Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Devious, Witty, Swinging Tunefulness from the Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet

The Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet’s album The Sound of a Broken Reed is a quintessentially New York creation. With its edgy humor and intelligence, it’s steeped in history but just as irreverent, pretty much what you would expect from a bunch of longtime downtown types jazzing up Debussy, Piazzolla and Led Zep. Yet as entertaining and amusing as the covers here are, it’s bandleader Charley Gerard’s compositions that stand out the most. As you may have guessed, the album title is sarcastic: the charts are lustrous, the ensemble plays seamlessly and the songs swing just as hard as they would if there were bass and drums on them. The only other instrument besides the saxes (Gerard on alto, Jenny Hill primarily on soprano, Chris Bacas mostly on tenor and Alden Banta on baritone) is Carl Banner’s elegant piano on the first two suites. Most of the album, as well as a considerable amount of equally intriguing, more recent material, is streaming at the group’s Soundcloud page.

The opening diptych is Gerard’s Quintet for Carl and Saxes, Banner’s third-stream lyricism followed by lush four-part harmonies that grow to a majestic waltz. The second part is a wry series of interwoven miniatures that’s basically a non-linear history of jazz: ragtime, lounge, a little noir amd sumptuous big band swing, capped off by a genial soprano solo by Bacas.

The second suite is Dick Hyman’s droll Novelties for Piano and Sax Quartet: jaunty ragtime, a couple of lively staccato strolls and a comedic polka/ragtime hybrid. They follow that with Gerard’s Quartet No. 3, bookending a pensive exchange of voices led by Banta with variations on a theme that very artfully coalesces out of lively, dancing counterpoint.

The Led Zep comes after that. Humor-wise, it’s a lot like the Threeds Oboe Trio’s take on the Doors or Michael Jackson, equal parts spoof and opportunity to have fun with taking old themes to new places. Whole Lotta Love and an unexpectedly anxious, rather radical remake of Dazed and Confused are barely recognizable until halfway through, while miniature versions of Heartbreaker and Kashmir are as irresistibly over the top as you could possibly want. Living Loving Maid falls somewhere in between.

Tom Olin takes over for Bacas on tenor (with Hill playing soprano, as she does with a judicious elan on most of the tracks) on three Gerard remakes of Summer, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The first has a balmy Miles Ahead vibe and adheres closest to the baroque, the second a lively, bluesy exchange of voices, the third a mashup with Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay, done as a clave tune

Bacas moves back to his usual tenor, Olin to soprano for his arrangement of Debussy’s Syrinx for Solo Flute, fleshed out with a nod to Gil Evans, weaving the pensive melody through the whole ensemble. Gerard’s medley of popular Cuban melodies (De Cuba Para La Habana, Guantanamera, Bilonto and El Manicero) bops along with a sunny pulse, followed by Hill’s pensively airy, understatedly majestic waltz arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Chiquilín de Bachín. It’s a rare blend of edgy fun and razor-sharp chops.

For anyone who might take exception to giving this much ink to an album that came out in 2009, that’s old thinking. Exciting as the past year has been, if the only music we listened to was brand-new, nobody would have heard of Coltrane or Mingus.

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January 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Soulful Mary Lou Williams Tribute from Virginia Mayhew

This blog doesn’t spend much time in the past these days: if you’re just getting into jazz and discovering the classics for the first time, there are plenty of places to do that and this isn’t usually one of them. For that reason, coverage of recordings here typically focuses on original material by artists who are usually if not always flying a little under the radar. But every so often an album appears that offers a fresh take on older sounds. Tenor saxophonist Virginia Mayhew’s recent quartet album, Mary Lou Williams – The Next 100 Years is a delightful example.

For starters, just the idea of doing a Williams homage without piano is intriguing. But maybe it’s just as well – it saves some piano player from cruel comparisons. This album also gives guitarist Ed Cherry – who explores a whole ‘nother side on his jaunty new B3 record, It’s All Good – a chance to go deep into moody blues. Williams’ long career spanned from the hot jazz era of the 20s to the avant garde of the 70s; like Williams, Mayhew is comfortable in diverse milieus from inside to out. Rounding out the group here are bassist Harvie S and drummer Andy Watson, plus contributions from Wycliffe Gordon on trombone.

