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Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed


Mario Pavone Double Tenor Quintet

Mario Pavone Double Tenor Quintet - Ancestors Here’s to tripping over premature conclusions! On his day, Mario Pavone is one of the very best – and when on his game, by far the best – small-group composer/leaders working on the East Coast. He’s pretty much on his game here, with a bunch of fine new compositions, arrangements by Dave Ballou, former group trumpeter Steven Bernstein and label boss and exec producer and guitarist Michael Musillami, and a top-notch group which sounds as if it might have been running these moves for weeks before the actual recording.
This is the seventh Pavone set for the label since Sharpeville in 2000 (he’s also co-led three with Musillami) and it’s well up with Mythos and Orange, which both feature tenorist Tony Malaby, pianist Peter Madsen and in the latter case drummer Gerald Cleaver as well. That’s the beauty of having a settled group. You can throw them a bosky chart like “Ancestors” or “Iskmix” and count on them knowing exactly what you want. The main change between 2003 and now is the replacement of Bernstein with a second tenor player – hence Double Tenor Quintet – Jimmy Greene, who worked with Pavone on 2000’s superb Totem Blues.
It’s more a sign of confidence than of self-effacement that Pavone doesn’t seem inclined to include tunes like “Bass Song” and “2nd Bass” in his set-lists any more. His big, booming bass tone, honed on lessons with Bertram Turetzky, road-tested in the late Thomas Chapin’s group – drummer Michael Sarin, another Chapin associate, was Cleaver’s predecessor in this group – and the anchor-point to these shifting harmonic structures, is nicely balanced by the two saxophones, leaving Madsen to occupy the center, which he does sometimes conscientiously, sometimes (as on “Iskmix”) with a show of carelessness that is all the cleverer for coming back in right on the money just when you think he’s lost the plot. The presiding spirits of the album are the departed Dewey Redman and Andrew Hill, the latter explicitly namechecked on the final track. One hears Redman’s influence more clearly, though: that extraordinary way when with Ornette he seemed to keep the music stable and accessible without strain and without compromise. Malaby and Greene take turns with the role, but each is capable of doing something exceptional and individual, but not pointlessly idiosyncratic, with it.
The sound, supervised by Joe Marciano and Musillami, is exceptional. Pavone has rarely sounded so rich, but he sits back with the group rather than punching a hole in the sonic plaster and making a space for himself outside. It’s an exemplary piece of writing, of arranging, of playing, and of recording and production. The only thing I can find to complain about is that, almost unique in the current pile of overweight releases, is that it could have done with one more - be greedy, two more – tracks. Hell, a second disc. It’s that good.
–Brian Morton


