Categories
2019 new releases

Drone Trio, Du Yun & International Contemporary Ensemble, Timespine, Flavio Zanuttini Opacipapa, and Claudio Scolari, Daniele Cavalca, and Simone Scolari

Drone Trio – Lantskap Logic (Clean Feed Records)

When one considers a trio of pipe organ, electric guitar, and saxophone, the initial expectation is not likely, “a minimal, dark-ambient masterpiece!” Alas, here we are with Lantskap Logic. Lovingly recorded in the chapel at Mills College in Oakland, California, Evelyn Davis, Fred Frith, and Phillip Greenlief deliver one of the most mesmerizing documents of improvised music in recent memory.

As the all-purpose group name “Drone Trio” might suggest, this was an ad hoc meeting, presumably executed with little or no preparation. This is all the more impressive considering the almost alien subtlety and responsiveness of the performances of Davis, Frith, and Greenlief: at times it’s impossible to discern three distinct instruments within the drone they are so in sync. Also, there is something about hearing music in a sacred space, performed by true masters, that is deeply affecting, and even through the medium of hi-res digital files, this is the present case. It is only at the tail end of LL, as sirens sound in the streets, that the spell is broken.

LL has transcendence in spades and I know I am not alone when I say, at the risk of sounding greedy, I could use another two hours of this asap.

learn more at Clean Feed Records and buy at your local record store, Squidco, or at Amazon

 

 

Du Yun / International Contemporary Ensemble – Dinosaur Scar (Tundra Records)

Caveat: I am not an expert on 21st century orchestral music, or any other for that matter, but I do come across music written from a variety of perspectives and sometimes decide to write about it, so here goes…

Du Yun is a Pulitzer Prize winning composer and a founding collaborator with the International Contemporary Ensemble and Dinosaur Scar is a retrospective of sorts released on ICE’s own Tundra imprint documenting her time working closely with ICE the past decade or so. Characteristics that have become hallmarks of ICE are all present on DS: masterful execution, stagnation-averse, extended techniques, fearless expressivity, improvisatory, and aesthetically exceptional.

While there is so much to digest with DS, a few highlights, coincidentally, of the release’s lengthiest pieces, follow: “Air Glow”, here adapted for four trumpets, flugelhorn, and electric guitar/bass is irrefutably majestic, like some demented ritual music; “by, of … Lethean” is also stunning, presenting a confounding-ly woven tapestry, perhaps of forgetfulness – Lethean was the river in Greek mythology that caused those who drank from it oblivion – and features Du Yun performing on zheng; “Run in a Graveyard” features flautist and founder / former artistic / executive director of ICE, Claire Chase, at first skipping, then, um, running, through a slowly detonating landmine of electronics, and is a tense dynamo!

The most accurate description these unqualified ears can conjure of Du Yun’s music is “subtlety edgy”: it is no hurry to make its point, but it will bite you if necessary. Much more exploring of her work is undoubtedly forthcoming.

learn more at Du Yun’s website and New Focus Recordings and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Timespine – Urban Season (Shhpuma Records)

Let’s just start with this: Urban Season is home to the most compelling use of field recordings this side of Steven Stapleton’s Nurse With Wound. Listening to US, I found myself physically leaning in in an attempt to uncover what in the world was happening sonically within its mysterious backdrop. Though the secret was never quite revealed, the attempt made for great sport.

The foreground of the 21st century string band Timespine is made up of zither player Adriana Sá, bassist John Klima, and guitarist Tó Trips, also of Portuguese band Dead Combo. There is a fascinating chemistry between the three musicians, who interpret Sá’s graphic scores with grand sensitivity and innovation. Though electronic manipulation is utilized in sculpting an inexplicable vibe, it never interferes with the fact that three musicians are interacting in a profoundly creative act.

