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Reviews of Recent Recordings
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Rodrigo Amado
Wire Quartet
Clean Feed CF297

Rodrigo Amado’s music is a letdown. Which is not to say that it is a disappointment. Quite the reverse. This is his most thrillingly realized and coherent recording to date. But the music’s determining trajectory is always downwards and deeper. Patterns of four, five, six descending tones in the opening sequence evoke nothing less than being slowly ratcheted down a mine-shaft, observing strata, minerals crystallizing, feeling the internal pressure build and the air thicken. When most of our laudatory paradigms for music involve elevation, ascension, transcendence, Amado takes us toward the core. Or maybe off shore, and then a deep dive. That opening piece is a veritable descent into the maelstrom. A quiet introduction on tenor and guitar (the highly impressive Manuel Mota) suggests a backstage encounter between Sonny Rollins and Jim Hall. It’s thoughtful, pleasingly discursive, but soon gives way to a fierier group attack which might unwarily be mistaken for by-the-yard Fire Music if it weren’t for the highly disciplined way Amado organizes the group round those bunched saxophone tones and terse phrasing.

Then when one is almost ready to shout despairingly with Poe’s narrator and prepare for a last plunge into the whirlpool, it pulls up quietly on damped cymbal tones (Gabriel Ferrandini) that gradually evolve a fascinating dialogue between drums and bass (Hernani Faustino). The group’s center of gravity shifts, but in such a way as to reveal its essential democracy. The set’s divided, in whatever sense it’s divided at all, into three sections – “Abandon Yourself,” “Surrender,” and “To The Music” – but the mood and concentration are sustained from first to last, and the titles merely confirm the feeling that by replugging a few expectations of what happens in improvised music, not least its repetition allergy and need to move ever on-and-up, we’re being taken further into a rich seam of exploration.

The Scottish-born poet Kenneth White (who has spent most of his working life away from Scotland) is a pioneer of what he calls geopoetics and of a hidden, transnational arc of creative activity that extends from the Nordic countries to Portugal and into North Africa and the Mediterranean, with mirrored activity on the Eastern seaboard of North Africa. He calls it “Atlantic” culture, and it’s a surprising latecomer to intellectual discourse given how powerful political Atlanticism has been in Europe since the war. Rodrigo Amado is the perfect “Atlantic” artist. His music looks West, to the great saxophone players of modern jazz, but also back to Atlantic crossers like Don Byas (who else shaped a boppish phrase like that?) and there’s even a hint of Dexter Gordon in the way Amado worries at a phrase, musing over it mid-conversation, wondering if he’s saying the right thing, offering an alternative.

It’s a most surprising record, this. Its antecedents – its genre, almost – seem familiar to the point of predictability, and yet nothing about it conforms easily to what we know and expect about such groups. The guitar and bass playing are revelatory. Mota plays in a no-style that seems to bundle up Derek Bailey, Sonny Sharrock and Arto Lindsay in a single phrase. Faustino should be renamed “the Lisbon earthquake,” if he isn’t already, and Ferrandini is one of the most musical drummers I’ve heard in years. Amado himself is a proven quantity, an artist of real and still growing stature. He’s been away on his own European Echoes imprint for a while. This feels like a kind of homecoming.
–Brian Morton

 

AMM
Place sub. v.
Matchless MRCD91

Turn to a handy online dictionary and you find a definition of place as:

Noun – A particular portion of space, whether of definite or indefinite extent; space in general (time and place)

Verb (used with object) – To put in the proper position or order; to put or set in a particular place, position, situation, or relation.

