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Reviews of Recent Recordings


Objets Trouvés
Fresh Juice
Intakt CD 225

Composer, pianist and co-leader Gabriela Friedli refers to this group as a “dream constellation.” It’s an interesting choice of words. As any schoolboy astronomer will tell you, a constellation is something of a fiction, an accidental visual alignment of stars that in reality are located at tremendous distance one from the other. There are exceptions, local clusters that have a degree of connection, and that’s rather more the impression given off by this now long-standing group.

Objets Trouvés have previous form on Intakt. Their previous CDs, Fragile and This Side Up, seemed to be pursuing a line of thematically-driven improvisation in which rehearsed material was thrown into a performance situation and spontaneously transformed. The suggestion is that in many of the group’s performances the source material is not performed at all, but is merely implicit – or tacit – in the players’ minds. Which leads to another tiny quibble about nomenclature. Schoolboy art historians will also be able to tell you about the role of “found objects” in modern art. It’s a hundred years since Marcel Duchamp began making his “ready-mades,” works that combined great formal purity with a schoolboy snigger: Fountain was an off-the-shelf urinal laid on its side. It seems the wrong analogy for this music, which is thoroughly adult, has a palpable gender balance (way beyond the usual well-intentioned guff about yin and yang) and which breathes life, humanity and the ethical urgency of the improvising moment. It’s not music that is observed. It has to be inhabited in some quite basic way.

All this is again to suggest that the only tiny thing wrong with Objets Trouvés is what’s written on the tin. The contents are of the highest order. Far from being sonic pick-ups from the environment, these pieces are highly conscious and sensitively worked, and in a way that is perfectly compatible with the “freedom” of improvisation. It begins on the long “Gesang der Nacht” with very quiet sounds from all four members. Jan Schlegel’s electric bass seems to be murmuring to its own amplifier rather than being played, Dieter Ulrich moves something, maybe a brush, across his toms. Friedli and saxophonist Co Streiff seem to have a quiet exchange. If it’s tentative, it’s certainly not the onstage meet-and-greet that often passes for improvisation on the festival and club circuit. The air is confidently anticipatory rather than uncertain, and this is the pattern of Objets Trouvés performances. There’s always a logic and a sense of destination, in this first case a “night song” that is far from lugubrious nocturne. It has a certain remote kinship with “Round Midnight,” or at least the way Mike Osborne used to weave it into an extended improvisation. Streiff has something of Ossie’s aery, almost fragile tone, but with a tough, wire-wound core. It’s important, though, to dismiss the usual hierarchy of horn/harmony/bass/percussion when approaching this group. The information comes at you from the group rather than delegated to the front.

Friedli’s understated playing suggests unease with ostentatious virtuosity. She articulates ideas clearly and with a certain emphasis, but there’s no bluster or emotional display. Schlegel’s remarkable. He plays a relatively unfashionable instrument in this genre, but with a thoroughly personalised delivery, maybe more Bob Cranshaw than Steve Swallow, and he’s always at the heart of every performance. Ulrich sounds more like a jazz guy than some of the European “free” drummers. There’s pulse and direction, and an ability to play melodically.

The transition from mobile groove on “Equilibre tendu” to the more jagged, desolate idiom of “Faden der Ariadne” is a nice further instance of the group’s confident occupation of this varied landscape. Streiff’s soprano playing has a quite different impact to her alto work, a good illustration of horns being played as different instruments rather than as different places on a tonal spectrum. The shorter tracks work just as well but don’t necessarily highlight the composed elements any more clearly. Cavils apart, “fresh” seems just the right adjective for this music: bright, sweet, faintly astringent in places, endlessly refreshing.
–Brian Morton


Richard Teitelbaum
Piano Plus
New World 80756

Richard Teitelbaum’s impressive 40-plus-year career as a real-time synthesizer/computer improviser, ranging from co-founding Musica Elettronica Viva in 1966 to collaborations with Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy, Joëlle Léandre, Andrew Cyrille, and many others, should be well-known to PoD readers. Less familiar, perhaps, is his work in more compositional and compositionally-interactive fields, including two non-traditional operas based on subjects of Jewish mysticism, Golem and Z’vi, and a sizeable number of works combining various acoustic instruments with programmed electronic components. Piano Plus collects two of the latter, along with three pieces designed for multiple keyboards driven by his computer-triggered Digital Piano System, and one of his earliest notated piano scores sans electronics, the dodecaphonic Intersections.

