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Time Berne + Gregg Belisle-Chi
Intakt CD 374

Tim Berne has long been a composer whose lines are instantly recognizable, whether heard on his own alto saxophone or from another instrumentalist. They snake here and there, they morph in and out of composed or improvised sections. Berne has long favored guitarists in his band, from Nels Cline and Bill Frisell to Marc Ducret and David Torn. That’s some pretty heavy company.

Last year, the brilliant young Gregg Belisle-Chi released an album of solo Berne tunes performed on his acoustic. Mars sees him meet up with Berne with the same axe in tow. The results are absolutely wonderful. Belisle-Chi is clearly possessed of prodigious technique, and across twelve tracks he uses it to flesh out the compositions themselves rather than taking chops-heavy flights. He uses arpeggios, complex fingerings, dynamic shifts, and other approaches to create the most fascinating shapes inside these tunes.

The compositions themselves are highly varied in structure and affect. There is, however, a general atmosphere of haziness and uncertainty. The pair alternate between passages of chiming repetition, as on the opening “Rose Bowl Charade,” and unpredictable melodic darting. Listening to the spiky “Big Belly” or the spacious “Rabbit Girl,” you could almost hear these tunes as cartoon lullabies. Berne’s Ornette influence is especially strong on this release, or maybe it’s just the duo format that makes it plainer. In any case, his playing packs a real punch on the bluesy “Microtuna” and “Frosty,” abetted wonderfully by Belisle-Chi’s resonating chords, his brimming arpeggios, and his reflective lines.

The synergy between the two players is just infectious. On standout tunes like “Palm Sweat” and “Gastrophobia,” I kept getting the vivid impression of two friends walking animatedly down the street, delighting in their conversation. Berne soars while Belisle-Chi works a tasty descending sequence, or works some pulloffs on the high strings. Whether on enigmatic pieces like “Dark Shadows” or buoyant numbers like “Middle Seat Blues,” the line between composed and improvised is at best hazy. It’s never quite certain whether the shifts of dynamics or harmony are mapped out or spontaneous. Fascinating as that is to follow, it’s best just to roll along with the tunes, marveling about Belisle-Chi’s harmonic range, or sinking into Berne’s urgent playing. It’s a fantastic document of the ever-vital Berne, and a real statement from the guitarist.
–Jason Bivins


Patricia Bosshard – Onceim /CoÔ
Sillons – Reflets
Potlatch P221

The Paris-based ensemble Onceim (Orchestre de nouvelles créations, expérimentations et improvisations musicales) and the sub-group CoÔ (Ensemble des cordes frottées de l’Onceim) consisting of the stringed instrument section of the ensemble have been assiduously dedicating themselves to fostering a challenging repertoire of contemporary composition, often incorporating improvisational strategies. They’ve performed and recorded pieces by composers/musicians Peter Ablinger, Jérôme Noetinger, Stephan O’Malley, Eliane Radigue, and John Tilbury as well as members Frédéric Blondy, Sébastien Béliah, and Bertrand Denzler. Their recent release captures two pieces by violinist and ensemble member Patricia Bosshard, one for the full ensemble and one for the string group. Bosshard is afforded the opportunity to bring together her interests in composition, improvisation, and electro-acoustic investigation in the pieces, each composed in collaboration with the participating musicians. Using that core material, the respective ensembles weave together timbrally-rich collective sonic explorations.

For “Sillons” (Furrows) Bosshard met with each of the 27 members of Onceim to record what she calls “une cellule-cœur,” a favorite sound, gesture, or phrase. From those core components, she created “a field of 27 furrows, small deep rills ready to subtly transform over time,” starting with individual sounds and interlacing them through various sub-groups brought together by affinities of instrumental range and tonal coloration. Bosshard comments that “The result is an orchestral material of incredible richness, a field of possibilities where each of the musicians plays only with his cell, mixed, dug and associated with other cells.” Drawing on the elemental richness of strings, reeds, euphonium, trumpet, guitar, piano, percussion, accordion, and electronics, the musicians integrate stuttering phrases, fricative gusts, percussive pattering, shimmering harmonics, mercurial overtones, groaning low-end, rumbling percussion, and ambient sibilance into an enveloping whole. Over the course of 30-minutes, the piece patiently builds from the opening section where tones and textures resonate in a spare field to striated full-ensemble gradations as the various underlying kernels accrue and dissipate in changeable scrims of sound. The careful listening and collective balance is riveting, allowing a slowly-evolving, nuanced sonic world to emerge.

The 18-minute “Reflets” (Reflections) for CoÔ, breaks the ensemble down to a string 10tet with three double bassists, three cellists, two violists, and two violinists. For the piece, Bosshard analyzed the harmonics of the string instruments and the various ways they can be bowed. From there, she redistributed the harmonics across the ensemble in slowly shifting configurations, with repetitive cycles that leave room for the performers to improvise within the strictures of the score. Here the focus is on the way that the harmonics layer against each other and the resultant shadow harmonics that emerge. Dark arco and the thunder of plucked and struck basses progress with rapt deliberation as gauzy layers of overtones are plied, creating clouds of sound rich with the timbral variation as to where on the fingerboard the musicians choose to bow. Two-thirds of the way through, the lush sounds swell, eliciting the way that tones and harmonics beat against each other on a pipe organ. From that crescendo, the piece slowly winds down, introducing more transparency to the orchestration as voices quietly move in and out of focus against the overall ensemble. Onceim /CoÔ recordings have been consistently absorbing and this one hits that mark as well, continuing to reveal its sonic depths upon repeated listens.
–Michael Rosenstein


Ornette Coleman
New York Is Now & Love Call Revisited
ezz-thetics 1125

Between 1965 and 1968, Ornette Coleman recorded five albums for Blue Note: both volumes of At the Golden Circle Stockholm, The Empty Foxhole, New York is Now, and Love Call. It its continuing mission to recover obscure live dates and keep sadly out-of-print classics in circulation, ezz-thetics has released these final two albums on a single disc. Recorded over two sessions in April and May of 1968, the music heard here stands as the complete document of the quartet of Coleman, Dewey Redman, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones. And what a quartet.

New York Is Now occupies the disc’s first half. It begins with the lengthy “Garden of Souls.” What starts out as a lament turns into medium swinger that flirts with both a bright double time and a slower blues drag. Coleman’s solo changes to fit the tempo and groove that Jones and Garrison lay down at any given moment: from easy conversational phrases to cheery up-tempo bop to careening free jazz escapades. It is almost as if the rhythm section is driving Coleman’s solo. Here and throughout both albums, Redman pushes the big Texas tenor tradition to an extreme, engineering it into a new subspecies by way of singing and humming and growling through his horn, creating timbres and tones that are sometimes barely recognizable as a saxophone. He goes way beyond a howling bar walker, and it’s a shame his solo on “Garden of Souls” was of miniscule length relative to Coleman’s. “Toy Dance” is quintessential Coleman: buoyant, joyful, and sprightly. Coleman seems to delight in the rhythm section’s medium-up tempo, which sets him aloft. Redman follows Jones’ powerful drum solo by unfurling post-bop lines that slowly untuck themselves. The brief “We Now Interrupt For A Commercial” is a bit of an oddity, with announcer Mel Fuhrman interrupting the group’s furious improvising with statements like “sorry, this product cannot be seen” and “this commercial is brought to you by.” It’s a whimsical piece that might be a touch better on paper than it is on wax. The album closes with the happy romp “Broad Way Blues” and “Round Trip,” which is built on a herky jerky twisty head that folds back on itself. “Round Trip’s” final flourish is among the album’s most spirited and scintillating events, as hearing Coleman’s and Redman’s simultaneous interweaving solos are akin to watching two men free climbing up a sheer rock face in a race to the top.

