|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Mark Feldman
Hans Tammen Third Eye Orchestra
Live At Roulette
Expanding his electro-acoustic expertise to a creation for large ensemble, on this CD German-born, New York-based endangered guitarist Han Tammen presents two mesmerizing suites from his 13-piece Third Eye Orchestra.
Apparently unfazed by the superstition about 13, Tammen doesn’t perform, but instead conducts and arranges in real time. Likewise ignoring the superstitious angle, some of Manhattan’s most accomplished and innovative musicians – and one ringer – handle with aplomb Tammen’s creation which calls for equal facility with improvisation and notated music, acoustic instrumental techniques and familiarity with electronic excursions. Although billed as two, six-part versions of the same piece – “Antecedent” and “Consequence” – it’s a tribute to all concerned that neither version mirrors the other. While the separately titled tracks exhibit certain homogeneity, soloists never eschew individuality even while blending with the others in section work or contrasting passages.
The ringer here is trombonist Detlef Landeck, a musical associate of Tammen’s from the Fatherland. Having flown from Germany especially for the concert, his contributions are particularly expressive. On “Antecedent: Part III: Mdina Experience” for instance, the measured dual keyboard pulsations and backbeat percussion cushion a contrapuntal duet between Stomu Takeishi’s thumb-popping electric bass and Landeck’s wide-ranging brays and blurts that finally swell to full-fledged gutbucket slurs. Mixing Trad Jazz-style wah-wahs and New music-like staccato tonguing on “Consequent: Part I: Istres Control”, Landeck matches Briggan Krauss’ baritone saxophone growls which in themselves proceed chromatically with the single-mindedness and strength of a boar searching for truffles. Then as part of Consequent’s finale, the last measures of pitch-sliding strings plus percussionist Satoshi Takeishi’s dense backbeat are superseded by dexterous tongue slaps and unaltered air forced through Landeck’s s horn’s body tube, adumbrating the concluding silence.
Overall nearly every sonic incursion corresponds with Tammen’s game plan, and eventually becomes interlocking parts of the whole. Hear Krauss’ work for other instances. Not just a low-pitched sax specialist, on alto saxophone he contributes jagged glissandi that at times balance the subtle murmuring from Dafna Naphtali’s sound-processed voice and elsewhere provide altissimo comments on metronomic piano chording. Meanwhile, Robert Dick’s sharp flute shrills moderate Krauss’ low-pitched sax lines at points and in another instance operate alongside spiccato slides from the string quartet.
Among the other textures in use by members of the lucky 13 are mercurial pitch-sliding and sharp, dissonant string slices from cellist Tomas Ulrich; zither-like twanging and rebounding from Denman Maroney’s prepared piano; plus Ursel Schlicht double-timed syncopation that expands from pecking, clipping and popping whether she plays acoustic piano or electric keyboard.
Not that some instruments’ traditional tones are neglected either. “Antecedent: Part V: Verrano” for example, begins with a violin solo from Mark Feldman that is almost classically pure in execution. As Maroney’s keyboard contributes further flowing patterns, the result resembles a chamber recital – especially when the other strings join with unison romantic glissandi.
Taken as a whole, both versions of the composition abound with similar connections and contrasts. “Consequent: Part IV: Intentionally Left Blank” for one, layers abrasive and shuddering multi-stops from the strings alongside vamping horn timbres and burbling, motor-driven electronic whizzing, held together by a solid bass line. But to isolate the praiseworthy skill that goes into the band members creating yet another slithering keyboard run or a bit of flying spiccato from a fiddler would be pointless.
More generic to the session is the realization that as a conductor, arranger and conceptualizer, Tammen now appears to have equaled his skill as an instrumentalist. One would hope that more large-scale works are planned for the future.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Antecedent: 1. Part I. Opening 2. Part II. Death Clock I 3. Part III: Mdina Experience 4. Part IV Coup d’Archet 5. Part V: Verrano 6. Part VI: Triadic Closure Consequent: 7. Part I: Istres Control 8. Part II: Subtle Inconsistencies 9. Part III: Zipangu 10. Part IV: Intentionally Left Blank 11. Part V: Treadmill 12. Part VI: Red Eye
Personnel: Detlef Landeck (trombone); Briggan Krauss (alto and baritone saxophones); Marty Ehrlich (bass clarinet, alto saxophone and flute); Robert Dick (flute and, contrabass flute); Mari Kimura and Mark Feldman (violins); Stephanie Griffin (viola); Tomas Ulrich (cello); Stomu Takeishi (electric bass); Ursel Schlicht and Denman Maroney (piano and keyboard); Satoshi Takeishi (percussion); Dafna Naphtali (voice and live sound-processing) and Hans Tammen (concept and real-time arrangement)
December 17, 2009
Gustav Mahler - Dark Flame
Winter & Winter 910-095-2
Newest chapter in pianist Uri Caines POMO recasting of the works of the so-called Great Composers, DARK FLAME showcases an almost total vocal program.
Based on lieder composed by Austrian Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), the musicianship and inventiveness here are at the same high standard as Caines earlier meditations on the work of J. S. Bach, Richard Wagner and other Mahler projects. But with 14 selections rearranged over 77 minutes, there are times the variations move from novelty to gimmickry. Mahlers oeuvre heard in gospel, Klezmer, rock or mainstream jazz variations is engaging; but linking it to turntable tricks, Oriental sounds, overwrought poetics or cocktail jazz works less well.
Caine, who still sometimes functions as a straight jazz pianist, shows that hes lost none of his facility as a player or arranger on tracks like When My Sweetheart. In its middle section he and clarinetist Don Byron make like Tony Scott and pre-1973 Herbie Hancock, creating a brief, but potent, double-time bebop motif. This contrasts with whistling tremolos from violinist Mark Feldman and a vocal from cantor Aaron Bensoussan that is more freylach than Teutonic folk song. Its also one of the times when the varied sounds from DJ Olives turntable provide a memorable fillip to the piece.
Song Of The Prisoner In The Tower showcases the same sort of antithetical coupling, except this time the clarinet and piano approximate 19th Century chamber music. In opposition to that, drummer Jim Black pounds out a hard rock rhythm that is amplified by distorted guitar reverb from David Gilmore. In conjunction with the rockers, actor Sepp Bierbichler spits out the harsh Germanic lyrics; backed by the chamber group, poet Julie Patton provides an English translation filled with homonyms, puns and onomatopoeia.
Then theres In Praise of Lofty Judgement, where gospel singer Barbara Walkers melisma and glossolalia turns a secular song of praise into a sacred one, despite -- or perhaps because -- of backing by the Kettwiger Bach Choir. Sounding as if she was feeling the spirit during the whole performance Walker suggests a match-up between gospel diva Shirley Caesar and any overwrought, classical vocal choir.
St. Anthony of Padua Preaches To The Fishes, which may have had more resonance for Mahler, who converted to Catholicism from Judaism than Caine, who hasnt abandoned his ethnic identity, is treated as a full-on, light instrumental performance. Although it takes on a modern cast, from the allegro fantasia created by the pianist, some of the other tracks here are a little too precious, especially those which include Feldmans caprices and sweeps and what sounds like Baroque trills from trumpeter Ralph Alessi.
Other recreation shortcomings include Sadiq Beys street poetry addendum to the lyrics of Labor Lost, which grates against the chamber recital accompaniment. Plus those times hen traditional Chinese instruments like the hammered dulcimer and end-blown flute and translating Mahlers words into Mandarin, which happens a couple of times here, doesnt successfully move his music from Bohemia to Beijing.
