Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Blue Notes
Before the Wind Changes
Ogun OGCD 037

Elton Dean’s Ninesense
The 100 Club Concert 1979
Reel Recordings RR024/025

Recorded within months of each other in 1979, Before the Wind Changes and The 100 Club Concert 1979 respectively document the Blue Notes and saxophonist Elton Dean’s Ninesense at the height of their creative powers. However, these club recordings have technical flaws that would ordinarily preclude their commercial issue. Pianist Keith Tippett, who was positioned far stage right when performing with Ninesense, is all but inaudible on the ambient stereo recording made from a front row center table at the 100 Club by researcher and archivist Riccardo Bergerone.  The upright Chris McGregor played at the Belgian Jazzclub De Hoop would be a wane presence even on a well-balanced recording; less so as McGregor and bassist Johnny Dyani are repeatedly swamped by Louis Moholo-Moholo’s gloriously furious drumming, which is way hot in the mix. Therefore, these are not recordings easily recommended to newer listeners: they should first access the bands’ other Ogun recordings. For the hardcore, however, they are must-haves.

The Blue Notes’ set is a mix of core repertoire and unexpected tunes like Dyani’s set-closing “Wish You Sunshine,” the suavely lyrical title piece of his classic Steeplechase debut. Dyani’s “Ithi Gui” opens the set at a sprint, with alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana ramping up the intensity from the get-go. Pukwana is as prominent in the mix as Moholo-Moholo, which promotes hearing how they spurred each other on. However, having reached a sustained boil, it’s difficult for the quartet to downshift for “Mange,” one of McGregor’s most well-represented compositions on disk. This is a tune that usually lopes amiably; here, it has a serrated edge. The bulk of the set is comprised of extended jams; “Lonta Uyaguls (The Poor Child is Sick)” being noteworthy for fiercely jubilant call-and-response singing that is propelled by Dyani and Moholo-Moholo’s rhythmic overdrive and Pukwana’s gut-busting alto shouts. The set’s only real dip in intensity comes midway through the set in the form of the ballad “Lakutshona Ilanga,” even though its smoldering lyricism threatens to break out in full flame from the outset. The Blue Notes were on a tear that night – that comes through loud and clear.

Even a cursory revisiting of Ninesense’s Ogun albums will confirm that Tippett was a vital presence in the band; not only was he, bassist Harry Miller and Moholo-Moholo a powerful rhythm section, but his solos frequently red-lined with intensity and his fills in the ensembles always shot off a spark or two. The fact that he is all but airbrushed out of this recording like an out-of-favor Politburo member from the annual group snap at Lenin’s tomb is no minor blemish. It does refocus one’s attention on the band’s formidable front line of saxophonists Dean and Alan Skidmore, trombonists Radu Malfatti and Nick Evans, trumpeters Harry Beckett and (on the second CD) Jim Dvorak and cornetist Marc Charig. Subsequently, Dean’s charts, which can be deceptively straight forward and then suddenly revealed themselves to have an emotional ambivalence or nuanced drama, have a starker presence – the churning ballad “Sweet F.A.” being the case in point. The 100 Club was home turf for the band as well, which contributes to the nearly raving intensity of some of the pieces and most of the solos. Dean is on fire throughout the proceedings; his saxello solo on the vamp-driven “Seven for Lee” is a tour de force. Ninesense always produced excellent music, but there were occasions that they could leave the listener simply speechless. There are a few such moments on this collection, but the real stunner is the closer, “Bounce;” built upon ricocheting phrases that elongate into barreling pentatonic lines, it is a roof-raiser – give Skidmore and Dvorak assists for blistering solos. Hopefully, there’s more where this came from – and with Tippett clearly audible.
–Bill Shoemaker


Marion Brown
Geechee Recollections/Sweet Earth Flying
Impulse 06025 2780943

This reissue includes two of Marion Brown’s ‘70s Impulse! albums, Geechee Recollections (1973) and Sweet Earth Flying (1974). (The third was Vista (1975); it is currently out of print like many other recordings by this neglected master.) Brown had recorded his label debut, Three for Shepp, in 1966, but it tanked commercially and he was exiled from the label until 1973, when he signed a deal for a trio of albums that would pay tribute to his Georgia roots and Harlem Renaissance poet Jean Toomer.

Conceived as a trilogy, the Impulse albums have a lot in common conceptually. On each, Brown is connecting the dots between Gullah culture, his childhood, and his aspirations as a modern African American artist. What grows out of this soil of black culture is the November cotton flower of his art. In general, the music is freed from stated tempos, but heavy with percussion, and the dense rhythmic mass fans out to the four points of the compass, forming a rolling percussion field loamy with swing. It’s fertile ground for Brown’s considerable lyrical gifts as a composer and improviser. Vernacular elements from the blues, gospel, folk music, or Africa are incorporated into his compositions, but they are elements of lines that stretch harmonic conventions, fragment into unexpected shapes, or elongate and buckle into wild contours. The combination of multidirectional rhythm and African American or non-Western elements wedded to avant-garde melodies makes the music seem somehow connected to late period Coltrane without in any way copying it.