Live at the Village Vanguard
Mosaic Select 32 3CD

Pendulum - Live at the Village Vanguard After the triumphant coming-out of Lookout Farm and Drum Ode for ECM, David Liebman seemed to find it hard to get some settled interest from the labels. A couple of things on Horizon, First Visit on West Wind, a briefly promising bite from CBS, and then a live date on Artists House that documented a one-off group residency at the Vanguard that went out as Pendulum. Whether the saxophonist really was swinging back and forth between rock and other musics and the jazz mainstream, or whether he was just marking time at this period isn’t obvious from the paper record. He was busy, but he wasn’t quite hard-docked into a style, and that seemed to trouble some of the commentators.
Quest was still some way down the road, but what was becoming clear was that whenever Richie Beirach was around, with that rich, almost soaked piano sound, Liebman’s own performance went up a notch. They seemed to represent a single creative personality, key holders to a musical realm still hard to verbalize, but somewhere on the curve of mysterious, simple, harmonically elusive, gently dislocated, lyrical but not ‘lyrical’, semi-abstract. Arguably – in fact, more than arguably – neither of them has done anything more interesting apart than they have done together. A revived Quest went back on the road just a couple of years ago – Redemption on hatOLOGY documents the second coming – and proved the point several times over.
My Artists House copy of Pendulum is now unplayable, which is testament to how often it was played in the first place. Hearing the remainder of the group’s February 1978 residency at the Vanguard has been like seeing the whole of landscape previously only glimpsed through a slit window. The original LP consisted only of the title track, “Piccadilly Lilly” and “Footprints.”  Spread over three CDs, it has a very different aspect.
It’s perhaps hard to give a sense of how unusual a program this might have seemed in 1978. It’s something of an exaggeration to say this, but thirty years ago, you were either playing Broadway standards or you were playing fusion. With honorable exceptions, there was remarkably little attention paid to modern jazz compositions and only very rarely did a group attempt this kind of coverage of the recent canon. Consider the run of tracks: the original LP had the relaxed but not unexciting “Piccadilly Lilly” in the middle of it, a selection intended not to scare the horses; CD two, though, begins with ‘There Is No Greater Love’, a bona fide standard that had remained in the modernist book partly through the offices of Chick Corea and Circle, continues with “Solar,” a long version, then another, slightly less astringent “Lilly,” and concludes with “Night and Day,” which few of the younger guys were taking on; CD three jumps into “Blue Bossa,”  “Well You Needn’t” and then takes a curiously elided look at “Impressions.”
On the last of these, Liebman seems barely to state the blues-based line before embarking on one of the most remarkable solos of his career. To be fair, what makes it special is the group response. Al Foster’s accents are second-perfect – he’s a drummer who brokers crudity into a kind of aesthetic perfection – Beirach’s chords tell you a whole different story about what Coltrane was doing, and the much underrated Frank Tusa provides the motor. “There Is No Greater Love” works very much the same way. This time it’s Brecker who states the theme – but only just – and it’s Beirach who proposes a whole new vista for the song: complex, in some ways mystifying, but ultimately logical. There is join in the thinking, but you’d have to be very quick to spot it and very churlish to deny them a minor cheat.
“Solar” isn’t going to get tagged as “limpid” either. Liebman’s tenor solo has real muscle and something approximating anger pushing it from behind. Again, Foster shows how confidently he’s able to bridge genres, delivering a brisk semi-quaver (that’s the real count) accompaniment that seems to tie up Big Sid Catlett and Lenny White in one package. It’s anti-bop drumming, which is interesting. On “Footprints,” Liebman plays soprano, otherwise he’d sound even more like Chico Freeman, who did a lot with tune, turning it into a funky/ambient thing with Brainstorm, pulling it inside-out and reconfiguring it to the point of being unrecognizable on his fierier, circular-breathing, long-form dates. As with so many of these performances, Liebman and Beirach seem to start inside the song and work outwards, rather than scaling its recorded history and then deconstructing that.
Again, it’s hard to nail down their chemistry. There are technical points you might look for, but there’s an uncertainty principle at work here. If you home in on Beirach’s piled-up fourths or awkward seconds, you miss what Liebman is doing at the same moment. If you pull up the faders on Liebman’s splitting of a chord, you fail to see what’s sitting just behind it, lending the music all those arcane new-physics qualities: “charm,”  “strangeness,” and so on.
This is a historic set. It sits well alongside Mosaic Select’s earlier survey of the Liebman/Beirach partnership. Hard to say which of them you ought to sample first. Either way, you can’t afford to miss them. This is what ultimately kept creative jazz going in the early 80s. These were the guys with the baton.
–Brian Morton


Barre Phillips + Joëlle Léandre
A l’improviste
Kadima Collective KCR 16

Barre Phillips + Joëlle Léandre - A l’improviste Kadima Collective is an organization of Israeli musicians founded in 2005. Its activities include concert productions and an active record label that has provided striking documentation of free improvisers in Israel, including very fine work by the soprano saxophonist Ariel Shibolet and the clarinettist/visual artist Harold Rubin. The association was founded by Jean Claude Jones who manages the label. Jones is himself an adventurous bassist (several Kadima releases document his work) and any bassist could take pride in releasing this duo performance,  first heard on Anne Montaron’s live Paris radio show  A l’improviste in March 2007.

