Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Toma Gouband
Courants des Vents
Psi 12.02

Toma Gouband is a percussionist whose materials include lithophones – rocks, stones, pieces of flint that are struck together to produce sound. Like Le Quan Ninh, he works from a horizontal bass drum used as resonator and table for a host of small instruments.  Courants des Vents is a single improvisation, 45 minutes in length. It begins in isolated sounds, struck rocks resonating in the room. Gradually rhythmic figures appear, repeat, and mutate. Bass drum sounds occur, their echoes another measure of the space, and the work becomes increasingly complex, a dance of distances, pitches and durations. What may have initially seemed a simple set of materials assumes new dimension, perhaps in relation to the degree to which such resources might have been underestimated. Gouband emerges as cryptogeologist, an explorer of the mysteries and consciousness of the material world, opening himself and his listeners to a universe of reverberant matter that whispers secrets of acoustics. Listening closely to Gouband’s work, one shares in a fresh relationship (imaginative and imaginary) to the natural world. The stones are alright.
–Stuart Broomer


Devin Gray
Dirigo Rataplan
Skirl 019

Dirigo Rataplan is the impressive studio debut of young New York-based drummer Devin Gray. Joined by an all-star line-up of tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, trumpeter Dave Ballou and bassist Michael Formanek, Gray challenges established veterans with a selection of subtly diverse originals that expertly balance freedom and form. The album’s intriguing title reinforces Gray’s approach; “dirigo” means “to lead” in Latin, while “rataplan” is French for “the beating of hooves or drums,” loosely translating as “to lead from the beat,” which Gray does quite admirably, even when the beat in question is more implied than stated.

Despite the generational disparity between Gray and his well-known sidemen, they nonetheless share a common aesthetic bond. A former student of Formanek’s while studying at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Gray originally met Ballou at a jazz camp in his native Maine. Ballou’s teaching position in Towson, Maryland facilitated the formation of a trio, which subsequently grew into a quartet with the addition of Eskelin, a Baltimore native.

A well-rounded instrumentalist, Gray’s approach to directing a band from behind a trap-set avoids the typical pitfalls that hamper many similar drummer-led efforts. Devoid of pyrotechnic flash, Gray’s sensitivity to tone, texture and nuance is one of his greatest assets, as revealed on the impressionistic opener, “Quadraphonically.” Introducing the date with a shimmering mosaic of percussive accents, Gray prods Eskelin and Ballou’s clarion unisons and Formanek’s robust pizzicato with a percolating undercurrent of forward momentum, confirming the compositional value of dramatic restraint.

This is not to imply that Gray doesn’t swing however; the soulful lyricism of tunes like the punchy “Cancel the Cancel” and bluesy “Down Time” are underpinned by dynamically shifting rhythmic foundations that owe much to both hard bop and funk. The latter influence pointedly materializes on “Katahdin” and “Talking with Hands,” spry numbers that feature spirited in-the-pocket grooves from Formanek and Gray; their hard-hitting downbeats and modulating tempos fuel fervent contrapuntal exchanges between Ballou and Eskelin. The atmospheric “Thickets (for Gerald Cleaver)” and abstract “Otaku” further highlight the quartet’s collective rapport, while the elegiac tone poem “Prospect Park in the Dark (for Charles Ives)” demonstrates the group’s refined improvisational prowess, keenly evoking the dedicatee’s penchant for experimentation.

A rich and eminently listenable affair, Dirigo Rataplan is a strong debut from Devin Gray – a name one will likely hear about with far more frequency, if this record is any indication.
–Troy Collins


Ulrich Gumpert + Günter Baby Sommer
Intakt CD198

On Paloma, pianist Ulrich Gumpert and drummer Günter Baby Sommer continue their droll duet, a dialog they resumed recording two years ago on Das Donnernde Leben after a decade and a half hiatus. The hallmark of the music, as it was on the previous Intakt release, is its relaxed, nothing-to-prove playfulness, a willingness to let any and all ideas develop, whether whimsical or deep. Evoking wedding and ballroom gigs both Gumpert and Sommer suffered through when they started out, this album has plenty of whimsy. The ticky-tacky lounginess of “Indian Love Call” or the decorum of “Paloma” tend toward a deadpan, if affectionate, parody, but there’s also a willingness to hear the faint beat of real heart beneath their corny surfaces. That post-modern playfulness with the past pervades the album. “Two for Funk” sports a left hand piano vamp that limns Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t” and a melody that riffs like Cannonball Adderley’s “Work Song.” But it never copies its sources outright, and it’s played with laid-back pleasure. “Like Don” wears it’s allegiance to Don Cherry on the sleeve of its title and in the melodic bounce of its beat. “Shuffle to WH” combines a clippity-clop “I’m an Old Cowhand” beat with gospel-blues chords that roll along like a funkier Abdullah Ibrahim. The ballads are mainly soft and sincere. On “Lovesong for KA,” Gumpert’s irony is so gentle as to be endearing and Sommer’s loose and abstract drumming is serious and empathetic. “Lament for J.B.” is simply a heartfelt ballad, with beautifully voiced chords and restrained drumming. Only the traditional folk song “Es fiel ein Reif” receives a high-energy deconstruction. Gumpert and Sommer play everything with such brotherly affection and high spirits, and they attack their sources with such subtle irony, that their gentle subversions have an irresistible appeal.
–Ed Hazell