Eddie Prévost’s liner notes to this CD references the etymology of the word “place” from the Latin and Greek words which loosely translate as “open space”; a notion that is indisputably at the core of AMM’s music. Their music realizes the term “place” in all of its connotations. There is the musical exploration of space, particularly within the context of time. There is the influence of a particular location which crops up in the titles of AMM recordings (“The Crypt,” “... the Roundhouse,” “... Pueblo, Colorado,” “Newfoundland,” “... Allentown, USA,” “Before driving to the chapel ...,” “Norwich,” “That mysterious forest below London Bridge,” “... a postcard from Jaslo”) Sure, these titles offer a simple tagging of a recording to the location where they were captured, but that notion of a particular location has seemed central to the way that the group has approached making music. Then, of course, there is the way that the setting of sound in a particular “position, situation, or relation” is central to their sensibility. It is what makes AMM music so readily identifiable.

This recording captures a performance of the current core lineup of this venerable ensemble, John Tilbury and Eddie Prévost, from The 2012 Festival of Traditional and Avant-garde Music in Lubin, Poland. It has been a decade now since Keith Rowe left the group and over the course of a handful of recordings in both duo format and with guests, the two have continually refined their approach. With this performance, they have fully settled into a new sense of place. Clocking in at 1 hour, 1 minute, and 1 second from the first dark rumbling resonant piano chord to the final decay of bowed tam tam overtones, Tilbury and Prévost delve deeply into the notion of place as both subject and verb.

Their improvisation develops with a particularly measured poise, a clear intention of the placement of sounds in relation to each other, the acoustics of the hall, and the pervasive underlying ground of silence. Tilbury’s clangorous chords, starkly struck notes, and inside-piano preparations and Prévost’s detailed surface abrasions, pin-point metallic textures, and quavering shimmers of bowed tam tam coalesce, building subtle arcs of tension which open in to pools of dramatic stasis. They don’t shy away from sections of sonority, settling around Tilbury’s lush melodic fragments which are collectively transfigured into mercurial abstraction. At the core is the consideration of place; the way that each sound is placed; the way that the attack and decay of the place of performance shapes the music; the way that the music evolves over time and place. This is music that can only be created by masterful listeners who have played together for years, developing a mutually shared sensibility. Place sub. v. is one of the strongest statements of this collaboration to come along in the last decade of the AMM endeavor.
–Michael Rosenstein

 

Matt Bauder and Day in Pictures
Nightshades
Clean Feed CF289CD

Nightshades is the most accessible offering to date in Brooklyn-based tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder’s burgeoning discography. Brimming with nostalgic melodies, rich harmonies and elastic rhythms, the highly appealing session shares more than a passing resemblance to classic records issued by Blue Note in the 1960s, recalling a time when jazz still reigned as the popular music of the day.

Following in the footsteps of the group’s 2010 self-titled Clean Feed debut, Bauder’s Day in Pictures continues to explore intricate structural nuances of the post-bop continuum, hemming ever closer to conventional forms. Enjoying the support of a fairly stable lineup, Bauder is once again joined by trumpeter Nate Wooley, bassist Jason Ajemian and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, while pianist Kris Davis takes the place of Angelica Sanchez. Davis’ appearance is noteworthy; where Sanchez brought a penchant for expansive contrapuntal harmony to the group, Davis takes a more focused, linear approach, offering a profusion of melodic invention in her brisk, chromatic delivery.

Davis’ quicksilver pianism meshes well with Ajemian’s supple bass lines and Fujiwara’s spirited kit-work; their skillful interplay yields a modulating undercurrent of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic activity that inspires daring excursions from the versatile frontline. As one of the key young masters of new trumpet technique, Wooley makes a fitting foil for the leader, underscoring Bauder’s sinuous refrains with coruscating asides tempered by an increasingly sophisticated lyricism. Bauder reveals a diverse array of expressionism, whether waxing romantic on the lush ballad “Starr Wykoff,” swinging with full-throated verve through the second line-infused title track, or plying nervy multiphonics on more assertive fare like “Rule of Thirds.”

Although the material on Nightshades is stylistically similar to the quintet’s previous effort, each tune investigates slightly different territory, ranging from the slinky deconstructed bossa nova groove of “Octavia Minor” to the collective New Thing-inspired rapture of “August and Counting.” The duration of each piece hovers around the ten minute mark, allowing individual members time to extrapolate on Bauder’s melody-rich themes.

