In which the beleaguered reviewer attempts to make some headway into the mounds of CDs seeking reviews accumulating daily by providing quick hits on a few recordings at a time.
Roscoe Mitchell and the Note Factory - "Far Side"
AACM founding member and originator of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, reed and woodwind master Roscoe Mitchell continues to push the envelope with his sonic explorations. His Note Factory band was the culmination of Mitchell's "dream of putting together an ensemble of improvising musicians with an orchestral range." Far Side is Mitchell's first release with the Note Factory since 2003's The Bad Guys (also the second on the ECM label after 1999's Nine to Get Ready) is a 2007 live recording from Germany that features familiar voices well known to Chicagoan's - trumpeter Corey Wilkes and bassist Harrison Bankhead as well as not one, but two world class and cutting edge pianists - Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn. Bassist Jaribu Shaid and drummers Tani Tabal and Vincent Davis round out the group on this performance of four lengthy numbers (opening track "Far Side/Cards/Far Side" stretches out beyond 30 minutes) that explore space and texture. The opening track for example starts out sounding like chamber music from the Underworld, complete with free improvisation and Wilkes' Miles-like lines, before descending into chaotic skittering halfway through. The seventy-year-old Mitchell shreds like he is 27, Wilkes shows why he was the choice to succeed the late Lester Bowie with his intelligent, yet primal playing, the pianists clatter and rattle and the rhythm section undulate like volcano ready to blow. My only complaint is the sound on the basses is a bit muddied in the mix on this piece, but with all that is going on that may be to be expected. The second number is titled "Quintet 2007 A for Eight" and is the shortest number at more than 9-minutes that features bowed basses, chiming piano and intriguing changes of pace. The at-times jaunty "Trio Four For Eight" - with Mitchell's flute somewhat lightening the tone, and the frenetic closing "Ex Flover Five" continue Mitchell's original directions, while paring down the group into smaller segments at times. Avant garde jazz can be difficult at times, but at its best the music can be both exciting and thought-provoking. This recording offers music that is at times harrowing, at times resplendent, and certainly never boring.
Nelson Riveros - "Camino Al Barrio"
Straight out of East Harlem's barrio comes the exciting sounds of young Colombian-American guitarist Nelson Riveros' Camino Al Barrio . Riveros is joined here by Grammy-nominated keyboardist Hector Martignon, with bassist Armando Gola, drummer Ernesto Simpson and percussionist Samuel Torres filling out the basic ensemble. Things start off briskly with the Latin-flavored "Caipirinha." Written by Riveros, this is one of several original compositions by the guitarist that are joined by standards "Darn That Dream," and Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me," as well as one track written by Martignon. Guest vibraphonist Christos Rafalides makes his presence felt on three tunes, including the second track "Blue Cha-Cha" which as on the opening number again features Martignon on tasty Fender Rhodes. Riveros' style on the guitar shows more of a straight-ahead influence than one would initially suspect, but his clean tones and assured lines suit the music nicely. "Darn That Dream" succeeds as an energetic bossa, while spirits stay high on the exhuberant title track. Riveros even takes an enjoyable vocal foray on Luis Demetrio, on which he also shows excellent command of the nylon-string guitar. Riveros' voice is so effective that he may considering doing more along these lines in the future. Another guest, Andres Garcia makes his first appearance on the complex and moving "Los Primos" - playing the tiple (a small 12-string instrument) - on a piece that almost approaches the sound of fusion. "Song for Marta" is another engaging showcase for Riveros' confident melodic runs, that builds to a satisfying climax, while "Mis Amores" is a mysterious and melancholy combination of acoustic guitar and vibes. Martignon's "Second Chance" is a toe-tapping straight-ahead number with some fun changes, while the Porter tune comes across almost as vaudeville. Quite a solid debut full of fire and passion from a guitarist to keep an eye on.
