Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Daniel Carter + Matthew Shipp + William Parker + Gerald Cleaver
Welcome Adventure Vol. 1
577 Records 5837-1

Before reading the press materials for Welcome Adventure I had assumed that this was just the latest album from the foursome of Daniel Carter, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and Gerald Cleaver. So I was surprised to learn that despite their long history of collaboration, this is their first recording together as a quartet. It comes as no surprise, then, given their deep familiarity with each other, that this album is anything less than exceptional.

“Majestic Travel Agency” leads things off. At its core, the first half of the tune seems like it wants to be straight-ahead, but Shipp, Parker, and Cleaver pull it in different directions, much like Jupiter’s gravity revises the geological contours of its moons. Walking bass here, glitchy backbeat there. Carter’s sinewy tenor lines flirting with bebop over Shipp’s comping. Always morphing, yet the buoyant and forward moving essence remains. Midway through things shift, as Shipp and Parker map their playing onto Cleaver’s new kick drum and ride cymbal based straight eighth pattern, presenting an almost unified front. Time then fades away, Parker grabs his bow, Cleaver makes his cymbals shimmer, and the piece ends with a subdued Parker-Carter duo.

“Scintillate” is a shorter piece that features Carter on trumpet. The tone he gets with the Harmon mute is sensitive and somewhat reminiscent of Miles. Played over Cleaver’s relaxed 6/8, the piece has an easy and natural sense about it. No period of negotiation over what the piece should be about and where it should go; it’s almost fully realized from the beginning. The only thing keeping this from being a more or less straight-ahead tune is a head. It’s a stirring reminder that free improvisation need not be free of time and melody.

The set ends with the twenty-minute distance run “Ear-Regularities.” Gone are the grooves from the album’s first half, as the angular polyrhythms that emerge from Parker’s tumbling bass lines, Cleaver’s clattering kit, and Shipp’s left-hand clusters are more texture than time. Meanwhile Carter’s puffy-cloud soft flute adds contrast and color. It’s the sonic equivalent of looking through a kaleidoscope as it slowly turns. Where the drum and bass foundation is volatile and dynamic, Carter – now on trumpet – is more serene. As the piece develops, grooves come and go, and solos become duos and trios and back again. It ends with a lengthy coda in which the band warms down. Carter plays a solitary note, then pauses. Note. Breath. Note. It’s an unwinding period that is as if the band is taking stock of where they’ve been and what they’ve seen. From the listener’s standpoint, it has been an expansive yet taut and focused adventure worth taking again and again. Bring on volume two.
–Chris Robinson


Xavier Charles + Bertrand Gauguet
Akousis Records 001

Spectre documents six sonic explorations by Xavier Charles on acoustic and amplified clarinet and Bertrand Gauguet on acoustic and amplified alto saxophone. It would be misleading to call these reed duos though. While the elemental qualities of their respective instruments are certainly notable, breath and amplification and the way the resultant sound activated the spaces where the recordings took place are paramount. The pieces were recorded at Césaré (Centre national de création musicale), Reim and Pied Nu, Le Havre, two experimental electroacoustic sound centers in France. In both sessions, Charles’ and Gauguet’s collaboration with recording engineers result in recordings that admirably capture the painstaking placement of the sound of the instruments in the respective spaces in which they were performed.

The two had been working actively as a duo at the time of the recordings and that synergy is evident. The release is comprised of three sets of pieces. There are three versions of “Phonomnèse” (phonomnesis – a mental activity that involves internal listening and imagining a sound that is not actually heard) which focus on multiphonics captured as the musicians moved around the studio. Two versions of “Étendue” (expanse) utilize signal amplification and distortion to expand the sonic palette. And “Point fantôme” (phantom point) zeros in on the close-amplification of breath through the two reed instruments.

