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Reviews of Recent Recordings


Positive Catastrophe
Garabatos Volume One
Cuneiform Rune 286

Positive Catastrophe - Garabatos Volume One Some of the richest streams of American music intersected in the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band of 1947 when Cuban conga drummer Chano Pozo integrated the polyrhythms of Afro-Latin music with bop harmonic improvisation, advanced counterpoint and large ensemble power. Many of those elements became a tradition in the music of Sun Ra, and it springs to life anew with a Latin emphasis in Positive Catastrophe, a ten-piece New York band co-led by cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and percussionist and vocalist Abraham Gomez-Delgado, Puerto Rican-born leader of the Latin big-band Zemog El Gallo Bueno. The result is a heady combination of writing and collective improvisation, thick Caribbean rhythms and songs geared to serve as lounge music in a science fiction film. Bynum and Gomez-Delgado split the compositions and lyrics, with the former seemingly favoring Sun Ra and Mingus, the latter Gillespie and Mario Bauzá.  Tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder contributes “Stillness/Life.” The only tune not written by the co-leaders, it combines dreamy-sweet reed writing and singer Jen Shyu’s vocal and lyrics in a way that hints at some of June Christy’s cool jazz adventures. The compositions inspire fine solos throughout – from Bynum and Bauder, certainly, but there are highlights--funky or exploratory – from baritone saxophonist Michael Attias, guitarist Pete Fitzpatrick and trombonist Reut Regev who contribute tremendously to the band’s rare combination of raw drive and high invention. For sheer vitality, the stand-out track is the 14-minute version of Bynum’s “Travels Part 3 & 4,” that includes a live version of “Part 4” in what is otherwise a studio recording. The band demonstrates a riffing energy that will instantly let you know comparisons to Gillespie, Sun Ra and Mingus aren’t misplaced. For a band best savored live, Positive Catastrophe has made a fine debut CD.
–Stuart Broomer


Trio 3 + Geri Allen
At This Time
Intakt CD 162

Trio 3 + Geri Allen - At This Time Trio 3 first convened for Intakt in 2005 when Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille made Time Being, an interesting and episodically excellent record that in retrospect seems compromised by the need to make space for three very powerful and very different musical personalities. The group was featured again with guest Irène Schweizer on a 2007 concert recording from Berne. And now the guest role is taken by Geri Allen, who has a history with all three members, as well as a longer history as a younger or distaff foil to senior players; the breakthrough trios with Paul Motian and Charlie Haden spring to mind.
That one thinks of Allen in this notionally patronizing way is a measure of how oddly inconsistent her recording career has been since she worked with Cyrille on The Printmakers twenty five years ago. The business, Blue Note attention notwithstanding, has never known quite what to do with her enormous but quietly stated talent, and anyone who really wants to take a full measure of her skills probably needs to hunt up sets like this as well as her few available CDs as leader. A recent Telarc contract, while kind to her in terms of piano sound – Telarc engineers know how to make 88 keys sound like an orchestra – hasn’t been the most fruitful creatively.
Allen seems the dominant spirit behind the opening tribute to Alice Coltrane and seems to be channeling Mary Lou Williams on the closing ‘In the Realm . . . of the Child . . . of True Humanity Within (Gospel of Mary)’. She’s less confidently assertive on the two group improvisations, including one dedicated to Intakt producer Patrik Landolt, or less immediately so, for subsequent hearings suggest how confidently she shapes a performance now with fewer and fewer gestures.
One’s doubts about the chemistry that goes to the making of Trio 3 remain largely in place. Lake’s an obliging and accommodating fellow and takes a lovely feature on Eric Dolphy’s flute piece ‘Gazzeloni’. Elsewhere, though, he does sometimes struggle for a place at table. Workman and Cyrille are estimably generous players, but both have so much to say, individually and in cross-talk, that it’s hard for anyone else to get through. The group has obvious festival appeal and the kind of weight to attract interesting collaborators, but it’s hard to see – and hear – this as anything other than a moderately happy mésalliance of combative seniors. That said; would I turn out if they rolled through town? I’d be first in line, and I’ll no doubt be playing At This Time again.
–Brian Morton


Miroslav Vitous Group w/ Michel Portal
Remembering Weather Report
ECM 2073

Miroslav Vitous Group w/ Michel Portal - Remembering Weather Report Without Miroslav Vitous as a founding principal, Weather Report would have been simply a Miles spin-off from the get-go; with him, the group epitomized the promise of fusion. In the early ‘70s, a time when Miles was arguably diminishing the role of the bass in his music, Vitous was a high-profile advocate for parity for the bass within an ensemble, a position he backed up with stunning virtuosity, particularly his ability to quickly switch between arco and pizzicato to create antiphonal passages alone. Vitous also had a distinctive compositional voice, updating the connections Antonin Dvořák first made between Slavic and African American materials. Vitous suspended culture-crossing thematic elements in vividly colored spaces, complementing the approaches of Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul to create a unique, if short-lived equilibrium. Remembering Weather Report, however, is not a stroll down memory lane; though he fondly recalls the propitious moment the three joined forces in his booklet note, Vitous is staking his claim on the conceptual advents that launched the franchise (it is telling that he’s completely airbrushed out of the band’s Wikipedia entry). However, instead of revisiting pieces like “Crystal” and “Will” (respectively included on I Sing the Body Electric and Sweetnighter, the deal-breaking foray into funk, for Vitous), Vitous instead applies his methods to jazz war horses like “Nefertiti” and “Lonely Woman,” and some Dvořák for good measure. Augmenting his quartet with trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti, tenor saxophonist Gary Campbell and drummer Gerald Cleaver with bass clarinetist Michel Portal, Vitous deploys scripted elements throughout a piece, serving less as tethers than as sounding boards against which improvisations ricochet. It makes a persuasive case for the utility and adaptability of the approach, even if the resulting music bears little to no resemblance to Weather Report’s, which some listeners may be relieved to know. Considerable credit goes to Cleaver, who meets Vitous head-on when the bassist reaches hurricane force, and generally maintains a cross rhythms-rich simmer that allows the writing for horns to float and shimmer as needed, and for the horn players to burn when called upon. While Campbell hands in consistently laudable performances, it is particularly heartening to hear Ambrosetti and Portal in excellent form, the latter’s spirited duet with Vitous being a highlight.
–Bill Shoemaker

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