Dave Holland Pepe Habichuela - "Hands"
Veteran bass virtuoso Dave Holland playing his acoustic bass like a flamenco guitar!?!? If that thought excites you (and it should) you will find Holland's new release with Spanish guitar legend Pepe Habichela a true delight. Habichuela is no stranger to working wirh jazz artists, having famously worked with Don Cherry and Jaco Pastorius among others, but the real surprise is how well Holland is able work within this idiom. That Holland is supremely talented helps, as does the fact that these two have been playing together for three years prior to this recording - which gives them an added comfort level. Here they are backed by New Flamenco band Ketema members Josemi and Carlos Carmona (guitars) and Juan Carmona (cajon and percussion) and Israel Porrina also on cajon and percussion, and the result is warm and exciting merger of two cultures that will please fans of gypsy jazz to no end. The title track is a sprightly fandango that opens the album nicely with impressive work by Habichuela, while Subi La Cuesta is a catchy tango with simply brilliant playing from Holland. Habicheula opens the tarantala "Camaron" with a stunning solo and is soon joined by Holland in an appealing duet performance. Holland brings a couple of more jazz-oriented compositions to the table: "The Whirling Dervish" is a deliciously twisted track - seemingly inspired by Chick Corea's "Spain" that is taken on a scenic trip to Madrid by his collaborators, while "Joyride" again demonstrates how jazz can be brought into the realm of the gypsies with satisfying results. This track also includes perhaps Holland's best solo on the album, which is saying something because the album is filled with great solos by Holland and Habichuela, including two excellent short solo tracks by the latter. At times exhilarating and at times mournful, as in the best of the genre, this release is a rewarding cross-cultural exchange that deserves your attention.
Tohpati Ethnomission - "Save the Planet"
Guitarist Tohpati is a member of the brilliant Indoenesian band Simak Dialog. Here he leads his Ethnomission band through eleven highly-rewarding tracks. Probably more of a progressive rock or jazz fusion combo, the recording features extremely high level performances by band members bass guitarist Indro Hardjodkoro, Sudanese flute player Diki Suwarjiki, percussionist Endong Ramdan and drummer Demas Narawangsa on music that ranges from highly composed unison and contrapuntal lines to free form improvisation. Centering it all is Tohpati's brilliant electric guitar and synth-guitar work, which seems to take players like John McLaughlin and Robert Fripp as influences. The title track is no folksy plea for peace, but an agrresive (albeit melodic) call to action against the unrestrained depletion of the matural resopurces of Mother Earth. "Sacred Dance" starts out like an edgier take on Martin Denny's tropical soundscapes, before Tohpati's angular guitar announces a descent into the inferno and the frenetic dancing of natives around a human sacrifice. But all ends well and we return to our island paradise unscathed. The too-short (only 1:47) "Drama" reminds one of King Crimson in the jungle, with Tohpati's skittering guitar work, rapid changes and heavy pounding. But not to worry, as the dyanamic energy continues on "Ethono Funk" - with a fiery and an almost bluesy guitar solo that Santana would be proud of. Another highlight is the entrancing and multi-rhythmic "Rain Forest" where the percussionists are finally set loose and all heck beaks out. "Let the Birds Sing" and "New Inspiration" offer multiple changes, exotic percussion and Suwarjiki's lovely flute, while the adventurous "Battle Between Good and Beast" lives up to its title with powerful work by all. It is great to hear the talented Hardjodkoro's incendiary bass solo on "New Inspiration" as his air-tight bass playing is a cornerstone of the overall sound. "Festive People" sounds like a hoedown albeit one with ever-shifting time signatures, while tha album ends with Tohpati's breathtaking solo piece - again appropriately-titled "Anger." Be sure to check out this spicy Indonesian album if you are into hearing complex jazz fusion music with a Far-Eastern bend.
Nadav Snir-Zelniker - "Thinking Out Loud"
Israeli-born drummer Nadav Snir-Zelniker's debut proves to be a suprisingly gratifying trio release with veteran bassist Todd Coolman and former Gerry Mulligan pianist Ted Rosenthal as his counterparts. Mixing originals and lesser known numbers with well-chosen standards, this threesome capers across the songs with energy and a joyous bounce. Case in point, the luminous opener - "Pizmon Layakinton (Song for the Hyacinth)" where all three members of the group work perfectly together as equals to produce a lighthearted track with suprising depth. Snir-Zelniker adds some chewy drum fills to bring the number to a close, but the fun is only beginning, as his original number "Longing" simmers with the kinetic energy of three talented players working in close conjunction with each other. There is always a noticeable sense of electricity when players are well-matched and in tune with one another and that feeling is apparent on this fine recording. Sammy Fain's "Secret Love" is given a strong presentation, with Coolman walking like there is no tomorrow and Snir-Zelniker taking a robust solo. Nor are ballads ignored, as on the bandleader's original waltz "The Hard Way," which is given a loving caress by his sensitive partners. Coolman solos well here, and also adds the melodic lead on Bill Evans' "Interplay" - another highlight, along with the Latin-infused version of Strayhorn's "Isfahan" and Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies." Great solos by all three players occur throughout are surrounded by excellent interplay and interesting arrangements (mostly by Snir-Zelniker and Idan Santhaus) on the rest of this compelling album, which ends with Rosenthal's original "Carefree" - which lives up to its title and offers a sunny end to this enjoyable trio album.
