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Reviews of Recent Recordings


Grencsó Open Collective
Derengés/Dawn: Compositions by György Szabados
Slam SLAMCD 565

Many readers will be familiar with one of Istaván Grencsó’s guests – violist Szilárd Mezei – but perhaps with few or none of the other players in the Grencsó’s terrific ensemble, including the leader, who plays tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, and pipe; pianist Máté Pozsár, bassist Róbert Benkó, percussionist Szilveszter Mikós – and on various tracks, guests Mezei, trumpeter Ádám Meggyes, clarinetist Ábel Fazekas, and baritone saxophonist Gergö Kováts. But if this is your first encounter with Grensco’s music, be prepared to be impressed as I was.

It’s kind of a bold move to open a 2-disc release with a lengthy bass solo, but that’s emblematic of the range, confidence, and unpredictability of this ensemble and of Szabados’ compositions. And Benkó can certainly handle the spotlight that opens “The Wedding,” as his playing is limber and expressive, with a healthy amount of gravitas. At length, Pozsár joins Benkó for a brief tussle, reminding me a bit of Keith Tippett at his most rhapsodic (though without quite the technique). The horns and viola weave in some graceful melodies, tartly boppish here and East European folkish there, with strong elements of mid-1960s New Thing throughout. It’s a blend of influences and a methodology that characterizes the release as a whole, and it’s mighty satisfying.

Each of the players is quite distinctive, and they mesh well together. I was especially compelled by Mikós, who plays all over the kit, liberally using cymbal texture contrasted with work in the lower register, able to generate all kinds of cross-cutting patterns alongside the other instruments. And the group as a whole is, while able to generate plenty of heat, often quite patient and deliberate in building patterns and themes. Sometimes this seems to happen as if from nowhere, with brief Bartókian reels flowing from bass clarinet and viola, but backing off quickly into a melismatic pause. It’s quite curious, but very satisfying, as is their equally sound melodic work: “Supplication” is like occupying a very specific, silvery atmosphere.

More customarily, the group is able to blend all these elements. With the whirl of “Adyton,” multiple lines coalesce with great intensity (including Meggyes’ fine trumpet), suspended above and also diving into the clamor of drums and piano before space opens up for skirling viola overtones and Lovens-like percussion. Different images and ideas pop up, both from Szabados’ compositional vision and from spontaneous improvisation: a Halloween soundtrack via Komeda, squalling noise, a sultry piano trio.

Two tracks on the second disc are for the main quartet only. And the gentle, almost cautious lyric theme of “Commendation to Our Women” is sensitively rendered by tenor and piano, needing no further elaboration. Things change up yet again on “Dance of Reanimation,” opening with a brief spasm followed by a nice use of contrasting tempi: a fairly deliberate bass undercurrent and some heated soprano on top, reversing then for a ruminative passage for piano and clanking metal. And all the guests are on board – supplementing their basic instruments with “pipe” – for the closing “Minstrelsy.” Its loping swing is framed by ominous, spectral stuff from the pipes, a haunting if you will. For all the musical movement, the group never clobbers you with their own cleverness or pinwheeling references; it’s just good, quirky music.
–Jason Bivins


Thomas Heberer + Achim Kaufmann + Ken Filiano
Nuscope 1029

It’s always good to see a release from Nuscope, which releases recordings of improvisational chamber music of the highest quality. Interstices is no exception, with three marvelously resourceful players – trumpeter Thomas Heberer, pianist Achim Kaufmann, and bassist Ken Filiano – coming together for a mix of partly composed and wholly improvised pieces. Each one seems concerned with defining a particular space or feel, then taking it apart for either reassembly or movement elsewhere. That they move so elegantly between such a range of settings and techniques is a testimony to the craft and consideration of these players.

Like many of the tracks here, “Annoatok” seems to hover in clouds. There are deep groans from Filiano and the lowest of billows from Kaufmann, in which Heberer’s taut lines seem to emerge first visually (copper cords), then sonically (pinched to the point of sounding like a buzzing apiary). But whenever the trio seems to have laid out such a tapestry fully, it’s usually at that moment that they set about relocating, to somewhere more spiky or altogether brittle, or even to a field of cross-hatching legato (as on “Talkoot,” where each player moves independently and occasionally meets up in a shared, clarion moment). At times they appear to be working towards unison via contrast, as with the dynamic range between Filiano’s booming lines, and the almost furtive interplay between Heberer and Kaufmann that crops up here and there. And elsewhere, they do seem to dig into a single idea: the commentary and echolalia on the somewhat pointillist “CookBook 222” (part of Heberer’s series, from which we also hear the rattling timbres of “CookBook 417”) or Filiano’s spare and lyrical “Otra Cosa Aparte (Entrare).”

