Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed


Oliver Lake Trio
hatOLOGY 639

Oliver Lake Trio - Zaki Recorded at the Willisau Festival in 1979 by the Lake trio with guitarist Michael Gregory Jackson and Pheeroan akLaff, Zaki captures Lake at a particular high. One might thematize the performance as a liberation from Lake’s primary vehicle in the period, the World Saxophone Quartet, which was also performing at Willisau. The trio heard here is far more interactive than the WSQ and treats its themes more freely. The opening version of the title tune stretches to 25 minutes, a wandering motivic exploration of its melodic materials in which Lake is almost recklessly inventive. Away from the WSQ, Lake features his tenor playing occasionally, demonstrating a substantial debt to Albert Ayler not evident in his alto playing. Jackson provides an interesting foil to Lake. The guitarist is a more conservative (even cautious) player; he tends to simplify materials and maintain a certain level of order. While his solos can contain too many repeated and transposed phrases, Jackson also bring an elemental quality to the music, apparent in his playing on Lake’s “Shine” and even more apparent on his own “5/1,” that dovetails with Lake’s own blues and R&B roots. Lake’s interaction with the guitarist is ambivalent—sometimes he’ll extend Jackson’s phrases; at another point he seems impatient, as in that extended opener, when some minimalist chording of Jackson’s inspires a sudden soprano solo. What’s most arresting here along with Lake’s sheer fleetness of finger and mind, is the way he is heir to the special elegance of both Dolphy and Ayler, as essential a quality as their expressionism. akLaff, meanwhile, is everything you might expect him to be, a drummer capable of being thunderously propulsive, subtly interactive and both melodic and polyrhythmic. It’s a collection of strengths that helps everything else. At times raw and slightly disorganized, this is usually inspired playing.
-Stuart Broomer


Joëlle Léandre + Kevin Norton
Winter in New York / 2006
Leo CD LR 499

Leandre + Norton - Winter in New York / 2006 If ever two players were capable of emancipating their respective instruments from the “rhythm section” ghetto, here they are. Joëlle Léandre has, of course, a long background in art music, interpreting works by John Cage and Giacinto Scelsi, but she also has a substantial recording history as an improviser, very largely in duo situations. That “also” may imply a false distinction, for her “classical” work often sounds as free and spontaneous as her “improv” projects sound structured. At all times, she remains focused on sound – rather than line or harmony – as a foundational aspect of the work rather than a secondary quality. Her bass playing, particularly in the upper register heard most effectively here on “Winter December #6”, is subtly inflected. One listens to it much as one might look at microstrokes on a painterly canvas and sometimes that close-up attention diverts from fascinating dialogue with a playing partner.

Kevin Norton, I’d suggest, is the most interesting percussionist around at the moment, having taken up not just the same berth in the Braxton group, but the ultimately far more interesting task of reaching out from within jazz to other areas of percussion language. His privileging of tuned percussion – mostly vibes – over the drum-kit shouldn’t mislead. Norton has an ability shared with some European percussionists, and notably Eddie Prevost, of maintaining a strong sense of pulse, even of swing, while seeming to move in the direction of pure texture and timbre. In many ways, he remains closer to the Braxton aesthetic than does Gerry Hemingway, whose role in a “classic” quartet is now perhaps overvalued. Norton seems to work from within specific language-areas, his materials chosen freely but constrained by clear though unstated principles of organization, in much the way the saxophonist’s various “musics” permit selection and repetition within an essentially open-ended performance logic.

Put together, the two approaches are immediately complementary. Léandre’s past duo associations have included fellow-bassist William Parker, violinist India Cooke, trombonist Sebi Tramontana, pianists Giorgio Occhipinti, Ryoji Hojito and Gianni Lenoci, bass koto player Kazue Sawai and, way back, accordionist and clarinettist Rudiger Carl. Interestingly, though, with the exception of Danielle P. Roger on 1999’s Tricotage (Ambiances Magnétiques) and Mark Nauseef on the more recent Evident (482 Music), I don’t remember her working in a duet with a “drummer”. It may be that she resists any situation that is likely to impose a linear logic on the music. With Norton there are no fears of that. On almost all of these cuts, he seems to occupy musical spaces and to work within certain atmospheres that have their own barometric signature and chemistry. There’s nothing haphazard about any of these tracks, each of which has a unique character. If Léandre’s vocalizing isn’t as effective or as prominent as usual, that may be an unintended reflection of what Norton is doing. This is a remarkable collaboration, and one that sounds capable of delivering more.
-Brian Morton


Steve Lehman Quintet
On Meaning
Pi 25

Steve Lehman Quartet - On Meaning “Post-bop” might be too vague a term to signify much now, but On Meaning might return a certain specificity to the term, describing that glorious version of the “New Thing” that proliferated at Blue Note in the mid-sixties, an orderly music that explored compound phrase lengths and a free approach to complex harmonies and polyrhythms. Alto saxophonist Steve Lehman seems to pick up jazz discourse at that point and advance it logically to the present. His music is almost always orderly – cool, well-constructed – and his quintet even sounds like one of the truly great Blue Note albums of the period, using trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, vibraphonist Chris Dingman, drummer Tyshawn Sorey, and bassist Drew Gress (the only veteran in a band of 20-somethings) to suggest Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch or Jackie McLean’s One Step Beyond. And they do more than sound that way: they actually interact inventively around complex composed material on the level of that generally lost music, like Bobby Hutcherson and Tony Williams, et al.

