Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Bryan Eubanks + Stéphane Rives
Potlatch P215

With their ever-impressive catalog, the Potlatch label has been documenting some of the more interesting advances in reed playing with releases by Sergio Merce, Lucio Capece, Jean-Luc Guionnet, Bertrand Denzler, Dafne Vicente-Sandoval, and Stéphane Rives. Whether in solo settings or in collaboration with electronics, their recordings capture a grappling with defining a personal language that subsume the innate physicality and timbral palette of their instruments. For his fourth release on the label, Stéphane Rives has chosen Bryan Eubanks as a partner, here, featured on oscillators and “feedback synthesizer.” Eubanks’ background as a soprano sax player, electronic instrument builder, and composer makes him an ideal partner for Rives’ resolute approach to sonic exploration.

The single, 30-minute piece begins with quavering fluctuations of the difference beatings of reed overtones and electronics as they slowly separate themselves out and then merge back into coalesced scrims. The two musicians keenly tune pitch and undulations of their sounds to each other, assiduously introducing muted clicks and flutters to fill out the engulfing, shimmering harmonics. At about a third of the way in, they slash the flow with gritty textures and keening feedback which jumps into a section of scrabbled activity. Eubanks’ reverb-tinged electronics shudder and stutter, building to welling wails which Rives uses as a ground for split-toned skirls. The piece mounts with tension here, as the two push each other, teetering at the edge of excess with harsh, dive-bombed whorls of noisy exuberance. And then, they break with a pool of silence, emerging with pops and smears of soprano saxophone countered by muted striations of electronics which get stretched and morphed into pulsating waves. The duo builds on this, shifting and minutely tweaking the swells, and then letting the sounds settle, seeming to evaporate at the conclusion. Add this one as another winner to this impressive catalog.
–Michael Rosenstein


Erik Friedlander
Oscalypso: Tribute to Oscar Pettiford
Skipstone SSR22

Jimmy Heath
Picture of Heath
Xanadu Master Edition 906072

J.R. Monterose
Live in Albany 1979
Uptown 27.80

There’s always been a quality of unadorned, absolute seriousness about J.R. Monterose’s tenor sax playing. More rewarding, I think, than his sideman work with Mingus and Dorham, his 1956 J.R. Monterose (Blue Note) revealed a middle of the road hard bop style: a full sound; single-minded, unadorned lyricism; distinctive flashes of wit (but not humor); less of the dramatic flourishes of peers like Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon. He then played mostly smaller cities around North America and in Europe, so he seldom recorded. This album is far different from that first album. The difference is late 1950s Coltrane – now Monterose’s improvising often is based on sheets of sound.

Monterose’s sheets aren’t always 16th-note lines – rather, they’re blocks of sound he sets against each other. He likes to whiz up scales to target notes; a favorite lick is a one-bar zoom up and back down. For all his energy and swing in the four up-tempo pieces, the proliferation of sound sheets communicates an intimate, complex austerity. Unlike Coltrane, he doesn’t struggle against the constraints of harmony and rhythm. Rather, his struggles are with complex, conflicting feelings. In “Shadow of Your Smile” and “Just Friends,” in his chases with drummer Eddie Robinson, Monterose plays decisive, well-shaped eights that contrast with the more varied material in his long solos.

His “Ruby My Dear,” “I Should Care,” and “Lu-An” are fine soulful ballads, his sentiment is heart on sleeve. “Lu-An” is a wistful, original theme with a first tenor solo that rises to a boil of feelings – touching music. Pianist Hod O’Brien plays a nice solo in the blues “Green Street Scene”; elsewhere, his solos sound busy, decorative, the surface of bop without the emotion. Teddy Kotick’s bass solos are the opposite, they’re direct melodies – strong music. Robinson’s time sounds unsteady in the blues, but he recovers in the final track, a waltz that 2/3 of the way through suddenly becomes “Giant Steps” in four. The album’s fascination is in Montrose’s big sound, swing, energy, and the conflicts his music reveals.

Also in 1956 Chet Baker, Art Pepper, and Phil Urso made Picture of Heath (retitled Playboys on World Pacific), a sextet album of Jimmy Heath arrangements. Three of those songs are among the five originals in Heath’s 1975 quartet album Picture of Heath, a wholly happy contrast to Monterose’s turmoil. He plays mostly tenor sax and relies on the inspiration of chord changes for his phrases, he seldom develops ideas. “For Minors Only” has the same chord structure as “Airegin” – where did these changes originate, anyway? – and his solo includes some Rollinsish swagger; in the title song, the third chorus has Von Freemanish flights; like most hard bop tenorists, Heath’s style reflects swing as well as bop. Most of all, there’s a Dexter Gordon-like spirit about these tenor solos, in his lyricism, his high-note climaxes, his triumphant one-note rides, the way he stretches out. I’m used to hearing Jimmy Heath in groups where he only gets a few choruses per song – maybe he loves the opportunity to stretch out here.

