|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Andy Laster
Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra
Accurate Records AC-5062
Hollistic MusicWorks HMW 1
Mark Rapp’s Melting Pot
Dinemec Records DJCD 253
One of the unfortunate conceits that Jazz has inherited from so-called Classical music is the Great Man celebration. That is musical history reduced to a pantheon filled with Greek-like gods – every notice the architecture of most concert halls? – with commemorations of these heroes and their works taking up the majority of concerts and performances in these genres.
While music appreciation in Jazz hasn’t yet plummeted to Classical music’s depths, which find symphony orchestras increasingly building celebratory programs around even odd-numbered birthdates of Great Composers, the number of shows and CDs dedicated to Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and the like threatens to rewrite the music’s real history. High calibre improvised music was made and is made by journeymen and women as well as so-called musical gods. Burying the accomplishments of worthy, but lesser-known, players doesn’t let subsequent generations experience impressive music.
That’s the shortcoming these CDs, each coincidentally headed by a trumpet player, aim to overcome. Each pays tribute to some of Jazz’s less celebrated stylists, some of whom are still living. Spot on in his title of Unsung Heroes, Brian Lynch, best-known for his work with pianist Eddie Palmieri and alto saxophonist Phil Woods, celebrates his antecedents and contemporaries with his CD. Helming a tightly paced combo made up similar Baby Boom veterans, such brass men as Tommy Turrentine, Joe Gordon, Idrees Sulieman, Louis Smith and Charles Tolliver are commemorated.
Taking on an even more difficult task – and intent on avoiding caricature – is Brian Carpenter, whose 10-piece Ghost Train Orchestra is dedicated to the infancy of big band Jazz. But instead of following the familiar habit of recreating Ellington or Fletcher Henderson tunes, arranger/conductor Carpenter and his crew honor such lesser-known late 1920s groups as Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra, Tiny Parham and his Musicians, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and Fess Williams’ Royal Flush Orchestra.
Perhaps the most difficult if most overdue homage is on Good Eats, since Mark Rapp’s band mostly plays the tunes of the still very much alive alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson. An early Bopper who became established as a Soul-Jazz exemplar, the saxman’s tunes are given the expected organ-guitar-drums treatment. The hurdle here is that most of the time this music was written for saxophone, leaving Rapp to create a trumpet part for himself. That he succeeds admirably is a tribute to his skill, just like the fine work the other leaders do here.
Good-time music is the specialty of both North Carolina-born Donaldson, 84, and the Melting Pot and that distinctive groove locks in as quickly as “Alligator Boogaloo”, the first number, which features saxophonist Don Braden, an associate of Rapp’s from The (Billy) Strayhorn Project. Here the trumpeter’s soaring open-horn and Braden’s slurring obbligatos blend alongside the chicken-scratch licks of guitarist Ahmad Mansour and bumping chords from organist Joe Kaplowitz. The partnership between Rapp’s reflux grace notes and Braden’s splayed timbres are also on show during the five other tracks featuring the saxman. Notable among them is “Spaceman Twist”, propelled by Austrian drummer Klemmens Marktl’s tough shuffle beat. Not only do Kaplowitz’s percolating and pitch-sliding dual-keyboard pumps define the accompaniment, but he leaves enough space for splayed vamps from Braden, and after downward sluicing organ licks, a dramatic high-note climax from Rapp.
Alone in the front line for “The Glory of Love” Rapp proves that a stentorian, yet emotional open-horn treatment can satisfy. Mixing electronically processed and psychedelic-era special effects from the brass with slurred reverb and distortion from the plugged-in instruments, the combo makes a stab at replicating early Fusion sounds. Overall though, the CD’s appeal can be summed up by the slogan chanted by all combo members during one tune: “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky (From Now On)”. This is confirmed as players take turns strumming tough guitar licks, flutter-tonguing brass notes and double timing reed parts as the head is turned around and recapped.
Funky stuff of a different sort is celebrated on Hothouse Stomp, with the Ghost Train Orchestra saluting the Harlem and Southside Chicago groove merchants of the 1920 and 1930s. There’s even some warm vocalizing on a couple of well-known tunes by violinist Mazz Swift, better-known for her stint with Burnt Sugar. The key throughout, though is how well 21st Century musicians bring contemporary inventions to the dozen tunes, many of which depend on rhythmic impetus from the clanking banjo chords of Brandon Seabrook, two-beat drumming heavy on the wood block from Rob Garcia, and tubist Ron Caswell’s pedal-point pumps.
Accepting authenticity also means accepting the timbral limitations under which those early composer/arrangers – who most prominently included Don Redman besides the leaders –labored. And there are points where the choruses become a bit lugubrious, the voicing a bit too slickly trad and the rhythms a bit too herky-jerky. Yet as a recreation of the appeal of that era’s so-called “hot” bands, the CD is at a higher plane than any clichéd quasi-Dixieland creation. Moreover it’s especially noteworthy considering that rather than being a committed revivalist, Boston-based Carpenter directed a documentary film on the life and legacy of saxophonist Albert Ayler; produces radio programs; composes country and rock music for other groups; and is lead singer/lyricist in his own pop band.
