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Olie Brice Trio / Octet
Fire Hills
West Hill Records WHR003

In what feels like a definitive statement, British bassist Olie Brice releases a double album on his own West Hill label showcasing two different aspects of his artistry. Although he has a long-standing pedigree as a free improviser, vouchsafed by productive alliances with the likes of Tobias Delius, Mikolaj Trzaska, and Luis Vicente, Brice has also nurtured an interest in finding compositional gambits which can integrate spontaneity without constraining it. To confirm the ballpark, he signals his love of adventurous jazz by dedications to Julius Hemphill, Andrew Hill, Johnny Dyani, and Eric Dolphy, in which he takes inspiration rather than channels influence.

The first album is for a trio which airs his accomplished improvising in a small group setting, while the second is for an octet where he demonstrates acute organizational nous, as he impressively deploys some of the UK’s finest players. For both configurations, he creates arrangements in which uncomplicated, sometimes almost skeletal, themes anchor the pieces without unnecessary elaboration, yet do enough to provide distinctive frames within which to expose the talents of his crew. Consequently, he promotes an attractive looseness in the trio format, as well as managing the much harder task of achieving the same effect with the larger agglomeration.

Tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger and drummer Will Glaser join Brice for the 44-minute trio set. Their rendition of the title track is one of the highlights and takes up over a third of the duration. Brice’s resonant and luxuriously sprung introduction serves to affirm his mastery, particularly at slow tempos, where his sublime note placement, almost Hadenesque gravitas and nuanced articulation are at their most obvious. When he joins, Challenger’s approach is diffident and stealthy, all quivers, murmurs, sudden lurches and multiphonic digressions, as if trying to sneak up on the tune. For his part Glaser offers a rattling, tapping, tolling accompaniment, which speaks of the lineage of Paul Lovens, Tony Oxley, and Paul Lytton. During its course Brice accesses varied permutations of the material and personnel, from a delicate duet of bowed bass and saxophone overtones, to braying tenor and roiling drums, before Brice ultimately eases into a loping swing and an anthemic theme restatement.

While the remainder of the disc does not quite hit the same heights, it presents a range of approaches which complete a satisfyingly rounded program. After a timbrally exploratory drum prelude to “Looking For The Possible Dance,” Glaser shows that he is equally comfortable settling into a groove, as a rolling rhythm develops with cantering plucked harmonics and a head which evokes memories of Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West, although Challenger’s ensuing ride is rather more contemporary. Altogether moodier, the doomy “Something Seen” boasts a beseeching melody, subsequently embellished by Challenger’s wavering pitches which suggest fragility and vulnerability. Brice supplies a typically dynamic entree to the incantatory dirge “Blues For Johnny Dyani” and a zigzagging pizzicato solo on the explosive “Extended Breath,” also distinguished by some expressive tonal distortion from Challenger.

On the octet session Brice wisely plays to his collaborators’ strengths, offering copious individual opportunities. But that is not to say it’s a blowing date. The solos emerge from the written fabric, and at least initially use it as the launch pad for their ideas, which adds to the overall cohesion. At over twenty minutes, “Rotating Mirrors” constitutes near half the program. It begins with a deliciously lyrical soliloquy from trumpeter Kim Macari, before a poised chamber-like fugue is expounded on by Macari, fellow trumpeter Alex Bonney and Cath Roberts on baritone saxophone, a device which recurs in various guises throughout. Thereafter come a sequence of solos with artfully different backdrops, of which tenor saxophonist Rachel Musson’s frayed excitability and a bristling duet between Roberts and second tenor saxophonist George Crowley stand out.

“Tidal License” begets a marvelous bustling energy, with Johnny Hunter’s choppy off kilter drumming especially noteworthy. His sole feature of the session later in the piece toggles a fluttering cymbal motif with tumbling drums, displaying an acute sense of structure on-the-fly. Jason Yarde’s full-toned alto saxophone cry also makes an impact as does Roberts’ alternately keening and gruff vocalized baritone chuntering which comes interspersed with sharp ensemble interjections, more in keeping with proceedings than the slightly incongruous big band riff which launches her solo.

