|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Mark Dresser
By Ken Waxman
“When [Brazilian director] Gustavo Galvão first asked me to do the soundtrack for his film I thought he was crazy,” confesses tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman, 52. “I said I don’t do that kind of thing and play to cues. I only play my music the way I do.” Yet Galvão, who had made a special trip to New York precisely to get the São Paulo-born saxophonist to create music for his film finally agreed to let Perelman do it his own way with musician of his own choice. Before heading into the studio with violist Matt Maneri and pianist Matthew Ship, Perelman explained the film concept to them, knowing that different moods would emerge as they recorded their improvisations. Titled after the fact, and sequenced into eight tracks, the improvisations now make up the music for the director’s first international feature A Violent Dose of Anything. (Uma Dose Violenta de Qualquer Coisa in Portuguese). Not only is the music preserved on a CD of the same title, but it recently won an award as best original soundtrack at a prestigious Brazilian film festival. Would he do other movie projects? “Introduce me to more people like Gustavo then I’ll do more film music,” jokes Perelman.
A Violent Dose of Anything is just one of the 13 CDs the saxophonist has released in the past two years in what has been a remarkable burst of creativity. Says Perelman, who has put out about four-dozen discs since he started recording in 1989: “I have to record when I feel something boiling up inside me, when I feel particularly strong in my sax playing and I’m exploring things differently. I realize I’m at the next plateau of my creating and I want to put it in front of the public.” New musical combinations also inspire Perelman and most of the 2012-2013 sessions involve variations of what is now a working group: Shipp, drummer Gerald Cleaver and guitarist/bassist Joe Morris. The ringer among the CDs is One, which for the first time finds the saxophonist improvising alongside Morris on electric bass and a drummer, Hungarian Balázs Pándi, primarily known as a rock musician.
It was Morris who was involved in the genesis of both groups. Hanging out, following an appearance at a Spanish jazz festival, Perelman, who had played infrequently with Shipp and Morris in the past, found out that both were interested in working regularly with him. The final element was Cleaver, who the saxophonist hadn’t played with before, but who he now describes as “the ultimate drummer”. Since that time the foursome has recorded different quartet, trio and duo sessions; and a European Shipp-Perelman duo tour is planned for 2014. As for One, Morris, who plays with Pándi in Slobber Pup, “said he was working with this drummer who really liked my work,” notes the saxophonist. “I ended up at the Stone to see his playing which was very loud for my taste, but the excitement was there. Pándi’s a powerful rock guy, but he also loves Elvin Jones. Three days later we were in the studio.” Perelman is also part of a duo with Maneri, which has a CD ready for release. “Tenor saxophone and viola is a duo made in heaven” the reedist exclaims. “Playing with Mat is like playing with my alter ego.”
Involving himself in many forms of improvised creativity is nothing new for Perelman. For the last 15 years or so for instance, he has developed a reputation as a visual artist, with exhibitions around the world and a relationship with a São Paulo art gallery. “I’m obsessed with music”, he declares, “but now that I’m involved in art I have to be loyal to both.” Appropriately enough the art flowed directly from his music. After recording The Eye Listens in 1998, Perelman, decided that the proposed CD cover wasn’t good enough. Even though he had never painted before, “I said I can do something as good, or at least something that would satisfy me. I got some paint, locked myself in my apartment, started experimenting and didn’t come out for a month. It was ecstasy.” Because of this involvement in painting, the saxophonist figures his music is now more visually oriented. “It’s all the same creative process though,” he declares. “I’m open to anything.” For instance if his solos now appear to sound more lyrical it’s because as someone “open to all saxophone players” pre-free-jazz-influences are finally showing up in his playing, he says.
Another instance of his fascination with visual art is Suite for Helen F., recorded with percussionists Gerry Hemingway and Jay Rosen plus bassist Mark Dresser and Dominic Duval. The honoree is NYC abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011). “When I first started painting I began going regularly to museums and was completely taken with her work, so I thought I’d pay her homage,” Perelman explains. However doesn’t know whether the artist ever heard the CD.
Two more discs from the Shipp-Perelman session will be released soon. “Our duets were so inspirational that we just recorded and recorded,” the saxman remembers. Nevertheless Perelman makes no apologies for his large discography, with three CDs often appearing simultaneously. “I take recording very seriously,” he states. “I’m not recording for my own entertainment. I’m recording to realize what I hear. It’s a bit like being pregnant and having to give birth, but recently it’s like I’m having triplets all the time,” he jokes.
At the same time, although committed to free expression, explaining that his solos come from “the mystery within”, the saxophonist disputes the idea that improvisation is completely spontaneous. “Nothing is 100% spontaneous, since everything you play reflects hours of practice, years of experience and your influences.”
It’s for this reason and to expose another avenue of creativity, that besides daily saxophone practicing he has begun sight reading scores without playing them. “The saxophone is just a huge tube which is an amplifier of musical thought,” he explains. “It’s tempting to be too physical about it and be trapped by the saxophone so that you’re playing saxophone rather than music. You don’t want your fingers to do the job but to strengthen your distinctive musical thought. By sight reading I’m practicing becoming a thinking musical person not a saxophone sound-making person.”
Ivo Perelman - The Eye Listens (Boxholder 2000)
Ivo Perelman - Suite for Helen F. (Boxholder 2004)
Ivo Perelman - A Violent Dose of Anything (Leo 2013)
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Gerald Cleaver - The Foreign Legion (Leo 2012)
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver - Family Ties (Leo 2012)
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp - The Art of the Duet (Leo 2013)
Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/ Balázs Pándi - One (Rare Noise)
--For The New York City Jazz Record December2013
December 3, 2013
Songlines SGL 1602-2
By Ken Waxman
Harris Eisenstadt better watch out. If he continues to release ground-breaking work like this CD he’ll end up giving chamber jazz a good name.
Over the past decade, the Toronto-born, NYC-based percussionist has demonstrated his effectiveness as composer, leader and sideman in a variety of contexts from experimental to roots-oriented while staying clearly within the jazz-improvising continuum. Golden State is a slight departure since it fuses the tones from two primarily orchestral instruments – Nicole Mitchell’s flute and Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon – with the non-symmetrical yet explicit beat of Mark Dresser’s bass and Eisenstadt’s drums.
Chamber-jazz has gotten a bad rap over the years since it’s usually associated with bland programs that replace jazz’s inventive muscularity with soothing textures. In contrast Eisenstadt’s sophisticated themes ignore hierarchal roles to showcase unexpected instrumental blends, matching the rigor of so-called classical music with the freedom of improvisation. As an example of his skills consider “Dogmatic in Any Case”. As the rhythm section’s flexible movements ground the narrative, spry emotionalism is expressed by the horns, first blended, than individually. A known quality because of her work in the AACM and elsewhere, Mitchell’s whorls and flutters are passionately articulated, and this comfortable talent is subtly transferred so that the bassoonist’s dyspeptic gutsiness continues to express real feeling. Without resorting to faux jazziness that many double-reed players bring to non-so-called-classical music, Schoenbeck animates “Especially Preposterous Assertions”. She uses rapid tonguing and her instrument’s natural grittiness to swing hard, and her work is balanced by gutsy bass-string stops.
At the same time as Eisenstadt’s individualized compositions allow the reedists to expose the improvisatory heart of their often stolid instruments, they also showcase Dresser’s multifaceted talents. Unparalleled throughout as a pulse-maker, his arco facility is such that on “Sandy” his lyrical strokes could come from a viola-da-gamba, purposely extending the joyous baroque-like shadings that parallel what flute and bassoon lines already bring to the piece.
Always sympathetically constructive in his playing, the drummer propels these tracks without loudness or forcing a beat. By letting the soloists and compositions be primary focus here, Eisenstadt suggests that his music has the potential to be as transformative as other non-idiomatic composers such as Anthony Braxton.
Tracks: What is a Straw Horse, Anyways? ; It is Never Safe to Be; Dogmatic in Any Case; Unless All the Evidence is In; Sandy; Especially Preposterous Assertions; Flabbergasted by the Unconventional
Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flute; Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon; Mark Dresser: bass; Harris Eisenstadt: drums,
--For The New York City Jazz Record November 2013
November 8, 2013
Mark Dresser Quintet
Clean Feed CF 279 CD
By Ken Waxman
Double bass master and educator Mark Dresser is known for his ability to stunningly interpret the most advanced notated and improvised music – often in a solo context. However on this, his first quintet date in decades, he shows he can compose and play sounds that are affecting and swinging without neglecting his matchless technique.
While the line-up of trombone, alto saxophone, piano, bass and drums may read like that of a standard bop combo, each of the sidemen is so accomplished instrumentally that the results are out-of-the-ordinary. The most obvious departure from the norm is that Denman Maroney plays so-called hyperpiano throughout, allowing him to expose in-and-outside the frame multiphonics along with expected patterns. Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who co-wrote “Not Withstanding” with Dresser, is in the Mauger band with the bassist, and his knowledge of Carnatic music helps negotiate the shimmering changes of Dresser’s “Rasaman” honoring a sitar-playing colleague. Trombonist Michael Dessen is established in mainstream and avant contexts; while Tom Rainey and Michael Sarin, who split drum duties, are both sympathetic, un-showy accompanists.
Elation is often expressed as the players intertwine their parts, interjecting tone extensions without losing the tunes’ thematic threads. This is demonstrated concisely on the time-signature shifting “Rasaman” as Dresden’s wide-ranging plunger tones dovetail with Dresser’s stentorian slaps, then Mahanthappa heads into screech mode alongside the bassist’s spiccato scratches as contrapuntal lines churn beneath them.
A little bit Latin, a little bit boppish and expressed dynamically as players simultaneously tease variations from the melodic line, “Nourishments” demonstrates Dresser’s compositional sophistication. The bassist’s chunky propulsive solos serve as bridges between slurred trombone and honking sax flutters that reference Mingus’ writing and faint echoes of “Played Twice” as well as devious recaps of the tune’s head. Meanwhile “Para Waltz” is an exemplar of combo interaction as Rainey’s drum beats behind harmonized horns maintain a relaxed feel, seconded by Maroney’s keyboard rhythms, while at the same time the pianist’s string preparations spice the narrative with unsettling microtones.
His piquant asides, plus the others’ ingredients mixed into Dresser’s compositional recipe book help provide the musical nourishment for this key session.
Tracks: Not Withstanding*; Canales Rose*; Para Waltz*; Nourishments^; Aperitivo*; Rasaman^; Telemojo^
Personnel: Michael Dessen: trombone; Rudresh Mahanthappa: alto saxophone; Denman Maroney: hyperpiano; Mark Dresser: bass; Tom Rainey* or Michael Sarin^: drums
--For The New York City Jazz Record September 2013
September 9, 2013
By Ken Waxman
“All projects have their own stories and I now have more than 60 stories I can tell,” explains pianist/composer/bandleader Satoko Fujii when asked about her recording career. Luckily more than 32 of these stories are available from Tokyo-based Libra records, a label she and her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, founded in 1996. Although the highly praised pianist and trumpeter occasionally record for other imprints, Libra reflects her most personal projects, including duets and trios with Tamura and other Japanese and Western musicians, solo projects, records by her New York and Japanese big bands, her avant-rock-free jazz combo and a quartet in which she plays accordion.
Although by the early ‘90s, Fujii, who attended both the Berklee College of Music and Boston’s New England Conservatory, and Tamura, who had been a member of Toshiyuki Miyama’s New Herd Orchestra, one of Japan’s best-known jazz bands, had extensive recording experience, “the biggest reason we started this label was that we got tired of looking for labels that would release our recordings,” she reveals. At that time most record companies had certain fixed ideas of how jazz sessions should sound – and look. She recalls one firm that suggested for promotion she wear a certain fancy dress and surround herself with “good looking guys as sidemen.”
In contrast Libra is a small operation that usually presses 1,000 copies of each release, with tasteful CD covers designed by Masako Tanaka. To devote full attention to the music, Fujii produces Tamara’s CDs and he produces hers. Additionally sessions recorded in NYC are done at Brooklyn’s System Two studio because Fujii likes its piano. Business dealings are straightforward as well. For a project under Fujii’s or Tamura’s leadership, they hire the musicians and pay all expenses. For other CDs, such as Under the Water, her duo piano record with Myra Melford or Rafale with French musicians who helped compose the repertoire, costs are shared and profits divided accordingly.
Too small to have any other employees, the DIY-ethos extends to CD distribution. Available from a variety of distributors in Japan, Europe and the US, plus its own Web site, Libra is officially located in Tokyo because that’s where a close friend of Fujii’s has the key to a small warehouse and can send out requested discs.
Named Libra for Fujji’s astrological sign “Natsuki is Leo and as you know there is a Leo label already,” she jokes, the imprint’s idiosyncrasies extend to its numbering system. “The first three numbers tell whose project it is and how big the band is, and the last three numbers are continuous,” Fujii notes. “For example: Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo, Zakopane is Libra 216-027; 2 means a Satoko’s project – Natsuki’s project is a 1– 16 means there are 16 musicians in the band; and 027 means this is the 27th Libra CD.”
There are further numerical changes if a CD is re-pressed, such as Something About Water, Libra’s first session which features Fujii and Paul Bley. But with the market for CDs shrinking, plans for re-pressing other CDs have been put aside so that new ones can be recorded, she admits. At this point Vulcan is probably the label’s best seller. It features the trumpet and pianist with two Japanese rock musicians, including bassist Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins. All Libra CDs can be downloaded from iTunes, and while there are yet no Libra LPs, “we’d love to do one,” says Fujii.
Other well-received Libra CDs include discs made with Fujii’s American trio of drummer Jim Black and bassist Mark Dresser. “I admire Satoko as a person and musician and would be happy to perform or record with her again,” notes Dresser. “She has fantastic performance energy, a great ear, a musical fearlessness that allows her to travel into new territories, has an amazing work ethic and is constantly building bridges. Her label is dedicated to releasing her various projects which make it part of a long tradition of improviser/composer/performers self-producing.”
