Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Little Women
AUM Fidelity 076

Brooklyn’s Little Women has become a fairly stable unit over the last few years, at least as far as personnel goes. With saxophonists Darius Jones and Travis Laplante, guitarist Andrew Smiley, and regular Jones accomplice Jason Nazary on drums, they’re an active, distinctive group. But the stability definitely does not extend to their musical output. After the shaking energies of 2010’s Throat, the band’s new recording Lung is a definite left turn, perhaps even a fractal-like multiplying series of such turns. They’ve taken a distinct thematic focus (“the shape of a downfall of something beautiful ... the life and death of humans, the downfall of a romance, the inhale and exhale, and the death of the earth”) and put it together with an open, fluid, interactive methodology.

The resulting recording is fresh and surprising from note one ... which only comes after a long period of silence, that void from which a gestating something at length emerges in the form of a Nazary cymbal tapestry. Thus begins the 42-minute title composition that makes up the entire album. What you realize quickly is that the band is continually moving, never dwelling overlong in a single place or idea, but they do so mostly without the jump-cut sensibility that often characterizes similarly dense endeavors (though they do hit you upside the head quite regularly, but here as a matter of purpose, like a Zen roshi who smacks the adept for being too convinced of his meditative progress). As they move into the gorgeous, deeply sentimental theme that occupies the piece’s opening sections (where Smiley’s bright, resonant guitar intervals merge with Nazary’s percussion to frame a space wherein Jones and Laplante weave lush sound) into a section for four-way vocal resonance (meditative but a bit uneasy), and points beyond, the piece begins to come across like the sonic rendition of a single day’s perambulation, a stroll through the neighborhoods of this band’s imagination.

This is certainly a function of the aforementioned group methodology, which Little Women imagine to be a kind of movie or a dream, wherein cues from individuals can catalyze movement into a new dynamic area or thematic zone: “Sometimes a storyline would dictate the sounds and sometimes the sounds would shift the storyline.” The piece continually illustrates these orientations: there are sudden blasts of sound, then quick retreats into lambent calm or reflective melodicism (occasionally given a slightly sour tinge, as there’s emotional dynamism here too), a love cry from ragged alto, and some occasionally block-rocking pulses. At exactly the midpoint of the piece, they finally let loose the tension and fury they hint at occasionally, with a punk raveup, pounding beats, jangling no-wave guitar, and wailing sax. And after a pretty exploratory sound section, there’s a deep pounding funk section late in “Lung,” filled with unison blasts and some righteous detuned guitar from Smiley, the piece always returning to that fragmented chord that sounds like glass blooming. And just like that, the record ends on a sour, almost bitter exhalation. A strange and most welcome record.
–Jason Bivins


Rob Mazurek Octet
Skull Sessions
Cuneiform Rune 349

Cornetist-composer Rob Mazurek orchestrates a collision of jazz, indigenous Brazilian, and electronic musics in this exuberant octet outing, emphasizing the collective ensemble’s unique sonorities as much as individual soloists. Mazurek integrates electronics into his ensembles as well as anyone in jazz right now, using the circuitry-generated sound to broaden the sonic palette of his bands, and the regular machine-like electronic rhythms to create inner tensions that drive the music forward. But Mazurek also treats the indigenous Brazilian instruments the same way he treats the electronic and Western instruments, as non-idiomatic sources of sound. The resulting music is uniquely his own, skirting easy categories rather than attempting some kind of folk-jazz fusion. The eight players on this album – four from Chicago, four from Sao Paulo – are all frequent collaborators with Mazurek and they create a massive opalescent block of sound, shot through with veins of brilliant color from the different instruments. They get the balance between electro and acoustic just right.

For instance, in the opening of “Galactic Ice Skeleton,” synthesizer clicks, clucks, and tinkles blend with Jason Adasiewicz’s ringing vibes, and Mazurek’s stealthy, mysterioso cornet. Thomas Rohrer plays a long tone on C-melody sax, Nicole Mitchell’s flute makes the call of a startled bird and there’s a gradual rise in tension that breaks into a pulsing hand drums and trap set rock groove that unleashes a teaming electronic wave of sound. There’s a lot happening, but it’s all purposeful and the details are utterly fascinating.

