Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


John Coltrane Quartet
Impressions Graz 1962
ezz-thetics 1019

Nearly two decades ago Pablo issued a series of Coltrane quartet/quintet concert CDs from their early-‘60s concert tours. I’m 99% sure this concert wasn’t on a Pablo release. For one thing, this is the only time a Coltrane group recorded “Autumn Leaves.” In these four pieces we still get Coltrane straining against the changes and the bar lines, only it’s an extroverted album, not his usual titanic struggles.

The fast opener “The Inch Worm” starts playfully, Coltrane sounds bright on soprano sax against the deep thunderstorms of Elvin Jones’s drumming. It’s a weak Coltrane solo on one chord that keeps returning to familiar licks. But then “I Want to Talk about You” on tenor is typical, again he piles on decorations in sixteenth, thirty-second, sixty-fourth, one-hundred-twenty-eighth, etc. notes like many, many layers of frosting on a cake, then plays a long coda.  McCoy Tyner’s terrific solo is half of the fast “Autumn Leaves” and another terrific Tyner solo and Jimmy Garrison’s low-register solo are over half of “Impressions.” Is Tyner’s creativity what inspires Coltrane’s melodic ingenuity in these two pieces? He plays soprano in “Autumn Leaves” – again, he sounds playful.

The stone serious nine-minute “Impressions” tenor solo is Coltrane in his grandest manner, with his big, iron sound and riveting intensity. Fascinating thematic twists begin, then come variations on the twists, and ever so naturally we ride the waves of Coltrane’s lines. For all his straining against the harmonic setting and despite occasional passages of multiple-time and raw sound – passages that briefly aim at freedom – he does not dwell in tail-chasing little licks, arpeggios, broken scales, the Coltrane obsessions we get elsewhere. Here, he’s the final blossoming of bop, and it’s just lovely.

This CD is half a concert, the other half is forthcoming. Coltrane being Coltrane, it could be a quite different, more introspective CD – who knows? Those two Tyner piano solos flow so very gracefully and imaginatively are two more reasons this album really should be heard.
–John Litweiler


CP Unit
One Foot on the Ground Smoking Mirror Shakedown
Ramp Local RL48

Led by Chris Pitsiokos, CP Unit alternates between sonic extremes, from manic to indolent, invoking aspects of harmolodic funk, noise, and musique concrete. Following in John Zorn’s footsteps, Pitsiokos has been expanding the expressive potential of the alto saxophone under the influence of Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic theory, No Wave’s confrontational aesthetic, and the timbral explorations of lower-case improv. Emblematic of a new generation of experimental musicians working in New York City, Pitsiokos and his crew: guitarist Sam Lisabeth; bassist Henry Fraser; and drummer Jason Nazary, are young upstarts helping to shape the future downtown music scene. One Foot on the Ground Smoking Mirror Shakedown, the Unit’s third record, is characteristic of the group’s communal nature, simultaneously showcasing the individual and the collective.

Largely dispensing with the byzantine arrangements that distinguish many of Pitsiokos’ prior releases, this effort unfolds organically, revealing exponential growth over last year’s Silver Bullet in the Autumn of Your Years (Clean Feed). The current session boasts four cuts that favor longer running times, allowing for more expansive improvisations and invigorating exchanges as band members navigate wide open spaces, moving seamlessly from blues-inflected passages to noise-addled maelstroms.

“One Foot on the Ground” and “Sibylant” explore broad stylistic territory, gaining momentum as they ascend from aleatoric impressionism to bluesy expressionism – the latter being a far more traditional element than previously heard in Pitsiokos’ work. The title cut conjures the cerulean hues of electric Miles, while “Sibylant,” awash in reverb and delay, suggests dub-inflected noir. “Orelius” and “Tarpit” are more freewheeling, with frantic call-and-response and dynamic tonal shifts that evoke the dissonant angularity of early No Wave pioneers like The Contortions, DNA, and Mars. The shadow of Prime Time hovers in the margins of the former tune, while the latter terminates in hushed pointillism. Pitsiokos and crew play with vim and vigor throughout, transcending historical facsimile.

Eschewing convention, Pitsiokos uses Zorn’s saxophone language as a foundation, employing an array of extended techniques to craft his own vernacular. Interjecting frantic staccato runs and circular motifs with altissimo squeals, multiphonic blasts, and growling vocalizations, his quicksilver phrasing – whether keening or caterwauling – is vital and inventive. Pitsiokos has given notice; despite its tantalizingly brief runtime (just over half an hour), One Foot on the Ground Smoking Mirror Shakedown suggests even greater things to come.
–Troy Collins


Ellery Eskelin + Christian Weber + Michael Griener
The Pearls
Intakt 331

Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, bassist Christian Weber, and drummer Michael Griener bring us five trio improvisations separated from each other by interludes of four pre-modern pieces. These interludes unfortunately beg comparisons, for they are short and coarse reductions. Whereas “The Pearls” appears as some truly gorgeous Jelly Roll Morton piano solos and his 1927 Peppers masterpiece, Russell Robinson’s “Eccentric Rag,” is in a lovely 1939 Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers setting. Basie’s 1939 “Jive at Five” has a sweet Herschel Evans-like tenor solo by Lester Young – all favorites – and “Magnetic Rag” is a Scott Joplin piano work.

