Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Earliest Known Wes Montgomery Recordings Out March 6

Believe the hype: Wes Montgomery’s Echoes of Indiana Avenue, due out on March 6 from Resonance, is major. For one, this recently unearthed collection comprises the guitar legend’s earliest known studio and stage recordings, dating as far back as 1957 (and whose master tapes were originally discovered on ebay). To this date, Montgomery’s fingerprints are all over virtually every subsequent guitar jazz recording, a legacy that this album quietly but powerfully affirms. It’s amazing how fully formed his voice was by this time, playing with tight and surprisingly eclectic bands from his hometown of Indianapolis featuring his brothers Buddy on piano and Monk on electric bass, plus Melvin Rhyne on piano and organ, Mingo Jones on bass and either Sonny Johnson or Paul Parker on drums. The performances here transcend the slightly muddy, mono sonics (which have obviously been subjected to a thorough scrubbing). As you would expect from what’s essentially a collection of demos, most of the songs are standards that conceivably would have appealed to that era’s jazz label executives; as might also be expected, the single most eye-popping track is a blues jam that Montgomery punches into with a stunningly invigorating T-Bone Walker-inflected attack. Not what you might expect from someone typically associated with genteel urbanity.

The tiptoeing intro to Diablo’s Dance gives no indication of the confidently spiraling solo that Montgomery builds to, capping it off by interjecting some casually biting chords within Rhyne’s elegant, flutelike piano lines. Round Midnight gets a surprisingly dark, expansive, slowly swaying interpretation with Rhyne on organ – the artful way the guitar shifts octaves on the outro transcends any “octave thing” shtick that Dan Morgenstern’s liner notes mention. The staccato swing of Straight No Chaser features a memorably heated exchange of ideas with Montgomery’s bass-playing brother, while Nica’s Dream, with its pulsing bolero tinges, has Montgomery veering from juicy, biting chords to wary horn voicings.

The organ ballad version of Darn That Dream has a warmly bluesy, cognac-infused wee-hours ambience; the sound quality diminishes appreciably on an otherwise entertainingly animated postbop live concert version of Take the A Train, Montgomery pushing pianist Earl Van Riper, who pushes back just as vigorously. Misty reverts to late-night gin joint mode; Body and Soul gets reinvented as syncopated, practically atonal postbop; and then there’s that slowly sizzling blues jam. Were some of Montgomery’s albums, especially toward the end, poorly conceived and carelessly produced? No question. This, thankfully, isn’t one of them. If you’re a fan, get this; if you’re not a fan, this is a tremendously revealing and soulful mix of important historical work from an iconic artist.

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February 23, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bass Heaven Is Here on Earth

For fans of low tonalities, BassX3’s new album Transatlantic is heaven. It’s the second one from multi-reedman Gebhard Ullmann (who plays bass clarinet and bass flute) with bassists Chris Dahlgren and Clayton Thomas. To call this the best jazz album of the year so far invites all kinds of arguments – after all, can a recording this opaque, rhythmically inchoate and impossibly esoteric be much more than a curio? Absolutely! Whether you consider this free jazz, ambient music or indie classical, it’s a rich, murky masterpiece. Its centerpiece is the title track, an epic, 33-minute three-part suite. The low drone of the two basses being bowed in tandem builds a chocolatey mist laced with overtones, with the occasional creak, thud or rattle, evoking the hum of the diesels and maybe a hammock swaying in a stateroom. You could call it the Titanic Theme – from the point of view of passengers in steerage, anyway. Ulllmann, as usual, doesn’t limit himself to any preconceived tonalities, offering a blithely whistling microtonal solo in the first segment as the bassists rattle the occasional random household item like ghosts flitting through the sonic frame.

The other tracks here are just as enjoyable and much less static. The Thing features burbling, echoey twin basses with the bass clarinet wandering the moors, off to the side; then the basses back away, leaving Ullmann prowling contentedly, centerstage. The No Place has the bass flute looming pensive and minimalistic over jagged, distantly percussive bass chords and atonal accents and the occasional jarring pluck of a string: an Asian-tinged horror film score for before the point where the suspense reaches the level of a scream. The aptly titled Epic layers minutely wavering bass flute over a rather menacing backdrop of overtones and low washes; then the group all go spiraling around in what sounds like the bottom of a well before returning to a lusciously droning rumble that Ullmann uses as a long launching pad for some unexpectedly energetic low bass clarinet work. Ornette’s Closet contrasts brightly bouncing clarinet over echoey low-register playfulness; the diptych Berlin Is Full of Lonely People, a desolate, brooding tone poem, is the most melodically memorable track here.

Ullmann also has a considerably more lively if less intense release out with his Clarinet Trio, simply titled 4, featuring him playing bass clarinet alongside Jurgen Kupke on clarinet and Michael Thieke on alto clarinet. Fans of Ullmann’s back catalog will find this casually conversational session more in line with his previous free jazz work. The tracks include an artfully disassembled, brightly layered Balkan cocek dance; a wryly swaying, atonal blues; a tensely exploding tone poem that might have been a sketch for Transatlantic; a playfully martial study in low-register clusters; all sorts of friendly jousting, and an Ornette Coleman cover. Both albums are out now on Leo Records.

February 23, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment