Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
Dexter Gordon Quartet
Manhattan Symphonie
Columbia Legacy ACK 93581

Recorded in 1978, Manhattan Symphonie was sophisticated tenor giant Dexter Gordon’s first studio recording with the quartet with pianist George Cables, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Eddie Gladden, which proved to be Gordon’s best unit of his last, post-expat years. They didn’t just back Gordon; they put his every volley back over the net, forcing him to leave it all on the bandstand. And he does so here, whether the material at hand is “Time Goes By,” which Gordon caresses like a newborn, or his rousing signature blues, “LTD.” This reissue supplements the original LP with the smoldering take on “Ruby My Dear” included on Great Encounters and a robust, previously unissued reading of “Secret Love.”

Ramon Lopez Flowers Trio
Flowers Of Peace
Leo CD LR 438

Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez is in the thick of the Paris scene, playing with the National Orchestra du Jazz and adventurous improvisers like pianist Sophia Domancich and bassist Joelle Leandre, who join him on Flowers Of Peace. Much of this Radio France session (hence the ECMish sound) is surprisingly accessible, though the music remains decidedly outside the parameters of mainstream jazz. This is largely attributable to Domancich, who tends towards long flowing lines and harmonic consonance even when Leandre, a renowned agitprop, tries to pull the music in a contrary direction. But, these efforts on the bassist’s part are fewer than expected; instead, she is frequently swept up by the elegance of Domancich’s playing, which is also well supported by Lopez’s tactful drumming.

Phil Minton/Veryan Weston
Ways Out East,
Ways Out West

Intakt CD 097

Vocalist Phil Minton and keyboardist Veryan Weston take on everything from labor songs to jazz and schmaltz on this engaging duo outing. 18 of the 27 mostly short tracks revisit their 1993 small vocal ensemble project that examined anarchism and, particularly, the life and work of Russian anarchist Nestor Makhno. The subject is a perfect foil for Minton’s slipping between august song and Dadaist scat. The piece also leaves room for Weston to stretch. The remaining tracks find Weston on a church organ, but the material is hardly sacred. Their take on “Big Rock Candy Mountain” is a stitch while their version of Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” is simply unhinged.

Sunny Murray
Perles Noires vol. I
Eremite MTE045

Perles Noires vol. II
Eremite MTE046

Drummer Sunny Murray’s sound of breaking glass is still shattering what passed as conventional jazz wisdom over 40 years ago, when he broke onto the New York scene with Cecil Taylor and, most importantly, Albert Ayler. On this two-volume set, Murray not only demonstrates that he can still crash and bang with abandon, but that he can also sharpen his idiosyncratic musicality to surprisingly fine points. Subsequently, these recordings buttress the assertion that Murray is the most original stylist since Kenny Clarke. Murray is heard with five different groups, the very high common denominator being reed player Sabir Mateen, one of the more powerful underground forces on the US scene. vol. I may garner more initial buzz, since, in addition to a strong duet, it includes four trios with pianist Dave Burrell and two tracks with bassist Alan Silva in a quartet rounded out by saxophonist Louis Belogenis. Though vol. II does not feature such Fire Music legends, it features two notable improvisers, reed player Oluyemi Thomas and pianist John Blum, who more than pass muster in respective trios with Murray and Mateen.

Paul Rutherford
Emanem 4118

Neuph is a unique item in trombonist Paul Rutherford’s discography on two counts: he also plays euphonium; and he uses over-dubbing and tape-speeding. The original 1978 SFA LP was even harder to acquire Stateside in the ‘70s than earlier solo albums like The Gentle Harm Of The Bourgeoisie (Emanem; 1974) and Old Moers Almanac (Ring; 1976); so, this reissue is particularly welcomed. The fluidity that is Rutherford’s hallmark on trombone is very much in evidence in his euphonium playing, and the formal elasticity that is one of his best assets as an improviser remains intact in his multi-track pieces. Improvised music purists bristled initially at Rutherford’s use of tape-speeding, which seems quaint now – it simply makes his trombone sound like a cornet. Neuph won’t dislodge Gentle Harm as the pinnacle of Rutherford’s work in the ‘70s; but, it fills in what has been a nagging gap in his Compact Discography.

Woody Shaw
Stepping Stones: Live at
The Village Vanguard

Columbia Legacy CK 93646

Woody Shaw was at the height of both his fame and creative powers when he recorded this excellent club date in 1978. Equally fluent on trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn (he’s heard only on the latter two here), his playing balanced finesse and fire; his writing was crammed with memorable hooks; and his quintet with saxophonist Carter Jefferson, pianist Onaje Alan Gumbs, bassist Clint Houston and drummer Victor Lewis was one of the planet’s best. It’s all here on this long overdue reissue of Stepping Stones. Tragically, Shaw’s career and health began a long descent several years after this recording (he died in year). But, on these August nights in the Village Vanguard, Woody Shaw ruled, gloriously.

Natsuki Tamura/
Elliott Sharp/
Takayuki Kato/
Satoko Fujii
In The Tank
Libra 104-011

Over the past decade, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura’s music has steadily shifted away from the post-Coleman chamber jazz of How Many? (Leo Lab), a 1996 set of duets with pianist Satoko Fujii, to the industrial-strength improvised music of Hada Hada (Libra), a 2003 CD with a largely electric quartet with Fujii on synthesizer, guitarist Takayuki Kato and drummer Takaaki Masuko. With Kato and Fujii (on piano) back and guitarist/soprano saxophonist Elliott Sharp rounding out the quartet, the colors of Tamura’s soundscapes are more saturating than overpowering, which makes the occasional veering into pensive melody all the more effective. Still, this is challenging music.

John Tchicai/
Garrison Fewell/
Tino Tracanna/
Paulino Dalla Porta/
Massimo Manzi
Big Chief Dreaming
Soul Note 121387-2

Saxophonist John Tchicai’s bio will always lead with his participation on such Fire Music benchmarks as John Coltrane’s Ascension and his membership in major New Thing co-ops like the New Art Quartet and the New York Contemporary Five; but, the bulk of his work since then has been distinguished by a folk music-informed lyricism, smart approaches to structure, and a swing feel that doesn’t lose its suppleness with increases of heat. All of these qualities are in abundant evidence in this quintet date with the always impressive Boston-based guitarist Garrison Fewell and three strong Italian musicians: saxophonist Tino Tracanna, bassist Paulino Dalla Porta, and drummer Massimo Manzi. Though the materials range from Ornettish dirges to puckish, Monk-inspired romps and workouts driven by oddly accented grooves, the quintet has an appealing, quietly urgent temperament that coheres the date. Big Chief Dreaming is a very good choice for reintroducing Soul Note after the label’s lengthy Stateside dormancy.

Stan Tracey/Evan Parker
psi 05.04

Free Zone Appleby 2004
psi 05.05

What a difference a day makes. These two albums were recorded on consecutive days during the 2004 Appleby Jazz Festival, whose programming annually features both pianist Stan Tracey and saxophonist Evan Parker in varied settings. Even though the music on both is freely improvised, there is a marked contrast in tone between the two albums.

Parker is acutely attuned to Tracey, whose modernist moorings manifest in readily tonal centers and perceptible figures developed at a deliberate pace. Parker’s tenor playing is frequently and impressively robust; but, some of his most persuasive playing occurs in quieter passages, when he highlights his lines with a dry cry. Some of Tracey’s best moments are his most understated, like when he lets piquant clusters decay into silence, only to shift gears with a lacerating descending line or a jarring chord. They don’t scream it, but Tracey’s risks are profound, as he loads the most tentative moments of an improvisation with potentially derailing melodic and harmonic specifics. Parker unfailingly recognizes these moments, and responds in kind.

The participants in Free Zone change yearly; except for Parker, violinist Phil Wachsmann is the only improviser to have played in each one since its inception in 1998. The line-up for ‘04 was rounded out by bassist Barry Guy, percussionist Paul Lytton and signal processor Joel Ryan. The CD features a duo between Ryan and each of the instrumentalists, and each of the trios yielded from the four. Compared to the duos, which are fueled by Ryan’s surreal, often volatile sounds, the trios seem a bit subdued at first; but, upon close listening, they reveal themselves as equally bristling statements. Parker is heard only on soprano, on which he frequently achieves an eerie blend with the strings. The music is more astringent than on Crevulations, but no less cogent.

Christian Wallumrød
A Year From Easter
ECM 982 4132

Pianist / composer Christian Wallumrød’s ensemble is comprised of some of the most intriguing instrumentalists ever to emerge from Scandinavia. Doubling on Hardanger fiddle and viola d’amore, violinist Nils Økland can sound post-modern one moment and medieval the next. Much of the time, Arve Hendriksen’s trumpet sounds more like an Indian flute or a haunting wind than a brass instrument. Percussionist Per Oddvar Johansen has the uncanny ability to contribute an appropriate yet provocative texture at the optimum moment. Then there is Wallunrød, who, in addition to blending harmonium and toy piano into the mix, creates the compositional context where all these exotic textures make perfect sense. Juxtaposing elements spanning hymn-like fragments to stark repetitive figures, Wallumrød creates soundscapes that can morph from earthy to ethereal in the time it takes to sigh.