Two Blue Eyes and the title tune, two of the most ambitious and longest tracks also point out the pitfalls in this mix-and-match treatment. On the former, Bensoussans synagogue-trained voice initially meshes with Caines recomposition and arrangement of the composition. That is until a finger-snapping, swinging jazz variation has the trumpet, clarinet and violin voiced so that they sound like larger string and brass sections. This is then followed by Shulamith Wechter Caine reciting the words in hesitant Hebrew and dramatic English. Finally, Byron solos in what only could be described as a jazzbo MittleEuropean style, ending the piece with a sort of tango rhythm supplied by the acoustic instruments and turntables. Is mishmash a German or Hebrew word?
Additionally, Pattons actorly mode almost betrays the intent of the words on the 11-minute Dark Flame. Thats because her recitation seems to flow in a tone usually reserved for childrens stories. As Ur-Romantic fiddle vibratos and legit clarinet tones meet a tinkling Ahmad Jamal overlay from Caines piano, you start to wonder how the band meandered into a cocktail lounge. From then on the piece scene shifts back and forth from Romantic chamber music-backed recitation to the jazz club, with Blacks drums provide hearty accents on one hand and Feldman lets loose with tremolo shuffling on the other.
A CD that will likely be welcomed by Caines fans eager to see what new classical mutations he has envisioned, DARK FLAME is an interesting session, but because of its overly-POMO stance, unfortunately weaker than earlier efforts in this genre.
Heres an idea. Now that Caine has proven he can reinterpret composed material, maybe its time for him to put together a jazz combo and record an all -improvised jazz session. Some have been waiting for him to do so since 1995s exceptional TOYS.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Dark Flame^& 2. Only Love Beauty& 3. In Praise of Lofty Judgement+ 4. Two Blue Eyes*~ 5. Shining Trumpets 6. The Lonely One In Autumn@% 7. Song Of The Prisoner In The Tower+^ 8. When My Sweetheart* 9. Labor Lost$ 10. On Youth%! 11. Rhinelegend+ 12. When Your Mother Comes In The Door+ 13. St. Anthony of Padua Preaches To The Fishes 14. Only Love Beauty
Personnel: Ralph Alessi (trumpet [except 2, 6, 10, 12]) Don Byron (clarinet [except 2, 6, 10, 12]) Uri Caine (piano [except 2, 6, 10]); Mark Feldman (violin[except 2, 6, 10, 12]); David Gilmore (guitar); Michael Formanek (bass [except 2, 6, 7, 10, 12]); Bao-Li Zhang! (erhu); Yi Zhou! (pipa); Sisi Chen (yanquin)%; Tao Chen (dizi)%; Jim Black (drums [except 2, 6, 10, 12, 14]); DJ Olive (turntables, electronics)#; Barbara Walker& or Sepp Bierbichler+ or Aaron Bensoussan* (vocals); Kettwiger Bach Choir with Wolfgang Klasener (conductor)&; Sadiq Bey$ or Julie Patton^ or Shulamith Wechter Caine~ or Tong Qiang Chen@ (voices)
March 24, 2004
Few CDs sum up as well the constant crossover thats now taking place between players comfortable with notated music and improvisers as ABATON. Thats because the three performers involved are stylists so comfortable in either idiom that the concepts of so-called jazz and so-called classical music dont fit into the picture.
Leader is Swiss-born, New York-based pianist Sylvie Courvoisier. Her trio is filled out by Americans, violinist Mark Feldman and cellist Erik Friedlander, both of whom have extensive experience in genre jumping from serious to improv to rock and back again, most notably with John Zorn.
Much less strident than the average Zorn session however, the two CDs here, no matter their origin, are still performed in classical chamber music trio style. Especially with the written material on the first disc, the lack of dynamics and abundance of technique often makes the sounds frigid and the listener feeling as if he or she has wandered into a very large, very cold, concert hall.
All and all, the most impressive notated piece is the title track, which was also written most recently. Perhaps it suggests that Courvoisier, who composed everything here, is becoming more assured at this departure form her studies in European art music to create something that isnt really jazz and is certainly not pure improv.
