Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


William Parker In Order To Survive
Shapeshifter Live
Aum Fidelity 110-111

Here’s a veteran quartet in a 2017 concert. Disc 2 opens with the album’s high point, the alarming “Demons Lining the Halls of Justice.” Pianist Cooper-Moore repeats a note three times like a death march over William Parker’s equally relentless bass; Hamid Drake’s wildly arrhythmic percussion makes vicious threats; over all this, the tenacity and inspired melodies of Rob Brown’s alto sax make for an especially cruel quartet declaration.  Remarkably, this is sustained for much of the work’s 23 minutes, including a central piano solo that expands the feeling into discursive energy music. The title calls out the evil of the many moral lepers and antisocial lunatics who are now U.S. federal court judges. The sense of group closeness extends into a duet piece in which the irrepressible Drake is tamed by a clever, swinging bass rhythm. “Newark (For Grachan Moncur III)” has a theme that even sounds Moncur-like. Again, the perfect pianist in accompaniment and solo mirrors and distorts ideas from a super alto solo. Disc 2 also has alto sax swinging in four as the others chant “in order to survive, we’ve got to keep hope alive” and then a final group rubato piece.

This is a mainstream-free band, mainstream in the sense of main line free jazz. Brown’s alto melodies suggest a more atonal Ornette and with Ornette-like earnestness. The post-Cecil Taylor eclectic Cooper-Moore offers energy-piano mastery and responsive sensitivity, and he and Parker generate the music’s many tempo fluctuations. Parker is the rare bassist with a powerful attack and pure sound and also a wide dynamic range – can anyone else play more softly than he? His loud-to-soft movement is essential to what makes his “Newark” solo so compelling. Drake is certainly an exciting drummer who, in this concert, suggests a much more nervous Tony Williams. At times he seems to suddenly zone out, especially when he introduces patterns that impose meter on the pianist’s arrhythmic lines.

The five-part Eternal Is the Voice of Love, which takes up the entirety of Disc 1 is especially a triumph for William Parker. “Part I” features an atonal theme and marvelously close playing, as the four respond to each other’s ideas – Cooper-Moore is especially sensitive and sharp, and Brown is muscular; a busy bass line that is so strong that the rest of the band seems decorative; Cooper-Moore’s ingenious solo opens spaces for the bass and drums, who are absolutely on fire. “Part III” has a Parker shakuhachi solo and “Part IV” features an epic Brown alto solo and an especially virtuosic bowed bass solo in microtones over a held low trill. Cooper-Moore’s and Parker’s togetherness sustains high continuity and creativity throughout this concert; Parker especially is imaginative and virtuosic. No question, one of our best bassists was at his best throughout this Brooklyn concert.
–John Litweiler


Tomeka Reid Quartet
Old New
Cuneiform Records Rune 465

Cellist Tomeka Reid presents a memorable program on Old New that balances tradition and innovation, exemplifying the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians’ motto “Ancient to the Future.” Originally from Washington, DC, but currently based in New York, Reid first came to prominence in Chicago, where she made her recording debut on Nicole Mitchell’s Afrika Rising (DreamTime Records, 2002). Since then Reid has collaborated with numerous fellow AACM members, performing and recording with Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, in addition to working with contemporaries like Jaimie Branch, Taylor Ho Bynum, and Mike Reed.

Old New follows the eponymous Tomeka Reid Quartet (Thirsty Ear, 2015), and once again features guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Jason Roebke, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. Their seasoned rapport enhances their interactions in this configuration, which is essentially a post-modern string band, where any player can assume melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic responsibilities. “I wanted to have a string-centered group,” says Reid. “I wanted a harmonic instrument, but not piano ... I like Mary’s manner of using pedals in interesting and creative ways ... I like that contrast with me being all acoustic in this ensemble.” Halvorson provides her signature pitch bending, quicksilver fingerpicking, and unique chording. Fujiwara is a versatile drummer, both muscular and subtle, while Roebke’s versatile technique complements Reid and Halvorson’s intrepid explorations.

The title track, based on an old hymn, introduces the set with a driving rhythm and quixotic motif that alternates between angular and lyrical. Reid and Halvorson trade themes and variations throughout the tune in vivacious fashion, setting the overall tone for the record. The gypsy jazz flavored “Wabash Blues” follows suit with Reid and Halvorson in tight harmony; Reid’s spirited bowing is elegant yet vociferous, while Halvorson unleashes spidery runs and un-tempered refrains. Fujiwara’s roiling trap work provides a suitably rousing conclusion for a tune inspired by the Chicago block where Reid lived before moving to New York.

