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Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed


Art Pepper
Unreleased Art, Vol. III: The Croydon Concert, May 14, 1981
Widow’s Taste 08001

Art Pepper-Unreleased Art, Vol. III: The Croydon Concert, May 14, 1981 When legendary alto saxophonist Art Pepper passed on in 1982 at the age of 56, he left behind a considerable discography as a leader, including his classic Contemporary and later Galaxy recordings, which spanned sessions with strings, alto/piano duets, quartets and quintets with a variety of inspiring collaborators, and some significant live recordings. Posthumous bootlegs have popped up, as they always do with great artists, and in an attempt to control the quality of material and receive some compensation, as is her right, his widow Laurie Pepper has begun releasing previously unissued performances on her own label. These two CDs offer what seems to be a complete two-hour British concert, featuring a band (pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist Bob Magnussen, and drummer Carl Burnett) that provided an immovable object against Pepper’s irresistible force, and a set list of familiar items with only a couple of curves. Though the recording source is undocumented, the sound is quite good, from the perspective of a seat towards the front of the audience, and without too much hall ambience.

At this stage in his career, following intense struggles with drugs and periods of incarceration, Pepper’s obsessive touring may have been more a search for expressive validation than a quest of self-discovery. John Coltrane’s lasting influence had affected his choice of material – not only did he dedicate a minor blues, a la “Equinox,” to Coltrane at this concert, but his reliance on tunes with long vamps, like “Mambo de la Pinta” or the 20-minute closer “Make a List (Make a Wish),” allowed him to cruise upon hypnotic grooves without challenging harmonic consequences. When he built to emotional crescendos, the roots of subsequent, even more extravagant altoists like Arthur Blythe and even John Zorn emerge from the tug-of-war between his riff- and changes-based phrasing. But freedom may not have been the answer; for me, the quintessential Pepper comes through an exhilarating, roller-coaster romp through “Cherokee” (onto which he tellingly tacks a vamp, too), and the usually melancholy “Goodbye”, which his operatic-like fervor transformed into an aria of gritty determination. In moments like these, there’s never been anyone else like him.
–Art Lange


Schlippenbach Trio
Gold Is Where You Find It
Intakt CD 143

Schlippenbach Trio-Gold Is Where You Find It Pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, saxophonist Evan Parker, and percussionist Paul Lovens have united as a trio off and on since 1971. After 37 years, they’ve done more than simply persevere; they’ve kept an undiminished creative fire burning in their music. Perhaps they’ve lost some of the adrenalin jolt of discovery and explosive energy of youth over the decades, but now they rely on judgment and refinement to give their mercurial music greater subtly and depth. The giddy sense that they are inventing something completely new as they play has given way to a mature wonder at the infinite possibilities within the music they’ve defined for themselves. Their determination to hone their shared musical vocabulary to a sharper, more exact edge makes Gold Is Where You Find It yet another challenging and exciting album from this dauntless threesome.

The trio has always emphasized group sound over individual solo, and focused on the demands of collectively defined structure over the individual composer’s preconception. The joy in listening arises from how ingeniously they fit together as a unit; how thoroughly they avoid repeating themselves; and how selflessly they orchestrate solo, duo, and trio passages for expressive clarity and impact.

Parker has a reputation for solos of breathless density, but on tracks such as “Three in One” and “K.SP” space and silence play a crucial role in his tenor work. Silence creates the negative space that sets off and punctuates each phrase. The irregular intervals at which these silences occur give his playing an unpredictable stop-start rhythm that Schlippenbach and Lovens play against. Alternating flinty clucks and pops (Is there such a thing as graceful stuttering?) with long sinuous shapes of bent tones, he generates another layer of tension and release for the others to consider on “Z.O.W.A.” 

Although Schlippenbach busies himself more with the percussive, sound-in-motion aspect of the keyboard, his voicing of chord and note clusters shade and shape the flow and emotional content of the music on the title track and “Slightly Flapping.” Restraint always vies with uninhibited joy and rage in Schllippenbach’s playing, making him in many ways the least predictable member of the trio. On “3 in 1,” quicksilver flashes of jazzy chords crop up in the midst of an avalanche of granite-hard blocks of sounds. He can be no less acerbic than Parker, but has a gentler side, too. On “Bells of St. K,” the piano’s delicate tendrils of melody play against the crashing waves of tenor and drums.

Lovens creates a twisting pulse of cymbals, bells, gongs, and dark hued toms, bass, and snare that clash and move in concert. On “3 in 1,” this continuous stream of rhythm and color pushes, without ever forcing, the music forward. Like his cohorts, he knows when to open up the space in the music, knows when to layout, and when to pour it on. There’s a kind of serenity and assurance in the music these three make that comes from having nothing left to prove, but still having plenty left to say.
–Ed Hazell


Matthew Shipp
Un Piano
Rogue Art ROG-0014

Matthew Shipp Trio
Multiplication Table
hatology 656

Matthew Shipp-Un Piano Alone with his instrument, Shipp carries on a conversation with silence on Un Piano; silence is an active participant in many of the pieces. On “Enter In” he lets both single notes and chords decay slowly and disappear before putting another in its place. On “Spike” sudden sharp notes prick glittering holes in silence. “Cloud Chamber 6” is held together by the slenderest of threads, lines dissolve in mid air, round chords chime and melt away, riffs that should propel the music forward expire. Shipp’s reluctance to resolve these gestures, or gather them into a false symmetry creates an aura of mystery and sense of an infinite music without beginning or end. A few of the tracks fill the silence more completely. Long garlands of notes periodically jabbed at by fists of chords create a darting and weaving “Linear Shocks.” The melodic thread of “Harmony of Apollo” stands out in glittery relief against a dark and busy background. “Geometry” works hard at avoiding the obvious or conventional. Shipp’s abrupt mood swings send it swerving in different directions; he uses the sustain pedal to reshape notes; he opens sudden gaps in the middle of his lines, letting silence fill the air before resuming. It’s as if he’s stripping everything else away and starting fresh, waiting to hear what his piano has to tell him. Shipp has always had a huge chunk of the piano literature at his fingertips and he’s shaped it to his own ends with exceptional skill in the past. But here, you’d be hard pressed to point to “influences” or antecedents; on this album, Shipp is chasing a pure piano sound.

