Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings
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Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House
Strong Place
Intakt CD 208

Gender politics have long been a reality of the male-dominated jazz scene; although women have played important roles in shaping the music’s history, their contributions as instrumentalists have rarely been venerated. A potential sea change is imminent however, as a new generation comes of age unburdened by the inequities of the past. Strong Place, the follow-up to German-born saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock’s self-titled Anti-House debut (Intakt, 2010), is representative of this new paradigm. The session boasts the considerable talents of three of Brooklyn’s finest female improvisers in Laubrock, celebrated guitarist Mary Halvorson and rising pianist Kris Davis. The rhythm section is manned by the opposite sex however, with Laubrock’s husband, Tom Rainey, holding down the drum chair aided by stalwart bassist John Hébert.

Conveying a congenial rapport, Laubrock’s supple soprano and robust tenor excursions gracefully intertwine with Halvorson’s spidery cadences, which provide an electrifying contrast to Davis’ pointed filigrees; this is most apparent in the opening of the wryly titled “From Farm Girl to Fabulous, Vol.1,” where Davis and Halvorson spar in bellicose fashion. Discreetly underscored by Hébert and Rainey’s nimble accents, the spiky minimalism of the composition’s metronomic pulse eventually blossoms into a vibrant swinging showcase for the leader’s tastefully controlled tenor histrionics.

In contrast, the swirling evocations of “Alley Zen” and the melancholy lyricism of “Here’s to Love” offer keen demonstrations of Laubrock’s growing melodic development, while “Cup in a Teastorm (For Henry Threadgill)” offers a suitably engaging rhythmic workout. The record’s longest cut, the three-part “Der Deichgraf,” illuminates Laubrock’s manifold talents as a composer and soloist. Davis’ sprightly preamble segues to a pithy staccato passage before Rainey and Hébert downshift into an abstract blues groove, enabling Laubrock to engage in an extended series of thematic variations on tenor. Just as suddenly the piece shifts from irregular counterpoint to hypnotic ostinato, fueling Halvorson’s escalating valedictions at the coda.

Laubrock’s compositional sensibility balances impulsive spontaneity with a structural cohesiveness that occasionally sounds surreal; each of her sophisticated pieces embodies its own distinctive sound world. Although angular themes, oblique harmonies and fractious rhythms dominate her idiosyncratic writing, these works espouse a more consistent and contemplative mood than those found on the quintet’s debut, making Strong Place a most fitting title for the band’s sophomore effort.
–Troy Collins

 

Rudresh Mahanthappa
Gamak
ACT Music 9537-2

As second-generation Indian-Americans with an abiding interest in their heritage, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and pianist Vijay Iyer have earned widespread critical acclaim for their efforts incorporating complex South Indian classical forms with jazz improvisation. Mahanthappa’s previous forays have mixed timeless Eastern traditions and progressive Western concepts in varying ways; Kinsmen, his ground-breaking 2008 Pi Recordings collaboration with Indian saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath, revealed his respect for South Indian Carnatic music, while Samdhi (ACT, 2011) featured the sinuous excursions of his keening alto augmented by futuristic laptop samples.

Gamak is Mahanthappa’s thirteenth release as a leader/co-leader and the debut of a lineup that features some of his oldest colleagues; bassist François Moutin and drummer Dan Weiss served as the longstanding rhythm section of Mahanthappa’s quartet with pianist Vijay Iyer, last heard together on Codebook (Pi, 2006). Mahanthappa’s recent endeavors have since featured guitarists in place of a pianist. According to the saxophonist, “I was looking to get back to that quartet setting with Dan and François again, but doing something with piano was out of the question, because of the way that I’ve been thinking about melody and ornamentation and the fact that I wanted to delve into the use of alternate tunings.”

David “Fuze” Fiuczynski, who first met Mahanthappa as a fellow recruit in Jack DeJohnette’s group, expertly fulfills this role in the new quartet, equipped with his double-neck fretless guitar and battery of effects pedals. Fortifying his interest in global music traditions, Fiuczynski’s advanced microtonal technique mirrors Mahanthappa’s elastic vibrato and serpentine phrasing, providing the expressive saxophonist a perfect foil to exploit the creative potential of ancient Eastern scales. The guitarist’s virtuosic fretwork is duly expansive, employing a timbral palette that encompasses an array of exotic timbres, ranging from lilting kaleidoscopic filigrees to bruising metallic shards. The latter aspect, which recalls Fiuczynski’s aggressive work in Screaming Headless Torsos, emboldens Mahanthappa’s evocative arabesques with sinewy muscularity.

The leader’s electrifying rapport with Fiuczynski is immediately apparent on the anthemic opener, “Waiting Is Forbidden,” where they pirouette through the prog rock-influenced tune’s wide-ranging dynamics with a blistering series of quicksilver cadences – setting the tone for the remainder of the date. The capriciously shifting rhythms of “Lots Of Interest” and jaunty boogaloo that underpins the raga “Aboghi” alternate with the brooding “Wrathful Wisdom” and sober lyricism of “Ballad For Troubled Times,” while the frenzied punk rave-up “Majesty Of The Blues” concludes the session in pithy, dramatic fashion.

Mahanthappa even revisits some of his earliest work in search of new inspiration. Originally premiered on Black Water (Pi, 2002), his second album, “Are There Clouds In India?” features his plangent alto pining with bluesy introspection, while “Balancing Act” from the same record is recast here as “We’ll Make More,” a spirited outing highlighted by breathtaking interplay between the frontline and rhythm section. Though responsible for maintaining driving tempos and complex time signatures, Moutin and Weiss contribute more than mere timekeeping; the drummer’s animated interjections and the bassist’s pliant musings are notable highlights throughout the set.

The term gamak roughly translates as melodic ornamentation in Indian classical music, a concept specific to particular regional forms that is highly stylized and regularly studied. Updating this concept, the quartet’s seamless integration of South Indian melodies, harmonies and rhythms into a modern jazz context transcends the genre constraints of past Indo-jazz fusion experiments. Gradually pushing the music forward, Gamak is a natural extension of the polystylistic advancements heard on Mahanthappa’s previous albums and his most exhilarating recording to date.
–Troy Collins

 

Roscoe Mitchell + Nicole Mitchell + Black Earth Ensemble
Three Compositions: Live at Sant’Anna Arresi
Rogue Art ROG0043

About ten years back Roscoe Mitchell was said to be preparing some of his compositions for baroque instruments. As Bill Shoemaker rightly points out in his liner notes to Three Compositions, earlier years of big band jazz were perhaps similar to the baroque period in that composers, Kapellmeistern, and orchestras were expected to create, prepare and deliver a steady flow of large ensemble music, much of it written to occasion, little of it intended for repertory or even reprise. That situation has radically changed. A combination of changing aesthetic preferences and, more significantly, economics has meant, as Shoemaker says, that a jazz orchestra concert is “the event of the season.” There are exceptions to this, on campuses, at Lincoln Center, and in various European locations blessed with state subsidy, but the principle holds and it would lead one to expect that given the relative rarity of large ensemble performances sufficient time would always be available to guarantee that the event of the season is blue riband rather than a scratch performance.

That wasn’t the case with this realization of Mitchell’s music at the Sant’Anna Arresi Jazz Festival in Sardinia; Italy has remained particularly responsive to Mitchell over the years, where in other countries interest in him waned with the abeyance of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In preparation of these two adaptations of his quintet music and a version of one of his Cards-series pieces, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble had two Chicago rehearsals without Mitchell’s presence, and just one in Sardinia. The Ensemble had some performance of the Cards piece “Memoirs of a Dying Parachutist” but had had to accommodate some personnel changes since then. Mitchell herself was also deeply involved in work of her own for Sant’Anna Arresi.

All of this sounds like the prologue to an apologetic account of a recording compromised by the usual paucity of rehearsal time. The miracle is that the music has tremendous bite and authority but with the open, questioning quality all of Mitchell’s work somehow has, as if his writing and playing were an interrogation of silence rather than an attempt to install an icon in a set place in the canon. He is “difficult,” not in the way that Milton Babbitt is difficult, or to throw in another composer who had problems with insufficient rehearsal time until he adopted the practice of rehearsing at the public’s expense, in the rather different way that Charles Mingus was difficult. Mitchell’s work simply doesn’t have the familiar map references we look for to locate a real-time performance or fresh recording somewhere in the landscape of the déjà écouté. Even knowing the quintet versions of these pieces doesn’t quite provide a compass. One has a sense of musical events happening in naturalistic but not necessarily organic order. Three complex chords near the beginning of “Quintet #1 for Eleven” sound as if they might be the Mozartian/Masonic key to what follows but it’s hard to track their heavy tonality in the rest of the piece, which is again a careful blend of structured parts and “solo” passages. The particular soundworld of a Mitchell composition, with stringed instruments in prominent place, is more familiar than its content. Both the quintet arrangements are quite stately in cast, with a sense of ritual progress rather than orthodox musical education, and yet Mitchell is such a devoted secularist it’s unlikely that that is the intention. So perhaps one has to regard these in the light of – that loaded word – experiments in sound.

The Cards piece is less successful. One hears the thought processes, the split-second decision-making rather than just hearing the music. It’s more deliberate, somehow. This is scarcely a below-the-waterline criticism but if there is a way in which the exiguous rehearsal provision affects the music, it’s in this.

I asked Roscoe Mitchell once if he did much teaching. “I don’t,” he said. “I don’t have much time. I spend all my time learning.” I think that may be the key to his art.
–Brian Morton

New World Records

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