|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Gary Peacock
By Ken Waxman
Now 72, and a resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia, percussionist Jerry Granelli has been involved in so many different projects over the years that he would seem to be several drummers. A San Franciscan, Granelli was the drummer on Vince Guaraldi’s popular series of Peanuts LPs and TV specials. He played on hit records and with psychedelic rock bands, while his jazz gigs encompass work with Denny Zeitlin, Jane Ira Bloom and Mose Allison. Granelli, who moved to Canada in the late ‘80s, has taught music in three countries and recorded a spate of CDs under his own name.
The New York City Jazz Record: Although you were already working steadily at the time, you’ve said that it wasn’t until you studied with Joe Morello that you finally formed your idea of how to play the drums. What did he teach you?
Jerry Granelli: The Morello relationship was very important in my life. I had been, like you say, basically working professionally since I was 15. I guess I was about 17 when I met Joe. Before that I felt there was so much more to playing the instrument than I knew, but no one around San Francisco at that time could help with the technical aspects. Then I heard Morello, and was lucky enough to meet him and he became a great mentor. His greatest gift was that he really opened up another whole level of technical skill to me. That continues to be of value, even at this age. I think the most important part of his teaching was that he never tried to get me to play like him. He just kept saying, ‘find your voice,’ and all the technical teaching was just to serve the music. He was first a great mentor and later a dear friend.
TNYCJR: When you joined pianist Vince Guaraldi’s trio he already had a hit single with “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and recorded the Charlie Brown TV show albums around that time. Did you figure people would still remember those sessions, especially the Christmas album, nearly 50 years later?
JG: Ah, the great Peanuts question. Well, when we did it we had no idea what a cultural phenomenon it was going to turn into. No one can know those kinds of things. It was just the right time, right project, right people and right music. I’m just happy that it has touched so many people. People don’t know but the recordings with Vince were the tip of the iceberg. Vince came to play, really play, every night, and he demanded that you do the same. It was great training.
TNYCJR: You were also playing with outside players like Dewey Redman and Pharoah Sanders at the same time? Did that experience cause another change in your playing style? Was your style solidified when you played in pianist Denny Zeitlin trio with Charlie Haden? What distinguished those gigs from more mainstream ones with Guaraldi or Mose Allison, for instance?
JG: Like I said, that was a great time, having the ‘real gig’ [with Guardaldi]. But [bassist] Fred Marshall was in Vince’s trio, so after the gig we would go to Bop City and play. Yes, Dewey was there, and Pharaoh and others, but more importantly was a piano player, Joseph Nunez. Flip as he was called, was one of those legends in the music, who only the players know about. The really out playing that I did was with him and Fred. All that playing was for no money, but was so exciting for all of us. The music was raw, new, and in those days it really got people upset, because they thought we were trying to destroy bebop. But we figured we were just going where it led. All of this playing, the non-paying and the paying gigs enabled me to find a voice. It was confirmation of what I had heard in terms of stating the time, new ways to generate time and form, and to enter the world of spontaneous composition.
Later, when I played with Denny and Charlie, we were really interested in approaching the trio as a three-way relationship, which was a different approach at the time. The work with Mose has always been one of my favorite things. Mose is really pretty out and, again, he comes to play all the time. During this whole period I played with a lot of different people, but being a part of the ensemble. Still I was always pushing forward towards getting into creating a larger drum set or playing electronics, I think I began to more and more see myself as a sound artist rather than a drummer, per se. The music I think really influenced young rock bands around San Francisco like The Dead and the Jefferson Airplane. I think it was cool, because people hadn’t yet figured out a way to label the music we were playing. Free music was being thrown about but I don’t think that’s completely accurate.
TNYCJR: Jazz people may not know that you’ve actually been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a pioneer of the psychedelic scene. When was that? What was the Light Sound Dimension artist collective and what did you do as part of it?
JG: I think the time period we’re looking at was late ‘60s. I’d started working with the big drum set and having more sounds, and amplifying the instrument. Then Frank Werber, who owned the Trident, where I had worked with Vince, and Denny, somehow got the idea of putting us together with the great light painters Bill Ham and Bob Fine. They had been innovating with light painting at the Avalon and Filmore [ballrooms], but also loved improvisation. So we started to play together and explore the form of a light and sound band, playing spontaneous audio visual work. It was pretty underground. We played at Bill’s studio, and people started showing up; then at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. I guess at that time – ‘68, ‘69,’70 – we were way ahead of the curve, but that work kept growing. What I’m describing is a journey you aren't even aware you’re making when you’re on it.
