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Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed


Alexander von Schlippenbach
Friulian Sketches
psi 08.07

Piano Solo ‘77
FMP CD 129

Alexander von Schlippenbach + Eddie Prévost
Matchless MRCD73

Aki Takase + Alexander von Schlippenbach
Iron Wedding
Intakt CD 160

Alexander von Schlippenbach - Friulian Sketches Alexander von Schlippenbach was in his late 30s when he recorded Piano Solo ’77; his second solo recording, it was made during what the pianist generally describes in his booklet note as a period of transition. Recorded in a makeshift basement studio that allowed Schlippenbach to improvise on his old Ibach grand in solitude on a daily basis – producer Jost Gebers even arranged the equipment so that the pianist could roll and stop tape without leaving the bench – the album documents an artist pushing his limits and those of his instrument. These tests were not limited to ones of intensity, endurance and precision, although the sustained hammer-bustin’ torrents of “Brooks” and “Lhostse” are riveting examples of Schlippenbach’s virtuosity. Instead, Schlippenbach seems determined to get beyond the shadows of free jazz and post-serial composition, and not just splice their genes together. He is particularly successful in the two versions of “The Onliest – The Loneliest,” where he uses quirky Monk-like rhythms to animate sparse motives, which he then elongates into scurrying right hand lines, blunt-force chords and thunderous bass figures played in octaves. At full throttle, there remain superficial similarities to Cecil Taylor’s solo music of the period; but the ramp ups and downshifts reveal Schlippenbach’s approaches to tonality, phraseology and overall tone to be easily distinguished from Taylor’s.

The latter tracks laid some of the conceptual groundwork for recent work like his two volumes of solos, Twelve Tone Tales (Intakt; 2005), and Iron Wedding, his second duet album with partner Aki Takase; recorded just weeks prior to his 70th birthday last spring, the latter includes a duo reading of the former’s title piece.  Compared to Schlippenbach’s early solo recordings, the demarcations between scored and improvised materials on the new duo set are largely imperceptible. While the influence of Monk seeps through occasionally, it is not the cavalier idiosyncrasies of Monk’s music that are being referenced, but the occasional magisterial tilt of its harmonic movement. This meshes well with the palpably concentrated interaction between the pianists, which is aided by their preference for short durations – all but six of the album’s seventeen tracks clock in at less than four minutes – and further reinforced by the crystalline, yet intimate sound of twin Steinways in a Berlin radio studio. While there are dramatic passages brimming with cascading chromatic chords, crashing clusters and thrilling sweeps of the keyboards, they come off as well-considered, integral facets of a given piece, not passionate flaying. Despite their respective stylistic distinctions, Takase and Schlippenbach are so attuned to each other and the materials that it is all but impossible to attribute most of the playing to one or the other.

Strange but true: Schlippenbach and drummer Eddie Prévost had never played together before the 2008 UK concerts that yielded Blackheath. The arch egalitarian procedure of equally dividing a program between respective solos and a culminating duo gives the pianist another opportunity in his album-opening solo to further detail his sensibility’s fusing of serial variations and advanced jazz. “Four Pieces in One” includes two compositions recorded for Twelve Tone Tales, as well as the Globe Unity Orchestra chestnut “The Forge” and a take on Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch.” At first, Schlippenbach meticulously develops materials as if he is rotating a diamond to reveal all of its facets; somewhere near the halfway mark, he goes into an overdrive, his racing lines all the more astounding because of his impeccable keying and pedaling. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the performance is that, at 20 minutes, it’s over before you know, and it leaves you wanting more. After a powerful drum solo in which Prévost not only updates his “Blakey of Brixton” cred of more than 40 years ago, but includes a high-hat and cymbals passage that conveys an equally deep absorption of Jo Jones and Max Roach as well, the album closes with an intriguingly shaped duo. It launches with blistering intensity and slowly unwinds over a quart-hour to a hush so convincing as to prompt applause; and then reignites with a vengeance for a final five minutes, affirming shared roots in free jazz.

