Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
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Katarina Weber
Woven Time
Intakt CD 157

Katarina Weber - Woven Time Who benefits more each time a gifted instrumentalist with a deep classical background like pianist Katarina Weber makes the jump to improvised music, classical music or improvised music? It’s a close call, which is not to suggest that albums like Woven Time are anything but vista-expanding for adherents of improvised music. Weber’s example makes a solid case that composers from Robert Schumann to the Second Viennese and New York schools provide improvisers with tool kits as comprehensive and pragmatic as any that’s brought to extemporaneous music-making. Still, for every moment where Weber’s nuanced touch and approach to harmonic development has the residue of her classical background, there are an equal number without discernable antecedents. It’s the specific mix of moments of laying solid foundations and bouncing on spindly limbs that distinguishes Weber’s music. She elicits unexpected colors from methods like playing unison lines played in the opposite extremities of the keyboard, or letting single pianissimo notes totally decay before playing another. Her temperament is hard to pin down – in a way, she’s boldly neutral, which accounts for the lack of melodrama in her roiling forte passages, and the absence of pat lyricism in her more subdued moments. The imperatives of interpretation gleaned from her classical training still figure in her sensibility. That’s why classical music benefits almost as much as improvised music from Weber’s impressive debut – it is elevated from a closed genre to a practice that can lead anywhere.
–Bill Shoemaker

 

Corey Wilkes & Abstrakt Pulse
Cries From Tha Ghetto
Pi Recordings 29

Corey Wilkes & Abstrakt Pulse - Cries From Tha Ghetto If Miles Davis were still around, he might growl something about wearing Lester Bowie’s dirty drawers. That was how Miles dismissed an “influence.” He might have been right up to a point. Wilkes has taken the late Bowie’s place in the Art Ensemble of Chicago and appeared in that role on Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City on Pi Recordings. There’s a Bowie tune, “Villa Tiamo,” on Cries from the Ghetto, and there’s the same confident mixing of vernacular and freer forms. Yet, Wilkes is more than a Bowie disciple. His phrasing – and sometimes his tone, particularly on flugelhorn – is more reminiscent of Eddie Henderson in his Herbie Hancock/Mwandishi incarnation. There’s something of Lester’s pungent bleat, too, but it’s a reference point rather than soiled underwear.

Wilkes made his debut at leader last year with Drop It on Delmark, a highly positive blend of modernist and funkier elements that fell reassuringly into the debut-album trap of trying too many directions at once. It also failed to find a comfortable place for the vocal tracks, including an opening recitation of Langston Hughes’ “The Trumpet Player.” Second time out, Wilkes doesn’t need to issue manifestos about his stance on the tradition. He just gets on with it.

Four of the tracks here fall under an “Abstrakt” rubric, though saxophonist Kevin Nabors and bassist Junius Paul take credit for all but the first of them. The first is what sounds like a duet with dancer Jumaane Taylor, just one sign that Wilkes is keen to tap (!) into older signifiers in the music. There’s a group improvisation as well, on “SICK JJ,” and it’s a key moment on the record in blending together free-form playing with attractively familiar materials: Paul’s droning bass sounds like a brass instrument, drummer Isaiah Spencer is still keeping some sort of time: or abstrakt pulse. It’s at this stage on the disc that one remembers hearing Wilkes on Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3 (ECM), the first album by the Transatlantic Ensemble, co-convened with Evan Parker.

“Rain” is the only faintly generic item on Cries, a mood piece one can readily imagine Eddie Henderson programming, if not Miles himself. Five tracks in, it prompts the thought that guitarist Scott Hesse, rather than the saxophone player, is the other lead here rather than a substitute for a piano player. He’s possibly over-prominent, seeming to dominate the opening ‘First Mind’ and indulged a little too often for the balance of the set.

“Cries From Tha Ghetto” builds slowly round a menacing pulse and a few eldritch horn wails before turning into a piece that might have turned up one of those edgier Blue Notes that Alfred and Francis decided the market wasn’t ready for in 1964. It’s Nabors’ best moment on the record, and the most substantial item of a set that hangs together more confidently than Drop It, but still has a staccato, unresolved feel until its logic is more thoroughly revealed with “Visionary of an Abstrakt,” which leads on Nabors’ tenor again, then changes tack entirely on Wilkes’ own insistent, almost rhetorical solo.
It doesn’t so much peter out after that point as restate the basic position a couple more times. “Villa Tiamo” is a terrific line, not much covered by other players, and eked out here with a mournful deliberation, and the closing “Chasin’ Leroy” is a bustling, gotta-keep-moving line that leaves the record neatly poised for a sequel. If there’s to be a Pi trilogy, the third one can’t come soon enough. It’s rare to find a young musician who if anything seems better than the hype. Wilkes is one of those, though it’s worth not digging him too quickly. These records, and particularly Cries, have more going on than at first appears.
–Brian Morton

 

Bernd Alois Zimmermann
Canto di speranza
ECM New Series 2072

Bernd Alois Zimmermann - Canto di speranza Although Alexander von Schlippenbach readily and heartily cites Bernd Alois Zimmermann, his professor at Cologne Musikhochschule, as a formative influence, there are few traces of it in Schlippenbach’s music other than a shared penchant for mixing idioms in a composition and a meticulous, if occasional application of serial technique. Two of the three pieces in this Heinz Holliger-conducted collection, a 1950 concerto for violin that integrates blues and rumba with a rigorous neo-classicism and a cello concerto completed in ’57 that reflects Zimmermann’s virtuosity in creating symmetry from contrasting elements, can be heard as pylons needed to bridge the respective approaches of teacher and student. Despite their methodological differences, both pieces are propelled by crisp tempi and impassioned soloists in violinist Thomas Zehetmair and cellist Thomas Demenga. Even though every aspect of the latter work is strictly governed by its core series, there is enough of sensuality permeating the violin concerto to offset the cello piece’s rigors. Both pieces reflect a brilliant mind cohering the miasma of post-War music into a cogent, relatively inclusive aesthetic Unfortunately, Zimmermann unraveled over the ensuing thirteen years until he committed suicide in 1970. The album ends with the composer’s last work for bass voice, two speakers (as in narrators, not sound reinforcement) and orchestra, which is tellingly subtitled “ecclesiastical action.” With a text drawing from “The Grand Inquisitor” from The Brothers Karamazov as well as Ecclesiastes, the piece has a palpable pessimistic gravity. Zimmermann’s self-shredding torment is measureable by his appropriation of the same Bach choral Alban Berg quoted in his own final composition – “It is enough, O Lord; if it pleaseth thee, so put an end to me” – which Zimmerman then obliterates in the final tutti. Still, the three works constitute a fine one-volume survey of a composer whose biography is as compelling as his music.
–Bill Shoemaker

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