A second version of the title track concludes the album, this time reimagined to incorporate a slight melancholia and kwela inflections, establishing the tone for a series of terrific duets, each building from the compositional foundation. Notable among them are a conversational pairing of Bonney and Hunter in a drums and bugle corps communion, a fractious meeting between Brice and Musson, all squeals, swipes, and squalls, before eventually Crowley’s tenor blazes a more melodic route as the massed ranks percolate up behind to deliver one of the date’s few unison lines to close. This splendid set represents Brice’s most complete work to date, and promises much for the future.
–John Sharpe


Jakob Bro + Joe Lovano
Once Around the Room: A Tribute to Paul Motian
ECM 2747

There’s a small army of musicians who played over the years with percussionist and composer Paul Motian. The guy loved playing with guitarists too, going all the way back to Sam Brown in the 1970s to his long association with Bill Frisell and up through a younger generation including Jakob Bro. Bro is an accomplished, sensitive player and he’s teamed up with fellow Motian alum, tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, to offer up this labor of love.

Tonally there appear to be some similarities with the well-loved Motian Trio. But on closer inspection, there are some meaningful differences. Bro’s got some bite to his tone, as comfortable as he is with reverb and washes. You really hear it when Lovano’s “As It Should Be” heats up, with a nice drone underneath, and Bro twanging forcefully in the low end. Lovano, as ever, is a marvel, building taut phrases from small gestures, worrying little scuffles alongside the brushes. Those brushes come courtesy of both Joey Baron and Jorge Rossy, who stir the brew alongside three (!) bassists, Larry Grenadier, Thomas Morgan, and Anders Christensen, the latter playing electric.

The music is subtle and contained, favoring its dedicatee’s gestures and implications. The band covers much of the territory that Motian himself favored: sustains beneath “Sound Creation” (where Bro’s limpid clean notes contrast nicely with Lovano’s earthy and deeply felt phrases), the quirky stair-stepping of “For the Love of Paul” (ample multiphonics atop the churn, especially in Bro’s gnarly soloing), or the rousing, barreling percussion of “Drum Music,” the only actual Motian piece here.

There’s fire here, as when Lovano switches to tarogato, or the sustained tension all those basses create on multiple tunes. But it’s the gentle details that get me the most. The hints rather than the hits. The gentle, rocking melody on “Song to an Old Friend,” where the quaver in Lovano’s tone sounds so beautiful and mournful over low toms. A multi-bass solo over the softest of drums, all the generosity and space fully part of Motian’s conception. And most of all, Bro’s deeply emotional performance on the concluding “Pause,” almost as if it’s a commentary on how the music might never stop, only rest for a time.
–Jason Bivins


Elton Dean Quartet
On Italian Roads, Live in Milan 1979
British Progressive Jazz BPJ012STC

There’s a good story behind the making of On Italian Roads, Live in 1979 by Elton Dean’s quartet with Keith Tippett, Harry Miller, and Louis Moholo. The 21-year-old Riccardo Bergerone, freshly discharged from the Italian military, drove to Scotland in a Fiat 500, making a stop in London. There, he looked up Ogun Records, one of his favorite labels, had a nice visit with proprietors Harry and Hazel Miller, and went on his way. A year later, he unexpectedly received a letter from Hazel, enlisting the young enthusiast to bring the Elton Dean Quartet to Italy. He and a friend managed to get Radio Popoliare on board for four concerts – one in his hometown of Torino, one in Bologna, and two at Teatro Cristallo in Milan, from which this album was culled. Not only did the Quartet sell out the venues, they sold all the LPs they brought – those were the days. After more than 40 years, Bergerone’s coming-of-age joy leaps off the page of his booklet notes.

