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Reviews of Recent Recordings


Sam Rivers Trio
Sam Rivers Archive Project, Volume 1: Emanation
NoBusiness NBCD 118

Emanation is the first volume of a projected series of recordings authorized by Sam Rivers’ estate. It is appropriate that it is inaugurated by a trio concert featuring Cecil McBee and Norman Connors, who performed on Streams, Rivers’ first outing for Impulse. This edition of the multi-instrumentalist’s trio would be eclipsed later in the ‘70s by the unit with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul, so this set at Boston’s Jazz Workshop, a full two years prior to Rivers’ breakout Montreux festival performance, is a reminder of the earlier trio’s longevity – it lasted into ‘74, when it was part of Impulse’s package tour with Keith Jarrett’s “American quartet” and Gato Barbieri’s Latin America ensemble – as well as its potency.

All archival projects are issued for the hard core; those weaned on gig cassettes with a scorching hot house mic will shrug off the distant bass and piano, because Rivers, McBee and Connors made compelling music even at this early stage of their run. At the beginning of each of the two sets, Rivers plays solo; tenor with dramatic sweep on the first, and soprano with folkish lilt on the second. He soon jettisons these materials, whipping up the intensity, beckoning the entrances of McBee and Connors. Depending upon the rhythmic feel Rivers cues as the performances unfold, Connors either finesses buoyant grooves or pummels the kit with a Graves-like urgency, while McBee races the fingerboard or lays down a surging vamp.

Rivers’ seemingly bottomless well of inventiveness is vividly on display on Emanation. Although he originally made his mark playing tenor, Rivers was a true multi-instrumentalist. Even at this relatively early stage of developing set-long improvisations in which he played each of his four axes at length, Rivers had a real command of each and every moment, the considerable merits of McBee and Connors’ contributions notwithstanding. If ever there was a recording that handsomely rewards committed listening, it is Emanation.
–Bill Shoemaker


Numerology of Birdsong
West Hill Records 001

It was playful Sonny Rollins seconded by open Albert Ayler who made the tenor/bass/drums trio a jazz institution, a heritage. It’s not for everyone; everybody has to work harder. Tenor blows longer, and bass has to lean more into a second-horn function, which puts more weight on the drums to mind the time (and forms, if there are any). Not that they need much structure; three can leap together. The live Numerology of Birdsong is the second album of open improvisations from the working trio Somersaults: London freeplay mainstays Olie Brice and Mark Sanders, and Oxford-born Berlin internationalist Tobias Delius on tenor and clarinet.

The playful and open sides are in equilibrium: this is a good album to play for anyone still eager to debate is-it-jazz. The music doesn’t swing in an obvious way; the forward motion is a little more atomized. Bassist (and ringleader) Brice avoids a consistent pulse, but he’s always on the move. He might, say, walk more or less for around eight bars, more or less, then drop into half time, then step out of time a moment, then step back in to start again. Or he can worry a phrase a while, out of time, as his mates whirl on. His bass sound has earth in it, not too pingy and bright – as deep as Toby can plunge, Brice owns the low end. (He’s a grinder with the bow.) Sanders can stick right with Brice – his cymbals provide airy lift to his tub punctuations. The drum sound pops, as if Sanders takes tuning seriously – looking not so much for specific pitches as a drum’s pinging singing sweet spot. When Sanders swings he eases into it rather than announcing his intentions the way some drummers do, as if proud of their tasteful choices. The players don’t grab a groove and ride it like a Sam Rivers trio – the shapes are always more molten.

Which is what makes Brice and Sanders such good partners for Delius, for whom all parameters are melty. If Ayler was a tenor Jackson Pollock, Toby is the horn’s Joan Miró: the squiggly energy, the attention to the fluctuating weight of a continuous line, the thickening/thinning bloblike forms within a chameleonic style that may wander far from that center. His reed is a moving paintbrush. His sound suggests motion, but it’s not all metaphor – he’s always moving in place when he plays, twisting on his front and back foot. He’ll also wander the stage when he plays to visit/commune with other players and explore stage acoustics. That kineticism stamps his phrasing. Toby oozes his tenor in and out of the ensemble fabric, dancing around the time, entering and exiting on any side of any beat. A line might begin and end in a whisper. But the robust, overtone-rich sound of the old, old masters going back to Coleman Hawkins and his children is always close at hand, little use as Delius has for Bean’s verticality. He can pull at that tone like taffy, as on a nattering episode that ends the long title track (employing some Pres-ish alternate fingerings). The tenorist fires off altissimo squeaks like battlefield flares, and whistles (with his mouth) like he’s hailing a cab. Rollins was his first hero, and Delius took to heart the idea that the sound you project expresses as much as the notes you choose. (For more variety, he also plays a bit of open-throated/piping/squealy clarinet.) As open improviser he’s not a melodist, exactly, but his shifting vibrant tone quality beckons the ear.

They are all sensitive to changes in atmospheric density and prevailing breezes – you can hear why they choose to reconvene. There are moments on “a probable warbler” when they are all percussionists. There’s no sense of struggle in their interaction, even when Brice lays down an obstacle-course bassline. Everyone pokes and prods in a friendly spirit. Time though broken is buoyant. It’s the jazz in it.
–Kevin Whitehead


Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit
April is the Cruelest Month
Blank Forms 008

Let’s get this out of the way. If you’ve never heard this lost classic of Japanese free jazz/noise/guitar freakery, just get it. If you’re one of its devotees, you probably have some bootleg CD-R that you’ve obsessed over for a couple of decades, since the early 1990s Japanese issue of the 1975 monster that ESP had originally intended to release.