Abaton, the composition, features more drama than the other notated tracks with Feldman and Friedlander alternately producing brief melodies as Courvoisier chords. Freer than elsewhere, the violinist double stops and bends notes in a manner definitely not part of the European classical tradition, while at the bottom the cellist confines himself to evenly paced arco insinuations. Beginning with a metronomic full-keyboard exhibition, the pianist downshifts to tinkling grace. Helping to create an offbeat rhythm, Courvoisier nudges the piece along until Feldmans expansive tone fills the gaps with smooth portamento movements.
Besides this though, the other compositions are wedded a little too closely to recital tradition, with elongated pauses in many places seemingly more awkward than atonal. Feldman has a beautiful tone all right, but the condensed note pinpricks he often produces can come across as affectation. Ianicum includes an introductory section made up of weeping, augmented violin tones, but when played at tempi ranging from adagio to largo it starts to drag. Midway through Courvoisier abandons her high frequency interpolations and begins exploring the pianos insides with string plucks, pedal pressure and percussive stopped hammers, while Friedlander plays largo behind her. With an ear-splitting upsurge the violinist reenters the area, causing her to match his strings falsetto tone with right-handed chiming.
If the first disc is less than satisfying because the compositions go on at too great a length, the second CD of 19 [!] improvisations suffers from the inverse problem. With only seven of the tracks more than three minutes in length, idioms and ideas arent fully developed. Courvoisier ends the disc aimlessly noodling on the keys. Can something more be read into this?
Earlier on Brobdingnag, pitchsliding, she sounds a note on the keyboard then stops the action with internal dampers. This way she turns the un-prepared instrument into something resembling a player piano -- all in about 90 seconds. Despite this, however, those tunes that give the musicians more scope to express themselves work best.
Spensonia, for instance, is built around a swift discordant line that passes from one player to the next. Sounding as if hes creating at the top of the fiddles scale, Feldmans free exposition is soon joined, then doubled by the others, until the pianist begins funereal runs that turn into a smooth Iberian line, backed by simple string snatches from the others. Archaos includes freeform, pitchsliding glissandos from Feldman that vie for aural space with Friedlanders legato continuum. The fiddler then soars into the treble clef as the cellist reconfigures a basso melody. Icaria features piano chording and a high-pitched, four-string swoop leading to Yiddish music-inflected, double stop echoes and screeches.
On Sonnante, as the cellist and violinist polyphonically embellish two themes simultaneously, Courvoisier almost petulantly slaps at the pianos wooden sides and putters around in its innards, stretching and hitting the strings like a child in a sandbox with a pail and shovel.
Here and elsewhere the three prove that technically theyre comfortable in many idioms. Perhaps, though, the formalism of the Oslo studio helped create musical circumspection on both discs. The result is less than perfect improv-tinged classicism on one and discouraging classically weighted freeform on the other. Crumbling the pieces into inseparable loam would work better next time out.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: CD1: Four Compositions: 1. Ianicum 2. Orodruin 3. Poco a poco 4. Abaton CD2: Nineteen Improvisations:1. Icaria 1 2. Imkes 3. Icaria 2 4. Clio 5. Nova Solyma 6. Spensonia 7. Octavia 8. Icaria 3 9. Sonnante 10. The Scar of Lotte 11. Turoine 12. Archaos 13. Avas 14. Brobdingnag 15. Calonack 16. Precioso 17. Sekeln 18. Izaura 19. Narnia
Personnel: Sylvie Courvoisier (piano); Mark Feldman (violin); Erik Friedlander (cello)
February 16, 2004
MICHAEL JEFRY STEVENS
Drimala DR 02-347-06
MICHAEL JEFRY STEVENS
The Survivors Suite
Part of the underappreciated generation of expressive improvisers, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, 52, is one of those musicians who plied his craft in the fallow years between the 1960s heyday of experimental jazz and before the current free music uptick.
