Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Chelsea Guo Stars on Piano and Vocals on Her New All-Chopin Album

It’s impossible to keep track of how many pianists have sent their interpretations of Chopin here over the years. If only quality matched quantity. Serendipitously, Chelsea Guo’s new album Chopin: In My Voice – streaming at Spotify – is a relatively rare exception, a very smart, insightful collection of the 24 preludes along with the the Fantaisie in F minor and three selections from Chopin’s 17 Polish Songs. Those last three are on the program because Guo distinguishes herself not only as a pianist but as a soprano.

Guo’s use of rubato is masterful. She doesn’t overdo it, so when she loosens the rhythm, there’s always an impact, and her sense of where to weave this into her phrasing – this being Chopin, it’s usually on the somber side here – is laserlike. In general, it seems she prefers to understate a piece and let the music speak for itself rather than overemote. And she takes an architectural view to the development of these works, often following a subtly crescendoing arc.

The E Minor Prelude is particularly good: Guo plays it very straight-up first time through, then backs away for an increasingly unmoored sense of terror and despair. The D Minor Prelude is on the quiet side, but with plenty of feeling and a similarly impactful rhythmic freedom. Strikingly, she hits the C Minor Prelude hard at the beginning and then lets this immortal dirge quietly trail away: if there’s anything in Chopin that’s pure autobiography, this is it, or at least it seems so in Guo’s hands.

As fans of the Preludes know, many of them are miniatures, here and gone in barely the space of a couple dozen bars. Guo typically approaches the rest of them with restraint, although there are exceptions, notably in the lickety-split torrents of the F Sharp minor prelude and the long trajectory of the “Raindrop” prelude in D flat, where she seizes the moment to revisit the sheer desolation of its E minor counterpart. Clearly, she has a close emotional connection with this music.

Guo plays the Fantaisie in F minor as a suite: glittering triumph, a jaunty bit of a dance, introduced and intermingled with wariness. Interestingly, her take of the famous Barcarolle is especially vigorous and turbulent.

She closes the album with the Polish Songs: reaching for the rafters with dramatic power in Maja Pieszczotka; holding back a bit with her vocals before busting loose with Im mir klingt ein Lied and Di Piacer Me Balza Il Cor. Something happens to Guo’s playing when she sings: all of a sudden a coy playfulness appears. This may be a function of the material, but it’s quite a contrast with the poignancy and sheer seriousness of the preludes. It’s a fair bet that this is just the tip of the iceberg of Guo’s emerging talent.

June 30, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revealing Rachmaninoff From Sonya Bach

If an all-Rachmaninoff album contains the immortal G Minor Prelude, that’s all you need to hear to figure out if the rest of it’s any good. How does pianist Sonya Bach tackle that piece on her new album, streaming at Spotify? With a staccato that’s forceful but short of a merciless attack on the “verse,” and then a luxuriant, languid approach to the “chorus” before the menace starts up again. Her big payoff delivers the expected chills; her outro is as devious as it should be. In a word, she nails it, in a fearlessly individualistic interpretation. After that, it would be a shock if the rest of the record was anything less than superb.

And it is. The centerpiece, the slightly condensed 1931 version of the Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, as well as a handful of preludes and the Six Moments Musicaux, are every bit as purposeful and inspired. The opening movement of the sonata is on the brisk and murky side, but that’s fine: this is turbulent, troubled music. And yet, when an anxious calm settles in, Bach works the bell-like dynamics magically, whether sepulchral or otherworldly and resonant.

The second movement is a vast, clear night as reflected on Rachmaninoff’s favorite Swiss lake, maybe. Much of the time Bach rides the pedal, letting those distant points of light shimmer for all they’re worth. Some Rachmaninoff fans may have issues with the conclusion, which again is on the fast side: Bach goes for overall disquiet rather than indulging in the occasional winking, romping phrase, and she maintains that steely focus. Vladimir Horowitz played it completely the opposite way; if the highest of the High Romantic is what you get out of this, cue up one of his versions instead.

