Personnel: Jakob Bro – guitar; Arve Henriksen – trumpet, piccolo trumpet; Jorge Rossy – drums
Impression: Bro affords more space in the creation of his beauteous sonic sculptures than nearly any other musician, and the result on UE is thoroughly accommodating meditation that could prove to be no small aid in the fight against our collective trauma if we simply engage with it.
Personnel: Ches Smith – Drums; Stephen Gosling – Piano; Sae Hashimoto – Vibraphone; Jorge Roeder – Bass
Impression: In a number of ways, Heaven And Earth Magick represents the pinnacle of Zorn’s aesthetic: wildly complex and varied compositions performed by impossibly proficient sight-reading soloists accompanied by the best of the best of improvising rhythm section. A+
Included in the artwork for guitarist, composer, and producer David Torn’s new release Sun of Goldfinger is the anonymous maxim, “long road wants me to abandon short-sight; but what kind of place is this, where I’d once believed we might rest?” Though I am in the dark with respect to inside information, SoG unfolds not unlike an inexorable and epic aural hero’s journey, reflecting perhaps an interpretation of the accompanying quote.
The core of the group consists of Torn, saxophonist Tim Berne, and drummer Ches Smith. On the centerpiece of the record, pianist Craig Taborn, guitarists Mike Baggetta and Ryan Ferreira, and the Scorchio String Quartet augment the trio. First, these are among the most inspiring musicians on the planet performing at the highest level, none more than Berne, whose showing here illuminates his intrepidly versatile musicianship. Second, Torn creates resplendent sorcery by assembling from extended performances, Teo Macero-style, sounds that are quite unlike anything else out there, really: alien textures give way to virulent grooves that give way to chromatic seas of bliss, which are then all reshuffled and varied with a freshness that epitomizes the mind of David Torn.
I haven’t marveled at anything else more than SoG this year. Get this in your life as soon as possible!
Norwegian composer and tuba player Daniel Herskedal has become one of the more fascinating musicians on the scene in the past handful of years, releasing two terrific records in 2015’s Slow Eastbound Train and 2017’s The Roc. A triptych of sorts is completed with Voyage, a stunning suite of pieces for ensemble members from his previous two recordings.
Despite the non-traditional instrumentation, Voyage presents a signature sound that is both strikingly tuneful and rousing, so much so in fact that even the nautical theme of the song titles doesn’t bother me. Herskedal handles the tuba and bass trumpet duties alongside pianist Eyolf Dale, percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken, violist Bergmund Waal Skaslien, and oudist Maher Mahmoud, who despite limited playtime, is my mvp for the collection. In addition to his virtuosity on the seemingly untamable tuba, Herskedal showcases great skill in employing ostinato, syncopation, and theme/variation in ways that insert his unique aesthetic into each piece, and the effect is dramatic and infectious.
It’s immensely gratifying to witness a young musician as gifted as Herskedal furthering his concept year after year in inventive ways right before our very ears. Big props to Dave Stapleton and company at Edition Records for providing a nurturing home in which this type of notable progress might continue.
Greg Chudzik – Solo Works, Vol. 2 (Panoramic Recordings)
Readers might recognize bassist Greg Chudzik from his playing on Steve Reich’s Pulse / Quartet on Nonesuch Records, Steve Colman’s Morphogenesis from a few years back, or from The National’s High Violet. But if you were a listener to my former radio show you would have heard nearly the entirety of his Solo Works, Vol. 1 from 2015. Chudzik has followed up that superb set of pieces for solo electric bass with Solo Works, Vol. 2, a collection of four extended pieces for a quartet of layered acoustic double basses.
The bassist’s wide-ranging workload as a player is reflected in Chudzik’s impressively diverse compositional approaches on SWV2: “Wind Hymnal” is a sullen and folksy, almost Asian-tinged number while “The What” is a catchy, dare I say poppy, hit in 7; “Y’Chi” is a slowly-evolving spectral monolith while “Automated Ocean” is a midi-enhanced/effected and rhythmically dense piece of contemporary composition. In the wrong hands, this type of multiplicity could come across as overly ambitious or even jumbled, but Chudzik’s exceptional compositional voice is more than strong enough to unify this set in considerably rewarding ways. It is certainly worth noting that Chudzik’s traditional and extended bowing technique is masterful and adds another layer of excellence to what is already compelling material.