It was a shrewd programming choice to begin with Intersections (1963), composed while Teitelbaum was still a graduate student at Yale University, where, significantly, he studied with Mel Powell, the brilliant piano soloist and arranger with Benny Goodman’s orchestra who in the 1950s switched allegiances and developed into a composer of hyper-complex post-Schoenbergian scores. It’s possible to speculate that, conceptually influenced by Powell, Intersections’ unadorned pitch-centric lyricism, built upon incisive rising and falling rhythmic waves, reflects a balance of songlike motifs and expanded dramatic variables which would eventually re-emerge, on a broader scale, in Teitelbaum’s mature electro-acoustic fantasies, ...dal niente... (1997) and SEQ TRANSIT PARAMMERS (1998). The elegiac intimations of ...dal niente..., composed as a tribute to pianist Aki Takahashi’s husband, the late music critic Kuniharau Akiyama, are defined by echoing organ tones and the piano’s gentle entrance haloed by responsive resonance from the computer, offering a sensitive ballad that eventually grows more insistent as an arpeggiated drizzle of notes and induced chords, but concludes as a demure Japanese (or quasi-) folk song, adding the computer’s koto-like timbres. In SEQ TRANSIT PARAMMERS, cascading live piano lines prompt real-time software figuration, affecting density and tangled polyphony, until replaced by a sparse passage of melancholic reflection which intensifies into a syncopated, florid tracery.

A decade prior, an interest in Conlon Nancarrow’s inhumanly manipulated, multiple-voice piano rolls provoked Teitelbaum to explore the possibilities of material being simultaneously layered, delayed, proliferated, and randomly transformed according to the whims of both man and machine through his Digital Piano System (a more thorough technical explanation is available in the booklet). The longest of the three examples here, In the Accumulate Mode (1982), betrays a minimalist slant, with three pianos chiming overlapping and repeated scalar passages and crunching chords – Philip Glass reflected in converging fun-house mirrors. But the others, more concise and lyrical, employ a remarkably bluesy Javanese scale which morphs into a bar room piano rumination (Interlude in Pelog, 1982) and a rattling evocation of stride in a beehive (Solo for Three Pianos, 1982), respectively.

Having Frederic Rzewski, Ursula Oppens, and Aki Takahashi on hand to perform the live piano parts assures skill, commitment, and invention. For all the talk of technology at the core of Teitelbaum’s art, the human values of sensitivity and expression are everywhere apparent.
–Art Lange


Various Artists
The Complete Clifford Jordan Strata-East Sessions
Mosaic MD-256

Mosaic’s normally straightforward titling is uncharacteristically nuanced in that The Complete Clifford Jordan Strata-East Sessions is not comprised just of sessions led by the tenor saxophonist. The 6-disc collection also includes three sessions Jordan originally produced for the stillborn Frontier label, which were later issued as Strata-East’s Dolphy Series – as well as two that went unreleased for more than 40 years. More so than most boxed sets, which trace a single artist’s history take by take, there is a time capsule quality to this collection, as all but Jordan’s 1973 2-LP Glass Bead Games were waxed between January 1968 and spring ‘69. Beyond their respective musical merits, these sessions now show Jordan to be a rather sagacious activist, connecting a rich network of artists that, in all likelihood, would not have been represented on the same label, let alone the same album. (Name an album other than Jordan’s In the World on which trumpeter Don Cherry and pianist Wynton Kelly play together.)

Yet, border-jumping is just one aspect of how this boxed set conveys a feel for the tumultuous year-plus spanning Rhythm X – The Music of Charles Brackeen, Wilbur Ware’s Super Bass (which was first issued by the bassist’s foundation in 2012),and the previously unissued Shades of Edward Blackwell – all recorded in January 1968 – and In the World. Despite the implicit strident politics of avant-garde jazz, there’s an atmosphere not so much of innocence, but of positive engagement that unites the first three albums. While Brackeen was a distinctive tenor saxophonist and composer, he placed himself well within the long shadow of Ornette Coleman by enlisting Cherry, Blackwell and Charlie Haden for Rhythm X, an album easily heard as a celebration of the freedom associated with Coleman. While Blackwell’s would-be debut as a leader featured two quartet tracks with Cherry, Ware and the time-obscured tenor saxophonist Luqman Lateef (who was also a promising writer on the basis of the hard bop line and the ballad he brought to the date), the bulk of the music was performed in that most communal of music-making contexts – the drum circle – with a who’s who of post-bop drummers, including Denis Charles, Billy Higgins and Roger Blank. While the crown jewels of Super Bass are two authoritative bass solos that make the case for Ware’s keen sense of design and development, there’s an overarching conviviality to the quartet tracks with Blackwell, Cherry and Jordan, particularly on reconstructions of chestnuts by Ellington and Charlie Parker.

