Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
Bill Shoemaker


Art Ensemble of Chicago
Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City
Pi PI20

Maghostut Trio
Live at Last
Rogueart ROG-0005

Roscoe Mitchell Trio
No Side Effects
Rogueart ROG-0006

“Can we endure?” asks Joseph Jarman in his text to “Erika,” the almost 40 year-old composition reprised for Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City. Though posed to the piece’s namesake, it is a question that could also be directed to the Art Ensemble of Chicago itself. After all, the AEC suffered the loss of both Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors Maghostut, and Jarman’s health has not been good for a few years. The answer conveyed by this 2-CD album, culled from sets recorded at NYC’s Iridium in 2004, is a vigorous “Yes!” The contributions of trumpeter Corey Wilkes and bassist Jaribu Shahid have renewed the AEC in the most fundamental way, by first establishing continuity with the respective legacies of Bowie and Favors, and then extending them. Time and again, Wilkes and Shahid play something that will initially evoke an association with their predecessors and then almost instantly add their own accents. Their catalytic impact on Jarman, Roscoe Mitchell and Famoudou Don Moye is palpable. Whether it is an AEC war horse, a pungent tune from Mitchell’s projects, or collective, Sun Percussion-dappled improvisations, there is this sense that the past is present, but transformed, future bound.

Favors’ Maghostut Trio with multi-instrumentalist Hanah Jon Taylor (who plays saxophones, flute and keyboards) and drummer Vincent Davis had a regular Thursday night gig at the Velvet Lounge, but rarely traveled outside of Chicago for concerts. Live at Last is mainly comprised of an October 2003 Madison concert, rounded out by a soul-stirring rendition of “My Babe” recorded a few days later at Fred Anderson’s hallowed club. With the exception of their seam-splitting take on Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave,” the pieces drape slender thematic materials over a solid rhythmic base. When Taylor plays tenor saxophone, the music tends towards the wide-open-but-deep-in-the-pocket feel that Fred Anderson achieves. His voice-punctuated flute and agile soprano are employed when the groove is folksier. Taylor’s wild card, however, is his keyboard playing, which leavens Ra-like blare with dexterous single-note lines. All the while, Davis and Favors hunker down at the synapse between inside and outside, keeping the rhythm messages firing fast. Few recordings give such a detailing of how Favors melded the cohering rumble of Chicago bassists like Wilbur Ware and the buoyancy of traditional African string instrumentalists. This is a fitting tribute to Favors, who, by now, has moseyed a good ways back to Sirius, where he came into being some 43,070-odd years ago.

Though there are many vivid reminders of Mitchell’s prowess as an improviser on No Side Effects, the 2-CD collection is as much a statement of Mitchell’s compositional scope. In large part due to his relatively recent, serious interest in the recorder, Mitchell has delved into Baroque music, which tinges his use of counterpoint. It is a newer facet of Mitchell’s writing that fits in well with established signatures like his piercing staccato attack and his quirky, frequently deadpan humor. Mitchell mainly plays flute on his contrapuntal themes, and his pellucid tone stands in marked contrast to his instantly identifiable plangent tone on soprano, alto, tenor and bass saxophones. Both Davis and Harrison Bankhead, who plays both bass and cello, meet the varied demands of Mitchell’s music with precision and passion. 40 years after Sound, Roscoe Mitchell is still creating provocative music.


Lucian Ban + Asymmetry
Jazzaway JARCD 018

Lucian Ban + Alex Harding
Tuba Project
CIMP #337

Alex Harding + Blutopia
The Calling
Jazzaway JARCD 017

Romanian-born pianist Lucien Ban and baritone saxophonist Alex Harding have a thriving collaboration, as evidenced by their well-focused Tuba Project, and Ban’s assertive presence on The Calling. Often, the strength of such collaborations can be measured by another circle of musicians; those brought onto more than one project. Ban and Harding’s is doing well on that count, with Brad Jones on board with both Asymmetry and Blutopia, and drummer Derek Phillips playing on both the pianist’s date and Tuba Project. Another gauge is their ability to recruit bona fide heavyweights like tuba player Bob Stewart, serious contenders like drummer Nasheet Waits, and solid journeyman saxophonists J.D. Allen and Jorge Sylvester, to give each album distinctive identities.

