Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed


Connie Crothers Quartet
Music Is A Place
New Artists NA1043CD

Connie Crothers "Music is a Place" Pianist Connie Crothers emphasizes feeling over procedure. It is a position that goes a long way to explain why she resists comparisons to Tristano; more precisely, it speaks to the widespread, fundamentally mistaken idea underlying many of these comparisons that Tristano valued procedure at the expense of feeling. If Crothers can be accurately described as extending the Tristano trajectory, it is because she understands that he used experimental procedures to refresh and refine emotional projection, and creates accordingly. Sure, this takes Crothers outside the supposed doctrinal parameters that have been constructed around Tristano like a stockade fence. There is a wide swath of structural devices, approaches to rhythm and rubato, and degrees of heat unthinkable in association with the cool school guru. And, if there’s a parallel to her playing that can hold any water, it would be Carla-era Paul Bley. With the empathetic support of her long-time collaborator, alto saxophonist Richard Tabnik, and the blue-chip section of bassist Ratzo Harris and drummer Roger Mancuso, Crothers glides and soars through this set. “Natural complexity” is a phrase used by annotator Francis Lo Kee that fits Crothers’ music to a T – no, not him.


Declared Enemy
Salute to 100001 Stars: A Tribute to Jean Genet
RogueArt ROG-004

Declared Enemy "Salute to 1000001 Stars" Though Jean Genet never wrote explicitly about jazz, there are a few tendril-like connections between the novelist/playwright and the music that comprise something of a pre-history to this very compelling recording. In 1968, Robert Malinké Elliott directed and produced Genet’s searing play-within-a-play, “The Blacks,” in St. Louis, which catalyzed the formation of the Black Artists Group. Genet’s stature among such intellectual beacons of the African American liberation movement as Angela Davis was reinforced when Genet came to the US in 1970 to give conferences in support of the Black Panther Party (Davis’ absorbing ’91 Paris speech about Genet is reprinted in the CD’s booklet).

Yet, the political affinities between African American radicals and Genet are not enough to get one to the present recording. It is the prominence of ritual – albeit most often manifested in the form of sexual obsessions – that pianist Matthew Shipp found to be profound in novels like Our Lady of the Flowers. As Shipp rightly points out in his booklet interview with poet Steve Dalachinsky, these rituals are attempts by the disenfranchised to hold a hostile world at bay, if not transform it into a personal world.

Subsequently, the quartet of Shipp, saxophonist/clarinetist Sabir Mateen, bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver are not declaring themselves enemies of a specific political system, but of all forces degrading people, using Genet’s writing as a counterpoint to their own improvisations. Denis Lavant has the perfect voice for Genet’s texts; particularly for the non-French speaker, the music created by text and voice is blunt without being crude, and emphatic without monotony. If, after several tracks, Lavant’s timing seems to be spectacularly impeccable, it is because he had the advantage of adding his voice to completed quintet takes.

Conversely, the quartet recorded their material knowing there would be a prominent, additional layer, which manifests in pockets of subtle colors, moments of near silence, and, at the other end of the spectrum, an impressively sustained simmer. In this regard, Mateen’s decision not to play tenor, a horn on which he summons great power, and instead plays alto and clarinets in a more sparing manner makes eminent sense. In his interview, Shipp mentions Rachmaninoff’s recording of Chopin’s “Funeral March” as a touchstone of a funereal facet of his art, a quality that repeatedly seeps into this recording. Cleaver’s ability to alternately supply turbine-like power and deftly placed collage elements makes him a fine counterpart to Parker, who exerts an authoritative presence throughout the proceedings.

This is a stark, strange project, but it draws the listener into its depths, where the demands for a more humane world are declared.


Marilyn Lerner
Romanian Fantasy
Marilyn Lerner ML-001

Marilyn Lerner "Romanian Fantasy" Canadians hold the Glenn Gould studio in esteem comparable to that which American jazz artists have for Rudy Van Gelder’s. Not only does the Toronto facility represent a technical gold standard, but it has a unique iconic aura. Recording at the Gould studio must have specific gravity for a pianist, who must contend with the legacy of Gould’s idiosyncratic genius and, more specifically, his epiphany that recordings would one day supplant live performance. For Marilyn Lerner, this undoubtedly intensified an already heavy, heritage-exploring project like Romanian Fantasy, an album of solo improvisations on Eastern European Jewish melodies. Certainly, it’s a stretch to evoke Gould specifically in terms of the curves she throws early in the program, including exultant passages that have a Pullenish mass and intricate lines that have only faint markers in terms of scales and cadence. Still, the maverick quality of her conceptions makes it plain that nothing generic is forthcoming. Repeatedly, Lerner’s interpretations are enhanced by the engaging way she slips between limpid coolness and rhythmically-charged vibrancy. Pianists with a less finely calibrated touch would plough through passages that Lerner precisely etches. All of this, however, does not circumvent or obscure the source materials or cloud Lerner’s clear desire to connect with tradition. Just the opposite occurs; progressively, Lerner’s treatments of the materials become more unvarnished, which is not to say simple or perfunctory. But, having established expansive parameters in which they can thrive, the heart of the album finds Lerner dealing with the materials with affecting emotional directness.


John Lindberg + Karl Berger
Duets 1
Between the Lines BTLCHR 71210

Lindberg/Berger "Duets 1" Duets 1 is a timely reminder of how young John Lindberg was when he hit the international scene in the late 1970s and the central role Karl Berger played in readying the bassist. As a teenage minor, Lindberg’s arrival at Creative Music Studio in ‘75 required Berger to do more than cash the checks and give the lessons. By all indications, Berger was generally something of an A.S. Neill figure and CMS was his Summerhill, providing an open atmosphere for self-discovery and expert navigation for his students once they determined their course. The proof of Berger’s methods is Lindberg’s discography, an extensive body of work in which one would be hard pressed to find examples that even suggest Berger’s influence. The central difference between their sensibilities is perhaps best traced through their respective regard for rhythm expressed through attack. Berger shares the penchant of contemporaries like Don Cherry to delve deep in the pocket, creating polyrhythmic nuances with his phrasing; additionally, whether on piano or vibes, Berger frequently favors phrases that lope and lilt. He leans that way as a composer as well; on “Innocuous,” Berger’s lines flow effortlessly, while they noticeably lurch and eddy on “Chromatic Ways.” “3-3-3-7” is a fine example of how Lindberg persistently pushes the material forward, both as a player and a writer, occasionally smacking and rattling the strings to highlight throw-downs of urgent staccato notes. Yet, both musicians continually demonstrate their keen listening, the practice of which is a CMS hallmark. Subsequently, it is no surprise that they would gravitate towards a mid-ground for most of these nine tracks, and it is especially touching that some of their most soulful melding is on the two pieces by the late bassist, David Izenzon, another early Lindberg mentor and an old comrade of Berger’s. Lindberg’s sublime arco and Berger’s luminous vibes on Izenzon’s “In My Mind’s Eye” gives a somewhat episodic piece palpable emotional unity, and they gracefully underline the wistfulness of the Swallowesque “I Am a Leaf Today.” While this shared history informs this recording, no knowledge of it is necessary for the listener to be thoroughly engaged by it.


Delmark Records

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