The pain and sorrow of 1968 is masterfully distilled by Cecil Payne on the opening track of Zodiac, “Martin Luther King, Jr. / I Know Love,” a piece that prompts a rethinking of the baritone saxophonist’s place in the pantheon – or lack thereof. There’s an affecting Mingus-like quality to how Payne’s blues-drenched phrases drape over the subtle chord changes. During the second chorus, Albert Heath’s subdued and prolonged press roll, punctuated by crimped hi-hat splashes, adds palpable drama. Both Payne and trumpeter Kenny Dorham assuredly walk the thin line between honorific and lamentation, despite Kelly’s coaxing for broader statements; however, Payne allows himself a short, elegant flourish at the end.  However, the question of Payne’s secondary stature is answered by the rest of the album, which is brimming with robustly swinging blues and bop-based tunes; ironically, their adherence to old-school album-making dilutes the impressive opening track by the end of the album. Had Payne made an entire album as penetrating as “Martin Luther King, Jr. / I Know Love,” it would have become something of a classic.

Something of the same could be said about Pharoah Sanders’ Izipho Zam (My Gifts), a mix of simple praise songs, well-hooked vamps and atomizing improvisations, had the album-opening “Prince of Peace” had the gravity of the extended version recorded nine months later as “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah” for Jewels of Thought (Impulse); Sanders doesn’t even play on this short, seemingly hasty version. Additionally, the album’s three pieces don’t have the snug fit Sanders achieved with his best Impulses. “Balance” initially has the potential of being a deliriously rollicking, second line-tinged blowing vehicle, as Howard Johnson’s tuba chortles under Sanders’ honking riff; however, the vibe is quickly overwhelmed by the torrents of multiple percussionists and Sonny Sharrock’s screaming and screeching guitar. The title piece is one of Sanders’ more successful multi-movement pieces, spanning a pastoral soundscape of percussion, whistles and Leon Thomas’ yodeling, an effervescent vamp highlighted by Sharrock’s proto-Afro pop guitar, and one of Sanders’ more beaming melodies, which he states in tandem with alto saxophonist Sonny Fortune. If only there was an hour or so of these two going toe to toe ...

The pleasures of the Blackwell, Brackeen and Ware dates notwithstanding – and there are many: Brackeen’s frolicsome “C. B. Blues” is one of Haden’s finer outings, as he continually redirects the flow of the piece with his patented mix of capering single-note lines and dramatically strummed passages; featuring songful lead trumpet work by Cherry, Luqman’s “The Moment of Glance” achieves one of the higher goals of jazz ballads, creating a snapshot of an otherwise elusive essence; and Jordan’s “Mod House” opens Ware’s date with masterfully playful interplay between the horns, Ware and Blackwell – it is Jordan’s two albums that best represent the idea of minor classics. Minor classics have, generally, the merits of unqualified classics – compositions and performances that define an artist and/or a moment in jazz history in enduring terms, etc. – but, for whatever reason (and they are often extra-musical), they don’t make an immediate, seismic impact. Jordan’s Strata-East albums had neither the marketing muscle nor the mold-breaking agenda required of a jazz album to break through in the 1970s, hence their “minor” status; however, these are albums where Jordan’s artistic trajectory intersected with the times in a profound way, albeit one that has become obvious only with time.

Whereas Jordan proclaimed These Are My Roots with his mid-‘60s Atlantic Leadbelly tribute, he could have easily claimed Glass Bead Games to be his Tree of Life, symbolizing the myriad connections between post-Coltrane jazz and post-King African American culture. In this regard, Jordan’s nod to the Hermann Hesse novel – a bildungsroman, a novel of education and of ultimate mastery – is notable. By this time, Jordan had seen it all at least once, the resulting wisdom manifesting not in pyrotechnic virtuosity, but in plainly stated, self-evident odes that connect the lives of artists to those of communities, even a nation moved by shared experiences both momentary and seismic in their impact. Throughout the album (which features two quartets – one with Stanley Cowell, Bill Lee and Billy Higgins; the other with Cedar Walton, Sam Jones and Higgins), tributes to Paul Robeson and John Coltrane and Jordan’s “Prayer to the People” (which incorporates phrasing from the musical adaptation of “The Lord’s Prayer”) have comparably memorable themes as – and share an understated gravity with – portraits of friends and family. The cohering force to this potentially unwieldy proposition is Jordan’s sound – muscular, but not steroidal; burnished, but occasionally scuffed; and warm, not fire-breathing – whether the vehicle is Lee’s work song-rooted portrait of plugged-in saxophonist Eddie Harris, or Walton’s “Shoulders,” which gracefully slips between coiled boppish phrases and flowing ribbons of melody. Despite – or because – the spectrum of materials is limited compared to contemporary exploratory work, Glass Bead Games is, to cop a Braxtonism, a restructuralist masterpiece, as it reinvigorated vernacular bypassed by fusioneers and avantists alike.

