Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Charles Lloyd
ECM 2176

Charles Lloyd is still routinely omitted from revisionist lists of ‘Young Men from Memphis ’, that extraordinary cohort of players out of Tennessee that includes pianist Phineas Newborn, trumpeters Louis Smith and Booker Little, and saxophonists Frank Strozier and George Coleman. Lloyd wasn’t on the Down Home Reunion date they made for United Artists at the turn of 1958/1959. It isn’t that he was too young. Though younger than most of the others, including his most influential teacher Newborn, he’s an exact contemporary of Little and it’s probably nothing more, or more elevated than snobbery, that excluded him from the Memphian “school”. That said, there is an alternative strand of jazz saxophone history to be written with Strozier, Coleman and Lloyd as the highlighted names. Coleman’s harmonics are in their patient way as radical as his namesake’s; well, perhaps not quite. John Coltrane apparently pestered Strozier for advice. And Lloyd, he won over the hippies to jazz, disappeared for a while in search of the One, and then came back with a dolorously spiritual new sound and Michel Petrucciani as his Sancho Panza.
Lloyd’s 1960s quartet with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee or Ron McClure and Jack DeJohnette was arguably the most richly talented of its time, in terms of individual creativity. His new group lays similar claims. Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland accompanied him on the live Rabo de Nube last year and this is effectively a companion piece. The Tarkovskian title actually refers to one of the rare originals on a set dominated by traditional pieces, but it also reflects back to that earlier concert record and to the cover imagery. One of the intriguing things about Lloyd is how late we have discovered him as a physical personality.  In his 60s incarnation, he was a big hat, beard, shades. How many fans would have recognized his face? Now, largely thanks to Dorothy Darr, Lloyd has evolved a persona over 14 ECM records, an increasingly complete and achieved body of work: he looks and sounds frail-but-strong, sometimes wary, only deceptively ethereal – a little like Messiaen, one tends to approach Lloyd in expectation of an unworldly mystic, only to encounter a farmer’s handshake and an almost bawdy physicality of manner. It’s worth remembering that the man playing “Go Down, Moses”, “The Water Is Wide” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, all favorites returned to here, started out with Bobby “Blue” Bland and Howlin’ Wolf.
A glance at the set list reveals only a few surprises. Even a Beach Boys cover – “Caroline, No” – seems perverse enough to be logical. Lloyd recently told me with no small pride that he’d been a favorite with the Californian rock aristocracy: the Dead admired him and David Crosby toted Dream Weaver everywhere he went. One of the really interesting things about tracking back through Lloyd’s career is what it reveals about psychedelia’s still largely unacknowledged debts to progressive jazz. Those strands come together on Mirror, which is both gentle enough and way-out enough to soundtrack any number of love-generation narratives.
The set opens with “I Fall In Love Too Easily”, played with deceptive simplicity but with a tonal cast that unexpectedly reveals Lloyd’s distant Memphian past. One can imagine George Coleman ghosting in behind him on the later choruses. “Go Down, Moses” is a searching interpretation that refuses to renounce its gospel core. Moran seems to come from a different heritage, but he understands this music from the inside. “Desolation Sound” is the first of the originals, but also conjures way-back times. There are a couple of Monk tunes, unexpectedly, which Lloyd treats with dreamy deference, as if he first heard them in a dream. For me, Harland is the key element on the set. Lloyd has always thrived alongside strongly musical percussion players, capable of expressing themselves melodically as well as sustaining momentum. Harland is and does that wherever he appears. This is the “classic quartet” of the ‘00s . . .
–Brian Morton


Rakalam Bob Moses + Greg Burk
Ecstatic Weanderings
Jazzwerkstatt 111

Currently residing in Rome, Greg Burk continues to record with his fellow countrymen on a regular basis despite his distance from the East Coast scene he once called home. Legendary drummer Rakalam Bob Moses is a longstanding associate of Burk’s, having met the young pianist when he was a student at Boston’s New England Conservatory. Their first documented duet, Ecstatic Weanderings is their third recording together, following 2002’s trio date Checking In (Soul Note) with bassist Jonathan Robinson and 2005’s Nothing, Knowing (482 Music) with bassist Steve Swallow.

This intimate duo session is infused with layers of textural depth, exotic tonalities and stylistic detours far removed from conventional jazz traditions. Similar to Unduality (Accurate), Burk’s recent duet with percussionist Vicente Lebron, but less conceptually programmatic, these adventurous pieces range far and wide for inspiration, embracing African and Asian harmonic concepts as well as the mathematical complexity of Bach.

Moses’ interest in the drumming traditions of non-Western cultures is manifest in the dense polyrhythms he favors. Occasionally augmenting his drum kit with a bevy of percussion, he incorporates gongs, shakers, rattles and assorted ephemera that add tonal color to his kaleidoscopic patterns. Burk matches Moses’ timbral diversity with extended and prepared piano techniques, playing directly on the strings as readily as executing virtuosic runs on the keyboard. On “Primitivo” and “Bush Medicine” Burk complements Moses’ accents with shimmering metallic glissandos, generating harpsichord-like effects from inside the piano.

The duo is equally adventurous using a limited palette, conjuring a wide sonic variety from a standard trap set and unadorned piano. Burk’s effervescent cadences and assertive motifs intertwine with Moses’ skittering snare rolls and bell-like cymbal strikes, merging the surreal with the romantic. “Fuge State” and “Late Afternoon Reflection” are indicative; the former is a brilliant Bachian invention emboldened by Burk’s post-Bley lyricism, the later is a soaring meditation of ascending variations that recalls the spirituality of Alice Coltrane’s late sixties work.

Burk and Moses trade places on “Song of the Free Will,” where Burk’s flailing kit work serves as a fitting back drop for Moses’ free-wheeling keyboard strokes. Their congenial rapport underpins the entire session, conveying the same sense of rich interplay as a standard trio, no matter what they play.
–Troy Collins


Simon Nabatov
Leo CD LR 586

The Russian-born, German-resident pianist Simon Nabatov has demonstrated tremendous breadth as a performer, from witty improvised duos with Han Bennink to earthy post-bop bands with Ray Anderson. He’s added his own voice to the works of Herbie Nichols and crafted both vocal settings and tone poems on Russian literary works. Here Nabatov leads an international quintet in a series of pieces that testify to his sometimes startling imagination, for Nabatov is traditionally, even romantically, lyrical, and just as capable of developing machine-like power and collective frenzy. At times the lushly-set melodies here give the impression of a Gil Evans orchestra (shades of Ellington, Mingus and George Russell arise as well), making it all the more impressive that he’s playing with a quintet, though a very special group of musicians – trombonist Nils Wogram (a frequent Nabatov collaborator), tenor saxophonist Matthias Schubert, cellist Ernst Reijseger and drummer Tom Rainey. It’s a great band and a fine match for Nabatov’s impulses, the opening “Sunrise, Twice” matching his music-box piano against Wogram’s continuous drone and Rainey’s at once sparse and lively snare drumming, As compelling as the opening is, though, it’s Nabatov’s ability, a matter of both technique and conception, to keep growing an idea beyond where you think it can go, developing lacy dissonances before the piece gently disappear into itself. There’s even more movement in “Career Ladder,” which grows from eerie dialogue to roller-coaster momentum. The contrasts of the opening pieces develop again and again here, as Nabatov’s lyrical reflections give rise to dense exchanges and sudden theme statements. There’s a brilliant collocation between composed structures and collective improvisation, resulting in a kind of structured turmoil. The musicians move in and out of Nabatov’s overlapping patterns with both fierce energy and control, and you get the sense that each member of the group is simultaneously assuming several roles, as disciplined (and reading) sideman, empathetic member of a community, and independent improviser. This is highly distinctive and valuable work.
–Stuart Broomer


Mario Pavone Orange Double Tenor
Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po
Playscape Recordings PSR #061010

Released on the eve of his 70th birthday, Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po is Mario Pavone’s 20th release as a leader/co-leader, and the debut of his newest ensemble, Orange Double Tenor, an augmented variation of his critically acclaimed Double Tenor Quintet. One of Pavone’s most personal efforts, the album-length suite is directly inspired by his experiences with the New Thing in the late 1960s. After attending John Coltrane’s funeral in 1967 Pavone abandoned a promising future as an engineer for a life spent in music. An epic meditation on the influence of those transformative times, the work’s twelve movements integrate the harmonic innovations of Ornette Coleman and the structural advancements of Charles Mingus.

Serving as guest arrangers, guitarist Michael Musillami and trumpeters Dave Ballou and Steven Bernstein reinforce Pavone’s distinctively circuitous writing without altering the memorable qualities of his cascading melodies. His charts provide ample space for the robust front line of Ballou and saxophonists Tony Malaby and Jimmy Greene to spar, supported by Pavone’s keen rhythm section with longstanding associate Peter Madsen on piano and ubiquitous drummer Gerald Cleaver. A steadfast leader, Pavone guides the sextet through his labyrinthine themes, steering them through jagged passages that veer inside and out, regularly returning to episodes of joyous swing.

