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K2 B2 4069

Buell Neidlinger Quartet + Steve Lacy
Live at Ravenna Jazz ‘87
K2 B2 3969

Ensconced on a Washington island, Buell Neidlinger has little to no motivation to venture out into a jazz marketplace he concluded to be knuckleheaded more than a half-century ago. It’s unsurprisingly, then, that the bassist’s first CD in years is a 1987 concert recording, or that it documents a festival performance in Italy, where Neidlinger most frequently toured. Considered too flawed for release at the time, it languished for years in the vaults of K2 B2, the label Neidlinger has operated with multi-instrumentalist Marty Krystal since the LP era; only recently has software innovations allowed Krystal to restore the tape adequately for release.

The headline is that the CD features a rare reunion of Neidlinger and Steve Lacy, members of Cecil Taylor’s original quartet; although Neidlinger played on Lacy’s first two Prestige albums and with the “School Days” quartet, it has been assumed that they did not perform together after the soprano saxophonist moved to Europe. That probably crossed the mind of Ravenna Jazz’s producer, prompting the pairing. Given the pick-up nature of the gig, Monk was an obvious choice for the set. In addition to the inclusion of “Skippy” and “Reflections,” which were included on Lacy’s watershed ‘58 all-Monk album, the pairing of Lacy with Krystal’s tenor promised to evoke Lacy’s short stint sharing the front line with Charlie Rouse in Monk’s band.

Instead of appropriating Rouse’s jocular swing, however, Krystal is on a mission to burn the house down from the opening head of “Skippy.” There’s a sense of this conveyed through the CD tray card photo, which shows Lacy intently watching Krystal solo and readying himself for the next volley. Despite the cutting contest atmosphere, their complementary flourishes on “Reflections”  and their blend on “Epistrophy” reveal Krystal and Lacy, who himself is in top form, to be a compatible front line, one that could have yielded even greater results had it been cultivated over time.

The real revelation of the set, however, is pianist Brenton Banks, who understands that access to the essence of Monk’s music is through the melodies. Additionally, he taps that essence without wholesale appropriation of Monk’s piano style; instead, his romping chromatic runs on “Skippy” and sparkling sweeps of the keyboard on “Reflections” are closer to what pan-stylists like Kenny Barron or John Hicks might do with the material. His real art, arguably, is as an accompanist; he always knows when a horn solo will peak and he’s there first with just the right emphasis, his phrasing also creating niches that Neidlinger and drummer Billy Osborne deftly fill.

Unfortunately, Neidlinger’s sound is somewhat choked throughout the set by the bass mic, diminishing the poignancy of his solo on “Reflections,” which relies on his normally space-soaking long notes for much of its emotional gravity. Still, this is a very welcomed album.

One of Krystal’s current pursuits is Mojave, a trio with bassist J.P. Maramba and drummer Sinclair Lott. From the outset of their Way Out West-like workout on the theme from “Gunsmoke,” they establish themselves as a unit that prods the material and each other at every turn. They put new light on well-known pieces like Monk’s “Ask Me Now” and Herbie Nichols “Terpsichore” (a heated take on Jaki Byard’s lesser known “Mrs. Parker of KC” rounds out a mid-album trio of pianist-penned compositions) by initially giving the melodies breathing room and then spooling out pungent choruses that stretch the contours of the respective compositions while reinforcing their original emotional intent.

Something of the same can be said of their blistering take on Ben Webster’s “Ben Addiction;” but Mojave’s taste for and insight into jazz’s pantheon is a secondary agenda. Both Krystal and Maramba are fine writers who establish specific points of view on bedrock jazz principles with well-turned phrases and spark-shooting structural twists. Fortunately, the bassist’s “We’ve Heard It All Before” doesn’t live up to its name; a simultaneously playful and pensive tune that would fit Michael Moore like a glove, it gives Krystal an excellent platform to demonstrate the heat and elegance he can generate on bass clarinet. Krystal’s “Blue Dunes,” a delicious and thorough reworking of “Blue Skies” replete with a tom tom-tinged jazz exotica vamp, reiterates that the art of camouflage is as important as ever in jazz.

Still, the trio’s respective resources as improvisers suggest that all they need to make an engaging recording is to have someone to click the record button. That’s certainly the case with “Duo at Diablo,” a simmering, freely improvised duet between Krystal and Lott, and the two back-to-back blues vehicles that end the album. Maramba sounds like he’s cut from the same cloth as Neidlinger: excellent fundamentals, impeccable time, and razor-sharp responsiveness. Lott constantly feeds percolating cross-rhythms and solo-goosing embellishments in a thoroughly unobtrusive manner (some of the latter quality may be attributed to the one-point stereo recording, but probably not much). And Krystal is simply pungent throughout. There’s nothing at all arid about Mojave.
–Bill Shoemaker


Evan Parker + Matthew Wright
Trance Map
psi 11.03

A DJ is like a lapidary, who cuts, polishes or engraves with her principle tools of two turntables and an adjacent mixer to transform existing sonic forms. By physically cutting or manipulating LP sounds in real-time, turntablists either highlight the original sound in a way so that the source remains identifiable or create sounds that are removed from the original material.

Saxophonist Evan Parker has collaborated with many artists who work in the general area of signal processing for more than twenty years. With Hall of Mirrors (1990; MM&T) and Process and Reality (1991; FMP), Parker began assembling a pool of processors like Marco Vecchi and Walter Prati, who formed the core of his still-expanding Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. Recently, however, he has pursued projects with DJs. Whereas he took a somewhat passive catalytic role in EP (2011; psi), limited to giving DJ Sniff a pile of LPs to work with independently, Parker performs in real time with turntablist/computer composer Matthew Wright on Trance Map. Taking a more direct role in the re-processing of his own sounds and other captured sources like bird and insect sounds, Trance Map reflects a continuation of Parker’s openness to allow his unique saxophone style to be restructured by others.

* * *

Many of the techniques used today by DJs – scratches, forwards, backspins, and stabs – were developed not long after DJ Kool Herc’s 1973 discovery of the breakbeat. Though modern-day turntablism is an outgrowth of mid-to-late 70’s Hip Hop, it may come as a surprise to those who have not read Art Lange’s A Fickle Sonance column in Point of Departure Issue 35 that John Cage initiated real-time manipulations of records in 1939 with “Imaginary Landscape No. 1,” which has a written part for variable speed turntables. 

Studio jazz sessions began incorporating LP sounds into the real-time mix as early as 1972 when The Revolutionary Ensemble inserted a detuned excerpt of a recording of Billie Holiday singing “God Bless The Child” into Manhattan Cycles (India Navigation).    

In 1982, pioneering turntablist Christian Marclay participated in curator Tim Carr’s “His Master’s Voice: The Art of the Record Player,” presented at The Kitchen; a series also notable for being the first time that Hip Hop disk jockeys such as Wiz Kid and performed on the same bill as turntablists like Marclay. 

Fast-forward ahead two more years and Herbie Hancock and Grand Mixer D.ST improvised in front of a nationally broadcast Grammy Award Show audience on the first large-scale public viewing of turntablism. 

Just three years after his Kitchen performances, Marclay contributes turntable manipulations to Current Trends In Racism In Modern America (1985; Sound Aspects), the first U.S. conduction of cornetist and composer Lawrence Butch Morris, becoming one of the pivotal incorporations of a matured “Turntablism” in a non-Hip Hop setting.

* * *

On Trance Map, Parker mostly functions as a human record being modified by Wright. Structurally, “Trance Map” is a near 70-minute continuous hypnotic composition sequenced as two inner segments bordered by an intro and a closing outro segment. 

Aesthetically the music is Jeck-ian in shape and flow, minus the purposeful sonic seams often found in Philip Jeck’s cut and pasting of LP nics and scratches. Parker and Wright’s music on “Trance Map” is a mix of dreamscapes, shimmerings, and crackles. Sounds seem to hover, resonating both within and outside the ear.  

On For Steve Lacy (2004; Treader), Parker explored interactions with bird sounds as part of the soundscapes provided by John Coxon and Ashley Wales of Spring Heel Jack. In the brief introductory movement of “Trance Map,” birds and insect sounds are employed and then processed to the point of near obliteration. This opening segment reveals no hint of reeds or records.  

Alfred North Whitehead, the English mathematician turned philosopher, who in 1910 co-authored Principia Mathematica with Bertrand Russell, wrote, “Permanence can be snatched only out of flux, and the passing moment can finds its adequate intensity only by its submission to permanence.”

In this way, Whitehead’s concept of the illusion of permanence is evident in “Trance Map,” as each new listening reveals the subtle changes that are constantly occurring, as on the recording’s second and third movements, which track at just under twenty-six and thirty-six minutes, respectively. The sonic effect is similar to experiencing visual artist James Turrell’s “Milk Run” installation, where a pitched black room very gradually changes over time via slowly shifting recessed light. 

Further impermanence is embodied in Parker’s more characteristic tonguing, circular breathing, and overtone techniques, as well as in the transitional moments between the 2nd and 3rd movements where French percussionist Toma Gouband’s pre-recorded lithophone is briefly heard. Litho is Greek for “stone” and this ancient eastern instrument is known to date back some 9,000 years. The instrument’s low and high vibrations produce a timbre not found in a standard marimba.

The closing 4:27 minutes return to the more nocturnal moods heard in the opening segment, only the bird and insects sounds are replaced by what resembles tinkling glass and escaping air.

Parker and Wright’s Trance Map is an example of how early 20th century composer John Cage’s turntable-based experiments continue to progress into the 21st century.
-Bobby Hill


Ivo Perelman Quartet
The Hour of the Star
Leo Records CD LR 605

An intense return to form, the all-star quartet session The Hour of the Star finds Ivo Perelman reunited with Matthew Shipp for the first time since 1996’s Cama De Terra (Homestead) – and more importantly – is the prolific Brazilian tenor saxophonist’s first recording with a pianist in over a decade, the last being 2001’s The Ventriloquist (Leo). Shipp’s urbane contributions inspire some of Perelman’s most impassioned statements in this archetypal setting, which also features bassist Joe Morris and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The date additionally includes a pair of nuanced piano-less trio improvisations that highlight Perelman’s dynamic range without overindulging in his renowned histrionic fury. Even at his most frenzied, Perelman incorporates pointed thematic motifs into his incendiary cadences, imbuing his stream of consciousness excursions with rigorous discipline.

