Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
Sheila Jordan +
Cameron Brown
High Note HCD 7136

Few singers, regardless of age, bare their soul like Sheila Jordan, let alone do it accompanied only by a bass. That Jordan is now in her late seventies and performs the type of immaculate club sets documented on Celebration refutes most of the conventional wisdom about the biology of the human voice. Her projection, intonation, phrasing and coloration on these 76th birthday party performances with bassist Cameron Brown rarely even hint at her age. Recorded at NYC’s Triad, these performances compare very well with Jordan’s work with Arild Andersen on her first voice-bass album, Sheila (Steeplechase), recorded in 1977. If anything, Jordan is more joyful, radiant and reconciled, particularly when she reaches way back to tunes like “Humdrum Blues” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” which she sang on her 1962 debut, Portrait of Sheila (Blue Note). Most folks Jordan’s age are in the autumn of their lives; she’s in Indian summer.

John Korsrud
Odd Jobs,
Assorted Climaxes:
an eclectic collection of
newmusic compositions

Spool Point 3

Every scene has its overlooked figure whose importance is not fully grasped by the media. Given his sheer talent and the scope of his music, however, it is nothing short of amazing that composer-trumpeter John Korsrud remains pretty much in the background in discussions about the Vancouver creative music scene, or the Canadian national scene for that matter. A cross-section of pieces penned between 1995 and 2001 for ensembles as large as chamber orchestra and as small as a programmer, the frequently astounding Odd Jobs, Assorted Climaxes should change that.

Even listeners with no prior exposure to Korsrud will quickly catch on that he is truly being beyond category. As a trumpeter, he combines “legit” technical polish with strong improvising instincts. Compositionally, he is all over the lot: he can write tension-filled chamber orchestra pieces, hard-hitting off-center charts for big band, and engaging electro-acoustic pieces. Perhaps the real strength of the album is that each facet of Korsrud’s aesthetic has sufficient space. “Glurp,” performed by the Amsterdam-based Combustion Chamber, has the clean formal bearing one would expect from studies with Louis Andriessen. The trenchant humor of “You Look Like An Angel” could easily and mistakenly be attributed to Dutch sources, as well (imagine John Zorn and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown deconstructing Elvis, and you’re in the ballpark). Conversely, his use of samples and overdubbing can be oddly soothing.

Korsrud’s repeatedly makes smart personnel choices. He enlists great readers like clarinetist Francois Houle and cellist Peggy Lee for “VAP DIST,” a bristling orchestra score. He brings on the twin guitar juggernaut of Ron Samworth and Tony Wilson for a teeth-rattling excerpt from “Swing Theory.” And, Hard Rubber Orchestra brings the album to a crashing halt with “You Look Like An Angel.”

Michael Musillami Trio
Playscape PSR#020505

Where is the median point on today’s jazz spectrum? Is it the polite regurgitation of time worn changes and licks? Reiterations of the same old same old? Ray Charles covers? Guitarist Michael Musillami has ardently argued to the contrary on a succession of self-produced albums fueled by his virtuoso brinkmanship, of which Dachau may be his best. Musillami’s playing always seems to be outbound as if propelled by some centrifugal force, and the interplay between him, bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller is consistently heated, yet precisely calibrated. However, the trio’s experience of playing in the city made infamous by the Nazi concentration camp caused their passions to be even more intensified on this album, and are quelled only occasionally by a deep-in-the-pocket theme or a soothing Coltranish rubato. Though billed as a Trio date, Musillami, Fonda and Schuller perform alone on only three of the album’s seven tracks. Pianist Peter Madsen is added for three tracks, one of which also features trumpeter Dave Ballou and Tom Christensen (the saxophonist also plays on a second quartet track). Despite the rotating personnel, this is a very cohesive, persuasive statement that jazz’s median point should move in Musillami’s direction.

Evan Parker
Electro-Acoustic Ensemble
The Eleventh Hour
ECM 1924

Evan Parker
Evan Parker with Birds
Treader trd001

Evan Parker’s history with electronics is lengthy and rich, reaching back through his duo with percussionist Paul Lytton, all the way to Music Improvisation Company. The impact of these collaborations on the saxophonist has always manifested in a heightened regard for space, which is perhaps another way of referring to the virtuoso listening that is the self-identified hallmark of British improvisers. The need for these qualities certainly intensified when Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble colleagues Lawrence Casserley, Walter Prati and Joel Ryan began processing Parker’s playing in real time. With an unprecedented eleven musicians in the mix on the EAE’s The Eleventh Hour, there is also the need to hear every sound every moment. This is where Parker’s skills as an organizer are essential (why this facet of his art has historically been dissed by the class strugglers and cultural theorists in the British music press is incomprehensible). Throughout the pieces, sub-groupings of the five instrumentalists (Lytton, pianist Augusti Fernandez, bassist Adam Linson and violinist Philipp Wachsmann) interface with the processors (who are rounded out by Richard Barrett, Paul Obermayer and Marco Vecchi) to create cohering episodic structures, each of which is brimming with iridescent timbres. It also facilitates some breath-taking passages, like the dovetailing soprano and violin at the end of “Part 4” of the title composition. In recent years, Parker has referred to himself as a composer as well as an improviser, which some observers have taken as a syntactical juke. But, if these works don’t qualify as composition with a capital “C”, what does?

