Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Forget Wall Street: Occupy the World!

Wadada Leo Smith is Anthony Braxton, Miles Davis and Gil Evans rolled into one on his new album Occupy the World. It picks up where his magnum opus, last year’s Ten Freedom Summers left off. In the liner notes, Smith optimistically quotes Thoreau in envisioning the possibility of a better society than what the Western democracies have achieved thus far. Joining Smith and his longtime bassist John Lindberg for a set of towering new works for large ensemble is the 21-piece Finnish group Tumo, comprised of many of that scene’s most adventurous players. In many respects, this slightly smaller yet similarly lavish double-disc set echoes Ten Freedom Summers’ most lush, sweepingly atmospheric moments.

The opening composition, Queen Hatshepsut, grows methodically out of a somber, slowly syncopated theme followed by a triptych of group improvisations in the same vein as Smith’s old Chicago pal Anthony Braxton. It’s elegant and airy, with plenty of space for similarly judicious (and occasionally raucous) solo features from saxophones, flute and piano, with Smith’s own regal, resonant trumpet solo as its centerpiece.

The Bell 2 expands on Smith’s quartet composition originally released on Braxton’s 1968 album 3 Compositions of New Jazz, beefed up for large ensemble with a new introduction and a more rhythmic focus. Verneri Pohjola’s spacy electronics and Mikko Iinvanainen’s dark, biting electric guitar help carry it forty-five years from its origins as a lustrous proto Space Odyssey theme.

The first cd’s last track, Mount Kilimanjaro was written as a companion piece to Smith’s 2004 piece The Africana World. That one was a feature for violinist Jenifer Choi; this is a vehicle for Lindberg. It opens with an expansively spacious, majestically intense bowed bass solo, collides with cadenzas from the orchestra. epic drums pairing off against the strings’ fluttery angst.

The second cd opens with the Crossing on a Southern Road (A Memorial for Marion Brown), a sweepingly rapt 25-minute-plus homage to the late saxophonist. Dreamy ambience surrounds tersely dancing bass, an agitated pulse giving way to whispery strings, stately shifting shades, a burnished Smith muted trumpet solo and richly sustained, quiet swells that are suddenly and cruelly cut short.

The title track, perhaps ironically true to its inspiration, was completed in haste shortly before its 2011 premiere by the Oxford Improvisers Orchestra. It clocks in at over half an hour and interpolates portions of two previous works, Smith’s Kosmic Music and the string quartet section of In the Diaspora. And it’s counterintuitive: although there is frequent agitation, driven by biting, tumbling strings, it’s more of a methodically crescendoing tribute to resolute defiance. Again, Smith’s sostenuto trumpet serves as a frequent anchor, through a momentarily explosive duet with electric guitar. giving way to shifting sheets of orchestration and finally a gorgeously luminous full-orchestra coda with echoes of Gil Evans at his most majestic.

With tight and inspired playing, the cast also includes trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, trombonist Jari Hongisto, horn player Kalle Hassinen, tuba player Kenneth Ojutkangas, Seppo Kantonen on piano, Iro Haarla on harp, Kalle Kalima on guitar, Veli Kujala on quartertone accordion, Terhi Pylkkanen and Neils Thorkild Levinsen on violins, Barbora Hilpo on viola, Iida-Vilhelmiina Laine on cello, Ulf Krokfors on bass, and Janne Tuomi, Mika Kallio and Stefan Pasborg on drums. Finnish label Tum Records, recently home to Smith’s small-group projects, gets credit for putting this one out in a lavish package with artwork and extensive, insightful liner notes.

July 12, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lynchian Menace and Suspense from Kallle Kalima

Today we shift from one kind of intensity to a vastly different one. Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima and his group K-18 – saxophonist/reedman Mikko Innanen, adventurous quartertone accordionist Veli Kujala and veteran bassist Teppo Hauta-aho – generate plenty of it on their new suite, Out to Lynch. Much of which sounds like they’re out to lynch somebody, but it’s actually a series of compositions inspired by David Lynch films (they have a thing for movies: their previous album was a Stanley Kubrick homage). K-18 is Finnish for “rated R” – apparently the Finns’ film ratings are less alarmist than they are in the US, considering how tame an R rating is here. How Lynchian is this album? Lynchian in an Eraserhead sense, certainly. And although this is challenging and frequently abrasive music, much of it is far from ugly.

It’s important to keep in mind that the compositions here are inspired by various films or characters, rather than being representational. Interestingly, Kalima never reaches for the twangy noir of Angelo Badalamenti. The opening track, BOB – the first of a handful of Twin Peaks references – squalls and squeaks and quickly throws rhythm out the window, then goes unexpectedly sketchy and minimalist. The Elephant Man inspires a quietly skeletal interpretation, Mulholland Drive a series of casually bracing, swirling clusters – lights moving against a Hollywood hills backdrop at night, maybe?

Laura Palmer is a suspense piece, bass stepping gingerly through the darkness before the guitar provides a flashlight and then they rise in eerie, noisy sheets before returning to a tense spaciousness. The most thoroughly enjoyable track here is, perhaps predictably, Eraserhead, a deliciously creepy microtonal acccordion tune that wouldn’t be out of place in the Dave Fiuczynski catalog.

A couple of cuts draw on the lovers from Wild at Heart. Lula Pace Fortune gets airy flute and accordion over distantly menacing atmospherics that rise to a grinding sostenuto blaze; a bit later on, Sailor inspires a similarly terse series of duo improvisations. Alvin Straight, who drove hundreds of miles along the side of the road on his riding mower to visit his estranged brother, serves as the impetus for a wryly methodical, minimalistically paced tone poem featuring the bass.

The Mystery Man (from Lost Highway) is the most intricate number here, a series of circular riffs interchanging over dynamic shifts, growing more ominous with squalling, shivering sax and guitar and ending with a twisted march. Twin Peaks’ Agent Cooper has a fluttery tone poem to show for all his persistence, while the Man from Another Place – another Twin Peaks character – gets all of thirty seconds of flurries. On the concluding cut, Frank Booth, there’s no candy-colored clown, only a funereal rubato bass pulse lowlit by guitar that finally explodes: it’s not hard to imagine the poppers oscillating through the Blue Velvet villain’s brain as he huffs from that evil tube. Innanen contributes a devilishly tongue-in-cheek interlude along with Hauta-aho before the album’s most melodic and appropriately menacing passage.

Like all Tum Records releases, this comes beautifully packaged, including artwork by Marianna Uutinen and a magazine’s worth of liner notes: the Tum peeps are writing a lavish history of Finnish jazz in installments. It’s also worth mentioning that Innanen – who ironically leads another project called the Serenity Ensemble – has an excellent, sonically challenging album of his own, Clustrophy, out from Tum as well.

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