The same holds true for “Voodoo and the Petrified Forest,” in which the ensemble generates a shimmering static background for Mazurek’s forlorn written melody while the drums kick into an Africanized swing. In her solo, Mitchell plays looping lines and explosive ululations as the ensemble engulfs her. Then Mazurek solos, leaving plenty of space for the ensemble to bubble up around each of his phrases. Rohrer plays a lovely, earthy solo on rabeca, a kind of Brazilian violin used most often in forro music. He and Mitchell solo together as the piece subsides.

Mazurek is always dropping something surprising into the compositions. During “Passing Light Screams,” the ensemble suddenly cuts out, leaving Adasiewicz alone; the clarity and simplicity of his improvising after the tangled density of the octet is startling. The following ensemble section is sour with dissonances and anxious with pulsing drums, insistent guitar and electronics, then Mitchell’s airy piccolo resolves the tension and lifts the music upward. “Skull Caves of Alderon” (the portentous sci-fi titles are a hilarious contrast to the music’s high-spirited joyfulness) encompasses folk dance buoyancy, a jazzy probing cornet solo, and guitar heroics from Carlos Issa during the climactic collective rave up.

Mazurek and his octet really bring something new to medium jazz band format. It helps that the band is full of fresh voices who bring originality and high spirits to the solo and collective passages. Just as importantly, Mazurek’s compositions, with their playful orchestration of the group, skillful maneuvering among idioms, and sensitivity to electric and acoustic sounds are always spinning the music in new directions. This is music with a clear point of view, ambitious ideas, and played with a lot of heart.
–Ed Hazell


Nicole Mitchell’s Ice Crystal
Delmark DE 5004

Nicole Mitchell
Engraved in the Wind
Rogue Art ROG-0047

Academia, with its economic stability and stimulating environment, has long been a refuge for creative improvising musicians, although relocation is occasionally required for desirable faculty positions. Nicole Mitchell’s recent move from Chicago to Long Beach to teach at the University of California, Irvine doesn’t seem to have affected her collaborative output with her fellow Chi-Town brethren at all, however. Case in point: Aquarius, the debut of Mitchell’s quartet Ice Crystal, which has been performing under the evocative moniker since 2007 with vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Frank Rosaly, key players in the Windy City’s vibrant scene.

Eschewing the programmatic writing of her large ensemble commissions in favor of a more stripped-down approach, Ice Crystal provides Mitchell and company an opportunity to explore simple, direct pieces in a casual, cooperative environment. According to the poll-winning flutist, “It’s just fun to write music my ‘old-school’ way – for the musicians, one tune at a time. That’s how these tunes were written. No super deep meaning here, just having a good time with the sounds and personalities of the group.”

Devoid of overarching conceptual themes, the ensuing compositions convey a fluid, freewheeling sensibility. Underscored by Abrams and Rosaly’s discerning accompaniment, the scintillating rapport between Mitchell and Adasiewicz conjures intimations of such legendary partnerships as Eric Dolphy and Bobby Hutcherson, or Marion Brown and Gunter Hampel. The quartet’s dynamic range is vast, but refined, veering from the pastoral rumination “Above The Sky” and swaggering blues of “Sunday Afternoon” to the angular free bop swinger “Expectation” and the impressionistic abstraction of the title track. The frenetic climax of the latter number rivals the spiky pointillism of “Diga, Diga” in terms of sonic audacity, while the lilting opener “Aqua Blue” invokes the lissome grace of Dolphy’s Prestige sides.

Throughout these varied selections the quartet weaves a colorful mosaic of cool indigo hues, reinforcing the understated nature of its namesake. In contrast to her striking performances on 2011’s Awakening (Delmark), Mitchell’s sinuous cadences here subtly extrapolate the differing harmonic and rhythmic characteristics of each composition without abandoning their underlying structures. Despite her mastery of extended techniques, she uses harmonics, multiphonics and vocalized intonations sparingly, accentuating the song-like aspects of her tuneful melodies.