Although the pianist tells most of her stories via Libra, she won’t turn down the opportunity to work with other labels. “If we find a label that loves our music and that we can trust”, she avers. For instance the newest disc by her Ma-do ensemble is on Poland’s NotTwo imprint. Another departure was Kaze’s Rafale, put out in 2011 by Libra and Circum-Disc, the label of the Muzzix musicians’ collective, based in Lille, France. Kaze consists of Fujii, Tamara plus two French musicians: drummer Peter Orins and trumpeter Christian Pruvost.
“The most important fact about Libra and Circum is that both record companies are headed by musicians, so there’s passion in the way things are done and freedom that we don’t find elsewhere,” explains Orins. “Nowadays musicians almost always lead their project from the beginning to the release, so I think that running our own record company lets us manage the way we want to do it. Working with Satoko is one of the simplest musical experiences I know. Even if the music we make is highly elaborate and purposeful, the way we do it is very natural and without pressure. We simply play while being very focused on one another.”
While Fujii and Tamara do record for other imprints, so far Libra’s only CD under someone else’s leadership is 2004’s Yamabuki by Japanese vocalist Koh. “She is so amazing, that I wanted to introduce her from Libra,” the pianist says. Fujii also played on the session and composed some of the material. However Koh’s CD remains an anomaly. “Sometimes we get e-mails from musicians we don’t know asking if Libra can put out their CDs,” Fujii states. “But we don't have enough time and money for that. However if in the future we find someone we would like to record like Koh we’ll do so.”
But they may be too busy. Already planned for Libra’s 2013 schedule, are new solo discs by both Fujii and Tamara, another Kaze CD plus a new recording by Fujii’s New York orchestra.
--For The New York City Jazz Record March 2013
March 5, 2013
By Ken Waxman
Like that of many successful endeavours ranging from the mass production of the automobile, the feature-length cartoon or the personal computer, SoLyd record label’s driving force is one person. While Andrei Gavrilov, may or may not like the comparison to Walt Disney, Henry Ford or Steve Jobs, it’s his ideas, taste and finances that keep the Moscow-based label afloat and is responsible for its massive, (more than 400 releases) somewhat idiosyncratic catalogue. “Sometimes, when I look over the catalogue I get confused myself,” he admits.
Founded in 1993 and named for his daughters Sonia (So) and Lydia (Lyd), Gavrilov is not only SoLyd’s “head, president, owner, director, you name it” but also the label’s entire staff. A freelance journalist/broadcaster/translator since 1983, one of whose more unusual jobs is supplying Russian translation for the TV broadcast of the Academy Awards, Gavrilov initially worked for independent Russian publishing houses. He often wrote about art and music, which put him in contact with many musicians who subsequently appeared on SoLyd.
“I’ve known Andrei Gavrilov since the early 1970s when he used to attend all of the concerts when our Trio (Ganelin, Tarasov, Chekasin) played in Moscow,” recalls percussionist Vladimir Tarasov. “He is good friend to all jazz musicians in Russia. When the Sonore label, which published many CDs from our Trio, my solo and other projects went out of business, he bought the publishing rights and the sound archive.” Plans to reissue these sessions on SoLyd haven’t yet been realized. But in 2006 Gavrilov allowed Leo Records to include Tarasov’s Sonore material in its 11-CD Tarasov box set.
Re-issues don’t play too large a part in the SoLyd catalogue. In fact, says Gavrilov, “SoLyd releases only the music that I personally am interested in at the moment, and tastes can change with the time,” he notes. “But even though tastes change, the main principle remains – the project must be something new, something unorthodox and off the beaten track.” SoLyd has never concentrated on a single musical genre. So while jazz fans may know its CDs featuring improvisers, the catalogue also includes contemporary classical music, Russian rock and blues and local, radical “singing poets”. However the majority of rock releases are from bands either initially unknown or are side projects of more popular bands. The few pop CDs that became best-sellers – by Russian standards – also turn enough of a profit to help subsidize so-called avant-garde sessions.
Although SoLyd releases a combination of newly created and already recorded sessions, one fact remains constant: Gavrilov pays all costs involved, and each CD is marketed the same way. This decision was crucial during the late 1990s when the value of the American dollar to the ruble skyrocketed. With many recording firms bankrupt, disc pirating became rampant. To counter this and still sell CDs, legitimate companies such as SoLyd put out budget versions of their discs. Not surprisingly no improvised music was released as these budget “best-of” compilations. While SoLyd hung on to its artists and distributors, earning suffered. That situation finally rectified itself by 2008, but another irritant remains. As Gavrilov states, “Western distribution is the main problem for Russian labels.”
Today SoLyd discs are available for download and distribution through outlets such as CD Baby, Qualiton, Downtown Music Gallery and Amazon.de, but “for more than 10 years I bombarded European and US distributors with e-mail proposals for different kinds of collaborations. I sent out hundreds of samples with minimal results,” he recalls. “Many absolutely great, wonderful Russian musicians and recordings remain unknown in the west because Western distributors do not want to deal with Russian labels.”
That many of these “great, wonderful Russian musicians” released on SoLyd are part of the so-called avant-garde, concentrating on this music wasn’t a conscious decision, reports Gavrilov. It’s just that for him improv became more interesting over the years and other music less so. Many of the first avant efforts had nothing to do with jazz. One consisted of spontaneous improvisations by contemporary composers Vyacheslav Artyomov and Sofia Gubaidulina; another was by rocker Boris Grebenschikov. Ganelin Trio saxophonist Vladimir Chekasin’s Bolero-2 was the first jazz-improv session. Today the catalogue includes discs by pianist Alexey Lapin, bassist Vladimir Volkov and saxophonist Alexey Kruglov among many others.
“Gavrilov was a person who told me that a generation of musicians had arrived in Russia who are young, play well and think for themselves.” remembers Tarasov. “He told me about Alexey Kruglov, rented a studio and asked me to record two CDs [Dialogos SoLyd 403 and In Tempo SoLyd 404] with him. Playing with Kruglov I realized what Gavrilov had said was true. The saxophonist doesn’t play behind or ahead, he plays together with me and that’s great.”
Happenstance also accounted for SoLyd releasing CDs by non-Russians. Among the first was a CD of a Moscow concert by American pianist Joshua Pierce, followed by efforts like the Russian Second Approach trio’s disc with Roswell Rudd. Other SoLyd releases include ROVA’s Planetary (SoLyd SLR 0407), Anthony Braxton/Marel Yakshieva Improvisations (duo) 2008 (SoLyd SLR 0383/4), Matthew Shipp/Sabir Mateen Sama Live in Moscow (SoLyd SLR 0408) and Jones/Jones [Larry Ochs, Mark Dresser and Tarasov]’ We All Feel The Same Way SoLyd SLR 0396). Some sessions were even recorded in the United States. “It doesn’t really matter where the recording is made – you obtain the rights, you pay for them – what’s the difference between Moscow and New York?” asks Gavrilov.
“I only met Gavrilov once in May 2010, but working with him as an artist is a breeze,” says Ochs. An admirer of Tarasov’s playing the SoLyd owner was so impressed with a mix Ochs had done of music from a Jones/Jones mini-tour, that “he accepted the master immediately and released it in September 2009 on the occasion of our performance during the Moscow Biennale.” A Moscow recording the trio made is now set for 2011 release. As for the ROVA connection, the saxophonist recalls: “Somewhere between the mixing of Jones/Jones CD 1 and the recording of CD 2 I suggested a ROVA recording for his label. I thought the connection ROVA had with Russia, because of its two tours there in the 1980s, might interest him. Sure enough he decided that a ROVA CD, our first release on a Russian label, would be cool.”
Besides the second Jones/Jones set, other future SoLyd improvised music releases include Tarasov playing with pianist Matthew Goodheart and ROVA saxophonist Jon Raskin. It’s sessions like this that make jazz fans hope that distribution deals will soon make all SoLyd CDs easier to access.
--For New York City Jazz Record August 2011
August 6, 2011
We All Feel The Same Way
SoLyd Records SLR 0396
Thinking of Khlebnikov
No Business Records NBCD 10
Probably still best-known after all these years as one-third of the Ganelin Trio –
which was the avant-garde ensemble that operated most openly in the pre-Glasnost Soviet Union – percussionist Vladimir Tarasov has followed two complementary paths since the trio dissolved in 1987.
A visual artist as well as a drummer, the now Vilnius-based Tarasov has expressed his musical creativity on an acclaimed series of solo discs, of which Thinking of Khlebnikov is the newest. Always up for collaborations, he has established a long-time partnership with expatriate American vocalist Lauren Newton and recorded with the Moscow Composers Orchestra, Hungarian pianist György Szabados and American reedist Anthony Braxton among others. We All Feel The Same Way – note the double meaning of the title – matches Tarasov with two California-based improvisers, saxophonist Larry Ochs and bassist Mark Dresser.
Appreciation for Thinking of Khlebnikov, a nearly 35-minute percussion excursion, may vary depending on how familiar one is with the poetry of Viktor Vladimirovich (Velimir) Khlebnikov (1885-1922), the founder of Russian Futurism. A poet’s poet, his work contains many neologisms as well as verse based on the shapes and sounds of individual letters of the Cyrillic alphabet. Coining novel rhythmic expressions, playing around with sound textures and altering the shape of already existing entities are characteristics Tarasov shares with Khlebnikov. A PDF file of an essay by Igor Romanenkov, included on this enhanced CD may go further in enumerating the linkages, but it’s printed only in Russian.
Instead focus on the percussionist’s multi-directional patterning as he moves among different cymbals, a series of drums – one of which has the low-pitched sonority of a kettle drum – and various percussion add-ons, from triangle and claves to bells and tambourines. Using a variety of techniques, including thick strokes, cross sticking, nerve beats, hand patting and ratcheting, the rhythmic result is both polyphonic and multiphonic. Recorded live at a Berlin music-poetry festival, the nine sound poems which make up this anthology flawlessly intersect and intertwine, from initial exposition to finale.
Along the way Tarasov layers differing timbres for unexpected results as when rim shots, a lumbering back beat and polyrhythmic cymbal interjections follow mallet-driven bass drum reverberations or when textures splinter between door-stopper-like ratcheting and what would result if a junkeroo was recorded playing gamelans. Sometimes the procedure is bluntly vociferous with ruffs, rebounds and drags resounding on snares and rims; other times the hand-and-stick procedure is barely audible, with xylophone-like chiming and bell-ringing tick-tocks. At points it even sound as if he’s beating on a plastic laundry tub.
This Khlebnikov salute isn’t an epic like Howl or The Wasteland are poetic landmarks. That’s because the Russian poet’s verse was more like what was produced by more obtuse poets such as e e cummings or Kenneth Patchen. Still the CD exposes the innate lyricism available when a linked series of mutable sonic verses are shaped using multiphionic timbres.
If solo playing is akin to the singular contemplation needed for the creation of poetry, then group playing is more prosaic, but equally praiseworthy in the right hands. Notable ensembles function like journalists piecing together the material for a major news report – each adds more bits of information which a together become the final story. So it is with this band, although with the five tracks recorded either in St. Petersburg or Amsterdam, it’s not clear which, if any, of the participants is the foreign correspondent and which is covering local news. Neither is the reason for the band name nor why the other four compositions besides the title track have the name Jones in them explained. Maybe We All Feel The Same Way needed a tougher (musical) copy editor.
Most versatile member of the ROVA sax quartet, having worked with everyone from koto player Miya Masoka to bassist/circuitry manipulator Lisle Ellis, Ochs is up for every challenge, as is Dresser, who now teaches at the university level, having played with free-thinkers ranging from Braxton to cellist Frances-Marie Uitti.
On the CD the three take turns providing the lead narrative then sprinkle adjectival and adverbial tinctures as the musical story evolves. “Have You Met Miss Microtonal Jones?” for example concentrates circular-breathed and widely vibrated reed bites, solid bass-string stopping and wood-block and mini-cymbal pinging into a writhing whole. As Tarasov’s bell ringing and cymbal resonating accelerate and Dresser’s woody strums evolve to sharpened cries, Ochs’ staccato output splays into a series of tongue-stops, split tones and smears. An intermezzo of discordant, high-sticking ruffs and flams from the percussionist signals a page turn, as the three fuse their contributions into a summation of half-masticated trills and tongue slaps from Ochs, clanking nerve beats from Tarasov and hardened triple-stopping from Dresser.
Not confined to any one section of this aural publication, the trio members prove equally versatile elsewhere. For instance they exhibit harsh and squeezed tenor saxophone tones, hi-hat friction and slithering bass strokes as they ease into “In Jones We Trust”, perhaps a nod to the fanciful publication’s business section? With the saxophonist exhaling bugle-like overblowing that is alternately altissimo or whiny plus pedal point growling, Dresser deepens broken-octave connection with shuffles and strums. Staccato string slices from the bassist and irregular rhythms from the percussionist mute the exposition and calm it down to a satisfactory finale. Tremolo lyricism is on show elsewhere, as the trio demonstrates that its mastery of feature-article-like coloring is as pronounced as its hard-news toughness.