Geechee Recollections is the more successful of the two albums in terms of the conceptual framework of the trilogy. Words, African American vernacular music, African music, and modernism blend seamlessly throughout. Brown’s setting of Toomer’s “Karintha” is one of the most delicately balanced poetry and music tracks ever recorded. The poem, read by Bill Hasson, is a sad story of a girl growing up in the rural south, feels deeply rooted in experience. The music is by turns disjointed, fluid, unresolved, and unfolds without driving rhythm, although there is plenty of percussion. Glancing instrumental interjections from Brown and trumpeter Leo Smith add bittersweet melody and vocally-inflected instrumental moans that heighten the mood of the piece. Brown and Smith make an oddly compatible pair and play together with complete empathy in a gentle and elliptical duet over dense percussion on “Buttermilk Bottom.” A suite entitled “Tokalokaloka” describes an arc from spare percussion and brass and woodwind textures through a section of fragmented melody and sound abstractions played over an Africanized groove and back to taut, spacious abstraction.

Sweet Earth Flying is devoted to two extended compositions, featuring pianists Paul Bley and Muhal Richard Abrams, drummer Steve McCall, narrator Hasson, and Brown as the only horn. The title piece opens with a thoughtful lyrical electric piano solo from Bley, which makes you as aware of silence as of sound. When the band jumps in on “Part 3,” the keyboards add to the rhythmic richness of the music as well as the harmonic and melodic language of the piece. It’s a really unique ensemble sound, maybe like a less aggressive, more pastoral Bitches Brew band. Yet it relates to the percussive ensemble density of Geechee Recollections as well, while adding all the new musical elements that keyboards bring with them. Brown is at his most direct and unadorned in a lyrical and sturdily constructed solo. Abrams closes the suite with an acoustic piano solo that seems to summarize the music that preceded it, just as Bley introduced it. The 4-part Eleven Light City keeps the formal freedom of ‘60s free jazz while burning at a lower temperature. Brown’s soft-spoken voice on alto and soprano sax, shorn of anything nonessential, may not thunder, but it always speaks truth. Brown always had a good ear for pianists – Burton Green, Stanley Cowell, Mal Waldron, and Hilton Ruiz are among those he worked with. Listening to Bley and Abrams on this album makes you wish he’d worked with each of them individually, too.

Like many composer-instrumentalists of the early ‘70s, Brown proposes a cultural continuity between vernacular and art music and between the music of Africa and the music of African Americans, but his particular take on it, with its unyielding pride and gentle strength, sounds unlike any other music made at the time.
–Ed Hazell


Kyle Bruckmann
On Procedural Grounds
New World Records 80725-2

Any attempt to pin down Bay area musician Kyle Bruckmann is a study in futility. Here’s someone who jumps from collective improvisation to the skronk-rock of the group Lozenge to jagged compositional forms for improvisation with his group Wrack to electro-acoustic explorations with his duo EKG along with Ernst Karel, to name just a few of his forums. Through all of these settings, working with the notoriously finicky oboe and analog synthesizers, he has managed to carve out a distinctive approach, balancing a formalist sense of structure with a spontaneous sense of group interaction. Bruckmann’s new release, On Procedural Ground, is a great place to hear how all of this comes together.

“Cell Structures” kicks things off with the ragged shudder of analog synth dropping back to reveal layers of breathy sputters and hisses of oboe and Matt Ingalls’ clarinet. From there, the piece evolves as the two play tag-team across sets of de-tuned intervals torn through with clangorous shards of electronic rumble and grit. The tensions build between raw electronic timbres and quavering reed tones, skirling cries that sound almost like sine waves, and agitated activity that moves with jump-cut precision. The half-hour long title piece which follows is almost orchestral in contrast. Here, Bruckmann deploys his group Wrack (viola, bass, clarinet, bass, and percussion), Rova Saxophone Quartet, and live electronics courtesy of Gino Robair and Tim Perkis across a score that moves from sections of pointillistic abstraction to coursing, full-tilt stomp. What makes this work so well is how attuned Bruckmann is to the ensemble; he’s clearly structured the piece around the specific voices and playing strategies of the members as well as an ear toward how to combine the core ensembles in constantly changing sub-groupings. This is all cast against the active field of live electronics, again, playing the textures of acoustic instruments and pure electronic tones off of each other with canny effectiveness, though this time, featuring some blistering solos, particularly from the Rova crew.