Darden Purcell - "Easy Living"
It's easy living indeed while relaxing and listening to singer Darden Purcell take on this choice set of classics. Starting off with some nice scatting, Purcell tears into "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" - which also features some fine work on the piano by Chip Stephens and tenor saxophone by Chip McNeill. Besides having two Chips in her band, Purcell possesses a smooth and confident voice with an appealing presence. A sultry tango version of "Comes Love" is a highlight with some pleasing guitar by Shawn Purcell and Darden's ability to sell the lyrics. For me, however, the standout track may be the version of Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard's "Alice in Wonderland" - which is often covered as an instrumental, but here shines in all its lyrical glory, and even offers a too-rare Dennis Carroll bass solo. Purcell's relaxed phrasing continues even on the funked-up "Love For Sale" which again showcases Shawn Purcell's guitar work to good effect. McNeill pulls out the soprano saxophone for a sexy and somewhat mournful take on Carole King and Gerry Goffin's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" which enhances the underlying fear inherent in the lyrics. More delights follow, including the swinging and bluesy "Your Red Wagon," three Harold Arlen tunes ("Last Night When We Were Young," "Get Happy' and improbably "Ding, Dong! The Witch is Dead"), "You Don't Know What Love Is" and the album-ending title track - all of which are performed well by the band and sung with charm by Purcell. Hearing these tunes in this setting is an agreeable experience and Purcell is clearly comfortable with these melodies. As engaging as this recording is, I'd almost hope to hear this singer stretch out even more with a bit more power and edge and show us what heights I believe she is more than capable of reaching (more scatting perhaps?), but in the interim, this is a beautiful release and a great start to a talented singer's recording career, and I wish her the best.
The Lynn Baker Quartet - "Azure Intention"
Saxophonist Lynn Baker has been the Director of the Jazz Studies program at the University of Denver's Lamont School of Music since 1993. Two of the members of his quartet: pianist Reggie Berg and drummer Paul Mullikin are graduates of the program, while Brazilian-born bassist Bijoux Barbosa is well-regarded player on the Denver scene. Meanwhile, the compositions on Baker's excellent release Azure Intention were written by the artist over a twenty year period. These factors contribute to a record that is shimmering and sophisticated, with space given to all of the players to fill in their own shading. "Color Line" starts things off in a thoughtful mood (it references the ethnic violence that occurred in Denver in 1993) with Baker's smoky soprano over a moody rhythm section that perfectly captures the sadness without becoming maudlin. Berg is a well-chosen complementary performer on the piano - and his solo here is a model of graceful inventiveness, while Barbosa adds a bass solo that maintains both mood and groove on this highly satisfying number. The lovely and bittersweet "Lament" follows with Baker switching to tenor and Millikin showing considerable sensitivity in his support. Again the song itself and the atmsophere created are what counts here, as opposed to showing off "chops." The assured flow of this song is such a pleasant diversion from the usual frenetic pace and "look at me" attitude that afflict much modern music and musicians. And again Berg's solo is as natural as a flowing stream. The calm is stirred with the rhythmic "Into the Blues" on which Baker hints at some of the avant garde sounds he has explored with his free-form improvisational trio Ryhthmic Void. But the song also offers a lengthy middle section of pulsing rhythm drone over which Berg layers free form piano trills and it also surprisingly shifts into straight ahead swing. "Happy New Year" is perhaps the pop tune of the album, with a Carribean rhythm and light and joyous melody. The rest of the album follows suit with enjoyable and mature songs, with the waltzing "Davids Tune," peaceful title track, strutting "Appalachian Shuffle" and constantly-shifting "Spinning" rounding out this remarkable recording into which an obvious amount of care has been taken to gift their listeners with music of depth and color too rare in these days.
