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Reviews of Recent Recordings
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Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet
Apparent Distance
Firehouse 12 FH12-04-01-014

Taylor Ho Bynum is perhaps the most accomplished of Anthony Braxton’s former students at Wesleyan; in addition to developing his own unique identity as a composer, Bynum also continues to serve as one of Braxton’s key collaborators. Although Bynum’s interest in modular compositional theory bears the subtle influence of Braxton’s esoteric methodologies, the young cornetist has fashioned his own approach, seamlessly fusing disparate genres into unorthodox narratives that follow their own labyrinthine logic – an aesthetic fully manifest on his sextet’s 2007 debut, The Middle Picture (Firehouse 12).

The Sextet has been Bynum’s primary working group for the last five years. Compared to the original line-up, the current incarnation boasts far more conventional, horn-heavy instrumentation. Electric guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Tomas Fujiwara are the only holdovers from the prior iteration, with alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, bass trombonist Bill Lowe and contrabassist Ken Filiano replacing tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder, electric guitarist Evan O’Reilly and violist Jessica Pavone. Each member has performed with Bynum in other configurations over the past decade; their familiarity with his writing and greater instrumental range enables a far more expressive palette than the string-dominated version allowed.

Apparent Distance is the Sextet’s third release, comprised of an episodic four-part suite brimming with circuitous melodies, modulating rhythms and dynamic transitions. Loosely conceived as a virtual "concerto for sextet," Bynum arranges personalized solo interludes that highlight each member’s unique strengths – a practice inspired by Duke Ellington, one of the leader’s heroes. Bynum introduces "Part I: Shift," alone, his pinched musings summoning a subdued horn chorale that is suddenly upended by a careening vamp on "Part II: Strike," which fuels a turbulent scuffle between Hobbs and Halvorson. Hobbs’ dithering attack makes a perfect foil for the guitarist’s glassy fretwork; his sinuous cadences and wavering vibrato mirrors Halvorson’s expansive range perfectly. Their boisterous interplay gradually dissipates into pensive quietude, enabling Lowe and Filiano to plumb tonal depths unimagined by the previous formation. The tranquility of the moment carries over into the introduction of "Part III: Source," spearheaded by Halvorson, whose crystalline filigrees provide a graceful segue from austere introspection to driving swing. Her cleanly articulated arpeggios pitch shift between octaves as Filiano and Fujiwara progressively materialize, slowly drawing her into a swirling undercurrent in support of a string of rousing horn solos. Though Bynum heads the charge, his splintery brass fragments magnanimously blend in with Lowe and Hobbs’ visceral excursions. Fujiwara’s valedictory drum cadenza leads into "Part IV: Layer," which mirrors the suite’s neoclassical beginnings before ascending to a dramatic climax of discordant overtones, concluding the suite on an unsettled note.

Transcending the disassociated post-modern quality of many similar efforts, Bynum’s eclectic efforts position him among the upper echelon of today’s most forward-thinking young artists. Apparent Distance is a prime example of Bynum’s exemplary skills as a multifaceted artist and a captivating document of his flagship ensemble.
-Troy Collins

 

The Claudia Quintet +1 + Kurt Elling + Theo Bleckman
What Is The Beautiful?
Cuneiform RUNE 327

I discovered Kenneth Patchen’s work in an Edinburgh library at the age of 18. I had to be thrown out at the end of the day and briefly considered stealing the expanded Selected Poems I had been reading. I stood on the pavement outside, trying to get used to the light, determined to track the poet down, ask him about language and about jazz, converted and reprogrammed, completely certain that discipleship would not be rejected. Exactly one day later, I read that he had died. This is true.

I’ve never grieved so thoroughly for a person I never met, and Patchen’s work occupies a special place still on my shelves and in my heart. He still doesn’t have much of a cisatlantic reputation, even in this centenary year, though a few brave souls at the New Departures end of the spectrum have continued to talk up his pacifism and his magnificently undissociated creativity, which included painting, typography, the making of objects and the easy congress of poetry and jazz.

I think of him as the St. Paul of modern art and letters, someone who came along long after the great Modernist eruption, or after the Christ-like personification of Walt Whitman, but gave it shape and substance, and real humanity. Both Paul and Patchen had broken bodies. Both have rarely been appreciated for the sheer bleak majesty of their worldview, a sense of clinging on for dear life as we hurtle through a determinist universe with only the promise of bodily sacrifice for succour. Paul is often blamed for turning a pure faith into an institutional religion. Patchen’s response to formal religion might be gauged here from “Beautiful You Are.” He’s sometimes suspected of having attempted too much – no one likes a show-off – and for having committed himself to the totality of imaginative art, an enterprise which inevitably takes him outside the jurisdiction of the critical establishment. He’s like Paul, too, in that the “Damascus road” revelation was something invented for him by others, a trope for a long, slow commitment (not “conversion”) to the most rugged of modern faiths.

It’s worth saying (almost) right away that I revere John Hollenbeck only a degree or two less than I do Patchen. The drummer’s unfolding body of work seems to me the bravest and sanest and most consolingly rigorous of recent times. There is no shortage of admiring text on his Claudia Quintet, which is neither his popularly accessible group, nor exclusively his group at all, since it depends on the collaborative gifts of accordionist Ted Reichman, reed man Chris Speed, vibraphonist Matt Moran, bassist Drew Gress and pianist Matt Mitchell.

The bravest aspect of Hollenbeck’s settings of Patchen – recited or sung here by Kurt Elling and frequent collaborator Theo Bleckmann – is how confidently he has the music stand in literal correlative to the texts. One hears it right at the beginning as Elling emcees the performance, with a bass unison behind “Showtime.” It happens again on “What Is The Beautiful?” with its “Pause. / And begin again” internal cadence. This is an astonishingly difficult thing to pull off with lapsing into the worst kind of musical theatre banality, but Hollenbeck does it with such grace that his cabaret effects segue into free – or free-seeming – passages without a hint of hesitation or awkwardness. The score’s “breathing” sounds, free reeds and tightly compressed reeds, work against the wood and metal sounds in a way that reminds me strangely of Sofia Gubaidulina’s music; it would be intriguing to find out if Hollenbeck listens to her. The alternation of two voices gives a strangely sexless, but by no means neuter, cast to the whole.

I live just a mile or two from one of the many shrines to Robert Burns in this part of the world, so it comes to something to be able to say that Patchen’s democratic credo, with its apocalyptic architecture, is the greatest poetic statement of humanity and faith, and of faith in humanity, that I have ever read. “I believe that what is best in me, / Shall be found in every man. / I believe that only the beautiful / Shall survive on the earth.” One of the great mistakes of Patchen criticism, or casual admiration of the poet, has been to portray him as a heretic. The word derives from “choice,” has nothing to do with subversion or nay-saying. The truth is that Patchen, latterly broken-backed and immobile, set no store by human choice. He, like John Hollenbeck here, seems driven along by inevitabilities, the grace coming from how the inevitable is accepted and aesthetically transformed. Here’s the poet, long before the fact, describing the aural shape his words take here:

I believe that the perfect shape of everything
Has been prepared:
And, that we do not fit our own
Is of little consequence.
Man beckons to man on this terrible road.
I believe we are going into the darkness now:
Hundreds of years will pass before the light
Shines over the world of all men . . .
And I am blinded by its splendour.

Pause.

And begin again.  

–Brian Morton

 

Jon Corbett’s Dangerous Musics
Kongens Cade
Leo CD LR 617

Not to be confused with Chicago critic John Corbett, Jon Corbett is a British trumpeter best known in the US for his work with Barry Guy’s London Jazz Composers Orchestra. Dangerous Musics is the trio of Corbett, playing mostly trumpet, bassist Nick Stephens, and drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo. Kongens Cade is my first experience of Corbett’s own idea of music, a good example of free improvisation’s pleasures and pitfalls. The title piece, 16 minutes long, is especially flowing, sustained. Muted trumpet and pizzicato bass begin by nipping at each other’s broken licks. When Stephens begins playing drooping double stops, Moholo-Moholo joins to enhance him and Corbett plays brittle commentary. There’s a first peak of intensity topped with very long, slow trumpet trills, then after a bass solo, high, piping trumpet and high bass notes lead to a second, more subtle, slowly gathering trio climax. Corbett doesn’t take out his tight mute until less than two minutes before the end.

From time to time you can hear the good, warm feelings of “Kongens Cade” on the other three long tracks. Corbett’s improvisations are all long. Quite his favorite material is fragmentary licks, often tiny-noted, almost Evan Parkerish quickies, separated by 2-4 seconds of space. Most of his improvisations arrive at a relief passage of very long phrases or trills, which introduces a fleeting sense of shape. Sometimes he and Stephens engage in interplay. Often as not Corbett’s very broken playing seems merely to decorate the bass lines, plucked or bowed. Since the bass has more octaves and Stephens’ ideas are more varied and developed at greater length, he provides this music’s continuity. Moholo-Moholo is most intriguing, with his fast patter of what sounds like fingers on a frame drum, and the converging and diverging of his cymbal-skin-wood colors. He is so sensitive to the weight and tuning and relations of his sounds and to his feelings for the other two musicians – this is truly drumming “for the benefit of the band,” as Baby Dodds said.

For a bit of variety, Corbett plays two minutes of bamboo flute in “The Lash,” again limited to tiny notes, and he begins “The Last Mohari” with two minutes of good trombone.
–John Litweiler

 

Corkestra
Gas Station Sessions
Platenbakkerij PB001

Dutch keyboardist-composer Cor Fuhler’s Corkestra is a seemingly whimsical collection of instruments, featuring flutist Anne La Berge, Tobias Delius on tenor and clarinet, Xavier Charles on clarinet, Andy Moor on guitar, Nora Mulder on cymbalom (a large hammered dulcimer), Wilbert de Joode on bass, and percussionists Tony Buck and Michael Vatcher (who doubles on the singing saw). They have a rather twittery treble sonority lacking the usual big band punch of brass. And yet, it has an oddly affecting sound that can also be surprisingly powerful at times.

There are great soloists among the nine players, but this is really ensemble music. Fuhler’s scores provide building blocks for the band’s performances rather than fully realized charts. He’s written charming little melodies, riffs, and vamps that are often awkward in a sweetly ironic way; pieces in which time values are specified but not pitches, others in which the reverse is true; and he allows the musicians to skip notes, play sharp or flat, or take other liberties. He dumps the scores in a heap before the players and lets them assemble them however they’d like.

The band’s valiant struggle to maintain the cartoony bounce of “Olive Oil” against errant interjections and blasts hurled at the melody ends up being both comical and rueful in a plucky Buster Keaton sort of way. The very absurdity of the effort is unexpectedly touching. There is also something brave and hopeless in the band’s equanimity as they try to establish a swinging beat in the face of clunky awkward riffs and destabilizing drums on “Appletree.”

However they don’t always aim for the straight-faced comic effect; it would grow wearisome after a while. They fashion a big sculptural block of sound on “Durst,” a static, imposing mass layered and pulsing with pops and drones and electronic-sounding tones. The effect is anxious and more forceful then you would expect from this collection of instruments. “Sandcastle” has a simple pentatonic melody repeated several times undermined by incongruous percussion embellishments that make the performance both attractive and a little odd. “Wine Cellar,” is mysterious and enigmatic, a quiet assemblage of ticks, tinks, taps, pops, and clanks scattered over long guitar feedback tones, breath passing through horns without making notes, and drones made wobbly by interfering frequencies. “Dune” is a happy, galloping jumble of asynchronous vamps, scrabbling guitar, charging drums, and melodies that range from a Stravinsky-like flute theme to broken music box figures in the clarinets.

Corkestra’s range of form and feeling transcends mere sonic novelty and compositional absurdities. They make serious music. They just don’t take themselves too seriously.
–Ed Hazell

 

Andrew Cyrille + Haitian Fascination
Route de Frères
Tum CD 027

Andrew Cyrille was born in Brooklyn, but his parents were émigrés from Haiti, and that ancestral homeland has fascinated him since a visit there with his aunt when he was seven years old. He pulled together his musical reflections on the country a few years ago – Route de Frères was recorded in 2005 – writing tunes and assembling the band called Haitian Fascination. It’s a mix of American and Haitian elements: baritone saxophonist Hamiett Bluiett and bassist Lisle Atkinson the American side of the equation; guitarist Alix Pascal and percussionist/vocalist Frisner Augustin the Haitian. Every musician in the group contributes pieces, though Cyrille contributes the lion’s share. While the music includes folk songs, improvised drum duets, and jazz dimensions from swing to modal, it’s consistently unified and often joyous, bracketed by Augustin’s vocal performances of the infectious traditional “Marinèt” and Nemours Jean-Baptiste’s “Ti Kawòl,” an exuberant song popular in France in the 1970s, here delivered with extraordinary verve by all concerned. The CD’s centerpiece is Cyrille’s three-part composition "Route de Frères" ("Road of the Brothers"), moving from the rhythms of Haiti’s hill country to the swaying rhythms of Port-au-Prince, finally invoking the swing rhythms that would have greeted his own New York birth in 1939. It’s a band of strong individuals, from Bluiett’s potent bluster and whistling highs to Pascal’s piquant guitar, almost mbira-like at times. There may be a few idiomatic collisions, but they’re also true to the spirit of the adventure. Cyrille’s “Hope Springs Eternal” is almost hymn-like, while Bluiett brings tunes with complementary associations of Africa and Brazil (the beautiful “Isaura”). Atkinson contributes a strong pulse and some cello-like bowing in the upper register, while Cyrille and Augustin keep the music jangling and percolating with life. This is exciting, vivid work, with a distinct and special resonance.  
–Stuart Broomer

Intakt Records

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