Billy Hart
All Our Reasons
ECM 2248

Although his career as a sideman began accompanying mainstream legends such as Shirley Horn, Wes Montgomery and Jimmy Smith in the early 1960s, Billy Hart’s reputation as a creative drummer stems from his appearances in a number of ground-breaking ensembles. From his seminal membership in Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi sextet to performing on Miles Davis’ controversial funk opus On the Corner (Columbia, 1972), Hart has demonstrated fearless indifference towards jazz convention; his eclectic, electro-acoustic dates as a bandleader for Gramavision (in the 1980s) and Arabesque (in the 1990s) offer further proof of his intrepid sensibilities.

Now in his early seventies, Hart has settled comfortably into the role of respected elder, leading a youthful acoustic quartet with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Ben Street. Originally billed as the Ethan Iverson/Mark Turner Quartet, the ensemble has been performing together since 2003; their readily apparent chemistry has long espoused a collaborative ideal, with writing credits and individual solo time shared equally among the members, although the conventional format does tend to favor Iverson and Turner’s enigmatic ruminations. On All Our Reasons, producer Manfred Eicher’s talent for honing in on the aesthetic similarities within a group this diverse is very much in evidence; this spacious session reveals a palpable commitment to free-associative playing that was merely hinted at on their 2006 HighNote debut, Quartet.

The epic opener, “Song For Balkis,” is indicative of the collective’s intuitive approach; ebbing and flowing with egalitarian simpatico, the quartet saunters through a series of rubato permutations before Iverson and Turner’s sinuous interplay hypnotically ascends to a climax of controlled expressionism. They bring a similarly pensive energy to more neo-traditionalist fare; Iverson’s “Ohnedaruth” features a buoyant contrapuntal reinvention of the chord progression to John Coltrane’s classic “Giant Steps,” while Turner’s bracing “Nigeria” offers a brisk reworking of Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin,” highlighted by Hart’s multihued drum solo and the saxophonist’s virtuosic flight through familiar changes. But other than the tempestuous modality of “Tolli’s Dance” and the ebullient “Imke’s March,” most of the date is dominated by introspective musings, like Iverson and Street’s affable dialog on “Nostalgia for the Impossible” or the pianist’s gorgeous solo turn on “Old Wood.”

Iverson, in particular, proves to be especially suited to this democratic setting; his understated but idiosyncratic variations find accord with Turner’s urbane strategies and oblique detours, exploring harmonic nuances typically overshadowed by the kinetic bombast of The Bad Plus. Playing with similar restraint and graceful poise, Hart’s contributions are framed by the record’s impressionistic demeanor, which encompasses a subtle range of moods, including the austere “Wasteland” and the carefree “Duchess.” From prismatic cymbal washes to pneumatic press rolls, Hart’s steely flourishes and roiling flurries underscore, rather than punctuate, the proceedings. Trading bravado for subtlety, All Our Reasons is a rarefied and sophisticated statement from an artist whose venerable career is filled with highlights.
–Troy Collins


Emanem 5025

Together, pianist Veryan Weston, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and cellist Hannah Marshall make up half of Sol6, a group devoted to songs by Satie, Ives and Bacharach, among others, in which each of the three musicians also sings, but the Haste configuration – heard here in a concert from Barcelona in February 2011 – is very different, a free-improvising trio that only sometimes seems to hurry deliberately, though they often move at an accelerated pace. That notion of speed is central here, a principle that asserts itself within a few minutes in the opening “Sleeping Down Hill,” the band assuming lift-off after a series of individual entries posed almost as questions, e.g., “how much extraneous sound can be specifically heard through a bowed or blown harmonic?” Speed, as suggested, comes in two forms: one celebratory in which three very quick players throw off articulated runs that blur in the ear, clouds of sound playing at the edges of cognition. When it’s a moment of actual haste, it’s an up-rush of data in which the combined results of individuals’ fingers and thoughts might deliberately confound one another, resulting in new fractures and new meanings. While “Sleeping Down Hill” assumes a volume that might be thought of as comfortable, “Leaning Up” and the brief “Courtesy of None” often work at very low levels in which the attention already demanded by speed is further attenuated. It’s work (for musician and listener alike) that consistently surprises, whether it’s Laubrock’s articulation (like a gentle machine gun), Weston’s at once billowing and blistering keyboard passes, or Marshall’s eerily evasive knitwork that simultaneously links and dissolves the myriad connections in the music. It’s free improvisation of rare consonance.
–Stuart Broomer

Aum Fidelity

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