Thursday, 28 January 2010



“To me jazz is a liquid thing – never fixed or concrete”. Joe Morris has a very clear vision of the places he wants the music to go to, and High Definition – which sees his bass legerdemain and compositional skill augmented by three extraordinarily responsive companions – unquestionably shows that attempting something different whilst maintaining the roots of prior historic movements visible is a remunerative decision when one understands the meaning of “respect”.

The project was conceived as a spiritual union of men working – to quote the nominal leader again – “as a playful folk-like setting”. At first, its temperament is occasionally grumpy and not exactly easy to welcome, a hypothetical finger given to those who think that a jazz record is necessarily meant for relaxing. This is an utterly positive quality, if you ask here: there’s nothing worse in this area than a set of sketchy pretexts without any degree of difficulty, sheer means to “tiresome blasting” ends. Then again, it is fantastic when an improvisation sounds as a natural flow even if the listener is still able to see the artists’ fangs. There are several times in which this happens here, the reward right behind the corner, dressed as compositions that appear seriously dissonant yet completely natural and – especially – informed by instrumental virtuosity gifted with unusual humanity.

Taylor Ho Bynum’s work on cornet, trumpet and flugelhorn is impressively ebullient, non-prosaic confidence and a logic of immoderately unrestricted melody characterizing the solos. The guy’s prominent vivacity is barely containable even when forced by a theme (Morris definitely does not help in that, angular melodic jumps and intervallic dispersions being the norm in almost all the tunes). Allan Chase, correctly described as a musician “who deserves more recognition than he gets” by Michael Rosenstein’s liners, is rational or daring depending on the circumstance – and an utter badass on the baritone saxophone. In “Topics”, among the album’s highs, dauntless aggressiveness and peace of mind seem to proceed simultaneously, the polychromatic sparkles coming out of his trade with Bynum alone worth of a tip of the hat.

It’s not all fire and liberation: in the subsequent “Bearing”, the foursome work on an “intuition-of-the-next-move” level, each protagonist sensitively vigilant, the music’s dynamics confined well below the blowout threshold. At that point, both Morris’ and drummer Luther Gray’s reciprocal sixth sense and probing restraint can be appreciated, their participation to the overall texture of the piece defined by a complete disintegration of the typical roles of a quartet. Morris’ command of so many idioms is amazing, the tone gorgeous to say the least. Finding renowned musicians whose voice on two dissimilar instruments (bass and guitar, in this case) is at such a stage of distinctiveness is quite rare today. Hearing those vigorously plucked figurations saturating the aural field while orienting the sonic tissue towards the territory of uncluttered freedom is a constant source of satisfaction for this listener.

After these undoubtedly ineffective words - heaven knows how difficult talking about jazz without sounding ridiculous is - the only thought that lingers on is “replay”. This is a somewhat thorny, ever-valuable, entirely gratifying release that confirms Joe Morris’ incredibly fertile period as a player and composer. This man’s quest for renewing that “liquid thing” and, at the same moment, not forgetting where we come from is a significant event in nowadays’ non-commercial music. Time to give it the proper importance, once and for all.

Saturday, 23 January 2010



Trombone and sinewaves, splendidly recorded - as usual - by Christoph Amann (by the way: is this man going to release something himself one day? Given his fabulous ear, I’m convinced that it would be a great outing).

As much as my body loves the kind of frequency that Malfatti and Filip produce thoughout the 50 minutes of Imaoto, it must be admitted that the inside struggle to find a response beyond the merely mental is still ongoing. Someone whose words are trusted had alerted me: it grows little by little, you need four/five listens before understanding its full value (this is valid for all serious music, we should add). Sure enough, I tried to spin to the CD time and again in a quiet setting (namely at home: listening to this type of music in a different context is totally pointless, except when it is played live and the audience is respectful) but, although undoubtedly a well-conceived work, it doesn’t generate an emotional commitment here. Not that this should be considered as an obligation yet it is always nice when it happens; in several previous Erstwhile releases it certainly did.

