Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Mark Dresser Seven
Ain’t Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You
Clean Feed CF510CD

Mark Dresser came up in Los Angeles during the early 1970s, playing with Bobby Bradford, Stanley Crouch’s Black Music Infinity, and others before moving to New York after joining Anthony Braxton’s long-running Quartet in the mid-‘80s. Dresser returned to the West Coast in 2004 to join the faculty of University of California, San Diego, where he founded his most recent ensemble, The Mark Dresser Seven, which features a combination of new talent and established veterans from both coasts. Ain’t Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You, the group’s follow-up to its 2015 debut, Sedimental You, expands Dresser’s compositional palette considerably, with six brand new pieces interconnected by solo bass interludes. The band’s roster remains mostly the same: multi-instrumentalist Marty Ehrlich and drummer Jim Black are associates from the bassist’s days back East, whereas the others became collaborators after Dresser’s relocation out West – flutist Nicole Mitchell and trombonist Michael Dessen teach at UC Irvine, while pianist Joshua White and violinist Keir GoGwilt (replacing David Morales Boroff) studied at UCSD.

Like its precursor, the album’s multi-layered compositions explore large-scale concepts: there are politically charged numbers (“Let Them Eat Paper Towels”); and elegiac odes to the departed (“Butch’s Balm”). The session opens with the rambunctious groove of “Black Arthur’s Bounce,” which recalls Dresser’s time playing with saxophonist Arthur Blythe in Crouch’s band. Ehrlich – who also shared a stage with Blythe – contributes a befittingly acerbic alto solo in his honor. What Dresser decries as our current “reality-horror-show corruption, malice, xenophobia and class warfare,” is exemplified by the tenacious title track, an angular swinger based on “I Got Rhythm,” as well as the episodic “Let Them Eat Paper Towels,” a simmering abstraction of “Que Bonita Bandera” (the unofficial anthem of Puerto Rico) that surges from melancholy to jubilance. The remainder of the set offers a series of lush chamber-like excursions, including the idyllic “Gloaming,” spearheaded by GoGwilt’s sonorous vibrato, and the expansive “Embodied in Seoul,” which spotlights White’s nimble phrasing.

Outside of harmonics-rich solo interludes that display his mastery of extended techniques (performed on a specially adapted bass), Dresser plays a somewhat magnanimous role, encouraging each of his bandmates to extrapolate at length on these multi-faceted themes, and establish relationships within the ensemble. Ehrlich and Mitchell share a penchant for bold lyricism, while Dessen’s brassy variations and White’s flinty pianism complement GoGwilt’s plangent tone. Together they give voice to Dresser’s distinctive vision, exploring multiple traditions, and blending forward-thinking musical expression with sharp political commentary. Ain’t Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You is another compelling document reaffirming Dresser as one of the most innovative composers currently working in the contemporary creative improvised music scene.
–Troy Collins


Julius Eastman
Another Timbre at137

Femenine amplifies the importance of the current revival of Julius Eastman’s music. Composed in 1974, it should prompt reconsideration of Eastman’s relationship to mid-‘70s Minimalism. Its rhythmic energy, soaring motives, and ensemble palette is comparable to that of Music for 18 Musicians, particularly in how these elements sustain the listener’s engagement for over an hour. One of the more impactful newer music ensembles in the UK, Apartment House understands how precision and fierceness comingle in Eastman’s music. The instrumentation of Femenine is subversive in this regard (vibraphone, Simon Limbrick; piano, Kerry Yong; keyboard, Mark Knoop; violin, Mira Benjamin; cello, Anton Lukoszevieze; flute, Emma William and Morrison); while it gives the material much of its loft, it also sharpens its edge.