Now co-leader of the peripatetic Fonda-Stevens bands with bassist Joe Fonda, Stevens is a committed, no-holds-barred improviser. His technically imposing stylings draw as much -- if not more -- from the severe formalism of early modern classical composers as the jazz tradition.
Both AERCINE, a studio quintet effort, and THE SURVIVORS SUITE, a live solo disc, are distinctive examples of his art. Although both are technically impressive, on scrupulous analysis it seems that his monochromic approach often needs the supplemental colors of other, brighter instruments to be put in bolder relief.
Thats why the quintet session is so impressive. Another reason is that on the CD Stevens trio, filled out by drummer Harvey Sorgen -- who also produced and mastered the discs -- and bassist Steve Rust, is joined by an usual front line. Violinist Mark Feldman has worked in every medium from Nashville studios to John Zorns formal compositions, while trumpeter Herb Robertson has been a favorite brassman for leaders ranging from altoist Tim Berne to bassist Barry Guy.
Although all the music is completely improvised it also phases in references from impressionism and Eastern European airs on one hand and hard bop and the Cool school at other times. Sometimes, in fact, Stevens touch appears to be a weird amalgam of Lennie Tristanos and Dave Burrells. Then on something like The Shokoe Slip he will turn pure hard bopper, complete with double-timed key clipping. Brassy plunger work from Robertson and romantic triple and double stopping from Feldman in the virtuosoic Jascha Heifetz tradition mute the harsh keyboarding until the entire tune explodes into high pitched cacophony.
Alternately, As I Was Saying features dark, fine-boned pianisms, as Stevens ranges all over the tune with underscored cadenzas of altered fantasias. Rust and Sorgen stick to straight jazz time, while the trumpeter produces brassy lip farts and the violinist shapely, wiggling mellow sweeps.
Theres Roundup, which seems to have escaped from an upscale roadhouse, situated midway between the Red Neck and Urban parts of a Southern city. With a theme that sounds itchingly familiar, Stevens tries out some rollicking modern barrelhouse piano that mixes with some bleached Jungle stylings from Robertson. The brassmans muted grace notes then comment on Feldmans clear, legato, but very speedy, runs. Robertson appears to be working the inside of his valves with buzzing shakes and ascending runs, while the fiddler slides out notes so sizzlingly quick and so sharp that he sometimes goes flat as he touches many strings at once. The drummer contributes press rolls, with the final ferment built up with triple-time, tremolo piano pounding. By that point everyone is in such a state that someone shouts out a loud gee haw!. Now whens the last time you heard that on an improv CD?
Elsewhere, romantic themes share space with Balkan echoes; banjo-like plucks from fiddle meet high-pitched almost celeste-like sound from the piano; and when Robertson sounds out what could be traditional muted Miles-like lines, bassman Rust
Rust follows along as a dependable Paul Chambers.
If the quintet disc shows what can be accomplished when sympathetic associates gather, the other CD shows the vulnerability of having to celebrate an important milestone by yourself.
A 50th birthday present to himself, the session was recorded in Brugge, Belgium at the end of Stevens first-ever solo piano tour. That its an impressive display of keyboard skill is unquestionable. But, unfortunately, freed from the leavening jazz-inflections of other players, the pianists classical impressionism mixed with hyper romantic Bill Evansisms and indulgent Keith Jarrettisms become paramount.
You notice this most of all in the so-called jazzier tunes. Thelonious Monks Ask Me Now is given a florid reading that, even with a hint of stride, seems to extract the composers angularity and substitute even temperament and too many notes. The Search showcases echoes of more down-to-earth and stalwart pianists like McCoy Tyner and Wynton Kelley. However the double-timing decorative curlicues from the left hand and powerful, note-ringing pressure from the right dont really turn the restrained syncopation into anything more than a pianists showcase.