Some of these songs on Hothouse Stomp were undoubtedly pop hits of their day, which may account for the references to waltz time throughout; one tune that seems to be a variant of “St Louis Blues” (Johnson’s “Blues Sure Have Got Me”); and another (“Dixie Stomp”) which literally quotes “Dixie”. Luckily the eerie Theremin-like timbres of Jordan Voelker’s singing saw adds needed color to the moderato rhythms of the former; while fiddle-scratching, plunger trumpet notes and some long-lined trills from clarinetist Dennis Lichtman make the solos more than “hot” breaks.
Acceptable merely as background sounds, the Ghost Train Orchestra’s arrangements also reveal conspicuous instrumental refinement, such as the repeated trumpet motifs atop rhythmic stomps on Williams’ “Slide, Mr. Jelly Slide”; bone-clattering from the drummer, staccato fiddling and crying clarinet lines on “The Boy in the Boat”, from Matt Bauder, usually found in advanced company such as Anthony Braxton’s ensembles; and emphasized trumpet tones, cowbell and wood block beats from Garcia, tuba blats and double-tongued clarinet from Lichtman on Parham’s “Voodoo”. Besides Lichtman, the stop-time vamps from the horn section are courtesy of certified downtown New Yorkers such as Bauer on alto and tenor saxophone, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring and alto saxophonist Andy Laster on holiday from gigs such as in pianist Satoko Fujii’s big band.
Another valued sideman of a slightly earlier generation is trumpeter Lynch, who seems to have taken up residence in Hard Bop Heaven with Unsung Heroes. Few of the heroes apprenticed with drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers as Lynch did, or cornetist Nat Adderley band as one of his front-line partners, alto saxophonist Vincent Herring did, but coming of age in the 1940s and 1950s, all played with most of the other important ensembles of the time. The luster of this CD is that it reveals that many of the trumpeters honored also wrote significant tunes that deserve to be played more often – at least the way Lynch and confreres handle them -- and not die along with their composers.
For instance the melody line of “Saturday Afternoon At Four”, written by St. Petersburg, Fla.-native Idrees Sulieman (1923-2002), could be an early Bop classic. Moderato with a repeated lyric line, it benefits from pianist Rob Schneiderman’s dedicated glissandi and David Wong’s walking bass line; and concludes with a healthy exchange of “fours” between Lynch and drummer Pete Van Nostrand. “I Could Never Forget You” by Pittsburgh-born Tommy Turrentine (1928-1997) on the other hand, is a ballad caressed by Lynch’s open-horn, with the spare accompaniment of plucked bass and drum whispers bridging the brass man’s well-modulated grace notes and the standard progression.
A distant cousin of the out-and-out funk players such as Lou Donaldson would almost belabor is “Wetu” by Louis Smith, Memphis-born in 1931, but inactive since a 2004 stroke. Taken kinetically and pushed by clashing and clattering drums, the theme quotes “Joshua Fit De Battle” and leaves space for lick trading among the trumpets, slurs from tenor saxophonist Alex Hoffman, trills from Herring, and high-frequency runs from the pianist. By the time the tune is wrapped up with Van Nostrand’s tom-tom beating, it reveals an unexpected downward turn before its climax.
One of the few of the heroes honored here, who moved past Hard Bop, and is still performing is Jacksonville, Fla.-native Charles Tolliver, 68, whose “Household of Saud” is given an exotic reading. Lynch’s chromatic and multi-tone examination of the theme includes an Arabic tinge, while Hoffman adds widely flared blues tonality and Schneiderman double-timed repeated harmonies. By the time the pace slows in the tune’s final moments, the drummer splashes sounds from his cymbals and could be pounding a kettle drum as the final measures become higher-pitched though still recognizable.
Much needed expansion of the parliament of Jazz, each of these heart-felt tributes proves, that just like in other musics, the creation of excellent Jazz didn’t and doesn’t begin and end with a few well-known names.
Track Listing: Hothouse: 1. Ghost Train (Orchestra) 2. Mojo Strut 3. Stop Kidding 4. Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?* 5. Voodoo 6. Blues Sure Have Got Me* 7. Hot Bones and Rice 8. Dixie Stomp 9. Lucky 3-6-9 10. The Boy in the Boat 11. Slide, Mr. Jelly Slide 12. Hot Tempered Blues
Personnel: Hothouse: Brian Carpenter (trumpet, harmonica and vocals); Curtis Hasselbring (trombone); Dennis Lichtman (clarinet); Andy Laster (alto saxophone); Matt Bauder (tenor and alto saxophones and clarinet); Mazz Swift, violin and vocals*); Jordan Voelker (viola and saw); Brandon Seabrook (banjo); Ron Caswell (tuba) and Rob Garcia (drums)
Track Listing: Unsung: 1. Terra Firma Irma 2. I Could Never Forget You 3. Further Arrivals* 4. Saturday Afternoon At Four 5. Household of Saud 6. Roditi Samba* 7. Big Red 8. Unsung Blues 9. Wetu.
