Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Ivo Perelman + Arcado String Trio
Deep Resonance
Fundacja Sluchaj 14

Back in the early 1990s, just as tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman was building his reputation as a force in improvised music, the Arcado String Trio (violinist Mark Feldman, cellist Hank Roberts, and bassist Mark Dresser) were actively recording and collaborating. Yet while the individual players have kept making glorious sound – only Roberts took a hiatus for a time – this gorgeous meeting with Perelman marks the trio’s first record in a quarter century. Perelman, himself a strings player, has a history of duos and small groups in settings like this (just note his recent Strings dates for Leo, all excellent). But the distinctiveness of Arcado and the wonderful chemistry between all the assembled musicians makes this a special date indeed.

It’s a tight album consisting of four improvisations, and the lengthy opener “Resonance 1” makes up nearly half. It’s immediately apparently how deeply felt is the communication between the musicians. There are lines criss-crossing everywhere, but never at the expense of space or generosity. Indeed, the synergy is so palpable that they’re continually completing each other’s phrases, passing elements and ideas back and forth. In many places throughout the record, Dresser and Roberts work to generate intense forms of momentum: the pull of a chord, a fierce burble, a slash. There’s a kind of earthiness to Roberts’ cello that works so well with the raucous invention well-known in Dresser’s playing. Just note how, about midway through the opener, they create a whorl of overtones and intensely ascending chords, leading to some soulful stuff from Perelman and Feldman.

Speaking of those two, they play so marvelously together. Each piece has several just stunning moments of interplay. “Resonance 2,” for example, contrasts Perelman’s soft, cooing lines with Feldman’s scalar lines. Elsewhere they hang onto bright single notes or small fragments that they repeat, leading to Bartokian complexity here or Scelsi-like microtonal drones there. “Resonance 3” finds them in a different space, opening with Dresser thwacking his strings with his bow while Roberts saws gruffly. But this one makes its way to some of the most elegant and sweet playing of the entire record, ending with a lovely soft flutter and some gorgeous birdsong from Perelman. And the closing piece builds off a deep groove from Roberts, filled with wave upon wave of rhythm and some ever so slightly boppish phrasing from Perelman and Feldman.

But really, these are just snapshots of a constantly changing whole, with continually morphing thickets of sound. There’s never a moment where the playing is less than compelling, all built on good intuition, respect, and strong listening from all concerned. The complexity of it all really only emerges through deep immersion. Study closely or let it wash over your brainpan, as you like. One of my favorites of the year for sure.
–Jason Bivins


Eric Revis
Slipknots Through a Looking Glass
Pyroclastic PR 09

Eric Revis’ penchant for sonic exploration has prompted numerous collaborative partnerships over the years. As the longstanding bassist for Branford Marsalis’ quartet, Revis has enjoyed creative associations with a wide range of talent, including Betty Carter, Jason Moran, and Peter Brötzmann. He has also led a variety of groups, issuing most of his recordings on Portugal’s Clean Feed Records. His trio, featuring pianist Kris Davis and drummer Andrew Cyrille, released City of Asylum in 2013; Crowded Solitudes followed in 2016, with Gerald Cleaver in the drum chair. His piano-less quartet with altoist Darius Jones, tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, and drummer Chad Taylor, was featured on 2014’s In Memory of Things Yet Seen; another version of the quartet traded Jones and McHenry for Davis and multi-reedist Ken Vandermark on 2017’s Sing Me Some Cry.

Slipknots Through a Looking Glass – Revis’ eighth album as a bandleader, and first on Pyroclastic Records – draws from the personnel of the aforementioned projects. The band is an amalgam of Revis’ working groups: Taylor mans the drums (with Justin Faulkner, Marsalis’ drummer, on a couple tracks); Davis plays piano; and saxophonists Jones and McHenry round out the line-up. Adding the two-horn frontline allows Revis to merge his trio and quartet, expanding his sonic palette considerably.