Greene and Malaby make an electrifying pair. Greene transposes his trenchant post-Coltrane testimonials into elliptical phrases, offering a colorful but subtle contrast to Malaby, who meets Greene halfway, reigning in his more outré tendencies in favor of an expressive delivery complementary to Greene’s. Ballou integrates himself seamlessly into the original quintet, his soaring statements augmented with subtle variations like the smeared note flurries of “West of Crash” and the muted blues musings of “The Dom”.

Coordinating with pinpoint accuracy, the rhythm section’s modulating interplay spurs the front line soloists to expressive heights, and provides colorful backdrops during the date’s spectral interludes, “Half Dome (for Bill Dixon)” and “Dome.” Despite his progressive aesthetic, Pavone remains a traditionalist at heart. Forsaking the foreground in favor of the bassist’s conventional support role, Pavone generally avoids the spotlight, taking but a few brief solos, regardless of the milestone-celebrating occasion. Nudging the tradition incrementally forward, Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po is a superb demonstration of Pavone’s authoritative writing and leadership skills.
–Troy Collins


Mike Reed’s Loose Assembly
Empathetic Parts
482 Music 482-1074

Drummer Mike Reed says in the liner notes to his latest Loose Assembly album that he’s interested in “the idea of groups – aggregations of people and how they work. Bands, jobs, companies, everything.” As much as he might make a fine office manager, he’s thankfully chosen the job of bandleader. To get his quintet of alto saxophonist Greg Ward, cellist Tomeka Reid, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, and bassist Joshua Abrams and special guest saxophonist-composer and AACM pater familias Roscoe Mitchell to work together on Empathetic Parts, he has written a short theme and then devised a set of general rules for the improvisers to follow. He then lets the players interact according to the rules and sees how the music unfolds.

First, he lets the band spontaneously arrange and voice his theme. It’s a process that generally takes place naturally within a band of improvisers anyway, although often in the rehearsal stage. Exposing it in performance lays bare the ways in which each instrumentalist can alter the ultimate shape of a written theme. For everything that occurs outside the statement of the theme, Reed specifies six concepts – long tones, pointillistic, swinging, free time, ostinato, and silence – and assigns one to each player. The musicians use a combination of a few additional instructions, colored paddles, and gestures to control the flow of these elements within the performance.

For the listener, the exact rules hardly matter; it’s the music that arises out of them that counts. At their best, these kinds of loose rules create music that tantalizes the listener with brief revelations of the laws controlling the piece, the hidden order underlying the surface activity. In a way, guided improvisation is a music for lovers of mystery – you can sense the rules governing the process, even when they aren’t evident. Cannily, Reed doesn’t reveal to whom each of the six concept-parts is assigned, so the attentive listener can also try to puzzle out what role each player is assigned.

Loose Assembly and their guest give the piece a vivid and engaged performance. The pitfall of guided improvs is they can sound choppy and schematic when the bones show. But the band makes the specified interactions and transitions organic to the music’s development, listening carefully before making any decisions about the direction of the piece. For instance, the transition into a fast swinging tempo about 20 minutes into the piece is unforced, and neatly placed to build tension. When it expires into a silence punctuated by discrete phrases the contrast is welcome and entirely fitting. The orchestration and balance among the voices in the group are well judged – no one overplays, no one makes a sound that’s out of place – but not surprisingly, Mitchell almost always dominates when he’s soloing, his hard, penetrating sound simply overshadows everyone else.

Reed himself is the real deal. One of the most alert and swinging drummers to emerge in the past few years, he plays continuously, moving seamlessly among the various elements of the piece. He clearly knows the jazz tradition and he’s an intelligent leader and accompanist. But he also plays with a deep, funky feeling that’s the equal of his knowledge and smarts. Something of a scholar of compositions by Chicago drummers, he concludes the set with Steve McCall’s “I’ll Be Right Here Waiting,” which is given a sensitive collective reading and exposition by the entire sextet.

Reed’s rules of engagement are a neat synthesis of several approaches to guided improvisation. Spontaneous arrangement of a theme is a technique with a long history in jazz since the sixties, beginning at least with Coleman’s Free Jazz and Coltrane’s Ascension. (Heck, you could even count some of the riff tunes of the Basie and Woody Herman bands, for that matter.) For the rules guiding the remaining improvisations, Reed cites a piece by trombonist Jeff Albert and Fred Lomberg-Holms’ Lightbox Orchestra as immediate inspirations, but the techniques he uses have cropped up in works by Mitchell himself, John Zorn, ROVA Saxophone Quartet, William Parker, Butch Morris, and many, many others over the years. The originality of the concept is perhaps less important than Reed’s particular combination of strategies and the playing of the individuals involved, both of which make this performance, recorded live at the 2009 Umbrella Music Festival in Chicago, quite new and original indeed.  
–Ed Hazell

Cuneiform Records

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