Overall while Yank insularity and anti-improv sentiments from the organization itself will ensure that none of the three will win a Pulitzer Prize for music – or poetry or prose for that matter – both these CDs featuring Tarasov are masterful and individual.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Thinking: 1. Introduction 2. … having saddled a herd of sounds 3. … I’ll somehow hobble over the desolate time… 4. … bi-chiming dreams… 5. … where lived reedlings... 6. … pin, pin, pin! – rumbled zinzeever…7. … winging golden script of thinnest veins… 8. … poles and poles, and poles… 9. … we are soundmen…
Personnel: Thinking: Vladimir Tarasov (drums and percussion)
Track Listing: We: 1. In Jones We Trust 2. Type Jones Positive 3. Jones Zone 4. Have You Met Miss Microtonal Jones? 5. We All Feel The Same Way
Personnel: We: Larry Ochs (sopranino and tenor saxophone); Mark Dresser (bass) and Vladimir Tarasov (percussion)
June 11, 2010
The Beautiful Enabler
Clean Feed CF 114 CD
Somewhat of a departure for bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway, this co-op band with alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa features probably some of the most straight-ahead playing they’ve recorded since before they teamed up as the rhythm section of the well-regarded Anthony Braxton Quartet in the mid-1980s.
One could suggest that the presence of Mahanthappa, whose past work with bands lead by bassist Hubert Dupont or pianist Vijay Iyer has been more oriented towards the contemporary mainstream players created this situation. But one shouldn’t forget that Hemingway has done his share of straight-ahead work with the likes of pianists Fred Hersch and Michel Wintsch among others, as has Dresser. Gigs in drummer Greg Bendian’s bands, work with flautist Jane Ira Bloom and other less-than-experimental gigs are part of the bassist’s c.v.
Paradoxically as well here, Mahanthappa’s own composition “I’ll See You When I Get There,” brings out some of the most non-traditional phrasing from all three men, including quick-tongued, fluttering lines from the saxophonist. Taking the CD as a whole, the suggestion is that it has been released in the sequence in which the tunes were recorded. Listening to it this way, it appears that the three loosened up and began experimenting during the session as their confidence in one another’s interactive abilities grew. Thus by the time Hemingway’s “Meddle Music” comes around at the end of the program, you find that expectations set up by the foot-tapping rhythm and tonality of “Acuppa” that begins the disc, are realized without the program slipping into rote sameness.
“I’ll See You When I Get There,” for instance sets off Dresser’s scraped and striated string intonation against descending note clusters which characterize the saxophonist’s solo. As lower-pitched harmonics from the bass join with Hemingway’s pops and rolls, Mahanthappa augments his pitches upwards into multiphonics. Soon accented and emphasized note flurries are unleashes, with the reed interlude given additional resonance from Dresser’s broken-octave arco lines and the drummer’s hectic bonding beats.
Additionally if the initial trio interface sounds as if the three are ready to slip into “Bag’s Groove”, conventional grooves are stretched than dispensed with entirely by the time the tile track and “Meddle Music” come around. Mahanthappa’s exposed intervals are particularly wide on the former composition as reed cries meet Dresser’s brushed string stops which amplify as well as accompany. Angling his runs only slightly away from the melody, the saxophonist’s note clusters swell to super-sized at the climax, foreshadowing bravura techniques on the subsequent tune.
Each man operates at the height of his powers during the CD’s final tune. Dresser with wide-ranging sweeps and stropping stops; Hemingway with pounding back beats and cradled reflective tones; and Mahanthappa with flutter-tonguing, foreshortened breaths and expanded smears. Not only is his output spiky, but his unexpected texture liberation confirms a push towards the unconventional.
A CD that marks disparate players’ output gelling into a group sound, The Beautiful Enabler’s climatic re-ordering of the trio’s musical priorities, indicates that a more memorable outing could be in the offing.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Acuppa 2. Bearings 3. Flac 4. Intone 5. The Beautiful Enabler 6. I’ll See You When I Get There 7. Meddle Music
Personnel: Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone); Mark Dresser (bass) and Gerry Hemingway (drums)
November 30, 2008
Cryptogramophone CG 1434
Big Picture returns Myra Melford to the interlocking trio format with which the diminutive pianist made her reputation in the early 1990s. Except that Trio M is more than the earlier Melford Trio writ large; it’s completed by two other forceful improvisers and composers. Like the pianist, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson are bandleaders on their own, yet the seven-track CD, which divides the playing and writing chores, irrefutably proves that the sum is greater than its parts.
Dresser, who teaches at UC San Diego, is multi-faceted bassist who at different points on a composition like Wilson’s “Naïve Art” woodenly vibrates a plucked funky blues line in tandem with the drummer’s backbeat crunches with the same assurance he uses to create spiccato squeezes to match Melford’s slurry triple cadences.
Coloring the proceedings with steady bumps and clatter plus unselfconscious rim shots, bell peals and tempo modulation, Wilson is as impressive a percussionist as he is a composer. Antiphonally, the three frequently interlock tones and tempos, as distinctive keyboard vamps, drum bounces or bass strokes often adumbrating connective themes.
Soldering together triple techniques most effectively is the more-than-13½-minute title track. Polytonally modulating from cerebral strummed piano lines to romantic low-frequency runs to near-frenzied cascading overtones with characteristic portamento sluices, Melford’s output is complemented both by Dresser’s squeaky sul ponticello and double stopped shuffle bowing plus Wilson’s rhythmic shifts from irregular ruffs and flams to hammered echoing cymbal resonation.
Highly rated across the board, this is a Big Picture for everyone.
-- Ken Waxman
-- For CODA Issue 336
December 4, 2007
Rat Drifting RD 8
Clean Feed CF 043 CD
No longer a novelty, solo double bass CDs are now practically a rite of passage for low string improvisers. Still theres a big difference between recording a solo session and creating one with enough imagination and tonal differences to be appreciated by more than just bass fanatics.
Happily, in one case, and unsurprisingly in the other, Rob Clutton and Mark Dresser have turned out discs that can be listened to by any open-minded improvised music follower. UNVEIL is the unsurprising session, since Mark Dresser, who is also a professor in the music faculty of the University of California, San Diego, is one of the musics pre-eminent bassists, having been part of bands headed by multi-reedist Anthony Braxton, pianist Satoko Fujii and drummer Gerry Hemingway, as well as his own combos. About a decade-and-a-half younger, Toronto-based Rob Clutton on the other hand, is part of that citys group of burgeoning improvisers involved in Free Jazz and New music and able to play with any visiting soloist as the occasion demands.
Not Dressers first solo bass disc, UNVEIL gives him a chance to try out new techniques, tunings and technology in what he calls a recent document of an ongoing musical obsession. Belying its title, DUBIOUS PLEASURES, leans a lot more towards the noun than the adjective. By definition not as assured as Dressers disc, it certainly gives notice that Clutton is sophisticated enough to do everything he wants to do solo and then some.
Over the course of nine tracks his buoyant, thick-toned resonation is showcased andante, adagio and agitato both bowing and plucking which allows him to pull appealing timbres from all parts of the instrument, including at the beginning from its wooden waist and belly. At points Clutton produces violent, node scraping extended with shrill, balloon-like rubbing friction; at others his pizzicato string reverberation extends rhythms to their logical conclusions bringing complementary vibrations front and centre along with the initial tone.
Half Smile finds him picking notes with a pitch thats midway between that of a banjo and a sitar, effortlessly accelerating and decelerating until he probes the tones in the instruments thick core. Textures proliferate still further on the oddly-named Musicians and Animals, as he squeezes the strings for multiphonics. But here and elsewhere, even with col legno or spiccato emphasis, he never negates the woody bass-ness of the bull fiddle.
Pond, the concluding more-than-13 minute recital, with the CDs most pedestrian title, is organized in such a way that each hand improvises independently. Here, one section of the strings accompanies in double counterpoint with sonorous almost funereal textures, the shuffle-bowing front line section.
Making each of his hand separately do his bidding is commonplace for Dresser. UNVEIL, however, extends the basss electro-acoustic functions further, with coiled pickups embedded in the fingerboard that facilitate the creation of three simultaneous pitches on each string. Except for the title track however, which is double tracked, electronics are nearly inaudible and one track Lomus is played completely acoustically. Distinctively enough its this one on which it seems that the staccatissimo and contrapuntal bass lines are being produced by two people and four hands.
Bacahaonne, dedicated to 86-year-old Israel Cachao Lopez, known as the creator of Mambo music and godfather of Cuban bass, and loosely based on the harmony from Bachs Second Violin Partita is described as a fully notated piece. Yet with bows to the fiery conjunto tradition, Dressers percussiveness is so concentrated, and his rasgueado skin-on-wood movements so subtle, that it appears as if the phrases are being created on the spot.
Playing this way without resorting to any clichéd Latinisms its understandable that he can dedicate another track to the Italian New music bassist Stefano Scodanibbio, who does work similar to Dressers from the so-called classical side of the fence. Dressers col legno accelerated strikes, there and elsewhere, demonstrate that hes able to provide the rhythmic impetus while bowing the slap technique invented by early jazz bassist such as Pops Foster to properly guide loud, horn-heavy bands.
Elsewhere the bassist concentrates sul tasto string pressure into a dense, pulsating mass that almost replicates triggered impulses in this thickened form. Or he builds a series of rugs and tugs into stretched multiphonics. Bitonality is frequently present as well, as on Cabalaba, where his simultaneous 12-string guitar-like chromatic frailing and more traditional bass picking echo in two keys. Pumping out textures he also doesnt neglect the occasional stiff rubber band-like twangs.
Between Cluttons experiments and promise on his disc, and Dressers persuasive application of new techniques and unique use of pick-ups on his, the future of double bass notation and improvisation seems to be in good albeit calloused hands.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Dubious: 1. Taken Over by the Hounds of Reason 2. How Big are the Dots 3. Formal Garden 4. Mr. Taciturn 5. Half Smile 6. Air 7. Cloak 8. Musicians and Animals 9. Pond
Personnel: Dubious: Rob Clutton (bass)
Track Listing: Unveil: 1. Lureal 2. Unveil 3. Clavuus 4. Undula 5. Kathrom 6. Cabalaba 7. Entwined 8. Pluto 9. For Scodanibbio 10. Lomus 11. Bacahaonne
Personnel: Unveil: Mark Dresser (bass)
March 20, 2006
HERB ROBERTSON NY DOWNTOWN ALL STARS
Clean Feed CF042 CD
Organized to bring out the best qualities of trumpeter Herb Robertsons more-than-48-minute composition when it was performed at the Vancouver (British Columbia) Jazz Festival, the NY Downtown All Stars is no misnomer.
Each of he players has a long history with one another, and all with the exception of drummer Tom Rainey have frequently recorded as leaders. Alto saxophonist Tim Berne has been had his own bands since the early 1980s, around the time he first met the drummer and the brassman, both of whom have played in his combos. Swiss pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, who has a long-standing affiliation with another downtowner, violinist Mark Feldman, has worked with Robertson since the mid-1990s. As for bassist Mark Dresser, now teaching at the university level in California, his associations on both coasts run the gamut from multi-reedman Anthony Braxton to pianist Satoko Fujii and everyone in between.
Not as well known as he should be, Robertson, who plays trumpet, cornet, mutes and megaphone here, has lived in both Europe and the United States and contributed distinctive brass tones to ensembles ranging from British bassist Barry Guys orchestra to the New Winds with flutist Robert Dick and woodwind player Ned Rothenberg to drummer Gerry Hemingways combos.
An all-out player and writer, ELABORATION is a particularly memorable showcase for his talents. Made up of tutti, thematic passages, as well as places where the quintet divides into different duos and trios, it uses all the variables implicit in the quintets playing without every lapsing into a string of flamboyant solos. Voiced so that the ensemble sounds as if its much larger than a mere five pieces, equal attention is focused on each member of the band.
With an exposition made up of wiggling blocs of reed tones and low-frequency piano cadences, Elaboration soon segues into a duet between Courvoisiers chording and Robertson blowing plunger tones. Double-tongued, smeared vibrations from Berne mix with a walking bass line from Dresser, interrupted for col legno swipes, succeeds the initial duet. As the piece develops, the bassists double stopping and prepared piano scrapes and soundboard clinks and clicks make room for whining megaphone textures and reed tongue slaps.
A demarcation of protracted silence one-third of the way through finds the pianist soloing with recital hall correctness until understated drum bounces and harmonized trumpet and alto saxophone lines cut the tempo in half. Eventually triple counterpoint, call-and-response from the horns and double bass develop, until a martial figure from Rainey redirects the piece towards patterning piano and growled brass. This continues as a sub-motif beneath the major articulated theme inflated by Courvoisiers vamps that literally shake items inserted in the instruments speaking length.
Bernes repetition of the thematic figure here in an almost tenor saxophoneish timbre contrasts nicely with Robertsons piercing plunger elaboration of the same motif. The pianists extended shifting dynamics coalesce into a solo that finds her working from one side of the keyboard to the other, sonorously darkening the lowest quadrant, then subsequently giving way to widely spaced growls and whinnies from Robertsons cornet. Around them are calm-shattering reedy trills and tongue slaps from Berne and Rainey producing bare-handed conga drums-like bounces and ruffs.
Preparing for the resolution, the distinctive instrumental textures in the concluding section divide into sluiced glottal punctuation from the saxophone, mouthpiece tongue kisses from Robertson, spiccato lines from Dresser, rumbles and slaps from Rainey and flashing harmonic patterns from Courvoisier. Building up to a tutti finale, both the trumpeter and pianist append a single note coda.
Robertson may be helped by his friends here, but his composing and playing shape their contributions into a imposing whole.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Elaboration
Personnel: Herb Robertson (trumpet, cornet, mutes and megaphone); Tim Berne (alto saxophone); Sylvie Courvoisier (piano and prepared piano); Mark Dresser (bass); Tom Rainey (drums)
January 23, 2006
MARK DRESSER/DENMAN MARONEY
Cryptogramophone CG 124
Digression on a theme, TIME CHANGES finds bassist Mark Dresser and Denman Maroney amending the voicing theyve developed over the years to encompass other sounds.
