Wednesday night uptown at Shrine, Jussi Reijonen alluded that the quiet, reflective compositions from his new album Un might be liberating to New Yorkers looking to escape the afterwork bustle outside. Was he ever right. To describe Reijonen’s music, or his quartet onstage as cosmopolitan would be a considerable understatement. Respectively, guitarist/oudist Reijonen, pianist Utar Artun, bassist Brad Barrett and percussionist Tareq Rantisi represent for Finland, Turkey, California and Palestine. While Reijonen’s work, and his playing, span the emotional spectrum, there’s a searching quality to much of it that haunted this performance. He mused to the audience that this might have something to do with a childhood spent in the stillness of Lapland at the edge of the Arctic circle.
Reijonen’s lively, acerbically dancing oud led the band into the opening number, Rantisi’s nonchalantly triumphant cymbal crashes pairing against Artun’s starlit piano flourishes over stark washes from Barrett. An animatedly nocturnal, chromatically bristling Artun solo over a slinky rhythm wound down to a creepily mysterious, modal glimmer and then back up again, Reijonen then taking it in a stark, haunting direction evocative of Marcel Khalife.
While Rantisi had a full drum kit to work with, he colored the songs with boomy hand drum accents, played muffled hoofbeat rhythms on the toms with his hands and nebulous atmospherics with his brushes, ratcheting up the suspense. Likewise, Barrett alternated between long-tone pitchblende lines and agile, looping phrases, adding a minimalist pulse to an absolutely mystical take of John Coltrane’s Naima, Reijonen’s electric guitar bringing it to a rapturous, meditative but uneasy calm, equal parts Messiaen and Bill Frisell, Artun livening it with a pointillistic summer shower on the high keys.
They played Lorenzo Castelli’s Decisions, a gorgeously brooding jazz waltz, as a sonata of sorts, its theme and variations like waves on a rising tide driven by Artun’s sparkling, sometimes sinister crescendos. Reijonen followed with a homage to Toumani Diabate in a duo with Rantisi, energetically evoking spiky kora voicings that uncoiled with a serpentine, hypnotic energy.
And then a turmpet mysteriously wafted into the mix. Was there a ringer in the band walking in from offstage? No. The bartender had apparently decided he’d had enough of the band, so he’d put some high-energy Afrobeat on the house PA – while the set was still in progress! The same thing happened to Raya Brass Band a couple of weeks ago at Radegast Hall. Some people can’t buy a clue, and it’s too bad they work at music venues.
Newington, Connnecticut seems to be a nice enough place to grow up, one of those sleepy, comfortable New England hamlets off the interstate on the way to Boston. But it could just as easily be a setting for a Stephen King novel. Saxophonist Joshua Kwassman hails from there: the Maria Schneider-esque, pastoral sweep of his latest album Songs of the Brother Spirit has both the flinty rusticity and East Coast sophistication that define his home state at its best, as well as a moody, shadowy intensity. Here he’s joined by Gilad Hekselman and Jeff Miles on guitars, Arielle Feinman on vocals, Adam Kromelow and Angelo Di Loreto on piano, Craig Akin on bass and Rodrigo Recabarren on drums.
Kwassman distinguishes himself as a first-rate tunesmith with an ear for the imaginative and unexpected: he’ll go to an anthemic change in a second to drive a point home if he sees fit. His writing is by no means constrained by traditional jazz tropes, with a refreshing expressiveness and purpose. The opening track, Our Land has a Chris Jentsch-like clarity, Feinman’s airy vocalese blending with Hekselman’s lyrical lines for a springlike atmosphere, building toward clave with a simmering Kromelow solo and a roaring crescendo. We Were Kids, Kwassman’s hushed childhood reflection is lush yet detailed, with bounding alto sax, Kromelow taking it down gently to a balmy horn chart.
