Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings
(continued)

 

Günter Baby Sommer
Baby’s Party
Guest: Till Brönner

Intakt 303

Here’s mellow music that’s surprisingly colorful for being an album of duets. Till Brönner is a ballad-oriented pop-jazz trumpeter and flugelhornist, a Chris Botti or a less creative Chet Baker (he sings rather like Baker, too). In the YouTube videos I’ve seen Brönner sounds superficial. On Baby’s Party, playing outside the changes for a change, he offers a beautiful rich, warm, full sound and flawless technique that Wynton Marsalis would envy. Most pieces start with his lovely long-tone, slow-rubato horn passages, a style that recalls Miles Davis’ flamenco period without the intimate pain so essential to Miles. In faster momentums Brönner plays mainstream bop-era lines. Now and then he plays intriguing long phrases that twist in fantastic ways that I wish he’d develop. On the standards “Danny Boy” and “In a Sentimental Mood” he begins with sweet moods that evaporate in inventive but discursive improvisations.

The liner notes say a writer called Günter Baby Sommer “Doyen of Teutonic percussion berserks.”  Free, vivid, yes, always, but berserk, no, no. He’s the one who shapes these eleven duets. Each has a distinctive color scheme: Very quiet metal rattles behind trumpet and echo in “First Shot”;  faster free drumming for slow rubato trumpet in “Danny Boy”; a Jew’s-harp rhythm for muted trumpet in “Second Shot”; quiet church bells, gong, and echo in “A Soft Drink in Between”; a full-kit irresistible pattern in “Inside-Outside-Trip”; catchy lines on an instrument that sounds like a bass marimba in three pieces; and so on.  Sometimes he plays in meters, sometimes freely, and near the end of this CD there’s the merry “Der Alte Spanier” with Sommer singing over a frame-drum groove and making the trumpet an afterthought. The brave Sommer is of course a pioneer of European free jazz, accustomed to sensitive interplay and to designing original, sometimes big and ambitious works. They recorded this CD for Sommer’s 75th birthday and I hope they had lots of cake, and ice cream, and appropriate drinks that day.
John Litweiler

 

Kate Soper
Ipsa Dixit
New World Records 80805-2

“Astounding” is used by consecrating outlets like The New York Times and The New Yorker to describe Kate Soper’s compositions and singing. They are not hyperbolic or giddily gobsmacked. Soper is astounding. The conceptual brilliance of her text-driven pieces, the gymnastic virtuosity of her singing, and her precision in scoring dizzyingly precise and rapid-fire interactions between her and flutist Erin Lesser, percussionist Ian Antonio, and violinist Josh Modney (the four perform as The Wet Ink Ensemble), are simply and relentlessly overwhelming.

This becomes an issue in a 90-minute piece like Ipsa Dixit, a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Music. There is an aspect of a ‘70s endurance test to listening to the two discs at one sitting; but, the trance state sought by LaMonte Young and others is the last place Soper wants to take her audience. Instead, her music demands gig-speed processing from the listener; it’s an exhilarating but taxing ride. The advantage of hearing each disc separately is that it better conveys the many subtleties Soper embedded into her scores. “Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say” is a case in point; a duet with Lesser, the flautist occasionally mutters the lyrics in unison with Soper while producing a long note or texture, a spectral effect. In “The Crito,” the ricocheting materials slow down sufficiently to reveal stately elegance.

As stunning as this album is, the audio-only platform deprives the listener of Soper’s stage presence. She is a captivating actor in addition to her other gifts. Seeking out videos of her performances is heartedly recommended – after spinning the discs.
–Bill Shoemaker

 

Ken Vandermark + Nate Wooley + Sylvie Courvoisier + Tom Rainey
Noise of Our Time
Intakt CD 310

Ken Vandermark had the idea of presenting a quartet with Nate Wooley, Sylvie Courvoisier and Tom Rainey for a January 2016 residency at The Stone; but given their respective schedules, it took a year and a half to bring them together. They then flipped the standard script of performing then recording, putting Noise of Our Time in the can in a mere four hours, including studio preparations. Often, this is a recipe for an uneven album of isolated sparks and obvious default settings; but, their music has the fine, intricate details usually reflective of hundreds, if not thousands of road miles.

Courvoisier, Vandermark, and Wooley each penned three compositions, a thoroughly mixed lot of demanding ensembles, minimally framed improvisations, and emotive themes. The absence of a bassist allows Rainey additional space in which to dovetail soloists, create crosscurrents, and assume parity in polyphony, once again proving to be a consummate band drummer. Given the commanding presence Rainey and his collaborators frequently muster, and their keen instincts in playing off each other in improvised passages, a bassist may well have been a cluttering appendix.

All four musicians have become familiar figures who have demonstrated their sensibilities to be multipolar and ever expanding. The ample overlap between them goes a long way to explain why Noise of Our Time is such an engaging album from beginning to end.
–Bill Shoemaker

 

Various Artists
Amarcord Nino Rota
Corbett vs. Dempsey CD051

This album created quite a stir when it was first released in 1981. It was among the first jazz albums in which the producer’s vision played as large a role as that of the artists and it’s still among the best in an admittedly limited genre of producer-centric albums. Hal Wilner brought together soloists, small groups, and big bands from across the jazz spectrum to interpret music that Italian composer Nino Rota wrote for the films of director Frederico Fellini, and Wilner’s fingerprints are all over the album. He played a part in matching artist to repertoire so each track brings out something new in both players and composition. There’s a crazy quilt of styles from bebop to avant-garde to post-modern, so the compositions are heard from several angles that wouldn’t normally appear on one album. He threw in several curves – Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry on an album of jazz interpretations of Italian film music? Why not? The neo conservative Marsalis brothers in a sextet with a fire breathing George Adams? Let’s see what happens. Then he sequenced the tracks to create a kind of cinematic audio experience. A big part of the pleasure of listening to the album is hearing how beautifully the incongruities and juxtapositions devised by Wilner cohere into a satisfying whole, when they could easily have just sat there as a mere anthology.

The musicians were interpreting music they rarely, if ever, played and the challenge inspired them. Jaki Byard’s dreamy ruminations on Amarcord usher in the album with a hint of nostalgia and melancholy, setting up what might be the highlight of the album – Carla Bley’s boisterous arrangement of music from 8 ½. The rowdy, drunkenly reeling arrangement has to rank among the best things she ever recorded. The first side ends with a young guitarist named Bill Frisell making his recorded debut with an ethereal solo setting of music from Juliet of the Spirits.

It’s important to recognize that Wilner thought in terms of LP sides and created two side-length suites, just as George Martin did with the Beatles on Abbey Road. The second side/suite follows a different arc entirely from the first. A seamless three-band medley of music from La Dolce Vita, begins with a haunting French horn-steel drum duet by Sharon Freeman and Francis Haynes which segues into a colorfully orchestrated big band arrangement by Muhal Richard Abrams, and then transitions to Deborah Harry’s voice wafting over guitar, accordion, and keyboard. Somehow, David Amram’s percussion heavy world music take on the music from Satyricon is the perfect follow up and Steve Lacy’s ascetic performance of Roma sounds like an exotic extension of Amram. The last two tracks return to the more straight-ahead jazz mode with a medley from a sextet featuring the Marsalis brothers and George Adams. Byard returns for the final word with another bittersweet solo, this time on music from La Strada.

Wilner promised a second volume of Rota’s music in the liner notes but it never did materialize. However, he did produce several more albums during the ‘80s, including tributes to Kurt Weill and Charles Mingus, as well as a collection of songs from Walt Disney movies. Other adventurous producers during this same time, such as Bill Laswell, Kip Hanrahan, and John Zorn, used the studio in different ways to shape music by composers and improvisers as well. The trend was never an organized movement, and albums in which producers played a larger than usual role never really proliferated. But some great music resulted and it’s hard to find a tribute album or collection that doesn’t bear the influence of Wilner’s ideas to some degree.
–Ed Hazell

> back to contents