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Vijay Iyer Trio
ACT Music +Video ACT 9524-2
By Ken Waxman
Perceptive enough to realize that an improvising musician must constantly change, pianist Vijay Iyer has experimented with several combo formats and choice of material during his recording career. Accelerando, his 16th CD, thus eschews outright experimentation or nods to his South Asian heritage to concentrate on the story-telling available from carefully selected tunes played in classic piano trio format.
Although the configuration, with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, may be classic, the program isn’t. Iyer shows his taste by including under-recorded pieces by jazz masters, Duke Ellington’s “The Village of The Virgins”, Herbie Nichols’ “Wildflower” and a miniaturization of Henry Threadgill’s “Little Pocket Size Demons”, five originals, plus pop tunes associated with Heatwave, Flying Lotus and most saliently Michael Jackson.
In truth he sounds more comfortable on the contemporary material than the Ellington. Complete with drum rolls, walking bass lines plus syncopated harmonies and passing chords which appear self-consciously jazzy, “The Village of The Virgins” suggests Iyer won’t become a revivalist any time soon. Meanwhile Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” is given a treatment that transcends its hit-parade origins, while “Little Pocket Size Demons” is transformed in such a way that this stripped-down variant could be the equal of Threadgill’s, original recorded with a brass-heavy larger band.
The trio frees “Human Nature” of its inoffensive pleasantness, giving it a harder edge with left-handed piano pressure, drum bounces and bass string glides. Re-orchestrated with guitar-like strums and cascading keyboard glissandi, the melody that reappears after the turnaround is transformed from pop bauble to a jazz precious stone. As for the Threadgill line; while Crump’s screeching arco rums and Gilmore’s paradiddles deconstructs it, Iyer’s tremolo piano pressure preserves the pseudo-marching-band theme. At the same time he gives it a different emphasis each time it’s repeated.
This dualism extends to his originals, which match Ahmad Jamal-like timing with jocular iPad-era pulses. “Action Speaks” for instance could pass for a bebop line, complete with measured rim shots, if Iyer’s staccato pacing and dynamic accelerations didn’t give the 21st Century game away. Similarly the woody yet unforced bass solo on “Optimism” is thoroughly modern, with emphasized, but not sharp tones echoed by a kinetic piano that is intense but never loses the beat.
With Accelerando Iyer has created a Sweet Sixteen party many would like to attend.
Tracks: Bode; Optimism; The Star Of A Story ; Human Nature [Trio Extension]; Wildflower; Mmmhmm; Little Pocket Size Demons; Accelerando; Actions Speak; The Village of The Virgins
Personnel: Vijay Iyer (piano); Stephan Crump (bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums)
--For New York City Jazz Record May 2012
May 6, 2012
Carlo De Rosa’s Cross-Fade
Cuneiform Rune 317
Eastern Boundary Quartet
Konnex KCD 5258
Ivo Perelman Quartet
The Hour of the Star
Leo Records CD LR 605
Of all the formations that have characterized improvisation at least since the Bop era, the most common has been that of one reed player along with piano, bass and drums. Just because it’s unexceptional doesn’t mean every session has to be identical however, especially if the meeting ground is original compositions. As these quartet discs demonstrate, plenty of variations are available, even if the form prods participants towards a mainstream orientation.
Least committed to that concept is Brazilian tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman, who is also most closely aligned to what could be called Energy Music. His all-star American quartet includes guitarist-turned-bassist Joe Morris, sought-after and sympathetic drummer Gerald Cleaver, and, on four of the six tunes, celebrated pianist Matthew Shipp. Shipp’s presence is crucial here. For while nowhere does he entertain thoughts of running the changes, the pianist helps create a conventional rhythm section, which steadies the often-abrasive playing of Perelman.
If The Hour of the Star is the most avant-garde session, then Brain Dance is the most conventional. That’s conventional as in normal, not predictable however. Leader/bassist Carlo De Rosa, who has worked with everyone from drummer Jack DeJohnette to Jazz-World Music trumpeter Amir El Saffer, has composed seven high quality tunes, and his Cross-Fade band is made up of top New York players. Vijay Iyer who plays Fender Rhodes and piano here is one of the most celebrated younger keyboardists, mixing Asian inflected concepts with Jazz. Kingston, Jamaica-born tenor saxophonist Mark Shim has worked with the Mingus Big Band and trumpeter Terrence Blanchard; while young drummer Justin Brown’s credits include gigs with Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba.
With its music somewhere in between these two previous discs, and with an inside-outside quality, is the aptly named Eastern Boundary Quartet, a working unit since 2007. Two of its members are American veterans and long-time playing partners: bassist Joe Fonda and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, who together or alone work regularly with players such as German reedman Gerald Ullman. Their lesser-known – in the West – compadres are Hungarian. Mihály Borbély plays alto saxophone and tarogato and Balázs Bágyi is on drums. Borbély teaches at both the Béla Bartók Conservatory and the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy, and has worked with musicians as different as the ROVA Saxophone Quartet and flautist Herbie Mann. Someone who also works in theatre music and takes Jazz gigs, Bágyi is a mamber of the Magyarvista Social Club, a 31-member Hungarian World Music orchestra.
Working with different line-ups over the years, right now Cross-Fade’s weakest links seem to be in the drum and saxophone chairs, but for different reasons. Brown is an incredibly busy drummer and appears committed to hammering rhythms and licks onto every track –whether they’re called for or not. Shim on the other hand has developed a distinctive, robust tenor sound. Unfortunately it’s nearly unchanging on most tracks, making those few instances where he alters his playing strategy stand out. Additionally, while De Rosa’s centred bass lines holds many of the pieces together, cleverly winnowing or double-timing distinctive solos or accompaniment, Iyer’s touch, so masterful and clear-cut on acoustic piano loses its individuality when he switches to electric.
That’s why the CD’s stand-out tunes are “Headbanger’s Bawl” and “Terrane/A Phrase”. The latter, the nearly 13½-minute lengthiest track, feature a straightforward up-and-down bass line, a similarly unadorned swinging backbeat from Brown, with enough breathing space left for both Shim and Iyer. As Brown moves among wooden clatters, drags and ruffs, the pianist exposes a series of tension-building chords and the saxophonist equally intense snorts plus controlled flutter tonguing. Iyer’s cascades circle around the reedist’s multiphonic expansion, until De Rosa’s atonal string vibrations move all concerned to cross tones and connections. Rhythm on “Headbanger’s Bawl” is properly opaque and Rock-like, with De Rosa adding a bulky pulse, and Brown later breaking up the time with paradiddles and cymbal clanks. Shim’s stuttering tenor line soon escalates to slurs and tongue stops, while the pianist constructs his brooding, multi-fingered sequence out of glissandi and flashing tremolo runs.
Stevens is another commanding piano soloist with the experience that makes him an equally sensitive accompanist. On Icicles he effortlessly slides from the gentle impressionism of his self-composed title tune to tougher syncopation on more blues-oriented material. Furthermore he can offhandedly use slinky tremolos for effect in the piano’s mid-section, without letting the rhythm lag. Fonda too is assured. He quotes Oscar Pettiford’s “Blues in the Closet” in his rhythmic introduction to the band’s treatment of Atilla Zoller’s “Hungarian Jazz Rhapsody”; and on his own “Fish Soup” uses solid thumps and echoing lines to set up Borbély’s double puffing and extended flutter tonguing. Borbély’s reed lines throughout are distinctive, sticking to the alto saxophone’s highest register – or perhaps actually playing soprano saxophone – for melodic interludes. Meanwhile he uses narrowed tarogato tones and frenetic triple-tonguing to keep the momentum going on Balázs’ “Soft BalkanWinds”, which actually is blown along via the drummer’s primitivist beats.
“Borders”, again composed by Borbély is the most fully realized performance. In part it’s a Fonda showcase with the bassist’s runs scurrying from super-speedy to walking to strained strums, as well as exposing additional tones and partials. Still ample room is available for the composer and pianist. Stevens’ muscular patterns, cascading chords and repetitive key clipping pave the way for Borbély’s slithering split tones, as the reed man elaborates a melody which almost sounds Scottish.
Someone whose melodies definitely lack a Scottish – and usually a tonal – tinge is tenor saxophonist Perelman, although after more than 20 years of recording and times changing, his textures sound more tempered than in the past. Not that the Brazilian’s improvisational allegiance is any less to late-period Coltrane. It’s just that in the nearly 50 years since Trane’s death, these concepts are part of many saxophonists’ lingua franca.
Interestingly enough, there’s a portion of “As For the Future” where Perelman’s tenor tone seems to be condensing to approximate that of a tarogato. His tone is just as strident; his pitch is as altissimo, but is that a quote from “Secret Love” that sneaks into his solo? Atop Morris’ ostinato plucks and Cleaver’s restrained rolls and rim shots, Perelman chews on the exposition like a pooch with a meaty bone, using snorts, bites, growls and tongue motions to extract every ounce of protein from the material. Finally he slows the piece down to a Hard Boppish, almost mellow ending.
In such fast, yet encouraging company some of the tenseness that has characterized the tenor saxophonist’s improvising in the past has dissipated. His lines are still harsh, especially when pushed along by Shipp’s metronomic chording. Yet framed among irregular drum beats and adhered bass thumping, even as glossolalia and guttural tones exit his horn, his playing is more focused. Juddering counterpoint from the pianist, mixed with repeated renal cries and sudden descents into the horn’s nether regions from Perelman, create an altogether original take on the material.
One climax occurs on “Singing the Blues”, where the saxman’s approximation of late-period Trane slurs, shakes, snort and timbre-shredding meets Shipp’s expressive kinetic runs until the palpable ferocity is almost visible. Accelerating to fortissimo and seemingly emptying the horn of all its air with diaphragm pressure and note stretching, the addition of Cleaver’s backbeat helps wrap things up so that the saxophonist’s agitated growls find their proper place among the pianist’s downwards punctuation.
No matter the nationality of members of the formations – and no matter how advanced and far-out the improvising may be – these sessions prove that the sax-plus-rhythm- section format is still as viable as it ever has been,
Track Listing: Icicles: 1. Fish Soup 2. Icicles) 3. Soft Balkan Wind 4. Borders 5. China 6. Hungarian Jazz Rhapsody 7. Transylvania Blues
Personnel: Icicles: Mihály Borbély (alto saxophone and tarogato); Michael Jefry Stevens (piano); Joe Fonda (bass) and Bágyi Balázs (drums)
Track Listing: Brain: 1. Circular Woes 2. For Otto 3. Maja 4. Headbanger’s Bawl 5. Brain Dance 6. Terrane/A Phrase 7. Route 17
Personnel: Brain: Mark Shim (tenor saxophone); Vijay Iyer (piano and Fender Rhodes); Carlo De Rosa (bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums)
Track Listing: Hour: 1. A Tearful Tale 2. Singing the Blues 3. The Hour of the Star 4. The Right to Protest 5. As For the Future 6. Whistling in the Dark Wind
Personnel: Hour: Ivo Perelman (tenor saxophone); Matthew Shipp (piano [except 2, 5]); Joe Morris (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums)
January 10, 2012
Wadada Leo Smith
Cuneiform Rune 290/291
During a career that stretches from the mid-1960s, Mississippi-born trumpeter and educator Wadada Leo Smith has never followed one path. A founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM), Smith – who excelled at playing acoustic music with stylists such as reedist Anthony Braxton and drummer Günter Baby Sommer, has also become comfortable with electric instruments, most notably in the Yo Miles! project with guitarist Henry Kaiser.
However while accepting the strictures affiliated with thicker beats and electricity Smith also doesn’t kowtow to any accepted formula. Plugged-in wave forms are used in his compositions and performances exactly in the same fashion as acoustic timbres. Take this impressive two-CD set as an example. On the first disc, the percussion input is doubled, making what formerly was a Golden quartet a quintet; while on disc two, with the Organic ensemble, the string section includes not only bass, electric bass and cello, but also features at least three and sometimes four electric guitarists.
Of course it helps that the sympathetic drummers on disc one are the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Don Moye and Pheeroan AkLaff, who has backed everyone from saxophonist Oliver Lake to a West African dance company. The other “Goldens” are String Trio of New York’s bassist John Lindberg, and Vijay Iyer, whose elegant piano licks are complemented by synthesizer patterns that never suggest pop music. Lindberg and AkLaff are also part of Organic, as is cellist Okkyung Lee and electric bassist Skuli Sverrisson, two certified New York downtowners. But much of the compositional heft comes from the guitarists who rang from Wilco-associate Nels Cline; Lake-affiliate Michel Gregory; Brandon Ross, who sometimes plays in an acoustic string duo; plus Lamar Smith who is added to the group on two numbers.
To get an idea of the different strategies, compare the quintet’s version of “South Central L.A. Kulture” with the one done by the nonet. The former, about four minutes longer, features a core groove section involving cascading echoes and repetitive modulations from the synthesizer plus backbeat drumming. But this doesn’t stop Iyer from chording distinctively or exposing with high-frequency key fanning and forte glissandi. Meantime Smith’s flutter tonguing is expressed in flanges and distended breaths. Altering the tonal centre by the final variant, the trumpeter sums up the theme a capella with electrified reverb.
Recorded 10 months later, the nonet version of the tune seems to serendipitously pick up where the first version ended. Right from the top, unaccompanied echoing grace notes and braying reverb from the trumpeter are heard, quickly followed by the almost opaque coloration of four electric guitars. Slurring engorged and distorted tone rows skywards, the multiplied flanges mean that this “South Central…” moves in allegro and agitato fashion in contrast to the andante pace of the quintet version. With the two basses and drummer leaning into the pulsating beat, Smith’s rubato changes are answered by a contrapuntal guitar licks. Later, cross flanging and distorted phaser fills from three guitarists gear into overdrive on “Organic”. The resulting tessitura is angular and cross- wired when the thumb-popped electric bass licks are audible, but is also sliced contrapuntally with cellist Lee’s sharp cuts.
Nevertheless, the other tracks pale when compared to “Angela Davis”. It’s like injecting Parlament-Funkadelic grease into a polite Motown pop-rocker. Sluicing and slithering electric bass patterns, heavy drum ruffs plus antipodal guitar-hero licks – likely from Cline – solidify and expand the deep-funk groove until the resulting rasgueado reaches the six-string equivalent of reed multiphonics. Meanwhile the cellist’s pedal point riffs skitter and saw through the interface. As Lee’s spiccato lines ascend and descend they’re matched with concentrated trumpet flutter-tonguing that only stands aside for further guitar lick distortion. Smith’s soaring tremolo first parallels the guitarists’ variations, then, following a pause created by AkLaff’s cymbal resonation, constructs a coda of chromatic lines seconded by moderato-pitched cello stops.
Lacking the string section, on the Golden Quintet disc, it’s Iyer and Lindberg who join Smith to create the proper response to the dual drummers’ double-timed backbeat, ruffs and flams. With the trumpeter often linear and graceful in his parts during “Umar at the Dome of the Rock, Parts 1 & 2”, for instance, the pianist’s high-frequency dynamics and the bassist’s guitar-like flanging prevent the backing for these tunes from degenerating into no more than percussion discussions. Using the power generated by slapping the wood on his instrument’s belly and waist, plus snaps on his bass neck, Lindberg creates enough space for Smith’s bugle-like chromatic notes to elongate tones without splintering and define the parameters of the selection.
“Al-Shadhili’s Litany of the Sea: Sunrise” is more of the same, with the moderato composition sustained by Smith’s sluicing grace notes – which seem to vibrate internally as well as splutter externally – plus presto runs and emphasized arpeggios from Iyer’s keys. Buzzing acro slides and parsed piano chords enliven the performance’s mid section, which concludes in stop-time.
Offering two contexts in which to appreciate Smith’s compositional smarts and different bands’ fulfillment of his ideas, Spiritual Dimensions may be the definitive recorded set for capturing the trumpeter’s unique musical visions.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Disc 1: Track listing: CD1: 1. Al-Shadhili’s Litany of the Sea: Sunrise 2. Pacifica 3. Umar at the Dome of the Rock, Parts 1 & 2 4. Crossing Sirat 5. South Central L.A. Kulture Disc 2: 1. South Central L.A. Kulture* 2. Angela Davis 3.Organic 4. Joy: Spiritual Fire: Joy*
Personnel: Disc 1: Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet); Vijay Iyer (piano and synthesizer); John Lindberg (bass) and Pheeroan AkLaff and Don Moye (drums) Disc 2: Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet); Michael Gregory, Lamar Smith*, Brandon Ross (guitar); Nels Cline (6- and 12-string guitars); Okkyung Lee (cello); John Lindberg (bass); Skuli Sverrisson (electric bass) and Pheeroan AkLaff (drums)
May 27, 2010
Variations on a Theme
Guelph Jazz Festival Musicians On Their Own
Barry Guy/Mats Gustafsson/Raymond Strid
Cloudy Then Sunny
Libra Records 203-019
News For Lulu
The Chicago Project
Central Control CC1006PR
Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet
Cuneiform Rune 270
Healthy in its adolescence, the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) has become Ontario’s pre-eminent festival for improvised music. Now in its 15th year, the GJF presents improvisers in concerts, workshop and symposia. An appealing factor for listeners is that GJF concerts highlight only one of the versatile musicians’ many activities. Recent CDs capture other aspects.
Take British bassist Barry Guy, at Guelph with violinist Maya Homburger and bass clarinetist Jeff Reilly. Except for Guy’s string prestidigitation, that chamber-improv is nearly the opposite of the go-for-broke Energy Music on Barry Guy/Mats Gustafsson/Raymond Strid, Tarfala Maya MCD0801. Two high-octane Swedish players, saxophonist Gustafsson and percussionist Raymond Strid complete the band.
Spewing accentuated timbres, Gustafsson’s cries and snorts demand muscular retorts from the bassist. On the title track Guy uses guitar-like arpeggios to match the saxophonist’s echoing split tones, wrapping the friction of individual string pressure into a contrapuntal response. Strid’s rim shots and rattling snares provide the rhythmic glue. Eventually Guy’s harsh twanging plus abrasive sawing at strings near the scroll move the saxophonist’s smears, flattement and flutter-tonguing into contrapuntal counterpoint.
Chromatic bass thumps and conga-like pops from the percussionist push Gustaffson’s extended glossolalia from discursive to convergent on “Icefall”. Guy’s ostinato underpinning and Strid’s pats and pumps neutralize Gustafsson’s honks and tongue slaps into a diminuendo conclusion.
Resolving the clash between rough and gentle voicing, staccato and legato pitches also characterize Junk Box’s Cloudy Then Sunny Libra Records 203-019. Two members of the trio, Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura play the GJF. A composer-arranger, Fujii explores new territory on this CD, using graphic notation to spur the improvisations. Junk Box’s third member is American drummer John Hollenbeck, capable of rhythmic interaction ranging from rattles and pumps from tam-tams and marimba to full military press rolls and bass drum thwacks.
On “One Equation”, Tamura uses split tones and triplets to create a call-and-response section all by himself, as Fujii plays the tremolo melody in tandem. “Opera by Rats” emphasizes piano pedal action as the theme shifts from Bop to Stride, while the trumpet brays and Hollenbeck snaps cymbals and pops snares. This popping serves as a coda to “Back and Forth”, which also describes the trio’s tonal connection. Tamura’s timbre is French horn-like as he echoes Fujii’s phrases, and the track concludes with cascading piano chords draping themselves over the others’ note clusters.
There a similar interchange among alto saxophonist John Zorn, trombonist George Lewis and guitarist Bill Frisell on News For Lulu hatOLOGY 650. This 1987 reissue is different, yet somewhat similar to the three sets of Radical Jewish Culture Zorn is presenting at GJF this year. Rather then re-interpreting and re-conceptualizing Jewish melodies, Lulu does the same for Hard-Bop classics. Yet as devotional or freylach-like ditties are transformed with percussion, electronics and electric guitars by Zorn at GJF, this CD performs a similar conversion as raucous blowing vehicles become recital-ready.
Both the guitarist and trombonist – who have performed at Guelph – are responsive enough to keep things moving, despite the lack of a rhythm section. Surprisingly, it’s often Lewis’ gutbucket braying which holds the pieces together from the bottom. “Venita’s Dance”, has the trombonist comping as the guitarist loops licks that turn to single-note filigree. Later Zorn steadily peeps and Lewis chromatically exposes the head. “Funk in Deep Freeze” isn’t funky, but instead finds Frisell distorting country-styled licks, Lewis roughening his tone and Zorn’s alto texture slinky and airy.
“Sonny’s Crib” plays up gospel inflections with the two horns passing on the theme like relay runners. Zorn double times, Lewis plays rubato variations and Frisell picks out blues tonality until the introduction is recapped by the altoist. “Melody for C” with conclusive organ-like reverb from Frisell, provides an opportunity for three-part harmony, with the trio’s improvisations divided into fuzzy multiphonics.
Matana Roberts also twists the jazz tradition, but less radically. The alto saxophonist, who brings her Coin Coin Continuum to the GJF, celebrates her own home town on The Chicago Project Central Control CC1006PR. Other Chicagoans contribute: drummer Frank Rosaly, bassist Josh Abrams, guitarist Jeff Parker – whose band Tortoise is at Guelph this year – and veteran tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson. In 2002 Anderson, played an incendiary GJF set with Kidd Jordan. Saxophonist Jordan (see Whole Note Vol. 13 #9) plays Guelph again this year.
In the same league as the Jordan-Anderson meeting, Roberts a capella duet with Anderson features swirling staccato lines intersecting contrapuntally – finally reaching rapprochement. On “Nomra”, she and Parker prove that free improvising can be low-key and supple, highlighting resonating guitar licks and tasteful saxophone arpeggios. Tunes are tougher elsewhere. “Exchange”, built on a walking bass line and the drummer’s repeated flams showcases Parker’s distorted flanges and bottleneck-sharp runs that contrast with Roberts’ fruity tone and slide-slipping vibrato. “Thrills” is a POMO blues with the saxophonist rooster-crowing and double-tonguing, Parker snapping delayed echo and Rosaly smacking the backbeat.
Pianist Vijay Iyer produced The Chicago Project and he’s at GJF 2008 with DJ Spooky. But it’s electric piano and synthesizer he brings to trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet CD Tabligh Cuneiform Rune 270. Drummer Shannon Jackson and bassist John Lindberg are equally “Golden”.
Atmospherically referencing Fusion, but with simplistic beats leeched out, the disc’s color comes from Iyer’s Fender Rhodes pulsations. Strumming cadenzas backed with swaggering synthesizer drones, Iyer lets Jackson’s solid ruffs and Lindberg’s four-square rhythm anchor the compositions. On top of this ever-shifting bottom, Smith arches long-lined slurs and unhurried grace notes. Replicating a bugler’s tattoo, on “Rosa Parks”, or a bellicose call-to-arms on “DeJohnette”, the trumpet’s lines encompass high-pitched brassy trills and sputtering Bronx cheers. Extended essays in improvisations, Tabligh’s tunes bond fragmented brass slurs, cross-handed rim shots, kinetic piano cadences and string scratches into throbbing instant compositions.
Instant composition describes the music of Holland’s Instant Composers Pool (ICP), in residence at the GJF this year. But the creative ferment generated by the band is equally expressed when ICP band members work in smaller groupings. One is AMMÜ Quartet’s AMMÜ Quartet PAO 50030. Raucous drummer Han Bennink – with the band for 35 years – and unflappable violinist Mary Oliver – a 10-year ICP veteran – join forces with Munich-based cellist Johanna Varner and trombonist Christopher Varner. The Varners produce the sort of timbres Oliver and Bennink hear in the ICP from trombonist Wolter Wierbos and cellist Tristan Honsinger.
Never one to play presto when he can play staccatissimo, or pianissimo when fortissimo can be sounded, Bennink continually clinks, clanks, bangs, whacks and thwacks. So it’s instructive to hear his duets with the trombonist. Varner ejaculates speedy, emphasized brays, moving from vocalized syllables to tongue stops and alp-horn-like flutters. Amazingly this results in textures that fit hand-in-glove – or mute-in-bell –with the drummer’s bomb-dropping bangs and cymbal crashes. On their duet Oliver squeaks and spatters sul ponticello as the cellist responds with strums and shuffle bowing.
This comfortable creativity amplifies when the four play together. On “Improvisation II”, the trombone’s contrapuntal buzzes and the violin’s spiccato runs chase one another as the cellist double-stops and Bennink jabs and rebounds. As the strings distort into double counterpoint, the trombonist puts aside distended subterranean timbres for dog-whistle shrilling. Other times the drummer’s kettle-drum-like resonation faces legato coloration from the cello; alternately, wide, chromatic notes from the trombonist complement string-stropping from Oliver. Stop-time and polytonality characterize “Ammü”, although pitch clusters from the strings and horn can’t overcome Bennink’s frenetic time-keeping.
GJF audiences, exhilarated by what they hear live can be equally impressed by these CDs.
-- Ken Waxman
-- For Whole Note Vol. 14 #2
October 8, 2008
Savoy Jazz SVY 475
Pi Recordings PI 16
Keeping a whole hand firmly in post-bop contemporary jazz, a couple of fingers in more atonal pursuits as well as a couple more in the sounds of his South Asian heritage, New Yorks Vijay Iyer is the very epitome of the modern mainstream pianist.
Self-possessed and unflappable, these CDs recorded two months apart reveal two Vijay Iyers. On REIMAGINING, the newest disc by his own band, he appears controlled and buttoned-down, as unhurried a stylist as Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan were in the 1950s and 1960s and possessing what (acoustic) Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock exhibited in the 1960s and 1970s. Yet as part of the cooperative Fieldwork trio on SIMULATED PROGRESS, he reveals a hitherto rough-hewn edge, laying into the keys with the heavy touch of a McCoy Tyner or a Cooper-Moore. Is the switcheroo part and parcel of the company he keeps?
The answer seems to be yes. His compositions for Fieldwork are nowhere near as restrained as the ones on REIMAGINING. More crucially, alto and sopranino saxophonist Steve Lehman and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee, who wrote the other tracks, are there to keep the pot boiling, and incidentally spur the pianist to tougher voicing when he plays. In contrast, all the compositions on the other CD save John Lennons Imagine are Iyers. The context may be more secure as well. Hes been playing with alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa for nearly a decade and bassist Stephan Crump since 2000. Eighteen-year-old Marcus Gilmore is the combos drums phenom.
As an aside, since this CD was made Kavee has ceded the percussion chair to Tyshawn Sorey, who formerly played in Iyers own band. Considering the pianist is now the only remaining founding member of the combo Lehman replaced tenor saxophonist Aaron Stewart its an open question whether in future Fieldworks vibe will drift closer to that displayed by Iyers combo.
Right now its rough, in-your-face power explodes out of the speakers on most of the 11 tunes one more than on REIMAGINING. Part of this force may be compensation for no bass player. But it may also be that, without his name above the title, Iyer feels he can be more experimental.
Certainly theres nothing on the other CD that compares to Infogee Dub, a pressure-filled line, stretched taut with the tension from the pianists pedal point continuo. As Iyer maintains a dark chordal ostinato during the piece with the very occasional cluster of higher notes space is made for Kavees slicing and double bouncing drum undertones and Lehmans limning of the serpentine theme. Together, the combination nearly creates waveform pulsations.
Multi-vibrated and often trilling, Lehmans soloing too sounds looser than it is on sessions under his own name. On Gaudi for instance, he growls from deep inside his throat, finally hooking up with the pianists modal pummeling to create an atmosphere of suspended time. Wrapping Tyner and Dave Brubeck implications together, Iyers cadences and arpeggios are given further form by the drummers hard-edged splashed flams and compressed runs. In contrast, Media Studies floats on quivering reverb from Lehmans horn, an intermittent drum beat and plink-plank piano patterning. Sputtering, the saxophonists pulses echo the pianists low-frequency runs.
Although there are sections of the tracks that are low-key, most of the playing is up tempo, with Iyer exhibiting cross patterning dynamics, left handed comping and scattered, tremolo lines, Kavee self-possessed with polyrhythmic bounces, cymbal crashes and tubular echoes, and the saxophonist ululates sorpranino trills or the splayed coarseness of a bopper like Jackie McLean.
Since most of Iyers dynamic modules are involved with rhythmic comping and near prepared-piano sound-making, its almost as if theres another pianist with the same name concerned with tropes such as recontexturalizing a Beatles tune with high frequency, duple-metre arpeggio and, hard, jagged slurs from Mahanthappa on Revolutions no prize for guessing which one.
Ditto for the light swingers that are Cardio and Infogees Cakewalk, with the formers high-frequency kinetic cadences supposedly reflect North Indian timbres. Yet the pianists habit of propelling handfuls of notes and cascading chords seems to reflect the power of Tyners or Oscar Petersons mature style rather than Carnatic variations. Iyers allegro chiming, high-frequency vibrations and the saxophonist spinning out rubato whole notes on the latter, put one in mind of a Phil Woods collaboration with Flanagan, though Gilmore does slap out a cross-handed almost Native American rhythm on his part.
More interestingly, later in the program, as the drummer cross patterns and cymbal crashes and the pianist flashes out concentrated and rhythmically charged arpeggios, Mahanthappa introduces his diaphragm vibrations and reed-biting obbligatos with nasal, shenai-sounding output.
Then theres Song for Midwood, named for an area in Brooklyn known as Little Pakistan. Despite the implications of the title, theres no false exoticism. Beginning with a strong bass line and dynamic overtones from the pianist, the theme is passed back and forth between the alto saxophonist and Iyer, eventually resolving itself with diamond-hard tone shards from Mahanthappa. Following basso profondo strummed patterns from Crump, the conclusion rests on chiming vibrations from Iyer that almost match Gilmores rim clicks.
If only a couple of the pieces didnt end with very obvious fades, and there wasnt an undercurrent of distraction in some of the playing elsewhere, REIMAGINING would be as memorable as SIMULATED PROGRESS.
As it stands, both together provider a fuller picture of Iyers maturing musical development.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Reimagining: 1. Revolutions 2. Inertia 3. Song for Midwood 4. Infogees Cakewalk 5. The Big Almost 6. Cardio 7. Experience 8. Composites 9. Phalanx. 10. Imagine
Personnel: Reimagining: Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone); Vijay Iyer (piano); Stephan Crump (bass); Marcus Gilmore (drums)
Track Listing: Simulated: 1. Headlong 2. Transgression 3. Tips 4. Telematic 5. Media Studies 6. Gaudi 7. Transitions 8. Peril 9. Reprise 10. Infogee Dub 11. Durations
Personnel: Simulated: Steve Lehman (alto and sopranino saxophone); Vijay Iyer (piano); Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums)
January 23, 2006
Pi Recordings PI 14
Animul ANI 104
Two variations on South-Asian musical culture point out not only its wealth, but also how it too can grow and change far beyond the somewhat arbitrary divisions between Carnatic and Hindustani sounds.
Notwithstanding HARBINGERs use of a tabla, and that two of the musicians on MOTHER TONGUE are Indian-American, neither date has much to do with the traditional sounds of the subcontinent, nor depends on Eastern exoticism for its shape. Instead, separately, each is an example of individual intermingling of traditions with modern improvised music.
Alto saxophone Rudresh Mahanthappa, who is of Indian background, named the compositions on his CD after different Indo-Asian tongues to counter Americans ideas that his ancestral homeland has merely one culture and one language. Without knowing his agenda though, he, helped by pianist Vijay Iyer, another child of Indian immigrants, French bassist François Moutin and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee, whose mixed background is Italian-Spanish Nicaraguan/Russian-Jewish, MOTHER TONGUE can be enjoyed as pure jazz improvisation.
Syncs operation is even more complicated. Although Samir Chatterjee plays tabla, a classical Indian drum, he varies his traditional patterns with jazz-inflected rhythmic variations. A teacher for the last 25 years, his knowledge of South and North Indian traditional music is formidable and by happenstance he plays in another improv trio with Mahanthappa and Iyer. Guitarist in Sonny Rollins band for six years, Jerome Harris also plays acoustic bass guitar here. Someone who has also gigged with musicians as different as trombonist Ray Anderson and the late saxophonist Julius Hemphill, Harris uses his acoustic guitar or acoustic bass guitar to add melodic as well as rhythmic color to the proceedings.
Meanwhile, Ned Rothenberg, whose playing partners have ranged from Japanese guitarist Kazuhisa Uchihashi to British saxophonist Evan Parker, contributes different contours from his Westernized clarinet, bass clarinet and alto saxophone, plus the Japanese shakuhachi.
Mahanthappa, who produces his strongest vibrations from mid-range blowing, hits the ground running from his CDs first track, with all the tunes his own compositions. Between Kavees shuffle beat, Iyers cross-handed chording and the saxmans double-tongued trills, however, any alien concept is masked by swing.
Most indicative of what the reedist is trying to do is Telugu and Tamil. Commencing with a rhythmic bass pattern from Moutin, pockmarked with piano fills, the first tune develops as Iyers high-frequency dynamics are interrupted by Mahanthappas solo which adapts a fruity vibrato with a singsong accented tang. These arent the sort of place specific timbres youd hear from bansuri or venu flutes however, more like an uneasy mixture of Earl Bostics and James Chances tones. Eventually the snaky repetitive lines pushed by pedal point piano and echoing rat-tat tats from Kavees snare pulsate back to the initial jazzy head.
Despite its title, the other composition gets its shape from a combination of rim shot metallic action from Kavee, shaded and sharp notes from Iyers keyboard and soaring obbligatos from Mahanthappa. If you had to pick its genre, the phrase Heavy Metal Broadway style ballad comes to mind long before a resemblance to sounds from Sri Lanka. Moving forward constantly over the piano-drum action, the saxophonists buzzing tone gets deeper and his pitch sharper as he spills grace note over the piece, ending lockstep with Iyer.
Throughout his tone usually ranges from irregularly pitched to thin and grainy, although double and triple tonguing gives it more body when need be. Another construct is Mahanthappas mind-meld with longtime partner Iyer as he shows on the nearly eight minute Circus which is not likely an Indo-Asian dialect. Vehement, resonating trills are met with assiduous piano lines, and soon the two are engaged in hocketing call-and-response patterns. However the pianist does have to rein in his cadences slightly, so as not to bury Moutins free flowing, spiccato solo in the middle.
If MOTHER TONGUE is good, then HARBINGER is outstanding, probably because the Sync three pack even more experience into their performance. Illuminatingly, the trio doesnt limit itself to jazz and/or Indian musical references but draws on expanded textures.
Kashmir, written by Chatterjee, for instance, may feature a balladic undercurrent, and a tinge of unspecified non-Western sounds, but nothing really suggests the mountainous reality of the title. Harris fingerpicking guitar relates more to American folk music, while the harmonium-like buzz of unvarying sax line finally asserts itself in double counterpart to the strings. At the same time the membrane covered dayan and bayan rattle, thump and snap quietly behind, giving the lead instruments enough space in which to slur, flutter and meld.
These American folk influences come to the form often, most notably on the more-than-10½-minute Phrygian Dreams, and the almost 10-minute Richie Havens, enigmatically named for the singer/songwriter of the 1960s and both composed by Rothenberg.
His bass clarinet gets a workout on the first piece where its sonorous, reverberating tones are joined by plucked chromatic timbres from Harris that almost sound as if theyre coming from dulcimer or lute textures. Meanwhile, an asymmetric tabla rhythm provides a shifting base upon which the sluicing, glottal-stopping reed and the restful guitar licks extend the theme, with one often playing a phrase which is then echoed by the other.
When Chatterjee alters his touch so that only one of the two drums is in use, producing what sounds like mouth percussion pops, Harris continues with his slurred fingering, while Rothenberg outlines a lilting yet grainy exposition. As his coloratura vibrato toughens, the other varies his tabla beats as the piece takes on a low-pitched sonority to its end.
Instrumental virtuosity and the tablas intonation on the second tune bring not Havens, but the deceased fusion string explorer Sandy Bull to mind as the trio plays. Someone aiming for the great folk-jazz-world music fusion in the early 1960s, Bulls work encompassed the almost pure chromatic picking the guitarist shows here. Forty years on however, the percussionists double timed and splayed paradiddles and rebounds are more sophisticated than those with which Bull was dealing. Chatterjee manages to get different beats and textures from the bayan and dayan separately and together. The smeary alto sax trills add another dimension to this composition, and by the finale, Harris waggish finger picking and string taps are more original that what was imagined in the folk era.
Rothenbergs one shakuhachi outing, mixed with thumb-popping bass guitar work may be a little torpid and formalistic for the CD, though theres no argument with his expertise or that of either of the others.
Among themselves they produce tones that at various points range from flutter tongued, funky sax lines or fralicher phraseology from the clarinet; rhythmic chanting and hand-clapping or double-palmed percussive thump and resonation; and frailing drones or bouncing distortion from the strings.
Whether your interest is ethnic music or improvisation, youll find much to relish on both these CDs, especially Syncs session.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Harbinger: 1. March Hair 2. Richie Havens 3. One-Oh-Nine 4. Phrygian Dreams 5. Miss Chief 6. Tsuruta Kinshi 7. Kashmir 8. Macrame
Personnel: Harbinger: Ned Rothenberg (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone and shakuhachi); Jerome Harris (acoustic guitar and acoustic bass guitar); Samir Chatterjee (tabla)
Track Listing: Mother: 1. The Preserver 2. English 3. Kannada 4. Gujarati 5. Telugu 6. Circus 7. Konkani 8. Tamil 9. Malayalam 10. Change of Perspective
Personnel: Mother: Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone); Vijay Iyer (piano); François Moutin (bass); Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums)
April 25, 2005
Artists House AH 09
MICHEL SCHEEN QUARTET
Dance, My Dear?
What a different a decade makes.
GenX pianist/composer Michiel Scheen and GenY pianist/composer Vijay Iyer have an almost diametrically opposed program of how to organize a standard saxophone and rhythm date. Many of the differences can be attributed to the fact that Amsterdams Scheen is in his early forties, while Iyer is merely grazing thirty.
Veteran of ensembles led by bassist Maarten Altena, violinist Ig Henneman and a playing partner of local and international musicians, Scheen brings a hard and heavy beat and a POMO cut-and-paste outlook to his nine compositions. With the CD listed as being by his quartet, as opposed to the other with Iyers name above the title, he also gives full range to his associates, all of whom are members of the Netherlands improv lab, the ICP Orchestra. They are steady bassist Ernst Glerum, freeform reedist Ab Baars and splashy drummer Han Bennink.
Lesser known, Iyers crew is rounded out by alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who has been the pianists partner since the mid-1990s; young mainstream drummer Tyshawn Sorey and bassist Stephen Crump, who usually works with drummer Bobby Previte. Someone, who has said hes attracted to ritualistic and discursive music, Iyers 11 compositions tend to strain jazz conventions through the sieve of musical otherness. But these uncommon -- for jazz -- references are more allied to the rock and pop music influences of his suburban upbringing than any Carnatic melodies he would have heard as the child of Indian immigrants.
Exoticism too can be in the ear of the behearer. Habeas Corpus for instance, hints at non-Western musical modes, but the sounds appear to be more Native Indian than Carnatic or Hindustani. Here and elsewhere, Iyer flows his arpeggios and cadenzas across as the keyboard in the company of Soreys rumble and thump and Mahanthappas sandpaper abrasiveness. Its reminiscent of the way McCoy Tyner played in the 1970s with saxophonists Joe Ford or Gary Bartz.
However its Kinship and Because of Guns (hey joe redux), which best illustrate how successfully he can prepare a masala of different themes. On the former, a
pre-modern stride piano intro dovetails into free-flowing note clusters that presage an Art Blakey-like press roll from the drummer. Later, as Sorey continues to comment on each interpolated piano phrase, Mahanthappa pointedly flutter tongues a new melody.
Unlike his work on Iyers earlier quartet CD, Crump can actually be heard here and is even more of a presence on Because of Guns (hey joe redux). Someone who plays electric bass with Prevites the Horse, Crump uses his acoustic model to keep up a steady pulse on this track, which includes intermittent piano variations on the familiar Hey Joe riff. Although the concept limits the drummer to metronomic beats, it gives the saxman license to keen and squeal to his hearts content, adding an unexpected R&B tinge to Iyers prancing over the keys as he elaborates the theme.
Several shorter tracks show off the softer, balladic style of both the reedist and pianist, although both seem most comfortable on tunes like the freeboppy Imagined Nations where Mahanthappas slithering split tones and Iyers flashing note clusters meet and extend.
Ballads arent really part of Scheens game plan, or that of DANCE, MY DEAR which offers up supersonic power almost from its first notes. As polyrhyhmically sophisticated as BLOOD SUTRA, the overall execution is much tougher than on the other CD. For a start Scheens touch is much harder than Iyers, while Baars bitten off notes and honking tones unintentionally put Mahanthappas in the shadows. Glerum is much more of presence than Crump, and anyone who has ever heard Bennink knows that while he may be approximately twice Soreys age, his stentorian output is that much more pronounced.
Scheen can improvise at warp speed if hes so inclined, but his chief joy is knitting together freely phrased pulses into a distinctive movement that melds earlier jazz harmonies and rhythms with a 21st Century conception. That means that Baars can be as smooth as Ben Webster if needed; Glerum strum as forcefully as Paul Chambers on his side; and on the last tune, Bennink can create a darting, Baby Dodds-like cymbal sand dance.
But the key to the session come in the title tune and the two that bookend it. Reminiscent of the sort of slurred, boozy ballad as you could have heard at Mintons in 1943 when Thelonious Monk was woodshedding his distinctive style, Idols -- a implicative title -- finds the pianist adopting the key clips and pressured touch of Monk and another 100% original Herbie Nichols. Meanwhile Baars tenor playing sounds as if its coming from a reed hewn out of oak and Benninks inverted shuffle rhythm arrives with power even Kenny Clarke would recognize.
Following is Dance, my dear? whose title in this context sounds not so much as an invitation as a challenge. Baars double-tongues the theme up the scale as the others pulsate different tones around him. Scheen even appears to be deconstructing Blue Monk as he rushes the tempo to fit the broken tones in between ABs slurred phrasing.
Non-circle agreeable is even more ferocious. The saxman bites off jagged note fragments on top of rolling piano tremolos and searing snare and cymbal work from the drummer. Only Glerum stays true to the theme, holding the pulse as the others explode around him. Finally the pianist cuts the tempo allowing Baarss slurs to ease into boudoir tenor territory.
Scheen may prefer a herky-jerky beat fill with broken chords compared to Iyers most restrained approach; and Baars favor sibilant twittered lines to Mahanthappas smoother approach, but both strategies are interpretations, not major improvisational disagreements. Each band has provided an age appropriate session for its generation and each CD can be explored with equal interest.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Dance: 1. Similarities 2. God in Heaven (stay!) 3. This time, it will last forever 4. Idols 5. Dance, my dear? 6. Non-circle agreeable 7. Patience 8. Subsequently 9. Summerwindow
Personnel: Dance: Ab Baars (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Michiel Scheen (piano); Ernst Glerum (bass); Han Bennink (drums)
Track Listing: Blood: Proximity (Crossroads) 2. Brute facts 3. Habeas Corpus 4. Ascent 5. When History Sleeps 6. Questions of Agency 7. Kinship 8. Stigmatism 9. That Much Music. 10. Imagined Nations 11. Because of Guns (hey joe redux) 12. Desiring
Personnel: Blood: Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone); Vijay Iyer (piano); Stephan Crump (bass); Tyshawn Sorey (drums)
August 16, 2004
Your Life Flashes
Pi Recordings PI 05
Red Giant RG 012
Sooner or later, with CD retailers subdividing even jazz and improvised music into smaller and smaller segments -- Afro Cuban, Asian improv, Jewish Alternative Movement, to mention three -- someone is bound to notice that two of the major soloists on these two discs have a South Asian background. But the quality playing and writing of alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa on BLACK WATER, and of pianist Vijay Iyer on both CDs, is much more responsible for the sessions universal appeal than their shared ancestry from the Indian subcontinent.
That said, Fieldwork, a collective trio filled out by tenor saxophonist Aaron Stewart and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee only obliquely suggests an Indian sound in a couple of the pianists compositions. Mahanthappa, on the other hand -- whose duo with Iyer as Raw Materials, draws on African-American and South Asian musical heritage -- is more upfront about his Indian ancestry. The CD title, black water or kala pani -- kala = black, pani = water -- is an idiomatic expression that was common in colonial India and the Indo-Caribbean regions referring to a loss of identity experienced upon leaving ones homeland and crossing the black water of the ocean. Furthermore, the writing on BLACK WATER, and especially the alto saxophonists improvisations reference ethnic sounds and scales.
Fieldworks CD is one of those inside-outside sessions that should be regarded as modern mainstream if the neo-con influence hadnt lowered the bar back to early 1950s standards a few years ago. Operating at a go-for-broke high energy level during all 10 compositions the cooperative equally expresses the talents of each member. Rare for a tenor saxophonist of his relative youth and lineage -- he has been featured in the bands of pianists Andrew Hill, Cecil Taylor and Muhal Richard Abrams as well as on a couple of reedist Anthony Braxtons pieces -- Aaron Stewart sometimes exhibits a breathy Ben Webster-style tone as well as more modern influences. He has played with Iyer in saxophonist Steve Colemans group and in their co-op sextet.
Resourceful drummer Elliott Humberto Kavee was musical director for the San Francisco Mime Troupe and specializes in new works for dance and theatre. He has performed with musicians such as Taylor and Coleman plus saxophonists Francis Wong and Henry Threadgill. Iyer, who wrote eight of the 10 selections on YOUR LIFE FLASHES, not only leads his own bands, but worked extensively with Coleman and is also currently a member of saxophonist Roscoe Mitchells Note Factory and poet Amiri Barakas Blue Ark.
Unbridled power is the first adjective you apply to Fieldwork as on many numbers Stewart fires off phrase after phrase, double and triple tonguing; Kavee exercises his cowbell, woodblock and cymbals without slackening the constant beat; and Iyers rhythmic thrust encompasses Thelonious Monk-style key clipping, rolling bass lines and sliding swinging forward motion. Is it any wonder that one of the tunes is called Step Lively? Still thats a bit of a misnomer because the track sounds no more or less lively than many of the others.
Of the two pieces that may have some reference to Diasporic themes, only one, Generations was written by the pianist; the other, Mosaic is a Stewart line. The first, a flowing andante melody is based around the dark coloration of the pianos bass cadenzas, using lots of sustain pedal. Kavees ride cymbal pressure signals the frequent tempo changes, while Stewarts solo is all straightahead.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who has studied composition with Abrams, and internalized the Chicago masters ancient-to-future ethos, Mosaic, Stewarts R&B- styled piece sails along on heavy drumbeats. Its modern, but like its title takes in influences from the street as much as the academy. Iyers busy piano work is filled with nervous energy, exhibiting locked hands choruses as the tune gets faster and more relentless as it goes along. Elsewhere the pianists blizzard of right-handed notes offers up Taylor inferences, or maybe echoes of legendary West Coast pianist Horace Tapscott who is honored in the final piece. That tune is also the only time that Stewart finds it necessary to move into reed screech mode.
The other notable composition is Iyers The Inner World, which is the closest to a ballad the trio comes to on this disc. Slower moving and initially framed by unison tenor sax and piano, two themes often appear at the same time. One emerges from Stewarts long-line legato tenor solo; the other is double-timed by Iyers piano.
All and all, YOUR LIFE FLASHES is a dazzling debut session. Still if Fieldwork is going to continue to evolve and impress in the future, some of its nervous energy must be muted. Maybe next time out a few ballads and/or more dissonant material could be explored as well.
Replace Stewart with Mahanthappa and add French bassist François Moutin, who works steadily with pianist Martial Solal and saxophonist Michel Portal, to the remaining two musicians and you have the cast of characters for BLACK WATER.
Obviously the main change results from the leaders overt emphasis on his South Asian roots. These roots are obviously entwined with American jazz, however. After all, New York-based Mahanthappa isnt someone like Kadri Gopalnath, an Indian saxophonist who has adopted the horn to traditional Carnatic music. Mahanthappa, who teaches at The New School University, has had extensive experience working with definite jazzers like saxophonists David Murray and Coleman plus drummer Jack DeJohnette. As a matter of fact, his distinct tone seems to echo the styles of Swing master Pete Brown and soul jazzs Cannonball Adderley. At the same time, though, here his heritage is never denied.
Balancing Act, an apt title and like all the pieces written by Mahanthappa, makes this dichotomy clear from the CDs first notes. Starting with what sounds to Occidental ears like a sharp snake-charming tone from the sax, the composition soon develops jazz-wise as Iyers comping and Kavees beat move it into the driving mainstream tradition. Here, as elsewhere the pianist adopts a predominant, contemporary Chick Corea/(acoustic) Herbie Hancock style. Perhaps, too, his playing is more conventionally jazzy on this CD to counter the saxmans ethnic tendencies.
Joe Made the Face is nearly eight minutes of near bebop, with Kavee forging a shuffle rhythm, Moutin walking the bass in its lower regions and some rhythmic polyphony from the pianist. Working in his horns lower regions well Mahanthappa almost sounds as if hes playing a tenor, producing speedy sheets of sound that still would have been welcoming to players like Adderley. Moutin and Kavee even trade fours at the end of Whats a Jazz? after the drummer with his agitated cowbell and bass drum routine suggests an updated Buddy Rich. Meanwhile Iyer speeds out rubato arpeggios and the reedist gets into the soprano range but with an emphasis on split tones.
Conversely, Viraha, a Sanskrit word describing grief due to separation from ones lover come across as a South Asian I Cover the Waterfront. On this simple ballad, Mahanthappa adopts a Middle Eastern musette-like tone which again contrasts with Iyers accelerated many keyed voicings, Kavees cymbal sizzles and Moutins low-key accompaniment. Here, as elsewhere, the head is even reprised before the end.
Faith (intro) and Faith move right into Carnatic territory, or at least that part of the geographic area that shares real estate with John Coltranes more mystical works like A Love Supreme. Smearing his vibrato and overblowing, the saxophonist maintains the spiritual tone throughout, as Iyers chords turn to cadenzas, Kavee exhibits some expansive hi hat and pang cymbal work and Moutin triple stops for his most expressive --and impressive -- work on the disc.
But what should one make of Simonize? Mahanthappa sounds as if hes playing bagpipes until he gets into split tones; Kavee snakes out foot-tapping rhythms then some press rolls; and Iyer exposes his pulsating Latinesque persona as he and the saxophonist play with then reprise the theme. Is this song related to yet another black water Diaspora?
Another impressive session, which should appeal to jazzers of many ethnicities, the only drawback in BLACK WATER, is that with a singular front line the alto man has a heavy burden to carry by himself. Maybe next time out Stewart should be invited along as a guest to take some of the burden off Mahanthappas reeds and embouchure.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Your: 1. In Medias Res 2. Accumulated Gestures 3. Sublimation 4. Generations 5. Mosaic 6. Sympathy 7. Step Lively 8. Horoscope 9. The Inner World 10. Path of Action (for Horace Tapscott)
Personnel: Your: Aaron Stewart (tenor saxophone); Vijay Iyer (piano); Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums)
Track Listing: Black: 1. Balancing Act 2. I Like It When You Play the Blues 3. Viraha 4. Whats a Jazz? 5. Rejoice 6. Simonize 7. Joe Made the Face 8. Are There Clouds in India? 9. The Crossing 10. Faith (Intro) 11. Faith
Personnel: Black: Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone); Vijay Iyer (piano); François Moutin (bass); Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums
January 22, 2003
ROSCOE MITCHELL & THE NOTE FACTORY
Song for My Sister
PI Recordings 103
Avant garde jazz fans who remember the 1960s and 1970s have the tendency to come on like moldy figs when they compare the activities of many highly celebrated younger players with the accomplishments of their elders.
Case in point is this CD. For while a few youngsters have been over-praised for merely mastering the intricacies of a particular jazz style -- be it hard bop, modal or even a hip hop take on the New Thing -- reedist Roscoe Mitchell, 62, showcases a lot more.
Mitchell, who plays soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, flute, bass recorder, great bass recorder and percussion on this disc, has also written a set of unmistakably modern tunes that touch on playful R&B, precise swing, Third World anthems, jagged contemporary composition and even Early music. Assisted by eight young and veteran improvisers -- and four more for the classical piece -- Mitchell easily slides from one stance and style to another without ever losing his identity or resorting to tonal impersonation.
Pretty impressive for someone who was one of the founders of Chicagos Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in the mid-1960s and has been making impressive records on his own and as a members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago since that time.
Now a resident of Madison, Wisc., Mitchell has recorded with The Note Factory twice before, but only bassist Jaribu Shahid has been on all three discs. In the decade since the first CD, the band has grown from six to nine pieces, with new, impressive players joining. Especially prominent on his recording debut with this group, is Chicago trumpeter Corey Wilkes, whose contributions range from Harmon-muted whispers to brass band cadenzas.
New pianist Vijay Iyer leads his own bands around New York, while returning pianist Craig Taborn has gone from working with Young Lion James Carter to becoming a part of saxophonist Tim Bernes electric trio. Bassist Leon Dorsey and drummer Vincent Davis have played and recorded with Mitchell in different configurations, while Shahid, guitarist Spencer Barefield and drummer Gerald Cleaver came out of Detroit subterraneous avant jazz scene.
Perhaps the best way to analyze a disc like this is to point to the two most unusual compositions. For a start theres the almost 11½-minute Wind Change, a piece which evolved organically from a set of cards Mitchell developed to help beginning improvisers study. Switching between notated and improvised sections, and with the addition of Anders Svanoe on clarinet and bass clarinet, Willy Walter on bassoon, Janse H. Vincent on violin and Nels Buttmann on viola, the ensemble resembles a chamber orchestra. Except its a chamber ensemble where reverberations from Cleavers marimba, and bell shaking from Davis, make the more legit instrumentalists create sharp-angled sections, rife with the pizzicato string plucks. Meanwhile, Mitchells so-called classical sounding flute arches over the proceedings.
Equally unusual, this, recasts one of the composers chamber pieces written for a baritone vocalist, with Mitchells great bass recorder filling the singers role. Regarding Early music as yet another way to transmit his sound into another sphere, the saxophonist, a card-carrying member of the American Recorder Society, melds the canyon-wide, but limited range of the recorder with other sounds. In the end, the batter of marimba glissandos, muted trumpet lines, cello-like arco bass tones and shaken and stirred exotic percussion, end up with a product sounding like a Westernized version of gamelan orchestra music. Then theres The Megaplexian, featuring Mitchell and the two percussionists improvising on instruments he invented for a special concert commission. Sounding like a combination of glockenspiel, vibes, wind chimes and bell tree, the megaplexians impart both an otherworldly and Third World feel to the composition. It also showcases the two pianists using a thicket of whole notes, bent notes and a few glisses.
On the other hand there are tunes like Step One, Two, Three, which comes across as half hard bop and half Middle Eastern court music. As the dual pianos sound out the infectious descending push-and-pull theme, Mitchell lets loose with some updated Swing tenor, so that you get an image of a college football half-time band marching through the narrow streets of the Casbah.
Not that more traditional music is neglected either. Count-Off is a rollicking, modern R&B type tune featuring a fruity Earl Bostic-style alto saxophone snaking through the music, with some Harmon muted tones from Wilkes, chordal guitar fills from Barefield and old-timey piano tinkles from one -- both? -- of the keyboardists. Then theres the title tune, honoring Mitchells late sibling, but which comes across as bluesy rather than mournful. Displaying the saxophonists hard tenor tone, muted work from Wilkes, both basses walking and a waterfall of dual piano notes, its half modal and half freebop.
Age may have to withdraw for beauty sometimes. But in music the truly talented can produce beauty with intelligent content, because of their age and experience.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Song for My Sister 2. Sagitta 3. This 4. When the Whistle Blows 5. The Megaplexian 6. Step One, Two, Three 7. The Inside of the Star 8. Wind Change* 9. Count-Off
Personnel: Corey Wilkes (trumpet); Roscoe Mitchell (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, flute, bass recorder, great bass recorder, percussion); Craig Taborn and Vijay Iyer (pianos); Spencer Barefield (guitar); Jaribu Shahid and Leon Dorsey (basses); Gerald Cleaver (marimba, percussion, drums); Vincent Davis (drums, percussion); plus on*: Anders Svanoe (clarinet and bass clarinet); Willy Walter (bassoon); Janse H. Vincent (violin); Nels Buttmann (viola)
September 9, 2002
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