soulful and bluesy, yet has a contemporary tang to it so that we are not in rote repetition mode so much as we are on new-old ground.

Tyshawn swings like the devil, and that's not surprising given his deserved cred. Pat Bianchi channels the jazz organ tradition but adds to it as well with some flourishes all his own.

The repertoire here is refreshed. We get standards like "Stairway to the Stars" and the r&b chestnut "Betcha By Golly Wow," some out-and-out blues-funky feels and a an advanced hip-bop thing by Brad, and even a hopped-up version of "Galveston," the Glen Campbell hit from years back.

Foremost here is the guitar (and electric sitar for one number) of Brad Allen Williams. He has that sort of grits-and-gravy-meets-hard-bop rootedness to his playing, but again, not in any way rote. He contributes his own solo sense and lines-out very well.

I found myself digging in and on to Lamar. Any fan of the organ trio sound will find this different enough that it does not feel like deja vu. Very groovy!!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Waxwing, A Bowl of Sixty Taxidermists

Waxwing is a three-member cooperative group consisting of Tony Wilson on electric guitar, Peggy Lee on cello and Jon Bentley on reeds and multi-instruments. It's a Vancouver-based outfit that gives us some very intriguing music on their album A Bowl of Sixty Taxidermists (Songlines 1611-2).

The music is a modern melodic sort of chamber jazz that features a stand-out three-way intertwining of voices. All three contribute compositions and there are a few collective improv endeavors, too.

I felt the foundational pull of some of Jimmy Giuffre's classical chamber trios in this music, though only as a reference point. The music can get a swinging pulsation or take a sort of rubato approach. Wilson's guitar work is often chordally oriented, but then has important melodic contributions to make as well. Peggy Lee runs the gamut between pizzicato bass-like figures and bowed lines, all in single and multiple stops, depending on the needs of the moment. Jon Bentley shows a coolish yet soulful demeanor and he sounds quite good on tenor, soprano and the nearly extinct c-melody sax.

The compositions-arrangements are primary to the overall sound and bring a special memorability to it all. It is less a platform for virtuoso expression than a more gentle, modern quietude, though each member shows us very musicianly qualities. There are some rather extraordinary group free improvs interspersed between very melodic numbers. And even in those ultra-free moments there is a kind of lyrical edginess to be heard that is distinctive.

A Bowl of Sixty Taxidermists stands out on multiple-listens as a thoughtful, serious, chamber triumph that may indeed be a sleeper but holds great charm for the serious listener. Kudos!