Anna Webber – Clockwise (Pi Recordings)
Taking influence from percussion pieces by Xenakis, Feldman, Varése, Stockhausen, Babbitt, and Cage – the Big-6 of 20th century composition, maybe – composer and saxophonist/flutist Anna Webber descends like a friggin’ superhero onto new home Pi Recordings with Clockwise.
This music is heavy, like King Crimson or Don Caballero-heavy. No surprise here, considering the propulsive capacity of three-headed beast Matt Mitchell, Chris Tordini, and Ches Smith. In choosing master improvising soloists/extended technicians Jeremy Viner, Jacob Garchik, and Christopher Hoffman for the project, Webber has deftly adorned and accentuated the proceedings’ weight. According to Webber, “The goal was not to re-contextualize the composers’ original intents or ideas, rather it was to find hidden sympathetic points of resonance within the primary compositions that I could abstractly develop into new works.” Riffin’ on the germs of the ideas of the oldies, perhaps? On Clockwise, pitch and harmony take a back seat to texture/timbre and rhythm/meter, just like in the best, heaviest rock music. This does much to make Clockwise some of the most accessible highly complex music imaginable.
Webber has created an environment so wonderfully conducive to solo and group improvisation with these inspired pieces, which is particularly exciting with such a creative and skilled group of players. Clockwise is a total grand slam!
Cyrille Aimée – Move On: A Sondheim Adventure (Mack Avenue Records)
Acclaimed vocalist Cyrille Aimée seems to have found in the work of singular Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim more than sufficient material with which to tell her own story. With Move On: A Sondheim Adventure tell it she does, and with great aplomb. Her first studio recording since moving from New York to New Orleans, Move On features a cast of nearly twenty musicians masterfully supporting Aimée’s personal statement of journey and transition. In addition to a literal “moving on”, Aimée has gone through the significant personal changes of ending relationships with both band mates and a significant other.
The core group on this session is comprised of the French trio of pianist Thomas Enhco, bassist Jérémy Bruyère, and drummer Yoann Serra. Additional top shelf work came from the hands of Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo, as well as from keyboardist and Aimée’s old friend Assaf Gleizner, who also co-produced and beautifully co-arranged the album. There is an infectiousness on MO that seemingly only comes from an artist’s full immersion in the creative act: the pained reverie of “I Remember”, augmented in no small part by Warren Walker’s electronically processed saxophone, is profound, and the gospel-tinged delivery of “No One Is Alone” is supremely affecting.
The album ends with an up-tempo samba version of “With So Little To Be Sure Of”, the cherry on the top of this weighty testament to the therapeutic and redemptive power of music.
Chris Potter – Circuits (Edition Records)
As one of the most accomplished and in-demand improvisers for the past nearly three decades and twenty-some-odd leader records later, Chris Potter needs no introduction, but there you go with one anyway.
For his first outing for England’s Edition Records imprint, Potter, as is his wont, dons many hats: composer, tenor and soprano saxophonist, clarinetist, flutist, sampler guru, guitarist, keyboardist, and percussionist. He also recruited some players of the highest order: keyboardist James Francies, drummer Eric Harland and bassist Linley Marthe. The playing by all on Circuits is, no surprise, clairvoyant and spectacular, but it is the locked interplay within the rhythm section that really shines here. Harland tests the limits of a groove’s relationship to meter in signature fashion while Francies and Marthe reside splendidly in the pocket. Though Circuits is a decidedly rhythm-forward affair, it is also one in which the players are given the high sign to go off. And go off they do, none more than Potter himself, who nearing 50, is doing some of the sharpest playing of his life.
Truth be told, I’m not easily wowed in the presence of technically proficient playing, but Circuits is really quite impressive, and quite unique in that these guys are on another plane of skill and are also saying something quite compelling. It’s heartening that Potter is off to such a swell start at his new home of Edition Records.
Julian Lage – Love Hurts (Mack Avenue Records)
I have plenty of time for a record that kicks off with the musical centerpiece of cinematic juggernaut Eraserhead, David Lynch’s “In Heaven”. Love Hurts is one such collection, and fortunately, there is much more to guitarist Julian Lage’s new one than a cool bookend.
At 31, Lage has already carved out an illustrious career, working with some of the greatest musicians on the planet including Gary Burton, John Zorn, Nels Cline, Dave Douglas, Charles Lloyd, and Fred Hersch. On top of his side-work, he has released several records under his own name, included two trio records with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen. For LH, Lage recruited bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, effectively opening wide the door to an elevated scrappiness that was perhaps missing on his two previous trio recordings. The song selection on LH is impeccable, including a sating triptych of “pairs”…1) original numbers: “In Circles” and “Lullaby”, the almost Ayler-esque highlight of the record; 2) Keith Jarret tunes: “The Windup” and “Encore (A)” 3) Roy Orbison-associated classics: “Love Hurts” and “Crying”. According to Lage, “the covers on this record are like when you move into a new apartment, the last thing you do is hang your pictures on the wall…. those pictures define your aesthetic in a way. So the tunes we chose kind of define the aesthetic I natively love but hadn’t put on a record yet.”
Julian Lage’s trajectory is one that is impossibly ever onward and upward, given the ashes of excellence and innovation that are still smoldering in its trail. One can only imagine what wonders he still has in his bag, and how much fun it will be to find out.
Marilyn Mazur – Shamania (RareNoise Records)
If you’re like me (ill-informed, lazy, etc.), the name Marilyn Mazur might not ring a bell at first. Upon further digging, it turns out she is the same Danish percussionist who played on Miles Davis’ Aura record, a pair of Gil Evans releases, a handful of Jan Garbarek’s albums, and in fact, has numerous recordings under a variety of monikers on ECM, Storyville, and Stunt Records. In sum, she is a seasoned professional who has been kicking ass since well before many listeners were born.
Mazur began making adventurous music back in the mid-1970s with her multi-discipline music/theatre group Primi Band. More than forty years later, she has resurrected that concept with Shamania, a collective of ten of Scandinavia’s most creative female musicians who, according to their new label, draw “from a deep well of primal energy and experimental audacity”. What Mazur and co have created on their eponymous RareNoise Records release is somewhat indescribable given their holistic approach to music making. The reed/percussion/string/vocal music grooves, floats, bobs, weaves, and it quenches. Suffice it to say, and this is no secret, the best music throws genre to the wind, and that is what Mazur has done with Shamania.
I’m not saying we should leave it to women to do it right, but far more often than not, given the opportunity, they will. More appropriately, we should let women show the world what it could be and then the world can and will likely fall in line. Big ups to RareNoise for again presenting terrific sounds to a world filled with noise.