Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
Charles Gayle Trio
For much of this bristling 2006 Stockholm club date, Charles Gayle interprets – or shreds, depending on your vantage – iconic flag-wavers like “Cherokee” and “Giant Steps,” as well as standards like “Softly in a Morning Sunrise” and “What’s New.” It is a welcomed reminder that free jazz is often at its best when its jazz roots are ecstatically celebrated, instead of being shrouded. Gayle wields an alto for the entire set instead of his signature tenor saxophone, resulting in a distinctive abrasive edge. Spurred on by drummer Michael Wimberley and bassist Gerald Benson, Gayle freely mixes serrated changes-referencing runs and a more directly Ayler-inspired approach. The balance tips towards the latter when Gayle calls an invocatory original composition like “Holy Redemption,” which is performed in a medley with Ayler’s “Ghosts” to close the album. However, the lasting impression made by the album centers on Gayle’s articulation of how fierce swing morphs into pure energy, and notes into sound. In this regard, the contributions of Wimberley and Benson are crucial: it’s a photo finish each time out as to who charges off the precipice first. This repertoire may have had layers of veneer-like context applied to it over the years; but, there’s still raw pulp underneath, and Gayle’s trio reveals it, zealously.
Georg Graewe + Ernst Reijseger + Gerry Hemingway
Despite several lengthy gaps between concerts and recordings in its 17-year run, the trio of pianist Georg Graewe, cellist Ernst Reijseger and percussionist Gerry Hemingway has articulated one of the more pellucid approaches to improvised chamber music. They are fastidious in giving material breathing space, and leaving some spaces blank. Even at their most robust, the trio retains a cool sense of direction. Yet, just as one thinks they tilt irrevocably towards contemporary classical music, the trio will, one way or another, reveal their rebellious roots in post-Coleman jazz and first-generation European improvised music.
Recorded in a Munich hall with an impeccable piano, Continuum is a frequently stunning exposition of the trio’s resourcefulness and probity. A series of ten improvisations recorded in 2005, the album runs the gamut from silence-spattered accumulations of small details to rapid-fire exchanges with an earthy, forward rhythmic movement. However, there is a pensive quality to much of the music, established largely through the exquisite decay of Graewe’s single note lines and punctuating chords. It is a quality that Reijseger and Hemingway respond to with unfailingly sensitivity, be it with textures or well-placed counter lines (Hemingway plays “marimbaphone” and celesta). The approach is initially insidious, becoming gripping by the end of the album. Graewe, Reijseger and Hemingway’s ability to create an emotional connection in this manner distinguishes their work.
The New Mellow Edwards is the smartest, funniest American band since The Microscopic Septet. Whereas the Microscopic’s humor tended to be a tad dry and decidedly literate, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring’s compositions elicit broad, even delirious laughter. There’s an occasional resemblance to the cheekier Dutch bands on tunes like “White Sauce Hot Sauce Boss,” which takes a stuttering, slightly Monkish motif and morphs it into a neo-Trad stomp. Hasslebring frequently dials up the kitsch on tunes like “The Infinite Infiniteness of Infinity,” a kooky riff driven by a slap-happy garage band beat, and “Mamacita,” a wonderfully cheesy Latin tune. Throughout the proceedings, Hasselbring, saxophonist-clarinetist Chris Speed, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer John Hollenbeck mug for the mics when required, but they also air out some serious chops when the tunes open up for solos and elastic ensemble passages. The New Mellow Edwards is a just-in-time-for-summer reminder that jazz can be fun.
Jason Kao Hwang
Since delving into the New York loft jazz scene at the tender age of 19 in 1976, Jason Kao Hwang has matriculated through the ranks of American composers and improvisers with surprisingly little fanfare. In his early 20s, the violinist was already playing with such stalwarts as William Parker and Will Connell in co-op ensembles like Commitment. In 1983, he formed the mold-breaking Far East Side Band with kayagum master Sang-Won Park, tuba player Joe Daley and percussionist Yukio Tsuji, but only released two albums in more than a decade, one on New World, the other on Victo. Hwang also spent years composing a bold chamber opera, The Floating Box: A Story in Chinatown, which was issued by New World in 2005. Subsequently, there are relatively few CDs to support the idea that Hwang is one of the more innovative American composer/instrumentalists of his generation, making the eponymous debut of Edge a substantial addition to his discography.
A quartet with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, bassist Ken Filiano and percussionist Andrew Drury, Edge places many of the essences of Asian music Hwang has distilled into a slightly more jazzcentric context. Though Hwang’s compositions often employ non-Western tonalities and metric modulation, they also rely just as frequently upon such staples as propulsive bass lines and grooves. Although Hwang occasionally teams with Filiano to create a two-man string section, taps Bynum’s wide range of textures, and calls upon Drury to stretch beyond jazz drumming, Hwang’s music still gives the quartet ample opportunities to create music with an urgent jazz-informed heat. Edge lives up to its name in that it provokes keen listening, which ultimately speaks to the interplay within the quartet.
Comprised of Norwegian alto saxophonist and clarinetist Frode Gjerstad, American percussionist Kevin Norton and British bassist Nick Stephens, Instinctual Eye came together specifically for a November 2005 US tour, the first stop of which was Barbès in Brooklyn. Gjerstad had previously worked with each of his counterparts, establishing a degree of familiarity going into the situation that is at least partially responsible for their cohesiveness on Born in Brooklyn. Not to be underestimated in this regard is the two Europeans’ respective connections to John Stevens, from whom they gleaned wisdom on the virtues of close listening and quick reflexes. With Norton, who effortlessly shuttles between vibraphone and traps, they have the elasticity to create forward movement through a number of tactics. Norton’s contribution to such freely improvised encounters is his ability to introduce melodic and scalar specificity on vibes and swinging rhythms on drums without strong-arming the music in any one direction. In this regard, Norton has impeccable timing when slipping to the background when Stephens and/or Gjerstad’s responses have peaked, letting a crescendo of malleted cymbals or a bowed vibe bar ride in their wake. Respectively, Gjerstad and Stephens often use a motivic framework, allowing the others to quickly coalesce, while giving them sufficient space to subsequently refine complementary material. This should not be pegged as a moderating influence, as each of the players are pushing the envelope from their respective vantages much of the time. It does result in a welcomed deliberate pace, given that “Fitzcarraldo’s Beautiful Nonsequitur” runs over 40 minutes and the title track over 20. This is a very impressive first meeting from a trio that should have a good run.