Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


The Claudia Quintet
Cuneiform Rune 377

Founded by drummer, composer and bandleader John Hollenbeck in 1997, The Claudia Quintet has explored the permeable boundaries between genres with single-minded dedication. Hollenbeck’s initial desire to direct a group that could easily read notated music as well as improvise has drawn on a wellspring of contemporary traditions, including minimalism, free jazz and progressive rock.

Over the span of its decade-plus existence, the ensemble has enjoyed relatively stable membership – until recently. For September, their seventh album, Hollenbeck is again joined by multi-instrumentalist Chris Speed (on clarinet and tenor saxophone) and vibraphonist Matt Moran, yet regular bassist Drew Gress only appears on six out of ten selections, with alternate touring bassist Chris Tordini playing on the remaining cuts. The most notable change is the replacement of accordionist Ted Reichman with Red Wierenga, a virtuosic newcomer who makes a formidable first impression.

The album title is a subtle reminder of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, with the serene closer, “12th Coping Song,” a literal response to that fateful day. In an effort to transform harrowing memories into something more positive, Hollenbeck drew inspiration from other dates associated with the titular month that have personal significance to him. Although thematically linked by their time of authorship (many were composed during artist residencies and retreats in the month of September), the ensuing works present as diverse an aural landscape as Hollenbeck has ever envisioned for his flagship group.

Besides the subtle shift in personnel, one of the key differences between September and the band’s previous releases is Hollenbeck’s decision to formulate structures that the members could easily navigate from memory, without sheet music to guide them. The result is their loosest performance to date, and easily the best demonstration of the group’s adroit interplay on record.

Another dissimilarity between this session and prior efforts recorded for Cuneiform is the sequencing; 2005’s Semi-Formal and 2010’s Royal Toast both used brief improvised interludes as segues between through-composed tunes to emulate the flow of a suite. This time only two numbers clock in under three minutes, with the longest exceeding ten. These lengthier compositions allow individual members to develop their solos in a more egalitarian fashion; the episodic “9th Wayne Phases” features blistering statements from Wierenga, Moran and Speed, with the accordionist’s dazzling runs providing concise textural contrast to Speed’s trenchant tenor. Moran’s cascading contributions to the aforementioned piece are equally compelling, though his bowed vibraphone harmonics during the spectral interlude of “18th Lemons” are most haunting.

The infectious polyrhythms of “20th Solterius Lakshmi” and “24th Interval Dig” showcase the band’s groove-laden mastery of interlocking counterpoint, while understated ballads like “25th Somber Blanket” and “22nd Love Is Its Own Eternity” enable the band members to wax lyrical in a serene chamber music setting, providing dynamic contrast to the set’s more visceral excursions. But it is conceptually oriented fare like “29th 1936 “Me Warn You”” that is most unique. Looping sampled fragments of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s historic speech on partisan trickery into a multi-layered collage yields a fascinating soundscape that balances proletarian protest with high art.

Unclassifiable by any standard, The Claudia Quintet continues to forge ahead into uncharted territory, drawing on multiple genres and styles for their mellifluous melodies, stately harmonies and captivating grooves, with September one of their most engaging releases.
–Troy Collins


Bertrand Denzler + John Edwards + Eddie Prévost
Meetings with Remarkable Saxophonists Volume 4
Matchless MRCD88

This is the fourth in the series of Eddie Prévost’s concert recordings of trios with different bassists and saxophonists. The title, strongly invoking the mystic G.I Gurdjieff’s Meetings with Remarkable Men, might echo that work’s particular journey toward initiation and occult knowledge. The previous saxophonists in the series were Evan Parker, John Butcher and Jason Yarde. Bertrand Denzler shares with the others a mastery of what are sometimes referred to as extended techniques; he can also pursue a musical vision that is profoundly internalized, whether focused on micro events or the development of hypnotic states.

Though there are moments of reverie here, of airy unaccompanied upper register multiphonics, a listener might be forgiven missing the presence of the percussionist from AMM or one of the saxophonists from Hubbub. The performance is a journey into free jazz, and its fundamental material is rhythmic. Each of the two half-hour pieces – “All-in-All (en tout et pour tout),” parts 1 and 2 – goes through numerous mutations, but they’re driven along by Prévost’s fiercely propulsive drumming, whether he’s supplying aggressive brushwork or playing with sticks. This brings out a particularly forceful side of Denzler, who here sounds like a none-too-distant cousin of Sonny Rollins, sometimes building tension with shifting two-note figures, elsewhere insistently pressing an ascending major scale or reducing the tenor to a drum for some one-note semaphore.