In Light There Is Song is terse and lyrical, with an optimistic, vintage Pat Metheny vibe, guitar and vocals again driving a long trajectory upward and then back down to an unexpected ghostliness. Meditation, a pensive reflection on the inevitable losses that come with the passage of time, contrats Kwassman’s moody clarinet against Feinman’s brightness. The album’s centerpiece is a triptych, The Nowhere Trail, a darkly cinematic narrative of a summer camping trip gone disastrously awry. A distantly sinister Di Loreto pedalpoint theme recurs with variations as Miles adds an offcenter unease against the dancing anticipation underneath. They rise to a fever pitch and suddenly the mood shifts, Hekselman drifting toward an apprehensive flamenco feel, Kwassman’s menacing melodica vamp signaling that suddenly everyrthing is not well. From there a dream sequence of sorts ensues, lit up by Feinman’s meticulously nuanced, opaque vocals and surreal glockenspiel: it ends by returning to a pastoral ambience with hints of the Beatles. Highly recommended for fans of Americana-flavored jazz, from Bill Frisell to Bryan & the Aardvarks.
Bassist Bryan Copeland’s Lynchian nocturnes are one of the most consistently enjoyable things happening in jazz right now. Tuesday night at Subculture’s comfortable, sonically enhanced basement space, Copeland led his group Bryan & the Aardvarks through a lush, glimmering, often poignant set of mostly new material. The keyboard-and-vibraphone pairing of Fabian Almazan (on piano and occasional electronic keys) and Chris Dingman draws some imnediate comparisons to the Claudia Quintet, but Copeland’s music is more cinematic and atmospheric. Drummer Joe Nero nonchalantly livened the band’s usual straight-up tempos, sometimes adding an undulating funkiness, other times weaving in a subtle polyrhythmic edge. Copeland has an intricate sense of harmony to rival Philip Glass, a composer he sometimes resembles, if in a considerably more ornate way.
The evening opened with a wistful, brooding chromatic theme that stubbornly resisted resolution, building tension through a long, methodically glistening Almazan solo, guitarist Jesse Lewis working his way up from spacious early Pat Metheny-style waves of melody to an unexpectedly wild flurry of Dick Dale-style tremolo-picking whose violence could easily have ruined the mood, but with the meteor shower filling the picture behind it, made a raw, rewarding coda.
Midway through the apprehensively hypnotic, chromatically-charged second number, The Sky Turns to Grey (bringing to mind Glass’ creepy In the Summer House), Copeland surprised everyone except his bandmates by beginning a solo in the middle of one of Almazan’s. Except that this bass solo turned out to be catchy, judiciously incisive variations on a guitar riff rather than a free-form excursion into uncharted territory. And when it seemed that Copeland would pass himself off as a rare bassist who limits himself to terse, memorable string motifs, toward the end of the set he surprised with an allusive, unexpectedly carefree solo that mimicked a horn line, something akin to Pharaoh Sanders signifying that it might be time to peel off the suit and knock a few back after a hard night at work.
The singlemindedness of this band is amazing, Dingman’s resonant waves rising and mingling with Almazan’s meticulous blend of energy and precision, towering High Romantic angst shifting in and out of the shadows, a soundtrack for any candy-colored clown who might have been waiting for the chance to pounce from out of the footlights. A dusky pastoral waltz followed a cinematic tangent, like a jazzier Dana Schechter tableau luridly swathed in Angelo Badalamenti velvet; a second waltz came across as a more rustic, gently bittersweet take on Bill Frisell-style blue-sky jazz, an appreciative nod from Copeland to his Texas roots. A later number worked from neon lustre up to agitation over an altered bossa groove. They wound up the night on a long, anthemically vamping swell fueled by Lewis’ uneasily insistent accents. Music this intricate and disarmingly beautiful is seldom played with as much energy as this individualistic group puts into it.
Pianist Danny Green’s compositions approach Brazilian and latin jazz with the the same kind of attractive but sometimes apprehensive tunefulness that groups like Brian & the Aardvarks, Jeremy Udden’s Plainville and Bill Frisell’s ensembles bring to the Americana side of the equation. A Thousand Ways Home, Green’s second album as a bandleader, captures him in a variety of settings, taking considerable inspiration from south-of-the-border sounds. Upbeat as much of this music is, it’s not shallow.
