Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed

Giorgio Gaslini
L’integrale Antologia Cronologica: No. 5 (1968)/No. 6 (1969-70)
Soul Note 121354/5-2

Giorgio Gaslini Italian pianist and composer Gaslini’s recording career – nearly 60 years and counting – is of Promethean breadth and significance, and yet so little of it has been available outside of Europe that his reputation in the U.S. does not correspond to the level of his achievements. Fortunately, Soul Note, in addition to supporting his more recent activities, has undertaken a chronological survey of his body of work, and the results, to date, have been illuminating. As with any successful artist, Gaslini’s foremost attributes are curiosity and the willingness to experiment; hence his personal interpretation of the jazz canon from Jelly Roll Morton to Monk, Ayler, and Sun Ra, as well as his ventures into serialism and opera. While he had previously employed strings (“Dodici Canzoni D’Amore,” 1964), chorus (“Un Amore,” 1965), and even a 10-piece free jazz ensemble (“Nuovi Sentimenti,” 1966), this installment documents his foray into big band writing. The transparency of his scoring is its most engaging feature – he never gets bogged down in predictable sectional writing, and frequently uses counterpoint to incite energetic outbursts and unusual instrumentation to feed momentum (there’s a touch of Gil Evans in his use of English horn, flute, soprano saxophone, and French horn). The themes to pieces like “Invention” and “Il Fiume Furore” are momentarily reminiscent of Ellington and Monk – off-kilter rhythmic accents with hard-edged piano interjections – and “All’origine” dips into a hip, 12-tone noirish atmosphere (think Leonard Bernstein’s “Cool” from West Side Story) that he explored more rigidly in “Tempo e’ Relazione” (1957). Soloists, especially saxophonists Sergio Rigon, Eraldo Volonté, and Gianni Bedori, are given free rein. From an historic concert of a year later (which also, remarkably, featured the Miles Davis Quintet and Cecil Taylor Trio), “La Terra Urla” is a multi-sectional tone poem with a phantasmagoric piano interlude, and the three-part “Jazz Makrokosmos” again features extensive piano amid even sparser ensemble textures. Of the small band material included here, the subsequent “Jazz Mikrokosmos,” offers more angular lines and crisp rhythms, this time breaking up and reassembling the standard quartet format; only Gaslini’s homage to “Africa” seems stretched too thin, with folk/ethnic elements that evoke more mood than provide musical substance. Still, there’s much herein to discover and enjoy.
-Art Lange


François Houle/Evan Parker/Benoit Delbecq
La Lumière de Pierres
Psi 07.02

The Bay Window

Houle/Parker/Delbecq The common factor between these two otherwise distinctive releases is French pianist Benoit Delbecq, and the chameleonic way in which he supplies what each group needs is indicative of his generally supportive approach to ensemble improvisation. Delbecq frequently “prepares” the strings of his piano in order to add tonal colors and alter timbres, and he certainly knows his historical precedents, Cowell and Cage, but his resources are inevitably subtle and he seldom allows the sound to take control of his ideas. As might be expected alongside two airy, open reed practitioners like Parker and Houle, the pianist provides a foundation—not necessarily harmonic, although at times he uses conceptual harmonies to ground the pair’s freer gestures, but with suggestive chords and reactive phrases that enhance rather than direct. For their part, Parker and Houle carefully shape their lines to blend, overlap, or counterpoint; this is not free form improvisation, but neither is it tacitly compositional. Refined, albeit spontaneous, activity is the bonding agent, and the music mutates through changing colors—the piano dipping in and out of the strings, Parker’s tenor saxophone’s diverse tones, and Houle’s expanded techniques and his own clarinet “preparation,” which includes multiple instruments (played simultaneously, not overdubbed), and detached or reconstructed pieces which suggest flute-like transparency and a shakuhachi’s breathiness.

Kartet, on the other hand, is a tune-oriented quartet—they begin with a muted take on Monk’s “Misterioso” (injected with fragments of “Straight, No Chaser”), and the rest of the otherwise original program seems to draw upon this for mood and thematic intimations. Alto saxophonist Guillaume Orti plays with a soft, restrained demeanor (closer to Konitz than, say, Ornette), but negotiates a wide lyrical range that incorporates circuitous solos (“Y”), winding chromaticism, and even brief whispers of mictotonality (“Chrysalide/Imago”). Delbecq’s compatibility with Orti is linear and melodic, and his harmonic acumen takes charge here; at one point, his prepared piano finally reaches gamelan proportions (“D’Hélices”). Bassist Hubert Dupont and drummer Chander Sardjoe revise their traditional roles so that foreground and background are confused or ambiguous, and they often imply contrasting rhythmic attitudes. But a good part of Kartet’s charm is that they sound like a band, which is rare today.
-Art Lange


Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd Quartet
Early and Late
Cuneiform 250/251