Personnel: Unsung: Brian Lynch (trumpet and flugelhorn); Vincent Herring (alto saxophone); Alex Hoffman (tenor saxophone); Rob Schneiderman (piano); David Wong (bass); Pete Van Nostrand (drums) and Vicente “Little Johnny” Rivero (congas*)
Track Listing: Good: 1. Alligator Boogaloo* 2. Brother Soul* 3. Elizabeth 4. Spaceman Twist* 5. Love Power* 6. One Cylinder 7. Pot Belly 8. Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky (From Now On)* 9. Good Eats 10. Streetbeater (Sanford and Son)* 11. The Glory of Love
Personnel: Good: Mark Rapp (trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn and didgeridoo); Don Braden (tenor saxophone and alto flute)*; Joe Kaplowitz (Hammond B3 organ); Ahmad Mansour (guitar) and Klemens Marktl (drums and percussion)
August 1, 2011
Cryptogramophone CG 127
MARCIN OLE & BARTOLMIEJ BRAT OLE
Fenommedia FM 05 003
By Ken Waxman
Until about 15 years ago the chance of finding a cellist in an improvised music situation was as likely as discovering a banjo in a philharmonic situation. Occasionally bassists would double on the smaller instrument, but that was about it.
Radical changes occurred in the 1990s though and improv cello players are now as common as trombonists. Today, New Yorks Erik Friedlander is the pre-eminent American improv cellist, with a C.V. that stretches from work in the Masada String Trio to gigs with Laurie Anderson and with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier. Friedlanders long suit is his adaptability, and these CDs show off two facets of his skills. CHAMBER QUINTET is just that, a mixing of the cellists formalistic timbres, with Belgian Emmanuelle Somers oboe and English horn, American Michael Rabinowitzs bassoon plus bass an drums, the later two instruments played by the highly-talented Ole brothers of Poland, who also wrote all 11 compositions in this recital.
Taking a far left turn from the other CD, PROWL, with the cellist own Topaz band, is a compendium of rock music, African rhythms and notated and improvised sounds. It features another brother duo in the rhythm section: electric bassist Stomu Takeishi and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, plus Andy Laster on alto saxophone and clarinet.
Pleasant enough, the CHAMBER QUINTET is essentially a recital, most concerned with the textures and timbres available by polyphonically melding the familiar tones of the traditional European instruments. Thus, although Somer has played improvised music with the likes of American trumpeter Dave Douglas, and Rabinowitz is deeply involved with jazz ensembles, playing with the Mingus Orchestra and bassist Joe Fonda, the compositions and arrangements mostly limit their contributions to traditional sounds; and its the same with the cellist.
Furthermore, most of the compositions seem to relate closely to romantic, impressionistic and baroque antecedents. This makes the date retrogressive, considering that the brothers, German clarinetist Rudi Mahall and Romanian pianist Mircea Tiberian improvised on themes written by modern comparers on a superior 2002 CD.
Languid and mellow most of the time, each of the tunes is well modulated, with the bassoons velvety richness featured much more than the lower-pitched growls and snorts of which the instrument is capable. His vibrating chest tones make an appearance once, and then only briefly.
Its the same story with Somer. Her double reeds ability to produce staccato squeals and tremolo pinched arches are downplayed for a melodious exoticism. Framed in liquid double counterpoint with the bassoonist many times, the serpentine qualities of the oboe are often also voiced to intersect with formalistic lines from the other front-liners. Other times she flutters a speedier line on top of the others, as if shes playing Dixieland clarinet.
Brat Ole drumming is usually on a steady boil, providing the bottom for his faux 19th century melodies. Cymbal thunder, stallion clip-clops and martial beats add variety to his accompaniment. However, there never seems to be a point where the full extent of his kit command is on display, as it is elsewhere. Ditto for Marcin Ole. If his brothers flams, rebounds and bounces never quite reach transcendence, then Marcin too sticks to basic, low-pitched walking in a straight line. Guitar-like chromatic picking and spiccato patterning are left to the cellist.
Without wanting to cause a Cain and Abel conflict among the Ole, Rien que nous deux
a composition of the bassists designed to feature him and Friedlander, offers more scope than most of his brothers tunes. A melodious intermezzo, the piece showcases his rubato stroking while the cellists spiccato lines quicken to spiraling arpeggios.
Friedlanders playing is less constrained on PROWL, although the nine compositions, written, except for one, by the cellist, approach another tradition, that of ethno-folk music with Arabic as well as Klezmer associations. These strands are most evident in the clarinet playing of Laster, whose background encompasses big and small bands and a stint with singer Lyle Lovett, but no obvious Jewish soul music.
At the same time, any Eastern European dance rhythms or flamenco-like pizzicato styling on the CD must take into account thumb-popping electric bass work from Stomu Takeishi, moderated by his improv association in bands led by pianist Myra Melford or reedist Henry Threadgill. Meantime Satoshi Takeishis percussion is informed by his backing of Brazilian jazz pianist Eliane Elias and Latin rhythm masters like Ray Barretto and Carlos Patato Valdes.