The songs here are often disarmingly beautiful: Williams had a rare command of the blues and a laserlike, uncluttered sense of melody, which the band grasps impressively. They take their time getting into J.B.’s Waltz – one of a number of jazz waltzes here – and work there way up to an absolutely gorgeous, chordally-infused Cherry solo. Medi II follows a moody chromatic trajectory to some wry, almost vaudevillian fun from the rhythm section. By contrast, Medi I, a 1973 piece alternately titled Searching for Love is a nonchalantly intense soul/blues tune – it sounds a lot like Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue – dark stuff lit up with vivid and spacious Mayhew and Cherry solos.

The 1954 tune O.W., inspired by Don Byas, swings a minor blues with incisive, staccato work from bass, sax and guitar in turn, followed by the richly suspenseful Cancer, from Williams’ 1945 Zodiac Suite, twelve minutes of judicious chromatic intensity and a fleet-footed, terse Mayhew solo. What’s Your Story Morning Glory – the original version of the standard Black Coffee, for which Williams was never credited -sounds here like it’s the prototype for One for My Baby. Mayhew does this as a story for two voices, first wistful in the wee hours with the sax and guitar and ending by contrasting against Gordon’s completely unexpected, comedic lines.

NME – short for New Musical Express – draws inspiration from Byas and also the Ellington band, a vividly flurrying swing tune. The last of the Williams numbers is Waltz Boogie, one of her catchiest. Mayhew also includes two inspired originals. The first is the nebulously Monk-ish One for Mary Lou, which the saxophonist builds to an allusive triumph – to swing it would be too obvious. The album closes with the warmly bluesy, relaxed 5 For Mary Lou. Beyond what they offer musically, albums like this serve other purposes – they make you want to revisit the originals as well as to go deeper into the works of a bandleader who completely gets what this music is all about: soul.

Mayhew is also featured on another soulful recent revisitation of vintage material, the Duke Ellington Legacy’s Single Petal of a Rose.

November 12, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Harry Carney, Look What You Spawned

Similar to the Microscopic Septet’s take on Monk, arrangement-wise if not necessarily in spirit, the Mark Masters Ensemble puts baritone maestro Gary Smulyan out in front as part of a sax quintet plus rhythm section on their recent Capri release, Ellington Saxophone Encounters. The obvious question is why bother? Comparisons to the originals, some iconic, some lesser-known, will inevitably surface – a drive back to Manhattan from a New Jersey studio fairly proximate to where some of these tunes were first recorded, with Midnight at Minton’s blasting all the way, was probably not the optimum way to set up a spin of this album. But these songs are great fun, the band bringing a terse, businesslike approach to Masters’ new charts as well as to individual solos.

Alongside Smulyan – a hard bop guy all the way, but also a first-rate bluesman, as he reminds here – there’s Gary Foster and Pete Christlieb on tenors, Gene Cipriano and Don Shelton on altos, Bill Cunliffe on piano, Tom Warrington on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums. To be precise, there are only three tracks here by the Duke himself, though most of them are associated with the Ellington band. Esquire Swank is the first tune, which interestingly does remind somewhat of the Micros, a distantly moody, proto-Monk swing number that Smulyan gets gritty with immediately. The jump blues benefit the most from Masters’ approach, notably Johnny Hodges’ Lawrence Brown Blues, with its purist Cunliffe and Shelton solos. Jimmy Hamilton’s Get Ready also features some tasty pairing off between individual voices and the ensemble. Rockin’ in Rhythm is ablaze in goodnatured jousting and swirling, more than alluding to its dixieland roots. And the best of all of the tracks here might be Jeep’s Blues, matter-of-factly swinging through the classic Ellington combination of magisterial classical, bright ragtime and deep blues elements.