The recording imbalance has bass and drums rather in the background – the percussion is way in the background, inaudible in “Jive at Five.” Too bad, Griener is the most colorful musician here and the bass-drums interplay is the CD’s best aspect. Spacy, super-faint bells and cymbals set an after-midnight mood in “Black Drop”; quiet drums and down-bending bowed bass behind Eskelin unite especially well in “La Fée Verte”; “Rue Jardinière,” with its plucked bass line, ominous tapping, and low, dark cymbals, belongs in a murder mystery. Most of the pieces have passages of swinging, so Griener usually gets to kick some ass. Weber leads with purposeful bass lines, and if he sounds comparatively dry, he’s nevertheless as free as Griener.

Eskelin is certainly an admirable, masterful saxophonist with a freely moving sense of sound in space, and his phrasing and sound often recall bop tenor. Usually I love this kind of free playing, but Eskelin isn’t quite my cup of tea. Why? A friend suggested to me that one of our favorites, the young Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, created his art out of similar materials. But McIntyre was an original whose spacy or flowing or sometimes awkward lines are inflamed by his utterly unique passion. By contrast, Eskelin, a generation later, seems like he’s detached, always thinking. Typically, he comments on what the other two are building; apart from a meandering tenor solo in “ABC” he doesn’t lead. True, it’s all so very well done – actually, I feel he and Weber are too perfect. This music isn’t daring any more.
–John Litweiler


Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York
Libra 214-058

It’d be hard for Satoko Fujii to match the prolific output she brought to her 60th birthday year in 2018, but the wonderful pianist/composer has her imagination firing on all cylinders. Of all her many ensembles, I’ve often been most drawn to the Orchestra New York. No doubt it’s a reflection of my familiarity with, and fondness for, many of the participants. But even knowing that, Entity feels like an especially significant entry in her work. The horn section is basically the same as the last time out: Oscar Noriega and Briggan Krauss on alto, Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby on tenor, Andy Laster on baritone; Curtis Hasselbring and Joe Fiedler on trombones; and Natsuki Tamura, Herb Robertson, and Dave Ballou on trumpets. Along with drummer Ches Smith, guitarist Nels Cline and electric bassist Stomu Takeishi make for a little extra danger on the other side of the orchestra. Fujii’s compositions ask a lot of her players, given the extraordinary range she packs into her pieces (there are five here, all exceeding 10 minutes), but this lot are more than up to the task.

A huge tutti blast opens the title track, followed by very dynamic drumming and soft horn chords after lengthy durations. This is one of several places on the record where Fujii sounds like she’s been listening to loads of Feldman or Scelsi. Even when Cline conjures up some cosmic sizzle, there’s subtlety and dynamism so well navigated that when the piece does rear up – first with some jarring swells, later with some Mingus-influenced polyphony – the effect is much more powerful. The coiling, circuitous “Flashback” has a slight Lacy feel to it, in its scalar feel, stick-the-landing pauses, and close harmony. It soon skips into a tight, funky sprint – Smith and Takeishi are completely dialed in on these pieces – with some outrageously brash brass. With her customarily deft arranger’s touch, Fujii strings together a series of solo spotlights, surrounded by minimal density, and then navigates the piece to its stirring drone conclusion, capped off by that opening line.

Things shift on the tense “Gounkaiku,” whose muted dynamics feel a bit spooky. With poise and judicious energy, the piece moves beyond block chords over a mid-tempo groove, some blistering trumpet excursions, and a lovely bit of metallic sawing from Cline. “Elementary Particle” is spacey, opening with a boozy-sounding trio for Eskelin, Takeishi, and Smith, which seems to stumble into the full ensemble, as if it’s not sure what to do with the brisk swing suddenly laid down. It’s an absolutely terrific effect, a real highlight. But best of all is the final track, “Everlasting,” which opens with a theme of almost Copland-esque grandeur, some ghostly lines from Cline adding superb color. There’s some aggressive playing from Takeishi and the brass section, and the tune rides out with variations on the theme, heading into space. It’s a fitting end for one of the best Fujii albums I’ve heard in years.
–Jason Bivins


New World Records

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