Utilizing the unique textures available from Dressers mastery of extended techniques and the timbres from Maroneys hyperpiano a regular pianos strings and soundboard prepared with all sorts of gizmos they make space for understated percussionist Michael Sarin and mezzo soprano Alexandra Montano. Involved with performing contemporary works by Philip Glass and Meredith Monk among others, the New York-based mezzo, functions here as another instrumentalist. Experienced in musicals and operas, she adopts her tessitura to the demands of wordless vocalizing.
Absorbing most of the time, the CDs only drawback like too many recent sessions is its length. A couple of the 11 pieces could have been shaved from the almost 68½-minute disc without losing compositional and improvisational senses.
As fastidious as a scientist, Maroney uses his collection of bars, bowls, bells knives, mallets, rubber blocks and bottles of various kinds to create polyphony and polyrhythms. Frequently he sounds both expected timbres by accenting the keys and harsh, complementary partials by stopping the counter-wound bass strings and unwound treble strings at certain predetermined nodes.
Two instances of this are his own Harkemony and the instant composition Heap. On the former, a schematic semi-blues, tool placement and pressure allow him to extend the primary note and its coarse vibrations. Sometimes it appears as if the entire instrument is made of metal and steel, not wood. On the later his plucking and sliding on multiple strings functions in double counterpoint with the spiccato attack from Dressers bass. At points you could swear that the bassist was manipulating a bottleneck on the strings of a National steel guitar, while Sarin whose rhythmic skills have given him tenure with pianist Myra Melford and saxman Tony Malaby uses rim shots and side slaps plus a panoply of unselected cymbal intonations to balance the other twos output.
Isolated cymbal pressure and what sound like cymbals reverberating the nodes of the piano innards give the almost 10½-minute One Plate its distinctive shape. Following a jazz-like press roll from Sarin, Dressers unvarying ostinato provides the bottom for the tune, Maroney integrates his timbres to first excite the stopped actions to coarsen the action, then, surprisingly, shifts to near-bop syncopation built on descending right hand patterning. Bringing extra percussion into play to complicate the tempo, the drummer joins with Dressers walking bass to accompany the pianists Monkish key clipping. As Dresser bounds between fleet, slurred fingering and stentorian double stopping, Maroney varies his pitch and pattern. Tremolo variations on the theme slither among the dense bass and drum work, until the pianist concentrates his dynamics into a defining crescendo.
Pleasant-voiced, Montanos agile warbling adds lissome coloration to four of the tracks. Soaring and lyrical, her scat syllable mouthing is a bit stiff. Because of this, on pieces like Double You, the other three bring a languid formalism to their playing. Bel canto vocalism seems to suggest emulating Bill Evans trios time sense.
Elsewhere though, her sympathetic lyrical quality allows Montano to subvert her pure textures to meld with spiccato sawing from Dressers bull fiddle and pumping node modulation from Maroney. M.C., written by the pianist, has her metamorphose from a pseudo-Swingle Singer jive tempo at the top to a Latinesque line that eventually has her scatting and soaring along with rim shots from Sarin and tremolo licks from the composer.
Something different, those familiar with Maroney and Dresser or dare one suggest it, adventurous so-called serious music vocal fans will find much to admire here.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Aperitivo* 2. Pulse Field 3. Heap 4. M.C* 5. One Plate 6. Double You* 7. Harkemony 8. Lateral Mass 9. Kilter 10. Between 17th and Bliss* 11. Ekoneni
Personnel: Denman Maroney (hyperpiano); Mark Dresser (bass); Michael Sarin (drums and percussion); Alexandra Montano (vocals)
October 31, 2005
JANE IRA BLOOM
Like Silver, Like Song
Restricted in one way by her exclusive commitment to the soprano saxophone, New York-based Jane Ira Bloom is musically open in every other manner, having composed for film, theatre, dance and even a lighting designer.
Someone who experimented with adding live electronics to her horn before it became fashionable, Bloom goes one step further here by appending electronic impulses to three out of the four members of her band. Bassist Mark Dresser is the acoustic hold out, while Bobby Previte plays electronic drums as well as drums, and Jamie Saft adds electric piano and electronics to his acoustic keys.
The result is as fine a one-hour program as Bloom has produced. Although ostensibly sliced into 14 separate tracks, LIKE SILVER, LIKE SONG is really one continuous composition. Dominated by the saxophonists silky, impressionistic textures, its only limitation is an unfortunate sameness of tone resulting from that one horn. However, the others are able to add enough rhythmic, pitch and velocity variations to make several of the pieces outstanding by any criteria.
Centrepiece of the exercise appears to be the poetically entitled Vanishing Hat built on a swinging pulse from Prevites acoustic kit, sudden quick glissandi from Bloom, sine wave oscillations from Saft and guitar-like strumming from Dresser. As the piece evolves, you realize that the descending, slippery echoes delineating the performance arise from Blooms electronic interface as much as Safts. However, by mid-point unforced, resonating flams and bounces from the drummer plus sul tasto emphasis from the bassist causes the reedists output to rev up, exposing more overtones as well as further resonations from the keyboardist. Coda includes a singular bass pluck, a cymbal sizzle and reverberating sax trills.
The rather prosaically named No Orchestra on the other hand, includes impressionistic daubs of silvery saxophone accents mixed with low-frequency layering from the piano. As the tonal centre shifts imperceptibly, the bassist moves ahead of the chording piano with double-stopping tremolo lines. Recital-like, he adds an extra glissando while Bloom trills the theme.
Similarly, as Saft shifts to grand piano and the bassist and drummer move to accompaniment mode, the light-textured though not syrupy interaction among the four on Singing in Stripes is reminiscent of saxophonist Lee Konitzs work with pianist Bill Evans. Blooms strength is expressed through un-Konitz-like flattement and doits, however. Plus, before the piece ends, Previte knocks out harder bounces and rebounds. Altair 4 is all electronic interchange, with fluttering pulsations rippling from the top of the scale to its lowest point. Horror movie-like crescendos from the keys plus bubbling loops make the piece seem to have begun before the first note is played and conclude after the last note is sounded.
A change of pace, Magnetic and In An Instant that run right into one another, include a throbbing bass line with R&B overtones, extended with bluesy electric piano fills and Bloom slurring, double-tongued echoing arpeggios. Not only does she multiply her trills with vocalized humming, but also with expanding countertenor-like tones. The mini In An Instant is a continuation of that track as buzzy key exercises give way to brush-patterned, faster rhythmic emphasis from the drummer.
Although there are times when it seems as if the languid backing actions and foreground electronic tints are shifting like multi-colored oils in a lava lamp, the final track, a slightly shorter, second version of Singing in Stripes completes the circle begun with Dreaming in the Present Tense.
Featuring swinging modal-like piano chords plus rumbling and press rolling drum beats, Blooms warbling soprano tones make the point that every one of the 14 tunes is a related picture in her aural gallery.
Probably Blooms most consistent effort, only the addition of another sympathetic front-line voice could make it different and perhaps better. But would someone with as powerful an imput as Bloom compromise her distinctive vision?
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Dreaming in the Present Tense 2. Unconscious Forces 3. Singing in Stripes 4. Altair 4 5. Vanishing Hat 6. White Light 7. No Orchestra 8. Magnetic 9. In an Instant 10. Mercury 11. Night Skywriting 12. Dark Knowledge 13. I Have Dreamed 14. Singing in Stripes
Personnel: Jane Ira Bloom (soprano sax and live electronics); Jamie Saft (piano, electric piano and electronics); Mark Dresser (bass); Bobby Previte (drums and electronic drums)
October 17, 2005
SATOKO FUJII TRIO
Sixth chapter of the ongoing saga of Japanese-American pianist/composer Satoko Fujiis American trio, ILLUSION SUITE shows her confidence in working up from the single tune short story to the novella length (34 minutes) with the title track here.
Along the way it not only shows off the skills and techniques of the pianist and her sidemen bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black but suggests this may be the most comfortable setting in which she works. Fujii, whose playing situations range from massive big bands to electric combos featuring a Japanese rhythm section with a strong fusion heck, rock, orientation thrives in this acoustic setting.
Proof is the suite itself, which moves through many moods and energies. Dresser, who now teaches at Californias Mills College, is, hands down, one of the most versatile bassists extant. Work with people ranging from reedist Anthony Braxton to drummer Gerry Hemingway confirms this. Black is pliable as well, marking his mark as part of tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelins trio as well as his own bands.
Illusion Suite itself advances from languid, impressionistic variations all the way through to sparse, near-atonal patterning and substantial rhythms, plus everything in between.
Beginning with ride cymbal scratches, fluttering arco poramento from the bassist and single note action from the pianist, the piece soon involves low-frequency cadences from Fujii, hollow rim slaps, bell tree and chain rattling from Black and most spectacularly sul ponticello interludes from Dresser.
Very shortly, when the bass begins walking and the drums play a shuffle beat, Fujii exposes different parts of the soundboard, adopting a fantasia of patterning, strumming chords and double timing for her take on modernistic soloing. Blurred, locked-hand arpeggios then encourage Black to express himself in a solo of perfectly formed ruffs and flams as the pianist and bassist together explore the darker, lower-pitched parts of their instruments.
Repeated, contrasting dynamics on her part cause Black to accelerate his hard snare and tom action, rambling into semi-march time. When Dresser squeals a sul tasto counter melody, Fujii returns to romanticism, except this time the beat seems to come from a beanbag shaken by Black. Following a rhythm rebound, Fujii expostulates a high frequency octave-spanning theme development, stabbing the keys in tremolo action as she references sources as disparate as Cossack dances and gospel hymns.
Reaching final variations on the theme, the suite opens up with a lyrical interface from the pianist and the double stopping bassist, while hard counter rhythms from the drummer echo. Summation posits a reorientation of the initial theme with sparse chording from Fujii, legato bowing from Dresser and irregular pulsing from Black.
Newer short stories to complement the novella, the CDs subsequent three tracks all, like the suite, written by the pianist showcase other techniques. One composition appears to be an abstract contrafact of Caravan with Fujii contributing low-frequency turns, Dresser scratchy spiccato line and Black stroking what could be a glass armonioca. An Insane Scheme, on the other hand, probably isnt as far out as its composer thought. But in it she skitters across the keys, replicating half-tango, half-Swing era licks. Black stabs his sticks into his drum tops and along his ride cymbals, as Dresser resonates sul tasto and sul ponticello color.
A true experimenter, Fujii shouldnt be discouraged from trying out as many different styles with as many different groups as she wishes. But this CD confirms that much of her best work is done in the context of this trio.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Illusion Suite 2. An Irregular Course 3. Flying to the South 4. An Insane Scheme
Personnel: Satoko Fujii (piano); Mark Dresser (bass); Jim Black (drums)
May 16, 2005
IVO PERELMAN DOUBLE TRIO
Suite for Helen F.
Boxholder BXH 038/039
Strength, stamina and chutzpah are the first three adjectives that come to mind when analyzing saxophonist Ivo Perelmans performance on this two CD set.
Coming on like a contestant in one of those extreme sports competitions the Brazilian tenor man not only faces off against one bassist and drummer, but also another set at the same time. Similarly his version of a double trio doesnt involve any slackers. Individually and together, bassists Dominic Duval and Mark Dresser and percussionists Gerry Hemingway and Jay Rosen have worked with nearly every experimental reedist of repute, including Anthony Braxton, John Butcher, Mark Whitecage, Joe McPhee, Oliver Lake and Frank Gratkowski -- to name just a few. Besides Duval, Hemingway and Rosen have recorded with the saxman before.
During the course of the seven part suite here, named for pioneering abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler, Perelman produces as many dense shapes, jagged lines, circular improv, frottage and irregular brush strokes as you can see in seven examples of his paintings which illustrate the booklet. Dont try to draw too many parallels between the Perelman works in acrylic or mixed media and his reed explosions, though. This isnt program music, but an aural expression of Perelmans talents.
In that way he may have attempted to create on too broad a musical canvas by expressing himself over two CDs. Like many gallery collections of a painters oeuvre, only some of the note paintings are truly exceptional. Others are more exhausting than exhaustive, though time is on his side. The four compositions on Disc 2 are more varied and more memorable than the three on Disc 1.
Quirkily enough, Part 4, the sessions stand-out track, is sketched on the broadest canvas -- its almost 21 minutes of seething improvisation. Perelmans initial reed thrust involves piercing slurs that meet dual bass ponticello. Soon the double bowing turns spiccato, to face the saxmans upper partials of irregular and fluttering vibrations and split tones. With Hemingway and Rosen accelerating from shuffle rhythms to battering ram strength, Perelman moves his growls into a more comfortable mid-range, that in this context almost sounds like Classic Jazz -- Classic Free Jazz that is. Except for the odd mouthpiece cheep, Perelman begins sluicing out a balladic-type melody, adding various note partials, vibrations and bent notes.
Meanwhile its likely Duval who is racing up and down his strings with iron fingers as Rosen manipulates tubular bells and unselected cymbals for carillon-like tones. Perelman suddenly jumps down to the bow of his body tube to spew out growling Ben Webster-like tones that alternate with tiny, altissimo mouse squeaks for a while, then which mould themselves into a new theme for a few minutes, backed only by the bell tree. The saxmans reed command is such that his shrill screeches can be subdivided into different timbres and with Part 4 he does the same with abrasive, mulching mumbling grating growling undertones.
Eventually, before the piece fades out with a few bass string strums, the reedist has taken his playing beyond bar lines and compositional inferences into the realm of pure emotion, almost reaching the primitivism of someone like Arthur Doyle. Perelmans scalpel sharp reed incisions are more deliberate though, a quality he shows on this tune and elsewhere.
Part 7, for instance, which begins with a renal squeak soon transmogrifies into the saxman sounding out jaunty melodies to the accompaniment of the sort of chinga- chinga cymbal work Hemingway or Rosen would play behind any bopper. Expelling a lone reed fart before he smears burst tremolos all over the tune, Perelman ends it with more mouse-like squeaks as if as if struggling to expel the last bit of sound from his mouthpiece.