Not that theres anything overly Latin in his performance; most of the time he ignores any sort of overt beat, preferring to hand drum with bongo-like resonation, sizzle thin textures from his cymbals, shake maracas or bluntly strike a surface to create tones similar to a kettle drum. Often when that rhythmic underpinning meets his brothers vibrated bass lines, adding the cellists double-stopping arco plus Lasters pitch-vibrated and trilling clarinet arpeggios suggests a countrified chamber recital with an undercurrent of primitivism. Sprightly double counterpoint between the reedmans alto saxophone and the cello turn to R&B-like vamps balancing percussionist Takeishis contrapuntal percussion.
Elsewhere, as on 7th Sister, bassist Takeishi makes a point of creating a pedal- point sliding buzz from his instrument, the better to dovetail with the ratcheting hand percussion from his brother, as Friedlander switches from intricate finger picking to flying staccato phrasing. Rain Bearers is a long semi-ceremonial track featuring unattached rhythms from the percussionist, which click together as if he was dancing in tap shoes.
More positively, A Dangerous Game is the one time Friedlander seems to put his languid impressionism aside and shrill extended, double-stopping, almost-Billy-Bangish string sawing, while A Closer Walk with Thee, the sets one standard, is given a folksy reading. Here Lasters double-stopping reed syncopation resembling what you might hear on a 1940s disc by clarinetist George Lewis. Backbeats and cymbal smacks find their way into the familiar melody, confirming Topazs individuality, but as in other places, distracting from the main theme.
These CDs may be worth investigating for Friedlander fans, but overall it appears as if too may of the improv elements in both are subordinated to conceits that adhere too closely to folkloric or semi-classical sounds.
Track Listing: Chamber: 1. Abyss 2. Galileo 3. Eternity 4. Enigma 5. Rien que nous deux
6. Reflection 7. Horror vacui 8. Phoenix 9. Desert Walk 10. Nostalgia 11. Source
Personnel: Chamber: Emmanuelle Somer (oboe and English horn); Michael Rabinowitz (bassoon); Erik Friedlander (cello); Marcin Ole (bass); Bartlomiej Brat Ole (drums)
Track Listing: Prowl: 1. Howling Circle 2. Anhinga 3. Prowl 4. Chanting 5. 7th Sister 6. Rain Bearers 7. A Dangerous Game 8. A Closer Walk with Thee 9. Najime
Personnel: Prowl: Andy Laster (alto saxophone and clarinet); Erik Friedlander (cello); Stomu Takeishi (electric bass); Satoshi Takeishi (percussion)
October 2, 2006
HARRIS EISENSTADT QUINTET
DEAD CAT BOUNCE
Home Speaks to the Wandering
By looking sideways for inspiration to sounds that encompass the brass band tradition, intricate African rhythms, plus hearty helpings of modern jazz and pure improv, two youngish bands have come up with noteworthy CDs that reconfirm eclecticism.
Stacked up next to one another though, JALOLU may have a slight edge over HOME SPEAKS TO THE WANDERING. Thats only because the Gambian and Ghanaian inspirations of drummer Harris Eisenstadt are less familiar than the outcome of many Dead Cat Bounce (DCB) compositions, whose voicings draw on sources like Charles Mingus and the World Saxophone Quartet (WSQ).
Los Angles-based Eisenstadt also has the advantage of having his original compositions interpreted by two adaptable veterans and two veteran adapters. One older musician, trumpeter Paul Smoker, has recorded with multi-reedman Anthony Braxton and a collection of freebop bands, while the other, multi-brassman Roy Campbell, is a close associate of bassist William Parker. As for the younger participants, cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum has duetted with Braxton and been in Bostons Fully Celebrated Orchestra, while baritone saxist and clarinetist Andy Laster, is a 40-something whose band experience stretches from cerebral cellist Erik Friedlanders group to swingsters Ballin the Jack. Meanwhile the Toronto-born drummer has worked with Yusef Lateef and Sam Rivers
Boston roots are very familiar to DCB, whose name is guaranteed to offend animal right activists. With the exception of leader and composer Matt Steckler, who recently moved to Brooklyn after years in Beantown, all live in Massachusetts. One saxophonist, Drew Sayers, still attends the New England Conservatory (NEC), where bassist Arie Werbrouck graduated in 2003. Percussionist Bill Carbone has had different pop and jazz gigs since his 1999 NEC graduation, while woodwind player Jared Sims is an academic who has played with people as different as bassist Cecil McBee and the Jimmy Dorsey ghost band.
DCBs musical sophistication comes from alto and baritone saxophonist Charlie
Kohlhase, a longtime former member of Bostons Either/Orchestra (E/O). He has recorded with Braxton, co-lead a band with Danish saxophonist John Tchicai and fronted his own combos for years.
With its four-saxophone front line and backbeat drumming, DCB draws on the rhythmic New Orleans-style marching band tradition as much does the three-brass-and-one-reed of Eisenstadts quintet. But by sticking to the head-solo-head format and pushing its influences, the sextet appears to be more wedded to pastiche.