It is a well-founded joy, as Dean’s quartet is simply on fire from beginning to end. They are all but impatient to take the music to redlining intensity, even on the balladic “Faro.” Even at their fastest tempi and their most blistering intensity, there is intense, close listening within the quartet. Additionally, the space allotted for four of the five tracks gives Dean ample room to pare his materials down to their soul-bearing marrow, Tippett to juxtapose blazing runs and Tyner-like tsunamis, and for Miller and Moholo to hand in scorching solos and justify their place in the pantheon of great rhythm tandems. They had a lot to work with, compositionally, as well. Dean wrote tough-as-nails blowing vehicles, and his more lyrical pieces sure-footedly sidestepped sentimentality. They were form-fitted to his sound on alto and saxello, an instrument whose mixed traits of the soprano and alto he thoroughly brought to bear here and his many other recordings.

The music is enhanced by the late-70s radio broadcast quality of the recording. This is no gig cassette. When heard in a good-sized room with the volume cranked a tad, the music comes alive and flicks your ears. Thanks to the youthful energy and continuing steadfastness of Riccardo Bergerone, now an esteemed activist and archivist, On Italian Roads enrichens our understanding of this stellar group. It is one of 2022’s best archival releases.
–Bill Shoemaker


Paul Dunmall + Paul Rogers + Tony Orrell
That’s My Life
577 Records 5845

Paul Dunmall is a master of allusion. He doesn’t couch it in academia or talk about it with the fourth wall down, as it were. He simply plays in a way that touches on chord, tone, time, and type from moment to moment, all in the concise and often blazingly fast syntax so uniquely his. This 1989 trio recording exemplifies the approach with a vitality and freshness that makes it a welcome addition to his daunting but impressive catalog.

Despite what might be called a visceral recording, Dunmall’s soprano saxophone has never sounded better. Paul Rogers and Tony Orrell are caught with similar immediacy as they thwart listener expectation, sometimes, ironically, by acknowledging it. The two long pieces begin and end with heads, but they nod to that tradition rather than wholeheartedly embracing it. From there, flights of fancy dictate that seatbelts are securely fastened, as temporality, dynamics and tonality whizz and crash by in dizzying rotation. Under Orrell’s skin-and-metal groove, the titular track soon morphs from lightly loping swing to mind-boggling accented duples and triples, Rogers pushing and pulling the pulse even as he creates it. Dunmall goes deep into his late Coltrane bag at 5:48, but those atomistic repetitions are so completely integrated into the dense lines of his solo that they simply glide by. Even as they scorch the earth below them, the immediately succeeding arpeggios reach new heights of harmonic invention, bordering on tonalities before discarding them, with Rogers and Orrell eschewing time to enter Dunmall’s orbit.

If “That’s My Life” elucidates and then obliterates the intersection of time and its antipode, “Marriage in India” travels the spaceways connecting locations and histories. The hard-driving rhythms opening the track pave the way only partially for Rogers’ smart bass snaps at 5:40, repetitions that completely change the sonic landscape, creating a space into which Orrell’s thwacked toms enter with alacrity. None of that prepares for the gorgeous triple ostinato Rogers lays down at 6:17 or for the Caribbean motives with which Orrell eventually infuses it. His snare and high-hat interplay at 8:40 is deliciously antiquated and feather-light, aiding and abetting Rogers’ slowly elongating harmonic-imbued tone cycles.

The simple fact is that all three musicians can play anything they wish while integrating each episode into its context at a staggeringly high level. The only surprise is what exactly emerges in each instant. No amount of verbiage can substitute for the experience of riding the performance’s waves as they crest and thunder. In this ever-changing intensity, we can trace the antecedents of Dunmall and Rogers’ symbiotic collaboration in the much lamented Mujician as well as his later collaborations with Orrell, like the astonishing Deep See. On its own terms, That’s My Life stands as testimony to the power and ingenuity embodied in music made on a single evening in the careers of three improvising musicians. Like the melodies bookending each tune, all sounds are clearly allegiant to the traditions that birthed them without over-adherence to form or homage. The album’s title is appropriate. Here, we have a snapshot of a wonderful trio in the full throes of the improvisational exchanges reflecting their past even as it’s in formation, every instant reflecting itself as a new totality.
–Marc Medwin


TUM Records

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