Earlier on, a few human throat cries join false registers, gravelly honks and rappelling tones as he works out and expels intense vibrations. Sometimes the result will be a polyphonic melody between the dual basses and the reed man, with them meeting his scream shards with their own dual thumps and double stops.
Most of the first CD pushes the bassists into the background, however, with Perelman honking entire passages altissimo and the drummers making like Rashied Ali and Elvin Jones with Coltrane. More cooperation is exhibited between these two than that ill-matched duo however. Most of the time they divide their parts up equitably, with Hemingway expressing himself in ratamacues, rim shots and press rolls and Rosen finessing clangs and chings out of his bells, cymbals and other percussive little instruments.
Generally the parts of the suite work better if the rhythm section doesnt have to operate at full force. Give it time to regroup and exhibit say, flat picking, strumming or arco sweeps from the basses or nerve beat emphasis or ruffs from the drummers, then additional, less stark colors are added to the palate from which Perelman is painting.
This is shown in the starkest contrast on Part 5 where the blizzards of screeching, aviary notes almost make it seem as if the reedist is bending his saxs goose neck to produce them. Yet the truest sound arrives in the form of human skin hitting the wound steel of bass strings, and which seems to encourages the saxman to exit in a descending arc of reed harmonies.
Although Perelman proves that he can peck notes like John Coltrane, produce Woody Woodpecker-like cries, and move close to ballad territory at various times, this excess of extended techniques isnt needed any more than excess brush strokes on a canvas. When all the artists exhibit their stylings into a group project as they do on the second disc things are most monumental.
Many times in the past Perelman has recorded his versions of exceptional aural canvases, while outlining an identifiable style. While there is much to like about SUITE FOR HELEN F., theres also a bit of excess. A smaller canvas would have served his purposes better. Taking this to heart, next time out, he could paint his masterpiece.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Disc 1: 1. Part 1 2. Part 2 3. Part 3 Disc 2: 4. Part 4 5. Part 5 6. Part 1 Part 1 6 7. Part 7
Personnel: Ivo Perelman (tenor saxophone); Dominc Duval and Mark Dresser (basses) Gerry Hemingway (drums); Jay Rosen (drums and percussion)
May 31, 2004
New World # 80607
SOPHIE AGNEL/OLIVIER BENOIT
IN SITU IS 237
Orchestral and monochordal at different times, the piano is the cornerstone of Western music because of its versatility. But this versatility sometimes limits its adaptability to more experimental music.
Over the second half of the 20th century composers and pianists decided that one way to overcome the keyboards innate conventionality was to prepare the strings with different objects. These two CDs -- one American and one French -- show how these preparations can be used in the context of improvised music. Each is vastly different. American Denman Maroneys quintet is strongly allied to jazz, whereas the Parisian duo of pianist Sophie Agnel and guitarist Olivier Benoit leans towards free music and electronics.
Over the course of RIP-STOPs four instant compositions Agnel and Benoit dont so much play their instruments as extract sounds from them. The textures and patterns created owe more to what the copper, wire and steel strings of the two chordal sources are capable of than conventional playing. Both musicians have long been involved with similar experiments. The pianist has been part of bands featuring Lionel Marchetti on tapes and electronics and Jerome Noetinger on electroacoustic devices, as well as other formations with saxophonist Michel Doneda or harpist Hélène Breschand. For his part, Benoit has been in formations that range from his duo with alto saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet to his conduction of the 25-member Grand orchestre dimprovisation.
As early as rs-1, resonating plinks from within the piano and oscillating accordion-like tones from the guitarists reverb pedal extend the instruments tonal fields. Soon rolling, repetitive piano chords and scratching, buzzing fills give way to what appears to be objects pressed against the strings. These quiet internal rumbles are met by near-inaudible guitar resonation and string strikes and lead to almost complete silence.
Mechanized flat picking, together with scatter shot clinking on guitar strings alternate with fist-smashing bangs on the fall board plus low frequency chording on rs-2, the CDs longest track. With the piano dampers muted, mechanical sounding textures appear, followed by right-handed vibrations from the keyboard itself. While this is going on, Benoit produces whistling timbres and note crackles that eventually coalesce into faint grasshopper chirps. Agnels response tops these teeny guitar clips with miniscule, single notes resonation that move inside and around the key frame and which are extended with pinpoint pedal pressure. Rs-3 is more percussive on Benoits side, with his strumming on his heaviest strings. Slightly off-key note clusters and bell-like sounds from the keys encourage the guitarist to unleash accelerating feedback. Busy, distorted echoes take the piece out.
When rs-4 appears, both musicians almost seem to become part of their chosen instruments. Benoits crashing guitar chords turn from shaking near-bottleneck to wood cracking, as if the guitar was being pulled apart piece by piece. For her part Angel appears to be rolling marbles onto the piano strings until her finger pressure drives individual notes deeper into the piano innards. Soon, singular sounds drone against the escapement and soundboard, causing sympathetic vibrations from the other strings.
Theres no sign of electronics on FLUXATIONS. Looking at the personnel, in fact, you could imagine that the six-part composition is being played by a standard jazz aggregation of trumpet, reeds, bass, percussion and keys. But the keys here are in the hands of Maroney, the pieces composer, and manipulated on his hyperpiano. This involves working the keys with one hand, while bowing, plucking, strumming and striking the strings directly with the other hand using a variety of tools including copper bars, brass bowls, rubber blocks, bells, knives, mallets, plastic mashers, boxes and bottles.
Maroney, who has exhibited his skills in duet situations with guitarist Hans Tammen and in many bands with bassist Mark Dresser, has the bassmans rock-solid time keeping helping here. Ned Rothenberg, who plays alto saxophone and bass clarinet, has collaborated with Japanese musicians in the band R.U.B., and explored all varieties of world and improv music. Drummer and vibist Kevin Norton leads his own bands and works with Anthony Braxton, while trumpeter Dave Ballou has been featured in the bands of Satoko Fujii and Andrew Hill.
One of those compositions that oscillates between improvised and written sections, Fluxations is just as impressive if you cant figure out which section comes from Maroneys pen and which is made up on the spot by the players. On Part 4 for instance, after a drum roll brings the trumpet-led melody forward, brass shrills and bent notes presage a double tremolo of uneven piano note clusters. Rothenberg introduces a series of descending slurs that are then mirrored by the keyboard with a metal bowl pressed against the strings to produce ringing harshness. Next up is a whinnying horn line and plucked bass tones. Finally the pianist creates a nasal-sounding ending by sliding down the strings ponticello.
Part 3, at nearly 13-minutes gives the pianist plenty of scope to explore his instrument with two different touches. One is a double striding, harpsichord-like texture that gets faster and more diffuse as he jumps from one key tone to another and ends with a faint right-handed ruffle. The other evidentially takes place completely in the strings speaking length. Meanwhile, Maroney doubles the pulse fields with definite stopped action, Ballou responds with a muted trumpet wiggle and Dresser with a bowed bass line. Soon that line intersects with hocketing piano sounds and vibraharp shimmers. The bassist turns to stretches and scrapes, the vibist to resonating, four-mallet tones and the pianist literally strums his instruments inside strings.
On the other hand, the theme from Part 2 is carried by pseudo steel guitar riffs from the piano as Norton -- on drums -- plays a careful shuffle rhythm and Rothenberg contributes sliding glissandos. Ballou then introduces a brassy, joyous trill that wouldnt be out of place in a Mahler lieder. Eventually, Maroney pushes his keys so hard that the output move from doubled regular piano tone to stretched textures that could come from an African lute.
When all the rhythmic and harmonic possibilities have been explored the two-minute coda of Part 6 is a contrapuntal exercise in opposing tones from the trumpet and alto saxophone, as the pianist chimes metronomic chords behind them.
Two digs into the inner workings of the piano from two different countries show that revolutionary timbres are still available from this Western Worlds most traditional instrument.
Track Listing: Fluxations 1. Fluxations Part 1 2. Fluxations Part 2 3. Fluxations Part 3 4. Fluxations Part 4. 5. Fluxations Part 5 6. Fluxations Part 6
Personnel: Fluxations: Dave Ballou (trumpet); Ned Rothenberg (alto saxophone and bass clarinet); Denman Maroney (hyperpiano); Mark Dresser (bass); Kevin Norton (drums and vibraphone)
Track Listing: Rip-stop: 1. rs - 1 2. rs - 2 3. rs - 3 4. rs - 4
Personnel: Rip-stop: Sophie Agnel (prepared piano); Olivier Benoit (guitar and electronics)
April 12, 2004
An Hour of Now
Louie Records 031
SUSIE IBARRA & MARK DRESSER
Wobbly Rail WB014
Hearing double bass and percussion as more than just the components of a rhythm section is something for which most listeners -- and quite a few musicians -- never develop a comfort level. Yet these two uncommon, yet flawed, CDs show that it can be done.
After years of improvisational progress on many instruments in all sort of combinations, why should the naked bass and drums --or in one of the cases here bass and two drums -- upset so many? In the hands of the right musicians, five of whom are represented on these CDs, theres enough harmony, polyphony and tonality exhibited to balance the instruments commonplace rhythmic function.
Of course AN HOUR OF NOW cheats a little bit. While Oregon-based Mike Klobas and Dave Storrs more-or-less stick to non-electrified drums and percussion, Page Hundemer uses his electric bass and sequencers to suggest guitar and organ tones throughout. In contrast, New York downtowners bassist Mark Dresser and drummer and percussionist Susie Ibarra dont deviate from the acoustic on the aptly named TONE TIME.
Both discs have much to offer, but both fall victim to the same caprice: an excess of tracks -- 13 on the trio disc, 15 on the duo session -- with too many of the tunes short or medium length. Most of the memorable performances are the most drawn-out ones, which give everyone involved enough space to fully develop ideas.
On the Northwestern session, for instance only First Now plus its coda Got, as well as the shade over the nine minute Distorted.org, really get enough room to grow. On the first, the deliberate bass line helps Klobas and Storrs, who first played together in 1977, create an magnified swinging beat that makes the three sound like a boppy version of Australias trance-jazz trio, the Necks. This line is extended when Storrs adds some electronically mutated scat vocalizing to the mix. Hundemer thumps out a steady pulse, while the dual drummers showcase rolls, flams, nerve beats and other kit expansions, ending by bapping away at cowbells, gongs and cymbals for further color. Going right into Got, which serves as the preceding tunes coda, the production ends with distorted wah-wah reverb from the bassman, ratamacues and rebounds from the percussionists, along with sounds emanating from what could be a wooden marimba and a hanging bell tree.
Still, with its sequenced organ tones and buzzing whistles that sound as if they have migrated over from the Small Faces Itchycoo Park, it takes a gentle swinging snare drum pulse and some rim shots to establish the tune in an improv mode. But it seems to leach from a variation of jazz to rock during its more than nine minute running time. Although there is some powerful Africanized drum work on show, the ostinato bass line is often distorted by what could be a lead guitar part -- from the sequencers? -- organ runs -- ditto -- and wavering sine wave tones.
Then theres In Spite of Self, with a lighter, looser tone than many of the other pieces. Unconsciously or not suggesting a Latin tumbao, with a sequencer line approximating a flute lead and one of the percussionists sounding as if hes playing timbales, this could be a Herbie Mann riff from the mid-1960s. However, it does end with a bouncy keyboard-led freeboppy line.
As for the rest of the disc, the three players prove their expertise in many improv, jazz, and rhythm-based styles, using everything at hand from thumb pops to amp distortions. Too often, however, space is lacking to strengthen licks and vamps into something more. Maybe these few drawbacks will be overcome next time out.
Dresser and Ibarra too suffer from this insistence on condensation, especially in the later half of their disc. When they dont let themselves get too po-faced, the two are best when the drummer concentrates on sounding percussion paraphernalia as the bassist unveils his formidable technique.
The Weaver, for instance, finds Ibarra rolling out mallet-driven cymbal, snare and tom-tom rhythms, as Dressers POMO response involves duetting with himself -- plucking some parts and bowing others. Ibarra then begins swabbing out odd tones on the drum top then turns to flams as the bassman introduces higher, guitar-like flat-picking tones in tandem with bass line strokes on his lower strings.
Rubbing her drum tops with what seems to be a cloth is one strategy adopted by Ibarra on Metatone, that is, after she has begun the piece sounding a set of unselected and unattached cymbals, extending the tones with bell ringing and tiny mallet hits. Meanwhile Dressers hearty arco lifts move slowly downward as he strokes the bottom strings with his bow.
Apart from his tough Mingusian thumps, showcased when he finds it necessary, Dresser can also let loose with a strong rhythmic pulse -- as can Ibarra. On the appropriately named title track, the two define a finger-snapper, with a heavy blues-based thwack from the bassist and kettle drum-like steady beats from the percussionist. Jump has a foot-tapping Bo Diddley-like beat, with Ibarra using rim shots to emphasize the time. With concurrent strokes Dresser slides up the neck for note variations, as she changes tempo to decorate the beat.
Contrast this to Surrealm, which begins with almost dead silence until a
cymbal resonation introduces bowed bass frottage. As Dresser moves the tune forward, Ibarra bends notes from a bell tree and selected cymbals. This shaking is met with strongmans yanks and quasi-flat picking from the bassist, until her loosened up time-feel, become almost transparent and shimmers away.
