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Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
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Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet
One Dance Alone
Songlines 1751-2

Wayne Horvitz - One Dance Alone Wayne Horvitz’s eclectic résumé notwithstanding, the Gravitas Quartet is a curious enterprise. The instrumentation — trumpet, bassoon, cello, and piano — is unique even by chamber music standards, and the participants (Ron Miles, Sara Schoenbeck, Peggy Lee, and the leader, respectively) approach Horvitz’s classically-influenced material with a loose, albeit modest, jazz-inflected restlessness. Miles is that rarest of all creatures, an undemonstrative trumpeter, and Horvitz, echoing the precedent of kinsmen like Gil Evans and Tadd Dameron, limits himself to “arranger’s piano,” probing for harmonic or melodic subtleties rather than elaborating expansively when he moves front and center. But it’s the nature of his themes — painstakingly restrained, consonantly crafted, hauntingly evasive — that define the music’s gravitas. Some, like “Waltz from Woman of Tokyo” and “One Dance Alone,” call to mind the homespun lyricism of a Virgil Thomson, but even those of more abstract contour and ambiguous harmony, such as the three-part “July” sequence, only gradually reveal significant details as motives drift from instrument to instrument. (The exception is the band’s cover of the disturbingly sweet “A Fond Farewell,” composed by indie-pop songwriter Elliott Smith, who committed suicide in 2003.) A bit more wit and/or bite, such as the bassoon cadenza that emerges from the dark, circuitous ballad “To Say Your Name,” or the upbeat slide into stride that concludes “A Walk in the Rain,” would have been welcome. Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for that seductive quality so seldom encountered in improvised chamber music — charm.
-Art Lange

 

Ideal Bread
The Ideal Bread
KMB 015

Ideal Bread - The Ideal Bread Ideal Bread is the initiative of Josh Sinton, who first encountered Steve Lacy in 2002 as the baritone saxophonist was completing his Masters in Jazz Performance at New England Conservatory. Until then, Sinton had only a passing familiarity with such core-collection Lacy recordings like Evidence with Don Cherry. His ongoing exposure to Lacy at NEC – which included extensive rehearsals and occasional copyist duties – increasingly pulled Sinton into what he considered to be "the deep inscrutable mystery of (Lacy's) compositions."  Realizing that unraveling this mystery would be a life long preoccupation, Sinton formed Ideal Bread upon arriving in New York in 2004; trumpeter Kirk Knuffke and bassist Reuben Radding were enlisted first, with drummer Tomas Fujiwara signing on later. Unlike most ensembles, whose scrambling for gigs and recording deals have created an almost rabidly frothing race to the bottom of a flooded market, Ideal Bread was true to Lacy’s practice of mulling, spending almost three years shedding and playing the very occasional gig before recording The Ideal Bread, released in a micro edition of 250 copies. It is a must-hear album for anyone who has a serious interest in Lacy's music and heard the promise of Lacy work with Charles Tyler on One Fell Swoop (1986; Silkheart). The baritone-trumpet front line transforms chestnuts like “Esteem;” whereas the theme necessitated Lacy to reach into his highest register to evoke a hallowed, even eerie ambiance, Sinton and Knuffke use their lower pitched voicings to more visceral ends. The instrumentation places a distinctly robust emphasis on the more overtly jazzy phrases on pieces like “Trickles” and “The Uh Uh Uh,” The ensembles are appropriately propelled by Radding, who leans towards the offsetting, space-soaking phrases and blunt attack of Kent Carter, and Fujiwara, who splits the difference between the bustling, yet unobtrusive style of John Betsch and the splashier, bomb-dropping approach of Oliver Johnson. Ideal Bread creates additional appreciable daylight between themselves and Lacy’s recordings through their judicious use of broad textures and occasional rubato forays in the improvisations. Overall, the quartet succeeds in the seemingly contrary goals in articulating what has been, to date, scantily interpreted repertoire: They establish bona fides by demonstrating how the various facets of a composer’s sensibility fit together; and they take notable risks in going off-road. The Ideal Bread lays down a serious marker for the posthumous evolution of Steve Lacy’s music.
  -Bill Shoemaker

 

Steve Lacy
The Forest and The Zoo
ESP 1060

Steve Lacy- The Forest and the Zoo Revisiting The Forest and The Zoo prompts the question: How did the now legendary 1966 Buenos Aires concert recording get lost in free jazz narratives? One part of the answer is that Steve Lacy is a marginal figure in early general-audience surveys and histories of the ‘60s and free jazz. Even avant-garde advocates like Valerie Wilmer, John Litweiler and Ekkehard Jost really don’t have much of substance to say about the soprano saxophonist’s music. Though passing mention is made of his technique in Serious as Your Life, Lacy is largely a talking head, enumerating the virtues of Cecil Taylor, Billy Higgins and others. The five-page sketch of Lacy in The Freedom Principle is just that – a sketch. Jost mentions him once in a discussion of Taylor’s music. Published between 1974 and ’84, the three books reference what now constitutes a canon of recordings of the times, LPs that, in all likelihood, were no more difficult or easy for the enthusiast to find as this sole album by the soprano saxophonist’s quartet with trumpeter Enrico Rava, bassist Johnny Dyani and drummer Louis Moholo.

Given this marginalization, it is not surprising that The Forest and The Zoo has been widely ignored. These two 20-minute collective improvisations simply do not fit the free jazz mold cast largely in the images of Coltrane, Ayler et al. Although Dyani and Moholo rival any bass and drums tandem in the free jazz pantheon, sustaining a clean-burning fire throughout the proceedings, Lacy and Rava have almost contrarian approaches to free playing. For long stretches, Lacy relies on ideas refined throughout his school days of the ‘50s and early ‘60s, knotty, syncopated phrases and careening, long tone-dotted lines. Lacy also delves into the soprano’s extreme high register and employs stark textures; but, he places these methods in apposition to his established lexicon, a dynamic that remained fundamental to his improvising aesthetic. Rava’s work is entwined in modern jazz, gravitating far more towards Miles Davis – and the distillation of Davis’ sleekness in the more hard-hitting aspects of Chet Baker’s playing in the early ‘60s – than in the direction of Don Cherry, let alone Bill Dixon.

The Forest and The Zoo has ripened with the years for the very reason it was first discounted: At a point in jazz history when jazz history itself was all but anathema, Lacy and Rava not only retained theirs, but were exhortative about it. This is largely why Lacy and Rava palpably inspired Dyani and Moholo, who play with an urgency that should have caught contemporary ears and was on par with their most fabled recordings with The Blue Notes. The Argentine critic who at the time of this recording said that Lacy’s quartet played as if they had knives in their teeth was onto something. Why his counterparts in the Northern Hemisphere did not hear something equally menacing, if not truly revolutionary, remains mystifying.
-Bill Shoemaker

 

Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath
Eclipse at Dawn
Cuneiform Rune 262

Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath - Eclipse at Dawn The cultural collision of South African jazz with British free improvisation was one of the happiest events in jazz of the late ‘60s and early ’70s. Pianist-arranger Chris McGregor’s ferociously swinging Brotherhood of Breath was the crossroads where fellow South African expatriate including Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza, and Louis Moholo ran into British players like Mike Osborne, Alan Skidmore, Evan Parker, and Nick Evans. The South African dance rhythms and catchy melodic hooks clearly inspired the British players, who jumped on them with delighted enthusiasm. The South Africans seemed to revel in the greater creative license the Europeans brought to the stage. It’s an exultant, liberating sound, and the band sounded simply intoxicated audiences whenever they performed. They managed only three albums between 1971 and 1975, but over the past few years, Cuneiform has more than doubled the music available from them with several CDs of previously unreleased radio broadcasts. Eclipse at Dawn, the third of these historic issues, comes from a 1971 Berliner Jazztage concert by an early edition of the band. The Brotherhood’s idea of playing an arrangement was closer to Sun Ra’s than George Russell’s. They don’t play a chart so much as gather around it and play it as they please. It may only approximate the written notes, but they manage to convey the spirit of “Nick Tete” and “The Bride” with far greater emotional intensity through individual interpretive freedom than through ensemble uniformity – it’s an exhilarating democratic mess of a sound. On this album, barely contained boisterousness works against them only when they push at a tune hard enough to rip the seams and burst into full band group improvisation. White hot as they are, the free improvisations on “Nick Tete” and “Restless” are a bit formless and undifferentiated. But their full throttle intensity serves them well more often than not. High points include trombonist Nick Evans’ tumultuous duet with alto saxophonist Mike Osborne on Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Eclipse at Dawn;” Gary Windo’s altissimo, squeaky-hinge tenor solo on “The Bride;” Pukwana’s razor edged solo on “Nick Tete ”; and a rare extended solo from McGregor himself on “Restless.” Thirty-five years after the fact, the Brotherhood of Breath’s fusion of musics sounds not just brilliantly alive and joyful, but positively prescient.
-Ed Hazell

 

Mi3
Free Advice
Clean Feed CF098CD

Mi3 - Free Advice Pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, bassist Nate McBride, and drummer Curt Newton play an honest, expressive free jazz that’s also playful and intelligent—it feels closer to the wit and high spirits of hard bop or swing than most free piano trios. Everything in the music is malleable, tempos are unfixed, ensemble roles are fluid, and most of what happens from moment to moment is dictated by whatever the trio is spontaneously developing at the time, not by predetermined structures. Karayorgis sets “Who Said What When” in motion with fast moving extended lines, with McBride and Newton capering right beside him. Suddenly he cuts off linear progress with blocky note clusters and the music disperses in spattered piano notes and scattered snare accents and widely spaced bass thrusts. The trio is interactive enough so that these frequent changes in direction come not just from Karayorgis, but from anyone. Their empathy is strong enough so that ideas emerge by mutual agreement and develop for as long as the group maintains interest in them. Then they quickly decide together to investigate another, usually contrasting, direction. This makes tunes like “Correspondent,” “Spinach Pie,” and “Fink, Sink Tink” radically unstable, but the music feels unstrained and even lighthearted. Their approach to jazz standards like Ellington’s “The Mystery Song” and “Warm Valley” is equally discursive and free of literal historicisms. In fact, what they’ve taken from history is not style or genre limitations, but a sense of possibility, a license to explore – enjoy it as they do it.
-Ed Hazell

Rova Special Sextet/OrkestRova

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