For instance, Dis You, Dear starts with a snaking Second Line beat as Stecklers breathy flute passage suggests Moe Koffman and/or Herbie Mann in their jazz/R&B phases. Sims clarinet, Werbroucks near slap bass and the other horns threaten to parade into Dixieland territory and even Kohlhases honking baritone is only as modern as what is played by Fats Dominos band. By the end, at least, the two-beat line has given way to some walking bass leading DCB into Cool Jazz territory.
Additionally, with its various inspirations Angelic & Podlike makes DCB sounds a lot like that other Boston institution the E/O. The saxes morph from a unison rondo to sounding like Count Basies 1950s sax section, to soprano-led passages that could have come from jazz-rockers Ten Wheel Drive. Overall, though, the head of steam dissipates due to the lightness of the attack.
Then theres Myopia Hunt Club where pinched, boppy sax riffs back up Stecklers penny whistle. The leaders double tongued solo has a thinner sound than a dyed-in-the-wool bopper would produce and the voiced vamp underneath sounds a lot more like Woody Hermans Four Brothers band then the WSQ -- an impression not helped by Carbones flashy Buddy Rich-style drumming.
More exciting, but still with transparent influences are Department of Homeland Strategy and Hepcat Revival. At least the later mixes suggestions of Kwela and TV soundtrack music with a direct tribute to Mingus. Held on course by foursquare bass playing, the jittery beat is extended by a slinky, light-toned soprano line from Sims and some soulful tenor honks from Steckler. Once someone starts chanting oh lordy and handclapping, however, you start to think youre listening to an earnest emulation of Better Get It In Your Soul.
Booker Ervin, Mingus star tenor soloist, is recalled by Sims on Department
, a foot tapper rife with a gospelish call-and-response sections. Here though, the Texas tenor sound is cut with unexpected pecking thrusts from the other horns and a military-style rat tat tats from Carbone. Finale and crescendo finds the six loosening their mooring and going out in a blaze of horn slurs and drum rolls.
Featuring rip snorting collective improvisations and a back beat that rarely stops, HOME SPEAKS TO THE WANDERING is a pleasant swinger, well worth your time. Next time out, though, it would be better to know just exactly who the members of DCB are, rather than their influences.
In a contrasting fashion JALOLU suffers from a bit of confusion as well. None of the brass solos are identified, which makes it hard to knock -- or more likely praise -- any brassman for his work on a particular track. Moreover with no bass player Laster has to do double duty, usually using low tones to supply the continuum upon which the others solo. Furthermore, a couple of the tunes arrive in two different versions, which bespeaks decision-making uncertainty on the leaders part.
Theres no quarrelling with Eisenstadts percussion prowess however. Interestingly enough, as well, probably because of JALOLUs links to the polyrhythms of Mother Africa, he depends a lot less on his cymbals than a traditional jazz drummer and makes more use of cowbells, woodblocks and other percussion.
Press rolls and hocketing bounces characterize his work on Mwindo, a triumphant line that also features fanfares and honks from the brassmen. As they take turns soloing -- one with brassy insouciance, another with smeared buzzes and the third with double-tongued grace notes -- the drummer plays varied and opposing patterns beneath each one. Turning from snapping out phrases with hand mutes, the three reprise the theme and exit with a series of bent notes.
At more than nine minutes each, both versions of Seruba give a different view of the piece. Seruba (take 2) features mellow and muted crossed lines from the brass meeting baritone slurs and Mandinka song and dance beats from the drummer with flams and rolls from snares and toms. One trumpeter -- Campbell? -- takes a precise muted solo, then another -- Smoker? -- answers with a jolly bugle-like call. By the end, the piece morphs into a mid-tempo jazz-like dance, with bass drum whacks adding to the heavy bottom ostinato produced by Laster, seemingly as much from his bow as his reed.
Seruba (take 1), which is more impressive, at first comes across like a perverse version of Gerry Mulligans quartet with Art Farmer, with the baritonist and one trumpeter mixing it up together. When the drums shift first to march tempo, then to a Second Line shuffle, trumpet lines trill and splash and a few sax phrases suggest Night Train. After a stop time section featuring massed trumpets advances the theme, Eisenstadt tries some doubled bounces, rebounds and cymbal snaps on for size, while mid-range sax playing and higher-pitched trumpets give the tune a Hi Life overlay.
A similar situation exists with the two versions of Jumpin In. Although the almost 10-minute first run through includes some rapid syncopation from one horn and buzzy rubato trills from another -- not to mention vibrating false fingering and glottal punctuation from Laster -- the feel is that of a ragged march. A crescendo of screeching unison tongue fluttering then takes it out.
Jumpin In (take 2), is far superior. Partially a showcase for the drummer, quicksilver trilling brass lines and chirping obbligatos from the sax appear to loosen his attack. Using press rolls and rim shots he turns around and encourages Laster to bend his notes and one trumpeter to snap off rapid triplets. Soon two of the brassmen are trading phrases of different lengths, while another plays completely at variance, offering up hocketing tones. Adding what could be Native American pow wow beats to the piece, the drummer helps build up the theme to a crescendo, then abruptly cuts it off. Overall quieter and more self-consciously tunes dont work as well in this configuration.