Exploding Star Orchestra - "Stars Have Shapes"
Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra continues to explore the cosmos on their new Delmark release - Stars Have Shapes. The 20:14 opening track "Ascension Ghost Impression" presents a whirling mass of sound that builds to a climax about halfway through before truning into a lovely 1930's orchestral interlude that disintegrates into the chaos - not unlike finding a random radio signal while circling a black hole. The 14-piece orchestra includes Nicole Mitchell on flute, Greg Ward on alto sax, Mike Reed and John Hearndon on drums and Jason Adasiewicz on vibes, along with Jeb Bishop on trombone, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Carrie Biolo on gongs and percussion, Jeff Kowalski on piano, Matt Bauder on reeds and Matthew Lux and Josh Abrams on bass guitar and acoustic bass respectively. On top of all these various sounds, Mazurek adds his cornet (often effected and multi-tracked) and a multitude of "electro-acoustic constructions" from Brazilian rain to the humming of electric eels. Lest anyone think this is only of the floating world, the band gets almost funky on "ChromoRocker" - with nice unison work from Mitchell and Adasiewicz. The mysterious "Three Blocks of Light" is a lengthy and relatively calm and meditative droning piece with lots of nice interplay and sonic surprises, while the album-ending "Impression #1" offers more conventional movement. Dedicated to the memory of the late Fred Anderson and Bill Dixon, this release will please fans of Muzurek's previous work while also engaging jazz fans looking for something different.
Eli Degibri - "Israeli Song"
The Israeli invasion continues (see our review of Nadav Snir-Zelniker above) with artists like Avashai (trumpet) and Anat Cohen, Anat Fort and the other Avashai Cohen (bass) among others making the scene in NYC. Saxophonist Eli Degibri has been a member of bands led by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, while also releasing four prior albums of his own. What sets this new release apart is the stellar band he has put together, including pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Al Foster. This all-star group performs six Degibri originals and two standards, while each bringing one composition of their own to the project. The album starts off in an understated manner with Mehldau's "Unrequited" - Degibri gently caressing the melody on soprano. It's an engaging way to pull the listener in as Mehldau does his magic on the keyboard and Carter and Foster add the type of support only such A-list musicians are able to provide. Degibri's relaxed "Mr. R.C." (written for Ron Carter as Mr. P.C. was written by John Coltrane for Paul Chambers) has the saxophonist switching over to tenor, while "Judy the Dog" features rapid and dizzying shifts aplenty. "Jealous Eyes" is a forthright ballad with a memorable melody, while "Manic Depressive" is a somewhat warped blues. Degribi and Foster take on Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop" as a duet, while the saxophonist perfroms in tandem with Mehldau on "Liora." Al Foster's "Look What You Do to Me" is funky fun with a strong Foster solo, while Carter's waltzing "Third Plane" is a knockout display of band interplay. The third duet is a beautiful "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" with Ron Carter, before the record ends with Degibri and Mehldau dueting again on the title track. Degribi says in the liner notes that this recording is the culmination of his dream to play alongside his musical heroes, and with this fine recording showcasing his highly-technical, yet impassioned playing and solid compositional abilities, Degrbi has crafted an album that should start to bring some deserving name recognition to this strong up-and-coming young player.
Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast - "It Would Be Easier If"
NYC-based reed player Ken Thomson is probably most known as a cofounder of the successful guerilla jazz band "Gutbucket." With this outfit, he combines jazz improvisational sensibility with classical-like arrangements and aggressive directions - in a mixture he aptly calls "21st-Century Third Stream." Primarily playing bass clarinet (and some alto sax) he is joined by trumpeter Russ Johnson, guitarist Nir Felder, bassist Adam Armstrong and drummer Fred Kennedy. "Kleine Helmet" opens things with lovely bass clarinet and trumpet unison lines over swirling guitar chords and an attentive rhythm section. The music floats freely along with stellar solos by the front line members. Meanwhile, "Goddamn You Ice Cream Truck" is bruising industrial rock and jazz - with Thomson switching to alto sax to pair with Johnson on lengthy lines over pounding rhythms, and Felder turning up his amp before cutting loose with an angular Robert Fripp-style guitar solo. The 11:01 "No, no, no" is almost funereal, but reveals an understated beauty in its gradual unfurling. Special guest Melanie T. Sheman adds delightful glockenspiel to the excellent "Wanderangst" - which revels in its chamber music trappings, while offering interesting elements like Thomson's bass clarinet doubling the bass line with Armstrong under Johnson's long soaring trumpet lines. The piece comes to a suprising conclusion that almost recalls throbbing progressive rock, before the band moves into the stately title track - which ends the album on a mesmerizing note. A rewarding debut that exhibits considerable promise for further explorations in the future.