Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
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Daniel Levin Quartet
Some Trees
hatOLOGY 632

On Daniel Levin’s impressive 2002 debut, Don’t Go It Alone (Riti), the cellist balanced chamber music filigrees and the volatility of jazz and improvised music. To an appreciable degree, Levin achieved this through instrumentation and a smart choice of players. Compositionally, Levin also gave trumpeter Dave Ballou, vibraphonist Matt Moran and bassist Joe Morris numerous opportunities to demonstrate the full range of their respective instrument’s expressive capacity, as his pieces entailed everything from supple melodies to indeterminate spaces. Some Trees refines this approach, but with two notable changes. The first is replacement of Ballou with Nate Wooley, one of those rare players who seemingly pop up from nowhere, fully formed and confidently indicating the future of his instrument in contemporary music. The other is the inclusion of three chestnuts: Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch,” Steve Lacy’s “Wickets,” and Ornette Coleman’s “Morning Song.” In a way, these developments address the same tension between tradition and innovation that made the first album engaging, but from new angles. Instead of treating them like safe repertoire, Levin accentuates the piquancy of the Dolphy and Ornette tunes, and the nettle-like quality of Lacy’s music in the ‘70s, making these performances as forward-leaning as the others. At the same time, the rigor Levin established on the first recording is even stronger here, precluding muddle. Now that Levin has firm roots with this quartet, it will be interesting to see how his music branches out from Some Trees.

 

George Lewis
Sequel (For Lester Bowie)
Intakt CD 111

Lester Bowie instigated an early, powerful collaboration between the AACM and first-generation European improvisers at the 1969 Baden-Baden Free Jazz Meeting, resulting in the watershed recording, Getting to Know Ya’ll (MPS). This event loomed large in George Lewis’ approach to organizing the 2004 Baden-Baden NEWJazzMEETING, which resulted in Sequel (For Lester Bowie). Instead of revisiting the relatively moot issue of nationality, Lewis instead focuses on gender in assembling a pool of musicians for this project. This is not a new concern of Lewis’; in recent years, women have had impressive representation in his projects. The octet includes three women – Miya Masaoka (koto, laptop and electronics); Kaffe Matthews (electronics); and DJ Mutamassik (turntables) – who contribute significantly to the hardware-intensive tone of the music. Guillermo E. Brown (who also employs electronics), guitarist Jeff Parker and Duo 48nord – Ulrich Müller (guitar, laptop) and Siegfried Rössert (bass, voice, laptop) round out the ensemble.

The title piece, which uses “a text with a time line” to indicate what types of sounds Lewis wanted to hear at any given point, can also be heard as a something of a sequel to one of Lewis’ early major compositions employing electronics, “Homage to Charles Parker.” On the 1979 piece (documented on a Black Saint album of the same name), Lewis coupled an opening section blending synthesizer timbres with filtered and modulated sounds derived from softly struck, contact-miced cymbals with a second section of graceful improvised solos over chordal accompaniment. Though improvisation with acoustic instruments still plays a large role in the half hour-plus “Sequel” and the three other pieces included in the collection, Lewis forgoes the linkage of bristling electronics-soaked soundscapes to the conventions used in the earlier composition.

Lewis now has a thirty-year record of expanding the parameters of creative music. Sequel (For Lester Bowie) is a significant addition to this pioneering body of work.

 

Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz Quintet
ONJQ Live in Lisbon
Clean Feed CF063CD

Talk about going out in a blaze of glory. This 2004 concert turned out to be the last for Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz Quintet, and it is as riveting on CD as it was from a front-row vantage at Jazz Em Agosto in 2004. One of the more remarkable aspects of the concert is that saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, filling in for Alfred Harth, sounded like he had been in the band since its inception. Repeatedly, Gustafsson and altoist Tsugami Kenta squeeze every last drop of drama from themes like Charlie Haden’s “Song for Che,” while they dovetail like wisps of smoke on Eric Dolphy’s “Serene.” Pitchforked by Otomo’s caterwauling guitar feedback and staying one step ahead of the frequently withering force of bassist Mizutani Hiroaki and drummer Yoshigaki Yasuhiro, Gustafsson, who plays both tenor and baritone, goes way beyond his standard flesh-melting intensity, and plays like someone whose eternal soul is on the line. Still, this is not a case of a walk-on stealing the limelight, but a musician meeting a challenge. ONJQ deals in extremes, and not just those at the apocalyptic end of the spectrum, represented by Otomo’s “Reducing Agent.” Jim O’Rourke’s “Eureka” is the type of simple swaddling melody that makes everything right, while “Serene” is the sonic equivalent of black velvet. It is ONJQ’s ability to make these extremes collide without disintegrating them that makes their music so thrilling.