The one non-Heath song here is “Body and Soul.” In that and in the lively blues “All Members” he plays soprano sax including passages of Pepper-like phrasing, early Pepper in the ballad, bitten-off phrases that anticipate Pepper’s return in the up-tempo piece. Quite a rhythm section here. I especially enjoy pianist Barry Harris’s solo in the blues; Sam Jones’s bass solos develop ideas at greater length than the others’ solos; Billy Higgins’ drumming is especially inspirational. A delight.

The Heath and Monterose CDs are reissues and cellist Friedlander’s tribute to sometime cellist Pettiford is new. What lovely songs Pettiford wrote and how cleverly Friedlander’s quartet plays nine of them. We get lots of duet interplay here, it’s almost a tribute to Tristano, too. Michael Blake plays tenor sax with a Warne Marsh lightness in the high notes that he favors, in his Marsh-like impulsiveness and the way the rhythmic characters of phrases are sometimes suddenly, ingeniously juxtaposed. Against his euphoric spontaneity are Friedlander’s comparative rhythmic simplicity and flowing lines that develop feelings into complete statements. There’s a taste of classical music in his conception, including his instincts for form and his Bach-like trills at the ends of some phrases. Together, Blake seems to dance above Friedlander’s usually bowed, longer note values. They make a great team.

So much melody in this album. Pettiford put lots of love into “Tamalpais Love Song” and Friedlander bows a beautifully expansive solo; then Blake’s note values get briefer in each strain, climaxing in agitation. I love the way the “Oscalypso” cello solo slides in with a long note that bends down, before he elaborates; Blake invents a tenor-soprano sax unison with himself. “Cello Again” has a cheerful theme that Friedlander plucks, the duet is more happiness, cello on earth, tenor in heaven. The cellist is especially emotive in “Pendulum at Falcon’s Lair” and the lonely ballad “Two Little Pearls.” Before this review turns into a full catalogue I’ll praise bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Michael Sarin. Their roles are secondary, but they definitely both enhance the music. I’ve liked hearing Friedlander play outside and here he offers fine inside jazz, too.
–John Litweiler


Joel Futterman
JDF 10/11

Virginia-based pianist Joel Futterman is a testament to both the fact that it doesn’t really matter where you reside in terms of being able to create, and that the challenges of being outside of the “jazz mainstream,” compounded by the metropolitan mindset in which only players from New York, Chicago, and the West Coast garner recognition, are surmountable. Futterman has worked fairly regularly in groups with bassist William Parker, drummer Alvin Fielder, and saxophonists Kidd Jordan and Ike Levin – all rather far-flung geographically – but the bulk of his discography is solo, and most of that has been self-released. There is intensity not only to Futterman’s solo recitals, but also in this method of working – away from the hustle and running from gig to gig; playing unaccompanied, rhapsodic and effusive meditations; and assembling and releasing the documents of these profoundly spiritual experiences in a way that requires a direct, personal engagement with the artist himself.

Futterman’s latest solo set is the two-disc Reflection; the first disc is divided into five sections and the second into nine, programmed in the order of performance. As an improviser, Futterman’s work has a range that expresses immediacy and contrast within a very personal arc, connecting disparate phrasing and orchestral ideas with natural, if somewhat abrupt shifts in mood. On the third movement of the first disc, he places glassy romanticism next to dusky swipes of the piano strings, Aeolian harp natter a la Henry Cowell presaging balletic rivulets that group themselves into a cascade of vertical jabs. Snatches of Monkian stride emerge in turnarounds and painterly daubs, often reappearing amid fractured upper-register rolls. There is a stately, wistful reserve that seems more present in the fourth movement, quixotic bebop balladry that, on a dime, can shift into muscular, darting abstraction – perhaps showing multiple ways to express the same feeling, or relaying that many feelings and experiences can coexist within the same work. The second disc begins with a funky blues; Futterman pauses a minute in, letting notes hang in the air, and then resumes, but one is caught on the suspensions – and apparently so is he, emphasizing them to bring out damp lower-register roils and broken, right-hand twists, ending up several rooms over from the place where he started. The lengthy second movement continues in enveloping sustains that anchor introspective, short, cyclic phrases, with organ-like drone and a bit of natural feedback hanging in the room as a gently stomping rhythm appears, never too far from resonant grist.

In the notes to an early record, Inneraction (a 1984 recording with drummer Robert Adkins, altoist Jimmy Lyons and bassist Richard Davis), Futterman says to liner scribe Nat Hentoff that “when I sit at the piano I’m hearing a horn, drums, bass” and Hentoff observes that “his perspective extends beyond the piano.” That may be true and a testament to why he often works solo, but at the same time, his music is so tied to what the piano is and is capable of – skittering fisticuffs cry atop pillowy, pedal-damped chords and sweet, caressing rows, all quite atemporal as Futterman reaches across piano music traditions with a personal, instantaneous “now.”
–Clifford Allen


Rich Halley 4
Creating Structure
Pine Eagle 007

Based in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, tenor saxophonist Rich Halley has been operating outside of the jazz mainstream for over three decades. Bolstering his neo-traditionalism with a penchant for the boundless possibilities of free jazz, Halley’s protean aesthetic draws its lineage from a long line of tough tenors, from Coleman Hawkins to Dewey Redman.