TNYCJR: Even though you seemed to be established in the Bay area in the ‘60s and ‘70s shortly afterwards you moved first to Boulder than Seattle, then Berlin and finally Halifax. Was it primarily to teach music? You also recorded with people like Gary Peacock, James Ira Bloom during that period. How did you find the time?
JG: Well, since life always changes that period came to its natural conclusion. I, like a lot of folks, began to look around for some other ways to live. I was fortunate to meet my Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, the great Tibetan master, who introduced me to meditation, and another amazing time of life. Trungpa really encouraged me to teach, and I helped start Naropa Institute, in Boulder, particularly the creative music program, with [percussionist] Colin Wallcott. So San Francisco was pretty much over for me. I moved to Colorado to teach at Naropa. During the summers we were able to invite some of the greatest jazz improvisers to inspire new ways of teaching. Each move in my life from that point on seemed to involve teaching, fortunately from one great innovative program to another, the Cornish Institute of Arts in Seattle, the Hochshuler der Kunst in Berlin, now Jazz Institute Berlin, and the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts in Halifax. For two weeks each summer I teach at the Creative Music Workshop, part of the Halifax Jazz Festival.
In Seattle, Ralph Towner, Gary Peacock and I became a trio, and toured and recorded with ECM. Also during this time I spent a lot of really great time with Jane Ira Bloom, touring and recording. She loved electronics and creating new sounds, and the music she composed challenged me to go further with using more electronics, synths and octipads. In Europe I formed my double guitar band called UFB, and worked on projects with Lee Townsend, the great producer. So it’s funny how teaching allowed me to find some new music, and to begin producing work as a leader and composer – and now it’s something like 20 CDs later.
TNYCJR: As a studio musician in 1965 you played on “You Were on My Mind,” written by Canadian Sylvia Tyson. Did you ever think then you’d end up a Canadian resident 40 years later? Why move to Halifax anyway, instead of say Vancouver or Toronto?
JG: I moved to Halifax, in, I guess, 1988 really because of Trungpa, who moved there along with about 1,000 people in the sangha [community] because he thought it was a good place for the dharma [natural law] to grow. When I got there I felt that although I could live and work anywhere, this was my home: Nova Scotia and Canada. The tradition of music here is so rich, so ingrained, so although I have to travel, I’ve been able to get projects presented here, and to develop an ongoing relationship with [Vancouver’s] Songlines Records, for which I’ve recorded six CDs, including V16, Badlands and The Sandhills Reunion, [a spoken-word cycle with music featuring writer] Rinde Eckert. You know, you can trace connections. Like getting to spend so much time at Naropa working with the great poets like Allen Ginsberg probably lead to recording A Song I Heard Buddy Sing based on Michael Ondaatje’s novel “Coming Through Slaughter” (The Life of Buddy Bolden), which led me to connect with Rinde years later for Sandhills.
Now I’ve got the new trio with two Nova Scotians, [bassist and cellist] Simon Fisk and [tenor, soprano and baritone saxophonist] Danny Oore, brilliant young artists who I’ve kind of watched grow up musically. Wanting to play with them and to record Let Go [on Plunge Records] came out of V16, the band I had with [electric guitarists] David Tronzo and Christian Kogle and [electric bassist] J. Anthony Granelli. I needed to take a rest after six years and three CDs and I wanted to explore trio playing again. Both [Fisk and Oore] play more than one instrument, so it was a chance to try to make the trio more diverse and orchestral. Right now that’s my working band, but I’m also doing some solo recording and playing. And I’m re-forming a trio with David Tronzo and J. Anthony, which is also so much fun.
TNYCJR: Since you now play solo concerts, why did you wait until you were 70 to record a solo album [1313 Divorce Records] when many other drummers have done so at an earlier age?
JG: I’ve always thought about doing a solo record, but I also love to play in the band context –and solo is a big leap even from working in a duo. The idea for 1313 came from Darcy Spindle at Divorce, a Halifax-based alternative music label. I had to push myself a little to do it since it was all spontaneous compositions. The real challenge came when I started doing solos concerts, what with just getting used to the compositional form, learning how to develop things with even more patience and space, since they’re so many different ways to play the drums not in a band context. One of the great benefits though is that I do these concerts in settings where there are new and young audiences.
--For New York City Jazz Record September 2012
September 11, 2012
ESP-Disk ESP 1012
One of the most frustrating – and saddest – musical tales from the 1960s, a decade riff with sad and frustrated musical yarns, makes up the background of this exceptional reissued CD by pianist Lowell Davidson.
