Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ayumi Ishito Brings an Adventurous, Outside-the-Box Trio to Chinatown

Even in communities that support the arts, jazz musicians often get pushed to the fringes. The last two years’ insanity in New York has exponentially increased that marginalization for artists in general. Tenor saxophonist Ayumi Ishito has been one of the more resourceful players in town: she was one of the first to resume performing during the brief window of opportunity in the summer of 2021, and she’s maintained a steady schedule in recent months playing a lot of out-of-the-way venues as restrictions have been dropped. Her next gig dovetails with both her adventurous improvisational sensibility and her most recent album as a leader. She’s opening a twinbill on April 26 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery with soundscaper Damien Olson and Nebula and the Velvet Queen on theremin. They’re followed by a second trio with Aaron Edgcomb on percussion, Priya Carlberg on vocals and David Leon on sax. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation.

Ayumi Ishito & the Spacemen Vol. 1 is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s her most experimentally ambitious release to date, a mix of trippy electroacoustic pieces featuring Theo Woodward on keys and vocals, Nebula and the Velvet Queen on theremin. Jake Strauss doubling on guitar and bass and Steven Bartashev on drums.

Squiggles quickly give way to a collective shimmer and fragmentary acoustic and electric guitar riffs as the first number, Looking Through Ice drifts along, Woodward adding Indian inflections with his vocalese. Beyond the guitar and vocals, it’s hard to distinguish the rest of the instruments – Ishito using her pedalboard here – until Strauss introduces a gently swaying, Grateful Dead-like theme and Bartashev picks up the clave with his echoey tumbles.

Shifting sheets, dopplers and warpy textures drift through the mix in the second track, Hum Infinite. Strauss finds a center and builds around it, on bass; Ishito’s wry, dry bursts evoke a EWI. The group slowly reach toward an organ soul tune, then back away as Ishito emerges acerbically from behind the liquid crystal sheen.

Track three, Misspoke is irresistibly funny, Ishito and Woodward chewing the scenery, impersonating instruments real and imagined. Strauss’ blippy bass and Bartashev’s tightly staggered drumming propel Folly to the Fullest to tongue-in-cheek hints of a boudoir soul tune, Ishito floating overhead,

Night Chant is an entertaining contrast in starry, woozy electronic textures and goofy wah-wah phrasing from Ishito: stoner electro-jazz as fully concretized as it gets. The final cut, Constellation Ceiling, is a launching pad for Ishito’s most amusing indulgences with the wah,, eventually coalescing into a bit of a triumphant strut, We need more unserious improvisational music like this.

April 24, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Satoko Fujii and Joe Fonda Defy Logic and Lockdowns to Keep Their Magical Duo Project Alive

Pretty much every musician alive grew up playing along to their favorite records. What if you could not only play along with one, but be on it too?

That happened to bassist Joe Fonda. It helps that he was in the band.

Before the lockdown, Fonda and pianist Satoko Fujii released three frequently mesmerizing live albums, all of them longscale improvisations. While distance and political insanity have kept the duo separated since, they stayed in touch over email, no doubt hoping to pick up where they’d left off months ago. In the meantime, Fujii has maintained her herculean recording schedule with a series of solo albums and online collaborations, most of which reflect the otherworldly, often mystical sensibility she has come to embrace in the last few years.

Fonda heard her solo record Step on Thin Ice at her Bandcamp page and had an epiphany: why not record a bass part and then release that as a duo album? Fujii thought it was a great idea. The new album – which isn’t online yet – has new track names and is resequenced: it’s a fascinating companion piece and incredibly inspiring for bassists who think outside the box.

One of the reasons why it works so well is that Fujii left a lot of space in the original. That’s reflected right from the first track, Kochi, where Fonda resumes the anchoring role he typically filled on the duo’s other recordings, finding crevasses to insert spring-loaded riffs, sometimes shadowing Fujii’s stern, icily gleaming chords and judicious ripples.