As expected, the standout tracks here are the darkest ones. The real stunner is Over Too Soon, a steady, unselfconsciously gorgeous, Lynchian song without words, lit up by Eva Scow’s flickering, tremolo-picked mandolin lines. Likewise, the diptych Dusty Road, shifting from Green’s bitingly cinematic, solo neoromanticism to a wary bossa nova bounce. Tranquil Days rises from a murky rubato intro to a vividly overcast tropical ambience, Tripp Sprague’s nonchalant tenor sax contrasting with Green’s brooding sostenuto. The aptly titled, understatedly potent Under Night’s Cover takes refuge in Green’s bright, bittersweet nocturnal gleam, drummer Julien Cantelm’s artfully camouflaged clave groove in tandem with Justin Grinnell’s judiciously funky bass. Nighttime Disturbance has both Green and Sprague percolating a moody, modally-charged tune that shifts to a carefree, funky sway. A diptych, Dusty Road, picks up with a jolt out of Green’s bitingly cinematic neoromanticism.
The title track, a jazz waltz, couples tersely bluesy bustle to warmly reflective melodicism that moves in a jauntily latin direction on the wings of Sprague’s soprano sax. A matter-of-fact bluesiness from both Green and Peter Sprague’s guitar drives the funky, steadily insistent Soggy Shoes, while Back to Work bounces along on a catchy catchy bossa tune. There are also a quartet of sambas: the blithe but laid-back vamp Flight of the Stumble Bee and its wry Monk allusions; Unwind, the mandolin adding guitar-like timbres in tandem with the piano as well as a bubbling, unexpectedly blues-infused solo; the incisively syncopated Running Out of Time; and Quintal de Solidao, with cheerily nuanced vocals by Claudia Villela and lithe guitar from Chico Pinheiro.
Ryan Blotnick has an original and distinctive voice on the guitar. His Americana-tinged jazz has some of the opacity of indie rock, but not the peevishness, along with occasional detours toward the baroque. He’s all the more noteworthy for not wasting notes, maintaining a pensive, grey-sky atmosphere for the most part through his new album Solo, Volume 1, streaming in its entirety at his Bandcamp page. His choice of guitar – a rare 1959 Martin 00-18 electric, indistinguishable from its acoustic sister except for the pickup haphazardly built in without any other design modifications – has a lot to do with the sound he gets here. For one, the album’s extreme closemiking raises the intimacy by leaps and bounds – listening to this, it’s almost as if you’re inside the body of the guitar. Being a hollowbody, it gets an unusually interesting, lo-fi resonance that Blotnick mines for a richly subtle sonic pallette by varying his attack and shifting dynamics within the eight compositions here.
His only cover here, Monk’s Mood, is spacious to the point of suspense – as he often does here, Blotnick offers not the slightest hint of where he’s going to go with this, precise and judicious but also restless, sometimes crossing the line into visceral unease. The most intense track here, Dreams of Chloe is a bit of an anomaly, Lynchian and luridly droning, Blotnick fingerpicking both low and high registers for a raw, wailing, desolate ambience.
The Ballad of Josh Barton is a less stylized, more original take on Bill Frisell-style Americana jazz that makes its way to an unexpectedly scampering interlude, Blotnick winding his way out as he alternates oldtime folk lines and variations on slow, watery, strummed motifs. A stubborn absence of resolution pervades this song, as it does many of the other tracks, most notably the next one, Salt Waltz, with its muted Spanish allusions.
Hymn for Steph brings to mind John Fahey, although it’s more expansive, a ghostly tremolo insinuating itself as Blotnick builds to variations on a stately yet nebulous descending riff. The longest track here, Lenny’s Ghost evokes Jorma Kaukonen in inspired early acoustic Hot Tuna mode, working permutations on a dark two-chord folk riff, hinting at flamenco and then spreading its wings and gently sailing aloft with elegant wide-angle arpeggios. Blotnick employs a backward-masking effect for the strangely attractive miniature Intermellen, and closes with the lyrical, allusive Michelle Says, alternating suspenseful crescendos with the album’s most classically-tinged interlude. It’s a great late-night album and a goldmine of inspiration for guitarists in a wide range of styles.