The two remaining preludes here, in D and E flat, come from the composer’s first set, op. 2 (he would write another series later). The former is on the muted side, but that’s how Rachmaninoff himself played it, as a straightforward love ballad. The latter is also quiet and almost shockingly unvarnished: no over-the-top theatrics here, Bach using subtle rubato to let a quiet triumph unleash itself.

The Moments Musicaux are where Bach decides to revel more in the Romantic. No. 1 in B Minor has a persistent, wounded wintriness punctuated by judicious little crescendos: that little path through the snow toward the end will quietly break your heart.

No.2 in E flat minor has a similar starriness, a distant rather than intimate conversation but also a showcase for Bach’s spun-crystal legato. She gives a strikingly jaunty strut to parts of No.3 in B minor, when it’s not morose or achingly lyrical.

As she does a lot on this record, Bach takes a panoramic view of No.4 in E minor rather than making it a showcase for dramatic flourishes, beyond a slam-dunk coda. No.5 in D flat comes across as a distant precursor of the famous love theme from the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Bach closes with an a resonantly regal take of No.6 in C.

Linguistically speaking, Bach is correct in using “Rachmaninov” as a transliteration from the Russian. However, in innumerable reviews of music by the king of Russian Romanticism over the years, this blog has gone with the anglicized double F too many times to backtrack and do endless rounds of copy-and-replace.

June 29, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vivid, Picturesque, Purposeful Violin Jazz From Tomoko Omura

Tomoko Omura is one of the most distinctive and purposeful violinists in jazz. Her album Branches Vol. 1 is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s refreshingly uncluttered, tuneful and picturesque, especially when it comes to the nocturnes.

She opens it with a radical reinvention of Moonlight in Vermont. Just as soon as Omura’s theme threatens to rise to total self-combustion, she and the band bring it down to elegant, purposeful, optimistic lyricism. Pianist Glenn Zaleski takes a masterfully light-fingered solo to a similarly triumphant crescendo followed by spare, soaring riffs by the bandleader over a loopy pulse. Late 70s Jean-Luc Ponty comes to mind, but with a more organic backdrop.

Three Magic Charms is aptly titled, Zaleski’s starry lines mingling with sailing violin, guitarist Jeff Miles’ fanged swells and accents adding a menacing edge over bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Jay Sawyer’s dubwise pulse. As it grows funkier, Sawyer’s subtle carnivalesque touches lure his bandmates into similar shenanigans.

Zaleski’s sternly low, modal chords anchor The Revenge of the Rabbit as Omura slides and soars while the drums scramble and cluster. Again, the rhythm takes on a funkier bounce for Zaleski’s scampering solo before he moves back down, Omura’s woozy, processed, atmospheric lines taking over. In this case, living well seems to be the best revenge a critter could want

Zaleski glimmers amid drifting atmospherics as Return to the Moon gets underway, Omura’s koto-like flickers kicking off a slow, richly suspenseful, anthemic sway: this mission turns out to be a smashing success. Both the space-jazz of Bryan and the Aardvarks and the driftiest Pink Floyd soundscapes are good points of comparison.

Omura winds up the record with Konomichi, a lively, leaping tune with Zaleski on electric and acoustic piano and a fleetingly stinging bass/violin break. Good news: Omura has an excellent, eclectic follow-up volume just out as well.

June 27, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog Put Out an Irrepressibly Funny, Wise, Intense New Album

Marc Ribot‘s credentials as a guitarist were firmly ensconsed in the pantheon decades ago. But he’s just as formidable a composer and songwriter. As an incorrigible polystylist, he’s done everything from searing, noisy jazz (check out his Live at the Vanguard album if raw adrenaline is your thing), to one of the alltime great film noir albums, to one of the best janglerock records of this century (Tift Merritt’s Traveling Alone). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in a career that goes back to the 80s. Ribot’s latest release, Hope – streaming at Bandcamp – is a characteristically all-over-the-map mix with his Ceramic Dog Trio, which includes Shahzad Ismaily on bass and Ches Smith on drums. In an era of lethal lockdowns, and now Cuomo’s sneaky attempt to establish apartheid, Ribot’s irrepressible sense of humor is more welcome than ever.