It must also be noted that the headphone test resulted in a double-edged knife. One’s able to detect any single droplet of Malfatti’s saliva as he dampens the mouthpiece, and his deep, if restrained breathing amidst the emitted tones (we’re approaching sonic voyeurism, such is the quality of the details). These things are more difficult to catch without a headset. The preventable scraping on the instrument’s bell, which sounds out of place for this writer, is a tiny blemish. On the other hand, the purring undertones generated by the trombone and the powerful humming surges of Filip’s sinewaves are difficult to manage at their most effective due to the structural buzzing altering the actual sound of the instruments, which is detestable. Therefore, stick with the speakers: this stuff needs to diffuse, ricochet and make the skull tremble, not to clutter your ears with extraneous presences.

Basically, if you’re willing to be subjected to some serious ultrasonic/subsonic emanations, a tad of explorative whispering/delicate boiling, a few humid oral nuances and, ultimately, to forget about emotion for a while, then Imaoto is nearly perfect. Especially at a very high volume. As far as the album’s overall artistic significance is concerned, I’m inclined to thinking that the level is not the same of, say, a (Rowe & Nakamura’s) Between. Admittedly, though, not many records can reach that complexity.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

DARIUS JONES TRIO – Man’ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing)

AUM Fidelity

A strong, passionate, soulful representation of the vicissitudes of life transpires from every minute of the impressive first album (as a leader) by alto saxophonist Darius Jones. Flanked by masters Cooper-Moore (piano and diddley-bo) and Rakalam Bob Moses (drums), Jones achieves the difficult aim of presenting a self-portrait which is at one and the same time visceral and fragile, and – in essence – achingly beautiful for its large part. Grown in Virginia in a poor family, this man’s existence has been influenced by the presence of music since a very tender age, and it clearly shows. The manner of speaking of Jones’ reed is never formulaic, or just based on a set of rules to follow. His instrument can sound as a natural whirlwind of uncontrollable overtones (“Salty”) or the means for an invocation to superior entities (“Meekly” and, especially, “Forgive Me”). He’s able to draw gorgeous linear melodies while voluntarily keeping the notes at the margins of the correct pitch, sounding absolutely terrific nevertheless.

A profound spiritual empathy inevitably seems to exude from these pieces and adapt to our receptiveness: volatility, transcendence, heartbreaking awareness, undying hopefulness. It’s all there, even a degree of rage - check the power of “Chasing The Ghost”, in which Cooper-Moore and Moses shoot probationary bullets of anarchic interdependence as the protagonist keeps blowing your socks off with sterling tone and visionary vehemence. The bonus track “Chaych” features customary comrades Adam Lane and Jason Nazary pumping hard and exciting blues-tinged iron. Basically, Man’ish Boy is one of those albums whose constructive vigour is so vividly perceivable that a description causes more damage than good. Translation: get a copy soon and play it loud and often, as this debut is worthy of being called a classic.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

ROBERT SCHECHTMAN – Moons And Ancestors


Robert Schechtman (1939-2002) - a professor at Michigan’s Grand Valley State University until an untimely death caused by a heart attack - was a prolific yet unrecorded composer, his work influenced both by minimalist tendencies and high spiritual standards. Once again, the good people at OgreOgress come and remove the shroud of our ignorance from a hitherto mysterious figure, Moons And Ancestors being another ear-catching chapter in the label’s unpretentiously essential saga.

“Ancestral Songs”, performed by Paul Austin (horn) and Gregory Crowell (organ) at the same time involves and leaves perplexed through a mixture of inscrutability and melodic straightforwardness sounding unquestionably unique – in that there’s no available comparison – but with a lingering sense of doubt that lets one wonder, at times, whether the composition’s influence is somehow limited by its simple traits. The music’s timbral combination and beautifully resonant qualities push the needle of choice towards positive reception at last.

Except for “Jitterbug”, a polite but not overly absorbing variation on a classic boogie, the 34-minute cycle “Water From The Moon” - entirely played by Christina Fong on an amplified violin – comprises the best sonic matter on offer: obstinately graceful, poignantly evocative, traces of inquietude vaguely disrupting otherwise unperturbed inner visions. Drawn-out single notes, faintly dissonant geometries and gradually arching figurations succeed amidst moments of protective hush and suspended progression. Fong applies her exemplary talent and impressive precision to scores that, listened at the right moment, are capable of influencing the listeners’ ephemeral disposition, rendering them conscious – if only for a few minutes – of that inexplicable prescience clutching a sensitive being’s mind, often more concretely linked to impending life events than we realize. This is particularly valid for the really splendid “Siren Songs”, alone worth of owning the record.

