Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed

Don Cherry
Live At Café Montmartre 1966
ESP Disk 4032

Don Cherry Don Cherry’s mid-1960s compositions had an exclamatory joyfulness that mitigated their jagged contours and occasionally convulsive phrasing. Albums like Complete Communion and Symphony For Improvisers have endured because of their conviviality as much as anything. Arguably, this aspect of the trumpeter’s music reached an apex when both Gato Barbieri and Karl Berger were in the band; Cherry’s buoyant rhythms and the jangling effervescence of Berger’s vibraphone infused Barbieri’s blood-curdling caterwauling with a playfulness he would never top, even on his groundbreaking Flying Dutchman albums. Recorded at Copenhagen’s fabled club for Danish radio between the sessions for the aforementioned Blue Notes, this set fleshes out how Cherry used rhythmically charged counterpoint to spur the ensembles and set up his own swinging, often soaring solos. With his quintet rounded out by bassist Bo Stief and drummer Aldo Romano, who are thoroughly versed with the twists and turns of Cherry’s pieces and unerringly anticipate a soloist’s next move, Cherry calls tunes from both of his Blue Notes, often combining them with other materials. Excerpts from “Elephantasy” are linked with a bouncy Ornette tune and a Monkish line with deep pockets to create “Cocktail Piece;” “Cocktail Piece (End)” is actually “Remembrance” from Communion. “Free Improvisation: Music Now” includes two themes from Symphony: the brisk march “Nu Creative Love” and the slightly unhinged “Lunatic.” Cherry’s most audacious move, however, is slipping “A Taste of Honey” into “Complete Communion” with such ease that it takes longer than it should to register as such. This is a revealing snapshot of Cherry at a crucial point in his development as a player, composer and bandleader and a substantial addition to his discography.
-Bill Shoemaker


Kenny Davern Trio
No One Else But Kenny

Kenny Davern It’s tricky business to carve out a niche playing “trad jazz” – the term itself, which has been applied to almost everything between ragtime and the Swing Era, carries enough negative connotations to fill a Blackberry. But when clarinetist Kenny Davern passed away last December, he was irreplaceable. Neither an innovator on his instrument nor the most flamboyant of stylists, Davern brought distinction, curiosity, and wit to a music that requires all three to not just survive, but thrive. A few examples: though his biggest musical influence was Pee Wee Russell, he avoided the characteristic exaggerations which proved to be both divine inspiration and albatross to clarinetists like Archie Semple and Frank Chace; before he settled solely on clarinet, he co-founded (with Bechet protégé Bob Wilber) Soprano Summit, a pathbreaking band which paired soprano saxophones in the front line (with one or the other occasionally switching to alto, C melody, or clarinet) and helped revitalize the repertory of the ‘20s and ‘30s; and he once filled Harry Carney’s chair playing baritone saxophone as part of an Ellington retrospective at Carnegie Hall. Oh yes, not to be categorized, he also recorded, in much freer climes, separate sessions with Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd, respectively.

In some ways, No One Else But Kenny, from early 2006 but only recently released, is a typical Davern date – it features the classic clarinet/piano/drums format, and offers familiar tunes from Tin Pan Alley (Irving Berlin’s “All by Myself” and “You’re Lucky to Me” by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf), the Condon crew (“Sugar”), and trad standards (“Tishomingo Blues” and “Beale Street Blues”). His collaborators – New Orleans pianist David Boeddinghaus and veteran drummer Trevor Richards – are comfortable in the idiom and provide plenty of felicitous detail. As for Davern, unlike most clarinetists he seldom casts lightning bolts or grinds and growls his way through a tune; rather, he respects a good melody and take pride in his phrasing, knows how to color a note for subtle effect, and sustains a charismatic lyricism in his solos. Ironically, it’s on “Moonglow,” a tender ballad identified with Benny Goodman, that he explodes his most explicit Pee Wee-isms. But for the most part, he’s not out to dazzle, but to charm. It’s a nice way to remember him.
-Art Lange


Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra with Barry Guy
FMR 168 10706

Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra Modeled somewhat on the lines of the London Improvisers Orchestra, but with – dare a compatriot say? – a greater internal democracy and an air of enterprise characteristic of the Scots. This collaboration with bassist and composer Barry Guy is just the latest in a sequence of remarkable associations set up by GIO (and largely by straw-boss Raymond MacDonald, whose working group is embedded in the orchestra). Previously, the ensemble has workshopped and improvised with Evan Parker and Maggie Nicols (both of these issued on record), Keith Rowe, Harry Beckett, Keith Tippett (a now regular associate of the Burt-MacDonald axis) and Gunter Baby Sommer, who has been touring a duo project with MacDonald this summer.

Heady times, then, for musicians who until relatively recently have had few convincing outlets for free improvised music on this scale. The main event on Falkirk (named after the small, post-industrial town in central Scotland boasting a fine venue in the lovely Callendar House) is a section from Guy’s Witch Gong Game, an open score inspired by the work of Scots-born abstract expressionist Alan Davie, who is himself a saxophonist and improviser. Typical of Guy’s history with the London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, the basic language is a subtle blend of structure and freedom, with certain passages very strictly interpreted, others left entirely open.

The immediate impression, curiously, is a large-scale work by another great bassist, Charles Mingus. The furious horn clarions, rumbling transitions and simultaneously improvised lines often veer close to some of Mingus’ posthumously performed ensemble charts. Guy, though, has a deep understanding of Baroque and classical music, and there are elements throughout the piece of concertante and ripieno passages, not used in any normative or ironically post-modernist way, but grafted securely into an impressive structure. Maya Homburger’s Baroque violin and Nicola MacDonald’s voice are particularly important elements in a piece that balances yin and yang elements with utmost delicacy and daring.

It had been planned to record a further Guy composition, but improvisation is what GIO does best and the opening fifteen minutes of the disc offers a vivid glimpse of an increasingly individual sound-world, whose less familiar elements – shakuhachi, the seemingly omnicompetent Padden’s range of sounds, twinned guitars and basses – are never highlighted merely for the sake of idiosyncrasy, but always melded into the collective.

The musicians themselves engineered and produced the recording, which is further testimony to their determination and skill. Compared to recent discs by their London near-namesakes, this is almost studio quality; rich, nuanced music, with an impressive depth of focus and aural detail.
-Brian Morton


Cathnor Cath004

Toshimaru Nakamura + Lucio Capece
Formed 106

MIMEO Over the past decade, noise has increasingly become a refuge for those disaffected with the traditional instrumentalist predicates of improvised music. You can count members of MIMEO like Phil Durrant among the refugees; even the innovative approach to near inaudibility he developed as a violinist has been all but shelved to concentrate on signal processing. However, with eleven other improvisers (including Jan-Gert Prins, Thomas Lehn, Kaffe Matthews, Peter Rehberg, Jerome Noetinger, Marcus Schmickler, Christian Fennesz, Rafel Toral, Cor Fuhler and Keith Rowe), the issues of assemblage and individual latitude remain as they do in acoustic or electro-acoustic ensembles of the same size. Similarly, the duo of Toshimaru Nakamura, who works with a no-input mixer, and Lucio Capece, who plays soprano saxophone with unspecified preparations, have not overhauled or disabused improvised music’s traditional modes of confrontation and accommodation. Yet, whatever overlap there may be in practice is quickly obscured in the hisses and the crackles and the binary roars. It is the thoroughly distracting magnetism of Sight and ij that makes them emblematic. For much of the hour-long piece, MIMEO stays close to a deliberately paced ebb and swell; at its sparsest, the music has a restive metallic rustle; at full bore, it is withering. Nakamura and Capece are closer to the laminal aesthetic of AMM, though they aspire to confluence instead of coexistence, even when the intensity is harrowing. Both albums jar the listener out of his comfort zone, and create a strange allure in the process.
-Bill Shoemaker


Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy
Cornell, 1964
Blue Note 0946 3 922190 2 8

Charles Mingus A forgotten concert; a legendary ensemble led by one of jazz’s true titans; performances that connect the dots not only in terms of the life of a great band, but the evolution of a central work in the canon of a major American composer. That’s Cornell, 1964; but the chorus of critics calling it historic will be impairing, if not deafening. So, don’t listen them, but to the music, instead. Recorded between the two-month Five Spot run, where the newly formed sextet with Jaki Byard, Johnny Coles, Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan and Dannie Richmond birthed “Meditations,” and the Town Hall concert that preceded the well-documented European tour, these two hour-plus sets finds Mingus at his protean best, easily moving from the romance of a solo version of “Sophisticated Lady,” through the tumult of “Meditations,” and achieving an unbridled joy with the closing renditions of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and “Jitterbug Waltz.” Throughout the concert, Mingus is shouting out instructions, exclaiming his pleasure with the band’s passionate performances, and joking with the audience.

The concert begins with unaccompanied solos by Byard, who airs out his jaw-dropping Tatum and Waller-derived chops, and “Sophisticated Lady;” both are liberally peppered with quotes from materials as far flung as Chopin and “Yankee Doodle.” The sextet opens with a lacerating half-hour rendition of “Fables Of Faubus;” though it follows the general contours of other versions recorded by the same unit, there are passages like Jordan’s duo exchange with Richmond that pack a surprisingly stinging punch. Much the same can be said of “Orange Was The Colour Of Her Dress, Then Silk Blue,” a performance spurred by Mingus’ ripping runs. The first set ends with a romping “Take The A Train” that is a casebook example of how Mingus and Richmond could change the rhythmic feel on almost bar-by-bar basis; their fours are a marvel, as well. In addition to “Meditations,” “Irish,” and “Jitterbug,” the second set includes a satisfying “So Long Eric,” featuring a pungent Coles, a strutting Byard, and a testifying Jordan.

Dolphy is incandescent and convivial throughout the concert, whether he is meeting the needs of Mingus’ ensembles – his flute seems more buoyant and luminous in the opening of “Meditations” than on other versions; it is wonderfully blithe on “Jitterbug Waltz” – or pushing the envelope as a soloist; his bass clarinet is riveting in his exchanges with Richmond on “Fables.” Cornell, 1964 is a substantial addition to the multi-instrumentalist’s discography, as well. Still, it is how each of the six musicians complemented the others while realizing Mingus’ vaulting vision of jazz that is the history lesson here.
-Bill Shoemaker

ECM Records

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