Given the focus on rhythm, bassist John Edwards – who is usually likely to be the most aggressive musician of the three present – often emerges as the most melodically inventive member of the group, whether finding unlikely figures to contribute to a dialogue or bowing high-pitched whistles against Denzler’s elemental honks. If risk and surprise are the lifeblood of improvised music, this album succeeds admirably. It’s just as successful as a free jazz power trio disc.
–Stuart Broomer


Michel Edelin Quartet
Rogueart ROG-0049

Resurgence starts with a winner, “Simon’s Bubbles,” an intense yet ever-lyrical chase by the fine flutist Michel Edelin and clarinetist Jacques Di Donato over the aggressively swinging bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer Simon Goubert. Throughout this CD, in fact, Edelin eschews (lovely word, that) virtuosity in favor of total melody: straightforward lines, no decorations or asides to distract from his subtle flow. It sounds somewhat like Ornette Coleman might have played if he’d played flutes over 50 years ago. Good to hear but not easy, given the flutes’ limitations of range and expression. Edelin composed eleven attractive songs for this disc and some, like “Tales of Seven Lizards” and “Danse avec l’Ours,” also have an Ornetteish feeling. Di Donato makes an excellent and still essentially lyrical contrast. His clarinet playing is, by contrast, emotive and he likes to evolve his solos. So lines emerge, expand, his sound changes, harsh notes appear without forcing. He switches to bass clarinet on five tracks and to soprano sax on two others, including his especially colorful work in “Tales of Seven Lizards.”

Avenel is such a virtuoso, so forceful, and so free that he often seems to take charge of this CD. His big, bowed, dark notes make for a moody “Tristezza Della Diva” and he and Di Donato play a clever duet, “Le Chat et la Souris.” On the other hand, his many notes savage a budding mood in “Jet Lag,” and devastate Di Donato’s carefully formed bass clarinet solo in “Danse avec l’Ours.” Rather than accompany the two principal soloists, Goubert follows Avenel’s hyper lead. So bass and drums tend to gallop away, especially in “Old and Beautiful Story”; “Black Snow” is the pair’s feature, with especially smart drumming. Avenel is Edelin’s longtime associate, but I’d like to hear Edelin with a more sympathetic bassist, maybe one like Malachi Favors or Charlie Haden (yeah, I know, nobody else listens like those two).
–John Litweiler


Harris Eisenstadt September Trio
The Destructive Element
Clean Feed CF276CD

Brooklyn-based and Toronto-raised drummer Harris Eisenstadt has an extraordinarily wide range of ensembles he works in either as leader/principal or sideman/co-conspirator, from a nonet all the way down to this trio with pianist Angelica Sanchez and tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin. The group came together as a loose trio for a few gigs in September 2009 and since the formation and voices worked well together, the September Trio was quickly born. Now on their second disc for Clean Feed, The Destructive Element, a group identity on par with Eisenstadt’s other ensembles is clear. It’s fair to say that Eisenstadt is a listener and a shaper whose approach might be reminiscent of Paul Motian or Joe Morello as opposed to the unmitigated force of Art Blakey or Sunny Murray. While the nine pieces on The Destructive Element are all from Eisenstadt’s pen, one shouldn’t be chastised for assuming the primary voice might be Eskelin or Sanchez. While the instrumentation may recall trios running the gamut from Lester Young, Nat “King” Cole and Buddy Rich to Evan Parker, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Paul Lovens, the feel might be closer to Motian’s group with guitarist Bill Frisell and tenorman Joe Lovano.

