December 11, 2015
Grant Calvin Weston/Lucas Brode
577 Records 5791
Gabriele Meirano/Federico Ughi
577 Records 5788
By Ken Waxman
Astute scholars of American politics could probably find more similarities in the policies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders than the link between these CDs. Released on the same label, both are duos that highlight powerhouse drumming, but after that everything diverges. Flying Kites features percussionist Grant Calvin Weston, an early member of Prime Time, plus guitarist Lucas Brode, whose allegiance is to the rock-oriented side of improvisation. Fully immersed in free-form improvisation on the other hand is Coordinate Orientale which showcases the intuitive coordination between pianist Gabriele Meirano, who has had a presence on the London and Copenhagen jazz scenes, and New York drummer Federico Ughi, associated with downtown icons such as William Parker and Daniel Carter. Coordinate Orientali’s eight tracks were recorded organically in Shanghai, where Meirano now lives, while Flying Kites’ 12 numbers appear to involve studio wizardry, with Weston recording his drum, percussion and synthesizer parts in Philadelphia while Boide’s guitar, effects and loops were recorded in Somers, N.Y.
Both born in Italy, Meirano’s and Ughi’s session could be one of the most significant Italian excursions into China since The Travels of Marco Polo. But these are jazz players not ethnic music adaptors. So despite temple bell pealing and guzheng string-plucking inferences in tunes such as “Jin Ling Road”, piano solos lean more towards Chick Corea’s Latin side and Thelonious Monk’s angularity. Since the Italians never set out to make a so-called Chinese record, if the gentleness that characterize other tunes such as “Double Happiness” and “Magic Moe” undulate in a melodious fashion, one wonders if the watery flow reflected should be linked to the Yangtzse, the Poe or the Hudson river? Along with a song-like sense of pacing, “Double Happiness” cloaks a core of steel underneath tangy sweetness like discovering the reassuring crunch in an Oriental delicacy that initially appears soft and mushy. Elsewhere cascading piano glissandi threaten to turn “Magic Moe” excessively formalist until tuned cymbal vibrations help it relax into a stark ballad played with Ahmad Jamal-like economy. Stylistically the pianist uses a classy variant of hunt-and-peck to source the proper notes on the concluding “Chewy”. Like a cyclist evolving several strategies to weave through gridlocked Shanghai traffic, his playing can be soothing, sparkling and supple at various times. After propelling weighty pedal-pushed tones forward, Meirano isolates the theme, using chopstick-like dexterity to pick out a tender sonic morsel, finally resolving the piece with languid key strokes. As for Urghi, while he supplies the necessary pitches and rhythms at crucial points, he does so with the self-effacement of an imperial court functionary, never bringing attention to himself, but subtly strengthening each musical foray.
If only the same could be said of Weston. A worshiper at the altar of hard rock, his every move appears to be telegraphed with crude pumps and cranked up battering, though it must be admitted that his strategy locks in positively with Brode’s strained guitar wiggles and repeated sound loops. Occasionally though the American-made fireworks are put aside for more restrained fare, although overall it’s like someone sipping a diet soda during a multi-course banquet rich in cholesterol. Through pointedly “As Luck Would Have It” and “Slowly Wandering” pull back from metal-styled excess, but in the same fashion a rock band’s introduces an obligatory ballad melody in the middle of an arena set. Built on folksy strums, the former tune shows Brode’s controlled dynamics becoming almost lute-like in execution, until Weston’s synths add some oomph with spluttering processes. On “Slowly Wandering” Brode’s repetative steel guitar-like licks move with the simplicity of updated Santo & Johnny tune and even Weston is also suitably muted
Among the overdone rock backbeats and Brode’s collection of Jimmy Page-like licks, “What It Is” stands out as what the two could have achieved with more ambition. A hard shuffle that takes inspiration from both hip hop and the blues, the track alone justifies Brode’s effects collection, since he applies them with an artist’s not a house-painter’s strokes. Meanwhile Weston’s buzzing smacks appropriately add drama and emotion to the exposition, while showcasing a theme that deserves the restatement it gets before the track ends.
Coordinate Orientali’s title reflects the CD: two sophisticated stylists cooperating comfortably on a set of Sino-recorded improvisations. Flying Kites however may be more of a misnomer since the airship reflected appears heavier, in both senses of the word, than the gutsy fusion it appears this duo was seeking. Perhaps listening to it on its own would make it sound less pedestrian.
Tracks: Coordinate: Jin Ling Road; The Cold Seas; Double Happiness; Tony; Magic Moe; The Landlady; Il Tempio; Chewy
Personnel: Coordinate: Gabriele Meirano (piano) and Federico Ughi (drums)
Tracks: Flying: Flying Kites; Hello There; Is it You?; Pump Fake, Jab Step, Fadeaway; What It Is; Interlude; As Luck Would Have It; Slowly Wandering; Droids; Bone Splatter Ain’t Cheap; Grant; Slap Shot
Personnel: Flying: Lucas Brode (guitars, effects, loops) and Grant Calvin Weston (drums, percussion, synths)
—For The New York City Jazz Record December 2015