“Orgone Accelerator” takes “Cell Structures” a step further; this time bringing electronics to the foreground and coloring the throbbing, shuddering fields with wafts of oboe and English horn. Composed for “8-channel sound diffusion,” the stereo recording still manages to capture a sense of being engulfed in the waves of thrum and glitch shot through with spatters of key clicks, reed pops, and cracked double-reed overtones. The recording wraps up with “Tarpit,” another ensemble piece, this time featuring sfSound, a group of like-minded composer/improvisers Bruckmann began working with when he first moved to the Bay-area in 2003. Here, the oboist is joined by Ingalls on clarinet, John Ingle, on alto sax, Gino Robair on prepared piano, Benjamin Kreith on violin, Tara Flandreau on viola, Monica Scott on cello, and Kjell Nordesen on percussion and electronics. For this piece the musicians are grouped in various pairings, floating deconstructed melodic threads over unstable, layered planes of drones. The group revels in the malleable intersections of activity and stasis to create a piece of slowly unfolding richness as events constantly sparkle through the hushed dark, harmonic cushion, building to a lush full-on density shot through with buzzing detail. While no single release provides a definitive look at Bruckmann and his music, this is a damn fine place to start.
–Michael Rosenstein


Connie Crothers + David Arner
Spontaneous Suites for Two Pianos
RogueArt ROG037

Folks either like olives or loathe them. With Guinness, it’s more complicated. People don’t like the stuff because they’ve never tried it. I suspect it’s the latter case with Connie Crothers. It isn’t that her piano playing is so anodyne and correct one couldn’t take a strong position either way. Quite the reverse. She’s always been capable of far-out and demanding improvisation which might very well divide the listening camps. It’s more that there is an initial prejudice and resistance. It can be summed up in two words: Tristano School.

Why this should be troubling remains unclear, though in these postmodern, eclectic, end-of-ideology, non card-carrying times, it’s relatively uncommon to encounter an artist openly committed to a specific body of teaching, particularly when the teacher is now gone almost thirty-five years. Even though he left us in 1978, there’s still a cloud of uncertainty and hesitation hovering around Tristano’s name and – Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh apart – many of those who’ve followed him: Carol Tristano, Richard Tabnik, Charley Krachey, Lenny Popkin, Andy Fite and (Cr)others. Her thoughtful virtuosity remains seriously under-appreciated, on this (British) side of the Atlantic at least, though it’s hard to imagine even the most rooted resistance standing up to the near four hours of luminous music she created with fellow-pianist David Arner at Bard College on May 11, 2009.

It seems that the original intention was to record a CD, following the usual high-ratio approach that comes with spontaneous performance with no pre-determined material or reference points. Often in these circumstances a good deal of playing has to be discarded. Here, though, the decision was to release every note played and to organize it into loosely themed suites in accordance with the two players’ regular switch-round of pianos. I didn’t get the 12-page booklet that comes with the set, so I’m not clear whether those changes reflected different instrumental color on the two instruments, or simply a leg-stretch and fresh angle of vision. Given that the two pianists attack somewhat differently, there is enough difference in sound as is.

The first of the collection’s nine suites is “Avian Homage,” which seems to involve some unplanned concentration on Dolphyish intervals, but also perhaps reflects some listening to Messiaen. Again, the notes might clear this up. I was quite happy to draw my own inferences, though. “A Musician’s Story” doesn’t have any obvious narrative logic. It’s flowing, circumstantial music, not so much call-and-response as parallel journeying, companionable but not necessarily communicative in any direct way. “The Metropolis” suggests a more obviously pictorial approach, a well-trodden genre of urban “tone poem.” Again, though, what emerges (with Arner dominant in some sections?) is a sequence whose logic is musical rather than programmatic, and so all the more evocative for that. Like the city, the visual ‘scape is coded in so many different ways that each return to the music yields a different aural itinerary.

Suite four “Cycle” is divided into just two sections, “Stygian Exodus” and “Elysian Sojourn,” and by this stage it’s pretty obvious that the titles are ex post facto and don’t offer more than a subjective, albeit shared-subjective reaction to the music as played. “Dances” is the only possible exception. So why hang on to the suite structure at all? Because, simply, it provides a template for listening, and one that is as easy to set aside as it is to follow. The dance sequence emerges as the two players get comfortable with each other’s biorhythms and sense of space. It’s an exuberant part of the programmed, though there are more dramatic and physically demanding cuts elsewhere.

It gets more introspective and intimate after that, a more shut-off spell where the dialogue doesn’t always get out beyond the perimeter of the two sound-boxes, but by now we’re half-way through CD three and entirely committed to following Arner and Crothers to the very end. “Arcana,” “Apparitions” and “Three Worlds” complete the cycle of nine suites, and by this stage it’s hard to get used to the idea that this is all spontaneously made rather than organized and in some measure pre-set. What has happened is that the two musicians have constructed a vivid, one-use-only musical language, a singleton rhetoric for duo playing that is entirely self-sustaining. Such a thing ought to be, if not forbidding, then at least exclusive, but there is real and deep pleasure in hearing two musicians of this caliber talking through the arcanae and technical matter of their craft. Crothers is an ideal duo performer (as she has previously shown in recordings with Max Roach, Richard Tabnik and Roger Mancuso). She can be almost ascetic, and acetic, in solo performance, but there is a warmth that reaches out. She knows how to play for the group when she has to, but I sense that this is the ideal setting for her, not just on her beloved instrument, but with another voice to hand. Revelatory music.
–Brian Morton

Cuneiform Records

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