The opening track, B Flat Ontology has a withering cynicism matched by an underlying heartbreak. Over a loopy minor arpeggio with just a few turnarounds and tantalizing flickers of wah, Ribot mercilessly pillories all the wannabes in this city. Trendoids, noodly Berklee guitar types, phony poets, performance artists and others get what’s coming to them. Singer-songwriters in particular get a smack upside the head: “Each one more earnest than the next, slip off layers of pretention til there’s nothing left.”

The album’s second track, Nickelodeon is a reggae tune with wah guitar, organ and a lyric as surreal as anything that came out of Jamaica forty years ago. The instrumental Wanna very closely approximates a big Bowie hit. Ribot then takes aim at limousine liberal yuppie puppy entitlement in The Activist, a hilariously verbose parody of cancel culture set to a bubbling, looping 90s trip-hop groove.

Ismaily’s jaunty, loose-limbed bassline anchors Bertha the Cool (gotta love this guy’s titles), a spoof of guitarslingers who worship at the feet of Wes Montgomery. They Met in the Middle has shrieky sax, a tightly clustering English Beat-style bassline and a subtle message about doing your own thing.

The Long Goodbye is a ten-minute epic, Ribot’s austere rainy-day intro finally giving way to Ismaily’s looming chords, then the guitarist hits his distortion pedal for the blue-flame savagery he may be best known for. Maple Leaf Rage, the album’s centerpiece and longest track, is a diptych, slowly rising from his spare, lingering  figures over squirrelly drums to a march, the guitarist’s smoldering lines expanding to another one of his signature conflagrations. If you want to introduce someone to the Ribot catalog, this is as good a stepping-off point as any.

The trio wind up the record with Wear Your Love Like Heaven, a slowly vamping, jaggedly pastoral tableau. And it’s available on vinyl!

June 27, 2021 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bittersweeet, Imaginative Large Ensemble Jazz From Johannes Wallmann

Pianist Johannes Wallmann’s new Elegy for an Undiscovered Species – streaming at Bandcamp – is an unusual and strikingly tuneful big band jazz album. For one, the lineup – jazz quintet plus a fourteen-piece string orchestra – is unorthodox, harking back to the days of Charlie Parker With Strings. Yet it also engages the orchestra as much as the rest of the group. It’s also remarkably groove-oriented. Conventional wisdom is unless you’re Ron Carter or Buddy Rich, bass and drums in a big band are a thankless task. Not so here.

Don’t let the album title fool you: it’s about contrasts and shades far more than the darkness it implies. The group open with the epically swaying, eleven-minute title track, the strings rustling, tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen working the bittersweet hook over the clustering groove of bassist Nick Moran and drummer Allison Miller. Stephens takes a pensive solo as the orchestra darken the atmosphere, Jensen pushing outward with her microtones and volleys. Wallmann’s solo delivers spirals and erudite blues phrasing as the orchestra rise behind him, with bracing exchanges amid the strings.

The second number, Two Ears Old is a fond ballad, wafting horns contrasting with uneasily circling piano underneath, Wallmann and then Stephens pushing the clouds away and choosing their spots as they climb. Miller’s whispery thicket of sound and nimbly altered shuffle in tandem with Moran’s tersely dancing lines beneath Jensen’s lyrical ambered solo are masterful. They reprise the theme at the end of the album as a bit of a High Romantic feature for cello and piano.