In Fallen Leaves Dance, Fonda reinforces Fujii’s quasi Mission Impossible lefthand, providing a supple tether when she spirals off course. He takes a more prominent role with his supple accents in Reflection, in contrast to Fujii’s vast, somberly echoing expanses and muted inside-the-piano work. Then the two reverse roles: little did they know that would happen!.

The tight, scrambling interweave of Anticipating – a coyly accurate description of Fujii’s architectural thinking – comes across as Monk and, say, Henry Grimes methodically driving a George Russell tune up and eventually off the rails. Fonda’s solo contribution is My Song, a catchy, upbeat pop-flavored riff and animated variations

Fonda has sotto-voce, flurrying fun in between Fujii’s torrential, lightning flurries in Sekirei. Is that Fonda on wood flute in Wind Sound, a mysterious extended-technique sound painting? Yup. It’s the last thing you would expect, a verdant transformation of the original.

It’s hard to figure out if or where Fonda appears in Winter Sunshine, a tantalizingly gorgeous, brief variation on Fujii’s lefthand figures in the second track here. His squirrelly textures and keening harmonics add a completely different, playful contrast to Fujiii’s icily starry, hypnotically circling figures in Haru. The closing track, Between Blue Sky and Cold Water has gritty, windswept textures, somber lingering exchanges amid lots of space, and some unexpected levity: it’s Fonda’s recorded debut on cello.

Under ordinary circumstances, adding bass or drums to an album on top of other tracks is pretty crazy, but it’s literally impossible to tell that this wasn’t done together in the studio unless you know the backstory: desperate times, desperate measures. For the moment, Fujii has resumed playing in her native Japan. Fonda’s next New York gig is on a particularly interesting, improvisationally-inclined twinbill on April 19 at 6:30 PM at Downtown Music Gallery, where he opens the night at 6:30 PM in a trio with trumpeter Thomas Heberer and drummer Joe Hertenstein. The 7:30 PM quartet of singers Joan Sue and Isabel Crespo with bassists Nick Dunston and Henry Fraser is also intriguing.

April 14, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Change of Pace For the Perennially Interesting Daniel Carter

Daniel Carter is revered for his ability to walk into an improvised situation and invariably find a way to say something memorable with just a few notes. In recent years, his studio work has followed slow, thoughtful, conversational trajectories. His latest project Open Question’s initial album – which is mostly up at Bandcamp – is a change of pace, a largely midtempo improvised swing record. Carter pulls out most of his instrument collection here, playing clarinet, soprano, alto and tenor sax as well as trumpet and flute. Joining him in the repartee are Ayumi Ishito on tenor sax, Eric Plaks on piano and Wurlitzer, Zach Swanson on bass and Jon Panikkar on drums. For whatever reason, maybe the zeitgeist, this is a surprisingly dark record in places.

The first number is simply titled Blues, a (relatively) straightforward swing tune in a spontaneous late 70s Sam Rivers vein. Carter opens it with a moody, liquid clarinet line, the band pulsing along steadily, Ishito leading a series of waves with Carter following, Plaks pushing toward a more emphatic swing, deviating to a more murky atmosphere beneath Ishito’s balmy ambience while Carter switches to jaunty soprano. There’s a chromatically charged intertwine between the horns midway through, slightly altered parallel universes of quasi-blues, calm tremolos falling away for a fluttery, agitated coda.

Fragmented pieces of a forlorn ballad flit through the aptly titled Dimly-Lit Platform like the ghosts of homeless New Yorkers waiting in sleep-deprived limbo for the shelter of a late-night train. Carter pitches a few ideas on flute; the rest of the band follow in turn as Panikkar and Swanson coalesce to a subdued swing.