As dynamic and lively as New York Is Now is, Love Call is even more so. “Airborne” leads things off with an ascending line that surges upwards. Coleman moves between gliding above the churning rhythm section and snapping off a series of broken phrases. He toys with ideas and trades them in for new ones when he’s done with them. Redman – whose solo is again disappointingly short – supplies a rush of gnarled and fractured lines that cry out, slide and morph into the next, all urgently escaping from his horn. Coleman switches to trumpet on the title track. His trumpet playing is what it is: he’s treading water and getting tired. He should have just called Don Cherry. Redman covers for his band mate with a stirring solo that trades in gruff vocalizations for sheets of sound. Garrison and Jones are unbridled here, like a herd of wild mustangs given a free run of the whole of the Rockies. The intense “Open to the Public” is built on a swashbuckling head that launches into Redman’s long, lithe lines that he colors with vocalizations. Jones’ solo serves as a starting block for Coleman, who leaves the line like a top alcohol funny car dragster; the risk that he could explode at the start line is real. With its jolly, jaunty tune, the closer “Check Out Time” serves as a palette cleanser for “Open to the Public.” If you can get past Coleman’s trumpet on “Love Call” and wanting to hear more of Redman throughout, Love Call should stand as one of highest points of Coleman’s pre-Science Fiction catalog.

The key to the triumph of these two albums may largely lie with Garrison and Jones; it’s almost a shame that the foursome never hooked up again. Their presence on each is part of what gives the music much of its vitality. While the tunes and solos are pure Coleman, the weight that Garrison and Jones push gives the band a heft and presence that cannot be ignored or heard on his earlier albums. If Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell were the sonic equivalent of Steph Curry ankle-breaking his defender with a crossover before hitting a step-back three, Garrison and Jones is like LeBron James charging the lane on his way to a glass rattling tomahawk flush. Taken together, these final two albums for Blue Note – and, along with Friends and Neighbors – stand as perhaps the fulfilled promise of the revolution that Coleman set off a decade prior on his Contemporary and Atlantic albums. Of course, by 1968, New York Is Now and Love Call didn’t have the shocking power of his first albums – the torch of the revolutionary, for the moment, was carried by others; rather, they documented the arrival of the jazz that Coleman prophesied would come.
–Chris Robinson


Andrew Cyrille + William Parker + Enrico Rava
2 Blues for Cecil
TUM Records TUM CD 059

On the immediately arresting album 2 Blues for Cecil, Andrew Cyrille, William Parker, and Enrico Rava come together in tribute to Cecil Taylor, whose groups each performed in. Cyrille and Parker both spent over a decade in different incarnations of the Cecil Taylor Unit and Rava joined Taylor’s Orchestra of Two Continents in 1984 and his European Orchestra in 1988. While this album is a tribute to Taylor, the trio doesn’t emulate or recreate his style or play his compositions; this is no repertory band. In the place of the marathon anaerobic burns that Cyrille and Parker fueled as members of the Cecil Taylor Unit, the listener finds a set of ten discrete pieces consisting of a mix of original compositions, focused collective improvisations, and one standard.

“Improvisation No. 1” – the opening track and the first of four improvised pieces – finds the trio locking in right away. The piece has a slow and patient build, so slow in fact it gives almost more of a sense of building rather than an actual build. At the highest point Rava’s rapid and dashing free-bop lines slide over Parker’s buoyant bass and Cyrille’s dry snare and cymbals. As with the rest of the album to come, the trio’s performance is tasteful and understated, without a single moment of excess or waste. Rava’s 1991 composition “Ballerina,” is, as the title would suggest, a balanced dance. After a short galloping head Rava settles in. Parker and Cyrille quickly interlock their rhythmic patterns and accents, preternaturally finding a mutually agreed upon sweet spot and staying with it. As Rava recedes, Parker and Cyrille take turns in the foreground, swapping leading roles in their dance. Parker yields to Cyrille, who primarily stays on cymbals for his solo, letting the different colors and tones of each cymbal ring together, creating a shimmering wall.