All and all, though JALOU is definitely worth hearing for what Eisentadts quintet has accomplished. It also makes you impatient to see what the percussionist can create from now on.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Home: 1. Hiram Hinklers Shrunken Heads 2. SOS Ankara 3. Hepcat Revival 4. Myopia Hunt Club 5. Hear My Flow 6. Cat: Is It Fish or Finite? 7. Dis You, Dear 8. Angelic & Podlike 9. I Once Was Vaccinated with a Phonograph Needle 10. Department of Homeland Strategy
Personnel: Home: Jared Sims (soprano and tenor saxophones and clarinet); Matt Steckler (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, flute shaw whistle, holler); Charlie Kohlhase (alto and baritone saxophones); Drew Sayers (alto, tenor and baritone saxophones); Arie Werbrouck (bass); Bill Carbone (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: Jalolu: 1. Boogie on Lenjeno 2. Seruba (take 2) 3. Mwindo 4. Go 5. Jumpin In 6. Seruba (take 1) 7. Ahimsa (Non-Violence #2) 8. Jumpin In (take 2)
Personnel: Jalolu: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet); Paul Smoker (trumpet); Roy Campbell (trumpet, picket trumpet, flugelhorn); Andy Laster (baritone saxophone and clarinet); Harris Eisenstadt (drums)
July 26, 2004
ERIK FRIEDLANDER AND TOPAZ
Cryptogramophone CG 118
Il Peso Delle Nuvole
Splasc (h) CDH 852.2
Building an improv band around a cello is no longer the novelty it would have been 10 years ago.
To give some examples: American expatriate Tristan Honsinger is all over European CDs whether theyre by big bands or small combos; Fred Lonberg-Holm seems to turn up on every second session recorded in Chicago; and Vancouver-based Peggy Lee has been a member of different-sized bands throughout North America and Europe.
Two of the most accomplished of this group of low-string benders are New Yorks Erik Friedlander, best known for his membership in the Masada String Trio and pianist Myra Melfords The Same River, Twice bands, and Amsterdams Ernst Reijseger, formerly of the Clusone Trio and the ICP Orchestra.
QUAKE gives Friedlander a platform on which to express his compositional ideas, while IL PESO DELLE NUVOLE, makes Reijsegers cello an important construct in the Italian band of bassist Pierluigi Balducci. With very similar instrumentation, including drums and saxophone, plus Stomu Takeishi on the first CD, and Balducci on his own disc playing both electric and acoustic basses, the sessions offer an unparalleled opportunity to compare different products.
Classically trained Friedlander has packed 12 tunes on his session, which overall could probably have benefited from a bit more musical levity. However, Friedlander, whose other employers have included saxophonist Joe Lovano and classical violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, has plenty of room to express his versatility here.
Meanwhile, Bari-based Balducci, who plays in a world music group, as well as in jazz contexts with the likes of trumpeter Pino Minafra and saxophonist Tino Tracanna, takes more of a lighthearted approach to his nine compositions. IL PESO works best when he gives his ethnic considerations full reign, less so when his tunes replicate wan contemporary jazz.
To begin with QUAKE, Gol Gham, from the repertoire of Persian singer Googoosh, becomes a cello fantasia with definite Middle Eastern accents. From a mild beginning, it ratchets up in intensity only to subside into a steady, walking pace.
Glass Bell, on the other hand, written by the cellist like all tracks but two, has a sneaky Saturday Morning cartoon feel, fabricated from the cellos andante pizzicato line. It also echoes some of the rock-improv experiments that the late cellist Tom Cora attempted. Certainly the mallet-driven rattling percussion from Satoshi Takeishi, who has worked with popularizes like flautist Herbie Mann and New Agers the Paul Winter Consort, is no jazz sound. Neither is the bass guitar solo -- all thumb pops, fuzztones and Artrock slides -- from his brother Stomu Takeishi, who improv bona fides include stints with Melford and reedist Henry Threadgill.
Alternately, Beauty Beauty, the CDs longest track, has a burnished classical feel, mostly advanced by legato cello work. That abates mid-way through when Friedlander reenters following the others solos and gradually shatters his carefully pitched and modulated tones into first speedy suggestion of a freylach, then staccato triple stopping, slicing out extended slurs.
Alto saxophonist Andy Laster, whose notes bounce around that tune, produces a trilling line on the fast-paced Biscuits, that when coupled with the Takeishi brothers power groove suggests Ornette Colemans Prime Time band. Later, the reedist, who has played with everyone from The Julius Hemphill Sextet, to Lyle Lovett and his Large Band, adds a touch of avant-experimentation that includes octave-spanning blasts and circular twirls around Friedlanders arco cello part.
Overall, the performers flexibility -- which include classical kettledrum pitches, the sound of an African ngoni, low-key reed flutter tonguing and rock-style bass guitar forays -- keeps the CD interesting. But, after a while, you wish there were fewer tunes so that the band could work out a consistent formula instead of parading musical chameleon tricks each time out.