In his pointed booklet note for Friulian Sketches, Schippenbach employs a sentence fragment that says it all: “The noble Classic sound with a line-up of piano, cello and clarinet.” That would seem to be a tall order given that Schlippenbach is improvising with mercurial clarinetist Daniel D’Agaro and an iconic agitprop improviser like cellist Tristan Honsinger. But, there is a rare combination of seamlessness and incandescence to these improvisations, with a quality of counterpoint more frequently found in the canon of classical chamber music than in improvised music. Most of the 20 short improvisations adhere so closely to their respective titles – commonly used Italian terns designating tempo or mood – that the idea of after-the-fact titling seems far-fetched.  Still, even if the titles were parameter-setting or even preemptive in the creative process, there is an abundance of the crackling, self-evident moments that are improvised music’s raison d’être, where the trio lights on a tone from respectively oblique angles, makes sudden, unexpected turns in tandem, and peels off in different directions, seemingly on cue. Additionally, there is a burnished quality to the music, highlighted by the ripe tone of both D’Agaro and Honsinger, prompting a more agile, sinewy approach than is commonly heard from Schlippenbach. On several counts, this is the odd disc out of this foursome, but it is among the most rewarding of Schlippenbach’s many important albums.
–Bill Shoemaker


The Skein: Andrea Parkins + Jessica Constable
Cities and Eyes
Henceforth 106

The Skein: Andrea Parkins + Jessica Constable - Cities and Eyes If you think that experimental music is gender bias-free, consider the case of Andrea Parkins. Few persons working with acoustic instrument-triggered processing and computer generated treatments have been as consistently disarming as the accordionist/keyboardist during the past decade. But, the bulk of commentary about her has been framed by her membership in Ellery Eskelin’s long-standing trio. Given the brashness of her work, Parkins’ scant discography as a leader or co-leader would be merely curious is she were a man; but, when she basically got no credit for instigating the trio with Nels Cline and Tom Rainey that released Downpour (Victo), one of the better releases of 2007, and it takes four years for an ear-recalibrating album like Cities and Eyes to be released, gender becomes at least a secondary factor in explaining Parkins’ relatively low profile. However, it is unlikely that the debut of The Skein, Parkins’ duo with vocalist Jessica Constable, who has also toured and recorded with Eskelin, will remedy the situation by itself; but it lays down a serious marker.

Parkins has always been rigorously subversive, undercutting, over-coating or just plain obliterating materials just seconds before they define a piece. She sets up fragments of melody or harmonic movement, only to wipe them away with an avalanche of textures; conversely, Parkins will pull the plug on shrieking noise, leaving only a soothing tone as an afterglow. With Eskelin’s compositions, Parkins’ use of pitch and texture has a buttressing function, which is also evident in her work with Constable, who has a pliant voice and a firm sense of how to electronically process its respective facets. Like Parkins, Constable has a penchant for jump cuts, a method that tests their resourcefulness as improvisers throughout the album, and which shapes the album to a significant degree. But, Constable also gravitates towards song, albeit from odd angles, which Parkins often deftly supports, if only momentarily at times. The active, if not volatile chemistry between Parkins and Constable keeps the listener from getting too settled. The promissory bromide is in full force with Cities and Eyes: This is challenging music that rewards committed listening.
–Bill Shoemaker


Trio X
2006 U.S. Tour
CIMPoL 5006-5012

Trio X - 2006 U.S. Tour Max Roach told a fledgling reporter in the late ‘70s that he would have attend every set of Roach’s stand  that week to fully understand what the music was about. Even then, Roach cautioned, he would then only understand what happened that week. After all, it could all change the next week and again the week after. This sage advice is applicable to digesting Trio X’s 2006 U.S. Tour. Despite its proportions – seven CDs, an august embossed box and a 32-page booklet, all of which indicate “definitive statement” – the collection documents only eight days in the life of an ensemble that just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Additionally, each of the eight days in question were largely spent driving hundreds of miles from Upstate New Year though Chicago, Iowa, and Green Bay, returning to Upstate via Detroit to play venues spanning The Hideout in Chicago, a university art gallery and a community theatre.  It is a grind, and everything from bad weather to bad food and bad rooms can have a pronounced impact.