 

Aki Takase Piano Quintet
Tarantella
psi 06.03

For chamber jazz to really meet its enormous potential, the music should project both a sophisticated approach to design and the exciting sense that anything can happen at any moment, which is best reinforced by at least occasional occurrences when it actually happens. Pianist Aki Takase achieves this on Tarantella with a very smart set of compositions and a brilliant selection of string players. The program includes four jazz chestnuts – Carla Bley’s “Walking Batterie Woman” and “Drinking Music;” Eric Dolphy’s “Hat and Beard;” and Charlie Haden’s “Song for Che” – that Takasi reshapes to various degrees, mainly through improvisation. The resulting music is often very far off the beaten path of most interpretations of these composers, with a intensity and level of abstraction only Dolphy addressed. These performances blend surprisingly with the two Takase pieces and Horsthuis’ “Tripot,” The violist is part of the Quntet’s strong Amsterdam contingent, which also includes cellist Tristan Honsinger, whose own projects have included violinist Aleks Kolkowski. Takase’s long-time associate, bassist Nobuyoshi Ino, rounds out the strings. There are passages where the confrontational aspect of Dutch improvised music is in evidence, which works surprisingly well with Takase’s explosive improvisations. Conversely, the strings play it just right in passages where Takase’s arrangements highlight Bley’s droll humor and Dolphy’s reverence for Monk, avoiding the broad strokes common in Dutch music. Though it clocks in at over an hour, the album moves briskly from beginning to end. Though this is partly due to Takase’s sequencing of the pieces, it is more the result of Takase articulating an ensemble presence that exudes volatility, even when it is conveyed in passages requiring close-order precision. This is one of the stronger recordings of 2006.

 

Adam Unsworth
Excerpt This!
www.adamunsworth.com

There’s such a paucity of credible French horn players in jazz, historically, that it really stretches things to talk about them as anything but anomalies. In a way, both the horn’s lack of lineage and the absence of a large pool of contemporaries is an advantage to players, allowing them a relatively open field. That may change to a degree with the release of Excerpt This!, which introduces Adam Unsworth as a potentially dominant French horn stylist. Not only is he a fluid improviser with a frequently stunning command of arguably the most unforgiving of brass instruments, but he also shows remarkable depth as a composer-bandleader.

Of course, when an artist of Unsworth’s caliber seemingly comes out of nowhere, it begs the question: Where has this guy been? In Unsworth’s case, it’s Philadelphia, where he is a member of both the city’s great symphony orchestra and Temple University’s faculty. His base of operations explains an unlikely ensemble including former String Trio of New York violinist Diane Monroe, woodwind player Les Thimmig, best known for his work with minimalist composer David Borden, and powerhouse drummer Cornell Rochester. Rounded out by vibraphonist Tony Miceli and bassist Ranaan Meyer, this is a sextet with truly diverse skill sets and CVs.

As a composer, Unsworth sticks to basics like blues and changes, but he consistently puts enough heat in the uptempo blowing vehicles and sufficient hooks in his mid-tempo pieces to make them immediately engaging. Then, it’s just a matter of measures before the players take over. It’s a particular pleasure to hear Monroe spurred on by a cookin’ rhythm section, as well as glide over lyrical changes. Thimmig’s bass clarinet and flute solos are a revelation for anyone who only knows his work with Borden, that when one a recording like Adam Unsworth’s Excerpt This! appears out of nowhere, you have to check it out, even if it has cartoonish this-horn’s-on-fire art work.

Ayler Records

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