The opener, “Swimming, then Rained Out” finds Sanchez darting and bluesy amid Eskelin’s torqued, pillowy and elemental phrases. “Additives” is a cyclical, minefield-like rondo that extends out into rugged near-free play, Sanchez’ gospelized, voluminous harmonies a fascinating contrast with the tenorman’s hard, brightly quizzical economy. Eskelin remains a leanly complex player for whom visions of “No Tonic Pres” or a young Jan Garbarek don’t seem too far off, and he seems especially formidable in trios where he’s the only horn, set against percussion and keyboards (cf. his work with Andrea Parkins or, more recently, organist Gary Versace). Eisenstadt has chosen his mates well, for even the lush and nearly cloying pop-romantic bedrock of “Back and Forth” is taken with stepped knottiness. The title piece is a balladic plateau, the leader’s brushwork nearly disappearing behind plush garlands of tenor and piano, and contrasted heavily against the following “Cascadia,” which teases out Sanchez’ reflections on Monk and early Cecil Taylor in an unaccompanied opening volley before the trio shifts into a tough, expansive waltz. Eisenstadt positions himself as a composer and improviser of reflection and craft, and while there might be a bleeding together of textures on The Destructive Element, the upshot is a set of fine and energetically nuanced trio music gently prodded by crisp, dry movement.
–Clifford Allen


Lafayette Gilchrist
Creative Differences 002

There’s probably no duller conversation to be had about jazz music than attempting to finesse the difference between “inside” and “outside” playing. Even the sham-fight of “composition vs. improvisation” is still riveting in comparison. There’s a useful analogy with sports here. If the ball, or a player’s foot crosses the line then (depending on your game), you’re out. If some part of it remains in, then you’re in. Lafayette Gilchrist has pretty much resolved the issue. He plays insideout.

Gilchrist’s evolution mostly happened outside jazz proper and with reference to hip hop, house and Chuck Brown’s go-go. But he’s one of the movers in the music now. I feel he’s best described by Herbie Nichols’ ugly but serviceable self-definition: Gilchrist is a jazzist. He thinks this music with his fingers. He’s a real-time student of its quiddities and its unresolvable theorems – a thoughtful guy whose medium is closer to dance than to “concertizing.” The other obvious comparison, one that makes the “dance” element intriguingly problematic, is with Prince, another artist who evolved away from the dominant music scene of the moment and who pretty much asked and answered all his own questions about music is constructed, performed and disseminated.

There’s nothing on Insideout with quite the impact of “Assume the Position,” which remains the obvious Gilchrist pick for a contemporary jazz sampler and a theme susceptible to almost infinite repositioning and re-interpretation. Thus: a contemporary “classic,” or new jazz “standard.” But – and it’s a substantial but – Insideout is by far his most satisfying record to date. It begins with the Frankenstein’s footsteps intro to “Breakout,” which then erupts into something kinda Monkish, a flowing line that like most of Gilchrist’s writing leaves ribbons of potential melody waving in its wake. He hits the keys hard on “Spotlight” after a deceptive raindrop opening that has hints of Debussy about it, maybe conscious, maybe not.

Tunes like “Waves” and “Connections” seem like ideas spontaneously generated in improvisation, with procedural – rather than formal – structure. Indeed, it is difficult to distinguish between “theme” and “solo” in much of what Gilchrist plays. It just takes whatever direction it points towards and the journey is always worthwhile. “Delicate Dancer,” a skater’s twirl and jump over a deliberately clumpy left hand and rhythm line, doesn’t sound like its title. More than once I found myself wondering whether Gilchrist names his tracks almost randomly or whether there are narratives and associations here that are closed to us. “Spontaneous Combustion” is perhaps an exception, and “The Naif” certainly is, for this is surely the pianist saying: This maybe doesn’t sound like much, and you may not think I can play more than simple fours, but try this on ... and the music gets away. In this, he’s ably assisted by Michael Formanek, who has enough experience leading his own innovative projects to know that these aren’t just routine blowing themes, and by Eric Kennedy, who has a singer’s approach to the kit, enunciating figures with verbal accuracy. Formanek’s solo on “The Naif” is a key moment in terms of how the trio functions.

It’s exciting contemporary jazz with few of the more obvious hip hop flourishes that make some recent attempts to hybridize jazz and street culture not so much “outside” as, for more conservative listeners, positively beyond the pale. Gilchrist isn’t a newcomer, and this isn’t a young guy’s show-off record. It’s a major statement by a major artist.
–Brian Morton

Perpetual Frontier - The Properties of Free Music by Joe Morris

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