The album ends on a fittingly rhapsodic and triumphant note, leaving the listener with chills of optimism, not an easy task in 2019. The first two doses of Chudzik solo works have me hooked and in a state of already very much jonesing for Vol 3!
For over a decade, Austrian musicians Lorenz Raab and Christof Dienz have been making music as a trumpet / zither duo, but have only just recently released their first full-length recording as RaaDie. This combo seems a bit wacky, no?
In some ways, there is nothing quite like the sound of these two instruments playing off one another, but on the other, it’s not all that different from other compelling music: propulsive rhythms in a cloud of interesting chordal/harmonic texture with affecting melodies floating above. As with much music being made in the 21st century, a healthy dose of electronics is in effect, which can, of course, go one of two opposing ways. The good news is that the result never falls in the category of trivial or weird for the sake of weirdness. In fact, the great news is that with Vast Potential, Raab and Dienz have made a rather accessible thing of lushness and beauty. Armed with a clear compositional vision and a mastery of both their instruments and their processing gear, the duo has succeeded in illuminating not just the vastness of their potential, but also the acuteness of their execution.
Hats off to folks trying something different with the tools at their disposal, odd as they may be…and that includes German label Traumton who continue their tradition of releasing top-shelf and left-of-center sounds.
Every town deserves a musical group featuring the tuba, especially one that can take requests. Porto has TGB (Tuba Guitarra Bateria, presumably), a trio comprised of Sérgio Carolino, Mário Delgado, and Alexandre Frazao on the aforementioned instruments. They self-identify as occupying the “space of interception between contemporary creativity and critical thought” and in doing so, show incredible range.
There is an infectious and dexterous playfulness on III that hooks you early on and hangs on tight. But one quickly realizes that it’s not all fun and games – these three not only flat out rip, but they also display great restraint and prudence in equal measure. Carolino’s versatility on his axe alone deserves mention here, as he defiantly re-situates the tuba as much more than an accompanying instrument or novelty. Anyway, I was quite enjoying III when about 2/3 of the way through they break into a terrific cover of King Crimson’s “Starless”, a tune on which I’ve been fixated since being reminded of it again last year when it was featured in the first act of Panos Cosmatos’ truly inspired film, Mandy…a cosmic sign, perhaps, that TGB are something special deserving sustained attention.
Definitely grateful for the fortuitous encounter with the sole cover on III, as well as the blast that I’ve had listening to the whole album all week. My vision for TGB is “Songs We’d Love To Hear At A Wedding Reception If People Had Any Taste”…next album, guys?
Trumpeter and composer Ralph Alessi assembled the elite crew of saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Andy Milne, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Mark Ferber to work on some new tunes. After touring on nine new Alessi numbers, the quintet entered La Buissonne in France, the same studio where Alessi had previously woven magic on Florian Weber’s incredible, Lucent Waters – incidentally, this is the proper order in which to make a record.
Explaining his approach to working with ECM boss and album producer Manfred Eicher, Alessi said, “We slow down a bit and make the most of the space within the music, resisting the natural urge to fill up every space with notes. It isn’t easy to do – it requires a certain discipline.” In fact, there is an almost an Eno-esque patience on the titular track and throughout this set. But it’s not all mellow-going…more upbeat numbers like “Melee”, “Improper Authorities”, and “Fun Room” are peppered throughout to create a thoroughly balanced record.
The assuredness on IF is palpable, so much so that one struggles to imagine anything approaching an accident having occurred here…and this kind of confidence in execution is no doubt rare. Undeniably sublime stuff here folks.
For the past several years I have excitedly anticipated new music from Denmark, due in no small part to the work of the PG Sounds and Jaeger Community Music imprints. The excitement has continued with Cirkel, the new album by Danish trumpeter and composer Jakob Sørensen’s Bagland (Danish for “constituency”) project.
