Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


The Mulligan-Baker Project
Mixing Memory and Desire

Jan Nijdam Kwartet
Bij de Dieren Thuis
Sollasiututut 001

In the 1999 anniversary book Bimhuis 25, English promoter Tony Dudley-Evans commented on the “strength in depth” of Holland’s improvised music scene: all that talent in reserve, behind the headline bands and players. For certain, many key, longtime Amsterdam improvisers remain little known abroad – for instance those featured on two recent quartet CDs: cornetist Felicity Provan, baritone saxist JanWillem van der Ham, pianist Michiel Scheen, bassists Raoul van der Weide and Jan Nijdam, and drummer Alan Purves.

The Dutch love – and love reimagining – odd pockets of American music history, as Van der Ham, Provan, Van der Weide and the crisp young English drummer George Hadow do in The Mulligan-Baker Project. The bari, cornet, bass and drums lineup apes the first pianoless quartet to quake the West Coast, before Jimmy Giuffre or Ornette. The hornblowers are suitably cool customers, despite having played in some raucous bands. Provan and Van der Ham are in Joost Buis’s midsize Astronotes, and passed through various incarnations of Sean Bergin’s MOB, where Felicity also sang a bit, and JanWillem doubled on bassoon. That’s him pecking out the earworm bassline on Kids Mysteries’ “Thoko’s Tune.”

JanWillem van der Ham can sound eerily bassoon-y on baritone as well, with a mulled narrow tone that places him in mellifluous Mulligan territory. He’s sure-footed: does not play ungainly half-formed phrases. He’ll bark on the big horn too, because, how can you not? Australian expat Provan favors the cornet’s warm, sometimes fragile middle register (not that she won’t tee off some high notes) and an orderly lyricism that made her a favorite of pianist-composer Curtis Clark during his Dutch period. On Mixing Memory and Desire, her solo on Baker’s “Freeway” is a model of clarity: pick a motif, develop it a little, move on to the next. The continuity is in the momentum: She draws a line and follows it.

Raoul van der Weide came up in the ‘80s alongside composers Guus Janssen and Paul Termos, and paired with Wim Janssen on drums. Nowadays Raoul organizes improvised-music series, and connects with talented newcomers as soon as they hit town – like George Hadow after he arrived in 2012. Van der Weide plays bass with natural volume, and the drummer minds the dynamics: they bring a little more of that coastal restraint.

Half the program comes from the 1952 Mulligan-Baker repertoire, some of that played eerily/admirably straight. The horns can bat ideas back and forth in contained counterpoint very like their predecessors. They tweak the format too, with a collectively improvised intro (“Soft Shoe”) or Hadow’s disruptor-mode stop-time chaos on “Freeway”’s chorus endings – after which his bass drum counts the band back in, echoing a Chico Hamilton move on the original. Early on “Lullaby of the Leaves” the bassist launches into what momentarily sounds like a clumsy tempo correction, soon revealed to be a game for bass and drums, who accelerate and decelerate, making the horn soloists recalibrate phrasing and breathing on the fly. (There’s Misha Mengelberg’s legacy in action: make the background a moving target.)

Van der Ham also wrote four originals, where they stretch the concept without tearing. The slow ballad “Into the Rosegarden” brings the same smooth blend of horns to more dissonant intervals, as the bassist tolls the changes. “Bypass” has quick shifts in mood and dynamics, boisterous and subdued by turns, the sudden reversals (not the sound) recalling Ornette. The meeting points on the 10-minute “Mixing Memory and Desire” are near and far paraphrases of “I Remember April,” revealed piecemeal; the improvising swells and subsides through warmer and cooler regions. Here and there Hadow swings cheerfully with brushes; he’s not style-quoting, he loves the pulsation.

For his quartet heard on Bij de Dieren Thuis – rough translation: With the Animals at Home – bassist Jan Nijdam tapped old friends from school days, pianist Michiel Scheen, and tenor saxist and clarinetist Tobias Delius, who now lives in Berlin but is ever-entangled with Amsterdam. The drummer is Edinburgh-born Alan Purves, aka Gunga, a local fixture since the ‘70s, and a frequent collaborator with cellist Ernst Reijseger. (Like Felicity Provan, Gunga also works the street-theater end of the improvisers’ continuum.) Purves is a singular figure: a drummer with no fixed equipment set-up, the better to avoid falling into patterns, who’s as happy tippy-tapping as going KA-BLAM, who likes noisemaking toys, and who sounds especially confident and focused here. You can tell how well-drilled the players are from the in-pocket drum parts alone.