Reid’s writing is equally evocative when paying tribute to mentors, colleagues, and family members. “Niki’s Bop,” a jubilant, New Orleans style second-line vamp (via Chicago), is named after Nicole Mitchell; it rides a snappy snare roll from Fujiwara and pulsing line from Roebke, as Reid and Halvorson dovetail in tandem. Halvorson inspired “Ballad,” a regal march showcasing a labyrinthine solo by the guitarist, bookended by Reid’s dynamic statements, while the nostalgic swinger “Sadie,” written for Reid’s grandmother, sounds like an old Chico Hamilton number – until futuristic string bends from Halvorson’s delay pedal appear.

In contrast, the abstract “Edelin” is an impressionistic tone poem that gains form as it progresses; Roebke and Fujiwara establish a supple groove, Reid offers sinewy arco, and Halvorson’s distorted fretwork ups the ante. The Braxton-inspired “Peripatetic” follows a similar path, highlighting Reid’s compositional prowess with a plethora of ideas, from ominous opening to frenetic mid-section and stately denouement. “RN” closes the date on a more conventional note, demonstrating Reid’s affinity for melody, with its pizzicato-driven theme and opulent lyricism.

This studio session was recorded with the group playing live in the same room and that spontaneous energy pervades the album. There’s a visceral thrill in hearing Reid and Halvorson spar and feint throughout these songs, yielding a kaleidoscopic panorama of textures and timbres. Acknowledging the tradition while exploring vanguard territory, Reid’s tuneful writing keeps the quartet’s efforts grounded and accessible. With its combination of historical antecedents, contemporary verve, and personal expression, Old New is a strong contender for best jazz album of the year. Reid and company have successfully avoided the sophomore slump and come out swinging. Highly recommended.
–Troy Collins


Tyshawn Sorey + Marilyn Crispell
The Adornment of Time
Pi Recordings 183

The first sounds you hear from this date, recorded live at The Kitchen, are lonely woodblocks and low toms resonating in space. They mark the beginning of an extraordinary hour of music, where two players of colossal technique and imagination pare things down, holding energy in balance with silence and serene focus. Sorey’s long fascination with the music of Morton Feldman is audible here, as it on his recent long-form explorations like Verisimilitude or Pillars. Crispell’s own interest in resonance and space makes her the perfect partner here.

Though the long opening minutes are sparse and delicate, something more is at work than a simple slow dynamic build. Whether with billowing low chords or spindle-notes to match Sorey’s bells and chimes, Crispell locks in so that the duo is really a joint percussion unit. This isn’t to say that Crispell avoids pianism; and indeed, Sorey’s tasteful emphases and accents bring this to the fore. Slowly, there emerges a first welling-up of sound, a rolling, expressive flow with Crispell trilling and arpeggiating as Sorey moves lightning-quick through his entire range. And then there is approximately an entire minute of silence.

The second phase is even more spacious, and in places quite ominous as Sorey matches Crispell’s low notes with the deepest rumble. At the edges of audibility, there’s more tension to be coaxed from these minimal materials. Sorey rubs his low tom head for the most exquisite squeak, and the isolated gestures increase in number: a jab, a thud, a flourish of chimes. The intensity that ensues is almost blinding, compared to what’s come before. Sorey is so intense on the cymbals that it’s like the sound of flame, as Crispell plays surges of sound.

Always, though, dynamism is the thing. The players resist any temptation to give into the heat-churn. They shift to bowed cymbals and insectoid inside piano work, with woodblocks and the sound of crinkling paper. And then, almost imperceptibly, we find ourselves in this mournful, stately place, with the slow melancholy chords and resonating chimes seeming to announce some preparation for release, of whatever kind. And indeed, the low flame becomes an absolute inferno, Crispell riding steady notes and in time absolutely pummeling the lower register, with overtones flying everywhere. The listening and discipline for music like this – yes, the sheer determination to inhabit time creatively – is intense. But it’s never exhausting; instead, it’s as invigorating as anything you’re likely to hear this year.
–Jason Bivins


Xavier Pamplona Septet
Play the
Casco Records 06

For younger musicians drawn from all over to Amsterdam’s perennially hardy improvising scene, the 1970s when Willem Breuker’s Dutch sound broke out internationally is a distant era. And as movements recede in time, secondary figures and worthy compositions get forgotten. So bassist Raoul van der Weide has assembled an intergenerational septet to play some Dutch classics as they should be played. He’s got fellow second-generation A’dam improviser Michael Moore on clarinet, plus fourth – or fifth – generation colleagues: English drummer George Hadow, Raoul’s frequent partner since coming to town in 2012; the All Ellington band’s Italian bari saxist Giuseppe Doronzo; bass clarinetist Ziv Taubenfeld (who has recorded with Raoul and George in the quintet Zwerv, and studied with Moore); Scottish trumpeter Alistair Payne; and the scene’s new piano dynamo, Poland’s Marta Warelis. (Thus no one in XP7 was born in Holland – Raoul spent his first eight years in France.) There are two vintage tunes each by Bert Koppelaar, Guus Janssen and the leader, and one each from Tristan Honsinger and ringer Fred Katz – tunes too good to ignore during the improvising.