The big twenty-minute epic here is Confidential BBQ – it’s a fair bet that there have been more than a few in this city since March of 2020. Carter, on flute, stokes the grill calmly as the rest of the band chatter and echo in anticipation, Plaks’ piano holding the center. Carter chooses his spot to fire off a bracing motive, the group supplying muted clusters behind Ishito’s misty, reflective lines, which Carter picks up with his trumpet. Swanson latches onto a catchy, loopy riff to expand beyond; Ishito takes a vividly desolate solo break, joined by Plaks’ spare Wurly. From there the band explore a long, icily futuristic, dynamically shifting, Bob Belden-esque scenario.

The group return to a rather wistful swing with the final number, Synchronicity, which sounds nothing like the song by the Police. Carter opens it broodingly on soprano, then switches to tenor for a reflective conversation with Ishito, Plaks raising the energy with judicious rumble and punch. There’s some squall but sagacity as the group bring the wary energy full circle.

Carter turns up at so many gatherings of creative musicians that it’s impossible to keep track of him. And Ishito is part of an especially intriguing lineup at Downtown Music Gallery tomorrow evening, March 29 at 6:30 PM with ambient soundscaper Damien Olson and Nebula the Velvet Queen on theremin.

March 28, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Josh Sinton Is Your Private Busker

Josh Sinton made his new solo baritone sax album b – streaming at Bandcamp – in two days. As he tells it, it took him thirty years to figure out how to do it. And that includes playing plenty of solo shows, including a volcanic electroacoustic gig on contrabass clarinet at Issue Project Room in the spring of 2019 where it actually seemed that he might pass out, pushing the sound to the limits of what a pair of lungs and a bunch of pedals can create.

While that was a pretty harrowing performance, the new album is 180 degrees from that. Low-register instruments have seemingly unlimited potential for jokes, and this album is full of them: no spoilers! This is closer to the archetype of the solo busker with his back to a brick wall, in the wee hours somewhere in Manhattan. Yet it’s hardly forlorn. The music is playful, thoughtful and irresistibly funny in places.

Sinton takes his time: he’s hardly in a hurry to fill up the sonic picture. In the opening number, he follows a jaunty leap with a chromatic turnaround and rhythmic accents, an exercise in staccato and more than a few jokes.

Space plays a big part in the second improvisation, Sinton creating an unselfconsciously wry sense of suspense. As the album goes along, there are stretches of ballads and a fleeting gospel tune. We get all kinds of extended technique: trills, duotones, reed rattles, ridiculously peevish microtones and more, all juxtaposed with catchy riffs, long sustained tones and echo phrases that can be carefree, or snide. This isn’t about sizzling chops – although those are obvious here. This is about having fun, without falling back on cliches or practice patterns. When listening to this, you may want to resequence the tracks and put the goofy fifth one at the very end: again, no spoilers.

Perhaps tellingly, Sinton has a quartet album scheduled for this October, amplifying his musical vision of the world “where all people help all people to be free of fear, free to be themselves, free to love and free from advertising.” How cool is that?

February 22, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Immersively Rippling Magic From Satoko Fujii and Taiko Saito’s Futari

As marimba player Taiko Saito tells it, pianist Satoko Fujii is the Shohei Ohtani of jazz: a fearsome hitter who is just as formidable on the pitching mound. As the duo Futari, the two musicians put out a magically spacious album, Beyond, last year. Because neither has been able to visit the other due to totalitarian restrictions, they decided to pitch files to each other over the web and then bat them back. They had so much fun doing it that they decided to release these pieces as a follow-up album, Underground, streaming at Bandcamp.

Fujii has always had an otherworldly, mystical side, and she’s gone into that more deeply than ever in the past few years, notably on her rapturous Piano Music album from last year. The title track here continues in that vein, with glissandos, puffy nebulous phrases and ominous drifts beneath a keening drone, Is that bowed marimba, or Fujii under the piano lid? It’s hard to tell. Another layer of mystery, when it comes to who’s playing what, is Fujii’s cut-and-paste vocalese (she also mixed the record).

