Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints
Greenleaf GRE-CD-1063

Scandal marks the first time trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Joe Lovano have recorded a full studio album together as co-leaders. The two crossed paths occasionally for nearly twenty years before forming a group: Douglas was a guest on Lovano’s 2001 Blue Note release, Flights of Fancy: Trio Fascination Edition Two; and their respective tenures with the SFJAZZ Collective overlapped for three seasons, including one devoted to Wayne Shorter’s repertoire. Their quintet, Sound Prints, with pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Joey Baron, premiered with Live At The Monterey Jazz Festival (Greenleaf) in 2013, featuring original tunes augmented by two Shorter songs. On Scandal, the group ventures into sophisticated, swinging territory, once again inspired by Shorter’s oeuvre.

Throughout their careers, Lovano and Douglas have absorbed the lessons of jazz history while embracing a forward-thinking attitude. There’s no greater living archetype of that mindset than Shorter, who has followed his own path for more than half a century, from his time with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’ Second Quintet, to his pioneering work with Weather Report and his current quartet. Shorter was the initial inspiration behind Sound Prints, whose name is a play on the saxophonist’s iconic “Footprints.” “We’re not playing by the traditional, or school-taught, rules of jazz,” Douglas explained. “The ‘scandal’ in question refers to our questioning of everything about the assumptions made in improvisation.” Lovano added, “We dare to improvise and create music within the music – in a democratic way each piece comes to life on its own.”

Although Sound Prints’ primary focus is original compositions, the band’s self-titled debut also included two new Shorter pieces, written specifically for the group. This time, the quintet performs five numbers by Douglas, four by Lovano, and two abstract interpretations of classic Shorter tunes: “Juju” and “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum.” Shorter’s stylistic influence can be heard throughout the set: “Ups and Downs” is an introspective ballad full of cascading intervals that draws inspiration from Dr. Gone’s playbook; while the title track’s rubato impressionism is, as they used to say, weird as Wayne. Subtle variety is the order of the day: “Dream State” favors lyrical ensemble interplay; “High Noon” tackles spirited free-bop; and the festive “The Corner Tavern” lives up to its name.

This detailed studio session provides ample opportunity to hear how the co-leaders rapport has developed over the years; Lovano’s gruff, breathy tenor and Douglas’ polished tone makes a complementary pairing of seasoned reeds and brass. The rhythm section is similarly inspired; Oh’s full-bodied bass and Baron’s taut kit work interlock with Field’s melodious pianism, yielding rich interplay. According to Douglas, “The language of our playing has certainly evolved. The whole concept of playing in dialogue, the collective spirit, the sharing of different roles, has grown with each successive concert and tour.” Scandal is proof.
–Troy Collins


Misha Mengelberg
Pech Onderweg
ICP 058

As much time as he spent at the keys, duking it out in duo with Han Bennink in the 1970s – that decade before the ICP Orchestra blossomed into his real instrument – Misha Mengelberg could seem indifferent to the piano. The one he had at home for many years was broken-down looking, if functional. At the same time, he was among the most delightful of pianists: didn’t just dig Duke, Monk and Nichols as composers. Misha’s later trio records, like the essential Who’s Bridge (Avant), show how much he loved to play in time and on forms, and also to scribble over same. His composer’s piano chops (and instantly analytic ear) gave him all the resources he needed on the bandstand, to steer the orchestra or keep it at bay.

Mengelberg never treated piano as a temple, Köln Concert–style. For him, the instrument was more scratchpad, daybook, chalkboard to scrape, and graffiti wall – never more than on his first of four all-solo albums, Pech Onderweg, recorded at the old old Bimhuis in 1978. (The follow-ups: FMP’s 1988 Impromptus, ICP’s 1994 Mix, and Solo on Buzz, 1999.) Originally issued by his antagonist and occasional ally Willem Breuker’s BVHaast, Pech Onderweg is again out on vinyl from ICP, reproducing the original sleeve, graced by Amy Mengelberg’s fanciful drawing of her husband taking the plunge at a sympathetically round-shouldered keyboard. The remastered sound is brighter on top and has more oomph down below.

The program looks forward and back. “Pech Onderweg 2” kicks off with a fast boogie shuffle in the left hand, reaching back to 1950s student days when Misha and chum Louis Andriessen were enamored of the great Chicago boogie pianists. But Mengelberg appears to screw up the pattern going into the first chord change, and (as he often did), turns that mistake into an opportunity to change direction, in this case toward ruminating over the drone of a faintly reiterated A-flat, which leads him into one of his favorite tacks, heard elsewhere on the album: an episode of fast tight nervous on-the-beat chords, perhaps mutating one or two notes at a time. Such sequences are akin to series of Eadweard Muybridge stop-motion photographs: harmonic movement frame by frame. That escapade leads him back to the original boogie shuffle at a slightly more manageable gait, with traditional and untraditional knockabout patterns on top. After a spell he repeats the early interruptus – broken-off bass, the quietly insistent A-flat – and what had sounded spontaneous a minute ago now reveals a compositional function. That reboot eventually leads him into a bout of Mengelbergian melodizing, incorporating one of his arrival-of-the-lesser-royals marches, a couple of prepared-sounding notes, music-hall and concert-hall touches, and a surprisingly gentle ending, befitting the Sweelinck Conservatory’s professor of counterpoint. Misha was a collagist, fond of such capacious forms; he likened his grab-bag piece for Orkest de Volharding from the year before, the delightful Dressoir, to the sundry contents of an old dresser.