That could only come from incredible selectivity and familiarity on Lehman’s part in assembling the band (studies at Wesleyan and/or Columbia and the associated mentoring of Anthony Braxton and/or George Lewis connect some of the players; Lehman also studied with McLean), but the results also represent his acumen as a composer. The pieces are put together in a variety of ways, including structures that play with notions of background and foreground, asymmetrical vamps, compound tempi and microtonality. While the pieces are relatively brief (eight tracks occupy about 45 minutes), they achieve satisfying density through extended use of contrapuntal improvising and continuous use of the horns to fulfill structural roles. Lehman’s own playing is particularly distinctive – a coiled intensity that can shift suddenly to multiphonics, negotiate a minefield of compositional signs, or maintain a continuous linear focus. This is required hearing.
-Stuart Broomer


Lee Morgan
Volume 2: Sextet
Blue Note: RVG Edition 0946 3 92779 2 6

Volume 3
Blue Note: RVG Edition 0946 3 92746 2 8

Lee Morgan - Volume 2: Sextet Even though Lee Morgan was a brilliant improviser as a teenager, he did not mature as a composer for close to a decade after his initial big splash. Without a book of his own tunes ready for his early Blue Note dates in 1956-7, the trumpeter’s phenomenal talents were framed by Benny Golson’s urbane arrangements on four albums. Intriguingly, the tenor saxophonist, who would share the front line of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in ’58 with Morgan, only played on Volume 3; on Sextet, Hank Mobley has the tenor chair, and it’s an added bonus to hear the earthier Mobley take on Golson’s suave spin on the hard bop idiom on the earlier date. These two sextet dates confirm the emphasis on Golson’s writing to be an inspired move, as the saxophonist’s three-horn charts had the net effect of making Morgan sound older than his lean years, but without stifling his precociousness. The case in point is Morgan’s solo on “Whisper Not” from Sextet, which finds him easily slipping between lithe melody, hard bop bluesiness and a sly quote of “Pop Goes the Weasel.” In his solo on “Slightly Hep” (also on Sextet), Morgan skillfully exploits Golson’s knack for embedding pungent contrary movement in his bass lines and chord changes. Conversely, Morgan can testify on Golson’s supple changes, even on tunes like “Hasaan’s Dream” on Volume 3, which drops Wynton Kelly’s piano and adds alto saxophonist Gig Gryce’ flute to emphasis the Arabian air of the tune. Morgan also expertly slaloms through Golson’s quirkier changes, particularly the 34-bar choruses of “Mesabi Flats.” It’s useful to remember that Sextet featured another teenager – alto saxophonist Kenny Rodgers – who was good enough to cut it on a Blue Note date with such heavyweights as Mobley and the rhythm section of Horace Silver, Paul Chambers and Charlie Persip (the later two reunite on Volume 3), but is frankly outshined by Morgan.
-Bill Shoemaker


Simon Nabatov + Nils Wogram
Jazz Limbo
Leo CD LR 492

Nabatov + Wogram - Jazz Limbo “Limbo” in what sense? And, a “sonata” in what sense? Nabatov isn’t scared of extra-musical issues, as his imaginary soundtracking of The Master and Margarita and of Joseph Brodsky’s fierce poem Nature Morte bears out (both titeles issued by Leo). Wogram was involved in the latter recording, back in 1999, but his association with the pianist goes back a half-decade before that, and has continued since on things like Starting a Story for ACT, so these two understand very well what they’re about together.

Nabatov’s a classically trained player whose main playing influence seems to be Herbie Nichols. Wogram is likely to cite Ligeti as a starting point. Sometimes they’ve even played at coming out of different musical realms, as on “Keep Going” from Starting a Story where piano and trombone tracks seemed to have slipped so that the only interaction between the instruments was right in the middle. It was odd, but also very effective in dispelling the start-together, stop-together thing that is often the only comfort zone available to improvisers who lack these guys’ enormous hinterland.

Nabatov got his start depping for Dick Wellstood (of all people) in a small Italian jazz club. You get the feeling he could play boogie or stride all night, or give you an off-the-peg Messiaen, Shostakovich and Scriabin recital. Everything has logic and direction, even if the direction isn’t clear. Wogram, by contrast, is happy to pace around, snort and clear his throat until you realize he isn’t preparing to make a statement; he already has. Together – and these guys wouldn’t be mistaken for twins any more readily than Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny De Vito – they make an unlikely composite, a conjoined personality whose language is neither “jazz” nor “classical”, but not certainly not a bland “hybrid” either. So, back to that opening quiddity. It maybe does add up to some whacked-out sonata, though without much in the way of sonata form, but unless Simon and Nils are saying that they’re happy to be the only denizens of a Limbo abolished both by the Church and by the conclave of eclectics who determine what’s in and what’s out (and who’ve determined that for the moment everything is in), then I don’t see them working in Limbo either but rather in a kind of creative utopia whose virtual dimensions are generous enough for these two grand spirits.
-Brian Morton

Playscape Records

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