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Reviews of Recent Recordings


Trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher
Bik Bent Braam BBBCD12&13

Culled from 2009 concert recordings featuring high-profile guest artists, Quartet commemorates the 20th anniversary of the estimable Trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher. Formed by Dutch pianist Michiel Braam in 1989 with bassist Wilbert de Joode and American expatriate drummer Michael Vatcher, the trio embodies the eclectic taste and mercurial sensibility of New Dutch Swing. Scene veterans, they have explored a wide range of territory over the past two decades, their often quirky choices best exemplified by their crafty cover of Ken Nordine's 1967 "Word Jazz" classic Colors (Philips), released on Braam's BBB imprint in 2002.

No strangers to collaboration, the trio has been joined by invited guests in the past, but rarely with the frequency suggested by Quartet. Featuring pieces recorded everywhere from Vancouver to Istanbul in a mere six months, this double disc set encapsulates their aesthetic range, balancing thorny free improvisations with nostalgic swing, vigorous funk and opulent balladry. Using tunes collected in Braam's Q-book, which contains pre-written melodies with fully notated chord changes and tempo markings (available from Braam as a PDF),  the outcome is largely determined by the inclinations of the guest artists, who were invited to rehearse and perform or spontaneously improvise as deemed fit. Paul Dunmall's serpentine bagpipe screeds on the closing "Q41" are indicative of the later approach, unveiling the date's most extreme sounds. The others – Mats Gustafson, Taylor Ho Bynum, François Houle, Michael Moore and Peter van Bergen – approach the material in direct, albeit different ways.

Moore's four performances are among the collection's most compelling and naturalistic. His supple clarinet cadences soar with buoyant lyricism, perfectly complementing the trio's vivacious old fashioned swing. Bynum's musings on cornet and trumpbone veer from wraithlike mutterings to clarion trills, offering a glimpse of the ensemble at their most abstract, while van Bergen's sinuous testimonials expound with primal fury on "Q01," where his ribald tenor observes the tune's directive to play "Bluesy, Dirty!" Houle's clarinet and Gustafson's baritone infuse "Q51" with a blustery ardor that approaches Dunmall's caterwauling intensity on "Q41."

Though most of the sixteen tracks feature an invited guest, the remaining half dozen cuts spotlight the trio alone. Braam's probing filigrees, de Joode's pneumatic pizzicato and Vatcher's piston-like accents exude the pithy democratic interdependence of the best small combos. While exceptional on their own, augmented by a stellar international cast, the trio's Quartet is an anniversary collection as adventurous as it is enjoyable.
-Troy Collins


Vox Arcana
Aerial Age
Allos Documents 004

Following in the footsteps of fellow drummer-composers Harris Eisenstadt and Tyshawn Sorey, ubiquitous Chicago–based sideman Tim Daisy formed the unconventional trio Vox Arcana in 2008 to perform his own pieces. Though technically their sophomore effort (following a limited edition debut), Aerial Age is the first widely available recording of the trio. A protean hybrid of numerous disciplines, this studio album juxtaposes experimental concepts pioneered by New York school composers like John Cage and Morton Feldman, structural aspects of early minimalists like Terry Riley and La Monte Young, and the open-ended strategies of early AACM innovators like Anthony Braxton and Leroy Jenkins.

Largely eschewing pyrotechnics in favor of understated trap set and marimba excursions, Daisy's nuanced approach is bolstered by the considered support and intimate interplay of two of the Windy City's most versatile improvisers, clarinetist James Falzone and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. Falzone's nimble cadences reveal an expansive tone that veers from mellifluous to strident, making a perfect foil for Lonberg-Holm's chameleonic tendencies, which alternate between dulcet pizzicato and raw, punk rock influenced arco, amplified by a bevy of effects pedals. Whether engaged in three-way dialogues, supportive accompaniment or lone cadenzas, Daisy, Falzone and Lonberg-Holm offer a kaleidoscopic array of texturally adventurous harmonic invention.

Daisy fuses these divergent approaches into a series of episodic compositions that develop through numerous changes in density, mood and tempo. Morse code-like staccato melodies build on knotty contrapuntal interplay, underscored by irregular locomotive rhythms and spare solo sections that transpose jagged themes into expansive meditations on space and sound – refracting the madcap lunacy of Raymond Scott through the mirrored lens of Steve Reich. At other times, exotic atmospheres negotiate extremes of chiaroscuro, cinematically transitioning from bright optimism to ominous darkness. On "Blue Space" and "Chi Harp Call In E," Daisy's percolating marimba lines and ritualistic tom-tom rolls accent the mood, supported by Falzone's sonorous glissandos and Lonberg-Holm's tender pizzicato and sinewy arco.

The chamber music tilt of the trio's instrumentation does not prohibit detours into more assertive territory. Lonberg-Holm's frantic double-stops dominate the angular onset of "The Silver Fence," while the coruscating waves of white noise emanating from his pedals book-end "Winnemac," which is smartly offset by an interlude for spare clarinet and percussion. The tortuous closer, "Falling," deftly invokes jazz tradition, with Daisy's swinging ride cymbal and fragmented snare rolls fueling circuitous statements from his sidemen, including spry walking bass lines from Lonberg-Holm – a bluesy detour briefly mirrored on "The Silver Fence."

Falzone's lyricism, Lonberg-Holm's timbral diversity and Daisy's disciplined trap set ruminations provide these labyrinthine works with a lively, albeit sober center. Expanding beyond the prescribed conventions of jazz tradition to incorporate elements of contemporary classical music, Aerial Age documents the impressive talents of Chicago's next generation of composer/improvisers.
-Troy Collins

Hat Hut Records

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