Recorded in 1965, with the trio filled out by master bassist Gary Peacock and legendary percussionist Milford Graves, this five-track session is the sum total of Davidson’s recorded work. Then doing graduate work in biochemistry at Harvard University, Davidson was recommended to ESP by Ornette Coleman himself. Unlike other shadowy figures on the label, such as Byron Allen, the pianist was never part of the New Thing scene in New York and returned to Boston after this disc was recorded. Gravely injured in a lab accident, Davidson died in 1990 at 49 and never recorded commercially again. Tapes of his playing piano and percussion (!) in Boston do exist, but have never been released.
Why does Davidson deserve to be heard, unlike some other 1960s jazz myths whose brief tenures in the big time are best forgotten? Perversely it’s because Davidson was a pianist. Completely self-contained in his improvising he was then – and probably still remains – the proverbial missing link between Herbie Nichols and Cecil Taylor. While followers of John Coltrane numbered in the quadruple digits then and have grown exponentially since then, no other keyboard player since then has followed Davidson’s lead. Yet just as Randy Weston’s ascendancy a decade previously, with a style equally influenced by Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, had confirmed Monk’s bone fides in the jazz pantheon, then Davidson’s appearance did the same for Taylor.
With careful phrasing, an undertow of impressionistic harmonies, and a propensity for musical story-telling that advanced melodies chromatically without relying on convention, he also took Nichols’ individualism one step forward. At the same time, his eddying and churning touch and discontinuous rhythmic sense authenticated Taylor’s linkage to the jazz canon. Ironically in the subsequent decades, Taylor’s magnificent improvising would become even more highly rhythmic and staccato, frightening a new generation of musical neo-cons. But that’s another story.
As well, despite their subsequent fame Graves and Peacock stay mostly in the background throughout. In short, Davidson is pretty much the entire show on the self-penned compositions that make up the disc.
Showing the sort of restraint characterized by sul ponticello runs and thumping rhythm that would later characterize his role with Keith Jarrett’s trio, Peacock remains grounded. Graves too settles for time-keeping support. Furthermore, he’s also incredibly less showy and bombastic in his playing on this disc than he could be then, and which characterizes his contemporary sound. Even his introduction of military-style snare-drum rattling plus characteristic rolls and pops while the pianist comps on “Ad Hoc”, doesn’t detract from the trio’s overall exposition.
Cascading phrases, key clipping plus fragmenting and bonding note clusters, Davidson runs the changes while running his own race throughout Trio. Stirring and imposing in equal measures on the CD, it’s a shame that as of this moment, slightly more than 44 minutes of music are both the pianist’s personal best and entire legacy.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. “L” 2. Stately 1 3. Dunce 4. Ad Hoc 5. Strong Tears
Personnel: Lowell Davidson (piano); Gary Peacock (bass) and Milford Graves (percussion)
November 19, 2008
Stitch Wynstons Modern Surfaces
By Ken Waxman
November 14, 2005
So unfamiliar are most Americans with Canada that they think of the giant land mass north of them as a puny area with one culture and a single conception.
True, most Canadians live close to the United States border, including those in the northern countrys three largest population centres that surpass most American cities in sophistication and multiculturalism. This accident of geography makes it fairly straightforward for Canadians comedians including Mike Meyers and Martin Short, actors including Keifer Sutherland to Kim Cattrall and entertainers including Celine Dion Young and Avril Lavigne to list the most recent examples to covertly become part of the American entertainment fabric. Even committed jazz fans sometimes forget that stylist as varied as trumpeter Maynard Ferguson and pianist Paul Bley, to cite two of many instances, are from Canada.
But despite this situation, Canada isnt the United States and Canadians arent Americans. Theres an entire different culture up there, that takes as a given long winters and the snow although theres a lot less of that than American imagine. Consciously or not, many Canadian improvisers express this tinge of unhurried Northern sensibility in their work. This chilled, but not cold, calm draws these CDs together.
Arriving from the countrys largest (Toronto) and second-largest (Montreal) cities, both sessions have a faint ECM-like Nordic tint. Quartet dates, theyre also closer in conception and execution to one another than most Ontarian and Quebec improvisers imagine their musical sensibilities are.
Transparent Horizons is the second CD by drummer Stitch Wynstons Modern Surfaces ensemble. The Toronto-born co-founder of the bop-jive Shuffle Demons band, Wynston has played with musicians as different as cult singer/songwriter Jane Siberry and alto saxophonist Julius Hemphill. Band members include guitarist Geoff Young, who teaches jazz at a local college and has played with singer Carol Welsman, plus bassist Jim Vivien and soprano and tenor saxophonist Mike Murley, both of whom are originally from the Atlantic Provinces. Versatile Murley, another original Shuffle Demon, has been in bands ranging from the electric jazz group Metalwood, to trombonist Rob McConnells mainstream Boss Brass.