In Threes has rhythms and unsettled harmonies shifting around a piano pedal note as the band gathers momentum. Wallmann eventually abandons a twinkling righthand solo for warpy, spacy synth: the bizareness of the individual strings answering has to be heard to be believed. Whatever you think of this, you can’t say it’s not original.

A looping, syncopated bass riff anchors Expeditor, bright horns versus hushed, expectant strings, Jensen’s calm, floating solo contrasting with the bandleader’s loose-limbed attack and devious exuberance from Miller afterward. The ending is unexpected and amusing.

Longing, a jazz waltz, is the album’s most lyrical and strongest track, Wallmann in lounge lizard mode as the strings waft and then recede. The strings carry the melody. revealing the moody bolero underneath, Stephens ranging from blippy to balmy.

The strings develop a windswept, cinematic tableau to open The Greater Fool, then the rhythm section bring in a clave for Jensen’s low-key, amiable solo, Wallmann delivering some coy ragtime allusions. Miller’s shamanic solo as the modalities darken could be the high point of the record.

June 26, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Intricately Constructed New Big Band Suite From Trumpeter Tim Hagans

Trumpeter Tim Hagans‘ ambitious new five-movement “concerto” with the NDR Bigband, A Conversation – streaming at Bandcamp – came out earlier this month. The suite owes as much to contemporary classical music as it does to jazz. As you would expect from a trumpeter, much of this is very bright and brassy. Challenging moments outnumber the more consonant interludes. Hagans’ sense of adventure and large-ensemble improvisation is matched by an embrace of traditional postbop. The operative question is the degree to which all this coheres, and whether listeners from those respective camps will be jarred away by all the stylistic puddle-jumping.

Hagans has engineered many of the successive themes in the first movement to collapse into themselves, to heighten the tension. After a staggering intro, there are echo effects, call-and-response from droll to tense, and suspenseful, increasingly dense rising waves. Pianist Vladyslav Sendecki’s pedalpoint and then simple, climbing riffs anchor blazing brass, a trope that will return many, many times here. In between, he takes a loose-limbed, allusively chromatic solo, the orchestra slowly rising in bursts behind him and then subsiding. An acidic moodiness settles in from there.

Massed swells give way to busy chatter and then a catchy, circling riff from the reeds as the second movement moves along. Baritone saxophonist Daniel Buch – who gets an amazing, crystalline, clarinet-like tone in the upper registers – hovers and then squirrels around. A slow, confident, brassy chorus of sorts recedes for bassist Ingmar Heller’s spare, dancing solo out.

The third movement begins with a brief, discordant duet between Sendecki and Heller that gains momentum with a brassy squall and rises to a blazing quasi-swing. Tenor saxophonist Peter Bolte’s smoky solo followed by trombonist Stefan Lotterman’s precise, dry humor are the high points. The bandleader’s wryly dancing solo at the end offers welcome amusement as well.

Hagans’ command of microtonal inflections in his solo intro to the fourth movement is impressive, to say the least, echoed by alto saxophonist Fiete Felsch as a more-of-less steady sway develops in movement four. Full stop for a shift into a shiny, intricately interwoven clave groove followed by a bit of cartoonish cacaphony, sardonically coalescing variations and a spacy Mario Doctor percussion solo.

The suite concludes with a contented sunset theme of sorts, Hagans using his mute, fading down and suddenly shifting to a funky, latin-tinged drive, a momentary breakdown and an eventual return to the overlays of the initial movement.

June 24, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One of Brooklyn’s Best Jazz Acts Returns to Playing Live with a Vengeance

One of the first bands at the very front of the pack getting busy on the live circuit again is fronted by the guy who might be the best guitarist in Brooklyn. From the mid to late teens, Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized played a careening, highly improvisational but also wickedly tuneful blend of pastoral jazz and psychedelia, with frequent detours into the noir. Their distinctively drifting live album of Twin Peaks themes is an obscure treasure from the peak era of the Barbes scene. The group survived their bandleader’s brush with death (this was long before any so-called pandemic) and have emerged seemingly more energized than ever. Csatari didn’t let all the downtime during the past fifteen months’ lockdown go to waste: he wrote three albums worth of songs. He calls it the Placebo Trilogy, and it’s streaming at Bandcamp.