“Variations On The Huang Chung Of The Eleventh Moon” – interpreted by the ensemble Ethnoeccentric - is a variegated piece that doesn’t lack anything as far as technically appealing incidents and sheer virtuosity are concerned; yet, sporadically, it comes across as less stirring when compared to the rest of the album, its polymorphic density occasionally hiding the profoundness that seems to intensely characterize the other pieces. Nevertheless, the three-way conversation of percussion, piano and strings remains totally efficient, the near-perfect instrumental balance dissipating any latent reservation about the commitment of the involved parties.

LUCKY 7S - Pluto Junkyard

Clean Feed

Please welcome a truly brilliant septet which features – somewhat bizarrely – two lead trombonists (Jeb Bishop and Jeff Albert) and performs conspicuously intricate, ear-rewarding compositions, intelligibly articulated in invigorating swiftness, the cleverness of the arrangements at a persistently remarkable level. The rest of the lineup consists of Josh Berman (cornet), Keefe Jackson (tenor sax), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), Matthew Golombisky (bass) and Quin Kirchner (drums).

This is easily one of the finest albums to come out of Pedro Costa’s imprint in the last year or so; persuasive compositions, nearly palpable structural mass, the instrumental delineation neat as a new pin. A refined complexity is deployed with judiciousness, never intended as a means to leave people impressed with pathetic flurries of bells and whistles. Illegitimacy and fury get channelled in energizing flows brimming with authority and, in a way, pressure. There’s something in these kids – look at those great faces inside the sleeve – which makes me think to each one’s different upbringing, to the juvenile (and probably ongoing) enthusiasm that was felt while practicing at home, dreaming of living a musician’s life in search of the purest mental freedom. You know what? Judging from Pluto Junkyard they succeeded, reinforcing the assumption according to which a mixture of precise directives and good-natured anarchy is the best weapon against cerebral stagnancy. Oh, and the rocking blowout “The Dan Hang” must be heard to believe: heavy riffage, muscular drumming and fuming squealing by an armada of clairvoyant pilgrims.

Had this writer been a po-faced Downbeat contributor, he’d have given this 70-minute CD four stars and a half. Being myself instead just a non-corporative nihilist bear amused by ordinary people’s illusions, who also happens to instantly recognize if an artist – and, in general, a person - is worth of a shufti, trust my words: Lucky 7s kick ass. Even if when they swing.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

PAUL DUNMALL SUN QUARTET – Ancient And Future Airs

Clean Feed

It’s funny reading, on the press release, of the “triumphant presentation” of the Paul Dunmall/Henry Grimes/Andrew Cyrille trio that occurred in New York the day before this CD was recorded (June 15, 2008), since I’ve just listened to the album documenting that particular concert finding the music rather confused, lacking artistic consequence and, in general, overhyped. Ancient And Future Airs is another matter altogether, a set where mental lucidity is constantly tangible, the interplay definitely benefiting from this clear collective vision.

In the lengthy “Ancient Airs” the Paul Dunmall/Tony Malaby forward couple - two tenor and a soprano sax, plus the ever-cherished bagpipes - is at times utterly spectacular, swapping accurately hurtful power shots reminiscent of the first Diego Corrales – Jose Luis Castillo fight (if you haven’t seen that one, get a copy then thank your reviewer later) but, in the calmer sections, conversing like old friends at late night, all arguments finally settled in favour of an evocative deliberateness not intoxicated by the fumes of dishonest technical deception. Not to mention the almost savage spirit of their extensive solos, “exhaustion” an unidentified word in this occasion.

Whereas Mark Helias represents a paradigm of functional acoustic link, his purpose apparently consisting in reminding everybody about the possible contaminations deriving from a schizophrenic autonomy (though he cannot certainly be defined as an unadventurous player: check the splendid solo around the 34th minute), Kevin Norton’s vibes – more than his corroborating drumming – squeeze small droplets of metallic colour on the timbral canvas, different hues added to an already complex, if entirely logical picture of passion and intelligence.