For Cirkel, Sørensen has reconvened the core group of guitarist Alex Jønsson, pianist Mathias Jæger, bassist Frederik Sakham, and drummer Frej Lesner. Armed with inspiration from yesteryear’s landscape of Denmark’s northernmost town Skagen, Bagland has sculpted Scandinavian balm to the soul. Outdoing the loveliness of their previous two releases, Sørensen and company tap deeper into a stream that apparently only flows through Nordic countries, resulting in what can only be described as – recklessly risking new age stigma here – healing music. When a collection of music invokes Santo & Johnny, ECM production aesthetics, and electric Miles, I’m going to be all-in pretty much every time, and Cirkel has done so in graceful fashion.
It’s heartening that such young musicians are making such profoundly lovely music and it’s safe to say that I can’t get enough of this sort of thing. Fantastisk herrer!
Composer, arranger, and reeds man Drew Williams’ Wing Walker Orchestra has been knocking around in New York and its surrounding environs for about six years, but Hazel marks their first recorded output. And what a recording it is, dripping with as much vitality and flexibility as anything else released this year.
In addition to Williams, the ensemble consists of some of the most accomplished young players in the northeast United States: saxophonists Brad Mulholland and Eric Trudel, trumpet players John Blevins and Danny Gouker, trombonists Karl Lyden and Nick Grinder, guitarist Jeff McLaughlin, pianist Marta Sánchez, bassist and Out of Your Head Records honcho Adam Hopkins, and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell. Half of the record is comprised of a suit of pieces inspired by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s sci-fi graphic novel Staples, taking musical cues from a terrifically diverse spectrum of approaches both accessible and challenging, but the result is always satisfying. The remaining handful of tracks on Hazel is made up of a pair of Williams originals and inspired cover versions of Michaël Attias and tUnE-yArDs numbers. The biggest takeaway from the multiple listens I’ve already given Hazel is that the notion of genre is immaterial to these gifted musicians, and this is a great sign of hope for the future of large ensemble music being made in America.
Hazel is undoubtedly the strongest debut of 2019 so far, and it is not at all surprising that it has been lovingly presented on Matthew Golombisky’s ears&eyes imprint. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Having already shown proficiency in collaboration with high profile acts likes Lee Ranaldo, Christian Fennesz, and Mike Watt, French ensemble Hifiklub turn their sights on the exceptionally resourceful and varied Portuguese music scene. Thus was born E Lisboa, an album the tone of which approaches Crime and the City Solution or early Bad Seeds territory, which also happens to be precisely my headspace of late.
Guitarists Jean-Loup Faurat and Nico Morcillo, bassist Régis Laugier, and drummer Anthony Belguise have brought aboard a wide array of talent from the western Iberian Peninsula including Rafael Toral, Bernardo Devlin, Carlos Zingaro, and experimental duo Von Calhau to concoct an inspired document of pan-genre exploration. To paraphrase the inimitable Os Mutantes, it’s time now for me to learn Portuguese…so I can understand the lyrics on this record. Regardless, there is an emotional depth to the work here that is undeniable, culminating in the idyllic wash of the album closer “Continuar Sem Fim”, of which I could use at least an additional hour.
Shhpuma have become one of the most reliable hosts of excellent new sounds from around the globe and the release of E Lisboa is no exception. Incidentally, there are some very cool session videos on Hifiklub’s website that are worth checking out to experience some of their recording process.
Alister Spence and Satoko Fujii’s Orchestra Kobe – Imagine Meeting You Here (Alister Spence Music)
Just a handful of months after the release of the terrific collaboration Intelsat, Alister Spence and Satoko Fujii return with Imagine Meeting You Here, this time backed by Orchestra Kobe and captured at the Big Apple jazz club in Kobe Japan.
Penned by Spence as part of his doctoral work, IMYH is a five-part composition for improvising orchestra and it is a stunning amalgam of so many of the things that intrigue about music making in the 21st century – it has teeth, it leaves ample room for thoughtful improvisation, it is the result of teamwork on a large scale, and it throws the notion of genre to the wind. As Spence has said, “I was trying to create what I considered to be a balanced work in terms of energies and weight, tempo, rhythm, my ideas versus the ensembles ideas”. He has achieved just that, utilizing to great effect the considerable talent and dedication of Fujii and the Orchestra Kobe.