Balducci has a similar challenge. The five Apulian musicians -- including pianist Mirko Signorile, who has played with trumpeter Enrico Rava -- are excellent on the rollicking quicker numbers that make up part of the disc. But when the tempo falls so does the players fervor. Legato seems to give way to largo and Roberto Ottavianos soprano saxophone lines are so blanched that you fear Smooth Jazz will arrive any minute. Thats particularly odd, since the veteran saxophonist has worked in elevated projects put together by thinkers like Italian pianist Giorgio Gaslini and Swiss drummer Pierre Favre.
Perhaps the shortcoming is Balduccis. Since a recent film by Catherine Breillat used one of his compositions as its main theme, he may have fallen into the habit of imaging some pieces as accompanying music, rather than as standalone compositions. This is particularly apparent in the middle section of the disc, where a series of episodic, romantic ballads seem to offer up gracefulness and little else. Signoriles slow, double-timed piano touch starts to sound less than Bill Evans-like expansiveness and more like Peter Neros empty facility.
Even the title track -- in two parts -- nearly sinks into lugubrious melancholy until bass guitar plucks, car horn-like sax cadences and some cello whacks on the strings gives it a lift. As drummer Vincenzo Lanzo, who has played with Rava and Minafra produces metallic cymbal chimes and drum rolls, the theme swells and his series of roughs and drags are smoothly answered by a combination of cello and saxophone tones.
The first and final version of Wolands Polka puts one in mind of lively pieces from the Italian Instabile and Globe Unity Orchestra. Here the piano first carries the dance melody before going into right-handed tremolo tinkles, and the 2/4 rhythm is amplified by snaking arco cello lines and finger-picking guitar-like passages from the bassist. Reprised at the end of the CD, the tune is yet more extroverted, even anarchistic. With the theme bouncing along on steady bass guitar runs, Reijsegers bowing suggests country fiddle hoedowns as much as Bohemian country-dances.
Balducci reserves his versatility for Milonga Bajo La Luna, the longest track. Here he shows off fleet passages on bass that could come from acoustic Spanish guitar, while the combination of strings and piano suggest a rural accordion band. Ottaviano squeezes out chirps, while Signorile produces a tango-like beat, until he unveils intersecting rhythms from each hand. Lanzo shuffles out a beat that swings in a non-jazz manner, and Reijseger constructs his solo from that small patch of strings beneath the tuning pegs.
When all five musicians come to a satisfying unison crescendo at the end you can hear exactly what Balducci as a composer, instrumentalist and bandleader is capable of creating. IL PESO DELLE NUVOLE could have used a bit more of that freedom, which hopefully will be on display next time out.
As it stands now, its only cellophiles who will probably be most impressed by this album and QUAKE.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Quake: 1. Consternation 2. After Hours 3. Bedlam 4. Gol Gham 5. Wire 6. Beauty Beauty 7. Quake 8. Sainted 9. Glass Bell 10. Biscuits 11. Aap Ki 12. Fig
Personnel: Quake: Andy Laster (alto saxophone); Erik Friedlander (cello); Stomu Takeishi (bass guitar, acoustic electric bass); Satoshi Takeishi (percussion)
Track Listing: Peso: 1. Wolands Polka 2. Milonga Bajo La Luna 3. Son de la Rosa (intro) $. Son de la Rosa 5. Deviens Ce Que Tu Es 6. Leggero 7. Il Peso Delle Nuvole - part 1 8. Il Peso Delle Nuvole - part 2 9. Wolands Polka (again)
Personnel: Peso: Roberto Ottaviano (soprano saxophone); Ernst Reijseger (cello); Mirko Signorile (piano); Pierluigi Balducci (bass, electric bass); Vincenzo Lanzo (drums)
August 4, 2003
ANDY LASTERS LESSNESS
Window Silver Bright
New World Records 80589-2
Almost 50 years ago, in 1953, New York vibist Teddy Charles got together with some advanced musicians in Los Angeles to produce COLLABORATION: WEST, an LP which molded chamber jazz, classical touches and swinging blues into a unique confection of shifting tonal centres.
Baritone saxophonist Andy Laster may never have heard that album. But the recipe hes applied to this disc makes it a perfect successor to it and one thats just as impressive. Like Charles, who used drummer Shelly Manne, bassist Curtis Counce, trumpeter Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre on baritone saxophone, his line up is eerily similar. Like the Californians, who worked in each others bands, Lasters sidemen also often play together in other aggregations.
The baritone saxophonist, who at one point was part of singer Lyle Lovetts Large Band is in the Julius Hemphill Sextet, writes contemporary chamber music and is part of cellist Erik Friedlanders Topaz band. Friedlander, who has also played in John Zorns Bar Kokhba project, is in pianist Myra Melfords quartet with trumpeter Cuong Vu and drummer Michael Sarin. Sarin has worked with trumpeter Dave Douglas, a former Laster associate, while Vu has also worked with Douglas and Zorn. Odd man out here is vibist/marimbaist Bryan Carrott. But he more than makes up for it with experience ranging from the outside bands of composers like Muhal Richard Abrams and Henry Threadgill to mainstreamers like saxophonist David Fathead Newman and drummer Ralph Peterson.