But it’s really in the balance of ideas during movement that the music is best realized. Standouts include Kaufmann’s “Passagg Amnesia,” moving from effusive proto-swing to melodic fragments to a dark pulse track closer, and the dizzy “Kopzorg,” where Filiano works out a kind of squeaking nautical event, Kaufman ranges across the full keyboard, and Heberer moves between pipe tones and Don Ayler on “Our Prayer.” You can’t help but simply admire how well these three balance line, texture and tone. Interstices is a reminder of how bracing this kind of setting can be.
–Jason Bivins


Jessica Jones Quartet
New Artists 1062

Here’s a CD of lyric tenor sax solos by the Joneses, Jessica and Tony. But which is which, and when? They’re married jazz artists and surely they must practice together. They both feature attractive sounds, unusually light compared to most other free music tenorists, and their styles are so close that they often sound to me like they’re one player stretching out. They play almost no extreme sounds – honks, overtone screams, forced notes – at all. Instead they’re post-Ornette, post-Shepp, post-Jarman (think of his lyrical tenor works like Calypso’s Smile) mainstream artists. It’s straight ahead improvising with complex senses of variation and flowing line that also recall some of the most sophisticated hard boppers. The rhythmic variety of their phrasing, the agility in their contrasting, spacing, and developing of ideas reveal internal intensity that’s different from the surface intensity of the more ecstatic, rougher-sounding saxists.

The solos that Jessica Jones constructed in Joseph Jarman’s 1999 Lifetime Visions CD suggest that in Moxie she’s the one with a sometimes brighter sound and a faintly grainy edge, with clear, airy high notes – but I could be wrong. One of them (Jessica?) seems more likely than the other to try to develop lines from motivic sources and in the ballad “Dear Toy” she may be the one with a harsher sound and attack, the one angry-sounding solo in the album. I could be guessing the wrong soloists/solos. More importantly, the internal intensity that I hear in their musics begins with the fact that they really do construct solos. Their styles demand pinpoint timing of their accents and phrases, as well as the ability to invent appealing melodies. These are all high challenges, so it’s no wonder that this CD is inconsistent, with goodies like “Manhattattan” and the fine title piece offset by, for example, the disjointed solos in the ballad “In a Sentimental Mood.”

The Joneses are composers, not just songwriters. Seven of the eight tracks are originals, among which Tony’s “Dear Toy” is an especially lovely descendant of Gordon Jenkins’ “Good-Bye” and the pair’s two-part “Haitian Cotillion” is fetching. Kenny Wolleson is the drummer and the bassist is Stomu Takeishi, who nicely fuses Charlie Haden’s earthiness and Malachi Favors’ intensity. You can buy Moxie at
–John Litweiler


Sebastian Lexer + Steve Noble
Muddy Ditch
Fataka CD 13

Evan Parker + Seymour Wright
Tie the Stone to the Wheel
Fataka CD 12

Going back to David Tudor’s use of close-amplification of the piano to create in interactive feedback device, musicians have been exploring the use of electronics and amplification to dynamically expand the palette of the instrument. Over the course of the last decade, Sebastian Lexer has been developing and refining a unique approach using live processing of close amplification of a piano which he has dubbed piano+. A handful of recordings have documented Lexer’s approach, most notably his solo release dazwischen (Matchless). His newest recording, Muddy Ditch, captures duos he played with percussionist Steve Noble at Café Oto in London in 2011 and 2014. While hardly an everyday pairing, piano and percussion make for a natural union, as practiced in notable duos like Taylor/Oxley, Mengelberg/Bennink, Tilbury/Prévost, or Schlippenbach/Johansson.