“Wie jeuk heeft, als moet men zich krabben” (one of his ungrammatical titles, translated on the sleeve as “When itching who, if people scratches”) begins with what sounds like the intro to some forgotten Monk ballad. But it soon reveals itself to be a workshopping of what eventually became Misha’s bread-and-butter song, the one he’d sing in animated Dutch at the end of a night, “De Sprong, O romantiek der hazen” aka “Romantic Jump of Hares.” It is rather more broken-stride Monkly in this early incarnation; the timing isn’t quite there, and he keeps the tune’s prettiness at an ironic distance. He shied away from his sentimental music, until the mature ICP showed him how good it (and this tune in particular) could sound.

Mengelberg had little patience for the hifalutin, ever mindful of how great uncle Willem, Dutch classical music’s tastemaker, had demonstrated his refinement by continuing to conduct the Concertgebouw orchestra during the Nazi occupation. So a (deliberately misspelled) “Raspodie Soliée Bref” that starts with tender harmony and swirling romanticism can be counted on to swiftly go too far, swooning over itself as clouds race past the moon, and bass passages get profundo. In hindsight all that wrist-wringing is a long striptease; excess is gradually pared back to lay bare a dopey descending diatonic one-finger melody with a galumphing cadence, a trifle which proves to be one of the composer’s insidious earworms, stuck in the head for days.

Deflationary gestures likewise infect the five-part “Banana Suite.” Under the clonking in part 1, theatrical coughing and deliberately bad singing (hey, it was a BVHaast record – Willem liked his slapstick), verbal and pianistic yammering. Part 2 sounds like a parody of hard-edged repetitive Dutch contemporary music, laced with traces of Abdullah Ibrahim’s rolling pianism (and then it moves off, into something sweeter). Part 3, a short slow blues gets abused. Part 4, bad-boy low-end pummeling is tempered with some bright octave-clamor on top.

In the suite, and elsewhere, there are generous amounts of dense, seemingly directionless keyboard churning, as if – having encountered pech onderweg, trouble en route – Misha were scanning the piano sound for chance material he might develop. It does work out that way, sometimes, but it’s also about being uncouth for its own sake, a rude gesture toward good taste. Once such churn kicks off the opener “Pech Onderweg 1,” but hidden in the first 40 seconds are glancing references to Mengelberg’s tune “Kwela P’kwana,” the very melody he abruptly quotes to end “Banana Suite”/the LP – an album-spanning callback that suggests the crackpot pianist had known his mind all along.
Kevin Whitehead


Kjetil Møster + Jeff Parker + Joshua Abrams + John Herndon
Ran Do
Clean Feed CF 457CD

Ran Do finds Norwegian saxophonist Kjetil Møster in the company of three Chicago veterans – guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Joshua Abrams, and drummer John Herndon. They first played together in 2008 on a somewhat chance encounter in Chicago and met up later at a festival in Norway in 2015. The group plays very well together, which comes as no surprise given the rhythm section’s long history together as a trio and Parker and Herndon’s tenure in Tortoise. Yet, despite the sympathetic communication, inventive playing, and the album’s numerous captivating moments, the band doesn’t quite seem to have found its identity. It is almost caught between two approaches: one aimed at exploring abstract timbres, textures, and atmospheres in which the sounds are so fresh it doesn’t matter who is playing what; and another, more accessible one that will be familiar to listeners with slightly less adventurous ears.

The bulk of “Dig Me Out” sounds like a sped-up time lapse recording of a decaying house—timbers creak and groan, mice scamper about, plaster cracks and falls to the sagging floors, and a long-forgotten transistor radio malfunctions in the background. “Island Life” has a similarly eerie, abstract, and ambient vibe, with Møster and Abrams overlapping held squeals while Parker and Herndon add in punctuation marks. Møster begins imitating a singing saw while Abrams carves out arco slabs in the middle and lower registers, and then the tune fades away, and questions linger.

This quartet’s other side is in more of a free bop vein in which the players take on more traditional roles, with the rhythm section supporting a soloist. On “Pajama Jazz” Abrams and Herndon lay down a solid foundation over which Møster and Parker offer solos that in their carefulness almost err on the side of being too modest. But then the track fades out, and the album is over. What happened next?