Their next show is June 26 at 8 PM at the new San Pedro Inn, 320 Van Brunt St. (corner of Pioneer) in Red Hook. You could take the B61 bus but if you’re up for getting some exercise, take the F to Carroll, get off at the front of the Brooklyn-bound train and walk it. Nobody at this blog has been to the venue yet but it gets high marks from those who have.

All three records are Csatari solo acoustic, often played through a tremolo effect. The first one, Placedo-Niche has a couple of numbers with a distantly Elliott Smith-tinged, hazily bucolic feel, the first steadier, the second more spare and starry. Csatari packs more jaunty flash and enigmatic strum into D’art in less than a minute thirty than most artists can in twice as much time: one suspects that this miniature, like everything else here, was conceived as a stepping-off point for soloing.

Morton Swing is an increasingly modernized take on a charmingly oldtimey melody. And Extra could be a great lost Grateful Dead theme – who cares if this singalong doesn’t have lyrics.

The second record, Placebo-ish begins with Fresh Scrabble, Csatari’s gritty, nebulous chords around a long, catchy, descending blues riff. As it unwinds, he mingles the same kind of finger-crunching chords into a southern soul-tinged pattern, explores a moody Synchronicity-era Police-style anthem, then sends a similarly brooding variation through a funhouse mirror. The most John Fahey-influenced number here is titled Sad-Joy, both emotions on the muted side.

The last album is Placebo-Transcendence. The gentle, summery ambience of the opening track, Valentino, suddenly grows frenetic. Sugar Baby vamps along, warm and hypnotic. The wryly titled Civilized is…well…exactly that: it sounds like Wilco. The funniest song title (Csatari is full of them) is Silicone Transcendence (Tryin’ to Transcend), the closest thing to Twin Peaks here.

There isn’t a jazz guitarist alive who gets as much mileage out of a chord-based approach than Csatari, and there aren’t many people writing tunes as hummable as these in any style of music. Yet they tease the ears at the same time. If you want to learn how to write using implied melody, there isn’t a better place to start than these records.

June 22, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A High-Voltage, Colorful, Historically-Inspired Big Band Jazz Suite From the Wilds of Saskatchewan

At the end of December, 2019, the Saskatchewan All Star Big Band played bandleader and keyboardist Fred Stride’s colorful, cinematic, historically-infused Saskatchewan Suite at the Casino Regina – and had the foresight to record it. It would be the last show they would play for quite awhile…but hopefully not forever. Canada may be locked down in perpetuity – the Chinese commies undoubtedly eying Canada’s vast water resources – but resistance there is growing fierce.

In the meantime, we can enjoy this high-voltage performance, streaming at Spotify. Flickers from Dylan Wiest’s vibraphone, a wash from Miles Foxx Hill’s bass, and ominous lows from the brass kick off the night’s first number, The Place. Tentative brassy steps signal the first human incursions into the prairie. Guitarist Jack Semple’s soaring, Gilmouresque lines and pianist Jon Ballantyne’s subtle flourishes lead the group intrepidly into balmier territory. A dip to fleeting individual voices – local fauna? Indians on the lookout for same? – rises with invigorating but wary swells as Ballantyne plays folksy blues. Alto sax player PJ Perry gets to fuel the cheery, Dixieland-tinged conflagration at the end.

Portentous swells over an insistent, shamanistic beat signal further arrivals in the second movement, The First, the group artfully shifting toward a cabaret-tinged ba-bump beat as the brass and reeds swirl and intertwine. The determined, striding cheer seems satirical, lightly spiced by Semple’s spare slide work, Perry choosing his spots in a solo and a coda that seem to echo the more strenuous side of setting up roots in unfamiliar territory.