However, it is a gauntlet that, successfully run, yields a fascinating daily evolution of materials. This is not to suggest that multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee, bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen made collective quantum leaps each time they performed on this tour. On the contrary, there is considerable overlap of materials from gig to gig; there are six extrapolations of Monk’s “Evidence,” four performances of McPhee’s plaintive “Other Voices,” and multiple versions of a half-dozen other pieces, including such bedrock themes as “Goin’ Home” and “God Bless the Child.” But, within this repertoire – and the collective and solo improvisations that surround it – McPhee, Duval and Rosen unfailingly find new angles of attack, extract different colors and moods, and leave a distinctive mark on the material. That, in essence, is what Roach said happens from night to night, week to week, with a working band.

Implicit to the concept of a working band is the idea of format, that a body of regularly revisited materials shapes each performance to one degree or another. It is a time-honored practice integral to audience-building; it’s hard to have folks keep coming back for more over a decade if there isn’t a reinforcement of the qualities that initially draw them in. The approach that Trio X has artfully honed over a decade is to place well-known themes – over the course of the collection, they also tap chestnuts like “Blue Monk” and “Try a Little Tenderness” – within a wide-open field in which each musician has the ability to introduce any material from any angle at, seemingly, any moment. As a result, rehearing one piece two or more times over the course of the collection is far from a redundant proposition, even with “Other Voices,” the only composition receiving multiple readings that finds McPhee playing the same horn (his soprano) each time out.

The fluid interaction through which Trio X achieves this variety can, on various counts, be traced back to multi instrumentalist-fronted trios such as Ornette Coleman’s mid-‘60s unit, Sam Rivers classic trio and Air. At times, Rosen provides a rudiments-laced tether for McPhee and Duval that is reminiscent of Charles Moffett’s grounding of Coleman and David Izenzon’s most tangential flights. Trio X excels at the split-second coalescing around a groove or a line that was the hallmark of Rivers, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. Like Fred Hopkins, Duval has a spot-on sense of how much tonal and rhythmic gravity the moment requires, as McPhee and Rosen shuttle, independently at times, between idiomatic fundamentals and uncodified textures.

Still, these qualities offer only a partial explanation for why Trio X engages the listener for hours on end. Each musician brings a distinctive, multi-faceted voice to the proceedings. It’s easy to think of McPhee primarily as a tenor saxophonist; after all, his first landmark album was the solo Tenor (year; hatOLOGY). But, his soprano deserves comparable consideration. It is the horn he uses to reference “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “My Funny Valentine” with a piquant sound and open, lyrical phrasing reminiscent of Yusef Lateef’s oboe in the early ‘60s. But, McPhee’s soprano can also muster gut-wrenching intensity. On the second of three versions of “A Valentine in the Fog of War,” the latter standard follows a work-out based on Edwin Starr’s “War,” McPhee impressively downshifts on a dime to play the standard, the attack becoming a caress. McPhee’s reading of the Otis Redding chestnut on tenor requires a similar agility, as McPhee slides from a murmured outlining of the theme to a garrulous stretching of the bridge.  And, while the pieces featuring McPhee’s pocket trumpet do not include comparable hairpin turns, they are brimming with the fully matured lexicon that places McPhee among the brass avatars of his generation.

Both Duval and Rosen finely gradate the grays in the supposedly appositional construct of “inside” and “outside.” However, their most impressive shadings are just as often to be found in freely improvised pieces like “Luna Landing” (the title references the venue, Luna Café, in Green Bay) as in tunes. The piece opens with a Duval solo, followed by Rosen’s, employing brushes; both convey an innate design sensibility. Duval uses familiar devices – pedal point, chromatic phrases, and portomento – and maintains a brisk pace for introducing new material; as a result, Duval conveys both grounding and fluidity.  Rosen deftly shifts between rhythmic feels while maintaining a drone. When they converge, it is an exact, puzzle-pieces fit with each other, yet it leaves McPhee the latitude to shape a stirring soprano statement that he brings to a simmer in a focused, deliberate manner.