The recording segues from one piece to another, creating a unified flow. “Phonomnèse 1” draws on quavering long tones that slowly move in and out of phase with each other, maximizing the resultant difference in tones and oscillating harmonics. The three-minute “Étendue 1” adds burred distortion into the mix, serving to scuff the resultant interactions of the natural reed harmonics, particularly accentuating the low frequencies. “Point fantôme” drops the use of tone altogether, instead building an improvisation out of attack and velocity of breath, from hushed whispers to plosive percussive spatters. On “Phonomnèse 2” sinetone-like frequencies are introduced and there is a greater use of gradual tone shifts, effectively building on the strategies of the first piece. “Étendue 2” gets stretched out to twelve and a half minutes and benefits from being able to develop over a longer duration. Here the amplification accrues into dark waves of feedback and low-end rumble which gets layered into rasping turbulence, ebbing and flowing with rigorous control. The recording closes out with “Phonomnèse 3,” a return to clean tones and harmonics which circles back to the slowly unfolding tactics of the opening piece, providing an effective structural conclusion to the recording. Both Charles and Gauguet have extensive discographies, but this looks to be the first time they recorded together and their tactical rigor and resourceful approach delivers impressive results.
–Michael Rosenstein


Jeff Cosgrove + John Medeski + Jeff Lederer
History Gets Ahead of the Story
Grizzly Music (no number)

Drummer Jeff Cosgrove and his bandmates have made the first album of compositions by bassist-composer William Parker on which Parker does not appear. The good news is it doesn’t sound like a William Parker record. It has its own voice and illuminates Parker’s tunes from a perspective that throws a new light on them.

To a large extent, Parker’s compositions (and really his entire aesthetic) are about maximizing opportunities for personal expression. This album drives home just how tuneful his melodies are as well as how artfully they promote that goal of self-expression. They have a modest demeanor, more like suggestions to the band than like orders, and once they’ve been played and planted in the minds of the players, the responsibility for the rest of the music is up to the improvisors. There’s nothing much radical about a head-solos-head structure, which most of these pieces are, but they are worth exploring for the way Parker elicits maximum response from minimal means, the way these pieces open people up. Like many things that seem simple on the surface, composing this way is actually a difficult art, and Parker is an expert at it.

The trio grounds their interpretations in the jazz organ combo tradition, which highlights the hard bop, blues, and gospel dimensions inherent in Parker’s music. The music swings in a very different way than when driven by Parker. Organist John Medeski’s foot pedal bass lines urge forward “O’Neal’s Porch” at a well-greased medium tempo and put a suave glide into the groove of an exuberant reading of “Wood Flute Song.” Cosgrove, too, swings the music in his own way. He is not a drummer that drives a band, he insinuates his way into each performance, getting a bead on the music and responding in a way that fits the collective mood. It’s a bit self-effacing, but he’s always playing something substantial. His contributions to “Moon” and “Little Bird” are very clean and clear even when somewhat oblique and he knows that sometimes space and silence is expressive, too. Jeff Lederer, heard on several reeds and flute, has a broad base of reference for his vocabulary. On “Gospel Flowers,” he develops a line of phrases in the best post-bop manner, but breaks out into controlled abstract sound just as readily.

What these interpretations hold in common with Parker’s originals is a selfless dedication to collective effort; they share a sense of purposeful activity. The most collectively executed tracks like “Ghost,” “Things Fall Apart,” and “Purcell’s Lament” display deep listening, imaginative interaction, and mutual respect that do the compositions proud.
–Ed Hazell


Ingrid Laubrock + Kris Davis
Blood Moon
Intakt Records Intakt CD 345

Øyvind Skarbø + Fredrik Ljungkvist + Kris Davis + Ole Morten Vågan
Inland Empire
Clean Feed CF548CD