To these ears Bij de Dieren Thuis is one of the sleepers of 2017, the composing and playing both on a very high level. Nijdam assembled the band in 2011, but didn’t record them till five years later. By then there were so many good tunes in the book he could be almost cavalier about it: “Scherpe Randjes” (Sharp Edges), introduced by a long collective improvisation, gets around to its lovely melody only in the final minute.

There is a whiff of Mengelberg to some of Nijdam’s compositional conceits – the chamber-music interruptus of “Cute Gallery,” echoes of Monk (“Ad Nasum” as paraphrase of “Rhythm-a-ning”), a wistful clarinet tune, gorgeously played (“Whimsical Elf”) – and in the bumptious collectives. Nijdam’s catchy hooks repeat just enough and no more.

The ICP’s Orchestra’s Delius serving as Nijdam’s lead voice forces the Misha connection, but these pieces stand on their own. Delius has long been on a hot streak; other fine recent releases include the scrappers’ duo Dicht (Relative Pitch) with drummer Christian Lillinger and trio Booklet’s The 100% Rabbit (Jedso), South African tunes and more with Joe Williamson and Steve Heather. But Nijdam’s warm or quirky tunes showcase Toby’s furry tone and melodic eruptions especially well. They make his case as successor to another wise old Amsterdammer, styles-spanning lustrous-sounding tenor Don Byas. Nijdam also gives Delius a couple opportunities to spume in a mid-‘60s Coltrane way (“Spago Legato,” “Weerga und Wiederweerga”), one musical trend Misha never could abide.

In the ‘80s, Michiel Scheen followed Guus Janssen into Maarten Altena’s Ensemble, and stayed eight years; he used his anvil attack to good advantage there and in Paul Termos’s bands. But Michiel combines struck iron with a taste for economical voicings: he doesn’t play more than he needs to. During the more open improvising, he may keep the melody going some kind of way even when the harmony gets impacted; he’ll stop or scrape piano strings by hand or drape something over them, to scuff up his timbral palette. The bassist leader doesn’t often favor himself in the mix, or give himself showy solos, or put himself out front in the collectives. Jan Nijdam wants to be all the way inside his vibrant little ensemble. 
–Kevin Whitehead


Itaru Oki + Nobuyoshi Ino + Choi Sun Bae
Kami Fusen
NoBusiness Chap Chap Series NBCD 100

This trio concert by Japanese musicians Itaru Oki and Nobuyoshi Ino along with the visiting Korean trumpet player Choi Sun Bae is a compelling example of the treasures that have been unearthed as part of a new series launched by the NoBusiness label in collaboration with the Chap-Chap label. Featuring recordings of previously unreleased concerts which took place in Japan in the ‘90s, the series captures a particularly fertile period of free jazz in Japan. Veteran Japanese musicians had fostered a strong scene, bolstered by alliances they increasingly made with like-minded community of players from Asia, America, and Europe. Over the course of a decade, visitors made their way to Japan to play in concerts organized by Takeo Suetomi and Sadamu Hisada, most of which were recorded by the assiduous organizers.

The pairing of two trumpets and bass is an inspired setting which Oki, Nobuyoshi, and Bae navigate with a rewarding blend of freedom and lyricism, calling on jazz standards, sonorous themes, and tight-wire interplay. Trumpet player Itaru Oki is probably the best known, having recorded with musicians like Noah Howard, Alan Silva, and Michel Pilz after his move to Paris in the mid-‘70s. He brings a brashness to the group, full of gruff smears, burred vocalizations, and fleet flurries balanced by full-toned melodicism. Choi Sun Bae’s trumpet style proves an effective foil, drawing on a melodious sense of line and phrasing while maintaining an open ear to collective interaction. Bassist Nobuyoshi Ino, a veteran collaborator with musicians like Masayuki “JoJo” Takayanagi, Aki Takase, and Masahiko Togashi, anchors the sound of the trio while adding a potent countering voice to the improvisations.