Interestingly, as well, although all the compositions on this nearly 60 minute CD are by Laster, like the solo order on the Charles disc, its the mallet man and the trumpeter who get most of the space. Carrott, especially, is convincing, preferring the marimba with its natural sound to the electrified vibraphone for most of his work.
Something like In Teum, for instance, finds him using four mallets to intersect with Vus quasi-baroque trumpet and the bowed cello. Then he starts triple timing like a modern day Terry Gibbs in response to Friedlander powerfully wielding his axe like an electric bass, slinky brass blasts and Sarins polyrhythms from both sticks on drum heads and brushes on cymbals.
Throughout, the cello is voiced with either the vibes or the horns in such a way that the result takes on characteristics of a chamber orchestra string section. On tunes like the pretty, swinging, but hard-centred The Rooascend, the lines seem to go off every which way before uniting in short passages of vibrating sound. Laster solos with the delicacy of a tenor saxophonist here, while the muted, buzzing of Vus trumpet adds the toughness needed.
Norseman, the longest track, with its modulating pub-drinking rhythm, uses the 12-tone technique, but so un-academically that it scarcely registers as something out of the ordinary. Relying on a sort of double counterpoint, Vu plays some open horn, while the cellist shows off his classical chops. Later the trumpeter prods gravelly tones from his highest register while the baritone expels low breaths. Passing the theme around, the instruments go in and out of unison with the sort of split-second timing you need driving bumper cars in an amusement park.
Romantic references to Wagners Tristan und Isolde are lightly voiced on Trit and Ina and then elongated by Sarins wood blocks and Vus spit valve trumpeting plus a cello part that could be mistaken for one from a bagpipe. But to avoid pretension, the pieces real movement seems to owe more to some of those humorous ambling ICP compositions of Misha Mengelberg than heavy Wagnerian seriousness. Analytically, Rip-rush too may officially have a hocketing beat. But the five treat it like rocknroll, with Sarin hitting heavily, Carrott wiggling the wood of his marimba and Vu growling and bugling.
After COLLABORATION: WEST many of he participants rejected experimental chamber sounds for out-and-out swinging. But thats one advantage 21st century musicians have, exemplified by this CD, which could be termed COLLABORATION: EAST. They can be experimental and swing at the same time.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Jellyfish 2. In Teum 3. The Rooascend 4. Mito 5. Rip-Rush 6. Black Pond 7. Norseman 8. Halcyon Days 9. Trit and Ina
Personnel: Cuong Vu (trumpet); Andy Laster (baritone saxophone); Bryan Carrott (vibraphone and marimba); Erik Friedlander (cello); Michael Sarin (drums, temple blocks)
August 5, 2002
Knitting Factory Works KFW-281
Whether by accident or design, saxophonist Andy Laster has put himself in the position of being the least imposing member of his own ensemble. This sometimes happens in jazz, with pianist Dave Brubeck's combo being the most famous example.
While Laster is no Brubeck, he has created a situation on this disc where the leader and chief composer is overshadowed by his sidemen, which is similar to what Brubeck had to face once his band was completed by Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright and Joe Morello.
Another New York "downtowner", Laster has played baritone and alto saxophonist with the Julius Hemphill Sextet, Orange Then Blue and New and Used as well as on his own. What little soloing he does himself here is merely amiable and usually mid tempo, relaxed to the point of invisibility. Maybe he should have brought his baritone sax along.
Moreover, to follow the Brubeck analogy still further, his compositions, which make up every track but one on SOFT SHELL, sound like contemporary versions of the sort of airy West Coast Jazz Brubeck was suppose to typify. The end result is more soporific than satisfying
Taken as a whole, the tunes appear to be a series of short soundalikes that don't force the other musicians to raise a sweat while playing. Sometimes they even end abruptly, as if ideas have been exhausted and its time to go on to the next one.
Which is where the parallel with the Brubeck band rises to the fore. Hydra's other tentacles are some of Manhattan's top younger musicians. Robertson, for instance, a fiery, inventive brassman who has enlivened groups lead by the likes of Mark Helias and Gerry Hemingway, operates at the top of his form here. And it doesn't matter whether he's blasting out the title tune or "Tentacles", relaying some growl trumpet on "Horripilate" or engaging in stop time counterpoint with the saxist on "July Song". More mainstream, Gress is the sort of dependable, unshowy bassman who can follow any tune and any soloist, while Rainey -- another Helias mainstay -- can be subtle if need be, or brawny as the hardiest John Bonham follower if necessary, as he shows on "South Shore Reform Experience, Part II".
Judging by his credentials, Laster is certainly capable of better work. So was Brubeck. In fact, as he got older the pianist gradually improved to the point that his playing can be enjoyable, even without star soloists. Maybe Laster just needs a few more sideman gigs to come to a similar plateau.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Soft Shell 2. Here I'll Stay 3. Like Plankton 4. Horripilate 5. Floating 6. No. 16 7. South Shore Reform Experience, Part II 8. July Song 9. Tentacles 10. Hex 11. South Shore Reform Experience, Part IV
Personnel: Herb Robertson (trumpet, cornet); Andy Laster (alto saxophone); Drew Gress (bass); Tom Rainey (drums)
January 1, 2001