Recorded live in Norway in 2016, Inland Empire finds Kris Davis in the company of Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor and clarinet, Ole Morten Vågan on bass, and Øyvind Skarbø on drums. It opens with a brief, collective improvisation that functions both as a moment to feel things out and the opportunity to establish a hazy ambience. Just as the fog clears the quartet dives straightaway into Vågan’s “Truffle Pigs and Katmandu Stray Dogs.” After sharing the winding, taffy melody with Ljungkvist, Davis moves her solo from single note, middle of the keyboard melodies to a more chordal based approach. Ljungkvist joins in once Skarbø and Vågan have the group cooking and settles into an uptempo raggedy bop. The piece ends with a piano/bass set piece, where Davis’ left hand runs in circles alongside Vågan’s percussive, noisy bass. The duo theme continues into Ljungkvist’s “Jag Vet Inte,” which features a spirited clarinet and piano chase scene. The album’s high point is Davis’ “Surf Curl,” which is based around piano figures that Ljungkvist, Vågan, and Skarbø echo and use as inspiration. As the band repeats and alters the figures, their intensity increases, and the piece evolves in leaps and bounds. The overall effect is akin to watching a sped-up time lapse of a tender plant as it emerges from the snow to grow and flourish, only to see it fade and go dormant. The set closes with Ljungkvist’s “Fighter,” which is built on a plodding rubato figure. As on “Surf Curl,” the quartet uses a wide range of dynamic levels. Behind Ljungkvist’s searching tenor lines Davis churns out a mix of cascading runs and block chords. He then asks the rhythm section for more, and they are happy to oblige. After dialing it back for Davis’ solo the band restates the tune in a more careful fashion, but then it’s off to the races with Ljungkvist leading the way. Tidy, dynamic, and at times electric, Inland Empire leaves listeners wanting more.

On Blood Moon Davis moves out of the realm of the ensemble to the much more intimate duo setting, teaming up with her longtime collaborator Ingrid Laubrock. Rather than settling into the standard horn-as-soloist/pianist-as-accompanist duo format, they converse in the singular language they’ve developed over many years, playing with and against each other as equal partners. Although the album features numerous complex and tricky written melodies – which Davis and Laubrock execute at an uncannily expert level – it is often impossible to tell what is dictated by the composition or what is worked out and intuited in the moment. In each piece, Davis and Laubrock give melody, form, tone, and color equal emphasis. Theirs is a holistic musical language in which a note’s color and pitch is just as important as the place and time it’s played. On the title track Laubrock uses alternate fingerings to both create the microtonal melody and to give the same note multiple timbres and shapes. Their language explores contrast, nuance, and the possibilities that subtle shifts in the music can engender. It’s about the different lives the same note can live when attacked in a slightly different way or played a quarter tone sharper the second time around. On the drone-based “Flying Embers,” which almost has a Morton Feldman feeling, Laubrock bends the pitch ever so slightly, residing in the beats created when two notes are ever so slightly out of tune. On the album’s two improvised tracks, “Gunweep” and “Elephant in the Room,” Davis and Laubrock show just how deeply they have developed and ingrained their language, as each piece shares the same traits as the album’s written works, thereby blurring the line between improvisation and composition. On the former, Davis’ warpspeed playing – which Laubrock peppers with rhythmic exclamations – is so virtuosic and clean that she almost sounds like one of Conlon Nancarrow’s player piano pieces. On the latter, the pair creates an austere and haunting dreamscape. At some point though, trying to describe Blood Moon’s music becomes an exercise at stringing together adjectives and metaphors (e.g. the skipping hopscotch of “Whistlings”) that don’t mean much. It’s best to go straight to the music and work at translating the pair’s language yourself. With Blood Moon, Davis and Laubrock set a high bar for this mode of duo playing and composing. No, scratch that. It’s a high bar for any kind of music.
–Chris Robinson


Duo Baars-Buis
Moods for Roswell
Wig 30

This 2017 session from Amsterdam’s clarinet/tenor/shakuhachi player Ab Baars and trombonist Joost Buis is an unofficial sequel to 2005’s Kinda Dukish (Wig 12) by Baars’s trio plus Joost: exploded versions of Ellington and Strayhorn compositions, with the melodies typically embedded within improvisations sometimes cut with new scored material, and including a few overlooked tunes. The duo follows the same general plan; “Jack the Bear” and “Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool” return from that CD.