If you’ve been waiting patiently for the Best Jazz Albuns of 2012 page here, don’t worry, it’s coming. One of the reasons we wait til the end of the year is to catch gems like Old Time Musketry’s first album, Different Times: it’s this year’s best jazz debut by a country mile. Melodic contemporary sounds don’t get any more interesting, or downright catchy, than this.
The album ha a distinct northern New England flavor, no surprise considering that the group’s composers, multi-reedman Adam Schneit and multi-keyboardist JP Schlegelmilch grew up there. Each contributes a blend of warm and wintry, bucolic and often wistful themes interspersed with boisterous freely improvised interludes and a handful of jaunty romps. As the music blog Step Tempest was quick to observe, the obvious comparison is saxophonist Jeremy Udden’s Plainville (an album whose influence is vastly underrrated). There are echoes of Bill Frisell here as well. The group is propelled by the terse bass work of Phil Rowan and drummer Max Goldman, whose blend of New Orleans and Balkan rhythms is a breath of fresh air and adds welcome voltage to the slower material.
The opening track, Star Insignia, is akin to Udden doing the Velvets. Beginning as an accordion march and rising to a nocturnally pulsing overture, it’s the catchiest of the nine tracks. Playing alto sax, Schneit takes his time reaching from elegant legato to aching grit over Goldman’s hypnotically insistent cymbals, Schlegelmilch anchoring them with a stygian swirl. Parade sets an easygoing New Orleans piano shuffle under Schneit’s uneasy Udden-esque changes, Goldman reaching almost into tumbling vaudevillian territory in contrast to the gravitas of Rowan’s solo. The title track teases with a syncopated bounce bookending a free interlude highlighted by cleverly divergent tangents from Schlegelmilch’s piano and Schneit’s alto.
There’s a persisent if distant sadness to Cadets, another march, its autumnal Charles Ives colors possibly alluding to those kids’ ultimate destination, maybe: cannon fodder? The most stunning track here, Hope for Something More justaposes Schlegelmilch’s creepy piano lines – half Ran Blake, half Floyd Cramer – against Schneit’s morose clarinet, with keening funeral organ and echoey Omnichord building otherworldly ambience. Then they find the inner Serbian in Henry Cowell’s Anger Dance, improvising a march in the middle that’s as disquieting as it is nonchalant.
Highly Questionable reminds of the work of the great Macedonian accordionist Jordan Kostov, with its sudden shifts from bouncy to apprehensive and a nebulous, misterioso Schlegelmilch accordion solo. Likewise, Underwater Volcano mixes New Orleans and eastern European elements into a funky, echoey Rhodes piano tune. The album ends with the most Udden-influenced track here, Floating Vision, a slowly swaying ballad with hints of dub from multitracked keys.
Old Time Musketry play the album release show on Jan 27 at 8 PM at the Firehouse Space, just around the corner from Pete’s at 246 Frost St. in Williamsburg.
Anything Ron Miles and Bill Frisell do together is worth hearing. The trumpeter/cornetist has long played the role of deep soul sage to the guitarist’s high plains drifter, going back over ten years. While Miles’ latest album Quiver is not without its moments of unease, it’s as generally warm and upbeat as you would expect. It’s got the same conversational feel as their 2002 duo album, Heaven, although this time the group is expanded to include Brian Blade on drums, Frisell’s artful use of implied melody making it less obvious that there’s a bass missing.
While mostly a studio project, there are a couple of intriguingly shapeshifting live tracks, begininng with Bruise, the opening tune. There’s a lot of swing on this album, and there’s some on this tune, along with syncopated minimalism, a little catchy New Orleans funk, minor modes on the trumpet trading off against the blues of the guitar. For a group that goes as many places in the span of seven minutes or so, they hold it together with the kind of casual repartee that has defined their collaborations over the years. Likewise, the closing cut, Guest of Honor perfectly capsulizes the album’s appeal, equal parts Americana – sort of a bouncier take on Townes Van Zandt’s No Place to Fall – set to an altered Crescent City shuffle.