Travelling Lights is helmed by another exceptional reedist, Montreal soprano and alto saxophonist François Carrier, whose playing associates have included American pianists Jason Moran and Uri Caine. Variations of his combo, which has been together for years, are always driven by drummer Michel Lambert, who works in both Montreal and Toronto. This CD however, features two special guests. American bassist Gary Peacock is old enough to have recorded for ECM when it was most improv-oriented, as is Montreal-born pianist Bley who did the same. Serendipitously enough, Bley also recorded with Modern Surfaces on its first CD.
With each session running more than an hour and writing duties parceled out equitably Carrier is responsible for three of the tunes on his CD, Bley and Peacock two each, and Lambert one; six pieces on the other date are Youngs, four Wynstons both are memorable, mature efforts. Travelling Lights has a slight edge, possibly because of the two veterans intuit each others strategies after 40-odd years of collaboration. No hauteur or division occurs between the guests and the hosts however. Everyone is responsible for its success.
With a title thats perhaps illustrative of his inspirations, Lamberts Europe is an almost-14½- quartet showcase. Clattering cymbal strokes and concentrated rumbles from the lowest part of the piano soundboard introduce Bley detonating sprightly tremolo overtones, flashing note patterns and shuddering cadences. Meanwhile Carrier double tongues and flutters phrases on top of Peacocks walking bass lines. Given his head, the bassist turns to double stopping and rising fingerboard movements while keeping the beat. Stopped piano action and dissonant chords soon give the saxophonist enough space to introduce split tones tempered of course, with Canadian restraint and an absence of bad taste. With ringing piano chords blending with the reed output, the drummers metallic ratcheting is left to maintain the tunes angularity. Climatically, Carrier offers up a theme variation, leading to a finale of ringing sonority. During the course of the piece, the four sometimes split into complementary duos: Carrier and Peacock, for instance or Bley and Lambert, and this strategy or some variation on it, is followed elsewhere.
Cognizant of a variety of extended strategies from seesawing tongue slaps to smears and multiphonics, Carrier never gets so technically involved that he neglects tone purity. In fact, there are places where he sounds disconcertingly like Paul Desmond. Nor is emotive melody ignored either, as he demonstrates on his own Africa and Oceania.
Simple and lilting, the second tune features harpsichord-like clanging from Bley, played off against irregular pulsations from Peacock and steadied by bell-shaking from Lambert. Joining these rondo-like interactions with trilling tongue stops, Carrier introduces a skewed swing line on top of feathery chording from the pianist, suggesting a contrafact of Surrey with the Fringe on Top. Confident in his solo, the reedist slides from andate to allegro before its completition.
More complex, the almost-11½-minute Africa brings out harder-toned arpeggios from Bley and squeaking fingerboard movements from Peacock. Half-way through, the composer begins a set of honking and smearing variations that somehow introduce quotes from a familiar Christmas theme. Piano strokes and strides underline a counter melody that is cut short by an understated drum solo. Brought back to the initial theme with kinetic pulses, Bley is almost eclipsed by a series of side-slipping obbligatos from Carrier.
This sort of close cooperation among musicians is on show from Modern Surfaces as well. Regrettably, some of the cohesion comes unglued when Wynston moves from his drums to the piano stool. One meandering interlude borders on the jejeune, while another nearly suffocates under ProgRock pretensions. Mixing an unvarying keyboard pattern, overstated drum rolls and vocoder-helped vocalizing, the track is further weakened by Jaco Pastrorius-type (electrified?) bass stabs and fusion-oriented saxophone drones.
Luckily this lack of taste is limited to a couple of tracks. Most of the compositions are framed within the parameters introduced by Wynstons Outward Bound at the start and Youngs New One at the end of the CD. That is, well-modulated legato tones reflecting Nordic impressionism are tweaked with in-character but unique licks from Young and distinctive reed patterns from Murley.