Any time you end up with this much engaging music, it is a really good week.
–Bill Shoemaker


Gianluigi Trovesi
Profumo di Violetta
ECM 2068

Gianluigi Trovesi - Profumo di Violetta From his very first recordings three decades ago, multi-reedman Gianluigi Trovesi has continually woven elements of the Italian historical landscape and his own musical heritage – medieval dances, folk songs, and the classics, especially opera, which until recently was embraced as a popular music of the people – along with jazz influences from Ellington to Dolphy, into a unique compositional/improvisational mix. Though conservatory trained, Trovesi began his instrumental lessons in a local “Banda,” a semi-professional regional orchestra of winds, brass, and percussion employed for religious ceremonies and civic celebrations, an enduring resource for working class cultural preservation and social responsibility. Several years back Enja issued a recording, instigated by Italian Instabile Orchestra trumpeter Pino Minafra, of the Banda Cittá Ruvo de Puglia performing operatic transcriptions and specially commissioned works, in which Trovesi participated. Drawing from the same tradition, his Profumo di Violetta is an inspired pastiche of adaptations from opera and original elaborations written for a similar ensemble, the 50-plus piece Filarmonica Mousiké. Trovesi’s fantasy spans styles and centuries; Monteverdi fanfares and Rossini’s “Largo al factotum” flow seamlessly into jazz-tinged interludes, including a section of Trovesi’s favorite saltarellos, one of which manages to echo Monk’s “Friday the 13th” and Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” for good measure. There’s room for solos by trumpeter Fabio Brignoli, cellist Marco Remondini, and his own alto sax and clarinet, and the Filamonica performs their part flawlessly. Profumo de Violetta isa joyous pageant of song, tinged with an extra degree of poignancy because it’s a labor of love.
–Art Lange


Ken Vandermark + Kent Kessler + Nate McBride + Wilbert de Joode + Ingebrigt Håker Flaten
Collected Fiction
Okkadisk 12075

Ken Vandermark + Kent Kessler + Nate McBride + Wilbert de Joode + Ingebrigt Håker Flaten - Collected Fiction Multi-reed player Ken Vandermark explores the art of the duo with four different bassists on this double CD. It’s a fascinating study in how musical personalities can influence one another, of how one musician can play himself in deference to another player and still retain a strong identity. Of course, the character of the music changes as Vandermark cycles through clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax and baritone sax, but more radical still is how each bass player brings new ideas and a new feel to the music. Kent Kessler has a hornlike power and mobility to his playing, so duets such as “Torus III” and “Contour I” display great rhythmic freedom and fluidity as well as a close synchronization between the partners.  Kessler’s power help “Spiral” and “Prop I” rise to cathartic heights. Håker Flaten favors repeated patterns that are foundational but not subservient to the reeds. His big, granite sound provides a rough textured counterpoint to Vandermark’s tenor musings on the slow, undulating “Torus I” and strikes flinty sparks off the bass clarinet on “Extension.” The five improvisations with Nate McBride have a relaxed, brotherly feel to them and some of the most developed narrative arcs of the album. “Spline” has an inviting beginning, eventful middle, and satisfying conclusion, for instance. On “Torus II” (all the titles are inspired by the monumental geometric sculptures of Richard Serra), they throw around melodic phrases as if they were tossing a football in the backyard. Wilbert de Joode displays the greatest range and presence of the four bassists, sometimes nearly dwarfing the woodwinds. On the first “Torus IV” Vandermark and de Joode move in parallel but independent lines that nevertheless breath together as one. “Contour III” features some of the most extreme textural and timbral explorations on the discs. Most of duets last only four minutes or so, making them each focused and distilled as the best short fiction.
–Ed Hazell

Intakt Records

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