It appears that nearly every skill and technique extant makes its appearance on the more than 33-minute title track. Light-fingered, introductory, right-handed motifs allow the theme to be advanced with strong-armed emphasized tremolos and occasional inside-the-piano forays. As elaborations of the theme are repeated and circled, sustained pedal action gives significance to the output. The overall effect is the sound of variations on variations instead of forward motion. Midway through the five linked sections, the hint of blues-like melisma appears, with the very trebly top of the keys tinkled, but that soon is subsumed under something that could as easily arise from Rachmoninovs emotionalism as anything Evans or Jarrett played. Moving all over the frame and soundboard, notes are paced largo to andante, prior to the entire sequence almost fading into a New Agey mist. More hushed, the coda first reprises the theme then forms a timbre that seems to be informed more by 19th century recital standards than anything in the North American jazz/improv tradition.
Piano devotees and Stevens enthusiasts may give THE SURVIVORS SUITE and all its rigorous pianisms a higher grade. But most will prefer Stevens creations served up with the garnish provided from other players.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Aercine: 1. Twofold Twice 2. The Shokoe Slip 3. Aercine 4. As I Was Saying 5. Renata 6. Changeling 7. Kaaterskill Falls 8. Occams Razor 9. Maracaibo 10. Roundup
Personnel: Aercine: Herb Robertson (trumpet); Mark Feldman (violin); Michel Jefry Stevens (piano); Steve Rust (bass); Harvey Sorgen (drums)
Track Listing: Suite: 1. For Galo 2. Ask Me Now 3. Musica Callada #1 4. Quiet 5. The Search 6. Survivors Suite I. Praeludium II. Yin/Tang III. Interludium IV. The Eternal Spring Of Hope V. Postlude
Personnel: Suite: Michel Jefry Stevens (piano)
July 28, 2003
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
Although Tom Varner is probably best known as one of the very few improvising French horn players, this CD highlights his exceptional compositional and arrangement skills. Like many contemporary musicians with a convincing knowledge of jazz, classical and pop music, he's able to employ it without resorting to pastiche or forced congruency.
Take the showpiece "Seven Miniatures for Mark Feldman", for instance. Ranging from an eyeblinking one minute to two minutes and 31 seconds, these are mini-recital pieces, designed to show off the violinist's many talents and range from nearly straightforward chamber music presentations to herky-jerky carnival tunes. As expected, Feldman rises to the challenge and then some.
Elsewhere he shows he can write -- and the band can tackle -- a raucous, straight-ahead romper like "OmniTone Blues" with the same finesse it brings to longer, more programmatic pieces such as "Samuel Gets the Call". That one begins with otherworldy guitar licks gradually resolving itself into some smooth tenor work from Malaby and a woody excursion from Brown. Many of the other compositions are fugue-like, in whole or part, existing on a bed of massed horn parts, like a brass-and-reeds World Saxophone Quartet. There's even an acappella stop time section on "Maybe Yes". Note though, that the call-and-response sections are as apt to refer back to Bach as to Basie.
When Varner does solo as on the title track, his instrument resembles a more limber bass trombone, with its fleet glisses, on spot blending and ability to leap octaves. Never a doubler, Varner has always played French horn and studied with and was influenced by Julius Watkins, the man who made a place for the instrument in jazz in the 1950s.
Cleanly and clearly recorded, so that the inflection of every instrument is accurately reflected in the mix, SWIMMING is one session in which most jazz fans can happily immerse themselves.
1. Swimming 2. Pantoum 3. Maybe Yes 4. Samuel Gets the Call 5. Seven Miniatures for Mark Feldman 5. A Waltz 6. Mark at the Circus 7. A Dream 8. Mark Goes to Work 9. A Memory of One Nashville Gig 10. Mark Goes Minimalist 11. Another Circus 12. OmniTone Blues 13. Paul Goes to Rome 14. Strident 15. Chicago Interlude
Personnel: Dave Ballou (trumpet); Tom Varner (French horn); Steve Wilson (alto saxophone); Tony Malaby (tenor saxophone); Mark Feldman (violin); Pete McCann (guitar); Cameron Brown (bass); Tom Rainey (drums)
June 2, 2000