Bassndrums fanciers of any genre will find much of interest on these two discs. Fewer, longer tracks and more focus could have worked better for the rest of us, though.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Hour: 1.Under It 2. First Now 3. Got 4. Distorted.org 5. Morphed Out of My Mind 6. Hora Hey 7. Swungd 8. It Already Has 9. Yah Yah 10. In Spite of Self 11. Forward Going 12. Twa Wa (Tuna Awe) 13. Second Now
Personnel: Hour: Page Hundemer (electric bass and sequences); Mike Klobas (drums and percussion); Dave Storrs (drums, percussion and vocals)
Track Listing: Tone: 1. Protone 2. Jump 3. Metatone 4. Simmer 5. The Subterrain 6. The Weaver 7. Untold 8. Tone Time 9. Surrealm 10. Slipinstyle 11. Sphere A 12. Sphere B 13. Sphere C 14. Sphere D 15. Epitone
Personnel: Tone: Mark Dresser (bass); Susie Ibarra (drums and percussion)
March 15, 2004
A Momentary Lapse
You may well ask, after hearing this excellent CD, who Andrew Drury is and why he isnt better known?
Answering the first question is easier than dealing with the second. The New York-based drummer/composer has played with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and reedist Vinny Golia, among others, created and photographed site-specific drum solos in desert and mountain settings, led junk percussion workshops and recorded two earlier CDs. Yet not only are his percussion skills up to snuff, but on evidence of the tunes here, hes a sophisticated modern composer as well. He mixes the sense of rhythm and sensitivity that characterizes drummer-composers like Max Roach and Gerry Hemingway with voicing and arrangements that connect sophisticated EuroImprov sensibility with New World swing.
Drury is also the least known musician on his own session. Bassist Mark Dresser has performed with everyone from Anthony Braxton to Gerry Hemingway; violinist Eyvind Kang is a John Zorn associate; one reedist, Briggan Krauss, has worked with Satoko Fujii; the other, Chris Speed has been in bands led by Tim Berne and pianist Myra Melford; and Melford herself holds down the piano chair.
In simple, unfettered melodiousness, as a matter of fact, some of Drurys tunes are reminiscent of those recorded by Melfords The Same River, Twice quintet featuring Speed. This comparison is meant in the best possible way, since Melfords compositions were some of the best of the late 1990s. Of course with both violin and bass Drury goes the pianist one better, intelligently integrating two, often arco, string styles into his compositions. And what compositions they are.
For instance, on Some Powerful Woman/Why the theme is first suggested with pizzicato violin lines, tremolo piano chording and floating clarinet tones -- the linkage a common classical chamber music configuration. Then, as the melody advances, sawing, reverberating double-stopped bass tones back up wavering, high-pitched reed lines, intermittently interrupted by single whacks on a gong and echoing tiny cymbal scratches. After the winnowing tones of the clarinet-string-piano trio alternate so-called classical and so-called World music, the penultimate section introduces a swinging modern jazz feeling. While the fragility of the semi-classical lines is maintained, heavier snare and bass drum accompaniment harden the theme.
Drury also knows how to inaugurate a session, as he does with the almost 11-minute The Schwartzes. Built on Dressers repeated bass vamp and understated piano fills from Melford, the rollicking theme is reminiscent of some of those free-for-alls indulged in by the Italian Instabile Orchestras. Performing at his most swingingly rhythmic, Kang takes an andante, slipping, sliding and stopping glissando solo. Drury counters with a steadfast beat, as the horny goat sounds of Krausss clarbone, which resembles a bagpipe, spew out more tonal colors. Following some circling piano octaves and writhing, high-pitched reed honks and trills, the theme is reprised then taken out with squeaks from Kang and hearty Bronx cheers from the reedists.
In contrast Växjö Kollektiv with its rococo violin and arco bass beginning, features sophisticated writing for strings, which Drury knows how to integrate into a performance without sounding artificial. An acclivity of different string and woodwind tones propels the melody until its taken up and given rhythmic impetus by the alto saxophone. Mellow tenor saxophone and granular violin lines toy with the theme, then Melford slides out some two-handed, mainstream chords and Drury offers sedate stick work. Finally the theme, in an aeronautical tempo, reappears once again, and fades into a thicket of quasi-baroque string and woodwind sounds.
Drury is also capable of writing mordant, Kurt Weill-style cabaret material as he shows with Guanajuato. Here pumping piano fantasias mix it up with resonating staccato timbres from clarinet, tenor sax and strings. Then, over a background of asymmetrical drumbeats, each musicians part seems to separate itself from the others and go its own way. Following a forceful guitar-like flat picking episode from Dresser, the theme reappears until its completed with forward-moving horns and strings plus jagged drum beats.
Elsewhere, Melford shows that she can slide over the keyboard with a bluesy updating of Red Garlands touch as easily as she can produce the sympathetic vibrations that characterize McCoy Tyners attack. One clarinetist can suggest a musette-like tone, while the other flirts with micotonalism. And Kangs interpretations range from pizzicato plucks that recall South American Indians to electrified double stopping that could be related to Jean Luc Pontys work, if the Frenchman had more taste and restraint.
Still, all of these talents are in the service of Drurys exceptional compositions, which prove tune after tune that melding Eurocentric formality and American syncopation can be as smoothly put to use by an undersung Yank as better-known Continentals.
Evidence here indicates that the playing and writing Drury demonstrations on this CD is no momentary lapse. Although theres every probability that he will produce more exceptional music in the future, right now, you have this CD to seek out and admire.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. The Schwartzes 2. Salal 3. Växjö Kollektiv 4.Coplais 5. Geeks Revenge 6. Some Powerful Woman/Why 7. Anniversary of a Non-Marriage 8. Guanajuato 9. Keep the Fool
Personnel: Briggan Krauss (alto saxophone, clarinet); Chris Speed (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Eyvind Kang (violin); Myra Melford (piano); Mark Dresser (bass); Andrew Drury (drums)
July 21, 2003
New Albion NA 118
482 Music 482-1018
Adapting the sounds of traditional Japanese music to Western sensibilities has occupied Occidental musicians from the time contact was first made in the mid-19th century. Mixing electronics, computers and acoustic instruments has been another leitmotif of the mid-20th century.
That the musicians on these CDs attempt to meld both of these concepts is noteworthy enough; that they add a dollop of free improvisation to the other ingredients ratchets up the interest factor.
Each session features the shakuhachi or bamboo flute plus electronics. Prominent among those forging contemporary shakuhachi music, Japanese sensei Katsuya Yokoyama is featured on BLENDS, playing music composed by Richard Teitelbaum, who also plays a variety of computers and synthesizers here. The two compositions were recorded 12 years apart with different musical partners. The title track adds the percussion of Indian-born Trilok Gurtu, while Kyotaku/Denshi adds jazzers, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway.
Teitelbaum, who first studied shakuhachi with Yokoyama in 1976, has always been interested in forms beyond common so-called serious music. Besides membership in the live electronic group MEV, he also played with a wide variety of musicians including the bassists and drummers associate Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy and George Lewis.
Natto Quartet ups the ante on both sides of the equation. On the Eastern side is shakuhachi, played by Philip Gelb, who has studied the ancient Japanese flute since 1988, and usually works in improvised music, alongside folks like British saxophonist John Butcher. Also featured is kotoist Shoko Hikage, who studied Japanese classical techniques on her many stringed instrument.
Representing Occidental sounds are Tim Perkis, founding member of the interactive computer ensemble The Hub, who uses electronics-based, customized software and hardware, and Chris Brown, another Huber and an electronic musician and teacher who brought his prepared piano to improv bands with the late tenorman Glenn Spearman among others.
Definite program music, Blends (the composition), recorded in 1983, plays on the differences between Yokoyamas winsome traditional shakuchachi sound and the slow moving electronic pulses created by Teitelbaum. His synthesizers perform a dual function, approximating the sound of gagaku court music with emulations of the shakuhachi and sho, while inventing shimmering electronic wiggles, swelling organ pulses and string section suggestions. More meditative and gentle than the other disc, the trance-like sounds produced by the blend of shakuhachi and electronics is only interrupted occasionally by Western percussion or tabla pulses from Gurtu.
Subdivided into four sections with an equivalent back-story, Kyotaku/Denshi, which was recorded 18 years later, finds the two main soloists even more accomplished on their chosen instruments. Related to the mythology surrounding his instrument, the flute sensei replicates the sound of small bell at one point and at others pushes out those jagged, ghostly whirlwind bass tones were familiar with from samurai films involving menacing spirits.
With his PowerBook creating sounds as disparate as European-based, romantic keyboard pulses and harsh sampled percussion, Teitelbaums bi-tonal melange resembles traditional Chinese as much as Japanese music. Then when the irregular rhythmic throb provided by Hemingway and Dresser is finally obvious -- they seem a tad unutilized on the CD -- some of the sounds seem to resemble those created by Italian film composer
Ennio Morricone. Teitelbaum adds yet another lick to the blend as the suite ends, with Yokoyama, playing his shakuhachi as traditionally as he can, solos over keyboard samples of Western-influenced Japanese pop music called Enka.
Nothing can be linked to pop music on HEADLANDS, with each of the seven tracks a quartet-created instant composition. On Yuba, for instance, Gelb first sounds as if hes blowing into an elongated plastic tube, then creates his own rendition of those ghostly samurai tones, while facing down crackles and accentuated metallic hints from Perkins. Browns mobile preparations turn to high intensity chording, as the occasional pluck from Hikages koto gathers speed as she begins strumming away on it as if she had a table top steel guitar.
Utilizing many of the positions from her instruments ji or moveable bridges, the kotoist reconfigures her sound on Kukicha as half gagaku and half Appalachian finger picking. Meanwhile, the bamboo flute is soloing with such unforced airiness that you could confuse that pure tone for one coming from a human soprano. While he trills, Brown works his inside-the-piano prepared technique, as drones and percussion suggestions arise from Perkins electronics.
Elsewhere, knuckle-dusters on the side of and inside the piano create more percussive intimations. The electronics let out Bronx cheers or create electro-acoustic shrills as the shakuhachi purrs out single tones. Overall, the stroked plinks and plucks possibly arise from the 21-string koto. Gelb can match stylists like Butcher or Evan Parker for circular breathing, or hack out abrasive, rubato tones, while at times Brown produces fingertip legerdemain from his felt pads and other preparations, delineating microtonal fantasias using note patterns that are as unique as they are unexpected..
Happily, none of the groups represented here have subjugated Oriental sounds to Occidental ones nor used Japanese scales and clusters for mere exoticism. By trying -- and for the most part succeeding -- in blending at least four different musical traditions, theyve created CDs that can be investigated by both confident traditionalists and followers of the new.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Blends: 1. Blends+ Kyotaku/Denshi*: 2. Kyorei (False Bell)/Imperial Procession 3. Kikichus Dream 4. Samurai Combat 5. Ronins Lament/The Coming of the West
Personnel: Blends: Katsuya Yokoyama (shakuhachi); Richard Teitelbaum (micromoog and polymoog synthesizers, Kurzweil K200 sampler and Macintosh PowerBook); Mark Dresser (bass)*; Gerry Hemingway (drums)*; Trilok Gurtu (tabla and percussion)+
Track Listing: Headlands: 1. Miso 2. Soba 3. Yiba 4. Nuka 5. Kukicha 6. Sake 7. Mochi
Personnel: Headlands: Philip Gelb (shakuhachi); Shoko Hikage (koto); Chris Brown (piano); Tim Perkis (computer)
June 16, 2003
JANE IRA BLOOM
al dante No #
Jackson Pollock was a fan of Dixieland Jazz. Moldy Figs may be aghast to hear that when they consider the swirls, whorls and astringent shapes of his paintings, but oddly enough the rule-breaking abstract expressionist was listening to Classic Jazz and Swing Music when he created his distinctive art works.
Truth is one thing, but when it comes to improvised music, Pollocks work has always been identified with the most adventurous parts of modern jazz. Nowhere was this made clearer than in 1960, when his painting entitled White Light was used on the cover of FREE JAZZ, Ornette Colemans groundbreaking collective improvisation for double quartet.
In this vein, New York soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom has tuned out a post-bop, chamber music session subtitled meets Jackson Pollock that expresses her passion for his work. In nine tunes, all but one of which she wrote, she uses the hues available from her instruments palate and the color supplied by her sidefolk to sketch an unhurried modern mainstream interpretation of the iconoclastic artist. Her final tune is even entitled White Light
Serendipitously, Parisian saxophonist/sampler player Étienne Brunet has named his CD that reinterprets the art of six contemporary visual artists, WHITE LIGHT as well. Yet the seven idiosyncratic pieces on the disc -- the last is a homage to influential American soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy -- definitely wont be mistaken for Blooms.
Commemorating the spontaneity unleashed by Colemans conception as much as Pollocks, these pieces mix found sounds, musique concrète, slabs of rock-blues, reconstituted vocals and machine created nonsense into a unique aural brew à la français.
Bloom, the first musician ever commissioned by the NASA Art Program and someone who has an asteroid named in her honor by the International Astronomical Union, is a composer whose work is fully informed by classic standards and changes. You can tell that by her honeyed solo rendition of The Sweetest Sounds, by Richard Rodgers, who was likely no fan of Pollocks.
Keeping the proceedings from being too earthbound is her challenge on the other selections, considering that except for some live electronics triggered by her horn, the combo works in the standard soloist and rhythm section format. Luckily, the band which has played together since 1996, includes virtuoso bassist Mark Dresser, whose associations range from drummer Gerry Hemingway to saxist Anthony Braxton; and drummer Bobby Previte who leads his own bands with the likes of reedist Marty Ehrlich on board. Attached as well, she says to motion-inspired melodic lines for improvisation, gives scope to pianist Fred Hersch, who brings Bill Evans-like lyricism to his playing.
With the keyboardists musings melded with her airy soprano saxophone, many of the pieces are a bit too fragile; they sound as if the band is celebrating Claude Monets relaxing impressionism, not Pollocks abstractions. Weakest is Many Wonders with its clichéd, groan-inducing title. Herschs classically influenced, proper touch and perfect form, and his crystalline output makes every note sing, but not swing. With a definite beginning, middle and end, the piece almost dissolves into syrup.
