Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
by
Bill Shoemaker

 

Ab Baars Quartet
Kinda Dukish
Wig 12

baars“Kinda” is the key concept behind Ab Baars’ take on Ellington. It shouldn’t be confused with Misha Mengelberg’s approach, even though the ICP Orchestra’s early ‘90s Ducal deconstructions are a tempting point of comparison, given the reed player’s noteworthy contributions to those recordings. Baars doesn’t have Mengelberg’s subversive impulses; rather, Baars has a more studied, distilling approach to both war-horses like “Caravan” and “Perdido” and lesser-known pieces like “Aristocracy à la Jean Lafitte” and “Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool.” Sure, he’s keen on bending and twisting materials almost beyond recognition, like “Kinda Solitude,” which Baars renders as a choked-up tenor lament. Yet, he also extracts parts like the Jimmy Blanton bass line from “Jack The Bear” and gives them new weight in this pared-down quartet setting. Like many Dutch composers and improvisers, Baars has a penchant for severe juxtaposition; after an agile reading of the chart on “Kinda Jack,” Baars then calls for bassist Wilbert De Joode to fervently saw a rigorously abstract solo. Trombonist Joost Buis unabashedly and fluently evokes both Juan Tizol and Lawerence Brown on Baars’ gently romping take on “Caravan,” tucked between Baars-penned adagios that are a bit too austere to call pastoral. Buis is also a great sparring partner for Baars, as evidenced by their fiery culminating exchange on “Kinda Perdido.” Throughout, drummer Martin van Duynhoven plays the tunes instead of demarcating the bars; and when the improvisations veer farthest from the idiom, van Duynhoven finds ways to provide an elegant forward movement. Certainly, the rapport of Baars, de Joode and van Duynhoven, gained through years of playing as Baars’ trio, is a big reason that both the scripted and improvised ensembles are crisp. But, it is their ability to become a quartet with the addition of Buis that makes the music cogent.

 

Sean Bergin’s Quintet
Nansika
Data Data:053

BerginSean Bergin delves deep into his roots on Nansika, an album of South African jazz standards written by Abdullah Ibrahim and members of the Blue Notes, tunes the tenor saxophonist knows like the back of his hand. Though this is an album of splendidly predictable pleasures, there is the surprise of how the hearty melodies and uncluttered changes of tunes like Ibrahim’s “Woza Mtwana” and Dudu Pukwana’s “Ezilalini” frame Bergin’s moorings in Sonny Rollins. Rarely does a chorus go by without Bergin’s exultant tone, booming bass notes, and mix of gritty riffs and elastic lines reinforcing the connection. Bergin even employs Rollins-like calypso-tinged embellishments to fine effect on pieces such as Mongezi Feza’s majestic “You ain’t gonna know me,” which begs the question of why Rollins has never ventured into this body of work. Yet, by the time Bergin and crew – pianist Curtis Clark, guitarist Franky Douglas, bassist Jacko Schoonderwoerd and drummer Victor de Boo – have delivered a breathless take on Ibrahim’s “The Wedding,” romp through Pukwana’s “Ubagele,” and bask in Johnny Dyani’s “Wish you sunshine,” it’s a moot question. Bergin has it covered.

 

John Butcher + Phil Durrant + Paul Lovens + Radu Malfatti + John Russell
News From The Shed
Emanem 4121

John Butcher + Eddie Prévost
Interworks
Matchless MRCD66

ButcherThese albums exemplify the times in which they were recorded. In 1989, News From The Shed articulated a new valuation of sparseness and even silence, pointing to a then approaching divergence from the busier modalities of first-generation improvised music. Recorded in 2005, Interworks suggests that AMM’s “laminal” approach is a predicate of much that is now considered cutting-edge in improvised music hot spots like Berlin and Tokyo.

In addition to this general historical arc, the albums detail the evolution of John Butcher. On the earlier album, first issued on the saxophonist’s Acta imprint and supplemented by four tracks that couldn’t fit onto the original LP, Butcher’s astonishing array of textures are part and parcel of what can roughly be called a phraseology. On the duo album, Butcher’s whirrs are entities unto themselves. In a way, this is emblematic of a real aesthetic shift in improvised music, a moving away from the push and pull of real-time negotiations to the more deliberate accumulation of sounds.

Still, there is nothing dated about News From The Shed, the quintet comprised of Butcher, violinist Phil Durrant, percussionist Paul Lovens, trombonist Radu Malfatti and guitarist John Russell. This is scrappy, rough-and-tumble stuff, even in the quieter passages that set the ensemble apart from most of its contemporaries. Track after track, the conventions of old-school improvised music are tugged at, stretched and generally distressed. The most impressive aspect of their playing, however, is their balance. Butcher, Lovens and Malfatti each have enormous sound-producing capacities, so the presence of Russell and Durrant’s more delicate details in passages where the others are playing vigorously is a real measure of the close listening practiced within the group.

Butcher and percussionist Eddie Prévost pay comparably acute attention to dynamics on Interworks, but with a different aim. Whereas News From The Shed sought a discrete audio image for each musician, the duo’s overtone-rich sounds often bleed into a single mass. There is an arch reactionary sensibility informing NFTS; especially for Malfatti, improvised music was being to ossify as a genre, which he sought to subvert through silence and the slightest, softest whispers, a program Durrant is signing onto on this recording. Butcher and Prévost, on the other hand, employ a more conventional ensemble approach, where the basis of unity in sustained sounds is quickly intuited and steadily maintained by both musicians.

 

Exploding Customer
Live At Tampere Jazz Happening
Ayler aylCD-031

ExplodingFor listeners who place Martin Küchen on the far abstract end of the improvised music spectrum, the saxophonist’s Exploding Customer will prompt a reassessment. A quartet with trumpeter Tomas Hallonsten, bassist Benjamin Quigley and drummer Kjell Nordeson, EC plays jazz unabashedly. On, Live At Tampere Jazz Happening, their second album, Küchen writes persuasively in a number of idioms – everything from second-line stomps to tangy Middle East-tinged themes that call Carlo Actis Dato to mind, and soul-baring Ayleresque dirges. On tenor, Küchen has an appealing Sheppish rasp, which also translates well on alto; the big sound he has on the higher horn is impressive. His cohorts bring much to each of the nine crisply rendered tunes, only two of which clock in over seven minutes, which keeps the set moving. Hallonsten has an encyclopedic knowledge of the jazz trumpet tradition, but he also knows not to lean too hard on the references. Quigley and Nordeson are a fine tandem, as the bassist provides rock-solid time and clearly delineates the cadences, allowing Nordeson to toss off flurries of fills without dissipating their unified forward movement. The most intriguing aspect of the set is how Küchen mixes probing, even stark material with the fun stuff in roughly equal measure without coming off as calculated. Chalk it up to Exploding Customer’s energy and esprit de corps.

 

Andrew Hill
Time Lines
Blue Note 0946 3 35170 2 8V

HillAndrew Hill’s music has always possessed a fascinating precariousness, but it has never been as urgently conveyed as it is on Time Lines. The loss of longtime colleague Malachi Favors and Hill’s own battle with cancer seeped even into the occasionally capering themes he sprinkled throughout this quintet date with saxophonist/clarinetist Greg Tardy, trumpeter Charles Tolliver, bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson.

Subsequently, Hill’s compositions seem more dangerously balanced on a knife’s point than ever, with each shift in rhythmic feel and abrupt change in phrase shape threatening to be fatal if not precisely executed. Luckily, Hill’s cohorts are acutely attuned to the emotional distillation represented in Hill’s music. One measure of their sensitivity is that Hill’s increasingly minimal piano parts are never obscured, even the repeated, evenly stated chords that serve as an ellipsis between utterances. Hill’s ensemble playing has historically functioned as an intermediary between the horns, bass and drums, sometimes rushing ahead of the beat, sometimes lagging behind it, all in the service of making his quirky lines and structures breathe. It is spindlier than ever on Time Lines, and his musicians’ contributions to making the music cohere cannot be understated.

Hill’s quintet is an intriguing lot, particularly his cross-generational front line. Tardy’s nuance-filled clarinet work and edgier bass clarinet and tenor offset Tolliver’s bell-like tone and rounded phrases on some pieces; on others, they mesh completely. Hebert and McPherson recalibrate their attack on an almost bar-by-bar basis, often sublimating their virtuosity in a manner that recalls Richard Davis and Elvin Jones on Hill’s early Blue Notes. Hill’s compositions are a gauntlet, alternately brooding and energetic. His ensemble takes each obstacle in stride, without a stumble over the course of the album.

There has always been an aura of urgency in much of Hill’s music. Given events, it is frequently gripping on Time Lines . But, there’s also something unassumingly triumphant about the music. It’s Hill doing what he’s always done, creating music that has a copious spirit.

 

AUM

 

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