Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Tomas Fujiwara + Ben Goldberg + Mary Halvorson
The Out Louds
Relative Pitch RPR1042

All eleven tunes included on The Out Louds – the self-titled debut from the collaborative trio of drummer Tomas Fujiwara, clarinetist Ben Goldberg and guitarist Mary Halvorson – are named after flowers found at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Emulating their fragile beauty, this collaborative effort often exudes a sense of understated introspection. Although Fujiwara, Goldberg and Halvorson are routinely cited as distinctive composers and virtuosi, in this abstract setting their intuitive interplay becomes the standard for a series of compositions that are collectively and spontaneously improvised in real time.

They create broadly expressive tonal shapes on “Starry/False” and generate desolate moods in “Pink Home Run” in contrast. But not every excursion is restrained: Halvorson’s coruscating tone on “Preference” signals a clarion call answered by Fujiwara’s furious press rolls and Goldberg’s cascading cadences, while the guitarist unleashes a surging wall of distortion. “Obedience” similarly upends expectations, starting on a euphonious note before Halvorson ascends into a six-string melt-down that spurs her bandmates into a cacophonous wail. On the other hand, “Pink Double Knock Out” stands as the date’s most conventionally pretty number; telegraphed in just over a minute and a half, it relays some of the album’s most concise yet poetic sentiments.

Employing a unique instrumental lineup that places greater importance on the creation of an evocative sound world over obvious technical facility, Fujiwara, Goldberg and Halvorson bring to life a strange and exotic realm on The Out Louds that stands apart from many similarly unconventional efforts.
–Troy Collins


Barry Guy
The Blue Shroud
Intakt CD266

As an improviser, double bassist Barry Guy can easily overwhelm the listener with his prodigious technique, sheer physical force and seemingly inexhaustible wellspring of ideas. As a composer, Guy is best known for incorporating free improvisation into long compositions for London Jazz Composers Orchestra and Barry Guy New Orchestra that also utilize both conventional and graphic notation. As a leader, Guy has a real gift for putting together musicians from different backgrounds, intensely rehearsing his highly demanding scores, and producing compelling music.

Guy also has a long history playing Baroque work in orchestras led by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and others – and on an ongoing basis with his duo with Baroque violinist Maya Homburger – but, prior to The Blue Shroud, he steered clear of attempting to integrate Baroque music with contemporary composition and free improvisation. Even when compared to his previous orchestral works, this first attempt at merging both of his worlds within an orchestral score is truly beyond category.

The piece’s title refers to the UN’s covering the tapestry copy of “Guernica” that hangs outside its Security Council’s chambers in 2003 when US Secretary of State Colin Powell made his government’s case for a vote authorizing force against Iraq. Officials wanted to avoid having Powell and others make statements to the press upon leaving the meeting with Picasso’s iconic anti-war statement in the background. In his liner notes, Guy calls the covering “an act of extreme cowardice ... deemed to sanitize the presentation.” Guy used the covering and subsequent research into “Guernica” as the basis for a 71-minute work. While this piece of epic proportions “reflects on the human condition and the continued violence in the world,” Guy also makes the point that “it is certainly not meant to be an overt political statement.”

To realize his vision, the composer assembled 12 musicians from eight countries, of which only five are long time collaborators: Homburger, pianist Augusti Fernandez, drummer Lucas Niggli, and vocalist Savina Yannatou. The major change here is the presence of two more string players (violist Fanny Paccoud and acoustic guitarist Ben Dwyer); with Guy and Homburger, they form a discreet unit that acts as a foil to the wind instruments, two drum sets and piano, players who create most of the turmoil in collective improvisational sections. In contrast, the strings offer a form of meditative release during the two movements based on compositions by Franz Biber, and Bach’s “Agnus Dei” from the “Mass in B Minor,” which ends the work. The Spanish connection surfaces in Guy’s songs, Yannatou’s lamenting voice, and Dwyer’s flamenco-inspired obbligatos.

By referencing both of his musical worlds, Barry Guy has stretched his own frontiers with The Blue Shroud. He has succeeded admirably in turning its disparate elements into a cohesive whole. It truly stands on its own as music that bears witness to the madness that is war.
–Marc Chénard


ICP Orchestra
Restless in Pieces
ICP 054

The AACM celebrated its 50th anniversary last year; next year, Holland’s Instant Composers Pool (ICP) will also reach its half century mark. In this run-up year, its flagship orchestra has issued the 13-track, hour-long Restless in Pieces. As luck would have it, I was in attendance at their Zürich concert last October, just three days before the recording session in Amsterdam, my first opportunity to hear the group perform without its guiding spirit Misha Mengelberg. So, I anticipated hearing much of the music performed that evening, this time in an “ideal” studio setting. Not only is the playing of his colleagues never less than excellent, but the heart of their music has grown obviously fonder with the absence of its leader.

Looking back at the orchestra’s history, it first emerged as a musically loose collective of fluctuating personnel (after all, it was the Fluxus period), the only constant being the pianist and his perennial foil, drummer Han Bennink. For close to 15 years, it stood more for a concept of music making than a set grouping of musicians. This began to change in 1984 with the release of Two Programs, which extrapolated compositions by Monk and Herbie Nichols. Personnel changes would trickle thereafter, with reedist Tobias Delius, violinist/violist Mary Oliver and trumpeter Thomas Heberer being the latest enlistees, each with over 15 years in the band. Now occasionally occupying the piano chair is Guus Janssen, an ideal choice based on his playing on this disc.

