Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
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Louis Moholo-Moholo + Marilyn Crispell
Sibanye (We Are One)
Intakt CD 145

Louis Moholo-Moholo + Marilyn Crispell - Sibanye (We Are One) The spirit of discovery and a sense of joy are palpable on this extraordinary first encounter between South African drummer Moholo-Moholo and pianist Crispell. They almost instantly find that they are free to go wherever they please in one another’s company, and the music quickly grows expansive and adventurous. Moholo, weaves rhythms freely over a foundation of stated, or more often, implied South African rhythms, which sound out from the bass drum like the thumping of his heart. Crispell mines her recently discovered vein of deep lyricism to heartbreaking effect, paying attention to the shape and color of her notes and chords, weighing silence and sound, and breaking into energized flourishes over the keyboard when tempos pick up. From the start, they sound eager to create and explore, and thoroughly pleased with their partner’s contributions to the joint musical enterprise. Moholo conversationally tosses quick snickety rim shots into the silence between Crispell’s chiming notes, while Crispell’s 88 tuned drums sound like an extension of Moholo’s traps. Sometimes they follow parallel paths, looking up from their work and waving hello to each other with a soft cymbal splash or brilliant note cluster. The music is buoyant, almost giddy with the sheer joy of creation. Unexpected confluences and serendipitous incidents crowd one another as they play. On “Moment of Truth,” drum and piano sound like extensions of each other and Crispell’s dissonant chords have rarely sounded so ravishing. “Journey” begins with Moholo mournfully intoning the names of his dead mates in the Blue Notes—Mongezi Feza, Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor— as Crispell accompanies with dark, funereal chords. But sorrow gives way to beauty half way through, as Crispell improvising flowers into some of the most rapturous music she’s ever recorded and Moholo’s pulse quickens and floats. On “Soze (Never)” Crispell locks onto Moholo’s bass drum pattern and they roll and tumble over it in nearly physical joy. “Phendula (Reply)” melds gospel and blues to South African beats then stretches and pulls the initial ideas into ever more abstract patterns. But it’s the sense of sudden recognition, of baring hidden sadness and sharing common joys, of genuine surprise and gladness that lifts this performance beyond the mere mechanics of free improvisation into something majestic and touchingly human. A tremendous album.
–Ed Hazell

 

Paul Motian
Conception Vessel
ECM 1028

Enrico Rava
The Pilgrim And The Stars
ECM 1063

Collin Wolcott
Cloud Dance
ECM 1062

Paul Motian - Conception Vessel Over its 40-year run, ECM has often been portrayed in monolithic terms by both its advocates and detractors. Its anniversary-driven Touchstone series does much to undermine the stereotypes, pro and con.  True, the label has been an avatar in what is now commonly called chamber jazz and European jazz, but the truth is that the label has simultaneously pursued various strains of jazz and related music since its inception. These three albums from the early to mid 1970s are as reflective of the decade’s eclecticism as any contemporary’s catalog. They have not just held up over the decades; they now have an aura of prescience.

Though it was not touted as a coup at the time, Conception Vessel was Paul Motian’s first recording as a leader and remains one of his most distinctive. Motian built a multi-faceted program for this ’72 album, employing not only Keith Jarrett but also two of the pianist’s early ‘70s stalwarts, guitarist Sam Brown and bassist Charlie Haden. Yet, nowhere does the music smack of Jarrett’s contemporaneous Impulse dates. This is not only due to Motian’s decision not to bring the three together; instead, Brown, Haden and Motian play as a trio on what was originally the first and last tracks on the LP’s A Side (a short percussion solo is tucked between them), while Jarrett and Motian perform two duets (the first featuring piano, the second an elemental approach to flute) to open the B side of the LP. Motian’s thematic materials are the real distinguishing factor. His themes would be merely fragmentary were it not for his ability to give each successive phrase a rhythmic charge that repeatedly pivots the feel of the piece, sometimes on a bar by bar basis. Where Jarrett would use stop-start phrases derived from Ornette Coleman’s lexicon, Motian favored – and still does – themes that lurch, lope or trail off, ripe with spaces for improvised asides. It is an approach that Haden thoroughly exploits with his space-soaking long notes and his chromatic ruminations, as does the unheralded Brown, who is alternately lyrical and stirring on acoustic guitar on the opening “Georgian Bay” and edgy with an electric instrument on “Rebica.” The same goes for Jarrett, who uses the theme to launch an intense, tangent-filled solo that gives Motian free range to shape the flow of the improvisation through sudden silences and shifts in attack. Yet, the most persuasive performance is the album-ending “Inspiration from a Vietnamese Lullaby,” performed by a quartet with Haden, flutist Becky Friend and violinist Leroy Jenkins. This is Motian’s contribution to the Liberation Music of the times, overlooked as such then; but, it is a piece that is well worth revisiting. Though Friend is a sensitive ensemble player with solid improvisational instincts, it is the rapport between Jenkins and Haden that makes the track compelling. Motian’s comping of Jenkins’ careening lines and Haden’s ponderous counter lines exemplifies his unique blend of tact and boldness in applying color and texture. Had Motian made an entire album with this group, it would now in all probability be a classic.

By the time Enrico Rava recorded The Pilgrim And The Stars in mid ’75, ECM had already issued several recordings now central to a Scandinavian-centric view of European jazz, a narrative the label continues to document in meticulous detail. Although the almost archetypal rhythm tandem of bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen are on the date, the sweep of Rava’s compositions and trumpet tone – and his music’s secondary, Milesian strain, which is underscored on this album by the viscous, sometimes searing phase-shifted guitar of John Abercrombie – articulates an Idea of South. As a result, Danielsson and Christensen’s patented interplay registers quite differently than on other ECM dates, including Keith Jarrett’s. The sleek harmonic movement of Rava’s compositions, the lyrical warmth and judiciously applied heat of his horn, and Abercrombie’s uncanny ability to prod with an edgy phrase or to double-clutch with a gauzy texture at exactly the right moment, require Danielsson and Christensen to emphasize pulse and energy over atmospherics. While the section’s support softens the Italianate elements of Rava’s compositions to an extent; it does not diffuse their incandescence on compositions like “Bella” and the title tune, flowing lines that quickly heat up. Rava places two starkly contrasting sub-two minute performances – “Parks,” a gliding waltz played as a duet with acoustic guitar, and “Surprise Hotel,” a pugilistic line reminiscent of Miles’ smiling period – as the second track of each side, giving the LP an intriguing structural feature that is somewhat obscured in the CD medium. On both The Pilgrim and the Stars and the quartet’s ’76 follow-up, The Plot, Rava created a refined ensemble sound that melded European and American sensibilities, which speaks well of the openness of the times.

Collin Walcott was a central figure in ECM’s documentation of the emergent influence of world music during the ‘70s; and while the three albums he made as a member of Codona, a co-op trio with Don Cherry and Nana Vasconcelos overshadow the albums he led, they took distinctive approaches to fusing jazz and Indian music (Codona’s ECMs have been collected in a 3-CD set, The Codona Trilogy). Cloud Dance , recorded in ’76, is a varied program of duos, trios and quartets with Abercrombie, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. The twang of Walcott’s sitar blends with Abercrombie’s electric guitar to form a unique front line sound, whether they are gliding over the title piece’s consonant theme, or comingling eerily on “Night Glider.”  Walcott plays table on only two duet tracks; “Prancing,” an aptly named exchange with Holland, and “Scimitar,” which features a unusually brusque sound from Abercrombie. But, then, DeJohnette plays on only two tracks, albeit with appealing buoyancy – the title track and the piquantly lyrical opener, “Marguerite.”  Therein lies Walcott’s counter intuitive brilliance in constructing the album; he has such a strong rapport with Abercrombie and Holland, who turns out well-turned phrases throughout the proceedings, and the string colors are so saturated, that he doesn’t have to frequently raise the temperature of the music to create thoroughly engaging music.
–Bill Shoemaker

 

Gordon Mumma
Music for Solo Piano (1960-2001)
New World 80686-2

Gordon Mumma - Music for Solo Piano (1960-2001) An associate of John Cage and Merce Cunnungham, among many others, Gordon Mumma is best known for his large-scale electronic compositions. His piano music isn’t well-known and hasn’t played a central role in the building of his reputation. Although the music here spans over forty years, much of it was only fully developed and put into finished form in the 1990s. While the musical materials range from patterns found in nature to the form of baroque harpsichord music, the results are often strikingly personal, intimate musical miniatures etched with a distinct lyrical vision.

The earliest piece here is the startling “Suite for Piano,” from 1960, its four segments compressed into 4:45, and each a jolting expedition into sudden shifts in dynamics and attack, strangely fragmented explosions of sound, then sudden looming silences. The other early work, “Large Size Mograph 1962,” is from a series of pieces that uses seismographs of earthquakes and underground nuclear tests to determine rhythmic patterns with the composer determining pitches and registers. The result is surprisingly quiescent, a series of highly unpredictable, sometimes delicate gestures that suggest the early piano pieces of Morton Feldman.

Following those early works, Mumma’s favoured mode of presentation for his keyboard music has been the suite, gathering together often eclectic miniatures into sequences based on methodological affinities. In the case of “Jardin,” the suite reaches back to 1958 for some of the original sketches, though the piece was only brought to final form in 1997 and performed for the first time in 2008. Like much of Mumma’s music, it seems to mirror natural processes, here several of the pieces growing with plant-like diversity from the same kernel materials. Variously grouped into suites with titles like “Songs Without Word,” “from the Sushibox,” and “Graftings,” Mumma’s pieces often have the kind of perfectly abstract clarity achieved by Gertrude Stein’s verbal “portraits,” seemingly capturing some essence of dedicatees like the poet Jackson MacLow, or the pianist David Tudor (a lovely elegy for one “who went on before”), or pack animals from a childhood experience, or trees downed in a storm, or Mumma’s sons. It’s a potent collection of snapshots and sudden, fleeting inspirations, seldom resolved in any conventional sense, but always of interest.

The pieces are performed by Daan Vandewalle, a Belgian pianist who has previously recorded works by Charles Ives, Fred Frith and Alvin Curran. In this world of Mumma’s musical miniatures, Vandewalle does a fine job of finding the distinctive personality of each.
 –Stuart Broomer

 

Larry Ochs + Miya Masaoka + Peggy Lee
Spiller Alley
RogueArt ROG-0016

Larry Ochs + Miya Masaoka + Peggy Lee - piller Alley Saxophonist Larry Ochs, koto player Miya Masaoka, and cellist Peggy Lee treat improvisation as a land of fresh starts, where they can escape the strictest confines of heritage, reinvent themselves as creators of pure sound, and discover afresh the nature and capabilities of their instruments. Ochs is under no obligation to play jazz, neither does Lee play “classical,” nor Masaoka in any way play Japanese classical music. Instead, they make music that’s about timbre, texture, and inflection; rigorous use of technique; balance and contrast; and the coordination of spontaneous gestures. It’s similar to, but separate from the music of Maybe Monday, the improvising trio to which Ochs and Masaoka belong.

Ochs’s tenor and sopranino phrases are exact, sharply delineated, dry, controlled, and shaded in autumnal colors. Masaoka’s koto, with its abrupt attack and lack of sustain is likewise sharp and dry, little popcorn-kernel explosions of sound, with various textures evocative of the many ways she touches the strings. Lee provides a fruitier, fuller tone, but like her band mates she’s conscious of her every move, and never intrudes on silence without good reason. The music is very much a kind of sonic painting. On “micro-mirror,” they overlap their sounds, using short-lived or sustained tones that are dense and bright in the middle, but attenuated at the edges so that the notes and colors contributed by other players bleed through. “neoNawi” is a still canvas, with the emphasis on decay and inflection of notes, the timbre of the koto sounding against the graceful line of the cello and the pop and coiled-spring tension of the sopranino sax. The title track is a more crowded and larger space. It’s a busy opening, full of trills and squawks and clicks like a tree full of starlings, opens out to more expansive gestures, scribbled lines from the cello juxtaposed against scattered notes from the koto and a wash of color from the tenor sax.  Seemingly unrelated gestures converge, unite, branch off in opposite directions, peacefully coexist, fall away into silence in a vast but never rambling or uncertain performance. They listen to one another intently, and their music asks the same concentration from their listeners.
–Ed Hazell

 

RIDD Quartet
Fiction Avalanche
Clean Feed CF121CD

RIDD Quartet - Fiction Avalanche The RIDD Quartet is a Brooklyn-based band that consists of Jon Irabagon on alto, Kris Davis on piano, Reuben Radding on bass and Jeff Davis on drums. This is the group’s first recording and the genre might be described as free jazz. Each piece of music is attributed to the entire group, which suggests collective improvisation, but there are often more formal elements at work than that would suggest. “Paoli” is among the most predetermined, with Irabagon developing a strong melodic lead and Kris Davis creating a repeating ostinato. There’s similar patterning in “The Five Ways,” with Kris Davis elaborating a dissonant and recirculating filigree against Irabagon’s high frequencies. The music is deeply traditioned, though not in the sense of pastiche that marks Irabagon’s membership in Mostly Other People Do the Killing. The opening “False Aura” – notable for its concision – has the saxophonist generating a monotone rhythmic motif that resembles “C-Jam Blues,” the rest of the quartet chiming in with an energetic rhythmic confluence reminiscent of an early (pre-1962) Cecil Taylor group, the Davises sharing a fondness for densely-knit polyrhythmic figures. Irabagon’s use of extended techniques often seem to echo saxophone practices in Rhythm and Blues bands; thus when the group seems most outside, it’s likeliest to end up in the hard-core blues, “Monkey Catcher” being worthy of Julius Hemphill or Tim Berne. There’s more fluency with form in the extended “Sky Circles,” which builds from genuinely lyric reflection to intense collective dialogue. It’s usually Irabagon and Kris Davis who are front and center, but it’s unquestionably a band, propelled along nicely by Radding and Jeff Davis, who supply consistent stimulus and commentary. It’s a fine group, consistently musical, with a distinctive predilection for knotting formal elements.
–Stuart Broomer

Pi Recordings

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