The straight-up swing stuff – Paul Gonsalves’ The Line Up and The Happening, as well as an artfully crescendoing take of Hamilton’s Ultra Blue – typically follows a sequence of lively solos. The ballads offer even more of a platform for this, whether wry or wistful. Smulyan gets vividly nostalgic on Carney’s We’re In Love Again, while Christlieb’s understated pensiveness carries Ben Webster’s Love’s Away. Then the band reaches the top of the arc on Hodges’ Peaches, Shelton to Cipriani to Christlieb for an increasingly high-voltage triple play. Fans of Ellingtonia won’t be disappointed; the Duke himself would no doubt approve.

November 7, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vivid Hooks in Tricky Tempos from Jason Robinson

Too many albums sound like OK, We Have to Make a Record. You can hear the tension in the takes…or the musicians phoning it in because they haven’t had time to get the songs in their fingers, or develop a chemistry with the rest of the band. Then there are albums like tenor saxophonist Jason Robinson’s new Tyresian Symmetry – recently out from Cuneiform – that have the chemistry and repartee of a good live gig. If the idea of clever improvisation on catchy tunes in 7 meter appeals to you, this is your album.

The obvious inspiration for this band is Henry Threadgill’s Very Very Circus. Marcus Rojas and Bill Lowe (who also plays bass trombone) man the twin tubas, a mighty low end to bolster Drew Gress’ fat bass. The twin trap kits are handled by George Schuller and Ches Smith, a configuration that makes even more sense considering that Robinson is a longtime member of esteemed third-wave roots reggae band Groundation. Liberty Ellman plays guitar; JD Parran contributes his usual multi-reeds, along with Marty Ehrlich on saxes and clarinet.

A bubbling imtroductory tuba conversation, an artfully crescendoing Gress solo and exchanges between reeds and low brass light up the opening cut, Stratum 3. The eleven-minute title track has the catchiness of a straight-up funk song, albeit one in 7/2, individual territories marked by Ehrlich melismatics, Ellman austerity and alternately blippy and screaming Robinson solos. Likewise, Radiate starts out pretty straight-up with a wary Ehrlich melody over tuba harmonies and then sandwiches a long, chirping, squalling Parran bass clarinet solo in the middle of noir funk before Ellman pushes unexpectedly into bluesmetal terrain.

A showcase for memorable lows from Lowe and then Gress, Saros works a semi-circular Ethiopiques groove, Ehrlich playfully needling Robinson as the tenor pulls tensely against the center. A mini-suite, Elbow Grease builds from an expansively clustering solo Robinson intro, to tricky swing and then a densely intertwining yet surprisingly elegant thicket of reeds. Similarly, Corduroy packs a lot into less than seven minutes: low/high ensemble dichotomies, a richly developed Ellman solo that goes from twinkling to allusively lush, hints of apprehension as the low brass rises, and then Lowe flips the script and introduces some wry relief with muted bass trombone. The album ends with a rousing, soaring big band tune, Cosmolographie, with more pairing off between lows and highs, eventually leaving the high reeds to rustle amongst themselves before bringing it up and out in a flurry. The riffs are strong to the point of hummability, no small achievement in music this intricately orchestrated. Reggae may be Robinson’s money gig, but he’s obviously having every bit as much fun with this project. He and the band play the album release show for this one at Shapeshifter Lab in Gowanus on Dec 18. Robinson also plays with Groundation at Highline Ballroom on Nov 7 at around 9; tix are still available.

November 3, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tia Fuller’s Angelic Warrior: More Weapons Than Wings

Saxophonist Tia Fuller may be best known to jazz listeners these days as a member of Esperanza Spalding’s band. With her new album Angelic Warrior – just out from Mack Avenue – Fuller matches her ferocious, purist chops with an equally formidable, eclectically cerebral approach to postbop composition. Much of this has to do with having grown up in a jazz family as the daughter of bassist father Fred Fuller, singer mom Elthopia Fuller and pianist sister Shamie Royston, who plays on this album along with her husband, this generation’s exemplary extrovert drummer, Rudy Royston. The rest of the cast, sometimes adding up to an all-female band, includes Mimi Jones on bass, John Patitucci playing single-note guitar-style leads on piccolo bass and Shirazette Tinnin on percussion. Terri Lyne Carrington guests on drums on three tracks, and Dianne Reeves adds an aptly misty vocal on Body and Soul, which the band reinvents as an expansive clave soul ballad, somewhat akin to Joe Jackson backing Sade.

