Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
by
Bill Shoemaker

 

Muhal Richard Abrams + George Lewis + Roscoe Mitchell
Streaming
Pi P122

Muhal Richard Abrams Though Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell have worked together in various settings since the early 1970s, they did not perform as a trio until the 2003 Uri Caine-curated Venice Biennale. By all accounts, the rigor and intensity of their 90-minute improvisation was daunting, even for the initiated. On this 2005 studio album, they chose to work in timeframes of ten to twenty minutes, which, given the everyday nature of listening to recordings – or more precisely, portions of recordings – makes the work more digestible. If the album is to be heard in its entirety, scheduling is indicated. Still, even when heard a piece at a sitting, their music requires a roll-up-your-sleeves, put-your-shoulder-into-it type of listening. Their music has no comfort-giving samples or easy idiomatic reference points, nor any glib irony or post-modern posing. It is as stark and confrontational and magnetic as anything each of them has created in any forum. It is as if all off the 40th anniversaries have inspired them to take the gloves off. They’re not history, yet. At the same time, the sequencing of the five improvisations approximates symmetry. The first and last pieces both have sustained passages of blistering intensity; the second and fourth are largely texture-based collages, and the third, a duo between Abrams and Lewis, moves from the linear and tonally consonant towards computer-enhanced abstraction. Coming on the heels of Fire Music, the AACM’s accommodation of both the formal and the ferocious was at the core of what was shockingly new about their music. This sensibility remains the active ingredient in Abrams, Lewis and Mitchell’s improvisations.

 

Roberto Bonati + ParmaFrontiere Orchestra
A Silvery Silence: fragments from Moby Dick
MM MM43036

Roberto Bonati A veteran of ensembles led by such Italian jazz luminaries as Giorgio Gaslini and Gianluigi Trovesi, bassist, composer and Parmajazz Frontiere Artistic Director Roberto Bonati has produced a series of impressive long form, literature-inspired works through the festival. A Silvery Silence is Bonati’s most ambitious composition of the lot. Not only does he use excerpts from the Melville epic as lyrics for singer Lucia Minetti, whose sensuous tone quality beguilingly obscures Bonati’s tricky rhythms and line lengths; he also sifts in Old Testament verses, including passages from the story of Jonah, sung by cantor Ricardo Joshua Moretti. Still, Bonati strikes his usual satisfying balance between concert music formalism and jazz colloquialism. His chambery passages for color-rich instruments like French horn, viola and cello are thoroughly engaging, and he benefits from the presence of musicians like oboe player Mario Arcari who can freely roam the frontier between jazz and classical music. Bonati can also raise the heat with a groove-mining vamp and determined soloists like saxophonist Riccardo Luppi. A lot of composers can do this; but Bonati does it without rupturing the delicate fabric of the texts, or diminishing their powerful themes. It is a tall order, but Bonati fills it incisively and elegantly.

 

Duo Baars-Henneman
Stof
Wig 13

Alessandra Patrucco + Tristan Honsinger + Misha Mengelberg + Ab Baars + Han Bennink
Circus
ICP 045

Queen Mab Trio
Thin Air
Wig 14

Queen Mab Trio On ICP’s distributor’s one-sheet blurb for these CDs, recording engineer Dick Lucas recounts how Alessandra Patrucco, who worked as a singing clown in Italy, took in an ICP Orchestra concert and found kindred spirits: “Serious clowns, like Ab (Baars) and Tristan (Honsinger).” Baars? Ok: He’s got the porkpie hat, the big black-rimmed glasses and the deadpan expression. But, while Baars is a game foil for the whimsical and occasionally broad humor of Circus, his own music, of which the color-rich duets of Stof are only partly representative, is pretty serious fare. This is not to suggest the composer/woodwind player is humorless, but that Baars favors pith over japes and rarely plays for more than a knowing smile. His oft-cited Webster-like tone on tenor stops well short of garrulousness when Bennink kicks into shuffle mode and his quavering post-Ayler deformations are pointedly unecstatic when violist Ig Henneman stirs undercurrents of texture and rhythm. Something of the same applies to his clarinet playing; on Circus, his high notes have a Carteresque edge, while on “Stof,” they project a super-heated classicism. His flute playing – be it on a standard instrument, shakuhachi or noh-kan – has a refreshing lightness and lucidity. Hearing Circus and Stof in tandem illuminates connections between the Fluxus via jazz approach personified by Misha Mengelberg, whose notional playing is noticeably blithe in proximity to the radiant Patrucco, and the compositional trajectory established by Louis Andriessen and extended by Maarten Altena and now Henneman and a few others.

In her duos with Baars, it becomes plain that the viola is central to Henneman’s compositional sensibility. An instrument that can suggest the depths of a cello and has some of the violin’s loft, the viola has specific utility. In the past, Henneman has ingeniously used this chameleon-like aspect of the instrument in her music for string quartet (also documented on Wig CDs). This is complemented by the tone of the instrument, which lacks the sweetness of the violin at its high end or the swoon-inducing affect of the cello’s mid and low register. The viola is the perfect cornerstone for Henneman’s penchant for initiating compositions and improvisations with what proves to be a cohering texture. “Whirligig,” her solo piece on Stof is a casebook example of how Henneman uses finely calibrated, if seemingly skittering bow technique to build a sturdy piece based on permutated rhythm and color. Henneman also knows how to extract the dramatic implications of initially astringent thematic materials. Such is the case with the title composition of the duo album, an elegy for her sister, and “Fluette et Légère,” one of four compositions she contributed to Queen Mab Trio’s Thin Air. As the longstanding duo Queen Mab, bass clarinetist Lori Freedman and pianist Marilyn Lerner have developed an unique rapport that is both rigorous and nurturing. They hold each other’s feet to the fire in their exacting ensembles, but there is also the palpable sense that they have each other’s back when they go out on a limb in an improvisation. It’s a very specific chemistry that Henneman supplements rather than disrupts, even when the two Canadians are at their most explosive, an occasional occurrence over the course of this scintillating album.

 

Dominique Eade + Jed Wilson
Open
Jazz Project JP3001

Dominique Eade Open may well prove to be a pivotal album for Dominique Eade, as it is her strongest statement as a composer to date. Not only do her eight compositions have winsome glints of the Great American Songbook and singer-songwriter confessionals; they have pitch-perfect narratives delivered through uncontrived, easily flowing lyrics. On the Jobim-inspired “Open Letter,” Eade meshes longing and insouciance with mostly iambic lyrics and a melody that alternately swirls and tumbles. Silhouetting hymnal gravity with Joni Mitchell’s blue TV light, “Go Gently” has moments of seemingly plunging despair that turn into redoubled attempts at grace. On other pieces, the most notable being “CT Bridge” (as in Connecticut, not Cecil Taylor), there’s a protean quality to Eade’s writing that is both engaging and inscrutable in its defiance of simple stylistic comparisons. That’s where Eade’s aplomb and constitutional inability to overplay a line really comes into play. The wholesome, natural charm of her voice obscures her erudition; every note is artfully shaped, but it simply doesn’t register as such. Much the same can be said of pianist Jed Wilson’s work. Wilson can be spare without becoming overly austere, and he can second the sensuousness of the material without florid embellishment. Wilson is also responsible for the inspired interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “In My Secret Life,” which rounds out the album with three impeccably rendered standards.

Charles Tolliver

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