In direct contrast to some of his more experimental projects, like Memorize The Sky, the material performed by Day in Pictures highlights Bauder’s most conventionally jazz-oriented writing. The end result is a historically aware exploration of the tenuous divide between freedom and form – a bold, but beautiful album.
–Troy Collins

 

John Carter & Bobby Bradford
Tandem
Emanem 5204

Ideal Bread
Beating the Teens
Cuneiform RUNE 386/387

Steve Lacy
Avignon and after Volume 2
Emanem 5031





“In the ‘70s we were poor in the pocket but it was a very rich time. I call them the scratchy ‘70s ‘cause we were all scratching.” – Steve Lacy, 1996

Lacy was never sentimental about the 1970s the way he was about the ‘50s (New York then was it) – not even after the Wyntonians painted it as the dark decade when guitars got cranked to 11 and Art Blakey sat home by the phone (when he wasn’t recording, taking the Messengers to Tokyo, Paris, Ljubljana, Nice, Monterey, San Francisco, London or Milan, trekking across upstate NY via Jazzmobile, or touring Europe with the Giants of Jazz – but that’s another story).

Lacy scratched a lot of itches in the ‘70s – got established in Paris, got work across the borders, deepened his partnership with Irene Aebi and began a new one with fellow saxophonist Steve Potts, and made more than a few exceptional albums. Your short list might include The Gap, Mal Waldron with the Steve Lacy Quintet, Lumps, Trickles with Roswell Rudd, Saxophone Special, Raps (Will no one reissue Adelphi’s Lacy, Blythe, Murray and Charles Tyler LPs?), Threads, The Way, Troubles and Tips. And that’s not counting sidework with Waldron, Gil Evans, Globe Unity, Musica Elettronica Viva and Kenny Davern, let alone the epic 1977 Company week, or Giorgio Gaslini Meets Jean-Luc Ponty. Or Solo on Emanem from Avignon 1972 – the beginning of Lacy’s solo concert career.

It was also the decade he really found his voice as a composer, aided by having Aebi on call to sing his newly minted melodies. That collaboration intensified the relationship between his horn and the voice, his rhythms and breath cycles. That said, his internal clock is strong – solo, he keeps the time going through the silences, gives them musical weight.

In 2012 Emanem released a more complete version of that ‘72 concert documented on Solo as part of Avignon and after Volume 1, reviewed by Ed Hazell in PoD Issue 39. Volume 2 includes solo oddities and highlights from Avignon ‘72 and ‘74, Paris ‘75, Edmonton ‘76 and Köln ‘77. The tunes are Lacy’s save for three warm-up pieces from that first solo concert, all composed by Billy Strayhorn, two of which Lacy never recorded elsewhere. (But recall that the early-‘60s Lacy-Rudd “Monk” quartet originally played Strayhorn, Ellington and Weill too; and, before that, Lacy recorded Strayhorn and Ellington tunes on Soprano Sax and one by Duke on Evidence.) Lacy’s soprano sings “Johnny Come Lately” (which he’d recorded with Cecil Taylor at Newport 1957) at a slower than Dukish gait, and as if it had words, with vocal inflections no less pronounced than on “Lush Life.”

From the first, he loved unhurried tempos. No solo reedist gets further into the ruminative mode, not even a cappella soprano pioneer Lol Coxhill. (Steve’s stint with Jimmy Giuffre may be relevant here, alongside his time with Monk.) Lacy’s improvisations on themes he knows well are the sound of him musing aloud, meditating on the melody – divining what its intervals foretell about possible development – and on the lyric (or the title), and the multiple meanings they contain. As “Lush Life” winds down, he lingers over line-ending long tones, changing their timbre and shape as he holds them. Here are the seeds of Jane Ira Bloom’s electronically treated held notes.

He was of course deadly serious about the horn, with that soft tone capable of a raspy edge, and great control in the squeal register. He could also compose a mean melodic hook crying out for a lyric. You can hear everything just tallied on “Pops,” rude in the good Dutch way (albeit recorded a month and a half before his “Dutch record” Lumps). He spackles high notes a la Evan Parker on “The Dumps” and scrapes them across the canvas on “Snips.” He shows off a flute-like tone on “Torments,” which begins with pure sound, a rushing wind breathier than Ben Webster, and demonstrates what he learned about saxophone attack from ducks on “Moma Duck,” a particularly spirited entry in that Webster-dedicated quack cycle. A repeatedly chanted “Don’t go to school” is the hook for “Hooky.” One reason Lacy foregrounded his compositions: the clear forms and their orderly expositions refute the oft-heard charge that solo improvisers were just practicing. He’s always, always clear; the sound on the disc is uneven, but never a barrier to the limpid music.

On one level the 1970s consolidated the gains of the ‘60s revolution. Coxhill aside, solo and duo concerts came mostly out of the AACM esthetic of the late ‘60s but really blossomed in the next decade, helping to codify the newly expanded instrumental vocabulary. Tips makes you wish Lacy and alter ego Steve Potts had recorded more duos. Lacy once said of Potts and Rudd, “If you have the right partner, you can correct each other's faults, go further. I think this is a much-neglected subject in jazz, and elsewhere.”

For supporting evidence, look to clarinetist John Carter and cornetist Bobby Bradford, Los Angelinos by way of Fort Worth and Dallas. Their early collaborations were steeped in friend Ornette Coleman’s brand of North Texas blues. But through playing together a lot, tending to each other’s sounds and musical personalities, they evolved a bracing, astringent sound of their own in the 1970s that helped point the way toward Carter’s celebrated octet suites of the ‘80s.

You can hear the octet’s telescoping harmonies coming, on the remastered 2-CD edition of Tandem documenting duos and solos from concerts in 1979 and ‘82. (The earlier recording is a little rough, but you won’t mind.) The two had long since learned to breathe and intonate as one, as demonstrated by their unison melody statements on Carter’s “Woodman’s Hall Blues” and “Tandem,” with their tricky change-ups and micromanaged beats. In unison, Bradford and Carter are informal spectralists, merging timbres, their blended overtones yielding fresh sonorities.

Improvising, they’re contrapuntalists, adept at shifting between foreground and background roles, moment to moment. On Bradford’s “She,” a cornet lament that morphs into a midtempo romp, Carter is a helicopter in the distance, quietly circular-breathing a triplety corkscrew figure in the background throughout. The slow numbers can be a little discursive, but uptempo they fly together, secure daredevils, their interaction too hot to mistake for warming up. Bradford is the more overtly lyrical. His solo “Portrait of J.B.G.” takes off from a descending line that resembles a blues turnaround; he declaims the tune with his typically warm and airy tone, and punctuates it with a few field-hollering whoops. From there he moves in and out of songlike phrases, bugle calls and capricious key changes, in what might pass for stream of consciousness, save for his composerly way of bringing the same elements back.

You can hear the Ornette roots and a love of vernacular blues phrases in those tricky Carter compositions mentioned above, but the sound of them is utterly distinctive, with his clarinet in the front line. Like Lacy he favors extreme high notes and a sometimes leisurely pace, but where Steve was one cool customer, Carter’s solo playing tends to be faster and more agitated, thrilling even. Three-quarters of the way through the solo “Les Masses Jigaboo” his writhing line goes all Evan Parker. Like Lacy sped up, Carter will spiral in an instant from hollow bottom tones to the troposphere – from ass to teakettle – playing coherent melodies in a register where other players only squeak. He wasn’t bluffing up there. Analyzing chance mistakes had led him to extend his upper range almost an octave. His overtone-rich sound contains multitudes. Pair it with Bradford’s forged brass, equally eloquent in bandshell and barnyard mode, and you have the sound of Carter’s highly mobile ‘80s octet in embryo.

Lacy said (paraphrasing) that he concentrated on composition, so the music would live on after his improvising self was gone. Still, he could be persnickety about interpretation. With his compositions as with Monk’s, a certain approach to interpretation may be inherent in the materials. When Lacy guested on a Third Person gig at the old Knitting Factory in the early ‘90s, he vainly tried to get drummer Samm Bennett to lighten up, instructing him to play one of his tunes “nice and bright, nice and bright.”

The quartet Ideal Bread plays Lacy without soprano, though the bari/cornet front line makes some kind of Lacy-an sense; in 1960 and ‘61, he recorded in pianoless quartets using either horn, and playing modern classics. Josh Sinton’s lumbering presence on baritone and Kirk Knuffke’s nimble cornet balance each other. On Beating the Teens the players give a few Lacy melodies butched-up makeovers, leader/arranger (and Lacy student) Sinton killing the father to rescue the babies. It’s one way to make the pieces stand on their own.

This time, Ideal Bread focuses on the scrappy ‘70s – to be precise, all the compositions from the five albums Lacy recorded for France’s Saravah label between 1969 and ‘77 (Roba, Lapis, Scraps, Dreams and The Owl), collected a few years back as Scratching the Seventies/Dreams. Those Saravahs went some pretty weird places, opening the door to these radical recastings. The wild and woolly “Crops” from Dreams, surely the only Lacy performance to reference “Dueling Banjos,” gets a beautifully slick rethink: banjo is out, drummer Tomas Fujiwara’s and bassist Adam Hopkins’ Latin dance beat is in, as suave Sinton solos in the pocket. You could listen to this band for the linkup between bass and drums alone. Hopkins has a burnished woody tone and nimble time, buoying the front line. We are living in a very rich time for drummers, and Fujiwara is one reason why. His technique is immaculate though he can get funky too, and he negotiates weird time shifts with aplomb: nice and bright.

The quartet’s diverse methods here recall Schlippenbach and Die Enttäuschung playing Monk. Performances range from two minutes to nine. Some are relatively straightforward (because the players would be crazy not to ride a few of Lacy’s catchier ditties), some relatively oblique, and many using the common pool of devices for ordering improvised music the ‘70s helped consolidate. Sinton and Knuffke are ready contrapuntal improvisers, as on “Spell.” “The Owl” starts with a sound very close to Their Master’s Voice, then begins to diverge into looser interplay on the theme, a way of playing that’d justify this band’s existence no matter what material they employed. (But it fades just as they get going.)

They do two versions of “Cryptosphere” – the one where Lacy played along with a Ruby Braff record. (But has anyone found the record in question?) Like Lacy on the original, on each version they dapple abstract textures over a recording – though here it sounds like a recording of themselves, where you might have expected them to over-paint the record where Evan Parker played along with “Cryptosphere.” Maybe that was too obvious. “Lesson” coalesces into Christmas chamber music, arco bass caroling over choral horns. “Wish” is funky with electric bass, Fujiwara wailing the backbeat, Knuffke digging in his heels, Sinton’s gravel riffs lifting the bandstand from below. “The Wire” starts nice and bright and then opens up to remind you it was a dedication to Ayler.

Sinton blasts “Lapis” wide open with a protracted episode of circular breathing, and elsewhere ascends to the soprano’s range; he isn’t afraid to push the material out of shape, even if he sometimes goes too far (rendering chipper “Somebody Special” dirge-like). Ideal Bread is a surefire gateway drug to Knuffke addiction. The cornet player makes it all sound easy: the clarion tone, the rubbery dialogues, the melodic paraphrases, the parsing of passing harmonies, the dips and dodges, the outski-woutskis and the uh uh uh.
Kevin Whitehead

Cuneiform Records

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