Creating Structure is Halley’s seventh release on his Pine Eagle imprint since 2010. His tight-knit regular working band with trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, bassist Clyde Reed, and son Carson Halley on drums, has been together since their sterling 2011 debut, Requiem For A Pit Viper. What differentiates Creating Structure from the quartet’s four previous records is a focus on free improvisation; all the band’s prior efforts consisted of pre-written compositions, interspersed with brief collective improvisations. This is the first album where nothing was written in advance – every take was conceived in the moment.

Underscored by their innate familiarity with one another’s working methods, the foursome’s deep-seated rapport conveys a sense of implied structure to this diverse session, lending credence to its title. Reed and the young Halley’s ability to gracefully alternate between support and lead positions for the muscular front line invests the proceedings with a palpable cohesiveness, while the elder Halley and Vlatkovich interweave intricate lines that belie their spontaneous origins, especially on two a cappella duets – “Metal Buzz” and “Pushing Breath.”

The set opens with “Analog Counterpoint,” a punchy swinger that features Halley’s robust tenor soaring atop the rhythm section’s driving undercurrent. They delve even deeper into the pocket on “Riding the Trade Winds,” incorporating vibrant Afro-Latin rhythms reminiscent of Sonny Rollins’ spirited calypsos near the tune’s coda. Though Halley’s quartet excels at non-idiomatic experiments (“Quiet Like Stone”), swing is the unit’s forte, even at its most unstructured. With no cut lasting longer than seven minutes, this collection reveals a wide variety of styles, from the lyrical, swaggering blues of “Echoes of the South Side” to the frenetic martial cadences of “The Shove.”

Creating Structure, a winning document of the Rich Halley 4, fits seamlessly into the group’s discography, despite a radical change in approach.
–Troy Collins


John Korsrud’s Hard Rubber Orchestra
rubhard 04

Jazz orchestras are a nearly impossible proposition. It takes months to write for them, a gold mine’s worth of good will to keep them rehearsed, and a platoon of funders to mount performances and make recordings. Subsequently, there are few orchestras that perform more than a few times a year, which leads to a consensus of what constitutes forward-leaning jazz orchestra music that is based on a much smaller pool of data than that available from small groups. Because composer/leaders like James Darcy Argue, John Hollenbeck and Maria Schneider loom large in the discussion about 21st Century jazz orchestra music, the shape of vanguard jazz orchestra music is not just more conservative than that of small groups, but decidedly more straight-faced, earnest and even precious – their music has many commendable qualities, but swagger is not one of them. That’s what sets John Korsrud apart from his contemporaries. The Vancouver-based composer and trumpeter’s considerable erudition has a gleeful, disruptive streak, resulting in works that are not only dazzlingly brilliant, but also mischievously good fun. Once he establishes this, he then can present music of any emotional tilt – and he does have great range, in this regard – and keep the listener sharp. Korsrud goes against the prevailing grain of jazz orchestra composers who want to charm listeners; instead, he gives them a work out and an occasional yank on the ear.

A comparably credentialed contemporary music composer – he studied with Louis Andriessen in the ‘90s, and was invited to perform “Come to the Dark Side” at the Dutch composer’s 2010 Carnegie Hall invitational concert series – Korsrud scatters sub three-minute pieces of what is loosely called chamber music with decreasing relevancy throughout Crush, including an astringent string trio and a spectral interlude for François Houle’s overdubbed clarinet. The contrast between these vignettes and longer pieces for both a conventionally configured big band and a 13-piece ensemble, replete with double reed instruments and strings, is whiplash-inducing. The aptly-named title tune isolates what makes Korsrud tick as a composer; on the one hand, there are stacked materials that have the stentorian heft of a George Russell chart; at the same time, there are kitsch-flirting elements – hyperactive riffs and fusion drumming; glints of Heftiesque TV themes – and dizzying swirling lines that blur the line between powerhouse big band writing and funhouse-informed deconstruction. Throughout the subsequent big band pieces, a similar chemistry prevails, as the well-placed squall from guitarist Ron Samworth and burst of Latin percussion reinforce the notion that Korsrud can use any vernacular to subversive ends.

Yet, Korsrud is not merely a merry prankster, as evidenced by “Come to the Dark Side.” Ostensibly a short trumpet concerto, the piece builds upon several components – including tympani-underlined booms, skittering figures first stated by the strings, and overlaid, foreboding harmonic movement, buttressed by the lower-pitched instruments – that are progressively shaded. The effect is strangely alluring, in no small part because Korsrud’s trumpet part is so engaging. Initially mixing Mediterranean-tinged lyricism, sleek pentatonic phrases and strategic, tonal center-tugging phrases, Korsrud becomes more assertive as the orchestration darkens. The dynamic between soloist and orchestra is not a conventional tag-team at every turn; at points, there’s a piquant and nuanced laminal quality. It is a major work that keystones one of the better jazz orchestra albums of the past few years.
–Bill Shoemaker

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