The duo go back decades on Amsterdam’s chummy scene, playing on sundry special projects (such as the late Cor Fuhler’s shadow-puppet mystery Wayang Detective) and countless improvised evenings; in the 1990s Baars guested with Buis’s band Astronotes. Prior to that, each had explored Ellington repertoire separately, Ab as a mainstay of the ICP Orchestra, for which Misha Mengelberg had arranged several Ducal compositions in stretchy versions presaging (though not resembling) these. Baars and Buis were also profoundly stamped by their interactions with contrapuntalist Roswell Rudd during the trombonist’s 1996 Dutch visit – hence the title of this CD, and of “Hopkins Rudd/Jack the Bear.” Taking a cue from Clusone 3, they duly credit the original tunes to Duke and Billy Strayhorn but claim the surrounding improvised and new material for themselves, so every track has shared credits and a double title.

“Cool and Gentle/Mr. Gentle [and] Mr. Cool” – the latter a riffing 1958 blues drolly volleyed by Paul Gonsalves’ tenor and Ray Nance’s plucked/bowed violin – begins with an insertion reprised from Kinda Dukish: a pecking, staccato Baars line echoing Misha’s one-finger repeated-note piano (which had some jabbing Duke in it). Informal contrapuntal improvising on same follows, neither gentle nor cool, though they slowly turn in those directions, as note values lengthen. Duke’s fetching melody arrives only in the last 40 seconds.

The pieces are short, generally in the three-four minute range. Sometimes the melody’s at the end (“Black Butterfly,” with slow leapfrogging on the conjoined alter ego “Sootywing”), or in the middle (“Catskills Cyclist/Sonnet for Caesar”), or hard to spot at all (the 1928 two-beat “Sweet Mama”). It might even come right at the top: the raggy polka “Klop” (from the post-Strayhorn UWIS Suite) works in all the written parts, including the quieter “trio” movement. The Baars/Buis portion is called “Little March,” defining their steppin’ approach. Both leaders got early training in field bands.

The treatments may be more deconstructive. “Hopkins Rudd/Jack the Bear” begins out of tempo, with Baars playing Duke’s introductory band trills like a birdcall, followed by the duo reenacting the original’s piano-horns call and response in open time, voices from the levee, before they jump into swing for the chorus’ catchy ending. The open improvisation that follows is an exercise in tag team listening as well as playing; they hit Duke’s ending again, after which the improvising unobtrusively switches to jazz time and blues form.

Baars mostly plays clarinet, where he has his own distinctive forceful/fragile voice, even as his precise altissimo notes and upper-atmosphere flare-ups speak to his studies with John Carter. Buis knows the Ellington trombone voices but stays closest to Lawrence Brown’s warmth (as on “Handwoven/Creole Blues”). He does very little and subtle background plungering, avoiding obvious Tricky Sam wah-wahs. (Not that Baars-Buis won’t get a little gutbucket.) “Moods for Roswell/In a Sentimental Mood” begins at a low murmur; a minute and a half in, subtone trombone picks up the melody in the middle of the bridge. Ab meanwhile rustles on non-idiomatic shakuhachi, a dust devil encircling brass. He plays his blowsy tenor on the barstool dialogue “Sweet Stumblings/Sweet Mama” and the sleekly scored/jazz-timed “Two Ways/Wig Wise,” which makes a covert connection to Roswell: “Wig Wise” as heard in trio on Money Jungle sounds oddly like Rudd hero Herbie Nichols.

Baars and Buis bring a light touch to it all, even when the sound gets heavy. They don’t crowd each other; so the texture remains transparent, and the conversation lucid. They even elucidate Ellington and Strayhorn a little. On “Take Turns/Tonk,” based on Strays’ dense modernist four-hands piano piece they’d play at parties, the contrasting wind voices let you differentiate the individual parts. One duo shines light on the other.
–Kevin Whitehead


New World Records

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