Movement three, The Newcomers, begins with Perry’s unexpectedly plaintive lines awash in Ed Minevich and Cam Wilson’s violins and the lustre of the reeds. Ballantyne bounces brightly for a bit and then some; the violins signal a bulked-up Irish reel. The jaunty Celtic theme continues in the fourth movement, The In-Between, Perry leading the charge upward with a series of rhythmic shifts as Stride builds tension.

September 1905, the date of Saskatchewan provincehood, is an eventful time, ablaze with brass and tightly clustering, rhythmic rhythms, Ballantyne’s scampering solo handing off to trombonist Shawn Grocott’s blustery cameo; that little quote at the end is irresistible. The sixth movement, Saskatchesport…hmmm…could that be Ballantyne’s piano flicking the puck into an empty net? This turns out to be a suite within a suite. In the most humorous interlude, trumpeter Dean McNeill’s megawatt articulacy fuels a brightly undulating cheer. There’s also wide-angle atmospherics punctuated by drummer Ted Warren’s tricky two-handed dribbling and Perry spinning down from the clouds as the orchestra punch and dodge behind him.

Thank You, Mr. Douglas – a shout-out to longtime NDP leader and Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas – is a low-key, resonantly ambered ballad, Hill’s bass swooping down and bubbling over Ballantyne’s pensive chords and the orchestra wafting overhead. They wind up the suite with Saskatchejazz, which vigorously debunks the longstanding myth that once you leave New York, the quality of the musicians goes down a notch. Veering from quasi John Philip Sousa, to the early swing era, soulful late-night Ellingtonianisms, jump blues, bossa nova, electric faux-Miles, and what could be Buddy Rich, they cover all the bases.

June 21, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mike Neer’s Brilliant, Imaginative New Album Reinvents Jazz Classics for Lapsteel

Lapsteel player Mike Neer‘s previous album was a reinvention of Thelonious Monk classics. His latest album Keepin’ It Real – streaming at Bandcamp – is an absolutely brilliant, occasionally unsettling mix of material imaginatively arranged for what Neer calls a “faux Hawaiian trio” of steel, bass and ukulele, all of which he plays himself. Recorded during the lockdown, it also features cameos from an allstar cast.

It wouldn’t be overhype to compare the opening number, Duke Ellington’s African Flower, to Big Lazy. Neer’s steady ukulele in the beginning is a red herring: his ominously chromatic steel lead follows a  swinging quasi-bolero beat. It brings to mind a certain Brooklyn psychedelic cumbia band’s take on Erik Satie.

Nica’s Dream, a Horace Silver tune, shifts from hints of bossa nova to a jaunty swing, then clouds pass through the sonic picture, guest vibraphonist Tom Beckham adding a steady, latin-tinged solo over Neer’s uke flurries before he hits a deviously Monk-inflected steel solo.

Neer’s take of McCoy Tyner’s Passion Dance – has a jaunty, bubbling, riff-driven cheer and a series of dazzling, rapidfire Beckham solos. Melodica player Matt King adds a layer floating over Neer’s steel in their amiably pulsing bossa take of Pensativa.

An aptly furtive, stalking take of Stolen Moments features Anton Denner taking tensely bluesy flight on alto flute. West Coast Blues comes across as what could have been a Bob Wills demo, Neer contributing both a terse bass solo and a romping, irrepressible bop steel solo.

Will Bernard guests sparely, incisively, and subtly ferociously on guitar in the allusively modal, vamping Witch Hunt. Accordionist Ron Oswanski kicks off Peace with a lush intro, Neer adding warmly, sparely pastoral melody over a slow, trip-hop-like sway

Fun fact: before Neer became New York’s foremost jazz lapsteel player, he did some time as lead instrumentalist with Hawaiian swing stars the Moonlighters, an influence that obviously stuck.

