Tyshawn Sorey – Pillars (Firehouse 12)
For the past decade or so, Dr. Tyshawn Sorey has busied himself making some of the most absorbing music of the 21st century, creating entire universes out of personal musical meditations. Only one thing is certain about his music: if you want in on the secret, active listening is required.
Nearly four hours of music spread out over three discs comprise Pillars, so listening to all of it in an initial sitting might very well be at your own peril. As a suggested entry point, begin perhaps with disc two, the most initially arresting of the three, then work your way into the music in the order it has been officially presented to us for consumption.
Although it is performed by an octet of trumpet, trombone, electric and acoustic guitars, basses, and percussion, Pillars has a quality that is not unlike Roscoe Mitchell’s Trios wherein numerous and varying groupings of players make for optimal interplay. In execution, however, this is quite a different beast.
Extended, upended, and distended instrumental techniques, cascading electronic delay effects, ancient horns, and the deliciously judicious combination of restraint and blow make for a singular listening experience that defies category and description. A stellar ensemble of Stephen Haynes (trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet, alto horn, small percussion), Ben Gerstein (trombone, melodica), Todd Neufeld (electric and acoustic guitars), Joe Morris (electric guitar, double-bass), Carl Testa (double-bass, electronics), Mark Helias (double-bass) and Zach Rowden (double-bass) proves to be the perfect foil for Sorey’s variegated compositional approach. The good Dr. Sorey handles the drum set, percussion, trombone, Tibetan ritual horn dungchen, and conducting with the grace and certainty of a Zen master. BRAVO, MAESTRO!
WildSonicBlooms – Where We Overlap (Rattle Records)
From the opening moments of Where We Overlap, I am transported to the late 80s and early 90s when post-everything champions Talk Talk and dark ambient stalwarts Brian Williams, Bryn Jones, Robin Storey, Vidna Obmana, and Mick Harris roamed the earth. For those artists, high priority was placed on readying the studio environment to perpetually engender and capture the spontaneous creative act…. so it seems with WildSonicBlooms, the moniker of the maiden meeting between some of New Zealand’s finest musicians.
Traditional and unconventional instruments enhanced by electronic stardust at the adept hands of Jeremy Mayall, Kent Macpherson, Horomona Horo, Haco, Reuben Bradley and Megan Rogerson-Berry blend to form a dream-space into which one can temporarily escape. Drones chill, voices suggest, percussion pulse, synths interpose, and effects obscure to define this space’s curious parameters.
Though “cinematic” is a cheap way to describe this place, I can’t help but consider Deckard’s ensconced apartment as the rains incessantly fall outside in the alarmingly near dystopian future of 2019’s Los Angeles in Blade Runner as I listen. This is one to which I will return as our social and political situation stateside grows bleaker.
John Blevins’ Matterhorn – Uzumati (ears&eyes)
Any time uncannily consistent Chicago imprint Ears & Eyes Records releases new material, I take note. The newest on the label, Uzumati, starts off pleasantly enough with a sufficiently grooving vamp with fine solo exchanges between guitarist Jeff McLaughlin, reedman Drew Williams, and trumpeter and leader John Blevins, but then quickly kicks into another, unexpected gear altogether.
The rhythm section of Jesse Bielenberg (bass), Nathan Ellman-Bell (drums), and John Doing (percussion) rounds out the group in no small way: unyielding pulse is crucial to the bulk of this material. Hints of King Crimson and even The Police present themselves more apparently than, say, Miles Davis, though Matterhorn never settles on mimicking any of that.
Uzumati is a sound-gumbo that works…weirdo pop and adventurous world-music forms, long ambient murmurations, and 12-tone Zappa-esque melodies are on the menu and I’m ordering seconds. Fittingly recorded in Queens, NY, the multicultural capital of the world, and inspired by the majesty of the Sierra Nevadas, this is some mountainous stuff.
Jonathan Finlayson – 3 Times Round (Pi Recordings)
Like two of his musical mentors – Henry Threadgill and Steve Coleman – Jonathan Finlayson is a musician and composer bent on the pursuit of innovation. On his third album for Brooklyn’s venerable Pi Recordings, Finlayson has taken the step of including two additional horns, both saxophones, to the mix. The resulting harmonic discourse is phenomenal.
The band on 3 Times Round reads like a Downbeat critics poll list: saxophonists Steve Lehman and Brian Settles, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist John Hebert, and drummer Craig Weinrib, the last three from Finlayson’s Sicilian Defense outfit. As with nearly all music in which he is involved, Mitchell takes MVP, covering the court here with chordal blankets like Scottie Pippen. He makes wicked soloists like Finlayson, Lehman, and Settles (the Jordans in this by now bad and exhausting analogy) look really, really good…and solos his ass off as well!
There are two major-centerpieces of the album: “A Stone, a Pond, a Thought” and “The Moon is New”. On the first, the band stretches out effectively on a somewhat looser form, making for a terrific counterpart to the relentless rhythmic complexity of much of the rest of the record. On the second, there are poignantly dramatic interludes that give respite from the otherwise vigorous sections of the staggering14+ minute opus.
On his third time round as a leader, Finlayson has hit on some genuine inspiration that will hold us fans over ’til the fourth!
Cuong Vu 4-Tet – Change In The Air (RareNoise Records)
London’s RareNoise Records is on quite a roll in 2018, releasing stone cold gems from Jamie Saft (two actually!), Bobby Previte, Sonar w/ David Torn, and The Joshua Trinidad Trio. The run continues with Change In The Air, the second RNR release by Vietnamese-born, Seattle-based trumpeter Cuong Vu in as many years. Here, Vu is again joined by singular guitarist Bill Frisell, as well as drummer Ted Poor and bassist Luke Bergman, as solid a rhythm section as could be asked for.
The tunes are provided by all members of the group and are quite lovely, but what is crucial when soloists of the caliber of Frisell and Vu are on the session is that the tunes provide room for the conversation to go where it may. Mission accomplished, perhaps not more effectively on this record than by Poor on his gorgeous and melancholic “Lately”: the dialog between Frisell and Vu here is some of the richest of 2018, bearing similarities to a Frisell/Hank Roberts heart-to-heart from Frisell’s flawless 1991 record, Where in the World.
There is so much to enjoy about Change in the Air, more of which continues to come to light upon each repeated listen. Maybe if we all listen between now and November 6, the title will materialize and we can begin to peel away the layers of awful that have fallen over our country.