A needle-moving label, Another Timbre’s austere minimal presentation is noteworthy here. The recent spate of recordings of Eastman’s music has been bulwarked by lengthy scholarly annotations giving the maverick composer his overdue. Now that we’re all up to speed, Another Timbre and Apartment House let the music stand, unaccompanied by authoritative pronouncements. However, Femenine does not merely stand; it races at breakneck speed for most of its 67-minute running time. It is as exhilarating as anything in the Minimalist canon.
–Bill Shoemaker



“Intergenerational” projects have gained currency among presenters and funders, as if such meetings amount to handing off the baton in the great relay race of history. On paper, EUPHORIUM_freakastra eminently qualifies; but the tentet, under the titular direction of pianist Oliver Schwerdt, does not stop at mixing veterans and relative greenhorns. Representing the former are bassist Barry Guy and percussionist Günter “Baby” Sommer, who had somehow managed over the past 50 years not to perform together. They are not simply embedded in an ensemble of younger musicians, but are paired with intriguing newer exponents of their respective instruments – Sommer with Burkhard Beins, a leading early exponent of Echtzeitmusik, and Guy with John Eckhardt, who, when not recording 20th Century repertoire like Xenakis’ “Theraps,” or improvising with a wide spectrum of players, pursues a DJ project as Basswald.

Additionally, there are striking contrasts between the tentet’s other members. Tenor saxophonist Bertrand Denzler, a member of Sowari Trio with Beins and Phil Durrant, focuses on feathered textures and slow-burn intensity, while altoist Pierre-Antoine Badaroux hands in the starkest, angst-soaked unaccompanied solo this side of Kaoru Abe. Schwerdt is an ensemble-sensitive pianist, clearly in the European improvised music tradition, while organist Daniel Beilschmidt’s interjections trigger fleeting associations with Mike Ratledge, Miles at the Fillmore, and Don Preston. Throw in trumpeter Patrick Schanze and electric guitarist Fredrich Kettlitz; both are fluent and occasionally subversive, riding the wake of others when not throwing firecrackers.

At first glance, a 3-CD collection seems ambitious; yet, sub-groupings account for most of the material, with each of them impressively avoiding standard formulae. This freshness is reinforced by smart sequencing. Subsequently, the freakastra presents an ecumenical tilt that, arguably, is only possible now that the European endeavor of improvised music is well into its second half-century, and capable of fielding an intergenerational ensemble. Grande Casino is serious work.
–Bill Shoemaker


The Fictive Five
Anything is Possible
Clean Feed CF514 CD

Larry Ochs + Nels Cline + Gerald Cleaver
What is to be Done
Clean Feed CF500CD

If there’s one take away from Larry Ochs, Nels Cline, and Gerald Cleaver’s What is to be Done, it’s that the trio’s audience gets their money’s worth. Recorded live in Richmond, Virginia, in 2016, the album is a rousing masterclass in freewheeling improvisation performed by a group that gets after it as soon as the first note drops.

For whatever reason, a lot of free improvisers seem to be allergic to tempo and meter, often to their detriment. But not these three. Within thirty seconds of the opening track, “Outcries Rousing,” Cleaver lays down a heavy, straight eighth note, lumbering groove, which Ochs weaves his tenor through. Each performance is a succession of different episodes with their own character that come to life often at the moment when a player changes direction, prompting his mates to follow suit. Four minutes in to “Outcries Rousing” Cleaver slows out of his groove, Cline turns on his suite of electronic effects, and things start getting weird. Later, Cline goes into full avant rock guitar hero mode backed by Cleaver’s furious rock drumming. Upon Cleaver’s departure Cline gets fuzzy, a squawking Ochs enters, and it’s not long before Cleaver is at it again, pounding away. The succession of episodes unfolds organically, with each morphing into the next. It’s free improv storytelling at its most compelling.

The middle track, “A Pause, A Rose,” serves as a brief bridge between the longer opening and closing pieces. It shows both the promises and risks of free improvisation. There are plenty of ideas – from Cline’s balladic opening phrase which he then sends through effects to Ochs’ trills, tremolos, and flutter tonguing, but none of them seem to take hold long enough to inspire further investigation. As a stand-alone piece, it’s an instance where the sum is less than the whole of its parts. In the context of the album, however, it functions as an ideal narrative device that links the longer, developed, and sustained performances.

On the final piece, “Shimmer Intend Spark Groove Defend,” the trio continues on the same path. Cleaver and Ochs, this time on sopranino, slowly build. One gets the feeling that as the music gets louder and busier in a patient and measured fashion, that we’re headed into the obligatory free jazz blowout. Just as it seems as the moment arrives the trio teases us, taking us somewhere unexpected – it’s down through the Nels Cline looking glass spurred on by thudding toms and tenor sax filigrees, and it’s on to new lands. Does free improv get any better than that?