Anyone knowledgeable of this group knows to expect the unexpected, and this album is no exception, as it features vocalist Mathijs van de Woerd. He his first heard in the whimsical opening title track (credited to Tristan Honsinger and arranged by Michael Moore), then a set of Charles Ives songs arranged by Ab Baars, and wails away in an almost R&B fashion in the rollicking closer “Anatole,” which surprisingly ends on an abrupt fade-out.

While Mengelberg may have been the ring leader, he was never one to use the band as a platform exclusively for his own music, one of several marked differences with his early cohort, the late Willem Breuker. True to form then, the band mixes it up by including two Nichols numbers (“Blue Chopsticks” and “Lady Sings the Blues”), Monk’s “Locomotive,” and originals by Moore, Heberer, and Janssen. There are five by Mengelberg, including a pair of tunes from his “Rollo” series. In keeping with past records, the band delivers succinct readings, most cuts running in the three to six minute range. The one notable exception, however, is the 11-minute Ives piece, named after the songs: “Where the Sunflowers Grow, Rambling Rake and Yon Horizon,” on which the band plays with much solemnity before a gutbucket trombone soliloquy by Wolter Wierbos triggers collective mayhem.

ICP Orchestra no longer reinvents itself at every outing. Instead, it upholds unique standards, succeeding a little more in that task here than on recent studio albums, which usually do not achieve the same level of excitement than their live sets, like the one in Zürich. (In fact, that concert offered an impromptu encounter uniting Bennink, Moore, and bassist Ernst Glerum with pianist Irene Schweizer.)

Final note: readers should set their sights on a mid-April journey to Amsterdam. At that time, there will be a three-day celebration at its famed Bimhuis, when the ICP not only throws a party for itself but also its stalwart tub man, who will turn 75 on the 17th.
–Marc Chénard


Keefe Jackson + Jason Adasiewicz
Rows and Rows
Delmark DE 5024

For the past 15 years, multi-reedist Keefe Jackson and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz have been key members of Chicago’s fertile jazz scene. Delmark Records has documented their work for over a decade; combined they have appeared on over 20 albums for the label. Rows and Rows features six tunes conceived specifically for this duo format and three older numbers initially conceived for larger forces, but rearranged by the pair to be reinterpreted in this smaller, far more intimate setting.

This captivating collection evinces an exploratory approach – one that uncannily evokes the vanguard spirit of post-war Blue Note sides waxed by innovators like Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill and Jackie Mclean. Conjuring memories of past masters, Jackson and Adasiewicz share a lyrical rapport that parallels the congenial meetings between such avant-garde legends as Marion Brown and Gunter Hampel, as well as mainstream practitioners like Harold Land and Bobby Hutcherson.

Somewhat surprisingly, Adasiewicz plays with a modicum of restraint for much of the date, often foregoing his usual hard-hitting attack for a more kaleidoscopic, almost impressionistic touch. Jackson responds in kind, enhancing the fulsome tone of his harmonically rich tenor and bass clarinet musings with subtle embouchure manipulations, imbuing the set with a timeless, enigmatic ambience. The angular opener, “Caballo Ballo” is a case in point; although muscular in execution and enthralling in its labyrinthine contours, the tune never drifts into histrionics, maintaining an engaging yet adventurous sensibility throughout its duration.

The majority of the session follows suit; probing and ruminative though these pieces are, beyond the atmospheric “Cannon From the Nothing Suite,” there is little here that truly qualifies as ballad material, although the bluesy title track and the haunting closer, “Thunder Cooker,” do elicit an evocative film-noir vibe that plays out in decidedly cinematic fashion. Left to their own devices, Jackson and Adasiewicz demonstrate the sort of congenial interplay that is rarely – if ever easily – heard among the density of larger configurations. Rows and Rows is a sterling example of their finely-tuned camaraderie and its applicability to the duet tradition.
–Troy Collins


Peter Kuhn + Dave Sewelson + Gerald Cleaver + Larry Roland
Our Earth / Our World
pfMentum C0096

Here’s a 49-minute blowout divided into three tracks, a collective improvisation concert by two hot horns and fine, sympathetic bass and drums. Peter Kuhn plays mostly clarinet. Especially in the lower register that he favors, his sound is full, woody, Creole-rich like Bechet and some trad clarinetists whom Bechet had taught. He needs that big sound to match the sound of Dave Sewelson’s baritone, so huge and rich with overtones in low, middle, and high “freak” registers. There’s plenty of energy here. Sewelson likes to nag at and develop motives all over his horn while Kuhn likes to freely associate ideas. Sometimes the vehemence of Sewelson’s flying, broken lines even suggests anger.

Against the horns’ madness is the gravity of Larry Roland’s bass and Gerald Cleaver’s drums, both excellently recorded. There’s darkness in Roland’s lines, bowed or plucked, nowhere else more so than in the demonic elegy he creates to open “It Matters.” The momentums of Cleaver’s percussion, for instance his Sunny Murrayish snare patter behind the bobbing, rubbery-tempo Sewelson early in “Our Earth,” lends some stability to the quartet. A dense drum solo opens “Our World” before long sopranino sax (Sewelson) and clarinet tones lead to a high eruption; later in that track it’s Kuhn who sounds steady on tenor sax while Sewelson, back on bari, rides off in all directions. Kuhn also plays a bit of alto, trilling with the baritonist to accompany a dancing bass line near the end. Good, solid music.
 –John Litweiler

Cuneiform Records

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