Myra Melford’s Snowy Egret – The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12)
One thing is for sure: you’d be hard pressed to gather a more impressive group of players/improvisers than Bay-area pianist/composer Myra Melford has done with her Snowy Egret project. As she has said, “I really feel like it’s the vehicle that expresses where I am as a composer, performer, and bandleader right now”. It is only with such a remarkable vehicle that a group of artist can so seemingly effortlessly navigate the improvisational and compositional terrain that SE explores on The Other Side of Air.
For their second release together, Melford and company have run the gamut through what a quintet is capable, covering territories from the sublime to the revved-up to the ridiculous. These five are so locked in to these compositions and to each other that it is beyond clairvoyance at times.
I love how on a number of these pieces, Melford has created divisions or movements in which one or two soloists are featured: micro concertos, almost! It is in these moments, as on “Attic” (greatest bass solo of 2018?) and “Living Music” (Ellman and Sorey tear it up), that a very rare transcendence takes place. Some very inspired work here, for sure.
Albatre – The Fall of the Damned (ShhPuma)
Relentless, aggressive, cathartic, concerted, guitar-less, and odd meters are apt descriptors of The Fall of the Damned, the new album by Rotterdam-based Albatre. And this is just what the doctor ordered to fight the chaotic dumpster fire that is 2018.
There are more than a few comparisons that can be made between Albatre and Kevin Martin’s battering “God” project from the ’90s. For starters, harshly effected drums, bass, and saxophone intent on relaying the paramount importance of rhythm take center stage on both. Philipp Ernsting, Gonçalo Almeida, and Hugo Costa convincingly bring the noise on said trio of instruments, respectively, but not respectfully. Compared to their terrific 2015 release, Nagual, there is an even more deliberate middle-finger-to-the-state-of-the-world vibe at play here, and it’s one that I can get behind.
Although these sounds are not necessarily for the faint of heart, they are a mollifying space to occupy as you plan your daily acts of resistance. Coincidently, albâtre is French for “alabaster”, the stone material artists have diligently chipped away at for millennia to immortalize greatness through sculpture. Viva L’Albatre!
Wayne Horvitz – The Snowghost Sessions (Songlines Recordings)
As a key member of Naked City, Pigpen, Zony Mash, and The President – bands who illustrated to me early on just how out music can be taken – Wayne Horvitz will always hold a special place in my consciousness. Since relocating from New York to Seattle in the late 80s, Horvitz has covered an absurd amount of musical territory from popular and experimental band-work, theater and dance pieces, chamber and orchestral writing, sound design, TV and soundtrack work and so on. It has been a full ride, indeed…and the ride continues.
SnowGhost is the relaxed, top-shelf recording studio in Whitefish, Montana where the sounds of Horvitz’s beautiful piano playing and electronically augmented keys, along with exceptional accompaniment from bassist Geoff Harper and drummer Eric Eagle were immaculately committed to tape (or disc). There is a filmic quality to The Snowghost Sessions, not because it requires an image to complete an artistic statement, but because it reveals imagery upon listening: a profile of a man falling down and getting back up again, a snapshot of the jarring yet taciturn winter that inevitably descends on the Midwest year after year, or a family gathered in silence, in mourning.
Like all the best art, The Snowghost Sessions improves with each listen, vying hard for the top spot on year-end lists that will be rampant before we know it. Kudos to Horvitz, Harper, and Eagle, and to Songlines Recordings for this gift.
Adam Hopkins – Crickets (Out Of Your Head Records)
Evidently, Adam Hopkins learned a great deal about how to play the bass (and likely much more) from luminary Michael Formanek and how to effectively lead a group (and likely much more) from heavy-hitters Henry Threadgill and John Hollenbeck, both in whose groups he has served time. Crickets is Hopkins’ first release under his own name, and what a fine and feisty romp it is.
The groundwork for much of the record is the mighty riff, delivered with potency by Hopkins and guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, and reflective of the influence of 80s and 90s punk/indie rock. Onto this framework Hopkins has grafted the triple-sax threat of Anna Webber, Ed Rosenberg, and Josh Sinton, deftly delivering glorious wails of charted lines and spirited solos over said riffage. Drummer Devin Gray completes the group with both agility and judicial backbeat, serving the music well at every step.
It’s heartening to see the DIY spirit of yesteryear alive and well as we do on Crickets – Out of Your Head Records is run by Hopkins and his friends – particularly at a time when the artist’s slice of the pie continues to shrink. PSA: remind a musician, especially with your wallet, that you are still listening and that what they do matters and they won’t go away.
Casey Golden – Atlas (self-released)
For the better part of the past decade, pianist Casey Golden has been active in Australia, releasing well-received trio records with Bill Williams and drummer Ed Rodrigues, and more recently has begun to make a splash in London with his quartet with guitarist Alex Munk, bassist Henrik Jensen, and drummer Will Glaser.
The sensitivity that Golden and his UK quartet demonstrate in their interplay on their first release Atlas is undoubtedly impressive and is a considerable step forward for Golden. The tunes are just so agreeable and the playing is refreshingly in service of the music rather than the ego of the player. This is not to say that these four don’t have chops; quite to the contrary, these four can play.
Whatever Golden is up to in England agrees with him, and I look forward to more of the fruits of this creative activity in the future.