For Van der Weide – Xavier Pamplona is an alter ego, Raoul with another life – it’s a personal tour. Born in 1949, he came up in the 1970s alongside second-generation mainstays Paul Termos and Guus and Wim Janssen. They all got priceless lessons playing (with Peter Cusack, during his two years over) in the Punt Uit Band of character and eccentric trombonist Koppelaar. Among his quirks: he could not come in on an upbeat, and thus often trailed a hare’s hair behind the band. They relished the chaos, which informs several Termos and Guus Janssen compositions where beats go awry. Koppelaar had come up in brass and circus bands, and was in and out of Breuker’s and Misha Mengelberg’s windy collectives in the late 1960s and 1970s; ICP and (later) a Maarten Altena quartet recorded Koppelaar’s “Kwik, Kwek, Kwak” (the Dutch names for Donald Duck’s nephews, incidentally).

Bert’s “Hawkwind” here has a cha-cha main theme, then breaks into too-happy swing for the middle eight: it wasn’t just Breuker writing ‘em zany back in the day. You don’t miss trombone; the swerves and blares from low reeds and trumpet have it covered. The Koppelaar suite “Ambitus Cyclus” has plenty of thematic material to sustain 18-minute treatment. First comes a euphoric bring-on-the-jugglers fanfare (which grows softer at the bridge), a singsong melody you can bend around the block and bring home good as new. Then a Tizol-y habanera, where Payne brings Armstrong peal and rasp; then a slow quiet episode with even slower circular-breathing bari like a plane circling; something like a spiritual, with trembling western-saloon piano; a martial riff theme with plenty of room for obbligatos; yet another bouncy tune to get them swinging, whose dips into the lower register launch Taubenfeld into matador Dolphy’s bull-ring. Here and elsewhere there’s collective improvising in the Dutch style: not too much, varied in dynamics and color and texture, and more apt to subvert written material than neglect it. Which is to say the players get the message. Payne’s Pops exuberance may owe something to Eric Boeren’s declamatory horn. Doronzo and Taubenfeld look for all the colors the big reeds can give up.

There are plenty of opportunities for riff, paraphrase and informal rondos in these over-and-over strains, also including Raoul’s circusy start-and-stop “Feitenleid.” Honsinger’s tarantella-interruptus “Luce nel scuro” (first recording?) sounds like Stravinsky’s “Histoire du Soldat” village band hitting the applejack. The A strain of Raoul’s “Culture Boy” resembles a certain Nat Cole evergreen, but then the B strain goes off. The players atomize these strains in turn and then reassemble them – the band’s general m.o. Michael Moore’s assertive high clarinet can take command on rare occasions when a firm hand might help, and he gives us a glimpse of his Procope vibrato. He’s all over, exhortatory, and featured in a polite chamber trio on an untitled “Someday My Prince”-ish waltz attributed to Fred Katz, a tune Guus and Ernst Reijseger used to play in duo.

They also revisit Guus standbys “Koto a gogo” – built around an elementary hip-hop beat Wim Janssen loved to drum, which has a little more clavé in it in Hadow’s telling – and the jolly bouncing earworm “Jo-jo jive” which suggests what Guus learned from Misha Mengelberg. Some enterprising American leader might champion Janssen’s book of intricate playful tuneful compositions for improvisers. It’s a trove.

Fast-fingered Warelis can play straight and discreet, bonk out the block chords, rattle the strings like Anton Karas’s zither, spackle the keys like Nancarrow, play percussion under the hood, and unreel snaky singing right hand lines. She can mix up all that and more very quickly, as if it’s all one big language. She’s attentive to developing motifs but isn’t afraid to drop them and move on. You’d have to search a while to find another (bassist’s) self-produced record where the leader’s mixed so modestly, but then XP7 isn’t really about him. The band swings, they’re tight when they want to be, and in high spirits. A delightful record.
–Kevin Whitehead


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