On both alto and soprano horn, Fuller plays with a distinctively bright, penetrating tone, considerably more warrior than angel, right from the hard-hitting opening chords of Royston Rumble, the whole fam here united with a purposefulness that pervades this record, with a classic, explosive Rudy Royston solo toward the end. By contrast, Ralphie’s Groove – a Ralph Peterson shout-out, with a tip of the hat to both Ahmad Jamal and Tony Williamas – is the first of several showcases for Fuller’s razorlike precision on soprano. Fuller’s wickedly spiraling solo on the long horn toward the end of the title track is absolutely exquisite, as is her brother-in-law’s artfully shuffling descent to the toms after a bubbly solo by his wife: there’s an easy explanation for the chemistry in this band.

While the catchy ballad Lil Les may have been written as a playful child’s theme, with bright alto and piano solos in turn, it has a memorably uneasy undercurrent. Likewise, the breezy soca allusions in Descend to Barbados have edge and bite, particularly when Fuller ‘s alto nails the end of a casually sailing Pattituci solo toward the end. Their take on So in Love counterintuitively juxtaposes languid balladry with stilletto staccato swing lit up by an animated Jones solo and a clenched-teeth crescendo from the rhythm section. A pretty standard-issue Rhodes funk tune, Tailor Made suddenly dims the lights as Jones solos with a lingering tension before the band takes it back to funk on the heels of another Royston Rumble. They follow that with the catchy, spacious, brooding balllad Core of Me and then the matter-of-factly swinging Simpli-city, deftly spiraling piano in contrast to Fuller’s head-on, almost minimalist alto. And they finally take Cherokee from a suspenseful shuffle driven by Tinnin’s circling percussion to a racewalking swing, Fuller’s clustering alto crescendo keeping a steady eye on the target no matter how far she moves off center. Tunesmithing? Check. Playing? Doublecheck. Not a bad song on this album: a stealth contender for best of 2012.

September 25, 2012 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dark Pensive Sounds from Matthew Silberman

There is no ostentation on Matthew Silberman’s new album Questionable Creatures. The dynamic shifts stay for the most part within a narrow range: the energy on this album is created as the band maintains tension and ramps it up, often by simply staying where they are. That can be a hard line to walk, but more often than not they pull it off, the tenor saxophonist and bandleader joined by Ryan Ferreira and Greg Ruggiero splitting duties on guitar, with Chris Tordini on bass and Tommy Crane on drums.

This group doesn’t waste notes: several of the tracks here including the opener, Ghost of the Prairie, are practically minimalist. On that one, Silberman plays with a casual wariness over Ferreira’s keening atmospherics, Crane immediately setting a tone he’ll maintain throughout the album, establishing a distantly ominous rumble rather than taking centerstage with any kind of pummelling crescendo. The second track, Mrs. Heimoff, veers from a jazz waltz to straight-up, Silberman getting as warm and lyrical as he’ll do here; the way that Ferreira trails the beat with his echoing phrases before the final chorus is one of the album’s high points.

Breath (an original, not the Pink Floyd song) works airily suspenseful variations on a guitar loop, eventually establishes a rhythm and goes out slow and swaying with Crane’s elegant cymbal work. The Battle at Dawn portrays less of a struggle than simply a struggle to get out of bed, with a terse In a Silent Way melody lit up by Ruggiero’s bright melodicism paired off against Crane’s caveman-on-the-horizon beats. The title track is absolutely Lynchian, taking a blithe Mexican folk theme abruptly and memorably into murky, apprehensively modal terrain and then back again with not a little irony. Dream Machine, essentially a deconstructed anthem with compartmentalized voicings, is the most free piece here; they follow it with another jazz waltz, The Process, which finally hits a rampaging crescendo carried by Ruggiero before winding out rather ambiguously. The Pharaoh’s Tomb serves as the coda here, Ferreira’s guitar setting up a hot/cold dynamic with his acidic sostenuto that they take out in with a quick explosion straight out of 1975-era King Crimson. Those who are looking for a lot of those kind of swells will have to look elsewhere, but for fans of darker, more introspective jazz, this is a great listen.