The spare, echoey, allusive jazz waltz Queen B gives Frisell a platform for his signature big-sky pensiveness: throughout the song, they allude tantalizingly to a well-known highway rock theme (the BoDeans? Matt Keating? Don’t you hate it when you can’t identify the song?). Mr. Kevin, a ballad, is classic Miles, soulfully resonant trumpet slowly leading the band into funkier territory where Blade finally decides to give it some boom before they take out with a jaunty dance. And the funky rhythms of Rudy Go Round quickly coalesce into a nonchalant, swinging, conversational shuffle that eventually expands to include the drums as it winds out.
There are also some intriguing covers. The early swing classic There Ain’t No Sweet Man Worth the Salt of My Tears warps and weaves slowly in and out of pulse, Frisell’s resonant minimalism contrasting with Miles’ expansive legato over Blade’s judiciously counterintuitive accents. Just Married rides Frisell’s Mystery Train allusions, moving toward rockabilly until Miles decides to take the whole thing a little further outside. In the same vein, Duke Ellington’s Doin’ the Voom Voom swings along bracingly on modernized guitar harmonies – it’s the one place on the album where the addition of bass would take it to the next level. And Days of Wine and Roses hangs on the offbeats, Frisell shadowing Miles for much of it until Blade breaks it up with a richly resonant cymbal interlude. It’s all good and out now from Enja Records.
Pianist Julian Shore’s new Filaments is not a particularly edgy album, but it is an unselfconsciously attractive one – and it isn’t shallow by a long shot. While a student at Berklee, Shore found a muse in Gretchen Parlato, and jumped at the chance to sub in her band when Taylor Eigsti was out of town. That influence is clear here: it could also be said that this is a less demanding version of what Sara Serpa is doing with vocalese-based third-stream sounds. For Shore, less is more: his soloing is spacious, usually establishing a warm early-evening ambience in tandem with the plush vocal harmonies of Alexa Barchini - who also wrote lyrics to a couple of the tunes – and Shelly Tzarafi. Phil Donkin on bass and the reliably excellent Tommy Crane on drums maintain a deceptively energetic pulse underneath.
The album’s opening track, Grey Lights, Green Lily sets the tone, a distantly bucolic theme that reminds of Jeremy Udden, or Bill Frisell but without the persistent unease. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s biting prowl contrasts with Shore’s terse, warm approach and Tzarafi’s nebulous atmospherics. Barchini’s clear, high soprano shows off a Jenifer Jackson-esque wistfulness on Made Very Small, Rosenwinkel’s high-beam sostenuto lines mingling tersely with Shore’s crepuscular twinkle. Big Bad World, a jazz waltz, takes chances with clutter as Jeff Miles’ guitar spirals around the piano, but they sidestep it, the women’s harmonies driving a series of lush crescendos.
Whisper, a fetchingly direct, hushedly lyrical Shore/Barchini co-write, shows off a crystalline purity throughout her range; the song is reprised briefly at the end of the album as a piece for Kurt Ozan’s solo dobro. Give brings Rosenwinkel back for oldschool charm and then spacious bite as Godwin Louis’ alto sax, Billy Buss’ trumpet and Andrew Hadro’s baritone sax join forces for a catchy late-period Weather Report style chart. Donkin nimbly intersperses his own muted solo amidst the glimmer of the tastefully, low-key jazz waltz I Will If You Will, while Crane does the same with a surprisingly effective, hard-hitting drive alongside Miles’ judicious incisions and the wash of vocals on Like a Shadow.
For one reason or another, the single most intense track here, Misdirection/Determined is a lot closer to art-rock than jazz, Barchini evoking a Mingus-era Joni Mitchell longing over Shore’s moody modalities. And the most overtly balladesque of the tracks, Venus, features Noah Preminger’s tenor shifting artfully between the boudoir and the highwire. This album sneaks up on you: there literally isn’t a bad song on it. It’s a step in an auspicious direction: let’s hope there’s more where this came from.
If you like 80s music, jazz, and/or watery guitar with the occasional touch of twang and reverb, this is for you. The Mattson 2′s latest album Feeling Hands blends elements of 80s Britpop, classic jazz guitar and surf music into a coolly energetic instrumental rock style that’s uniquely their own. Guitarist/bassist Jared Mattson sometimes evokes the frenetic, jazzy virtuosity of Paul Cavanagh, of 80s cult heros The Room; drummer Jonathan Mattson shifts effortlessly from surf rumble to 80s bounce to more intricate, cerebral patterns.