The album’s second track, Break in the Clouds has puckish accents – Fujii’s prepared piano? – sprinkled throughout Saito’s slow, tremoloing washes of bowed vibraphone. Piano and vibes are distinct in Meerenspiegel, Saito creating a rapt pebbles-in-a-lake atmosphere over Fujii’s stern, emphatic chords and stately cadences. That carefree/serious dichotomy persists throughout most of the record.

Some people will hear the intro to Air and expect to hear Keith Richards’ modal bass riff introducing the Stones’ 2000 Light Years From Home. Instead, what sounds like backward masking gives way to spare, playful pings and bits of melody interspersed with more disquieting textures, then a slow, brightly unfolding melody.

In Frost Stirring, Fujii is grumpy Old Man Winter to Saito’s spring sprite – or Messiaen to Saito’s Joe Locke on the Twin Peaks movie soundtrack. The duo follow the most atmospheric track here, Memory or Illusion with Finite or Infinite, eight minutes of pinging, rhythmically shifting Terry Riley-ish loopmusic.

In Ayasake, after an amusing nightly news theme of sorts, Fujii builds an ominous undercurrent beneath Saito’s resolute blitheness. Saito responds to Fujii’s somber bell-like accents and surreal inside-the-piano swipes with a sepulchral sustain throughout the closing number, Street Ramp, the most striking piece on the album. There’s also a redemptively amusing bonus track, One Note Techno Punks

February 15, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Four Vast, Unhurried, Profoundly Relevant Minimalist Symphonies From Wadada Leo Smith

Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith‘s music exists in a universe of due process for important ideas. In the past couple of decades, he’s focused on vast expanses: Great Lakes, decades of history and eternal philosophical questions. He explores them as if time stands still: everything is considered, judiciously, with plenty of room for individual contributions from a cast of like-minded improvisers. One of his most epic recent projects – his music may be on the slow side, but he works very fast – is the box set of his four Chicago Symphonies, They’re major works in a career full of them. He’s named them for precious metals and stones: in order, Gold. Diamond, Pearl and Sapphire (click each title for Spotify streams).

Smith was one of the prime movers of the AACM movement in the 60s, and he salutes many of the important figures from that era here throughout the first three symphonies. The fourth, dedicated to Presidents Lincoln and Obama, is the most upbeat and invites some controversy (full disclosure: this blog’s owner voted for Obama twice and is now considering how serious a mistake that might have been).

Smith cites Don Cherry’s landmark 1966 Symphony For Improvisers as a precursor. Each symphony features his Great Lakes Quartet: the first three including Henry Threadgill on alto sax and flutes alongside bassist John Lindberg and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Jonathon Haffner takes over the sax chair on alto and soprano on the final symphony. All of this is profound, unhurried, conversational music.

Although each symphony is a stand-alone work, the four share many consistent tropes. Smith and Threadgill frequently exchange resonant, tectonic sheets of sound rather than riff battles. Lindberg’s bass work is exquisite: for those who love low-register sonics. this melodic feast lasts for literally hours, through sepulchral, shivery cello-like lines, insistent, rhythmic hooks and variations, to looming chords. The muted mystery in the second movement of Symphony No. 2 and stark oldtime gospel allusions in the fourth movement of Symphony No. 3 are among the many, many highlights here.

Haffner is a good choice of foil for Smith throughout Symphony No. 4. As the Obama campaign becomes an unstoppable machine, his energetic flurries are the closest thing to straight-ahead postbop soloing here, and seem to drive Smith to some of his most high-voltage work in recent memory.

Likewise, DeJohnette’s sparkle, flash, mist and frequent rumble here are as purposeful as his steady forward drive is distinctive. There’s nobody who tunes his kit quite like he does, resulting in both an extra layer of melody, as well as colorful evocations of Asian temple mystery in Symphony No. 1 and a frequent devious employment of hardware and rattles, as if to say, “Let’s not get too full of ourselves.”