Shipp again proves a dynamic foil for Perelman; their congenial duet “The Right to Protest” unfolds with pensive lyricism, recalling their 1996 collaboration Bendito of Santa Cruz (Cadence Jazz), while Shipp’s insistent angularity and brooding, mantra-like chords arouse Perelman’s most ardent performances on the rhapsodic opener “A Tearful Tale” and the ecstatic title track. Whether complementing Perelman’s trenchant salvos with dissonant intervals or contrasting with luminous filigrees, Shipp’s keen accompaniment lends dynamic vitality to the proceedings. Devoid of the pianist’s influence, Perelman’s spare trio excursions with Morris and Cleaver revel in subtle blues tropes on the aptly titled “Singing the Blues” and invert be-bop traditions with impetuous glee on the careening abstraction “As for the Future.”

No stranger to Perelman’s aesthetic, Morris played acoustic guitar on the unusual duo record Strings (Leo), Perelman’s 1997 debut as a cellist. Employing his second instrument in this traditional line-up, Morris’ stippled contrabass phrases resound with a robust tone, offering a solid foundation both in and out of standard time signatures. His intimate duet with Perelman at the outset of the dynamic closer, “Whistling in the Dark Wind” ebbs with supple invention before Shipp and Cleaver arrive to advance the tune through a series of extreme shifts in mood, from understated reflection to testimonial fervor and back again.

Cleaver’s longstanding relationship with Morris and Shipp facilitates a nuanced approach in this unfettered environment; aided by sympathetic peers, the drummer’s ability to transpose burgeoning force into sophisticated restraint yields layers of expressionistic detail. Cleaver’s quicksilver cymbal work incites the gnarled post-bop frenzy of the trio improvisation “As For the Future” with escalating intensity and underscores the exalted drama of the exuberant title track with spirited élan.

The Hour of the Star is Perelman’s fifth album to be named after one of Brazilian author Clarice Lispector’s novels. Inspired by her emotionally charged narratives, Perelman instills this spontaneously conceived date with a contagious ferocity that encourages stellar performances from his veteran sidemen – especially Shipp, one of his most empathetic collaborators.
-Troy Collins


Jen Shyu + Mark Dresser
Pi Recordings PI39

Although they are far afield on many counts, Sheila Jordan’s duos with a succession of bassists are a useful reference point to discussing why Jen Shyu and Mark Dresser have such potent chemistry on Synastry. Certainly, there are significant differences between the singers, but they both thrive in this setting because of its intimacy. They have distinctive methods for expressing their closeness to the material and their partner. Jordan draws the listener close with the familiar, projecting nestling warmth. Shyu strikes up a rapport initially with a lightly honeyed tone and an airy lyricism that conveys a sense of discovery. In this regard, Dresser is an intriguing bassist for this project, given his emphasis on extended techniques (extensively cataloged on the Kadima Collective solo CD/DVD package, Guts). Yet, his emotional availability to Shyu’s voice is as palpable as Cameron Brown’s is to Jordan’s; subsequently, timbres that often register as stark and imposing have a draping effect. Dresser’s compositions play to Shyu’s distinctive use of consonant-heavy sounds in her scatting, which creates phrases that tumble easily against his 17 beat-based opener, “Slope a Dope.”

Shyu’s prior recordings have, in large part, served as platforms for passionate statements about history, heritage and the human condition. This aspect of her compositional work is not as pronounced on Synastry as on her 2008 Chiuyen Music debut of her ensemble, Jade Tongue; but when it is brought to bear on powerfully sung pieces like “Floods, Flames, Blades” and “Night Thoughts” (both sung in Mandarin, a language seemingly designed for Shyu’s fluid lines) the impact is primarily on the heart.  As Jordan has demonstrated for decades, the singer’s art is largely one of persuasion, and it is to Shyu’s credit that she sings a Dadaistic lyric like “Mattress on a Stick,” a bluesy Dresser piece offset by shimmering arco chords, with the same commitment that she brings to the probing, elemental text of “Chant for Theresa Hak Kyung Cha,” a captivating vehicle for both Shyu’s opera-informed sense of gravity and Dresser’s finely calibrated textures.  

Milestone recordings often seem at first to be modest propositions. That was the case with Sheila (1977; Steeplechase), Jordan’s enduring first duet album with bassist Arild Andersen. Synastry fits this profile, although Shyu is much more apt to create overshadowing large-scale works. For now, however, Synastry provides a sturdy marker of not only her evolving artistry but her ability to collaborate one-on-one with a singular artist like Dresser.   
–Bill Shoemaker

Pine Valley Records

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