And it comes with a poster! When’s the last time you picked up an album with one of those? If you’re lucky, maybe a used copy of Quadrophenia from some street vendor? With its disembodied facial parts set against an arid Tattooine desert, Sandra Reichl’s illustration is like a Dali outtake: it’s not clear if there’s any connection to the content on the album, but it’s sure nice to have something new and cool for the wall here. Silberman and the band play the album release show on Sept 25 at Shapeshifter Lab in Gowanus.

September 8, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crepuscular Magic from Jessica Jones and Mark Taylor

Last year, tenor saxophonist Jessica Jones and french horn player Mark Taylor recorded their June 25 concert at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley with bassist John Shifflett and drummer Jason Lewis. More artists, particularly jazz artists, should be doing this: capturing this show for posterity (via New Artists Records) was a tremendously smart move. What they got out of it was an absolutely fascinating album of nocturnes. It’s not clear if the sequence of tracks matches the order of the set list, but either way it plays like a suite. The quartet maintains the sense of purpose and pensive nonchalance of one of Miles Davis’ late 50s bands, setting a mood that never lets up. The cohesiveness of the band is all the more remarkable considering how much space each of the musicians leaves between motifs, or even notes: at one point toward the end of the fifth track, Lewis fires off a cluster of snazzy volleys, capping each one with a jubilant cymbal crash, one of the few places where anyone plays more than a handful of notes without letting them linger.

They set the tone immediately with the strangely titled Furious George, a warily bluesy Taylor composition which is not furious but matter-of-factly swinging, sometimes allusively so. Throughout the album, Lewis colors the music with an often ominously booming, contemplative attack on the toms rather propelling it: usually it’s Shifflett who holds the center with a biting, growling tone. Other times, such as this track, it’s either Jones or Taylor. Both players approach the material tersely, Taylor with a casual legato that is often indistinguishable from a trombone. Waiting for the Vampire’s Redemption, by Jones goes deep into the shadows with understatedly moody, chromatically-charged twin horn harmonies, grows atmospheric to the point where it becomes a tone poem of sorts, Jones and Taylor picking it up over Shifflett’s hypnotic groove.

Taylor has a series of compositions illustrating the adventures of Zamindar, a rather satirical superhero he’s invented, and the band tackles a couple of them here. By the Park at Midnight (Zamindar’s Promenade) keeps the suspense and the noir vibe going, an often desolate, sparse performance with contrasting dark/light solos from the horn and then the sax, Shifflett’s menacing stalker motif pulling everything together before it winds out, unresolved. The other track, The Zamindar Gambit is basically a one-chord jam, a sort of Mission Impossible Theme spoof full of unexpected dynamic shifts and finally another climactic bass progression around which the band coalesces.

Jones’ Waynopolis, a rather haunting, modal number that seems to pick up where Wayne Shorter’s Footprints left off, slinks and sways slowly through a series of wary variations on an almost cruelly direct opening theme, Lewis’ purposeful rumbles, Shifflett’s steady nocturnal pulse and a ghostly bass-and-drums interlude toward the end. By contrast, Manhattan, another Jones track, bustles with a jaunty swing driven not by the rhythm section but by the horns, Lewis cleverly shadowing Jones but never taking centerstage. From there they segue into the set’s most improvisational interlude, Taylor dipping to the lowest point of his register. Jones’ What Purpose Is Your Pain follows and makes an apt segue, Jones reaching as high as she ever goes here with some unexpectedly resounding microtonal trills, Shifflett again pulling the crew around him as the bass rises steadily and stealthfully. They close with Taylor’s Breath.Eyes, a midtempo ballad in disguise, Taylor alluding liberally to Coltrane, Jones taking her time bringing back the darkly contemplative atmosphere.