Threadgill seems to be in a particularly good mood here on alto sax, his gentle, often tender lines that once in awhile veering completely off course into surreal microtones or flickers of other extended technique. His flute is generally limited to wafting long-tone phrases.

For Smith, this is one of his most dynamic releases in recent years, and there are a handful of irresistibly funny quotes (one which he loops over and over) and a couple of unexpected wack-a-mole moments with Threadgill. Whether soberly constructing a valley of kings with immutable boulders of sound, alluding to or full-on embracing the deep blues which remains at the root of his entire career, or firing off rambunctiously optimistic flurries as he does repeatedly in Symphony No. 4, he’s at the top of his game. It’s astonishing that he’s now in his eighties and if anything, more vital than ever.

Whether creating Twin Peaks blues in the opening movement of Symphony No. 2, expanding on what seems to be a cynical O’Jays reference in the second movement of Symphony No. 1 or the dichotomy between Smith’s variations on a popular, celebratory theme and Lindberg’s obsidian chordal solo in the fourth movement of Symphony No, 3, this is a classic example of what four hall of famers can conjure when left to their own devices. Or enough for a close listener to come up with two pages of notes in ten-point type. Rather than making it an all-night listening party, you will enjoy these best at a leisurely pace across a few evenings.

January 26, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Electrifying Album by Two of the Most Distinctive Players in Jazz

Soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom is the rare improviser who can pull a complete song out of thin air. As one of the world’s most electrifying and distinctive drummers, Allison Miller always has a gig – even when live music is criminalized. Together the two conjure up one of the year’s most entertaining albums, Tues Days, streaming at Bandcamp. The sound is much fuller than you would expect from just two instruments. Hubristic as this is to say, the absence of a bass isn’t an issue (although this is a great album to play along to on just about any instrument). Most of these numbers are completely improvised, although Bloom brings along a handful of her compositions. It’s full of humor, and depth, and inspiring interplay.

Miller begins with romping rudiments, then some flurries and her signature color from every surface on the kit as Bloom plays a jaunty, bouncy theme followed by some wry quotes in the album’s title track. She launches into cheery latin phrasing as Miller ranges from New Orleans to Wipeout rumbles in the second number, Technicolor.

Bloom’s spacious, desolate phrasing over Miller’s understatedly funky drive in Rowing in the Dark is one of the album’s most gripping interludes. This Is It is Bloom at her playful, deviously entertaining best, choosing her spots and airing out her riffbag as Miller holds the center with an effortlessly churning drive.

The two play hide-and-seek in a Shinto temple in Five Bells, one of the funniest and most evocative tunes here. The most expansive, subtly conversational improvisation here, The Wild Frontier pairs Bloom’s airy, pensive sustain with Miller’s restless rustling. Miller’s bottomless toybox of textures finally lures Bloom spiraling out of the clouds.

Bloom wafts in with some of her most subtly vivid, wistful playing in Light Years Away, with a similar dynamic between the two musicians, although this time Miller is more minimalistically steady. A & J’s Test Kitchen – which is what this album is, essentially – is a more lively study in spacious sax versus busier drums. The ending is pricelessly funny.

There’s some Mexican jumping beans, some sagacious retro balladry and also a lot of carnaval in Crayola. The album’s final two tracks are Bloom compositions. Maybe ironically, On Seeing JP is where drums and sax diverge most widely, Bloom’s alternately spare and amiable splashes over Miller’s clever implied swing. The two close with Walk Alone, Bloom spare and guardedly hopeful while Miller whispers with her hardware and rims.

December 14, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Surreal, Individualistic Music For Sitar and Bass From the Travis Duo

Just the idea of a bass-and-sitar duo is enticing. The two players in the Travis Duo. ubiquitous bassist Trevor Dunn and sitarist Jarvis Earnshaw, join with some first-class special guests who make colorful contributions to their utterly surreal new album Hypnagogia, streaming at Bandcamp. It seems completely improvised, it’s often invitingly enveloping and psychedelic to the nth degree.

