Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed

Rodrigo Amado + Carlos Zingaro + Tomas Ulrich + Ken Filiano
European Echoes 002

Rodrigo Amado Lisbon-based saxophonist Rodrigo Amado shifts gears for Surface, his second European Echoes release. His first – Teatro – featured his tenor in a set that emphasized energetic, if not outright swinging exchanges with bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. On the new album, Amado plays alto and baritone in a quartet rounded out by three of the finest string players in improvised music: violinist Carlos Zingaro, cellist Tomas Ulrich and bassist Ken Filiano. Much of the material defies easy categorization, as it is organized not just in terms of pulse and tone, but in terms of its proximity to jazz, as well. Simply put, Amado has jazz in the blood, and his playing almost always tips noticeably in that direction. On “The City,” Filiano lays down a walking line feel that catches the Konitizian glint of Rodrigo’s lyricism on alto. Even when the strings are bustling outwards on “Art Is Truth,” Rodrigo’s uncoiling of jabbing baritone motives into more flowing lines pulls the music jazzwards. To varying degrees, Zingaro, Ulrich and Filiano create an undertow towards the non-idiomatic, succeeding at least partially on most of the 13 tracks, and prevailing on short interludes like “Natural Bridge,” where droplets of pizzicato create an intriguing spatter. It is this dynamic that somewhat obscures how finely the contours of the music are calibrated, which may not cross the threshold of composition, but are certainly well designed.
-Bill Shoemaker


Chet Baker
Indian Summer
Dutch Jazz Archives Series NJA 0701

Chet Baker Chet Baker was at the top of his game in September 1955, when these concert recordings were made in Holland. His trumpet lines were wiry and agile on uptempo vehicles, his phrasing on ballads has an inviting, soft luminosity; and his singing exuded wide-eyed innocence. No news there. It’s the presence of pianist Richard Twardzik that is noteworthy. A budding genius whose classically-informed solos and compositions would have surely accelerated the evolution of cool jazz were it not for his heroin overdose death a month later in Paris, Twardzik remains part of the Dutch jazz psyche thanks to champions like pianist Frank van Bommel. Twardzik’s discography is sufficiently scant that the relative morsels of a couple of choruses a tune amount to a cache. Romping rhapsodic chords on “Tommyhawk;” slyly dainty pedal point on “I’m Glad There Is You;” distinctive phrases that slip through the changes of “Indian Summer:” all of these moments buttress the case for Twardzik. Even when he was being revived to make the gig, the sets were as formatted as Baker’s, and he had yeomen section mates like bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Peter Littman, Twardzik could still deliver a small gem or two on every tune.
-Bill Shoemaker


Billy Bang Quintet Featuring Frank Lowe
Above & Beyond: An Evening In Grand Rapids
Justin Time JUST 208-2

Billy Bang Violinist Billy Bang and tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe were a formidable tag team for 30 years, leading co-op ensembles like The Jazz Doctors and being in the front line of the other’s groups. There was an uncanny perfection to the blend of Bang’s fiddler grit and Lowe’s gutbucket garrulousness. It was rootsy and out there at the same time; and, while their sound was voluble to the degree that their music could be sunny and inviting one moment, and powerfully confrontational the next, they exuded an overarching comradeship that provided context for everything they did.

It is unlikely that any review of Above & Beyond will fail to mention in the first paragraph that this April 2003 concert was Lowe’s last. What these same reviews will probably omit is that Bang and Lowe did not know this at the time (Lowe passed a full six months later). Therefore, there is no pall hanging over the music, its conviviality being best approximated by the title of a Butch Morris tune that had been in Bang’s book since back in the day: “Music or he Love of It.” If anything, both Bang and Lowe are at their bantering best; recorded in the middle of a two-week tour with the crackling section of pianist Andrew Bemkey, bassist Todd Nicholson and drummer Tatsuya Nakatani, the set captures how Bang and Lowe took turns setting the other up to take the tune to the summit.