Lacy/Rudd In many ways, Lacy and Rudd were perfect foils; the roles they played were honed through years of shared experiences, common values, and intense study, so they interacted as gracefully—and as contrarily—as Laurel and Hardy or Lennon and McCartney. These two CDs of previously unreleased material span the chronology of their collaboration—four tracks resurrected from an aborted 1962 (the date is in question) studio demo for Columbia and nine live performances from tours in preparation for and shortly after their 1999 reunion album, Monk’s Dream, for Verve. The extended live cuts illustrate how their contrasting styles meshed—Rudd the expressionist showman, his gutbucket trombone a vehicle for exaggerated gestures and varied tonal effects: roars, growls, whispers, buzzing, crooning, and vocalization; Lacy the inquisitive scientist, soprano saxophone as microscope for analysis and quizzical probing. Occasionally, Rudd’s sense of humor takes the form of incongruous quotes, such as using “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “Happy-Go-Lucky Local” to turn “Blinks” into a train adventure (a symbolic motif which Lacy picks up and references throughout his solo), or his tongue-in-cheek clowning through Herbie Nichols’ ricky-tick “Twelve Bars.” As the hornmen stretch out, however, drummer John Betsch’s rolling thunderclaps keep the energy level high, and Jean-Jacques Avenel provides supple bass lines. By comparison, the earlier demo tunes (with bassist Bob Cunningham and drummer Denis Charles) are tight, succinct, sincere, and swinging. “Tune 2” had apparently been in Lacy’s active repertoire since he played (and recorded) it with Cecil Taylor in 1957, and he re-recorded it in Italy, on Disposability, in 1965. But there’s a 17-year gap between recordings of “Eronel” (two takes included here)—and, surprisingly, among the hundreds of recordings of Monk tunes he waxed throughout his career, this seems to be the only recording Lacy ever made of “Think of One.” There’s no information provided as to how this historically valuable, ear-opening session finally became available, but it gives us hope that the Atlantic (1961) and Verve (1964) demos might appear some day as well.
-Art Lange


Myra Melford + Tanya Kalmanovitch
Heart Mountain
Perspicacity PR03

Melford/Kalmanovitch Having witnessed pianist Myra Melford and violinist/violist Tanya Kalmanovitch’s debut as a duo at the 2003 Guelph Jazz Festival, it came as a shock to read the press release for Heart Mountain and learn that it was a last-minute Plan B, due to the absence of the other musicians in Kalmanovitch’s quartet, originally booked for the fest. There seemed nothing accidental about the set. Their freely improvised music was so cohesive and impressively forceful at times, and their rapport was so fine, that it was a forgone conclusion that they had shedded together for months. These qualities are very much in evidence on this exceptionally well-recorded album. The duo’s use of short durations – 17 of the 19 tracks clock in under four minutes – is particularly intriguing, as it gives much of the music a concentrated, almost Webernesque bearing. This practice led to the very strange experience at their recent Baltimore concert of their first several improvisations drawing no applause, even though each of the short pieces were incisive, both in terms of materials and attack. Looking about at the audience, it became apparent; it was a chamber music-oriented group that heard Melford and Kalmanovitch’s short improvisations as movements of a larger work. This spoke to a continuity of tone in their music, manifested in confidently placed and intoned phrases, and tightly focused emotional projection. The tonal gravity of Kalmanovitch’s viola, which is her preferred instrument, is central to the strengths of the music, giving melancholic, European-tinged passages a gritty determination, and elevating their use of Indian music-inspired materials far above the generic (Melford’s refined approach to her occasional use of harmonium is also key to the latter). There was something, however, that Melford and Kalmanovitch did in Baltimore that didn’t make onto the CD – they dipped into the pianist’s book of distinctive compositions, suggesting that Heart Mountain is only the first this duo will scale.
-Bill Shoemaker


Roscoe Mitchell
Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1.2 & 3
ECM 1872

Roscoe Mitchell Roscoe Mitchell's use of "scored improvisations" to identify and examine the remaining frontier between composition and improvisation has produced several true milestone recordings, of which this debut of the 14-piece Transatlantic Art Ensemble is the latest. The title is somewhat misleading; instead of performing three hybrid pieces, the ensemble performs nine "scenes" in which Mitchell examines the concept of assembly - and, implicitly, reassembly - as a fundamental link between composition and improvisation. For this work, Mitchell employed three methods of improvisation that prompt the musicians to work outside their engrained reflexes: his well-documented distribution of cards to the musicians, each containing notated kernels for improvisation; stringently limiting the number of few pitches used for improvisation; and requiring musicians to draw their improvisations directly from the notated materials of a given scene. While there are passages that are clearly thematic, including a one that has a glint of Mitchell's spry wit, it is frequently difficult to determine what is scored and what is not.

The ensemble's rigorous application of Mitchell's approach is particularly remarkable given that this is only one of two programs developed over several days, the other being composed by Evan Parker. The collaborative super-structure explains the large contingent of the saxophonist's Free Zoners: bassist Barry Guy, drummer Paul Lytton, cellist Marcio Mattos; flutist Hugh Metcalfe; clarinetist John Rangecroft and violinist Philipp Wachsmann. These are musicians for whom improvised music made from small details now has a folkloric aspect to it. This makes for a fine, elastic fit with trumpeter Corey Wilkes; pianist Craig Taborn; bassist Jaribu Shahid; and drummer Tani Tabbal, who have an ongoing, working knowledge of Mitchell's music. Saxophonist Anders Svanoe and violist Nils Bultmann keep pace, showing considerable finesse in picking their moments in the foreground, and their ability to mesh with the overall fabric of the moment.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the music is its protean quality. "III" is a case in point. At the outset, Mitchell approximates a symphonic sweep before the ensemble dissolves the material in a collective polyphony. The ensemble improvisation ultimately subsides for a Parker tenor solo, which strikes an almost Marshian balance of energy and relaxation. The entrance of alluring long tones from the strings accentuates this quality in Parker's playing, giving it enough loft to clear Taborn's ensuing ruminations, a weave of well-etched phrases that maintains an appealing dampened intensity. And, that's just the first half of the scene. The album is teeming with similarly engaging sequences.
-Bill Shoemaker

Tord Gustavsen Trio

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