The improvised “Blues for Cecil No. 1” is an easy and relaxed medium swinger. While not a blues in form, it is the blues in spirit, and the appearance of a twelve-bar form would not have felt out of place. Here the trio shows a curiosity as it cycles between moods, feels, and grooves, from a light martial drag to double-time pseudo bop to a jumping NOLA second line. It’s all effortless and telepathic. “Improvisation No. 2” is stark, with Cyrille and Parker barely audible. Rava occupies a desolate space. His flugel sings the honest and direct song of an utterly lonesome and emotionally depleted soul. “Blues for Cecil No. 2” is an improvised blues in both spirit and form in which Rava flirts with a low-down greasy approach, yet plays with enough restraint and maturity so as to not fall into generic cliches. During Cyrille’s “Enrava Melody” and his own “Overboard,” he exemplifies warmth of tone and a welcoming generosity of spirit. On the former, he moves from sensitive balladeer to intrepid explorer and back again, while on the latter he rides wafting thermals, creating luxurious melodies above a softly rolling and churning rhythm section. The album closes with a reading of “My Funny Valentine.” While it may be an unexpected selection, the trio’s gorgeous and pathos-laden treatment dovetails with the album’s quiet and intimate vibe. It’s an ode to a valentine with whom there will be no more Valentine’s Days. Or in the context of the album as a whole – an ode to a cherished figure whose presence continues to be felt even after they’re gone.
–Chris Robinson


Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double
Firehouse 12 FH12-04-01-035

As a consequence of the bonfire of convention arising from the advent of free jazz in the early 1960s, there are few formats without at least some precedents. But it’s hard to finger the forerunners of drummer Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double. Just a smattering of double quartets provides the nearest approximation. As the name implies, Fujiwara’s all-star sextet contains a treble dose of paired instruments, in this case brass, guitar and drums, itself not a common occurrence. On March, the outfit’s second album following its eponymous debut in 2017, it seems the leader is still parsing the possibilities inherent in the lineup, over seven studio tracks in a 53-minute program.

As an indication of the wiles on offer, look no further than the opening “Pack Up, Coming For You.” Here Fujiwara performs a sleight of ear, whereby he starts with one trio, himself, Mary Halvorson, and Taylor Ho Bynum, which establishes out a strolling, then jogging melodic line, before embarking on careening interplay. At the peak of chaos, Gerald Cleaver, Brandon Seabrook, and Ralph Alessi take over, a switcheroo easy to miss unless paying close attention, until the entire cast unite at the close revealing the gambit in a hocketed reading of the theme. While Fujiwara similarly divides up his troops on other occasions, with Alessi’s trumpet and Bynum’s cornet often operating separately, he more regularly allots them contrasting roles, particularly the twin guitars, where for example one holds down a bassline as the other roams free.

But when it comes to the drums, he tends to marshal them either in tandem or in pockets of interlocking complexity. While drummers can often hold back on their own dates, as if to emphasize other aspects of their leadership credentials, Fujiwara displays no such false modesty. As a result the trap sets often stand unapologetically front and center. In some hands that might spell doom, but with two of the most creative and thoughtful proponents of the percussive arts on the stools, the upshot is a visceral study of interacting personalities. Fujiwara has them explore their sensitive sides on “Life Only Gets More,” investigating how a wistful ballad might function as a showcase for drums, with first Cleaver, then the leader stretching out against a tuneful motif.

Appropriately, given the album title, martial undercurrents frequently surface, rocky on the dense driving “Wave Shake And Angle Bounce,” more primal still on “Silhouettes In Smoke.” Such bold strokes encourage correspondingly energetic contributions by others, ranging from Halvorson’s fuzzed skronk over roiling drums on the same piece, to Alessi’s rapid fire trumpet gobbets over choppy riffing on “Docile Fury Ballad.” But it’s far from unremitting, as Fujiwara juxtaposes such moments of intensity with the wispiest of passages, exemplified by Seabrook and Alessi’s spacey expressive twosome, on the latter cut.

Reprising a tactic from the band’s first outing, Fujiwara includes an improvised drum duet, concluding the set with “For Alan Part II,” dedicated to his childhood teacher Alan Dawson. It’s a 17-minute rhythm centric workout which matches one kit against the other in an incrementally evolving conversation. Although powered by pulsation, it never becomes metrically defined, eventually settling into a hypnotic groove laced, with the engrossing micro patterns and timbral invention which are the hallmark of this edgy set.
–John Sharpe


Intakt Records

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