With Birds is an incisive tribute to Steve Lacy, whose idea of solace on the road was a spell in a park, listening to birds. Anyone who has heard even a snippet of their ’85 FMP duo CD – titled Chirps, incidentally – knows that Parker knows Lacy’s lexicon inside out. Parker has even incorporated some of the practice regimen Lacy laid out in Findings into his own. On this LP-length program, Parker plays off the treatments of field recordings and other sources created by John Coxon and Ashley Wales, the principals of Spring Heel Jack, but fastidiously avoids Lacy’s signatures, unless you include soprano-generated bird calls among them. Additionally, Parker unexpectedly plays tenor, a horn on which he has developed an attenuated lyricism in recent years. There will be many tributes to Lacy, most of which will center on his compositions; this one speaks to Lacy’s affinity for the abstract, be it in music, poetry or art, and reflects a deep knowledge of the subject.

George Russell and

The Living Time Orchestra
The 80th
Birthday Concert

Concept Publishing
(no catalog number)

Even before the genius of George Russell sinks in, hearing The Living Time Orchestra live is an incredible sonic experience, one best approximated by the onomatopoeia used in comic books to describe the mighty blows of superheroes. Recorded at undisclosed dates on the celebratory 2003 European tour, The 80th Birthday Concert conveys the POW!, BLAM! and THWACK! that is as essential to Russell’s music as its profound conceptual underpinnings. The engineering also emphasizes the infectious groove that has propelled much of Russell’s music since the mid-1960s. These aspects of Russell’s music allow his ominous vertical stacks and jabbing lines to be absorbed by the listener without being pigeonholed as avant-garde conceits. In doing so, Russell has reconciled the dualism of high art and people’s music that has dogged jazz for decades with an unparalleled elegance.

While Americans like trumpeter Stanton Davis and trombonist Dave Bargeron still play key roles in Russell’s orchestra, Europeans like trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard are Russell’s go-to soloists. Between them, they take 11 of the 21 solos on this 2-CD set. Mikkelborg has the Miliesian touch, whether he etching delicate lines into the synth and electronics washes of “Listen to the Silence,” or capering on “So What.” Jan Garbarek may have set a high bar for the tenor soloist on the original recording of “Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature,” but Sheppard raises it with each of the two solos allotted him. On the almost 40-minute reading of “The African Game,” the solos of Brits like saxophonist Chris Biscoe, keyboardist Steve Lodder, and guitarist Mike Walker, contribute substantially to this panoramic work.

For all of its profundity, beauty and swing, The 80th Birthday Concert is simply a precis of George Russell’s contribution to American music and culture. For a fuller rendering, seek out as many of his recordings as possible.

Paul Rutherford + Ken Vandermark + Torsten Muller + Dylan van der Schyff
Spool Line 26

The Vandermark 5
The Color of Memory
Atavistic ALP166CD

The flagship of Ken Vandermark’s armada of bands, The Vandermark 5 encapsulates the Chicago composer/reed player’s sensibility, which is an increasingly tall order, as, much to his credit, Vandermark continues to grow. He no longer merely doubles on clarinets. In ensembles like the Giuffre 3ish Free Fall (odds are they have a CD in the pipeline), Vandermark demonstrates he understands the virtues of underwhelming an audience, allowing them to actually savor his compositions, which are now quick-witted and willful in roughly equal numbers. And, in the freely improvised context of Hoxha, where he has to contend with a bona fide pioneer like trombonist Paul Rutherford, and the unique torque of bassist Torsten Muller and drummer Dylan van der Schyff, Vandermark provides a gritty adhesive.

A 2-CD set, The Color of Memory reflects these developments without diluting the band’s core identity. The blisteringly intense and starkly abstract passages have always been leavened by more wiry rhythmic feels and thematic plot twists. The latter are simply more elegantly stated. Vandermark is surer in letting discreet emotional layers vibrate against one another. This is particularly the case on “Vehicle,” which segues from a mournful sax-led prelude, through a brief, loosely swinging statement (think a slightly bemused Roscoe Mitchell line), to a more robust theme (which, in lesser hands, would sound like high school jazz band pulp). Yet, it is the nearly 20-minute “Camera” that is arguably the benchmark piece of the set, as it takes into account many of the approaches employed by Free Fall and the mercurial interaction found on Hoxha. Vandermark’s worthy constituents (saxophonist Dave Rempis, trombonist Jeb Bishop, bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Tim Daisy) precisely apply their own distinctive colors and textures to a soundscape that is not just impressive, but memorable.

Irene Schweizer
Live at Taktlos
Intakt CD 001

Intakt CD 105

Swiss pianist Irene Schweizer is an important figure in the development of improvised music in Europe on several counts. She contributed to such early benchmark recordings as Manfred Schoof’s European Echoes (FMP; 1969) and Pierre Favre Quartett (Wergo; 1969). In the ‘70s and ‘80s, she founded, respectively, the Feminist Improvising Group and the European Women Improvising Group, whose ranks included bassist Joelle Leandre and vocalist Maggie Nichols, who later performed with Schweizer as Les Diaboliques. But, the crux of Schweizer’s contribution to this now decades-old movement is her specific idea of freedom. For her, free improvisation is a method, not a genre. Therefore, she is at liberty to access everything from Ragtime to Monk, styles in which she is very fluent. This trait is more plainly presented on Portrait, a retrospective released in conjunction with Gitta Gsell’s newly released documentary film, Irene Schweizer. The Monk tip is well represented by “Hackensack” with Han Bennink and “A Monkish Encore” with Andrew Cyrille. A reading of Dudu Pukwana’s “Angel” with Louis Moholo and the pithily titled solo piece, “Sisterhood of Spit,” attest to her affinity to South African music. Live At Taktlos emphasizes her agility in non-idiomatic improvisation in duo with George Lewis and two trios (Nichols and Gunter Sommer; Leandre and Paul Lovens). Heard together, the two albums confirm Schweizer’s stature.

Triptych Myth
The Beautiful
Aum Fidelity AUM 035

Cooper-Moore is one of the more intriguing figures in American music. He is as much a Harry Partch-like inventor as he is an instrumentalist, creating sundry instruments with which he can give entire concerts or record complete CDs. And, there’s the whole mysterioso tip with the hyphenated pseudonym (which references his grandmothers, he finally revealed in a recent Time Out New York, and serves as a reminder to treat women well). All of this somewhat obscures the fact that he is an impressive pianist, thoroughly steeped in the jazz tradition, and fully capable of bringing any one or combinations of its many branches to bear in a given performance. Arguably, this aspect of Cooper-Moore’s work receives its most thorough airing to date on Triptych Myth’s The Beautiful. What is immediately and lastingly engaging about Cooper-Moore’s playing is he never makes conspicuous references to earlier innovators. Instead, in the course of a workout like “All Up In It,” where he deftly pivots between sleek lines, buttressed by jabbing block chords, and torrents of clusters, octaves and dense counterpoint, he triggers mad scrambles to attach a name to a fleeting flourish or aside. The quicksilver pace of Cooper-Moore’s ideas is sustained by bassist Tom Abbs and drummer Chad Taylor, who share a sure sense of how to respond in a pointed manner to Cooper-Moore on a second-by-second basis, without ever limiting his options. Cooper-Moore also proves to be a versatile writer in the six pieces he contributes to the ten-track album, which span nostalgic ballads and effervescent, Don Pullenish tunes. Still, the important thing to remember is that this is just a part of Cooper-Moore’s far-reaching art.

Lars-Göran Ulander Trio
Live at Glenn Miller Café
Ayler aylCD-013

Even though alto saxophonist Lars-Göran Ulander has been on the Swedish free jazz scene since the 1960s, working with such luminaries as Sven-Åke Johansson and Per Henrik Wallin, this is his first recording as a leader. His choices of former Keith Jarrett bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Paul Nilssen-Love (of Atomic, The Thing, et al) may initially raise some eyebrows, but they prove to be a tandem well-suited to Ulander’s plaintive attack and his slow-burn development of materials. With the exception of Mingus’ “What Love” and Ulander’s careening “J.C. Drops,” the album consists of lengthy free improvisations where Danielsson’s churning bass lines and Nilssen-Love’s cross-rhythms and bursts of intensity allow Ulander to create a fine tension with long tones, blues-drenched phrases and mournful cries. The alto saxophonist exudes such gravitas that, by the end of the CD, it seems incredible that Ulander has stayed so under the radar for so long.

Cuong Vu
It’s Mostly Residual
(no catalog number)

Even though the press has heaped praise on the trumpeter for several years, Cuong Vu has released few CDs under his leadership, so he takes a big risk in enlisting Bill Frisell as guest artist on It’s Mostly Residual. Despite his amiable persona, the guitarist is one of the most dominant voices in jazz today, capable of coloring and shaping a performance with a single utterance. There are moments when Frisell seems to be on the brink of over-sweetening the lyricism of Vu’s compositions, or saturating the open spaces with loops and effects, instead of highlighting them. But, it never happens. Even on the relatively bucolic beginning of the title piece, Vu’s writing has enough sandpaper-like qualities to scuff Frisell’s most pristine surfaces. Elsewhere, Vu builds provocative pieces with tightly coiled lines and odd meter grooves, prompting incisive responses from Frisell. Frisell is also obviously mindful of the frequently counterintuitive work of electric bassist Stomu Takeishi, who lays down an odd phrase or lays out altogether when it is least expected. Additionally, when Vu launches into one of his rhythmically charged, deftly constructed solos, and drummer Ted Poor kicks the music into high gear, Frisell proves he still knows how to be an unobtrusive sideman. Recruiting Frisell for It’s Mostly Residual proves to be a smart bet for Vu, as the trumpeter comes into his own as a leader by bringing out the best in a brand-name artist.