The album’s centerpiece, “Anicca,” best exemplifies the possibilities of fully melding both approaches. It starts off in a mode similar to the previous track, “Island Life,” before Abrams and Herndon settle into a loping pseudo-march. Møster takes a measured bari solo, riding over the groove, which then gives way to a bass solo. As Abrams wraps up Møster enters on clarinet and shares a soft duo with Parker. Abrams and Herndon join, the quartet heats up a bit and then ends the performance with a quiet and mysterious ambient coda. The long piece’s narrative shape and transitions between infectious groove and out-of-time wasps of color, individual solos and a more collective ethos, point to just how good this band is on the cusp of being.

Certainly any band can choose versatility over sticking to one vocabulary, and its members shouldn’t be constrained by having to pick one side of an either/or approach. This quartet is certainly versatile, but on Ran Do, they don’t always seem quite certain as to which direction they want to take their versatility and vision in.
—Chris Robinson


Aruan Ortiz Trio
Live in Zurich
Intakt 301

Three of the pieces in this Zurich concert were originally on pianist Ortiz’s CD Hidden Voices, and while he and his 2015 trio sound good, this 2016 trio sounds so alive and colorful and inventive that I favor it. Surely bassist Brad Jones and drummer Chad Taylor inspired Ortiz, because this is a real trio performance. In fact, Taylor is a perfect ensemble player with infinite ingenuity for making settings – sounds, rhythms, interplay – and solos just right. Did Jones study with the great Malachi Favors? I hear a similar gravity, a similar forcefulness, and a comparable feeling for creating unique roles for his instrument.

The CD has three tracks, including two medleys. Taylor’s low mbira solo opens, a lower plucked piano note stalks him, rhythms and rubato alternate, then over their tension a bowed bass solo eventually breaks through the mysterious mood and opens up the music. Critics like to say “Cubism” and “Cuban roots” about Ortiz’s piano method. Those terms certainly describe his solo in “Part I.” Again and again self-contained, tonally free cubes move gracefully into cubes in different moods or into the strangest boogies, for the virtuoso pianist likes to play independent lines with left and right hands and Taylor’s trickery adds sparkle. These rhythms surely come from the Caribbean to Southern boogie piano and Ortiz’s transformation.

The bass solo that opens “Part 2” is big, bold, dramatic. The free movement of the piano solo is a reminder that Muhal Richard Abrams was Ortiz’s teacher. Half the track, then, is a fantasia on the minor-key section of Chopin’s “Etude Number 2,” especially on its 8-to-the-bar rhythm. It’s fun, with solo passages and a climax of independent trio lines, and it ends suddenly with the merriment of Ornette Coleman’s “The Sphinx.” The last track is “Alone Together,” with mysterious bowed bass and distant mallets on toms and a slow exposition of the theme. In contrast to the heat of the two long tracks, this is a delicate performance, though of course a world away from a Bill Evans trio.
John Litweiler


Evan Parker + Barry Guy + Paul Lytton
Music for David Mossman
Intakt 296

One of the greatest pleasures in listening to improvised music is to spend an hour in the company of this trio. For over three decades, they’ve created music that is consistently surprising and engaging. The familiarity of their individual and collective sound isn’t the sign of settled or staid music; rather, their resolutely personal languages are built around fluidity, subtlety, and responsiveness of the sort that enables continual discovery.

This live date from the Vortex in July 2016 is as powerful as anything the trio have done in recent years. In some ways, their overall sound has grown slightly more subdued and economical. Over each of the four long tracks, there are few passages of fire-spitting intensity. But as you sink into the opening minutes – with long minutes in the woody forest of Guy and Lytton, then some very scalar tenor playing – you realize that this is simply a different kind of intensity. Not only does the abundance of space give particular gestures a real gravity, the playing is filled with brilliant moments when the logic of certain details (ones that initially don’t seem central to the music) arrange themselves into the main focus of the sound. Bass harmonics gather together alongside a high tenor pitch and a frisson of cymbals. Popping keypads seem to catalyze scrambling pizzicato and press rolls.

Despite the general duration of these pieces, the trio never lingers overlong in any particular place, nor do they change arbitrarily or too rapidly. It’s as exploratory and organic as ever, with perhaps more of a focus on low pitches, understatement, and tension via restraint. Even in the lengthy third piece, where the familiar trio churn gets going most heatedly, there’s plenty of space. And thus, Music for David Mossman reminds us of what’s truly intense and riveting about this trio: not only their stylistic shifts over time (both within performances and across decades) but the utter clarity with which each player pursues distinctive expressions within the larger blended, merged sound. A gripping, snare-only Lytton solo. Parker shifting between late Trane modular playing and cosmic birdsong. Guy as elegant as a soft sigh, as forceful as a blade. There remains nothing like this group. Truly glorious.
–Jason Bivins

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