Slightly better is the nearly nine-minute first track, Unexpected Light, where Blooms legato tone and Herschs low intensity approach finally work up to some finger-snapping swing. Throughout, however, the pianist always seems as if hes going to burst into Someday My Prince Will Come. Thankfully bowed bass work and brushes sweeping the cymbals keep the end result more outside.
Then theres the title track, which appears to be a rondo with both saxophone and piano playing circular tones, then literally chasing one another. Bloom begins sliding out arpeggios as Hersch and Dresser stay low-key in the background while its up to Previte to subtly emphasize countermotifs with asymmetrical cymbal and snare bounces and drags.
More appropriate, considering the subject, is Jackson Pollock, which like the mans paintings evolve from conventional sounds to experimentation. Powerful plucks from the bass and variegated drum patterns encourage Bloom to vary her formerly linear soprano line by attaching the electronic gizmo. Soon, not only is there a Bloom doppelganger, but Dresser is bowing and screeching in violin-range. Still the tune is less than three minutes long, and Hersch seems to be AWOL.
Hes certainly present on the composition that shares its title with Brunets CD. On this andante swinger, his oh-so proper form and touch advancing in lockstep with Blooms pure tone seem to transpire in a different atelier than the one where Prevites rolling pulses and Dressers scratching abrasions are aiming to meet the mood head on. The saxist does relax enough to finish with haunting electronic drones though.
Finally theres Alchemy that through some magic [sic] finds everyone drawing in the same sketchbook. Dresser begins with literal finger picking as Blooms sharp trills mix it up with the highest tones from Herschs Steinway. Suddenly, even the piano man becomes incautious as he explores some near-modern classical non equal temperament harmony. Bloom uses her electronics for some out-of-body squeals and the bassist appears to be scraping away the finish on his strings. Previte deliberately fractures the beat making no pretense of time keeping, as the electrically-goosed sax alternately drones and shoots out smears of sound.
Theres no problems finding smears -- or any other visual art associated verb -- of sound on Brunets painterly disc. Writing at one point in the booklet that like a painter I use accidents and the unexpected for creative ends, the tracks here were shaped in his home studio. Using an 18-track computer workstation, he stirs together a melange of sampled, real, and pre-recorded sounds and alters the result for a unique end product.
Much different from his last disc, which featured his soprano and alto saxophone improvisations mixed with Belgian Fred Van Hoves on grand church organs, on this celebration of visual artists, he still manages to reference jazz, funk/rock, French pop and Eastern European ethnic musics. Like Pollock, hes one of a group of artist forging a new way of defining art; unlike the American painter who finally discovered a distinctive style, Brunet is still refining his methods.
Most of the tracks use the human voice in some way. This may present a problem to those Anglos who are uncomfortable with another language than their own, even though some of the time French used is only as a sampled sound source.
On Marie-Jo Pilet, for instance, Brunet recorded the artist reading aloud from love letters, with the result soon played back in reverse. Concurrently he improvises on alto saxophone on top of a real time, sampled electronic drone, with this sound modified by a Moog phaser and a ring modulator. Eventually the calm voice reading the excerpts vanishes into a flux of undulating effects in higher tempos and pitches. Similarly Julian Blaine superimposes the voices of four people, including Brunet, reading 15 chapters of Blaines Du sorcier de V. au magicien de M. layered one on top of the other. Eventually the cadence of the words is transmuted into pure rhythmic effects.
Slightly different is Ilya Kabakov, which was inspired by a museum installation dealing with Soviet style and society in the 1950s. Here, as an associate vocalizes the details in six site specific postcards, Brunet intermingles the sound of instrumental Romanian folklore LPs at sharp and almost painful volume, with break beats purloined from a tape recorded by drummer Steve Arguelles.
Two different discs of Thelonious Monks rhythmic compositions pass in-and-out of aural focus on Claude Closky, along with samples of children singing and discussing everyday activities. Then Jam, a local acid jazz singer, creates a song from Les mots songe, the title of Closkys text.
Even more elaborate is the almost 12-minute Joschen Gerz, affiliated in some way with a sound and light extravaganza performed at Pariss Notre Dame cathedral. (Intentionally?) poorly recorded crowd actualities eventually trade places with a punk rock band, complete with fuzztone guitar, bass and drum, recorded live. After the introduction of what appears to be programmed elctro-acoustic beats, the band singer elaborates the lyrics using a voice that is half chanson and half comatose. Coda is the pop rock song performed by the entire band.
The one track that definitely doesnt work is Otto Muelh that features the artist singing in amateur music hall style and playing what appears to be an out-of-tune upright. Meanwhile his female companion gargles out lyrics that make her sound like a demented Edith Piaf. When Brunet says he superimposed bebop interpretations on top of this to make a sort of Free Jazz, its insulting to the genre itself.
If he thinks that is Free Jazz how then does he classify the final and most superior track, a version of Lacys Art ? Initially recorded by Brunet on soprano saxophone, he then re-recorded it playing bass clarinet on top of the primary version. Ending up with a mechanized drone, at times his inventions and drummer Erick Borelvas cross sticking provide a shape and features to the melody skeleton by the tracks final two minutes.
Whether WHITE LIGHT is an oh-so-French gimmick or a breakthrough youll have to decide for yourself. What it isnt is the sort of well-played modern mainstream sounds Bloom & Co have produced. Its experimentation for the sake of experimentation and in this way it may be closer to Pollocks ideals than the other CD.
Track Listing: Chasing: 1. Unexpected Light 2. Chasing Paint 3. The Sweetest Sounds 4. On Seeing JP 5. Many Wonders 6. Jackson Pollock 7. Alchemy 8. Reflections of the Big Dipper 9. White Light
Personnel: Jane Ira Bloom (soprano saxophone, live electronics); Fred Hersch (piano); Mark Dresser (bass); Bobby Previte (drums)
Track Listing: White: 1.Claude Closky+ 2. Joschen Gerz*^ 3. Julian Blaine 4. Ilya Kabakov% 5. Marie-Jo Pilet@ 6. Otto Muelh# 7. Art (Steve Lacy)&
Personnel: White: Étienne Brunet (soprano and alto@ saxophones, bass clarinet, harmonica* electronics, sampling, voice^, programming and mixing); Otto Muelh (voice and piano)#; Benjamin Ritter (vocals^, guitar)*; Laurent Borelva (guitar, electric bass)*; Erick Borelva (drums)*&; Jam (vocals)+; Emiko Otta (voice)+; Julien Blaine (voice)^; Elisabeth Mazev (voice)^; Pierre Barouh (voice)%; Marie-Jo Pillet (voice)@; Violaine Hirtz (vocals)#; Bertrand Blais (mixing)+; Patrick Muller (sound and mixing)*
May 26, 2003
Cryptogramophone CG 111
Realistic appraisals of the improv sectors fragile economy mean that even the most accomplished musicians are freelancers, with the idea of having a long-running aggregation like the Modern Jazz Quartet now regarded as pure fantasy.
Thats often unfortunate. For when you compare the empathy, professionalism and exceptional creativity that results from being able to work in even a semi-permanent ensemble like the one featured on this CD, you see whats lost when players are forced into pick-up or one/off groups.
Certainly while leader bassist Mark Dresser and his associates are likely unable to turn in a substandard performance, the particular music on these nine cuts is clearly superior to that created in everyday situations. Helping this is that hyperpianist Denman Maroney has been able to interact with the bassist in many band and duo situations over the past decade, while electro-acoustic flautist Matthias Ziegler performs with Dresser in a chamber music setting.
What musicians have lost in congruence, theyve gained in seasoning however. A flute specialist who plays unique instruments manufactured to his specifications, Ziegler moves between so-called classical music and jazz, having played with percussionist Pierre Favre and pianist George Gruntz as well as being principal flautist with the Zürich Chamber Orchestra and Collegium Novum Zürich. Maroney, who usually prepares his piano with a variety of solid objects, has written music for and played with dance and theatre artists as well as improvisers such as guitarist Hans Tammen.
Dresser, of course, has been one of the most in-demand bassists anywhere, especially after his nine-year tenure in Anthony Braxtons quartet in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then he has written accompanying music for experimental and silent films, developed the giffus or electro-acoustic microphone for the bass, and played with musicians ranging from saxophonist John Zorn and drummer Andrew Cyrille to composer Bob Ostertag and violinist Laurie Anderson.
That the three bring all their knowledge and training to bear on this date is a given. How they mix and match various styles and conceptions without letting the seams show is even more remarkable. Using the cadences of contra bass flute, reverberating low bass tones or the vigor of struck and stopped piano keys they easily function without a percussionist, made clearest on Modern Pine, a swinging, mid-tempo bop ballad honoring drummer Ed Thigpen.
Not that every end product has to reflect the subject, though. For Bradford, which is named for cornetist Bobby an early Dresser mentor and Ornette Coleman associate, mixes Zieglers reverberating South Indian flute sound with a quasi-walking bass pattern from Dresser and Maroney turning out traditional bop lines with one hand, while plucking the piano strings with the other.
The flautist can transmute to the mainstream as well. On FLAC his mid-range comfortable attack resembles the kind of tone certified cool jazzers like Bud Shank and Paul Horn used to produce, with the pianist indulging in some Brubeckian baroque mannerisms until the mallets and rubber blocks appear to make the strings reverberate. Throughout, Dresser uses the basss natural percussive qualities to hold down the bottom until the three unite and stop on a dime.
Discerning experimentation is certainly part of the mix. Sonomatopoeia, the longest track at nearly 12½ minutes, features the sound of rubber blocks or bottles battering the piano strings, while Ziegler cross-blows his mouthpiece to produce subterranean resonances. You can almost feel the weight of Dressers four strings as he produces a repetitive, all encompassing tone that appearing to be buzzing around the other two instruments. Is that why when Maroney turns to the regular keyboard he seems to be playing The Flight of the Bumble-Bee? Elsewhere the pianist appears to be trying to get his primacy back on the title tune when his knife-sharp metallic stops and plucks, sounding as if an army of metalloids was attacking full force, threaten to take over the piece.
Showing more focus than on some recent star sideman projects, Dresser, who wrote all but one of the tunes, appears to have created the perfect music and found adroit partners with which to express his vision.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. FLBP 2. Digestivo 3. Threaded/Spin X 4. For Bradford 5. Sonomatopoeia 6. Pulse Field 7. Aquifer 8. FLAC 9. Modern Pine
Personnel: Matthias Ziegler (electro-acoustic soprano flute, alto flute, bass flute, contrabass flute and piccolo); Denman Maroney (hyperpiano); Mark Dresser (bass, giffus)
February 1, 2002
Ewe Records EWCC 0006
Ewe Records EWCD-0034
One of the dangers in analyzing the efforts of any non-North American improviser is expecting to find explicit references to his or her culture in the music.
Sure some creators introduce scraps of so-called native sounds into their creations -- Italians, South Africans and some Latin Americans are particularly good at that -- but that doesnt mean that every foreign musicians wants to do the same thing. Which gets us to the work of pianist/composer Satoko Fujii.
Unlike someone like pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, for instance, who despite having lived in the United States since 1956, uses Japanese sounds, instruments and references in writing for her big band, Fujii is a citizen of the larger improv world. In truth, her compositions and improvisations have no more to do with Japan than, say, saxophonist Ivo Perelmans pieces reflect his native Brazil or violinist Phil Wachsmanns playing references his Ugandan homeland.
Fujii performs in a wide variety of contexts, including her New York and Tokyo-based big bands, a quartet, and in the duo and trio represented here. Additionally, although she often flys back and forth from the archipelago to the United States the way some musicians commute through the Holland tunnel, her work is more easily linked to the POMO gestalt that include jazz and classical music than anything Oriental.
A classical piano student from the age of four until she was 20 and subsequently trained at both the Berklee School of Music and the New England Conservatory, the CDs highlight the split between her real musical history. The duet with violinist Mark Feldman could be heard as her classical-improv session, while JUNCTION, the fourth CD shes recorded with rock-solid bassist Mark Dresser and resourceful drummer Jim Black, is her jazz disc.
Talk about background influences. Feldman, as a studio musician in Nashville and New York, recorded with folks as disparate as pop stylists Diana Ross and Carole King plus country icons Johnny Cash, George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Later, as an improviser, he was part of John Zorns Bar Kokhba string group, the Arcado String Trio, wrote for the Kronos Quartet and played and wrote for Colognes WDR Big Band, among many other gig.
Neither Klezmer, pop nor country music makes an appearance on APRIL SHOWER, which in instrumentation and intent instead comes across as a slightly skewed chamber musical recital. Not only that, but the violinist is only present on seven -- albeit the longest -- tracks. Four others are short piano solos and four feature Fujii overdubbing her work on two different pianos.
Spartan, rigid and ponderous, Fujii seems to be dragging her feet during the solo interludes, whether shes using the piano pedals or not. Probably reminiscent of her classical recitals, she often seems to be giving all the notes the same temperament and the sound is a bit too clunky to really qualify as improv.
By the same token her overdubbing isnt going to cause Lennie Tristano or Bill Evans to rise from their respective graves. One of the overdubbed Satokos always appears to be playing percussive prepared pitches, which is sometimes so tinny that it sounds like a music box. The other, on Gnome, for example, leans more towards TV cop show theme music than out-and-out swing. Harmonically she seems to have reached a little too far over those 176 keys.
The duo tracks are better, but still uncomfortably prim. On Then I met you, for example, despite the title, romance seems to have leeched from the tune. Instead it appears to be put together in blocks, with Fujii often playing in a weepy 19th century style, and Feldman staying true to the stiff recital feeling by highlighting his sustained bass pizzicato. Other tracks seem to depend on a back-and-forth formula of soft-soft, loud-loud, soft-soft.