Because such a substantial leap forward has been made from the Portuguese group’s eponymous debut release, also on Shhpuma, I can only imagine the volume of brains that will melt upon release #3. Excelente trabalho!

learn more at Timespine’s new site, Clean Feed Records, and SHHPuma and buy at your local record store, Squidco, or Amazon

 

 

Flavio Zanuttini Opacipapa – Born Baby Born (Clean Feed Records)

The most essential question for a musician is how do I fill up this space with sound? Formulas have been devised for and dutifully used by groups of musicians about the “best” ways of doing this over the years involving who plays what and how. The issue is complicated when the group is “limited” by its membership, resulting in nearly as many outcomes as there are groups.

In the case of the bass instrument-less trio, Motian/Lovano/Frisell and Baron/Swell/Eskelin come to mind as having made some astoundingly effective decisions that have resulted in terrific if very different music. In this lineage, trumpeter Flavio Zanuttini has convened with eight of his tunes and saxophonist Piero Bittolo Bon and drummer Marco D’Orlando, collectively known as Opacipapa, to bravely accept and smash this personnel challenge. Born Baby Born is not only a total success with respect to making a go without the traditional notion of bass, but it is a jubilant frolic of a good time, not unlike a crafty and thrifty second line.

Each player is so dialed-in to the tunes and each other’s nuanced performances that the resultant whole is truly another galaxy apart from the few parts: no holes here, at all. Cranking BBB is a fantastic way to start anew in 2019!

learn more at Flavio Zanutti’s site and Clean Feed Records and buy at your local record store, Squidco or Amazon

 

 

Claudio Scolari, Daniele Cavalca & Simone Scolari – Natural Impulse (Principal Records)

There is a something old/ something new vibe to Natural Impulse: at times, particularly early in the disc’s just over 60 minute run time, familiarity of harmony and form acts as reliable comfort food of sorts. As NI continues though, drummer Claudio Scolari, multi-instrumentalist Daniele Cavalca, and trumpeter (Claudio’s son) Simone Scolari explore more and more interesting territory for the more adventurous palette….and to delicious effect!

NI is the third album released by the trio and finds them locating a happy place between acoustic and electronic sounds. The elder Scolari describes the group’s approach as “composing in real time with no rules”. The secret weapon here appears to be Cavalca who handles synths, rhodes, piano, vibraphone, bass, and occasionally, second drum kit!

Though I’m not sure how this project jibes as a live unit, this recording is an overdubbed or unnatural response to a natural impulse…and this is not a dig, because as always, technology in the right hands is very much an ally to creativity.

learn more at Claudio Scolari’s site and buy at your local record store, CD Baby, or Amazon

 

Categories
2018 releases

Cécile McLorin Salvant, Cory Smythe, Phronesis, Fred Frith, and The Lie Detectors

Cécile McLorin Salvant – The Window (Mack Avenue)

Let’s start with this: Cécile McLorin Salvant is one of the three or so most compelling and excellent vocalists making music in 2018. On her new duo album The Window, her magnificently refined aesthetic and masterful interplay with pianist Sullivan Fortner sets Salvant apart in a way that is profound and likely discouraging to others in the singing game. More obscure gems from the torch and pop cannons and beyond sit comfortably aside enchanting takes on standards by Richard Rogers, Cole Porter, Dori Cayimi, and other all-time greats of songwriting.

Dense spells are cast at will as Fortner receives the go-ahead to brandish his French-Impressionistic meets German-Romantic (filtered through Monk-ish stride) dexterity as he does on Bernstein’s “Somewhere” and on the Winstone/Rowles classic “Peacocks” when they are joined by Melissa Aldana on tenor sax. When in this trance-state, one almost forgets that these are primarily songs about the total desolation that love can bring – beguiling, not unlike love’s spell itself. Despite the somewhat depressing subject matter, this remains one of the most splendid records of 2018 and one can only hope that Salvant returns to this seamless duo format with Fortner again and again in the future.

learn more at Mack Avenue and buy at your local record store or Amazon

 

 

Cory Smythe – Circulate Susanna (Pyroclastic)

As part of Tyshawn Sorey’s exceptional trio, pianist Cory Smythe’s extraordinarily reactive playing was one of the absolute standouts at the most recent Big Ears Festival. Smythe furthers his trend of astounding on Circulate Susanna, a kind of otherworldly song-cycle inspired in part by a version of his musical upbringing in rural Illinois, particularly as it was informed by America’s dark past as reflected in the paradoxically light tone of its popular music. He is joined by the gifted and imaginative duo of guitarist Daniel Lipell and vocalist Sofia Jernberg.