In preparing for this review I didn’t listen to Anything is Possible by The Fictive Five (Ochs, Nate Wooley, Pascal Niggenkemper, Ken Filiano, and Harris Eisenstadt) until I had digested and gotten to know the Ochs/Cline/Cleaver album. Aside from being on the same label, the only common thread between the two is Ochs’ presence. Yet, knowing that I was to write a combined review and that I listened to Anything is Possible second, my reception and thinking is shaped, perhaps unfairly, by What is to be Done. While I immediately connected with the trio, and expected that experience to carry over, I couldn’t quite find the same affinity for the quintet’s album.

There seemed to be either something missing in the music, or something I wasn’t understanding or couldn’t grasp. Is it that I could not identify or understand the group’s logic? Was the band not meeting the goals it set out for itself, or was I wanting them to go in a different direction? Was something slightly off in the mastering? Three of the five pieces were written by Ochs, yet I could not ascertain what the compositional elements were. On “Immediate Human Response (for Spike Lee)” there’s a three note repeated arco bass figure that the band picks up. A composed section, or a serendipitous moment of group interaction? That I kept asking questions each time I listened, and couldn’t get out of my head and take the music as it came probably prevented me from gaining a fuller understanding.

The group plays with passion, inventiveness, and fire throughout. Both Wooley and Ochs offer unique and contrasting solo voices and furiously explore different, but related avant garde territory. The presence of two basses in any band can present challenges, and Niggenkemper and Filiano have solved them with aplomb with myriad strategies: not always playing at once, one plays pizzicato while the other bows, playing separate or complimentary lines, and so on. Eisenstadt is an especially nimble drummer, and his fills and flourishes seem to always set up the horn players while landing in the right spots. One of the quintet’s most fascinating and rewarding methods are the occasional relays: the two horns race around each other who then hand off to the intertwining bassists, then to drums and trumpet, then basses and horns, and so on. Nobody holds the baton for long, and the numerous combinations of instruments and ideas that come in and out can be quite captivating.

Near the end of the penultimate cut, “With Liberties and Latitude for All (for Warren Sonbert)” I found what I thought I had been missing. There’s a brief moment where Wooley and Ochs play what sounds to be a previously composed line, which then becomes a catapult for each soloist. It was a brief raison d’etre that allowed the band to find another gear. But since that was the only instance of a composed melody, that couldn’t be where the group stakes its claim, or else it would have happened more often.

That I could not get in sync with Anything is Possible may be more a failure on my part as a critic than it is a mark on the musicians. And such is the difficulty, subjective nature, and pitfalls of criticism. Don’t accept my reaction. Check out Anything is Possible and decide for yourself.
–Chris Robinson


Lafayette Gilchrist
Dark Matter

Lafayette Gilchrist’s music has been featured in David Simon’s television series since The Wire; most recently for the outro of The Deuce. Particularly with the New Volcanoes, Gilchrist’s music nails the urban grind. His solo music is similarly inclined to be paired with a visual; but instead of the story in the shot, it tends to support its function, be it a long establishing shot, an extreme close-up, or a slow-roll truck.

In general terms, Dark Matter picks up where 2014’s The View from Here left off. Gilchrist continues to mash the cosmopolitanism of the Waller-Ellington-Monk trajectory with the rollick of New Orleans masters and a dash of go-go. The colors are a shade deeper on the new set, their luster enhanced by an excellent instrument and the fine acoustics at the University of Baltimore’s Wright Theater.

Gilchrist sets a deliberate pace regardless of the setting, which makes the occasional pronounced shift in attack, or the sudden injection of contrasting materials, all the more satisfying. “Child’s Play” is a great example; after creating a soothing, Ibrahim-tinged mood, Gilchrist inserts momentarily disruptive blues phrases, their grit scuffing the balm of the theme.

Few of Gilchrist’s contemporaries have the feel for jazz’s secular and sacred tributaries that he possesses on “And You Know This,” which seamlessly melds chugging blues and jubilant gospel. Many pianists aspire to present the rag-time-to-no-time panorama of the music, but Gilchrist has a singular facility to make it new. Therein is the light that emanates from Dark Matter.
–Bill Shoemaker


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