The album opens with Pleasure Point, a twangy sci-fi instrumental that adds an 80s edge to classic Shadows-style surf. With its simple, catchy chorus-box guitar hooks, Black Rain wouldn’t be out of place on a New Order album circa 1985. Ode to Lou (Lou Donaldson, maybe?) matches blithe Wes Montgomery-ish guitar to David Boyce’s fluttery but balmy tenor sax. They take a spacious, almost rubato Bill Frisell style noir Americana theme and follow it with a clangy variation that goes in a jazzy mid-80s Britpop direction… with a 70s soul string chart!
Mexican Synth is not particularly Mexican: it’s more like George Benson goes to Manchester. Guest Ray Barbee delivers a long, absolutely sensational, casually savage guitar solo on Chi Nine, Jared Mattson’s furious righthand attack shadowing him. When the strings come in, it’s something of a relief from all the wild intensity. Give Inski’s (what’s up with these titles, huh?) vamps on the opening chords of the Police’s Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic: essentially, it’s a funk tune done in straight-up 4/4. There’s also the surf jazz number Obvious Crutch, judicious verse alternating with intense chorus, and Man from Anamnensis, opening with a minimalist, early 80s style new wave hook and builds from there, like the Mighty Lemon Drops gone to the Newport Festival. Fans of all the aforementioned artists ought to check this out. It’s out now from Galaxia.
Guitarist Mike Baggetta and trumpeter Kris Tiner, who wryly call themselves Tin/Bag, have a tremendously enjoyable, low-key, late-night duo album just out, titled Bridges. It’s a memorably melodic, minimalistic, impeccably tasteful mix of original compositions for guitar and trumpet, along with one cover, Dylan’s Just Like a Woman done as laid-back wee-hours theme. Sometimes this feels as if they’ve taken an early 60s postbop album, completely disassembled it and then put it back together kaleidoscopically using only about 5% of of the original parts. Fragments of comfortable, trad jazz melody, from balladesque to bluesy, will pop up unexpectedly and then vanish – imagine a minimalist mashup of Sketches of Spain. Interplay is not the defining mechanism here: rather, each instrument serves as a complement to the other. Baggetta is subtle to the extreme, employing a clean, round tone with a tinge of tremolo or reverb. In the past, he’s explored a jazz approach to Erik Satie, and that influence makes itself welcome here. Tiner typically handles lead lines, with a crystalline, soulful approach comparable to Ron Miles or Ingrid Jensen. The chemistry between the two is quietly dynamic and richly effective.
The two best songs here – and they are songs in the best sense of the word – are the darkest ones. The title track opens with a rubato feel, as many of these do, and very soon goes into the dark end of the pool, David Lynch-esque with waves of gentle jangle against distantly bright but plaintive blues-tinged trumpet. The Truth has Baggetta opening it with gently plaintive, understated flamenco inflections, Tiner rising with a Miles Davis-ish majesty and articulacy over Baggetta’s calm, austere gravitas. And Maslow – a reference to some kind of hierarchy, maybe? – also hints at flamenco, then Tiner goes up and out just a little while Baggetta keeps it steady with smartly chosen whole-note chords.
The opening track, Bobo, kicks off with a subtly ringing taqsim of sorts, each player settling matter-of-factly into his role, Baggetta holding it together as Tiner takes his time and goes exploring. The other tracks are a clinic in the surprising amount of diversity that can be achieved within a simple set of parameters, i.e. just two players in mellow and thoughtful mode. Osho, kicking off with Baggetta solo, is a pensive big sky tableau a la Frisell in a particularly optimistic moment. It segues into the harmonics of Aurobindo, which reaches for a hypnotic ambience with judiciously chosen chordal moments and spaciously placed accents. Govinda, the most “free” track here, has Tiner fluttering and bubbling a little over Baggetta’s allusiveness. A question followed by an answer (or maybe the other way around), Inayat Khan is the most skeletal track here. Tune in, turn on, chill out.
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