Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
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Kidd Jordan + Hamid Drake + William Parker
Palm of Soul
Aum Fidelity AUM038

Kidd Jordan It took Kidd Jordan a few days to surface after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, destroying his home along with so many others. He managed to hold on to his horns, as well as his humanity. Less than a month later, the saxophonist made his way to a New York studio where he reunited with two frequent collaborators, the Louisiana-born percussionist Hamid Drake and bassist William Parker. The resulting music has the contours of a reunion after catastrophe: After a short, jubilant greeting, there are mainly somber remembrances, spiked by the occasional buffeting image. This is New Orleans music in the sense that it is part funeral and part wake. “Ritual” may be an overused term in discussions of creative music, but it applies to Palm of Soul. For the most part, there is only an undercurrent of catharsis; the listener is pulled into the music largely with quietly insistent ballad-like forms. Drake and Parker’s use of African and Asian instruments underscore the depth-plumbing ambiance of the set. Still, the defining presence on the album is Jordan, who plays with the fire that cannot be extinguished.

 

Pauline Oliveros
The Roots of the Moment
hatOLOGY 591

Pauline Oliveros As Pauline Oliveros’ trademarked Deep Listening practice expresses an essentially environmentalist sensibility, its tech-friendliness may initially seem cognitively dissonant. The machine and the pristine, after all, are mutually exclusive concepts for many folks. Yet, for more than 50 years, Oliveros’ use of technology has strengthened her Deep Listening agenda of personal discovery and healing in the pursuit of community. Recorded nearly 20 years ago, The Roots of the Moment is a six-part work for solo accordion (in just intonation) in “an interactive environment” designed by Peter Ward. In a way, the lack of technical description of how Oliveros’ accordion sounds are processed reinforces the aura of elegant mystery surrounding the music. At first, Oliveros’ accordion is looped into layers of drones, simple repeated intervals and scurrying runs that are reminiscent of Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air. Yet, as the piece develops, it becomes obvious that Ward has the capability to atomize Oliveros’ real-time playing. There are lengthy passages where tones emerge, stretch, bend and eventually fade away in a building wash of harmonics. The timbres veer between the natural and supernatural. For all its potentially disorienting properties, this is exquisitely centered music, and by the end of the piece, there is something of a reprise of the opening section’s feel. In the past year, Oliveros’ performances at the Guelph Jazz Festival and Sound Exchange in Philadelphia have reaffirmed her importance, artistically and pedagogically, making this reissue very timely.

 

The Odean Pope Saxophone Choir
Locked & Loaded
Half Note 4526

Odean Pope “Sound is the only existing force that carries the past the present the future of information,” Ornette Coleman proclaimed in his sleeve notes for this majestic album, having experienced Odean Pope’s Saxophone Choir at point-blank range during the Blue Note stand that yielded Locked & Loaded. It is an apt description of Pope’s music for this 12-piece juggernaut. Instead of simply referencing the past, Pope’s compositions create a sense of timelessness by giving familiar materials and forms extraordinary mass. When five tenors, three altos and a baritone bear down on a vamp capped by a spiky phrase, or slip a chromatic contour into a ballad, it has the shock of the new. Even Pope’s arrangements of John Coltrane’s “Central Park West” and “Coltrane Time” have an upside-the-head impact rarely achieved through retooled repertoire.

One of the remarkable aspects of Pope’s Saxophone Choir is that, historically, it has been largely comprised of musicians who have enjoyed little exposure outside of Philadelphia. The idea then of having such marquee players as Michael Brecker, James Carter and Joe Lovano sit in with an ensemble that can tear down any house on their own seems a bit patronizing, at first. However, the three high-profile tenors are obviously inspired by the passion and power of Pope’s charts. Generally deployed on eyebrow-singeing burners like Pope’s “Prince Lasha” and “Muntu Chant” – the exception is Lovano’s smoldering turn on Pope’s “Cis,” which mixes lovely ballad choruses and bold off-road writing for saxophones – each of the franchise players hand in performances that may well soften the cynicism their transformation into product engenders in some quarters.

For all of the star power, Pope remains the shining focal point of the album. In addition to his compositions, he solos exquisitely on “Epitome” (an early description of the piece as “sounding like a Baptist vocal ensemble” still holds water) and powerfully on the full-immersion “Coltrane Time,” where he locks horns with Brecker. On the marketable strengths of Locked & Loaded, maybe Odean Pope will now begin to get what’s overdue.

 

Giacinto Scelsi
Natura Renovatur
ECM New Series 1963

Giacinto Scelsi In his later years, Gaicinto Scelsi pursued the concept of a third sonic dimension, one that extends beyond pitch and duration. It was an endeavor perhaps best heard in his music for strings. Largely bypassing European compositional conventions, Scelsi created pieces primarily using dynamics and timbres to propel the music. The resulting music spanned the peacefully translucent and the harrowingly opaque, and can be enthralling if sensitively performed and recorded in the right space. Both of these conditions are met on Natura Renovatur, a program that alternates between solo pieces performed by cellist Frances-Marie Uitti, a longtime Scelsi collaborator as well as a pioneer of two-bow techniques, and pieces scored for 11 and 16 strings, performed by the Munich Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Christoph Poppen. Both Uitti and Poppen understand the role of the performance space in realizing Scelsi’s third dimension, and respectively exploit the decay afforded by a 19th Century German church to their respective ends. Uitti performs two relatively linear pieces originally scored for solo voice, which were composed in 1970; placed near the beginning and at the end of the album, have a palette-cleaning effect. The ensemble pieces from the mid to late ‘60s exemplify how Scelsi shaped masses of sound using minimal pitch information and a melding of voices that camouflages the duration of individual notes. Still, the centerpiece of the album is Uitti’s reading of “Ygghur,” a three-part piece she and Scelsi honed over the last dozen years of his life. The last movement is titled “Catharsis,” which sums up the piece’s and the album’s impact, overall.

 

Wadada Leo Smith + Adam Rudolph
Compassion
Meta/Kabell 010

Smith/Rudolph Over the decades, Wadada Leo Smith has refined a unique ability to create form in real time through improvisation. He has great instincts about when materials are about to create a closed circuit and what to do to open the music to a new set of possibilities. Conversely, he knows when a rhythm or a tone can sustain forward movement without constriction. The trumpeter’s innate leadership qualities are such that his collaborators quickly adapt to his every move. Subsequently, few musicians shape an improvisation as incisively as Smith, and fewer yield comparably unexpected and engaging results.

One of them is Adam Rudolph, who has mastered numerous percussion traditions (and several non-percussion instruments from the Third World), and has developed a keen ear for integrating them into improvised music. Whether he is playing polyrhythmic hand drums patterns, a lithe riff on the dusu’ngoni, or a buzzing phrase on the sibsi (the double reed instrument, not the kef pipe), Rudolph exudes a solemnity on Compassion that complements Smith’s. Rudolph is well attuned to Smith’s use of long tones, textures and silence, often adding only the slightest detail; but he also occasionally throws it down, inspiring Smith to play with intense fire.

Occasionally, an album of improvised music will leave you thinking there’s much more going on than meets the ear. Compassion is such an album.

Barking Hoop

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