There are a couple of passages here where the band leaves the songs out out to dry: if you’re not listening on headphones and the music is competing with something as relatively quiet as an air conditioner, you might be left with the impression that the album has ended. Those parts could have been cut without diminishing its dark appeal. And because this is a live recording, there are occasional issues with volume and miking that probably wouldn’t have occurred in a controlled studio setting. But that’s a small price to pay (and one that the mp3 generation won’t notice, anyway) for all this sepulchral magic.

July 22, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ralph Bowen Flips the Script

If you were looking for a sequel to saxophonist Ralph Bowen’s 2011 release, Power Play, you won’t get it, at least not this time around. This blog called that one “hard-hitting, purposeful and tuneful beyond belief” and ranked it as one of last year’s five best jazz albums. Bowen’s new album Total Eclipse is quite a change. Although Jared Gold’s B3 anchors the tunes here, it’s hardly your typical organ-and-sax record. It’s as if Bowen decided to totally flip the script and do pensive and opaque instead of rigorously melodic. This one’s also a lot more rhythmically complex, but if you hang with it, it grows on you, with thoughtful and impactful playing from the rest of the band as well, Mike Moreno on guitar and the nonpareil Rudy Royston (of JD Allen’s trio) on drums. Bowen is playing a pair of cd release shows at Smalls this weekend, June 8 and 9 at 10 PM with a slightly different lineup, Gold on organ plus Freddie Bryant on guitar and Donald Edwards behind the kit.

All this is not to say that there isn’t memorable tunesmithing here. The closing cut, a soul ballad titled In My Dreams, begins with a nebulous, suspenseful sway and then artfully juxtaposes mysterioso ambience with Bowen’s warm, bucolic lead lines. A lickety-split showcase for Royston’s precise machine-gun attack, the funky Hip Check works clever rhythmic permutations on staggered sax clusters. Continuing in reverse order, the ten-minute epic Exosphere is the most ambitious and memorable track here. Beginning as a somewhat altered, anthemic soul tune held down by a signature Royston rumble, they go into tiptoe swing for a bit, Bowen adding some unexpectedly tasty microtones and chromatics, then bring it down ominous and suspenseful for a long, chordally-charged organ solo that Royston eventually can’t resist bringing out of the murk.

Arrows of Light alternates tricky funk with purposeful swing, Bowen setting an apprehensive tone early on that Moreno and Gold bring even higher in turn with a chromatic intensity. On Green (as in “go on green”), which precedes it, works a casual-versus-tense dichotomy, a pervasive sense of the unexpected finally resolving into a sense of triumph on the wings of Gold’s insistent, unpredictably stabbing chords. They set that one up with The Dowsing Rod, a similar tension (Bowen calm and bucolic, Gold on edge) resolving picturesquely when they suddenly hit the water table. There’s also the swaying, offbeat Into the City, sort of a polyrhythmic take on a go-go theme with some smartly intricate beatwise interplay between Bowen and Gold; Behind the Curtain, with pensive syncopation, Gold artfully shadowing a casually piercing Moreno solo (his fat, slightly reverb-tinged tone here always raises the intensity factor); and the opening, title track, brightly swinging but avoiding any type of resolution. Why explain these tracks in reverse? Because the album makes more sense that way: start with the catchy stuff and work your way back to the more abstruse numbers and everything makes more sense. It’s out now on Posi-Tone.

June 5, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Vivid, Catchy, Intense Compositions from Tom Tallitsch

Saxophonist Tom Tallitsch has a strong, diverse and thoroughly enjoyable album, Heads or Tales, out recently with Jared Gold on organ, Dave Allen on guitar and the semi-ubiquitous Mark Ferber on drums. Tallitsch plays with a slightly smoky tone and a light touch, heavy on the nuance which makes him sneaky fast – when he has to drive home a particular phrase, it doesn’t take a lot of effort. The result is impeccable taste: the melodies get plenty of time to breathe here. There are no stampedes to the finish line, but there’s a terrific amount of sympatico playing and strong compositions. Don’t file this one away in the postbop ghetto.