The program consists of originals by Oki and Ino along with readings of jazz standards, but a strict notion of originals and standards is eroded out of the gate. The unison trumpet parts that open the first cut “Pon Pon Tea,” state the theme and then explode into a three-way exchange, flowing in and out of melody and spontaneous counterpoint with a quick detour into “Mack the Knife” to close things out. Oki switches to bamboo flute for “Yawning Baku” and each of the players takes an extended solo on the plaintive, folkish theme before settling in to a slow simmer complete with walking bass line that would fit right into a ‘50s Prestige session. Ino’s title track, translated as “Paper Balloon,” is particularly notable for its song-like melody which the two trumpet players tag-team on with clarion grace across the bassist’s bounding pulse. Oddly, the closing “I Remember Clifford” and the ‘30s dance band oldie “Old Folks” with a coda of “Tea for Two” are, in many ways, the freest with the themes only peeking out more than half-way through.

Eight more recordings from this series are in the works, including collaborations with Wadada Leo Smith, Sabu Toyozumi, Alexander Von Schlippenbach, Barre Phillips, Kang Tae Hwang, Motoharu Yoshizawa, Mototeru Takagi, and others. This is a vital series worth catching.
–Michael Rosenstein


William Parker Quartets
Meditation / Resurrection
AUM Fidelity AUM104/105

Meditation / Resurrection is a double-album comprising new compositions by legendary bassist William Parker, performed by two of his flagship ensembles, the William Parker Quartet and In Order To Survive. The Quartet’s discography spans several releases, beginning with O’Neil’s Porch (Centering, 2001) and culminating with the epic collection Wood Flute Songs: Anthology / Live 2006-2012 (AUM Fidelity, 2013), which also documents In Order To Survive, a four-piece reconfigured as a septet. These two new sessions are the groups’ follow-up to the aforementioned box set; recorded live in the studio on the same day, they exemplify the vast stylistic diversity of Parker’s artistry.

At the core of both bands is Parker and drummer Hamid Drake; their two-decade partnership is widely renowned as one of the great jazz rhythm sections of the modern age. Alto saxophonist Rob Brown is also featured throughout both sets, with pianist Cooper-Moore, a veteran of the loft scene and a charter member of In Order To Survive, featured prominently on the second. Trumpeter Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson replaces Parker’s longtime colleague Lewis Barnes in the Quartet on disc one; an imposing artist, Nelson is a classical composer well-versed in world music, the blues, jazz, and free improvisation.

Parker’s compositions for the Quartet draw heavily upon traditional blues and jazz, evoking old school swing bolstered with a post-Ornette harmonic sensibility. Parker and Drake lay down powerful, infectious grooves, inspiring the frontline of Brown and Nelson to soar; the altoist’s tart tone and vertiginous phrasing is complemented by Nelson’s brassy virtuosity, making a richly hued blend. “Criminals In The White House,” written in 2001, opens the set with a mesmerizing vamp for the horns’ spiraling commentary, establishing the tenor for the majority of the date, including “Leaves/Rain,” an uplifting stutter-time waltz, and the rousing closer “Give Me Back My Drum.” The only deviation from blues-based structures is “Horace Silver Part 2,” an evocative Iberian-themed tone poem featuring Parker playing the Spanish double reed tarota, accompanied by shimmering kalimba and ceremonial gongs.

The second half of this ambitious program features In Order To Survive, an ensemble that pre-dates Parker’s Quartet. Parker and Drake remain dedicated to maintaining a rhythmic pulse, but Cooper-Moore’s intrepid piano excursions sidestep tradition, setting the group free. Brown sounds especially inspired by Cooper-Moore’s atonal gambits, infusing his acerbic ruminations with added intensity. “Sunrise in East Harlem” begins the set with a timeless modal groove; Parker’s sinewy arco and Cooper-Moore’s austere filigrees meld with Brown’s keening cry, evoking Eastern vistas. “Some Lake Oliver” is exemplary; dedicated to saxophonist Oliver Lake, the piece shifts effortlessly between rubato freedom and languid swing, underpinned by Brown’s bittersweet lyricism.