Lipell’s deft acoustic guitar playing is purposefully detuned and at times liberally doused in electronic processing that only enhances the Partch-like alien-ness of the proceedings. Jernberg vocalizes in a wholly unique and gripping way: part throat harmonizing, alien binary code, part western art music master, and part possessed and/or rabid animal. There are numerous moments on this recording when I have no concept of who is playing what and how, not unlike a Kagel piece, and that is a decided plus in my book. A seemingly Burroughsian lyrical cut-up of the classic “Strange Fruit” adorns the final powerhouse track “To Gather the Wond” that I have now listened to over 20 times in a row…the mood is chilling, but I cannot get enough of it. Big props to pianist Kris Davis for releasing this one on her new imprint Pyroclastic.

learn more at Smythe’s website and buy at your local record store, bandcamp or Amazon

 

 

Phronesis – We Are All (Edition Records)

For their 8th studio release, Phronesis – the vehicle for bassist Jasper Høiby, pianist Ivo Neame, and drummer Anton Eger to throw down – shows no sign of taking it easy.  In fact, We Are All is a rallying cry for unity in a time of profound divisiveness.  Kinetic, syncopated, deliberate, direct, and jagged are words that initially come to mind when describing the sounds on WAA, but that is selling it short.  These guys are undoubtedly playing their asses off here, but it’s not simply a wank-fest by any barometer – there is a sum > parts certainty about this recording.

Collectable artwork and collectable sounds abound from the venerable Edition Records, this is a release that encapsulates 2018’s cloud of anxiety as well as its resilient pushback. At six tracks in just fewer than 41 minutes this is and will always be my kind of record.

learn more at Edition and Phronese’s website and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

Fred Frith Trio – Closer to the Ground (Intakt Records)

Legendary guitarist and musical maverick Fred Frith has covered a lot of territory over 50+ years, but, as he mentions in the liner notes to his new album Closer to the Ground, he has always been in a band for what only that kind of arrangement can bring.  Not only is his trio with bassist Jason Hoopes and drummer Jordan Glenn another of those many bands, but it’s one of Frith’s most superlative since his much-beloved Henry Cow.

As an improvising soloist of the highest order, I can’t imagine Frith wanting for a single thing more from his latest rhythm section – they lay down metronomic and/or shifting grooves, they create sunset-like colors on which Frith eviscerates and/or gently highlights with an array of engaging tremolo and reverberant effects, and they are acutely aware of their supporting-yet-not-passive role and play and/or don’t play accordingly.  Bravo to Swiss imprint Intakt Records for being home to such a vital statement from a singular artist and his inventive crew.

learn more at Intakt Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp, or Amazon

 

 

The Lie Detectors – Part III: Secret Unit (Chant Records)

The duo of guitarist Eyal Maoz and drummer Asaf Sirkis aka The Lie Detectors is at ease stretching out, perhaps a result of their longstanding rapport, stretching back to when they were 10 years old growing up in Rehovot, Israel.  In the intervening years, Maoz and Sirkis have amassed resumes that read like a who’s who of creative music in NYC and Europe, and for good reason: these guys rip!

TLD is a finely-tuned vehicle replete with rack and pinion steering, precision gearbox, four-piston aluminum monobloc fixed caliper brakes, and on P3:SU they prove more than capable of leaping into and traversing whatever terrain presents itself.  The music freaks out like early Mothers of Invention, pummels like Tony Williams Lifetime, zigzags like another wicked duo, Ruins, and locks into cruise control like a kind of majestic Endless Summer.  Hop in the back and hold on to your hat…it’s heck of a gratifying ride.

learn more at Chant Records and buy at your local record store, bandcamp or Amazon