Much of the music is akin to a palimpsest painted wet: the undercoats bleed through, sometimes when least expected. To open the album, Dunn’s wryly warping, bowed lines linger below the judicious, warmly spare sitar lines, then the bassist adds more emphatic layers and dissociative loops. The sparse/busy dichotomy is a recurrent trope throughout the album. Earnshaw’s big payoff – a false ending of sorts – is worth the wait.

Daniel Carter and Devin Brahja Waldman’s saxes waft in to introduce the second track, FAQ, then there’s a steel pan-like xylophone line, Earnshaw a distant gleam behind the gently percolating upper-register textures. Dunn punctures the bubbles and joins with guest drummer Niko Wood to introduce a pulse as the sitar grows more prominent, then recedes.

Orchid Hoodwink has Earnshaw’s stream-of-consciousness vocals over a mingled web of sitar, xylophone and metal percussion. Is there a sense of betrayal in Fair Weather Friend? It doesn’t seem so; the washes of bass beneath the resonance of the sitar and Earnshaw’s earnest tenor vocals give the song a warmly rustic feel.

Carter floats in on flute over the hypnotic, sustained textural contrasts of Hitherto. He brings an unhurried, exploratory vibe on sax over increasingly bracing chaos in Uncanny Valley…and then gets pulled into the vortex. Meanwhile, Dunn is having tongue-in-cheek fun at the bottom of a waterslide.

The closest thing to a raga here, and the most contiguous piece, is Folie a Deux, Dunn bowing astringent harmonics and then taking over a very minimalist tabla role as Earnshaw chooses his spots. It’s very Brooklyn Raga Massive, and quite beautiful. There’s also a bonus track, Lollop, which could be a Sanskrit pun. Xylophone and sitar ripple and ping, the horns hover and flutter while Dunn pulses tersely in the midrange. The keening overtones emanating from the bass strings as the group wind out slowly are the icing on this strange and beguiling sonic cake.

December 10, 2021 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magically Diverse Solo Harp Improvisations From Jacqueline Kerrod

Jacqueline Kerrod was Robert Paterson’s not-so-secret weapon on his lusciously noir album Star Crossing, and also his contrastingly sparkling Book of Goddesses. But she’s probably better known for her time as the New York City Opera’s principal harpist…and for playing with a rapper who, if his improbable Presidential run had vaulted him into the Oval Office, would be a more lucid presence than what we have at the present moment.

Yet Kerrod’s arguably most foundational collaboration was with Anthony Braxton. Inspired by touring as a duo with the Tri-Centric icon, she made the best of 2020 lockdown time and recorded an often mesmerizing album of solo improvisations, 17 Days in December. streaming at Bandcamp. It’s unlike any other harp record you will ever hear. Jazz harpists are an individualistic bunch to begin with: Zeena Parkins, with her blend of acerbity and atmosphere; Alice Coltrane and her melodic rapture; Dorothy Ashby, who shifted the paradigm by employing everything but harp voicings, and to an extent, Brandee Younger following in her wake. Kerrod is a welcome member of that rare, celestial body.

The chilling, menacing opening tableau, titled Trill to Begin, no doubt reflects the dire circumstances under which Kerrod made it, almost exactly a year ago. It’s a series of eerie modal phrases against a tremolo-picked pedal note, punctuated by low funereal bell accents and otherworldly close harmonies. What a way to kick off the project!

The squiggly web she builds on her electric harp on the second track is 180 degrees from that. She returns to ominous portents, but more spaciously, in a short piece she calls Gentle Jangle. Jazz guitar-like voicings give way to disquietly circling phrases and icy deep-sky sparkle in An Impression, then Kerrod breaks out her electric harp again for the woozily skronky Sugar Up.