The encore (“Future Airs”) is a short yet momentous demonstration of how restraint and control can work wonders in jazz, the artists maintaining an utopian farsightedness as they manage to keep seditious tendencies at bay, a captivating de-escalation of energy into the original state of quietness. A classily sensitive conclusion for an inspiring recording.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

CHRISTOPHER TIGNOR – Core Memory Unwound

Western Vinyl

There are times in which all one looks for in a succession of juxtaposed sounds is delicacy. And there are certain composers that, under a veil of fragility, reveal instead an imagination so luminous that it becomes difficult to connect the apparent flimsiness of their work to the sentiments that it generates in the listener. Christopher Tignor – a computer scientist who happens to possess a gift for composing intriguing music – is a surprising artist, in that he raises artistic questions through means that have already been exploited by others, at least in part. Yet his creations cause emotional responses that we’re used to notice only when confronted with a deeper complexity.

Core Memory Unwound features compositions (or, as indicated by the press release, “tone poems”) for piano and violin enhanced by a self-designed software called “memory machines”. Apart from a couple of direct interventions by Tignor, the pieces are performed by Margaret Kampmeier and Colin Jacobsen with the same profound commitment applied by the composer in devising these concepts. This isn’t an innovative-at-every-cost statement, and we are not crying miracle, either. But there’s some magic in these strangely reverberating chords, stretched violin lines and poignant harmonic auras underlying the melodic developments. In a track such as the superb “Cathedral”, Tignor succeeds in leaving us suspended in expectation despite the use of compositional tools that, hypothetically, should not produce excessive awe, or even surprise for that matter. The man’s talent is revealed by the perceptively clever utilization of those materials, the outcome a record full of grace that accompanies our activities like an indispensable component of early-morning life. It sounds natural, and it’s just gorgeous. Sometimes, that’s everything you’re going to need to keep trusting the suggestion of an improvement.


Cold Blue

In 1981 Christopher Roberts travelled to Papua New Guinea “to study the natural prosody of music”. The strong reciprocal empathy led to a multitude of exchanges, the natives introduced to an hitherto unknown instrument, the visitor ensnared by their songs, rituals and atmospheres. During a subsequent dream, he was moving the bow “across the strings of the bass in an entirely new way that recreated the drums, and the hornbills’ wings, and the voices of the people whose every song tells a story”.

The gestures that Roberts had envisioned – later translated into a score for three double basses (himself plus Mark Morton and James Bergman) – are now audible in this beautiful CD, enriched by copious doses of substance in a relatively short extent (less than 35 minutes). There are many aspects that transform the listening practice in a rewardingly self-collecting session. For example, the stunning tone of the main voice - already a favourite of mine - which in this particular case is refracted and projected by the very deployment of the parts that the composer designed. A distinct serenity, deriving by the power of the memories rooted in the mind of the man who actually lived the initial experience, permeates the spirit of this music. Yet we also detect mournfulness, like a nostalgic remembrance of something that has struck hard and deep and can’t possibly be brought back.

Although the character of the pieces is prevalently tonal, there’s nary a moment of dullness in the whole album. This is one of those records who seem to symbolize the thankfulness to a superior entity, permeated as it is of engrossing appreciation for a unique opportunity to share the purest values of human brotherhood, an over-and-done concept nowadays. Luckily, the notes remain - and they’re outright magnificent.

Monday, 4 January 2010

APRICOT MY LADY – Newly Refurbished And Tussock Moth

Esc Rec

What’s often missing in contemporary improvisation is a logic of entertaining. Does a midway point exist between excessive seriousness and buffoonery? Apricot My Lady – a quartet composed by Adam and Jonathan Bohman, Lukas Simonis and Anne La Berge – try and provide an answer with this amusing CD, which features eighteen petite pieces that, in the words of their creators, were put together because they tend to appear as a “song cycle”. I wish the world had more songwriters like these. One only has to take a look at the instrumentation utilized to understand, as it comprises “giant comb”, “eternal springs” and “short guitar” (all played by the Bohmans) amidst “regular” machines such as Simonis’ “guitar with at least 10 pedals” and La Berge’s flutes, filters and samples.

The inventive originality and the sense of humour which this music is gifted with instantly connected yours truly to the original intentions of the artists, of course still unknown after the second and third listen. But, in truth, who cares? Unserviceable squealing, incompatible paternities of slanted rhythms, nonsensical vocal counterpoints, rasping and scrubbing bravado, a temperament of gutturally visceral explicitness manifest throughout. And one of the Bohmans narrates the circumstances surrounding his tonsil and adenoid operation as a kid in a particular “tune”. Weird as you want, always intelligently delivered, this is excellent stuff.