In the World is no also-ran, but it has a slightly discernible ad hoc feel, whereas the quartets on the latter date seem as if they were recorded at the peak of a tour. Like Glass Bead Games, the earlier album features two groups. A septet is featured on the counter-intuitive A side consisting of an almost 20-minute, melancholy-drenched waltz, followed by a solemn ballad, with the front line featuring Cherry and trombonist Julius Priester, and a four-man rhythm section with Kelly, Ware, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Albert Heath. The B side heats up nicely with strong blowing vehicles that would have fit snugly into Jordan’s early ‘60s Prestige dates. The old-school vibe is reinforced by Kenny Dorham, who replaces Cherry, while Roy Haynes joins Blackwell to percolate swinging cross-rhythms. In most collections, In the World would be the jewel – that it was eclipsed by Glass Bead Games is a testament to Jordan’s artistry.
–Bill Shoemaker


Nate Wooley/ Seymour Wright
About Trumpet and Saxophone
Fataka 8

Every real act of improvisation is a surprise for the listeners as well as the musicians.

Music as dauntingly spare as these improvised duets by American trumpeter Nate Wooley and English saxophonist Seymour Wright, their second meeting, represents just such an encounter.

If the act of improvisation offers the musicians the possibility of making music in a new or at least a fresh way, then a trip through a recording might require of the listener multiple angles of attack (or repose). The readily available tacks, though, are as likely to lead one away from the experience as to lead one to it. The listener is free to dispose of these approaches; the commentator is required to keep some.

There’s the temptation to compare it to other groups, as if resemblance to something else were the key to reception. One might cite the naked confrontational minimalism of Face to Face performed by the two-member version of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble consisting of just saxophonist Trevor Watts and drummer John Stevens, or conversely, the rich sonic architecture achieved by the trio Contest of Pleasures with saxophonist John Butcher, trumpeter Axel Dörner and clarinetist Xavier Charles. Each comparison, as different as it is, is apt. However, if I did not find such points of comparison (preferred redundancies), would it imperil implicit claims to authority?

Then there are the comic elements: a particular bleat of horn or lip-smacking dialogue suggests the broad humor of vaudeville or the tragic farce of clowns. There is something of a Beckett comedy (say Film with Buster Keaton: let’s peer at a sound) about the piece called “3” and there is something wonderful in an instant of “7” in which a mechanism as complicated, expensive and culturally rich as an alto saxophone (or a portion thereof) is used to create the sound of a cheap rubber and tin bicycle horn. Honk.

The longer episodes that gradually develop here seem to focus on the identity of sound. Can we distinguish unarticulated air passed through a trumpet from air passed through an alto saxophone?

Does the exercise of improvisation here suggest one listen to one's own air? To make one develop that attachment to the imperilled issue of consciousness?

Is this issue then again resemblance? Is there something about this music in which the exchange and comparison of sounds becomes an inquiry into the nature of identity, as well as the possibility of communication?

Is the idea of communication in this context a further attack on the stability of a sound or its identity, whether considered as the stability of the individual or not? Is sound always a stand-in for personality? Or its projection? How alike might a trumpet and an alto saxophone be?

When we listen again, can we strive to erase our memories of the previous encounter(s)? Might the music itself aid in this erasure? Can we imagine an original listening experience?

A word on the cover art: It is a painting called Svetlana from 1968 by an artist named Geoff Wright. It is a series of female figures (the same figure) getting dressed: the end result is a figure with radically different volume, hair and complexion than the initial nude. Only the final figure has facial features that one could call not distinguished but distinguishable. These features may be achieved with a mask, held in place by an index finger. Eyes only appear in this final figure.

Does the painting’s presence here suggest the diminution of reality in art or that art is fundamentally a falsification or an artificial enhancement of the actual? Or that art is an invitation to transcendence? A concordance of names suggests a possible significance – personal, historical – that Google refuses to elaborate.

Wooley and Wright have both made extraordinary solo recordings: these duets might represent their sum and difference or their square root. About Trumpet and Saxophone is eminently worthy of close listening. It might enrich or impoverish a listener in a new way.
–Stuart Broomer

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