Lexer could not have picked a better partner to collaborate with on his expansive strategies than Noble. They sync together immediately, entwining natural resonances of strings and cymbals, percussive attack of keys and drums, and the variegated textures of electronic processing and shuddering, abraded percussion. The two leave behind any notion of conversational give-and-take, instead diving in to the development of a constantly morphing collective voice. The two masterfully pilot the shifting fields and layers of activity with a restless intensity, from thundering torrents to pin-prick textures. While both performances are strong, “Loess” from 2014 edges out the opening “Pool” a bit, as the two allow a bit more space in to their playing. The 37-minute improvisation builds to peaks of density which release in to areas of nimble detail. One easily loses track of where particular sounds are coming from as damped, prepared strings mix in to bowed and scraped cymbals or rubbed timbres of drum heads flow into electronic scrims of processed piano. Throughout, there is a vigorous collective momentum that propels the improvisation with an edgy vitality.

Alto saxophonist Seymour Wright has been developing a singular approach to his instrument since the early 2000’s, really coming in to his own with the release of his self-released solo outing Seymour Wright of Derby in 2008. Since then he’s appeared on a handful of recordings with musicians like Keith Rowe, Eddie Prévost, Sebastian Lexer, and Nate Wooley, while also releasing a stellar self-released 4CD set last year. This outing, culled from two live sets from October 2014, finds Wright in a duo with Evan Parker. Wright has always been forthright about his debt to Parker but from the first notes, one hears that he is no mere acolyte; his strident tone cutting against Parker’s huskier timbres. The melding of the two voices is a seamless spontaneous choreography as burred, skirling, cycling overtones and harmonics dart and parry. The opening 18-minute track spools its way in labyrinthine whorls as their lines interweave with each other or prod in angular counterpoint, always guided by careful collective listening.

The tracks spill in to each other, creating an overarching flow with Parker switching between tenor and soprano, shifting the balance of the pitch ranges while maintaining a constant field of density and activity. The opening two duos from a set at a London Pub have a nice rawness to them (though marred a bit by some clipping in recording). The three from a performance at a theater in Derby a week later have a more intimate sound and show a bit more assurance in the overall playing. Wright’s penetrating attack stands out throughout, providing an effective foil for Parker’s more serpentine phrasing. One thinks here of Parker’s duo outings with reed players like Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Wolfgang Fuchs, or Lol Coxhill and Wright certainly holds his own.
–Michael Rosenstein


Aruán Ortiz Trio
Hidden Voices
Intakt CD 258

Pianist Aruán Ortiz, originally from Santiago de Cuba, is the latest Cuban prodigy to be heralded in the mainstream American press. Ortiz has been active in the Brooklyn scene since the late 1990s, however, with a number of well-received releases to his name. Aspects of Afro-Cuban rhythms, jazz improvisation and classical form have long made up his highly personalized take on the tradition, but Ortiz takes a step forward on Hidden Voices, revealing lessons learned from the legendary Muhal Richard Abrams, with whom he has studied since 2009. According to Ortiz, “I learned tools that helped me to compose scores for bigger ensembles, and the fundamentals of serial music.” The latter technique informs much of the session, infusing Afro-Cuban roots with an atonal angularity, “adding some Cuban Cubism to the palette.”

For this date, Ortiz is joined by the world-class rhythm section of bassist Eric Revis and drummer Gerald Cleaver on a diverse selection of seven originals, two classic covers and one traditional Cuban number. Fluidly supported by Revis and Cleaver’s constantly modulating interplay, Ortiz’s cascading lines have a fierce ingenuity, underscored by the emotional directness of his homeland’s folk music. To that end, Ortiz and company joyously exploit the Latin rhythms at the core of Ornette Coleman’s “The Sphinx,” while rendering Thelonious Monk’s “Skippy” in abstruse fashion. “Joyful Noises” is the album’s only collective improvisation, but fits seamlessly into the program’s arc, its experimental timbres owing more to Sun Ra than just its title.

Ortiz’s thorny originals reflect the totality of his influences, careening through sudden shifts in tempo, tone and texture with the dexterity of a post-M-Base improviser. “Analytical Symmetry” and “Arabesques of a Geometrical Rose” are representative, with expansive changes that vacillate from vertiginous funk to placid introspection. Reinforcing Ortiz’s intention that he “... was thinking about this album as a circle with no beginning and no end,” an unaccompanied, impressionistic rendition of the traditional Cuban song “Uno, dos y tres, que paso más chévere” closes the date on a hauntingly familiar note – a tune “everybody in Cuba knows from festivities and carnivals.”
–Troy Collins

New World Records

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