Ban’s writing on Playground reveals influences spanning the early carefree Ornette and the early weighty Jimmy Giuffre; however, there’s nothing gratuitously off-center or ponderous about his compositions. Instead, Ban hones melody and harmonic movement into smartly constructed pieces that resonate, emotionally. An altoist who projects an unassuming fire and an open-book spirit, Sylvester is a good match for Ban in this setting. The same goes for Jones and Phillips, who provide finely calibrated propulsion and well-timed throw-downs for Ban and Sylvester, who respond in kind.

Much of Ban’s writing on Tuba Project is overtly rootsy. Yet, the low center of tonal gravity on the front line of Allen (one of the more undervalued tenors in the US), Harding and Johnson, and their efficient exploitation of the tunes’ built-in spaces for embellishments and asides, preclude the generic. Mixed in with unsentimental scorchers like “Muhal’s Song” and the largely improvised, horns-only “Other Voices,” pieces like “Cajun Stomp” and “Mexican Hat Dance” register as enlivening idiomatic spice, instead of compulsory nods to stock materials.

Though Ban, Jones, Waits and percussionist Andrew Daniels deliver consistently engaging performances on The Calling, Harding is the compelling presence on the date from beginning to end. He does not dwell as much in the ultra altissimo range of the baritone as Hamiet Bluiett, nor does he unleash torrents of textures with Blueitt’s frequency. Instead, he methodically heats his blues and bop steeped solos to a boil. Additionally, Harding gives his cohorts a lot of rhythmically charged phrases and strategically placed rests that stoke their interplay. Electrifying sound; big soul: Harding has everything a baritone player needs.


Anthony Braxton
Sextet (Victoriaville) 2005
Victo cd 098

Anthony Braxton & Fred Frith
Duo (Victoriaville) 2005
Victo cd 100

Wolf Eyes & Anthony Braxton
Black Vomit
Victo cd 099

Anthony Braxton’s performances at the 2005 Festival International de Musique Actuelle – Victo in shorthand – prompted widespread commentary, particularly his sitting in with Wolf Eyes. Some applauded Braxton for a bold leap, while others worried that he was merely jumping the shark. Undoubtedly, Black Vomit will reinforce these polar views. However, both positions tend to isolate this performance from the other two Braxton gave at Victo. It is noteworthy that Braxton’s duo with guitarist Fred Frith took place the day before the Wolf Eyes set, and his Sextet performed the day after. Playing with Wolf Eyes. This was not a case of Braxton letting loose at an after-fest blow, but more of a daring entre act, particularly when the music in his other concerts recalls earlier milestones.

Despite Frith and Derek Bailey’s pronounced differences in methods, it is difficult not to consider Braxton’s historic recordings with the late guitarist as a contextual backdrop for Duo (Victoriaville) 2005. The marked contrasts between Braxton and Frith’s five improvisations may or may not have flowed from the type of outlines Braxton and Bailey used to initially reconcile their differences about structure; but, both duos used decisive movement through distinct and diverse zones to give the performance an arc. Frith’s emphasis on percussive techniques and use of effects, however, surprisingly elevates the role of rhythm in their exchanges. This approach allows Braxton ample space to ruminate upon one of his limpid quasi-Konitzian lines or uncork a vintage, thickly textured staccato exhortation. Subsequently, this is classic Braxton from beginning to end. It’s classic Frith, as well.

When, in the course of evolution, did birds cease to be dinosaurs with wings? That’s the question that came to mind while listening to Braxton’s Sextet’s set-long reading of “Composition No, 345.” Though there are numerous points that link this exhilarating performance to the various species of Braxton’s Ghost Trance Musics, it does not have the feel typical of Braxton’s GTM output. The performance has a elasticity which is reminiscent of the Multiple Logics Music pioneered by Braxton’s quartet with Marilyn Crispell et al, and is partially attributeable to a smaller ensemble than Braxton employed for most of his GTM projects. Instead of a saxophone-heavy contingent, the Sextet includes trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, violist Jessica Pavone, tuba player Jay Rozen (who has brings electronics into the mix), bassist Chris Dahlgren and percussionist Aaron Siegel. It is a configuration that yields more varied combinations of colors than is generally the case with earlier GTM recordings. Braxton is again in sterling form, a compelling presence throughout the performance. Whatever stage of evolution this recording represents, the music soars.

A mercifully short CD that clocks in just over a half-hour, Black Vomit merely thuds. Braxton is more than game on; he makes considerable efforts to be compatible with Wolf Eyes’ surprisingly ordinary noises. He alternates between camouflaging himself as another whine or beep, and going over the top, laying down withering barrages. However, barely a minute goes by without Wolf Eyes reinforcing the thought that it would be infinitely more compelling and pertinent if Braxton hooked up with Onkyo musicians or MIMEO. Early cucumbers have more bite than Wolf Eyes.


Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons Ensemble
The Messenger
Delmark DE 570

The Messenger
Delmark DVD 1570

Hamiet Bluiett sub-titled an early ‘90s Soul Note album Rear Garde to make the point that any advances made in jazz have to be secured by at least a second wave of musicians. Essentially, the rear garde has the avant-garde’s back. In this regard, Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons Ensemble is a prominent part of the AACM’s rear garde. While the saxophonist’s compositions often prod convention and his quintet consistently performs with a determined outbound energy, the resulting music vigilantly bears witness to the music’s progressive tradition, which naturally entails a celebration of the blues, early-century New Orleans-style polyphony, and mid-century modernism. It’s Ancient to the Future from a different, street-level angle.

The Messenger, recorded at the original Velvet Lounge, is a fine example of how Dawkins’ artistic insight and community cred are one in the same. The set opens with reprises of the vamp-driven “Mean Ameen” and the Blakeyesque blues march title piece. Both pieces are typical of how Dawkins’ scrappy alto and tenor, Maurice Brown’s frequently soaring trumpet, and Steve Berry’s burly trombone mesh as a front line, and how bassist Darius Savage and drummer Isiah Spencer constantly kick it upstairs. “Goin’ Downtown Blues” may seem initially to be a generic slow blues, but Dawkins’ lyrics about the South Side’s heyday turn out to be sharply double edged. Dawkins’ themes have strong contours but are rhythmically flexible, as evidenced by the way New Horizons changes the groove on “Toucouleur” several ways during the course of the tune, allowing the soloists to dig in deep. Yet, Dawkins does not only pen blowing vehicles; the aptly titled “The Brood” infuses introspection with intensity. “Lookin’ for Ninny” closes the set with strong New Orleans flavor, followed by a brief cheering on of Velvet proprietor Fred Anderson.

Delmark has become a dependable source for well-produced concert DVDs, a reputation reinforced by Tom Koester’s steady direction and the work of his four-camera crew on The Messenger. Unlike previous DVDs featuring Anderson and Kahil El’Zabar’s Rirual Trio, there is no interview feature with Dawkins. Perhaps next time.


Carl Grubbs Quartet
Brother Soul
CIMP #336

Critics and scholars rightfully bemoan the gaps in musicians’ discographies, treating a lapse of a year or two like the missing critical vertebrae of a dinosaur, which prevents the skeleton from being reassembled. Consider, then, Carl Grubbs. The Philadelphia raised alto saxophonist – who, coincidentally, is John Coltrane’s nephew – co-led one of the more interesting groups of the early 1970s, The Visitors, with his now departed, tenor playing brother, Earl. Combining rousing charts and expansive solos, their four albums for Cobblestone and Muse (the last was waxed in ‘75) contributed notably to the progressive East Coast sound also championed by labels like Black Jazz and Strata East. Then, there was a long silence, ending with Grubbs’ performances on a 1991 Julius Hemphill Sextet date. In the following decade, he issued only two self-produced CDs with limited Mid Atlantic exposure. Given these gaps, Grubbs’ ongoing association with CIMP is a welcomed development. He led a quartet date with Odean Pope for his first session in 2002; on his second, he returned the favor to the tenor saxophonist, joining him on the front line on Pope’s most recent quartet date.

Brother Soul is primarily shaped by Grubbs’ exuberant sound and well-crafted compositions, but there are two twists that add some tang: In addition to alto and soprano, Grubbs plays tenor for the first time on disc; and he revisits two Visitors chestnuts, “Joy” and “Neptune.” His tenor mirrors his alto sound in that it imparts hard-boiled determination, but he is more apt to get screamin’ on alto. However, Grubbs’ solos on all three horns are still rooted in the traditional Philadelphia values of soulful intonation, serpentine lines and intricate harmonic relationships. For this program of heated blowing vehicles, mid tempo strolls, and touching ballads, Grubbs brought on a new crew who is in sync with the mix of athletic virtuosity and open-hearted communication that is the core of Grubbs’ sensibility. Salim Washington’s bustling tenor is a good foil for Grubbs, while his oboe and flute provide contrasting colors at key points in the album. Bassist Steve Neil and drummer Ronnie Burrage provide plenty of fire, while maintaining a well defined recorded image. If Grubbs can get this band on the road, the gaps between recordings will diminish greatly.

Adam Unsworth

> More Moment's Notice

> back to contents