The famous photograph of the shades-wearing leader attacking his Les Paul seems radically at odds with his early devotion to Tristano and cool jazz. By the end of the 1960s, though, Takayanagi was a devotee of feedback and furious shredding. Joined here by Kenji Mori (alto, flute, and bass clarinet), bassist/cellist Nobuyoshi Ino, and percussionist Hiroshi Yamazaki, April takes in a wide range of sound. Opener “We Have Existed” is extremely focused and filled with tension. This is no howl, no blowout, but an understated exploration of noise at the edges. Mori’s flute is quite tasty, and Yamazaki’s pattering drums only hint at pulse. But with Ino and Takayanagi, there is gruff scratching, choked strings, and an insistent mewling or crying, like something pleading for release. “What Have We Given?” is another study in sonic exploration, muted and actually quite subtle. The sound of delicate chains and bells contrasts with a single, held feedback note. Burbling bass clarinet rides over splashing cymbals, all like a great waterfall. And indeed there is something powerfully elemental to this music, a great force rolling over the musicians. The group has great instincts, playing fairly sparingly, changing registers and dynamics throughout, at times sounding like some lost SME session. But in the final minutes of the piece, things get rather gnarly, as Ino attacks his bass with percussive force, producing some fierce overtones, while Takayanagi coaxes some huge clanging bell noises from his guitar.

The second side of the LP, “My Friend, Blood Shaking My Heart,” just roars into life, an unrelenting 20-minute study in ferocity and conviction. It is, quite simply, the explosion of everything the first two tracks merely hinted at. A sustained letting-loose. Mori plays with the kind of acetylene ferocity of sometime Takayanagi associate Kaoru Abe, while Yamazaki overwhelms in the way Weasel Walter and Chris Corsano sometimes do in our era. But the mad dance at this piece’s heart is between Ino’s coiling strings and Takayanagi’s titanic, overwhelming guitar. He is a hurricane of wah and sizzling, oversaturated distortion. He plays sparks more than notes. He unleashes huge sliding chords or spitfire runs, with feedback the context, not just an idea. In its final minutes, crashing drums, wailing sax and strings, it achieves that unique liftoff that only this kind of music can. An absolute triumph.
–Jason Bivins


Horace Tapscott with the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and the Great Voice of UGMAA
Why Don’t You Listen?: Live at LACMA, 1998
Dark Tree Records DT(RS)11

This previously unreleased concert recording by the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra of pianist-composer-bandleader Horace Tapscott and a chorus under the direction of vocalist Dwight Trible is a wonderful example of how Tapscott channeled the political and cultural aspirations of a community into music of deep beauty and lasting value.

The CD opens with a big band version of “iee! The Phantom,” a Tapscott original propelled by a vamp that spurs Michael Sessions into a melodic tenor solo delivered with an intense, wailing tone. Tapscott’s solo is a model of how he used space and phrasing to invite his bandmates into the creative process. The rhythm-heavy ensemble, relaxed but unrelenting, pelts away at Tapscott as he tells a beautifully constructed story at the keyboard. Singer Dwight Trible lights up Ellington’s “Caravan” with a freely interpreted rendition of the melody and lyrics and an incandescent scat solo. He’s one of the really great jazz singers of our time but makes his arresting music in the paradoxical world of the community artist: he’s a master and an individualist, but rarely gets widespread credit because courting the media is not part of his agenda. The full 11-voice chorus joins the band for the remainder of the album. “Fela Fela,” a simple, hooky melody sung over a danceable, African groove, showcases several of the band’s instrumentalists, as well as a fearsome, powerful solo from singer Amina Amatullah. On “Why Don’t You Listen?” the chorus invokes the musical ancestors, such as Lester Young and Clifford Brown, then riffs behind soloists, singing, “Listen. Listen. Listen.” – an exhortation that’s both command and invitation. “Little Africa” opens with a contemplative Tapscott-Trible duet that sets the stage for a lyrical paean to Africa highlighted by Sessions on soprano and Phil Ranelin on trombone.

Anchored in the predominantly black Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles for nearly his entire creative life, Tapscott provided a musical focus for the talents of resident musicians and artists. It was important work and perhaps no jazz artist has done it better.
–Ed Hazell


Keith Tippett
The Unlonely Raindancer
Discus 81CD

From the opening tremolos that wash over the listener on “Totworth Oak,” pianist Keith Tippett takes us to a better place than the one in which we live. The opening moments are a beatific vision of ecstatic chords and overtones that pile upward like cumulus clouds. Then he breaks the spell with an outpouring of cascading lines and thundering note clusters that don’t relent for nearly 10 astonishing minutes. It’s as if there’s a pent-up force within him that he simply can’t control. The extraordinary urgency of the opening track characterizes this entire album, Tippett’s first solo release, recorded on tour in 1979. The treble ripples of the title track seem soothing at first but as they continue on and on, they take an unsettling, obsessive quality. You wonder when they will let up. They don’t. For nearly 11 minutes. Gradually little melodies begin to dance around the undulating high notes, and a mysterious hide and seek drama unfolds as the phrases appear and disappear. And so it goes for the entire album. Each improvisation is music of intense focus and concentration, in which Tippett never breaks the spell he casts; he disappears into the music. Each piece is distinctive and all are breathlessly immediate. For instance, “Thank You God for my Wife and Children” is a deep meditation on love, played with sincerity and humility. “Steel Yourself: The Bell, The Gong, The Voice” is a dark, dense, anxious sound exploration. “Dear Ireland” is a lyrical, concise bit of musical poetry. Whatever the mood or the length, in each improvisation, the overall design is clear, each note is distinctly articulated, and subtle details and nuances reveal themselves. Tippett says that on the tour from which this album is drawn, he first developed the blueprint for his Mujician solo albums of the ‘80s. And indeed, each improvisation glows with the excitement and joy of first discovery.
–Ed Hazell


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