Caboose, for example, is all level and horizontal lines maneuvered by push-pull guitar textures and low-pitched sax runs. Condensing and concentrating his responses, Wynston explores the rims and sides of his kit, and clatters microtones from his drum and cymbal tops rather than rattling or striking them. Turning his hands to nerve beats, cross-stick concussions and pulsating ruffs, the drummer seems to be rolling inert objects onto his skins. Are these the modern surfaces of the title? Eventually clattering cymbals and pulsing toms introduce thumping basso guitar runs and tenor saxophone torque, leading to triple counterpoint that pushes the piece into a kind of film noir expressionism,
Youngs Existential Departures on the other hand contrasts a sonorous vibrato-laden intro, with a theme finger-picked on a nylon-string amplified guitar. Although the brawny drum beats may be a tad overdone for the temperate harmonies of Murleys soprano saxophone, Viviens shuffle bowing as well as the deliberate Julian Bream-like picking of Young fit tongue-in-groove. Eventually, as the tune advances even Wynstons strokes get a touch less bulky. Moving from broken to lockstep cadences, the conclusion involves even gentler patterning from the percussionist.
Another stand out is Automatic Entry, another Young line. Vaulting from flanged guitar pulses on top of rat-tat-tat drum beats, a counter line of bowed bass is added, freeing Young to output echoing guitar licks. Murleys serpentine soprano saxophone interlude some of his best playing on the disc is not only built on sophisticated double tonguing, but rubato spins that make it sound as if hes systematically replicating the sound of unraveling a ball of wool. The guitarist provides sympathetic reverb-laden chording as both players moderate into a darker unison melody that ends with orgasmic certainty and a single, concluding cymbal shimmer.
Although the canny listener should skip over some of Wynstons cruder attempts at producing modern surfaces on his CD, both discs effectively capture contemporary Canadian modern mainstream sounds.
November 14, 2005
Winter & Winter 910 093-2
The Current Underneath
Leo CD LR 379
Two approaches to the standard jazz piano trio end up with vastly different results with only one making a major statement.
On THE CURRENT UNDERNEATH, Swiss pianist Michel Wintsch puts aside the sentimental streak that undermined earlier efforts with his Euro-American WHO Trio to create nine slices of thoughtful improvised music. Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi and his two famous American sidemen in Tethered Moon, seems to have picked up all the indolent romanticism cast aside by Wintsch however, making EXPERIENCING TOSCA, a torpid and somewhat lugubrious exercise, more notable for lockstep methodology and top-flight recording sound than a range of emotions.
Kikuchi insists that he doesnt like opera, because the visual aspect undermines his imagination. But the melodramatic details of Giacomo Puccinis tale of the painter Cavaradossi, awaiting execution, thinking of his beloved Tosca are so established in Western musical thought that the mere act of homage to the composer provides a syrupy undertone to the eight improvisations.
Intentionally or not this back story isnt helped by the fact that the pianist is a musical chameleon. He has dabbled in everything from contemporary jazz with trumpeter Terumasa Hino and as part of drummer Elvin Jones combo to funk with his All-Night All-Right Off-White Boogie Band. Tethered Moon, formed in 1990, has released earlier tribute CDs to singer Edith Piaf and composer Kurt Weill. It also happens to be completed by veteran bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian, both of whom put in time in the bands of two of jazzs Ur-romantic pianists: Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett.
That means that almost every tune here is taken adagio or andante with the odd blues change or outright swinging section making its incongruent appearance like a hand-made clay bowl in the midst of a room full of fine crystal. Not that theres too much of that either. One tune is even labeled a blues, but its not the sort of blues Bobby Timmons or even Oscar Peterson would recognize. Motian may highlight powerful cross sticking and Peacock a thumping beat, but the pianists standard changes, characterized by a single, flashy glissando, dont re-imagine the form, the way someone like Uri Caine has down with lieder.
Its the same story for most of the other numbers, low frequency ballads for the most part, filled with vibrated fantasia. In Part II for instance, the output is so subdued and tasteful that it almost sounds as if Kikuchi is referencing It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. Should you want to hear a link to Jarrett or Peterson, however, that comes via the piano mans over-recorded vocalisms. Grunts, retches and groans punctuate the daintiest etudes.
As all this is going on Peacock, whose ability to fit in with any situation has allowed him to work with folks as disparate as ethereal guitarist Ralph Towner and New Thing sax pioneer Albert Ayler, sticks to the pianist like seaweed on rice. Every time Kikuchi makes a particularly salient point, its echoed by the perfect tone from the bassist -- arco or pizzicato. Additionally, when Kikuchi rouses himself from ravishing impressionistic harmonies to showcase swinging left-handed pressure or tremolo voicings, Motians right there, adding a wasabi of knife-sharp cymbal slaps or spherical ratamacues.
Anything but skyward bound, the performances on the CD are actually tethered to the ground, rather than the moon.
Together for a shorter period, The Who Trio has fused into an exceptional performance unit. Peripatetic American drummer Gerry Hemingway, who is occupied with numerous bands on both sides of the Atlantic, adds pinpoint percussion accents exactly where needed, and Swiss bassist Bänz Oester is the consummate accompanist. Chief composer Wintsch, who as a rule sounds less-than-comfortable in freer situations like his CD with guitarist Fred Frith and vocalist Franziska Baumann, may have found the perfect setting for his ideas.
This is made most clear on Seduna in Wallis parts1 and 2, which combined are 14¼-minutes of definite EuroJazz, designated that way because the two draw on both the jazz and classical traditions without straining. A sensible swinger that begins with flashing octaves and key pats from Wintsch, its extended by Hemingways steady snare and cymbal beats plus prickly bent notes from Oester.
Moving into part 2, the tune is decorated with anthem-like harmonies and two handed, two tempo piano notes arriving from different places to intersect. Soon hard-handed touch and pedal extensions ratchet up the tautness and excitement level, as one of Wintschs hands appears to be reaching out across the keyboard to stroke different patterns, augmented with forearm force. Speedy arpeggios roll back and forth with contrasting patterns in either hand, with the pianist generating a dramatic waterfall of slinky, bent notes. Rocketing up the impetus, the drummer contributes rim and cymbal shots and a military tattoo on snare, riding nearly every part of the kit with double flams, bounces and rebounds. Finally the tension dissipates after ponticello shuffle bowing from Oester and what seems to be Wintsch playing the opening strain from Ornette Colemans Focus On Sanity.
European chansonnier-linked ballads make their appearance here as they did on earlier WHO CDs. Yet this time the pianist overcomes their innate mawkishness, using
key clips, pedal pumps and other pragmatic strategies to strip them down to the musical core. Thus a piece like Ma ptite chanson, aided by Oesters thwacks and string-stretching evolves from tinkly piano fluff to a polyrhythmic exercise in tempo changing abstraction. Would that Kikuchi had done the same on his disc.
Other compositions -- by Wintsch, other pop tunesmiths or jointly from the trio --benefit from other surprises. Clacking railway track sounds from the drummer and strummed octaves and cross-handed exercises from pianist livens them up. Meanwhile, the bassists invention is characterized by slapping bow wood against the bull fiddles wood for effect or riding the strings pizzicato like a skateboarder on an incline.
Trombonist Ray Anderson adds his slurring plunger work to the final tune with Wintsch introducing echoing electric piano tones. Yet with WHO members functioning on the same high level as before, Jirai is more a conformation of their talents than a change of pace.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Current: 1. Quartier Lointain 2. Swantra 3. Jerusalem 4. Seduna in Wallis, part 1 5. Seduna in Wallis, part 2 6. Ma ptite chanson 7. Rabin's cat 8. Mir mag halt niemert öppis günnee 9. Jirai*
Personnel: Current: Ray Anderson (trombone)*; Michel Wintsch (piano, electric piano*); Bänz Oester (bass); Gerry Hemingway (drums)
Track Listing: Tosca: 1. Prologue 2. Part I 3. Part II 4. Part III 5. Homage to Puccini 6. Ballad 7. Blues for Tosca 8. Part IV
Personnel: Tosca: Masabumi Kikuchi (piano); Gary Peacock (bass); Paul Motian (drums)
July 12, 2004
The Copenhagen tapes
Almost 33 years after his death in New Yorks East River, an apparent suicide, the stature of tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler as a major musical force keeps growing. His redefinition of horn playing away from empty technique and towards emotional vulnerability, and his insistence on articulating simple themes that easily became vehicles for improvisation, has been acknowledged by everyone short of the most reactionary jazz neo-con.
Today with indie rock stars looking for street cred and exploratory contemporary classical composers joining jazzers in placing the saxophonist in the pantheon that includes Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, it seems that his influence is everywhere. Some commentators even call this musical time the Post-Ayler epoch.
With a recording career that almost exactly paralleled in brevity that of cornettist Bix Biederbecke, another innovator with a truncated career, most of Aylers work has been issued and reissued many times. Yet these exceptional 10 tracks are for many new discoveries. Not 1964s justly celebrated studio session issued on various labels, these more than 68 minutes of prime Ayler come from earlier live and studio dates recorded during that same trip to Copenhagen.
Exhibiting the saxophonists superhighway-wide vibrato and unique sense of timing and intonation, the tunes also feature Aylers most cohesive rhythm section and an exceptional front line partner. Drummer Sunny Murray, who would go on to play with avant-garde ensembles of varying quality in the following decades, had already codified his unique metric sense here. Sloppy as the sound of trash men tossing garbage can lids -- and a perfect foil for the saxophonists extended glossolalia -- precise as microsurgery elsewhere, Murray may not emphasize the beat like a bopper, but his rolls and sudden flams definitely keeps the tunes moving. Bassist Gary Peacocks trajectory started with the likes of flutist Bud Shank and pianist Bill Evans before this and appears to have reached its zenith with his present fame as one-third of pianist Keith Jarretts standards trio. He was actually no more experimental with Ayler than with his other employers. Yet his burnished arco slides and solid pizzicato timekeeping made a perfect foil to Murrays percussion explorations.
Over and above all this is the presence of trumpeter Don Cherry, probably the most cohesive and erudite brassman who ever worked with the saxophonist. Anomalous when compared to the style of the saxophonists most consistent playing partner, his brother, trumpeter Don Ayler, Cherrys scope is far different. In truth, Don Ayler was for all intents and purposes an apprentice, transferring Albert Ayler concepts to the valve instrument; Cherry was a mature stylist on his own.
He was already an apprentice hard bopper who had converted to the New Thing when he met Coleman. From that point on, the trumpeter showed then, and in his later creation of a variant of nascent so-called World Music, that he was easily able to mix the brassy showiness and rhythmic intensity of pre-Free Jazz soloists with a propitious inquisitiveness. By 1964 Cherry had not only played alongside Coleman for years in that saxophonists most significant combo, but worked with both Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Thus, throughout the disc, rather than guiding a proselyte, Ayler faces a foil who can match his intensity and emotion every step of the way. Furthermore the trumpeters capricious sincerity gives these mostly familiar tunes an added fillip and adds an astringent condiment to the saxophonists sometime mawkish, over-the-top presentation.
Recorded at Copenhagens Café Montmarte and a Danish radio studio, the CD includes announcements and asides by Ayler, an explanation of and introduction of the music and musicians by a local announcer and a brief, biographical statement by the saxophonist. He says that he had wanted to go to Scandinavia for some time because --over here I feel quite free. Subsequent performances would suggest that much of his freest playing was indeed done in Europe.
Lax in naming his compositions, this session features versions of tunes like Saints. Mothers, Vibrations and Mothers, which may or may not have been record under those names later on. There are multiple versions of some of the titles here as well. Yet Ayler was proof of drummer Shelly Mannes definition of jazz musicians: we never play anything the same way once.
Ayler fans and anyone interested in a well-recorded document of one of jazzs justified legends would be wise to pick up this disc.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Spirits 2. Vibrations 3. Saints 4. Mothers 5. Children 6. Spirits 7. Introduction 8. Vibrations 9. Saints 10. Spirits
Personnel: Albert Ayler (tenor saxophone); Don Cherry (pocket trumpet); Gary Peacock (bass); Sunny Murray (drums)
February 17, 2003
Jazz in Motion JIM 75086
Red Giant RG011
Practically a jazz cliché, the sax and rhythm quartet has been a staple of the music since the late 1940s and early 1950s, when it became the favored compact configuration for modernists to tour from town to town.
Since that time every major improviser, definitely including such iconoclastic figures as John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and, surprisingly, even Anthony Braxton, David Murray and Evan Parker has played and recorded in that formation from time to time. So the challenge facing someone is how best to adjust the quartet setting to his or her own ends.
These accomplished discs by a young Dutch tenor saxophonist and an even younger American pianist present two accommodations to the form that has almost as much history associated with it as a Civil War battlefield.
A thoroughly-schooled musician whose CDs have featured him collaborating with everyone from iconoclastic pianist Misha Mengelberg to players drawn from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for a ballad album, saxophonist Honing, 37, links up with three hoary veterans of the jazz wars here. Step forward pianist Paul Bley, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Paul Motian.
Meanwhile pianist Vijay Iyer, 29, who regularly worked in Steve Colemans band and with Roscoe Mitchells the Note Factory and who has an interdisciplinary PhD in music and cognitive science from University of California, Berkeley, tries to reflect his South Indian classical (Carnatic) background in his music. He fills out his quartet with other younger players, including longtime associate alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who plays Paul Desmond to Iyers Dave Brubeck or perhaps it would be hipper to say Charlie Rouse to Iyers Thelonious Monk.
Ironically enough, there are times on SEVEN when it appears as if Honing is vying to capture Desmonds tongue-in-cheek designation of himself as worlds slowest saxophonist. Awash in the glacial tempos and formal presentation that the other quartet members have toyed with for years, you suspect that hes using the session to experiment with extended techniques. Adopting a sharp, almost alto-like tone throughout, the tenor man can be heard indulging in spetrofluctuation, intensity vibrato and airy hiss at different times.
Some solos are no more than repeated patterns pushed in proper order up the scale. On others, his passive, nagging presentation sounds as if its more related to showcasing classical saxophone structures than improvised music, although its almost irrefutable that all the tunes are instant compositions. Maybe one should hear his duets with Bley, who does have a degree from Julliard -- and so much else -- as preparation for his meeting with the Concertgebouwers that took place after this CD was recorded.
Maybe part of the seeming disconnect results from the fact that subtle percussionist Motion, powerful bassist Peacock and Bley first recorded together in 1963 (!), two years before the saxist was born. It may not have been meant that way -- or it may have been a deliberate compliment -- but much of the time Honing appears to be following Bleys lead, filling in the spaces left for him, and not the other way around.
Letting loose only seems to occur to the saxist when the bassist adopts a steady -- and standard -- quicker 4/4 pattern on one piece and on the final piece when Bley unveils some this-side-of-prepared piano solos. Facing off against a conception thats all metallic chord substitutions, internal string mutes and reverberating tones, Honing responds with deeper, more virile playing, though it must be admitted that its still pretty deliberate sounding.
Coming from a different time and place, the Iyer four are nothing but exuberant, with drummer Derrek Phillips, who regularly works with alto saxophonist Greg Osby, alone expending more energy on the first number that Motian seems to have done during the entire other CD. Each quartet member seems to have chops to burn, but because they labor as a working group, that sense of disengagement that is sometimes apparent in the Honing session is missing here.
One reoccurring motif is the frequent blending of tones that occurs between saxophone and keyboard. Another is that while they take most of the tunes at a breakneck pace, they dissipate the tension with slinky, slower motions for the codas.
Although Iyer, who is the son of Indian immigrants, raised in upstate New York, emphasizes his South Asian roots, the language of jazz is paramount here. Configurations, for instance, which is supposed to reflect rhythmic progressions from that subcontinent, appears to take more from a Spanish tinge and McCoy Tyners modal work. Father Spirit, on the other hand, features Iyer playing what sounds like quirky Herbie Nichols-like lines, with Mahanthappa interjecting gingerly, one phrase at a time. The aviary-like reverberating arcs the saxist uses here are effective, as is most of his playing, except for the few times when for some reason, he adopts a pinched, adenoidal tone.
Iyers note-spinning, speedy vamps that appear from either his left or right hand also serve him well throughout the disc. Especially if the saxophonist, who made a reputation for himself in Chicago before moving to New York, really digs into the music, or Phillips starts to imagine himself as Elvin Jones, and begins overplaying his hands.
The only time this technique isnt completely accurate is with Circular Argument, conceived of as a Monk tribute. Almost a parody of what a swinging nightclub tickler would have played in the 1930s, Iyer is too much the modern, educated pianist and the band too wedded to straightahead swinging to reflect Monks individuality. Plus here and on the next piece the saxophonist shows that hes much happier spewing out sheets of sound than subordinating himself, as Rouse did to Monks vision.
Bassist Stephen Crump, who usually works with drummer Bobby Previte, is the only musician who suffers almost silently here. Frequently kept in the background by the sheer volume of the others -- especially Phillips -- his few solos reveal a strong, but rather prosaic timekeeper.
In short, these CDs prove that in the right hands -- and feet and mouths -- sax-and-rhythm quartet sessions are still a viable option for many musicians, with Iyers more focused effort having a slight edge. If neither of them move into the winners circle of memorable dates produced by Coltrane, Murray or even Stan Getz or Zoot Sims, both leaders are still young enough to likely appear with great sessions in the near future.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Seven: 1.One note out 2.Yasutani 3.Hells Kitchen 4. Bley Away 5. Lost Virginity 6. Once is Twice 7. Vertical
Personnel: Seven: Yuri Honing (tenor saxophone); Paul Bley (piano); Gary Peacock (bass); Paul Motian (drums)
Track Listing: Panoptic: 1. Invocation 2. Configurations 3. One Thousand and One 4. History is Alive 5. Father Spirit 6. Atlantean Tropes 7. Numbers (for Mumia) 8. Trident: 2001 9. Circular Argument 10. Invariants 11. Mountains
Personnel: Panoptic: Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone); Vijay Iyer (piano); Stephan Crump (bass); Derrek Phillips (drums)
April 12, 2002