Multiplication Table, recorded by Shipp’s working trio with bassist William Parker and drummer Susie Ibarra in 1997, finds Shipp often dipping into a deep well of musical traditions and refashioning them in his own image. It’s not as if he is building a pastiche or working out influences before finding his voice. It’s more like he finds phrases or passages reminiscent of Debussy or Andrew Hill or Chopin or Cecil Taylor as he searches, molds them into something of his own and continues digging. The music sounds beyond individual style, or category, as if it was plucked from an infinity of sound that is free for the picking. Parker is an intensely focused presence, zeroed in on his own lines, wrestling with sounds and tossing out energy. Ibarra disperses the beat into a generalized web of sound and rhythm. She lets the different sounds of the trap kit suggest melodies, hints at fixed beats momentarily, circles round and round a center that only she sees. All the activity masks how deliberately Shipp works, how closely and without effort the music grows together into a single entity. “Autumn Leaves” gets blown from the trees in a gale of thundering chords and rapidly shifting musical references, but the melody resurfaces frequently throughout the storm, providing an anchor for the improvisations. “C Jam Blues” and “Take the ‘A’ Train” also provide touchstones for group expositions that venture far from their starting points. The freedom with which this band worked is best heard on the exhilarating “The New Fact,” on which Shipp and Parker play with marvelous confidence, each secure in the knowledge that whatever he plays will work with the other. There’s a similar boldness to the sound pieces, “ZT 1–3” scattered through the album, with bowed bass rasps, piano-string pings, washes of cymbals and other timbres and textures paired up with or played off against each other to dazzling effect.

These are two very different albums, and it would be wrong to think of the earlier one as in any way immature. Shipp is a pilgrim and these two albums are signposts along the road.
–Ed Hazell


Martial Solal Trio
Cam Jazz 5029

Martial Solal Trio-Longitude Beginning with his solo and trio sessions for French Vogue some 55 years ago, pianist Martial Solal has amassed a distinctive and captivating – if still largely unheralded – catalogue of recordings. Remarkably, his latest, Longitude, shows little has changed over the years, except, perhaps, the context in which we view him. His brilliant technique remains intact, but he’s one of those rare artists whose virtuosity serves an improvisational sensitivity that is formally dramatic and lyrically eloquent; similarly, his encyclopedic harmonic savvy translates into subtle internal details and degrees of directional motion. In fact, though his stylistic approach has often been compared to that of Art Tatum, it seems that he might have as much in common with Andrew Hill – notice the attention to rhythmic alterations here in “Short Cuts,” the knotty theme of “Navigation,” and ambiguous tonality and sinewy probing lines of “Longitude” and “Bizarre, vous avez dit?” Even tunes as banal as “Tea for Two” or wistfully familiar as “Here’s That Rainy Day” are transformed into imaginative, restless fantasies. The fraternal rhythm section of bassist François and drummer Louis Moutin respond to his touch and temperament with experienced precision – no easy maneuver, as Solal’s crisp, florid phrasing tends to veer off into impulsive jolts and unprovoked resolutions. Deftly done.
–Art Lange


Fred Van Hove
psi 08.03

Fred Van Hove-Journey Jazz has strong genealogical strands in its narrative, particularly when it comes to the evolution of a lexicon for a given instrument: Armstrong > Eldridge > Gillespie, et al. Even though it is well into its fifth decade, European free improvisation has remarkably fewer markers; not surprising given that its initial impulse was to react against jazz and post-serial antecedents instead of extending stylistic traits. Connecting the dots between pianists is especially tricky, since they have often been, like Fred Van Hove, contrarians in their respective circles. Even in the fury of such early, core-library recordings like European Echoes, Machine Gun and the trio dates with Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink, Van Hove was already creating what he calls an “inward music.” This aptly titled solo albumis a definitive statement of what this modest proposal has become: A sensibility that allows Van Hove to vault over doctrine and the resulting history.

Recorded at Jazz à Mulhouse in 2007, journey begins languidly, with Van Hove moving about the keyboard, plopping bundles of notes that are often too bunched to be considered arpeggios, but have enough separation not to be clusters in the strictest sense. Around them, he begins to flesh out their pitch relationships with anchoring low notes and silvery high notes, and then stretches them with a whisking attack; they take on an almost Impressionist shimmer at times, at others a steely shine. His development of these materials eventually brings out the tumultuous aspect of his playing that has been erroneously attributed to Cecil Taylor’s for decades; unlike Taylor, who uses sequenced fingerings and rhythm patterns to establish motives with multiple tonal centers, Van Hove remains true to one of his earliest defining influences, cathedral carillons, and focuses instead on using swirling figures and chiming chords to build overtone-rich cascades. Unlike Taylor, Van Hove lets intensities dissipate in relatively short order, if only to rebuild them just as quickly, and this performance’s midsection is a case in point. Though it is continuous, the CD indexes the performance into two parts, the “second” commencing with a chugging, iridescently textured prepared piano motive. At first, it seems like Van Hove is feathering the attack of this material, but it soon becomes apparent that he has created a low-pitched force facing him on the final leg to the summit, one that seemingly requires Van Hove to expend his last energies to overcome.
–Bill Shoemaker

Black Saint & Soul Note Records

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