It is safe to say that the Spence / Fujii partnership is a winning combination, and bringing in Orchestra Kobe is a homerun that seems to come around only once in a lifetime. If you are a fan of the large-scale works of George Russell, Gil Evans, or Charles Mingus IMYH will most likely be your bag.
Lansing McLoskey / The Crossing – Zealot Canticles (Innova Recordings)
If I had to name one category of music that thoroughly compels me, it might be religious. From Sufi music of Damascus to Washington Phillips, and from the Alabama Sacred Harp Convention to a muezzin’s call to prayer in Chefchaouen, Morocco, there is an unrivaled passion and certainty in delivery that only faith can bring.
Lansing McLoskey conveys this sense of conviction on Zealot Canticles, a collection of 20 hymns of sorts, with libretto from the work of Nigerian human rights advocate and Nobel Prize winner, Wole Soyinka. Composed by McLoskey during the 2016 US presidential campaign and election, ZC is effectively a prayer of tolerance, denouncing religious and political fanaticism: a meditation on the fine line between piety and extremism. The music is at times energized, contemplative, enchanting, and jarring. It is also always stunning. Devotedly performed by commissioning chamber choir The Crossing, and conducted by Donald Nally, ZC is no doubt a profoundly spiritual work, and one that gains in depth with each successive listen.
McLoskey has created imperative art for 2019, as we see hate crimes on the rise and a general sense of entitlement for extremists to say or do whatever they please, and with impunity. If great artists are supposed to be the voice for the greater good of a harmonious society, McLoskey is certainly doing the work of a great artist.
Yonathan Avishai – Joys and Solitudes (ECM Records)
Now more than ever, I am drawn to music that is efficient in content and delivery: less has become more in a profound way, particularly when presented succinctly. So, when pianist, composer, and longtime friend and collaborator with trumpeter Avishai Cohen, Yonathan Avishai says, “I saw at some point that I become more expressive with less notes”, my interest is piqued.
Turns out, he is speaking truth, as evidenced by his new trio release, Joys and Solitudes. His “Modern Times Trio”, featuring bassist Yoni Zelnik and drummer Donald Kontomanou, is the perfect vehicle to bring this minimalist vision to life. All the tunes are Avishai originals save for Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”, of which the trio takes ownership through the magical process of reduction. Perhaps, as he has suggested, this aesthetic was inspired by his early exposure to kabuki theater while growing up in Japan. In any case, although minimal, Avishai’s approach on JaS is also decidedly cosmopolitan, which in the wrong hands can spell disaster. Fortunately, the trio’s are the right hands, lovingly presenting, as the title suggests, the range of emotion.
ECM is the perfect home for Avishai and JaS, adept as Manfred and co have always been at investigating artistic minutiae with a microscope. More of this, please.
Gerald Cleaver, Nels Cline, and Larry Ochs – What Is To Be Done (Clean Feed Records)
It’s interesting when three master musicians convene in the recording studio for the first time, particularly when it’s a 100% improvised date. What will the mood be? Who will take the lead? Will they listen to each other? Will it be any good?
The three masters in question are Detroit drummer Gerald Cleaver, perhaps known best for his playing with Henry Threadgill or Craig Taborn, Larry Ochs of the ROVA saxophone quartet, and ubiquitous guitarist Nels Cline. Three pieces were recorded in Richmond, Virginia at Gallery5 Arts in late 2016, two of them longer than 20 minutes each. This is not Sunday morning music, which is good because most of the time it is not Sunday morning. What Is To Be Done is primarily a ripping collection of cathartic improvisation, no surprise when titles such as “Outcries Rousing” adorn the back cover. Abundant shredding aside, there is a cohesion to this trio that can only come from reactive listening, plus Cleaver is unafraid to lock into a groove from time to time, which is a plus in my book of improvisation dos and don’ts. (It is worth noting that I have neither sold a single copy of this book, nor bothered to write it.)
Although I dig WITBD as the high-energy and downright exciting result of spontaneous expression, I would be curious to hear these three in a more composed setting. Hint, hint fellas.