Reinforcing the concept of band identity, ample space is provided within these self-contained pieces for each member to shine. Abrams embarks on a number of probing excursions, with the stately arco that introduces the title track being among his most adventurous, while Rosaly’s thunderous tattoos during the coda of the same lift the bandstand. But it is Adasiewicz’s kaleidoscopic detours, which range from shimmering tone clusters on the titular cut to effervescent sound clouds on “Today, Today,” that stand apart. His expansive technique makes him the perfect accompanist for the leader’s myriad musings, embodying a venturesome approach that is even more arresting in the spotlight.

Aquarius is an impressive realization of Mitchell’s keen abilities as a bandleader and collaborator. Her instrumental virtuosity is the primary focus of Engraved in the Wind, her first solo record, which offers further insight into her remarkable gifts as an improviser. Mitchell has widely been praised as the preeminent flute player of her generation; this virtuosic recital provides ample proof.

Bucolic meditations like the Asiatic “Cave of Forgotten Spring” accentuate Mitchell’s delicate employment of diaphanous tones, while more assertive fare, such as “Dadwee,” demonstrate her ability to negotiate vertiginous intervals and taut angles with elegance and grace. Utilizing over-blown multiphonics and ghosted notes, “Making of Rose Quartz” and “Boiling River” are two examples of her ability to organically incorporate experimental extended techniques into traditional forms. The recording also features a few overdubbed works, including “Forest Family,” which highlights Mitchell’s facility for threading multiple contrapuntal lines into a rich mosaic of staccato phrases and wooly textures.

While spotlighting Mitchell’s astonishing skills as an instrumentalist, the album inadvertently reveals the limitations of its solitary setting; beyond her peerless technical proficiency, Mitchell’s greatest gift is her collaborative instinct. In the company of likeminded peers, Mitchell’s idiosyncratic phrasing and bold textural flourishes gain comparative context, reinforcing her unique creativity – an aspect unaccompanied performances often lack. Engraved in the Wind is a solid endeavor, but intimate ensemble sessions like Aquarius most effectively demonstrate Mitchell’s manifold talents.
–Troy Collins


Ivo Perelman Quartet
Leo Records LR 668

Ivo Perelman + Matthew Shipp
The Art of the Duo Volume 1
Leo Records LR 665

Pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker were among the first Downtown players Brazilian-born tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman met when he relocated from Southern California to New York in 1990. Though it wouldn’t be until 1996 that they began recording together, their rapport was easy to hear from the opening salvos of Cama de Terra (Homestead, 1996). Since the mid-Nineties, Perelman, Shipp and Parker have recorded seventeen discs together in various combinations, ranging from tenor/bass/drums trios to quartets and piano-tenor duos. Perelman has recorded over forty discs as a leader, so it does say something about their shared history that over half of the saxophonist’s albums have involved one or both of these musicians.

Serendipity finds Perelman, Shipp and Parker joined by drummer Gerald Cleaver for a single improvisation lasting three-quarters of an hour. Apparently it was originally intended to be a trio date with Parker subbing for Cleaver, but both musicians showed up to the recording and a powerful slab of quartet music resulted. The piece is in every way possible a complete improvisation, which isn’t to say that the participants throw everything but the kitchen sink into their art – rather, its rigorous presence is something that feels unending like a landscape, albeit a craggy and very rhythmic one. While there are definite precedents for Serendipity, both in Perelman’s discography and in the work of forebears like David S. Ware, John Coltrane, Gato Barbieri and Evan Parker, it’s important to note that each of these players has a specificity manifested in their music, even if the outward shape is comparable. Perelman’s work is centered on exploring the upper partials of certain harmonic series, which mates well with Shipp’s complex, pedal-developed relationship to overtone clusters and Parker’s elevating gobs (he sticks to pizzicato here). That’s not to say this music is overtly cerebral, and if or when it is, it’s a humanist kind of cerebral – Perelman’s tone is alternately scoring and pillowy, interwoven with a blocky, bubbling rhythmic charge. The saxophonist’s initial solo is one for the ages, building to a high-pitched metallic scream that curls itself away as Shipp emerges with flitting lyricism. But Perelman can be cottony and jovial, as midway through he echoes balladic Shepp, Rollins, Mobley and Shorter in a knotty and diffuse range of statements. Meanwhile bass and drums keep a socking pulse, a nearly rockish frame for the measured volleys, shouts and elemental blocks that tenor and piano often trade. Eminently exciting, for a single-piece disc Serendipity is kaleidoscopic, layered and swinging.