The common thread between both sets is the camaraderie Parker enjoys with his bandmates; their experienced rapport borders on the clairvoyant, whether playing inside or outside the changes. Parker’s knack for writing catchy melodies and engaging rhythms has long been an intrinsic quality of his work, and nowhere is that heard as concisely or convincingly as it is here.
–Troy Collins


Hans Reichel
Wichlinghauser Blues
Corbett vs Dempsey CvsD 033

Hans Reichel
Corbett vs Dempsey CvsD 034

As always with a recording from the late, great Hal Reichel, regardless of which period it comes from, check the liners and note the gravity of what’s written there: “All tunes have been taped as played (indeed).” That’s why I can’t listen to Reichel sometimes; it’s too overwhelming, too gob-smackingly impossible. The magic textures, like high strung wires run through opaque orbs of light floating above. Or perhaps it’s more like a nineteenth century music box on speed, played to open a portal to another dimension filled with singing overtones and colors.

These two gems never made it into the digital phase of FMP’s catalogue, and it’s a treat (and not just for Reichel freaks) to have these available again, gorgeously packaged as is the custom for Corbett vs Dempsey. But hang on to your skull, because the music is simply head-spinning. For those familiar with the utterly singular Daxophone inventions of some of Reichel’s later playing, you’ll marvel at just how thoroughly he’d realized his instrumental voice on these early 1970s dates.

Wichlinghauser Blues opens with “Wenn Das Rohr Dommelt,” which Reichel played with a hand pick-up; but the remaining performances are on his homemade 11-string (with three pickups). He uses lots of really interesting techniques, and often seems to be using two amplifiers and a volume pedal to get some panning effects and the like (as on “Allegro Frustralupi”). However the sounds are achieved, they are wizardry, from the brief, 23-second blast of noise on “Lupi” to the jagged klangfarbenmelodie on “Krampfhandlungen 2” to the howling drone/whine/gut-punch “Shaved Guitar” (yes, this is an electric shaver on strings). At times Reichel generates so much heat and energy that it seems to reduce the instrument to simply wood and wire, a frenzy of clicking. This is unmistakably Reichel, but many of the tunes are a little more dirty, raucous, noisy, and metallic than he usually played. There are several micro-squalls of white noise, and the slashing blades and laser wars on “Krampfhandlungen 1.” Maybe the most fascinating track to study is the titular blues, because despite all its ponderous low tones and quavering intervals, it is in its weird way channeling the known idiom into a weirdly lyrical and alien language all Reichel’s own. And right there from the start. Who the hell was playing like this in 1973? Or 2017?

A couple years later, and Reichel hit another level with Bonobo. Much of what would become the basic elements of his style are being refined on these pieces. The crazed, kaleidoscopic patterns on “Gier I” sound like pinwheeling Steve Reich with a different set of textures: flinty metal stalked by rotund low end. Reichel’s long-standing interested in two-handed, tapped-out chords is heard to great effect on “Peter Zwiefel,” which is almost pianistic in his use of full-fingered tapping and jabbing on the neck. The low background drone of “Lurch” frames some psychedelic, almost tone-bent foreground melodizing that weirdly recalls Led Zep’s “Kashmir” in tonality. And like the “blues” on the first record, “Moor” sounds as if Reichel is most explicitly channeling (and transforming) folk traditions, with big chiming gestures that sound as close to conventional strumming as Reichel ever got. And the back to back “Bonobo” takes are fascinating, marking the real start of Reichel’s fascination (at least this is how it sounds to me over the arc of his recording career) with Asian stringed instruments and court music. Their high-strung zither effects, and those wondrously billowing low notes, skirl around with surprising speed and fluidity, like one tape sped up and another slowed down. He digs into this territory even further on “Des Jagers Klage” and “Nicht sand, Sonder Popel im Getriebe,” garlanded with small wobbling gestures, odd harmonics, and unexpected little Partch eruptions. To listen to Reichel is to bathe in continual invention and surprise. He truly embodied Francis Bacon’s old maxim: “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”
–Jason Bivins

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