June 20, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yelena Eckemoff Goes Deep Into the Secret Life of Plants

Pianist Yelena Eckemoff‘s best work is typically her quietest material. Over the years, she’s explored a wide range of sounds, but where she really stands out is with her slow, wintry, often Messiaen-esque tunes. Yet her lavish new double album Adventures of the Wildflower – streaming at Spotify – is her most colorful and arguably best release yet. Stevie Wonder may have beaten her to the concept of the secret life of plants forty years ago, but the music here is as fascinatingly diverse as the floral kingdom itself. And the central flower here, eerily named Columbine, does not fade. Much as these plants send out pollen and fragrance, and even converse, what they do most of the time here, it seems, is battle the elements. This is a LONG album: hang with it and you will be rewarded.

The opening track, The Ground, sets the stage, Jarmo Saari kicking it off with an operatic swell on his theremin, later adding spare, resonant guitar chords over Eckemoff’s steady forward drive, while bassist Antti Lötjönen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori slowly emerge from the shadows. Vibraphonist Panu Savolainen’s starry solo backs away for the band to bring everything full circle, mysteriously.

Germination begins as an icy, deep space-scape, Savolainen’s glimmer signaling a bit of bustling swing before the twinkling chill returns: pushing up through this icy ground is scary. Eckemoff portrays Weeding the Garden as swinging between the baroque, a jaunty, surrealistic shuffle and a darkly bluesy vamp, Saari and eventually the rest of the band taking a wry hands-on approach. Soprano saxophonist Jukka Perko introduces Dog Chasing a Mouse, whose liveliness and humor is laced with phantasmagoria: poor mouse!

Likewise, Rain has a frequently gorgeous bittersweetness, Eckemoff supplying neoromantic crush but also verdant cheer in tandem with Savolainen. The swooping triangulation that opens Home By the Fence is foreshadowing: this homey pastoral scene turns out to be totally Lynchian. Then the band go into carnivalesque mode for Chickens, which is a lot closer to a picture at Moussorgsky’s dead friend’s exhibition than, say, Link Wray.

Is the lingering, fugal counterpoint of Drought a portrait of the garden scheming how to weather a dry spell? If so, desolation and struggle seem to take over. The thundershower that winds up the first half of the record takes awhile to get going, the band romping triumphantly out of the suspense, Perko’s Balkan-tinged solo setting up a roaring guitar-fueled peak.

The second disc opens with the slowly swaying Winter Slumber, Eckemoff’s languid, expansive solo at the center: the interweave between vibes and piano as it brightens is absolutely luscious. Individual voices push upward and begin to bound around in Waking Up in the Spring, a subtle jazz waltz.

Interestingly, there’s an elegaic quality to the baroque interplay of Buds and Flowers: it’s the album’s most conflictedly captivating track. The inner soul ballad in Butterflies, piano paired once again with the vibes, could be the album’s most unselfconsciously lyrical moment, the theremin adding a surreal touch.

Gently rhythmic belltone piano and vibes holding the bouncy Hummingbirds together, with echoes of pastoral Pink Floyd. The wistful, Russian folk-tinged waltz Children Playing with Seed Pods could be called Milkweed at a Funeral, at least until Perko pulls the song into cheerier territory. The scene where Columbine finally goes the way of all garden plants has a stately, bolero-ish sway and encroaching echoes of the macabre from both guitar and vibes, assembled around an energetic polyrhythmic interlude.

But all hope is not lost. Another Winter is the most echoey, improvisational segment here, Perko leading the sprouts up from hibernation. In the end there are Baby Columbines, and undulating wee-hours contentment from the band to match.

As a bonus, Eckemoff includes a charmingly hand-drawn 33-page fable in the cd booklet, further illustrating Columbine’s arduous tale of struggle and renewal. That we should all be so tenacious at this pivotal moment in history.

June 18, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment