|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Matt Lavelle
The Giuseppi Logan Quintet
Tompkins Square TSQ 2325
One of the lesser-known second generation New Thingers, woodwind player/pianist Giuseppi Logan made a couple of interesting LPs for ESP-Disk in 1964 and 1965 as well as sideman appearances with trombonist Roswell Rudd and singer Patty Waters. Known equally for the strength of his music and his weakness in coping with the music business, Philadelphia-born Logan faded from view shortly afterwards and was thought to have died in the early 1990s.
But after being re-discovered living in New York a member of a Christian evangelical cult, Logan, now 75, began playing gigs with trumpeter/bass clarinetist Matt Lavelle. Lavelle and a top-flight rhythm section of pianist Dave Burrell, bassist Francois Grillot and drummer Warren Smith are all present on this, his first session in 45 years.
It’s a good thing. For except for a few moments when Logan plays piano, the eight numbers preserved are of more historic than sonic interest. Just as not every aged, traditional jazzman, rediscovered and recorded in the 1940s proved to be anything more than a competent player, it’s the same for Logan. His uncertain time, discordant tone and general hesitancy painfully show his age and alienation.
Unlike Charles Gayle whose sudden appearance in the early 1990s was equivalent to the 1960s renaissance of memorable and still potent country bluesmen such as Mississippi John Hurt, Son House and Skip James, Logan is most reminiscent of Arthur Doyle. Although nine years younger than Logan, Doyle’s return to playing in the 1980s and since then reveals a saxophonist and singer whose personal problems prevent him from really grasping improvisation’s intricacies. Logan’s confusion isn’t as blatant as Doyle’s, but he’s no Gayle. Since his first brush with fame, Gayle has since gone from triumph to triumph. Logan isn’t likely to do so.
On this CD Grillot’s steady walking and Burrell’s hard-hitting lines and chiming, double-timed patterns help balance the front line’s raggedness, mostly attributed to Logan. Lavelle is his usual lively self. Lowing bass clarinet runs are played in double counterpoint with Logan’s wobbling intonation on “Modes”, while Lavelle’s mid-range trumpeting studded with downwards grace notes is a highlight of “Steppin’”. But Logan’s hesitancy, squealing and verbalized mumbles retard the tempo on the second piece. Not only that, but his wobbly intonation and stuttering textures on the former almost completely sabotage adhesive attempts from Smith’s ratamacues and Burrell’s ornamental cadenzas.
Unlike, say, Albert Ayler’s burlesque-re-imagining of standards, Logan’s skills appear equally lacking on non-originals as he squeaks his way through “Over the Rainbow”, valiantly pursued by Burrell’s chording, while “Freddie Freeloader” comes across as whiny and discordant. Meanwhile the lyrics on the concluded self-penned “Love Me Tonight” are seemingly toothlessly mumbled.
Nonetheless “Blue Moon” is Logan one accomplishment. Playing piano in an untutored style reminiscent of Gayle’s, he re-harmonizes the familiar melody which clunks along driven by repeated syncopated asides and Grillot’s string-thumping.
Listeners with New Thing nostalgia or a yen for avant-garde completeness may be more impressed by this disc. Sadly, Logan still seems to be lost.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Steppin’ 2. Around 3. Modes 4. Over The Rainbow 5. Bop Dues 6. Blue Moon* 7. Freddie Freeloader 8. Love Me Tonight*^
Personnel: Matt Lavelle (trumpet and bass clarinet); Giuseppi Logan tenor saxophone, piano* and vocal^); Dave Burrell (piano); Francois Grillot (bass) and Warren Smith (drums)
June 23, 2010
DANIEL CARTER/STEVE SWELL/FEDERICO UGHI
577 Records #5
Making Eye Contact with God
Utech Records UR 007
Notes from the underground New Yorks Free Jazz underground to be more precise these CDs demonstrate that the spirit of constant experimentation is still potent on both sides of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Perhaps confirming that Manhattan is now cozier for stock brokers than musicians, both these trio CDs were recorded in Brooklyn, CONCRET SCIENCE in a studio, MAKING EYE CONTACT WITH GOD at two different clubs. Privation economics also come into play with the recordings. CONCRET SCIENCE is on drummer Federico Ughis own small label, MAKING EYE CONTACT WITH GOD is released by a boutique label in an initial pressing of 50.
Noting the titles, it would be tempting to hear the discs as respectively representing faith and science. But, except for fundamentalist right wingers, more sophisticated listeners ascribe a closer, non-adversary relationship between the two disciplines. In short the CD by trumpeter/bass clarinetist Matt Lavelle with bassist Matt Heyner and drummer Ryan Sawyer is no more ecstatic than the other CD. And the five pieces performed by Ughi plus trombonist Steve Swell and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter are no more technically fluent than the four on Lavelles
Chief points of congruence pinpoint limitations, though. Both discs suffer from a lack of pacing, with too many pieces allowed to go on at too great length in similar pitches and tempos. Ughi and associates can be faulted more here, since they recorded in studio. Live, the three players on Lavelles CD can say that improvisational heat carried then past their boundaries.
Ironically, the almost 20-minuteSweat Lodge Dance contains some of the most exciting playing on the disc. Midway through after Lavelle on trumpet has blasted out a set of triplets that would have made Roy Eldridge proud, he continues with a spectacular display of brass technique encompassing long tremolos and short punchy valve effects. This is followed by a powerful solo from Heyner where he seems to be rubbing raw wire onto his strings, backed by legato bass clarinet cadences and rattling hi-hat. Earlier the drummer scrapes echoed tones from his snares and toms, then. Hitting the drums with robotic precision Sawyer ends the piece backed by arco squeaks from the bassist and pedal point from Lavelle. Impressive enough, the track would have been even more so at three-quarters its length.
Elsewhere Lavelle demonstrates his doubling talent. On trumpet he can explode into an orgy of brassy triple tonguing à la Freddie Hubbard and as easily suggest the wistful, barely-there lyricism of a Don Cherry, with cross purpose smears. On bass clarinet, his lines are grainier, dissonant and more obtuse than most jazzers who utilize the clarinets larger brother. Often rising to altissimo in his solos, hes still able to fall into mine-shift deep pitches for effect.
Both these talents are put to good use on Ace of Cups that lasts more than 27½ minutes. Gritty, half-valve work, braying, open-horned slurs and bugle-like cadences characterize Lavelles trumpeting. On bass clarinet, extending a firm sound to snorting squeals, he works out double counterpoint with Heyners spiccato bass runs. Often strumming, the bassist shifts up and down his strings, sometimes arco, other times pizzicato. That way he links with tremolos from either of Lavelles horns or the press rolls, rim shots and shivering cymbal tolls from Sawyer. The trumpeters final underscored breath may provide a perfect finale, but more internal editing from all three could have produced something even more spectacular.
Besides working in Lavelles band, Sawyer has recorded with guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil, while Heyner is both in the No Neck Blues Band and TEST with Carter. Meanwhile Lavelle has played with Swell in The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra and in smaller groups. Somewhat apart is Ughi, a New York native since 2000, but who spent the late 1990s in London, where he co-led the After Breakfast quartet and played European venues.
Continental sensibility may be why the majority of tunes on CONCRET SCIENCE are a bit draggy, and like those on the Lavelle disc, most are a touch too long. Carter, who has worked with nearly everyone in New York over the past two decades, contributes to the somewhat despondent tempos as well, especially when his resonances of choice are gentle flute lines or moderato clarinet echoes. Trading in tougher timbres, Swells improvisations are the liveliest part of the CD, but after a while even he gets trapped within the desultory, drawn-out tunes.
His best outing occurs in the slightly more than seven-minute Our Own Fingerprints, where his fat plunger tone develops in triplets, bringing forth buzzy, accentuated runs from Carters clarinet and a thrusting cross rhythm from Ughi.
Theres no lack of talent of technique or talent on the disc, but when Now and Ever Resistance clocks in at more than 17 minutes and Middleclass Madness, at a touch over 18, something seems amiss. You need real patience to properly distinguish between these two instant compositions in nearly duplicate tempo and meandering pitch. At points here as well, the three appear to be improving separately in the same room.
On Middleclass Madness, Swell contribute slide barks and buzzing burrs and Ughi produces hollow reverberations, pinpointed cymbals bounces and blunt snare strokes, but intersection is lacking. On the former, the trombonist snorts and smears, while moving among his reed arsenal, beeping, overblowing or reed-biting, Carter could be a group of horn players himself. Meantime the drummer circles around both, rumbling his snares and double clapping his cymbals. At full steam the three take on the timbres of the similarly constituted New York Art Quartet sans bassist. But except in snatches that illusion too is overcome by drawn-out sameness.
Constantly experimenting players such as the six on these CDs are expected to be a little rough around the edges, with pieces often raw and unfinished. That why they arent stuck in the too-perfect morass of neo-con playing. In truth, Swell, Carter, Lavelle and Hayner have been heard to better effect elsewhere. Still both discs are worth investigating as a snapshot of whats happening right now just below the surface on the Apples improv scene.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: God: 1. Ace of Cups 2. Eye Contact with God 3. Mars in the Fourth House 4. Sweat Lodge Dance
Personnel: God: Matt Lavelle (trumpet and bass clarinet); Matt Heyner (bass); Ryan Sawyer (drums)
Track Listing: Science: 1. Now and Ever Resistance 2. Souls Underwood Tunnels 3. Middleclass Madness 4. Our Own Fingerprints 5. Concrete Science
Personnel: Science: Steve Swell (trombone); Daniel Carter (alto and tenor saxophones, flue and clarinet); Federico Ughi (drums)
August 29, 2005
RAS MOSHE MUSIC NOW UNIT
Live Spirits No. 1
Utech Records UR-002
RAS MOSHE MUSIC NOW UNIT
Live Spirits No. 2
Utech Records UR-003
New York has above ground jazz musicians (c.f. Wynton Marsalis), sort of underground jazzers (c.f. Charles Gayle) and really far underground free jazz players, some of whom are showcased on these two live discs.
Most prominent is Brooklyn-born alto and tenor saxophonist Ras Moshe, who may be undersung, but has it together enough to constantly organize gigs for his Music Now Unit. As evidenced by the locations here, Moshe finds different spaces in which to play, even if he has to go as far away as Syracuse, N.Y.
Still gigging doesnt mean recording, especially in a competitive spot like the Apple. Which is how Utech, a grassroots-style boutique label from Milwaukee, Wisc. gets involved. Players like Moshe are honest enough to know theyll never create big sellers, so Utech (www.utechrecords.com) turns out editions of 75 or so CDRs.
Large numbers have noting to do with excellence as jazz folks of any genre can tell you. Theres some memorable work and some a little sloppy, not to mention under-recorded, sounds scattered among the four long selections that take up both volumes of LIVE SPIRITS. Players vary from tune to tune, but the saxmans most consistent rhythm partners are Matt Heyner, young bassist with TEST and the No-Neck Blues Band, and veteran Jackson Krall, Cecil Taylors recent drummer of choice, one or both of whom are on every track.
Road: Medley recorded at Syracuse University and Brooklyn Improv from the Improvised and Otherwise Festival are trio performance. More than 40 minutes long, the later serves as a demonstration of Heyners and Kralls extended techniques, rightly limited to accompaniment elsewhere.
Early on, the bassists heavy strokes turns to guitar-like triple stopping as Krall splashes vibrations from his cymbals and Moshe advances a slithery line with an intense vibrato that turns to Tranesque cadences and meet up with Heyners slapping and stopping. From that point on, the saxophonist alternately plays off the lines from either the bassist or Krall. Getting a ney-like snarl from his horn, Moshes churning trills meet tranquil nerve beats and clanks, as well as a highly rhythmic buck-and-wing from the drummer. At another point sul ponticello bass swirls moderate an irregularly vibrated reed solo.
Here and elsewhere theres no mistaking the tautness and thickness of Heyners strings as he thumps them as if he was playing a diddly bo. Not that his only strategy is abrasiveness. Meshed with carefully selected textures from Krall, the bass and drum sometimes are as simpatico in accompaniment as a sarod and a tabla, although no one would mistake Moshes horn for a bansuri flute. Instead the saxmans flutter tonguing, flattement and doits suggest a different method of approaching transcendence.
Road: Medley on the other CD is a good companion piece to Brooklyn Improv, with Moshes well-modulated runs confirming his lineage from Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins. Here and elsewhere, the relaxation in his tone often implies that hes improvising on alto as well as tenor saxophone, with both horns in use on all tracks.
Heyners attack is tougher on this 26-minute piece, pulling extra action from his strings and slapping its belly and ribs as he maneuvers circular double stops. Higher-pitched, his sul tasto explorations splinter into individual tones. Meanwhile, Krall not only clatters and rattles his way through a solo, but with hammer-hard snare action, spectacular press rolls and bass drum accents moving faster and faster, brings to mind a hipper Buddy Rich.
Moshes response to this harsh interface is to break apart his solos into smaller squealing units, reducing even split tones to molecular nodes, and finally attaining glossolalia. With the bass accompaniment varying from pitches that could be produced Scruggs-style by a tenor banjo or wrenched from the single string of a washtub bass, Moshe squeaks into false registers, so that the metal of his body tube almost liquefies. After a brief pause, the coda is made up of reed cadenzas played in Aylerian march tempo.
Neither of the other tracks reaches those heights. Although its only slightly lengthier than Brooklyn Improv, Full Moon Night soon wears out its welcome. Adding trumpeter Matt Lavelle and Chris Forbes on electric piano to Moshe and Krall, and substituting both Francois Grillot and Ken Filiano on basses for Heyner, muddies the texture. One problem is the recording, which for the only time on these discs, appears muffled at points. Another is the use of an electric piano whose jittery sheen upsets rather than adds to the performance likely a fault of the acoustics and the manufacturer rather than Forbes.
Intermingling with Moshes often-liquid sax tone, Lavelles output moves between the Dons: Cherry and Ayler. Sometimes he brays triplets upwards, or in contrast extends a story-telling line with sour slurs and crying tremolos. Walking in standard time at certain moments, sluicing slippery bass line upwards at others and expressing themselves spiccato elsewhere, Grillot and Filiano appear surprisingly especially for the later reserved and mirror-images of one another. Neither makes much of an impression, but they, more than any one else, suffer from the sonic weaknesses.
Because of all this Moshe and Krall appear particularly audacious. Sticking to boppy hi-hat movements and post-bop quick flams and ruffs, only when the drummer wallops his cymbals ceaselessly does the excitement level rise. Using trills and irregular vibrations, the reedist is more Tranesque than usual, even expelling a lone, buzzy reverberation that pushes his horn into baritone saxophone range until subsiding into segmented squeals and split tones. A series of almost soundless screams, egged on by Lavelle serve as the pieces climax.
Moshe, Heyner drummer Todd Nicholson and vocalist Kyoko Kitamura are on board for the final Unnamed Peace recorded in the cramped surrounding of the old
Downtown Music Gallery. With the bassist providing the accompanying ostinato, the saxman limits himself to fills in a balladic Trane-like fashion, studding his work with near quotes from the other saxophonists canon. Not unpleasant, Kitamuras style seems ill-defined as she moves between mumbles, recitation, scat singing, free association and speaking in tongues. Time condensation may have helped this track as well.
Its unfortunate that the two Moshe-Heyner-Krall numbers couldnt have been on a single CD. That would have been a dynamite disc. Still the saxophonist and the other players here deserve a hearing. Picking up either of these sessions will provide an introduction, allowing you to discover exceptional work. But try to ignore other tracks that arent at the same high standard.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: No. 1: 1. Road: Medley 2. Full Moon Night
Personnel No. 1: 1. Ras Moshe (alto and tenor saxophone); Matt Heyner (bass); Jackson Krall (drums) 2. Matt Lavelle (trumpet); Ras Moshe (alto and tenor saxophone); Chris Forbes (electric piano); Francois Grillot and Ken Filiano (basses); Jackson Krall (drums)
Track Listing: No. 2: 1. Unnamed Peace 2. Brooklyn Improv
Personnel No. 2: 1. Ras Moshe (alto and tenor saxophone); Matt Heyner (bass); Todd Nicholson (drums); Kyoko Kitamura (vocal) 2. Ras Moshe (alto and tenor saxophone); Matt Heyner (bass); Jackson Krall (drums)
May 16, 2005
WILLIAM PARKER & THE LITTLE HUEY CREATIVE MUSIC ORCHESTRA
Splasc (h) WS CDH 855
SATOKO FUJII ORCHESTRA-EAST
Before the Dawn
NATSAT MTCJ- 3010
Downtown, they say, is a state of mind. So is so-called downtown music, as these two live big band sessions demonstrate. With polychromatic ideas enlivening both groups, and with composers extending and distend the status quo, the points of congruence between SPONTANEOUS -- recorded in May 2002 at the epicentre of hip, Manhattans CBGBs -- and BEFORE THE DAWN -- recorded 16 days later at a jazz festival in Hamamatsu, Japan -- are closer than youd imagine.
Each CD features a clutch of top-rank soloists and section players, although the first CDs two compositions are firmly in the instinctive tradition of post-New Thing large ensembles, while the BEFORE THE DAWNs five tunes are more carefully arranged. That difference may reflect the orientation of the leaders, though, rather than where each is domiciled.
Bassist William Parker, the unofficial mayor of New Yorks Lower East Side, has been in thick of the avant garde for 30 years, playing with groups of every size and with everyone from Cecil Taylor to David S. Ware. Formally educated with degrees from both Japanese universities and Bostons New England Conservatory, pianist Satoko Fujii has evolved her own style drawing on mentors like Paul Bley, traditional Japanese sounds and echoes of post-Rock. She also lives part of the year in Tokyo and part in New York, where besides leading smaller bands, she helms her Orchestra-West, with sidemen often closely allied to the Parker circle.
DAWN allows her to show off her hometown team as Orchestra-East, which is both good and bad. Some 0f the players have a history in the Islands somewhat insular experimental music scene, and add unexpected textures to her composition. Others toil at more conventional gigs, which on this disc sometimes leads to the creation of vamps from the sections that are more reminiscent of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra than so-called outside large bands.
This musical schizophrenia is most notable on the almost 20 minute Joh-Ha-Cue. Initially moody and atmospheric, it begins by featuring Kunihiro Izumi, the alto saxist from Shibusa Shirazu (SS), a local avant-big band soloing in a reedy Klezmer-lite style. But in his showcase, Pikaia leader trumpeter Takao Watanabe moves between a whinnying muted lead line and a Maynard Ferguson-like screech. Almost before you know it, SSs drummer Masahiro Uemura is bearing down on the sounds like a rock-influenced Buddy Rich and bassist Toshiki Nagata comes up with enough highly amplified thumb pops to fit in on a Brothers Johnson West Coast R&B session. Here and elsewhere, tenor saxophonist Hiroaki Katayama takes on the role Flip Phillips and much later Sal Nistico had in successive Woody Herman Herds: the reed sparkplug whose gruff growls and honks goose on the others.
Eventually swing gives way to gentle suggestion of gagaku music in the tunes second section, with SSs baritone man Ryuichi Yoshida, providing gentle, rural- sounding flute playing that could almost come from a shakuhachi. Cowbell thwacks and irregular patterns characterize the drummers contributions, until unison andante trombone lines give way to an open-horned, chromatic trumpet solo by Natsuki Tamura, Fujiis husband and closest collaborator. Working with only the bass and drums behind him, his outbursts alternate with unison smears from brass and reed sections. As the other horns ascend and descend the chord structure, the drummer rolls and ruffs. Tamura then comes up with some unexpectedly gritty freylach tones, while the bassists unvarying rhythmic structure holds the tune together. Ending with all 15 musicians shouting out discordant timbres as loudly as they can, the coda showcases Jungle-style plunger work from the trumpeter.
Earlier, on Pakonya, baritonist Yoshida slurs, snarls, shouts and triple tongues out split tones, bouncing in and out of the altissimo range to confirm his avant-garde credentials. Added as well are darting Cecil Taylor-like arpeggios from the keyboard, one of the few times Fujii solos. Nevertheless, the underlying theme is strictly AfroCuban, complete with the band members noisily vocalizing, as well as a Randy Brecker-style high notes and brassy solo that isnt ascribed to, but probably comes from trumpeter Yoshihito Fukumoto, who plays in Orquestra de la Luz, Tokyos (!) most acclaimed salsa band.
On other tracks there are effervescent and symphonic suggestions that meld conventional horn parts with contributions from Fukumoto, Free Improv veteran trombonist Tetsuya Higashi and tenor saxophonist Kenichi Matsumoto, whose slow, gliding aural walk contains a sprinkling of split tones. With wounded rhino squeals from the baritone sometimes vying with Arabic-sounding high reed interludes, and a restless drummer whose boppish bomb-dropping mixed with steady rock-like thump alternately pays homage to Kenny Clarke and Rushs Neil Peart, other tracks seem to lack a cohesive vision.
Then again would the unison vocal spirit chanting that mixes with riffing horns on Wakerasuke have an additional resonance for an Oriental, rather than an Occidental audience? Older pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi wrote a similar section in a composition on her SHOGUN album years ago. With the sound reminiscent of a crowd at a sumo wrestling match or amateur talent time in Bedlam, it adds a confusing subtext to the piece. Otherwise its all daringly speedy bass runs, mewling trombone slurs, honking, dueling tenor sax lines plus octave jumps and piano clipping from the leader.
More catholic in conception than Fujiis CD, SPONTANEOUS is a sound monument to the bigger band currents that have been around since ASCENSION. Setting the pace with judicious rhythm at the beginning, Parker is subsequently heard as infrequently on his session as Fujii is on hers. Here he sets up the pulse, helps create some light, Gil Evans-like rhythmic underpinning, and then gets out of the way for the other 16 musicians.
Along the way Gold Sparkle Band (GSB) member Charlie Waters sounds out some shrill, split-tone swaggering clarinet tones and trumpeter Matt Lavalle moves from shrill slurs, a more mellow middle register and chromatic runs, with the double drum team hitchhiking along behind him. Lavalle ends his solo double-tonguing with an allusion to the Woody Woodpecker theme. Squealing, multiphonic alto work from Rob Brown, trombonist Dick Griffins more expansive brass vibrations, lockstep rhythmic patterns and double bass drum pedal action and press rolls set up other standards. As another point of difference between this group and Fujiis, tenor saxophonist Sabir Mateen may double time and swoop over the massed sections playing behind him, but you wouldnt confuse that work with what Joe Farell used to do with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band. This is especially true when Mateen introduces snarling panting dog tones.
Throughout, theres enough room for the soloists as there would be in more traditional big bands, yet riffing tutti passages, with the occasional high trumpet trill poking through the other sounds, provide the connective tissue to holds this together. By the end of the first track, the sections are moving as one, with themes sounded at different times varying the beat, all of which finally combine into a lumbering, shuddering end stop.
Dedicated to bassist Charles Mingus, there are times on the second track that the offbeat shuffle from the drummers -- who individually power the GBS or David S. Wares and Matthew Shipp projects -- plus the wiggling, blaring brass are more reminiscent of Sun Ras Arkestra or a studio funk band than anything Mingus wrote. Still Alex Lodico, playing Jimmy Knepper to Parkers Mingus, corkscrews out emphasized plunger tones with a bit of grit at the end, while longtime Parker associate, trumpeter Lewis Barnes glisses from bent notes to repetitions. As the band forges on polyrhyhmically, with a tubas pedal point ostinato added, trumpeter Roy Campbell, Parkers associate in Other Dimensions in Music, makes his way up the scale in half step grace notes backed by a steady walking pulse from the bassist. All around him the brass peck out their parts as the reeds surge and smudge the bar lines below them. As spontaneous hand clapping breaks out -- another Mingusian touch -- Matten overblows himself into dog whistle territory. Spurring the band forward as it undulates back-and-forth at the same time, his reed-shattering, incendiary tones serve the same incendiary purpose tenor saxophonist Booker Ervins did with Mingus. With the reeds and brass still detonating sounds every which way the piece fades away.
Whether your preference is for downtown Tokyo or downtown Manhattan, if youre a modern big band follower, youll probably want both these discs.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Spontaneous: 1. Spontaneous Flowers 2. Spontaneous Mingus*
Personnel: Spontaneous: Lewis Barnes, Roy Campbell, Matt Lavalle (trumpets); Dick Griffin, Masahiko Kono, Alex Lodico, Steve Swell (trombones); Dave Hofstra (tuba)*; Rob Brown (alto saxophone, flute); Ori Kaplan (alto saxophone); Charlie Waters (alto saxophone, clarinet); Sabir Mateen (alto and tenor saxophones); Darryl Foster (tenor and soprano saxophones); Dave Swelson (baritone saxophone); William Parker (bass); Andrew Barker, Guillermo E. Brown (drums)
Track Listing: Dawn: 1. Pakonya 2. Joh-Ha-Cue 3. Wakerasuke 4. Before the Dawn 5. Yattoko Mittoko
Personnel: Dawn: Natsuki Tamura, Yoshihito Fukumoto, Takao Watanabe, Tsuneo Takeda (trumpets); Hiroshi Fukumura, Haguregumo Nagamatsu, Tetsuya Higashi (trombones); Sachi Hayasaka, Kunihiro Izumi (alto saxophones); Hiroaki Katayama, Kenichi Matsumoto (tenor saxophones); Ryuichi Yoshida (baritone saxophone, flute); Satoko Fujii (piano); Toshiki Nagata (bass); Masahiro Uemura (drums)
December 15, 2003
ASSIF TSHAR and the ZOANTHROPIC ORCHESTRA
Embracing the Void
ASSIF TSHAR and the NEW YORK UNDERGROUND ORCHESTRA
Different as free jazz and New music, on show here are two distinct manifestations of the composing and arranging skills for larger groups by tenor saxophonist Assif Tsahar. Both are engrossing, remarkably mature, compositional works for someone best known for his impassioned blowing with the likes of bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake.
EMBRACING THE VOID has a slight edge however. Thats because all 14 members of the Zoanthropic Orchestra appear better able to personalize the emotional cauldron of Tsahar avant jazz pieces than the 19 musicians of the New York Underground Orchestra can contour THE LABYTINTH into a more original form.
VOIDs clearest antecedent seems to be The Jazz Composers Orchestra (JCO)s 1968 COMMUNICATIONS LP. Designed by Mike Mantler to showcase New Thing soloists such as cornetist Don Cherry, tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and pianist Cecil Taylor, it proved that heartfelt experimental music wasnt confined to small groups.
Tsahar, who was born in Israel the year after that JCO session was taped, and arrived in New York in 1990, has the same idea, but his 10-part, personalized suite is much more democratic. Nearly every one of the musicians gets a chance to solo here. More to the point, all of the music written by Tsahar appears to be intricately arranged so that each part meshes with the next.
Framed by squealing, post-Ayler solos by the tenor man in the first and -- in altissimo -or even sopranino pitch -- the final number, the almost 56-minute composition balances elements of jazz and other traditions with expressive atonality. Sometimes, as on Part 3, the music will contain Balkan and Klezmer components, mixed with some high frequency piano chording from pianist Craig Taborn, whinnying trumpet from Matt Lavelle and cellar deep blasts from Reut Regevs trombone.
With the other bone chairs filled by Curtis Hasselbring and Steve Swell, the Zoanthropic has a section reminiscent of Duke Ellingtons famed group, with any of the three able to express the restrained elegance of Lawrence Brown as well as more so-called primitive tones. Swell, a fixture in advanced Manhattan bands, is especially able to slide through a variety of plunger-affixed positions, creating a 1920s Jungle sound like a Internet age Tricky Sam Nanton.
Later on, a section with Mingus-like Holiness church boogie rhythm finds Swell and another Israeli-born downtowner, alto saxophonist Ori Kaplan, trading licks after the saxman has finished a screeching, triple tonguing solo, and as the band builds to a crescendo behind him. The piece also gives bassist Tom Abbs, Jump Arts mainman, enough breadth to individually sound out stinging arco notes.
When he wants to, Taborn, who has earned his spurs with reedist Roscoe Mitchell and altoist Tim Berne, can speed skate over the keys like a young Cecil Taylor. Other times he can be overtly bluesy, as on Part 9 when he sets up tenor saxophonist Aaron Stewarts floating mid-period John Coltranish solo. Stewart, part of the Fieldwork trio and sideman of choice for veteran pianist Andrew Hill, enlivens his outing with mid-range honks and extended techniques, centred on hissing air through his horn.
Elsewhere on the reed front, baritone saxophonist Alex Harding, a sometime Arkestra member gets to exhibit his dual identities on Part 4. At one point his tone is as mellow and well-modulated as Gerry Mulligan in his West Coast days, a few bars later hes digging up the buildings foundations with his reed, spewing out multiphonics as he smears his notes, nearly duking it out with the brass section.
As the band meanders from Basie to Boulez and back again, often youll note meticulously arranged unison passages playing off against a moving bass line, or hear the entire band creeping along behind the soloist. Gold Sparkle Band drummer Andrew Barker creates Sunny Murray-like polyrhythms one minute and produces varsity football half-time marching tempos -- complete with rim shots -- a few tracks later. POMO eclecticism is on tap as well on Part 5, which features Oscar Noriega, who has worked with pianist Satoko Fujii producing tongue-slapping Eric Dolphy emulations from his bass clarinet. Meanwhile, Anthony Braxton-associate cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum cuts across the bands massed stop time tutti with a screeching Cat Anderson-like tone.
Distressingly, a year later when Tsahar relocated from Manhattan to Brooklyn to conduct the New York Underground Orchestra through his sprawling, nearly 72½-minute The Labyrinth, it seems that some of these players werent available. In addition, three violinists, two violists, two cellists and three bassists joined the band, with the woodwinds confined to flutes and clarinets. The result seems more self-consciously philharmonic than, say jazz-classical. Plus many of the additional tones are muffled in the recording or the mix.
Not that there isnt impressive work here as well. Early on, trombonist Regev who on the earlier CD seems to be an adherent of the gritty Al Grey school creates some elegant muted passages in front of pulsating strings and horns. This symphonic backing dont prevent Noriegas bass clarinet to indulge in enough multiphonics to twist the strings echoing aviary tones. Later on, Charles Waters, another Gold Sparkle Band member, uses the string section sawing in the background to cushion a clean, clear clarinet solo that comes out half-Benny Goodman and half-Ornette Coleman (if the later ever played the licorice stick). And trumpeter Nate Wooley, although surrounded by a larger string section than in some of Stan Kentons more bloated orchestras, manages to at least push the orchestra into some conventional swinging passages.
Deficiency doesnt rest with the soloists. Its the orchestral passages, that with this string-heavy configuration, seems to meander from Debussy-like preciousness to New music bleakness to near-static minimalism. Tsahars conduction and writing on The 5th Path tries to work out of this conundrum. Muted -- or is it muffled? -- trumpet passages from Lavelle initially displayed on top of unvarying pizzicato pluck from the strings, are soon joined by Wooley for a dramatic fanfare which encompasses rooster crows and plunger work. As the strings move from diminuendo to crescendo and back, both brassmen create a stop time pulse as Tatsuya Nakatani showcases vibes, wood block and other unconventional percussion sounds.
Another time sweet violin and cello lines follow a brass choir intro that gives way to pealing percussion and the odd bass clarinet accent. Yet the andante motion seems merely movement for its own sake. On the last track are Jonah Sacks mournful cello presages, Impressionistic strings, twittering flutes and a clarinet and bass clarinet that seem to be trading fours oblivious of whats unrolling around them. Finally, an exaggerated, extended pianissimo chord is grasped by the reeds and horns until it fades away.
While re-creators -- read copyists -- like Wynton Marsalis, receive awards for using orchestral resources to calcify the tradition, innovators like Tsahar are trying to do something more with larger ensembles. Obviously he doesnt succeed every time. Plus there is some inexcusable sloppiness on the first discs booklet, where performers names are spelled incorrectly. Theyre correct below.
However, without trying to be hyperbolic, from the evidence here it would seem that one Tsahar almost-failure could be worth a few Marsalis so-called successes. Despite its weaknesses, THE LABYRINTH offers some thought-provoking music and EMBRACING THE VOID is a definite triumph. What more could a musically questing composer want?
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Void: 1. Embracing the Void Part 1 2. Embracing the Void Part 2 3. Embracing the Void Part 3. 4. Embracing the Void Part 4 5. Embracing the Void Part 5 6. Embracing the Void Part 6 7. Embracing the Void Part 7 8. Embracing the Void Part 8 9. Embracing the Void Part 9 10. Embracing the Void Part 10
Personnel: Void: Taylor Ho Bynum, Matt Lavelle, Antoine Brye (trumpets); Curtis Hasselbring, Steve Swell and Reut Regev (trombones); Ori Kaplan (alto saxophone); Aaron Stewart, Assif Tsahar (tenor saxophones); Alex Harding (baritone saxophone); Oscar Noriega (bass clarinet and alto saxophone); Craig Taborn (piano); Tom Abbs (bass); Andrew Barker (drums)
Track Listing: Labyrinth: 1. The lst Path 2. The 2nd Path 3. The 3rd Path 4. The 4th Path 5. The 5th Path 6. The 6th Path 7. The 7th Path 8. The 8th Path 9. The 9th Path 10. The 10th Path
Personnel: Labyrinth: Matt Lavelle, Nate Wooley, Marianne Giosa (trumpets); Reut Regev (trombone); Charles Waters (clarinet); Oscar Noriega (bass clarinet); Sabine Arnaud, Muriel Vergnaud (flutes); Melinda Rice, Jean Cook, Katie Pawluk (violins); Stephanie Griffin, Jessica Pavone (violas); Okkyung Lee, Jonah Sacks (cellos); Terrence Murren, Byrne Klay, Todd Nicholson (basses); Tatsuya Nakatani (percussion); Assif Tsahar (conduction)
May 5, 2003