Likewise, Glare is a sunbaked, resonant piece that could be mistaken for an ebow guitar soundscape. After that, she assembles an echoey lattice that brings to mind Robert Fripp’s early 80s work. Kerrod employs a glass bowl to enhance the shimmering, steel pan-like microtones in Glassy Fingers. then takes it toward vortical Pink Floyd gloom.

Next, she coalesces toward a warped music-box theme, following with Fluttering Alberti, where she works a hypnotic/spiky dichotomy. Can-Can is not a latin number but a return to steady, sinister mode. In the album’s longest improvisation, Kerrod sprinkles spare incisions over a gritty low drone which she plays with a bow.

The album’s concluding tracks range from playful electronics, to a ghostly National Steel guitar-like miniature, a gently insistent, Debussy-esque interlude and a cheerily ornamented electric harp finale.

December 3, 2021 Posted by | experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Edgy, Highly Improvised Masterpiece From Gordon Grdina

Gordon Grdina is the rare jazz guitarist who plays a lot of notes, yet manages to find a way not to waste them. His music has always been more about mood and narrative than merely a display of gritty chops on guitar and oud, both of which are scary-good. Since the late teens, he’s been on a wild creative tear, which does not seem to have been adversely affected by the lockdown. He got a solo album out of it, and now also has a richly textured, edgily conversational new quartet record, Klotski, just out and streaming at Bandcamp.

Grdina calls the band Square Peg. Violist Mat Maneri and bassist Shahzad Ismaily play with their typical purpose, choosing their spots. Christian Lillinger is just as much colorist as timekeeper behind the drum kit. The album is a highly improvisational uninterrupted suite of variations on cell-based melodies. The camaraderie is high spirited, matched by a meticulous focus: jazz improvisation is seldom this outright tuneful.

Resolutely unresolved viola wafts around over Lillinger’s rustles on his hardware to introduce the album’s opening number, Impending Discomfort. Then Grdina’s guitar angles in, sparely. Maneri wryly responds in kind to Grdina’s slide licks; a steady, brisk stroll develops, Ismaily playing suspenseful, terse polyrhythms. The fireplace tableau that results pits Maneri’s yellow flames over Grdina’s deep-ember sputter.

Grdina calls the next part Escherian, Maneri in contrast to Lillinger’s black reflecting pool, Grdina running loops beneath Ismaily’s smoky ambience. The Halloweenish drollery the quartet link arms and eventually stroll into is irresistibly funny, especially when you hear where they go with it. A little obvious, maybe, but the fun these guys are having is visceral.

Maneri and Grdina have additional fun exchanging volume knob-style washes over Lillinger’s flutters and Ismaily’s wise, steady, sparse pulse in Bacchic Barge, before the bandleader takes centerstage with a solo that’s more Juno on the prowl than Bacchus falling off the boat. His matter-of-fact contentedness as he switches to oud contrasts with the unexpected wrath Maneri and Ismaily pull from the shadows.

Pitchblende bass, bucolic viola, scrambling oud and rises and falls from the drums permeate Sulfur City, up to a snarling march that Ismaily eventually colors with blippy, harmonium-like synth, finally luring Grdina into the brambles.

The quartet work sagaciously expansive chords out of a simple, well-used blues riff as they move methodically through Kaleidoscope, Maneri’s giddyup phrases and shivery harmonics balanced by a contiguous attack that his bandmates rise and pull away from. A bit of a sepulchral surprise sets up the lively, bubbling segue into Microbian Theory, once again developing out of a familiar minor-key blues lick. The descent into plaintive washes afterward might be the album’s most offhandedly gripping interlude.

Murk and vampy acidity interchange in Sore Spot, a catchy, tolling metal anthem in spiky disguise. Lillinger fuels the suite’s coda, Joy Ride, with a tricky quasi-Balkan circle dance groove, Ismaily’s hypnotic riffage anchoring the bandleader’s increasingly volatile, blues-infused meteor shower. It ends unresolved.

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