Maybe this is par for course from a guy who can be very allusive, but the album starts off on a bit of a wishy-washy if well-played note with the rhythmically tricky Coming Around, a sort of warmup with lots of steady minor blues scales from Tallitsch and Allen. Then they give you the gem, Tenderfoot, which sounds like a Marc Ribot noir classic, but done as straight-up jazz rather than dramatic, cinematic main title theme. Beginning as a staggered bolero, morphing into a slinky organ boogie lit up by suspenseful staircases by Tallitsch, they swing it through a series of Middle Eastern-tinged riffs and then out with graceful filigrees from Allen. It’s one of the most evocative jazz songs you’ll hear this year.

They follow that up with the briskly walking Double Shot, which is essentially a souped-up blues with Gold at the absolute top of his game as trickster, setting up a satisfying series of alley-oops from Allen early on, harmonizing with Tallitsch and then casually making his way through a cruelly tricky series of right-vs-left rhythms when it’s time for a solo. By contrast, Perry’s Place could be a lakehouse theme – it seems to be the kind of joint where you can start the day at noon with a hot dog and a couple of bloody marys. Contentment and good companionship shine through Allen’s slow, richly judicious solo, Gold’s sunny midsummer chords and then Tallitsch’s methodical arc to a crescendo. Gold goes back to ham it up again in the funk-infused Flat Stanley; later on, The Lummox is Tallitsch’s moment to draw a caricature – in this case, of somebody who’s basically a hopeless doofus even if they have a serious side.

There are three more tunes here. Travel Companion swings with a carefree but purposeful vibe, Tallitsch reaching for the lows on tenor, Gold switching up his pedal rhythm artfully. Dunes vividly depicts a rolling, crepuscular tableau, a suspenseful series of shifts between sax and organ that Allen eventually gets to spice up with additional bounce. The album winds up with Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down, done as you would pretty much expect, understatedly and tastefully, after hearing everything that came before. You could call this a good driving record, and it is, but the thought and creativity that went into it obviously transcends that label: the more you hear it, the better it gets. Another winner from Posi-Tone.

May 19, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Magnum Opus from Finland

Two old lions of Nordic jazz, Finnish tenor saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen and pianist Heikki Sarmanto have a majestic, magisterial album, Conversations, recently out on the perennially adventurous Tum Records label. It’s a dark, classically-tinged mix of nocturnes, a soundtrack from the travelers’ lounge in Purgatory. The lavish double-disc set is best enjoyed as a cohesive whole. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of interplay here, actually: it’s less conversational than casually and intricately interwoven, the two players likely to juxtapose their lines, sometimes side-by-side, sometimes with piano as accompaniment to sax and vice versa. The compositions are all originals save for a surprisingly and vividly wistful take on You and the Night and the Music, more of a requiem for what might have been than joyous anticipation; they also deftly work up some unexpectedly anguished ambience in a version of Alone Together. Sarmanto favors resonant block chords and glimmering cascades; Aaltonen plays with the insistent, occasionally bursting Dexter Gordon-esque attack that’s been popular with many Finnish reed players over the years. Rhythm here tends to matter-of-fact and usually on the glacial side when it’s not completely rubato. Both Aaltonen and Sarmanto have a tendency to veer off course bracingly from warm consonance to icy atonalities, a trait they use judiciously and powerfully.

It wouldn’t be completely accurate to say that the ultimate game plan here is pitch-and-follow on a series of modes, although that device is frequently employed with potently memorable results. September Song allusions, spiraling parallelisms, warmly consonant glimmer versus unease, a saturnine, elegaic ballad and a very long, moodily exploratory introduction of sorts complete the first disc along with the first of the aforementioned covers. It ends as Sarmanto hands off the melody to Aaltonen, whose understatedly plaintive lines carry a quietly explosive power. The second disc contains mostly Sarmanto compositions. More spacious and somewhat more eclectic, with quick bursts of latin, high Romantic or pop inflections, it works moody modes with subtlety and grace and thematic variations, ending with a series of cinematic, overlapping segments with lead melodies deftly handed back and forth between instruments. For those whose taste in jazz, or in music in general, leans toward the melancholy side, this is a must-own, one of the most richly satisfying releases in recent months and a stealth contender for best of 2012.

May 9, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment