Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Positive Catastrophe
Dibrujo, Dibrujo, Dibrujo
Cuneiform Records, Rune 336

Time was when the wide range of sources heard in the music of Positive Catastrophe had to fight for a place in jazz. Ethnic music (some of it in odd meters), rock and funk, literary art songs, and other influences from outside the jazz tradition have all elbowed their way into the music over the past few decades. It is the musical vocabulary that the young members of this 10-piece band co-led by brass player Taylor Ho Bynum and percussionist Abraham Gomez-Delgado grew up speaking. Do the noisy rock sonorities of Pete Fitzpatrick’s electric guitar on “Deebroojo Two” belong in jazz? Of course! Settings of passages from novels by Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad? What’s the big deal? Composers Bynum and Gomez-Delgado so easily mold their eclectic range of resources in a single voice and the band interprets the charts with such exuberance and grace that you hardly notice the music is actually quite rigorous and challenging. Bynum’s beautifully paced “Garrison Ascending,” for example, unfolds in several distinct sections that highlight orchestrations focused on different small combinations of instruments, but then it gathers the full ensemble together at the climax for a passage in which many things – soling, a theme passed about in a round, and punctuating section riffs – all happen at the same time. The melodies in Bynum’s setting of nautically themed passages from Melville, Conrad, and David Mitchell, sung with great feeling by Kamala Sankaram, organically follow the cadences of the words while also working as strong themes. The final section of Bynum’s suite, “Wolves and Blizzards,” opens with Sankaram singing the lovely theme a cappella before gradually coaxing support from the orchestra. Gomez-Delgado uses the perky mid-tempo “Café Negro Sin Azucar” as a relatively conventional, theme-solo-theme showcase for the band’s soloists, including Michael Attias on baritone, trombonist Reut Regev, and the irrepressible Bynum on cornet. His far more ambitious title suite makes excellent use of electric bassist Alvaro Benavides and guitarist Fitzpatrick to drive the music and enfold it in brilliant, messy electronic sounds. The series of miniatures mixes Latin, Middle European, free jazz, rock, and classical elements into colorful arrangements with solo spots for French horn player Mark Taylor, tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder, and trombonist Regev. There’s a lot happening, but Positive Catastrophe makes it sound as natural as Basie playing “April in Paris.”
–Ed Hazell


Progetto Guzman: Angelo Olivieri & Alípio C Neto Double Trio
If Not: omaggio a Mario Schiano
Terresommerse TSJE1013

This homage to the late Mario Schiano – alto saxophonist, composer, bandleader and spiritual father of Italian free jazz – was organized by the writer Paolo Carradori for a concert commemorating the fortieth anniversary of a Schiano trio performance he had presented in 1969 at the Polveriera Guzman (once literally a powder keg) in Orbetello in Tuscany. The principal instrument of the tribute is the Double Trio, a sextet which has trumpeter Angelo Olivieri and soprano and tenor saxophonist Alipio C Neto each leading a trio with bass and drums. Along the way there are smaller subdivisions of the group as well as expansions with a series of guests that includes two distinguished Schiano collaborators: saxophonist Eugenio Colombo and trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini.

Mario Schiano was an expressive personality and his music teemed with life – passionate, yearning, explosive and playful by turn. He took the “free” in free jazz seriously, and it meant he could indulge in sentimental pop ballads if he wished as well as long stretches of blues. The Guzman Project is true to that freedom and that breadth. When the Double Trio is playing Schiano’s “If not ecstatic we refund” (heard first with the six musicians then later reprised with Colombo and Schiaffini added) it feels very much like Don Cherry’s mid-sixties Blue Note bands, with Olivieri’s pocket trumpet a central voice surrounded by Neto’s blistering saxophone and the tumult of the paired rhythm sections. The resemblance is even stronger on performances of “Lover Man” and “Accarezzame,” an Italian pop ballad of the 1950s in which Olivieri’s trumpet acts as conductor for the free-time melodies.

There are also spontaneous compositions in which the group changes shape. A quartet of Schiaffini and the Neto trio achieves a rare sense of controlled intensification, a care that still apparent when the group expands to octet and nonet for some brief works with remarkably controlled design: “DQ” is an unlikely combination of hard bop textures, blues and free jazz that succeeds admirably, while the chirping “Corale” has an oddly Messiaen-ic air. Concluding with a tape of one of Schiano’s quirky vocal improvisations, this is a fitting tribute to him, abiding by his apparent credo that every note should mean something.
–Stuart Broomer


Ned Rothenberg
World of Odd Harmonics
Tzadik TZ 8085

The title World of Odd Harmonics refers to the clarinet’s specific pattern of harmonics which runs 3, 5, 7, 9, and so on, omitting even tones. The clarinet is Rothenberg’s absolute focus on this solo recording, in its B-flat, A and bass forms. What has always characterized Rothenberg’s work for me is its precision, the sheer quality of his sound, a kind of “classical purity” even when employing so-called extended techniques like circular breathing. This sequence – drawn from two days of recording at New York City’s Academy of Arts and Letters – begins in a kind of absolute beauty with “Preamble,” a line as thoughtfully symmetrical as a classical drawing and a kind of definition of the clarinet ideal as liquid wood or grained water. “Fingerlace” extends that paradigm, but then things begin to shift. “Depth Perception” is the longest track,” nearly 14-minutes of bass clarinet in which the instrument’s jagged overtones seem to explode across Rothenberg’s rolling, arpeggiated line. Other aspects come to the fore; Rothenberg touches on blues and early jazz clarinet sonorities on “Kick Out of It.” “Line Drawing” is an essay in reed polyphony, similar in some respects to Evan Parker’s soprano saxophone explorations, but certainly with its own distinctive quality (encouraged by those odd harmonics) as a narrow, pinched and remarkably sustained sound seems to trigger and support other material that gathers around it. This is as complex and beautiful a solo clarinet exploration as one might wish to hear.
–Stuart Broomer


Matthew Shipp + J Spaceman + Steve Noble + John Coxon
Black Music Disaster
Thirsty Ear THI57203.2

Every six months or so I make a concentrated effort to focus my listening attention on what is today known euphemistically as “urban” radio. This is a return of sorts. I grew up on what we then unapologetically called “black” radio. Simply put, when I was coming musically of age during the pre-hip hop seventies, black radio played black music and therein was seen neither contradiction nor offense. For quite some time, my periodic reinvestigations of pop music’s fm soul have become less and less rewarding. I am not one to confuse literary and musical criticism. The fact that a contemporary African American musical aesthetic might embrace unbridled consumerism, blatant misogyny, or other lifestyle choices that I personally detest has always been an entirely separate issue from what this music presents as a body of sound. My black music disaster has little to do with any erosion of values represented by lyrical content and everything to do with the fact that somewhere between Wu Tang and Outkast, Black Music as represented by mainstream radio as something to listen to (not analyze or deconstruct) devolved into something that I could have never imagined – complete and utter boringness.

You don’t fix disasters. You can’t stop them while they are ongoing. You may recover from them – slowly, incrementally – and the duration of recovery is proportional to the scale of destruction. Enter Matthew Shipp (Farfisa organ), J Spaceman (electric guitar), Steve Noble (drums), John Coxon (electric guitar) with their response to my calamity. Black Music Disaster is a 38-minute churning single set recorded live at Cafe Oto in London on February 13th, 2010. It is not an intervention launched to abate destruction. It is, however, largely symptomatic of something like a recovery.

I am convinced that a noetic revolution begins very close to the point where people begin to really listen to the music they consume. Precisely how music, an art form aimed at the ears, was subverted by the optical regime of the spectacle is almost beside the point. Music has always delivered its goods across multiple modalities, but the degree to which we are asked to “read” our music rather than listen to it is perhaps at an all-time high. In fact, pop music is no longer about listening at all, but rather submits itself to a symbolic decoding of social significations that happen to be delivered through a nominally sonic code, a code that has become more vapid and moribund with each mega-hit stamped out by the machine. But music survives as a body of sound, a presence. Vibrating air dances upon the tiniest of drum heads; cochlear fluid sloshes across neatly ordered rows of undulating cilia. The elegant mechanics of hearing are not the same as the perception of sound. Within the latter the ability of music to serve the human condition opens up and swallows our most persistent dilemma. Perception is entrainment. Music as a body of complex waves is a force acting upon another, presumably more motile body of waves – the electrical activity of the human brain. Music molds awareness; it does not merely add to its contents.

It is important when improvisers can come together without anything to prove as players. This tends to happen best when any requisite chops-testing has been obviated by accumulated experience and some degree of ego suspension. Black Music Disaster takes off with Shipp’s work on an Italian-made instrument whose sound was a primary propulsion unit for many of Sun Ra’s transgalactic excursions into counterfactual space. The Farfisa is a constant timbral and rhythmic center around which Spaceman and Coxon’s electronics provide a densely hallucinatory vapor and to which Noble’s drumming provides reinforcing countertexture. This does not mean, however, that BMD serves as a showcase of Shipp’s abilities as an organist. It’s not that kind of recording and lacks entirely that kind of agenda. BMD is the antithesis of music as text. Its nondiscursive engagement with its listeners relies little on shared musical culture. It is wordless, signless, and mute. Nothing is being discussed, nothing presented to evaluate, parse, affirm or repudiate. It is a sonic art that exceeds music as soon as it declines to submit to music’s historically constricted functionality. It is an impingement upon the body and needs no translation to be effective, only a body.

Music should be effective. It should reward listening in its perceptual immediacy. New music like Black Music Disaster presents an opportunity for what the great Lakota spiritualist Fools Crow called a “becoming.” The venerated Native American holy man told his biographer that he could become simple inanimate objects by intently concentrating on them and allowing their essential qualities to interpenetrate his own. We can be the music we hear, adopt its vibrational architecture as our own, and at least temporarily immerse ourselves in new modes of being. And new modes of being are very much (and very obviously) what is called for if we are to avert our own existential disaster.
–Thomas Stanley


John Surman
Saltash Bells
ECM 2266

A misnomer has prevailed for decades about John Surman’s “solo” albums; that the evocative, multi-track works on these recordings are solo pieces by virtue of Surman playing all the parts. They are not; they are ensemble compositions performed by Surman alone. It’s a distinction with a difference, one reinforced by Saltash Bells, Surman’s first such album in almost twenty years. His latest paean to the English West Country also makes a case for Surman not just as a composer, but as an arranger as well. Surman’s touch as an arranger goes beyond picking the right horn for thematic materials that are alternately jolly, wistful and sanguine, or the right synthesizer timbre for his signature limning of chord progressions. To alter the title of his 1987 ECM album, Surman has created a private world with his multi-track pieces, as he doesn’t just represent narrows, cliffs and other boyhood haunts, but his youth and the distance from which he now reflects upon it. To that end, Surman’s choices have added resonance; even the emphatically wheezy harmonica on “Sailing Westwards,” the album’s whirling closer, evokes a bygone time in a cherished place with disarming vividness.

The general contours of Saltash Bells extend the trajectory established on 1972’s Westering Home: Surman’s baseline synthesizer drones and delay-enriched arpeggios and the low-horn ostinati incrementally heat and stretch; his improvised solos are melody-driven, with the characteristics of his respective horns reinforcing the emotional arc of the piece. This context brightens the sentimental streak in Surman’s writing; again, he frontloads this aspect of his music on Saltash Bells. “Whistman’s Woods” has unabashedly vintage pings and splashes in the synth sounds that offset the churn of the chord changes; the dovetailing, volleying low horns ultimately give way to a resolving calm asserted with the soprano saxophone. The evolution of this aspect of Surman’s music over the years is better detected in how he sequences his remaining compositions in terms of mood, and where he places unaccompanied solos in the program. It’s noteworthy that Surman follows the opener with “Glass Flower,” an appropriately clean-lined bass clarinet solo, a fine example of how without the slowly intensifying layers of synths and overdubbed reeds, Surman’s melodies have an austere elegance.

One of the many keys to Surman’s multi-track works is the soprano’s role in setting or changing the tone of a piece – “Whistman’s Woods” is a prime example. The folk music-inspired melody of “On Staddon Heights” has an initial air of anticipation as low-pitched horns, layers of synth colors and synth-generated drum patterns accumulate, but with the entry of the soprano, the music takes wing. On “Winter Elegy,” Surman creates a heartstring-tugging counterpoint between the straight horn and his baritone, another horn from which he can coax an unusually inviting sound; the soprano extracts increasing lyricism from the baritone and then has the last sweet word as the track tapers to silence. Consider two pieces in the middle of the program that do not employ the soprano: “Triaddichorum,” a low horns-only, largely charted piece with a Giuffre-like folksiness; and “Ælfwin,” an initially chipper baritone solo that unwinds with ambivalence until ending with almost forlorn soft notes. These pieces go to a fundamental point about Surman’s solo albums – his ‘scapes have features that stand out gleaming in the sun while others have to be sought out. That’s why albums like Saltash Bells require a real time commitment; you miss all the details if you just drive by – this is terrain you need to trek to fully appreciate.
–Bill Shoemaker

Aum Fidelity

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