Barre Phillips and Joëlle Léandre have few peers among improvising bassists, whether in terms of technical resource, imagination or empathy. Despite the expectations that their individual qualities might engender, though, their interaction here goes well beyond anything one might assume. Each is a master of both percussive and arco play, and each of the seven improvisations here has a marked fluidity, whether in the way it moves from phase to phase or the way in which it circles the initial materials. While one might expect the two to exchange accompanying roles – it is, after all, standard territory for bassists – there are almost no accompanying roles to be heard on the CD, full-out voices interacting and exchanging and absorbing one another’s materials at almost all times. On “Looking Atcha” the two bow continuously, moving in and out of upper-register harmonics and middle register melody until the conclusion, when the instruments seem to evolve naturally into Léandre’s singing voice. The extended “Scrieve” has pizzicato passages of striking emotional depth that unfold into still richer bowed expansions.

One doesn’t have to listen long to lose sight of the idea that these are basses or that only two instruments are involved, so strong is the sense of orchestra. It’s also difficult to know where one musician ends and the other begins, and the flexibility of bowed timbre that each possesses is another surprise. In fact, the combination of controlled invention and instrumental polish is such that you might not even think of the music as specifically improvised.
–Stuart Broomer


Bobo Stenson Trio
ECM 2023

Bobo Stenson Trio - Cantando Bobo Stenson is a musical ecumenicist, and it’s not just in the sense of bridging and combining different paths. There’s a definitely religious air about the way the Swedish pianist matches his strong melodic values and reflective depth with the characteristically resonant ECM piano sound. Part of his reach can be traced to his work with the supreme multi-culturalist Don Cherry, a connection celebrated here in both Cherry’s invocation of Africa, “Don’s Kora Song,” and by association, Ornette Coleman’s “A Fixed Goal,’ both vehicles for Stenson’s fluid melodic freedom. Elsewhere he reaches out to the classical realm for Alban Berg’s “Liebesode” and Czech composer Petr Eben’s “Song of Ruth,” originally composed for voice and organ and heard here in two versions. Argentina turns up in tangoist Astor Piazzola’s “Chiquilin de Bachin” and there’s also “Olivia” by Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodriguez. As broadly as Stenson casts his net, though, one doesn’t experience this variety as eclecticism. It’s the sound and manner of the trio that comes through strongest. Bassist Anders Jormin is an equal participant in the music, with a genuine lyric gift that’s apparent in his compositions like “Wooden Church” as well as in his playing, like the fleetly articulate solo on “Olivia” or the beautiful arco theme statement of “Liebesode.” Drummer Jon Fält is a recent addition to the group, but he’s already a distinct presence, contributing acute accents and sonic color (a brief snare flare-up; a sudden cymbal scrape) to the contemplative pieces and pulsing counter rhythms to the more animated material.
-Stuart Broomer


Trio Viriditas
Live at Vision Festival VI
Clean Feed CF115CD

Trio Viriditas - Live at Vision Festival VI Trio Viriditas came together in 2000 when German multi-instrumentalist Alfred Harth contacted bassist Wilber Morris to do some recordings during a visit to New York and asked Morris to choose a drummer. Morris chose Kevin Norton and the group’s first studio meeting was chronicled on one of the first Clean Feed recordings, waxwebwind@ebroadway, released in 2001. Future plans for the group ended with Morris’s death in 2002. This 2001 recording comes as a reminder that Trio Viriditas was a special group, both for its players’ individual strengths and their shared attitudes. They had a remarkably open, collective attitude to structure, working with many variants and both with and without predetermined material. Among the pieces here there are collective improvisations, compositions by each band member, and even a modern jazz standard. There are frequent shifts in texture as well: Harth plays regular and bass clarinets as well as his tenor saxophone and further employs a pocket trumpet, whether open or muted, usually for brief punctuations; Norton plays vibraphone as extensively as drums and bells.

Collective improvisations initially predominate, a form to which the three bring an instinctive elegance, often favouring medium tempos that highlight a shared talent for spontaneous melody. The elegiac “Hiranyagarbha” is highlighted by Morris’s singing bass glissandi and Harth’s clarinet set against vibraphone tremolos, while bass and drums set up a pulsing force field on “A wind reads ruts...”  Among the compositions, Morris’s “Melancholy” stands out, a ballad akin to a spiritual that brings out the inherent lyricism of the composer’s bass and Norton’s vibraphone along with Harth’s broad-stroke appropriation of the Albert Ayler ballad style, breathy warmth interrupted by sudden guttural or squealed interjections. The same “trio” (with Harth tenor, Norton vibes) finds the saxophonist generally more restrained on his own “Braggadocio,” a bluesy tune where Harth’s inside-out playing sometimes resembles the late George Adams in Harth’s genuine ability to swing and groove in an almost Arnett Cobb vein while freely wandering in and out of manic interjections and register extremes. There’s a Monk-like motion to “Fuer die Katz’s deli (ght)+Starbucks,” and the final “Peace” (Horace Silver’s) is simply gorgeous, bass, tenor and vibes (and cymbals) all dovetailing around the theme in an effusion of collective lyricism.

This is a late commemoration of a very fine band. It deserves to be widely heard.
–Stuart Broomer


Seymour Wright
Seymour Wright of Derby

Seymour Wright - Seymour Wright of Derby Recent technologies can create strange contradictions in their cultural impact. Readily available digital recording equipment and the easily reproduced CD made it possible to disseminate music at relatively low cost, resulting in far more music than anyone could hear and dovetailing with the increasing fragmentation of the audience. The problem has only been compounded by the ease of digital transfers. For the independent artist, it’s increasingly hard to fit potential sales of marginal material with minimum industrial runs for printing and pressing. While some of us await the disappearance of the physical product altogether, others resist the abstraction and anonymity of the download.

One response to this situation is the extremely limited edition, if possible distinguished by hand-made elements, whether signed or hand-printed. Scarcity has always been one of the keys to value, which is why Demoiselles d'Avignon is so valuable and a postcard of it (unless signed by Picasso) is relatively valueless. Seymour Wright of Derby is an example of the micro-edition. It’s a CD-R, with each copy hand-numbered out of 100. The CD is held in place by a soft rubber plug on a piece of the darkest blue paper that contains the requisite information printed in black which in turn is wrapped in the most beautiful piece of paper, sequences of abstract, mushroom-like red and purple blobs swirling amidst brown and mustard streams. It looks like cell microscopy but dates from the 18th century. What the packaging does here is lend traditional values of scarcity and visual beauty to a sonic medium. It’s one solution to our traditional expectation of an object in a world in which ease of repetition can cheapen music.

Here the physical uniqueness of the production is entirely appropriate to Wright’s music, which is rare (and valuable) work. Wright is the saxophone’s most mysterious architect. The music here is described as “improvised and about the saxophone - music, history and technique - actual and potential.” Sometimes Wright treats his alto as a percussion instrument; sometimes he fingers it while cradling it in his lap and passing a microphone over its keys. At other times Wright appears to be circular breathing, or else using the instrument’s air shaft to amplify a small electric motor.

There are four improvisations here, dating from 2005 to 2008 and ranging in length from about five minutes (each of 2005b and 2005c) to 18 minutes for 2008 and 26 for 2007, the last a kind of minimalist symphony with a series of episodes that at times seem to be lightly etched on silence. Each piece is dedicated to two to four individuals, and the dedicatees range from relatively conventional jazz musicians (Pepper Adams and Billy Higgins) to mentors and musical partners (Keith Rowe, Eddie Prévost and Evan Parker) and on to a Spanish chef (Ferrin Adria) and an English inventor, Trevor Bayliss, whose works include the wind-up radio, first created to disperse AIDS information in Africa. Voices occasionally arise here and Wright might be using one of Bayliss’s radios to play his saxophone.

One can only speculate about how Wright is getting his effects. At times there are percussion patterns that are so fast and regular that they sound like machines (the wind-up saxophone?); at another moment it sounds like he is blowing through the mouthpiece and the horn separately and simultaneously. Once one stops trying to decode fully Wright’s processes, the musical value emerges. These are subtle meditations creating a sonic landscape in which outer and inner worlds, the mechanical and the psychological, the rare and commonplace, the trite and significant, have come to share a common ground, exchanging values and meanings.

Seymour Wright of Derby can be downloaded free at:
 –Stuart Broomer

Intakt Records

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