The set is a well-balanced mix of previously recorded Bang tunes like the lithe “Playing in the Fields of the Lord” and the blues-contoured “Silent Observation,” a new Bang piece shimmering with Ellingtonian sepia tones, “Dark Silhouette,” and Lowe’s languidly swaying “Nothing But Love.” It is a typical set, historically, which is not to say quotidian; rather, it speaks to a central strength of Bang and Lowe’s collaboration – maintaining the music’s sweet sting.
-Bill Shoemaker


Jim Denley
Through Fire, Crevice + The Hidden Valley
Splitrec 16

There is a point when context collaborates rather than defines. That’s the case with these nine recordings, made during alto saxophonist Jim Denley’s 15-day walk in Australia’s Budawang Mountains, and that’s why the resulting music is refreshing. You can’t really call them solo pieces because of the vivid presence of birds and other environmental sounds. And, perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to call them pieces at all. The field recording quality of the work almost dominates, but not quite. Denley is obviously engaged with environments that undoubtedly are as visually stunning as they are sonically rich, and demonstrates a consistently sure sense of how and when to respond to their sounds. Though Denley’s refinement of what are loosely called extended techniques is on a par of the more touted saxophonists of the day, there is nothing ostentatiously virtuosic about his playing. The quavering long tones and sustained flutters he favors on several tracks are brimming with subtle shifting timbres, which create moments of sublime counterpoint with the environmental sounds, particularly the waterfalls. Occasionally, he mulls over clipped phrases at length; but, then, so do the birds. This is truly music beyond category.
-Bill Shoemaker


Harris Eisenstadt
The All Seeing Eye + Octet
Poo-Bah 007

Harris Eisenstadt Wayne Shorter’s The All Seeing Eye is a largely overlooked mid-‘60s masterpiece, historically overshadowed by contemporaneous recordings like Coltrane’s Ascension that have retained their revolutionary stripes over the decades. Recorded in the fall of 1965, it was Shorter’s first album written for a four-horn front line, which gave his sleekly contoured themes a new harmonic fullness, and it contained remarkably open spaces for improvisation. Using his tenure with Miles Davis as the metric, this is nine months after ESP and a full year before Miles Smiles; with an edge in the improvised sections that is closely akin to that on contemporary Blue Notes by Sam Rivers and Anthony Williams, the album places Shorter significantly to the left of his work with the trumpeter. Shorter’s syncretic brilliance and his unique ability to give triangulations of heady concepts a palpably intuitive feel is at an early apex. Its curious slide into the pack of also-ran minor classics makes taking on this album a double-edged sword, because it is a recording that many have heard and think they know, but remarkably few really do.

It does not take long to realize that drummer Harris Eisenstadt gets it, and has the right personnel to elevate his changes beyond well-studied conceits. His retooling of the front line, leaving only the trumpet from the original contingent, and replacing the trombone, alto and tenor with Andrew Pask and Brian Walsh’s clarinets and Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon, gives the charts rich new colors without undermining their original intent. The introduction of the title tune is a case in point; the colors of the reeds bleed together, and David Rosenbloom’s lead trumpet has a subtle glow as a result. Eisenstadt’s use of vibes instead of piano is equally inspired, as it provides a shimmering sinew connecting the front line and the rest of the rhythm section. Vibraphonist Chris Dingman’s unaccompanied introduction to “Genesis” bypasses the ponderous pronouncements of the Herbie Hancock’s original, and provides a smoother glide path into the piece. Particularly in the open sections, bassist Scott Walton is closer to Gary Peacock’s approach on the Williams dates than Ron Carter’s on the Shorter original, contributing slashing counter lines and furious textures in the open sections, and providing a fatter bottom in the ensembles. Likewise, Eisenstadt’s other cohorts are equally engaging improvisers; their romp on “Chaos” has a terrific outbound energy that characterizes their improvising throughout.

The improvisational assets of the ensemble are arguably taxed more on the two three-part Eisenstadt-penned octets that round out the album, for which Eisenstadt brings on trumpeter Aaron Smith and conductor Marc Lowenstein. Both “Without Roots” and “What We Were Told” have an uncluttered feel to them, no small accomplishment given the sundry approaches to the mixing of notated and improvised packed into them. Eisenstadt and his cohorts maintain the same high level of interplay established on the Shorter pieces; beyond the shadow of the older work, however, they seem to take more risks and push harder on the envelope in the process.
-Bill Shoemaker

Cuneiform Records

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