A narrower experience of the relationship between Perelman and Shipp is the nexus of The Art of the Duo Volume One, the first in a planned three-disc series of tenor-piano duets. It’s been just over fifteen years since these musicians released a duo program, the last one being 1997’s Bendito of Santa Cruz (Cadence), a fine and somewhat obscure session based on Brazilian folk themes. Of course, a lot of life and music have happened in the ensuing years, so revisiting the format is far from a reprise. Unlike Serendipity or a good portion of Perelman’s discography, the focus is not on long form instant composition – rather The Art of The Duet presents thirteen bagatelles of gentle yet spry conversation and steely give-and-take. Limited to short pieces and a delicate instrumental framework, Perelman’s tenor is florid and loose with a burnished liquidity while Shipp approaches the keyboard with particulate restraint. Harking back to the early years of their work on the New York scene, a more volcanic set might have been the expected result, but the fireworks now unleashed by Perelman and Shipp are imbued with greater clarity and a wider scope. Energy is still paramount, but it can take the form of a fragment of “‘Round Midnight,” a gospel progression or cellular minimalism with Perelman’s hard-bitten acrobatics on top. On the ninth improvisation, their interplay is gentle and deep, reminiscent of the fine J.R. Monterose-Tommy Flanagan duos on …and a Little Pleasure (Uptown, 1981), albeit with a shifting-sands sense of abstraction. The Art of the Duo Volume One is an excellent first offering in what appears to be crucial documentation of the Shipp-Perelman axis.
–Clifford Allen


Odean Pope
Odeans’s Three
In+Out 77112

What a big tenor sax sound Odean Pope projects, colorful and rich as a swing-era tenor saxist, let’s say a Coleman Hawkins devotee; yet when he wants it, his sound can be big, austere, and above all sweet as John Coltrane sometimes played. Pope is an expressive player, and though this CD has an overall optimistic cast, he can reveal passing dark feelings too – the near-ballad “Garden of Happiness” is an especially good example of his pliable sound. His bassist is Lee Smith, who also plays with a big, forceful sound and swing. Usually inside bassists who play lines instead of walking accompaniments sound unnecessary. But Smith is closely attuned to Pope’s playing; he’s responsive, and for all his instrumental mastery, he cares about swing and lyricism rather than the kind of technique that calls attention to itself. Drummer Billy Hart, who completes this trio, sometimes sounds tentative to me, as if he’s trying to find a place for himself when confronted with the closeness of Pope and Smith. In the longest track, the rhythmically tricky “Blues It,” Hart breaks loose with a busy accompaniment and a long solo.

It’s hard to keep a one-chord piece interesting, but Pope shapes a fine ten performance on “Phrygian a Trois” with one-note riffing and pivotal long tones, including a climactic half-minute trill. In “You and Me” (a clever performance) and “Garden of Happiness” he uses very long, breathless, double-time passages for climaxes. He likes to phrase in John Coltraneish arpeggios, even when his swing has the swagger of Sonny Rollins. Up-tempos and blues themes dominate; on “Good Question” Pope alternates melodic and riff choruses, and “Almost Like Pt One” sounds like an improved, richer, alternate take of “Blues for Eight.” If arpeggio-based variations eventually become wearing, there’s still the ingenuity of Smith to enjoy. He’s a more lyrical artist; he’s special.

Incidentally, note that The Legendary Hassan composed “Blues It.” Has Pope ever arranged an album of Hassan’s compositions, pieces that never got on that historic Max Roach Trio album? Will Pope ever?
–John Litweiler

New World Records

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