Only on Nice talking to you do any sparks fly. Feldman arches a free-flowing melody at the top of his instruments range, while Fujii bashes away at the bottom end of the piano. Constant forward motion then characterizes her playing as she glides across the keys then rolls phrases out of the bass.
Things go much better on the trio disc. Firmly in the land of Jazz, or at least its modern variation, the pianist abandoned her formal prissiness and digs into the music, power chording in some places and elsewhere creating toy piano and prepared piano sounds. Confident enough after all this time with them, she also gives her sidemen enough leeway to do what they do best. Most of the time, Dresser is able to make his presence felt by powerfully suggesting shapes and rhythms without often moving to the foreground. On the other hand, Black, who is usually as resourceful as he is active, constantly finds different parts of his kit to emphasize, depending on the shape and slope of the composition.
Ninepin, for example, which begins with what sounds like a kids water fight between Black manipulating a pianica -- a plastic mini keyboard -- and Fujiis husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamara -- in his one appearance -- tooting a melodica -- soon resolves itself as a cool, West Coast-style swinger. Sticking mostly to the pianos mid-range, Fujii
advances some expansive theme variations in a romantic manner that suggests Bill Evans in cinemascope. Throughout, the bassist makes sure to keep everyone on the straight and narrow.
In contrast, Eel is as slinky as its title suggests. Early on, Black unleashes a mini drum solo, sabotaging the rhythm with grating cymbals and snare blows to turn what appeared to begin a cocktail ballad with bass accompaniment into something unraveling at a breakneck tempo. The tune accelerates as the pianist picks up the beat and showcases similar theme patterns at many different volumes and pitches. Continuing to roll around his kit like a child in a playpen, the drummer pushes Fujii up the stairsteps of invention to some of her quirkiest soloing on record.
Pure strength characterizes The future of the past, the enigmatically titled final tune. Ostensibly a simple jazzy theme, it too is whipped into frenzy with Black punishing his kit, Dresser furiously bowing, and an impassioned Fujii producing menacing, rumbling chords.
With the drummer alternately hammering like a blacksmith or somehow producing a lighter-than-air cymbal screech and the bassist making arco forays into what sounds like violin-range, the pianist confines herself to the odd plink and plunk, then two-handed bass explorations. Suddenly in the penultimate minutes, pizzicato bass reintroduces the major theme, which is revealed to be a POMO hand clapper. It lopes along at this tempo as Black projects a lesson in maintaining a beat without pulverizing it, until the piece subsides into some serene key strokes and the rumble of the bass.
More examples of Fujiis versatility, neither of these discs can be faulted. But for the more exciting experience, three musicians add up to a lot more than two.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: April: 1. April shower 2. Mirage 3. Inference 4. After you have gone 5. Then I met you 6. In the morning 7. In parenthesis 8. I know you don't know 9. The snow was falling slowly 10. Gnome 11. Nice talking to you 12. Behind the notes 13. A strange piece of news 14. Right before you found it 15.White sky
Personnel: April: Satoko Fujii (piano, overdubbed piano); Mark Feldman (violin)
Track Listing: Junction: 1. Junction 2. Go on foot 3. He is very suspicious 4. Ninepin* 5. Humoresqueak 6. Eel 7. Caret 8. The future of the past
Personnel: Junction: Satoko Fujii (piano); Mark Dresser (bass); Jim Black (drums, pianica*); Natsuki Tamura (melodica*)
January 8, 2002
MARK DRESSER/GERRY HEMINGWAY/DAVID MOTT
Intrepid Ear IE 002
Nearly 15 years after drummer Gerry Hemingway and baritone saxophonist David Mott recorded Outerbridge Crossing, one of the percussionist's most notable early quintet sessions, the two were reunited for a concert at the 1999 Guelph (Ontario) Jazz Festival. On hand was longtime Hemingway associate bassist Mark Dresser and together the three turned out this notable disc.
Fiendishly exciting in person, laser light exposes some weaknesses that were probably masked by live performance movements. Together and separately each man has moments of glory. But on "Deep Into The Unfathomable", the almost 42-minute tour de force that makes up much of the disc, there are a few dead spots, which mostly can be attributed to Dresser.
That's the agony and ecstasy of music improvised on the spot, and it's actually a compliment to the three that they sound so much like a working trio during most of the disc.
Of course that shouldn't really be a surprise considering their collective backgrounds. The drummer may be the most in-demand inside/outside percussionist ever. In any given month he's as apt to appear someplace in Europe powering a group otherwise made up of Germans, Dutchmen or Britons, as he is to be touring with his own combo in North America. Hemingway's first came to notice as a member of reedist Anthony Braxton's quartet, where the bass chair was held by Dresser. Since then Dresser, a Californian turned New Yorker, has worked in a head spinning variety of settings, from playing in the most outside groups to anchoring more mainstream sessions.
Least known of the three, Mott is a well-schooled academic and serious composer, who has been a professor of music at Toronto's York University since 1978. He hasn't abandoned playing though, and over the years in Toronto, he has worked and recorded with a variety of other musicians from pianist David Lopato to the 40 Fingers saxophone quartet. Despite lack of stateside fame, he more than holds up his side of the triangle on the disc.
Although his soloing is probably as conventional as anyone gets here, it doesn't mean that Mott neglects any part of the horn. Most of the time on "Deep Into" he plays a straight legato melody and with repeated notes elaborates what could be various textural themes throughout. In the tonic most of the time, he's creating an instant composition, not free improv or energy playing.
At times he will begin double timing and find his movements matched by ascending percussion flurries from Hemingway or the isolated metallic scratch of a drumstick on a cymbal. Drawing Dresser into the equation, you might hear echoes of hoary old "Harlem Nocturne".
Other times he will sluice into the tenor, then the alto and then the altissimo range of his axe, though, he doesn't spend any longer in protracted scream mode than he does creating basement rattling bass reverberations. Furthermore, at the end of the first tune he begins literally shouting and speaking through his horn with cries and micro syllables. Functioning as if there hadn't been a decade plus gap between their last playing situation, Hemingway responds in kind by rooting through different parts of his kit and at one point worrying the cymbals and at another beating the snare with his palms. Dresser rises to the occasion and produces a low, rhythmic tone that is as steady as that usually produced by master timekeeper Paul Chambers.
The bassist shines here and elsewhere when he doubles Mott's baritone phrasing with grace notes from the bottom of the bass so closely that you could be hearing two baris or two basses. Another time he compliments an extended Hemingway workout on toms, snare and cymbals with some elegantly bowed notes that sound almost Middle Eastern.
On his own though, with only static breaths from Mott as backup, he seems to lose himself in minute arco scratching in the bridge region. Despite some doubled notes he nearly curtails the tune, and it's up to Mott blasting out cushioning lines and Hemingway boiling away on he toms to ride to the rescue like The Lone Ranger and Tonto.
The encore, "Run like Hell Until You Stop", is a powerful sprint that almost lives up to its name and provides a digestive to the parts of the main course that went unswallowed. Hemingway knocks out protracted snare work, Dresser holds the pace and Mott leaps from mellow mid-range to continuous tongue slaps.
If only Dresser's energy level had reached the heights of the others throughout, this would have been an exceptional disc instead of just a very good one.
Those who follow the careers of the bassist and drummer will definitely be interested in finding this special CD and those who haven't yet been exposed to Mott's mastery -- or those who have -- will seek it out as well. Because it's put out by the Guelph Jazz Festival itself, probably the best source for it is www.guelphjazzfestival.com.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Introduction 2. Deep Into The Unfathomable 3. Run like Hell Until You Stop
Personnel: David Mott (baritone saxophone); Mark Dresser (bass); Gerry Hemingway (percussion)
October 8, 2001
MARK DRESSER/MARK HELIAS
The Marks Brothers
Get rid of that mental picture of Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo when thinking about this CD. Those Marx Brothers -- with a different spelling -- really were brothers and created some of the superlative comedies of the 20th century. These Marks Brothers aren't related, but are two of the most creative acoustic bass players in the world.
Of course, anyone contemplating an entire disc of bass duets may think it's a joke as well. Well, t'ain't funny McGee. Both Helias and Dresser have the skills and talents to make a double double bass program as absorbing as anything put together by any number of other instruments.
Consider their backgrounds. Helias, who has played with such visionary musicians as Dewey Redman and Gerry Hemingway, leads his own combos of varying sizes and is also a record producer. Dresser too, has a long association with Hemingway and has been an important part of bands lead by Anthony Braxton among others.
Composers as well as players, the CD is divided between five Dresser and four Helias lines.
Equally matched in academic training and practical experience, the two bassmen have created tunes that can revolve in any one of four different combinations, depending on who's playing arco or pizzicato. Thus you'll get "Transwarmo", Dresser's moody, melancholy piece for bowed strings followed by Helias' airy double pizz workout, "The Comb Over". Quasi classical facility can be heard on Helias' "Chico", while a combination of bowed and plucked techniques allow the steady rhythm of Dresser's "Modern Pine" to swing as easily as if both were slapping the bass.
No mere conceit for bass zealots, THE MARKS BROTHERS may convert many to the face of the bass, even if they formerly thought that the instrument should be seen and not heard.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Zeppo 2. Short 3. Digestivo 4. Transwarmo 5. The Comb Over 6. Chico 7. Pentahouve 8. Un Chien Andalou 9. Modern Pine
Personnel: Mark Dresser (bass); Mark Helias (bass)
March 5, 2001
MARK DRESSER/FRANCES-MARIE UITTI
Cryptogramophone CG 104
Two stringed instruments, three bows, no waiting, could be the motto for this disc. For the dusky, atmospheric sounds that arise from this session are partially created by Frances-Marie Uitti's unique technique. Using two bows, the French New music luminary is able to create so many voices that the overall effect is of an entire string section playing, rather than just the bass and cello.
Not that New York downtowner Mark Dresser is left behind either. Multi-stylistic, with a through grounding in both so-called "serious" music as well as jazz, he can get almost as many resonant effects out of his instrument with just bows and fingers as Uitti produces with her double bows. In fact there are times as on "Grati" and "Sotto" when the astute listener could satisfy his or her bass desires by concentrating on the lower pitched instrument. Additionally the absence of percussion is overcome by using the bow as rhythmic accompaniment.
Uitti has used her approach for years to interpret work by such modern composers as John Cage, Iannis Xenakis and Eliott Carter. But considering that all the music is copyright by the two, it would appear that Dresser's improv chops honed with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Mark Helias and Robert Dick transport her that much further into innovation.
All and all, though, the most successful union comes on tracks like "Montebell", when the built up tension and slow release creates uncommon textures. However, overall, the total experiment seems only half-fulfilled because of a sameness of mood and tempo that pervades the disc.
Obviously the CD has an overriding appeal for adventurous string fanciers. Still, a little levity may have made this exercise in string science appear more user-friendly.
Track Listing: 1: Sonomondo 2. Grati 3. La Finestra 4. Montebell 5. Arcahuis 6. Sotto 7. Cielostraat
Personnel: Mark Dresser (bass); Frances-Marie Uitti (cello)
September 11, 2000
It's A Brand New Day
Knitting Factory KFW-271
Tom Cora's death, at 44 in 1998, not only robbed music of one of its few improvising cellists, but also of one versatile enough to move seamlessly between jazz, rock, improv and something resembling "ethnic" music. But, after all, what would you expect from a musician whose playing partners including everyone from guitarists Eugene Chadbourne and Fred Frith to composer/saxophonist John Zorn and singer Catherine Jauniaux?
This memorial CD, made up of performances recorded at the New York's Knitting Factory between 1989 and 1996, highlights his versatility. And that's its strength as well as its weakness.
For a start, all the performances were recorded with a single audience mike and the sound ranges from good though distant, to echoey and loggy. The main victim is Jauniaux, Cora's widow, whose voice seems to come from somewhere just beyond ear comfort. Also, with French lyrics and tunes that appear to relate more to the folk tradition than out-and-out improv, Cora is reduced to one musician among many on those tracks.
Much better are pieces like "Andy's Fault" with the pseudo-Klezmer-style clarinet of Don Byron bouncing off against rock-style drumming, with Cora coming out with slashing guitar-like runs, and "Saint Dog", featuring trumpeter Dave Douglas. On the later, Cora gets a meditative solo section to himself, which them bleeds back into the bouncy jig-like main melody enlivened by some high register soloing from Douglas.
The extent of Cora's talents comes to the fore on other tracks though. A screeching rock-style trio outing with George Cartwright's Prime Time-like alto sax and Samm Bennett's relentless drumming, features the cellist ricocheting heavy-metal projectiles. Then there's "Elia's Hubcaps", the longest track on the disc, a duet with Frith, which allows both string players to alternately improvise and take turns as string "percussionist".
"Les Instants Chavirés" may be the crowning achievement here with both the cellist -- in his classical guitar mode -- and pianist Wayne Horvitz using the colors available with electronics to augment their improvisations.
Like the CDs of many other musicians, IT'S A BRAND NEW DAY shows a few lows and the some highs of Cora's career. However, it's too bad there won't be (m)any more documents of his work against which to compare it.
Track Listing: 1. Passing 2. High Sidewalk 3. Andy's Fault 4. Les Instants Chavirés 5. Saint Dog 6. Elia's Hubcaps 7. Ce Grand Neant 8. Hey, My Mosey Mose
Personnel: Tom Cora (cello, electronics) with different combinations of Dave Douglas (trumpet); Don Byron (clarinet); George Cartwright (alto saxophone) Fred Frith (guitar); Wayne Horvitz (piano, electronics); Zeena Parkins (piano); Hahn Rowe (violin or viola); Mark Dresser or Ann Rupel (bass); Samm Bennett or Pippin Barnett (drums); Catherine Jauniaux (vocals)
July 22, 2000