Revis’ sprawling yet intimate compositions are thoughtfully arranged, allowing ample space for individual interpretations. Davis’ percussive prepared piano on the oblique opener, “Baby Renfro,” regales with fragmented unisons and agile transitions, suggesting funk and hip-hop. She soars on tunes like “Vimen,” but her varied contributions throughout are equally notable, providing color and texture even when not out front. Ever the chameleon, Taylor is just as capable of driving a 4/4 rave-up on Jones’ manic “Shutter” as shading the impressionistic opening of “Vimen.”

Jones and McHenry bring their distinctive voices to bear, waxing lyrical on the noir-inflected “Earl & the Three-Fifths Compromise,” and intertwining gracefully on “ProByte.” Their dialogue on McHenry’s melancholy ballad “When I Become Nothing” reveals a rich emotional rapport, and each contributes bold statements to “Shutter” and “Vimen.” The former merges untamed avant jazz and driving punk rock in extroverted fashion, the latter trades precision for passion; Jones burns with feverish multiphonic intensity, while McHenry eases into melodious catharsis.

Interspersed throughout the album are three brief takes of the title track – haunting multi-tracked bass dialogues complemented by spectral input from Davis and Taylor that lend the proceedings a surreal, cinematic ambience. They approach the kaleidoscopic tone poem “SpÆ,” a hypnotic extrapolation of bass, prepared piano, and mbira, with similar focus.

Fully realized by empathetic collaborators, the distinctive melodies, expressive harmonies, and captivating rhythms of Slipknots Through A Looking Glass demonstrate the full breadth of Revis’ unique artistry.
–Troy Collins


Jason Robinson
Harmonic Constituent
Playscape PSR# 081119

Since the turn of the Millennium, Jason Robinson has issued over a dozen forward-thinking albums that blend historical traditions and more progressive concepts; his multifaceted writing looks to both the past and future for inspiration. Despite having performed in a wide variety of situations (from electronically augmented solo recitals to sideman gigs in roots reggae ensembles), the classic quartet setting of Harmonic Constituent, Robinson’s most recent effort, is one of his most diverse projects to date.

Harmonic Constituent was conceived as a meditation on the rugged coastline of Mendocino County in Northern California, a place that has inspired Robinson since he was a child. The album covers an array of stylistic territory unified by an all-encompassing aesthetic, incorporating distinct sound worlds to convey how the cyclical motion of the Earth, Sun, and Moon influences tidal dynamics and geography.

The quartet features Robinson on tenor and soprano saxophone, and alto flute; Joshua White on piano; Drew Gress on contrabass; and Ches Smith on drum set and glockenspiel. Gress and Smith are veterans of Robinson’s longstanding Janus Ensemble, while White is a rising West Coast presence and associate of bassist Mark Dresser. Together they expertly navigate the labyrinthine motifs, polyphonic counterpoint, and modulating rhythm cells typical of Robinson’s unorthodox structures. Robinson seamlessly combines inside and outside approaches, whether as a composer or soloist; he improvises with economical lyricism, integrating extended techniques into expansive ruminations that gracefully pivot from euphony to euphoria.

The opening title track ebbs and flows through a multitude of detours, testing his bandmembers’ mettle as they passionately deconstruct the episodic suite’s majestic post-bop themes, bolstered by the leader’s rhapsodic tenor interpolations. Four short improvisations (“Phase 1,” “Phase 2,” “Shear 1,” and “Shear 2”) serve as abstract interludes, bridging the album’s longer compositions. After the first, the group surprises with “Jug Handle,” a beautiful ballad. Gress solos with lyrical efficiency over Smith’s waltz-time brushwork before White’s dulcet filigrees and Robinson’s burnished tenor confirm the mood.

“Seventh Wave” dives back into the undertow, juxtaposing a vertiginous motif with a terse avant-funk rhythm. Smith’s palpitating drums and White’s frenetic keystrokes precede Robinson’s intervallic soliloquy, which explores the full range of his expressive tenor. Other highlights abound: the exotic “Melange Geometry” finds Robinson alternating diaphanous flute and husky tenor, while Smith and White take center stage on the stormy “Isobathic Sounding.” In contrast, the lush ballad “Apogean Tide” sounds nearly conventional, and “Mountain In Your Mind” is an epic up-tempo swinger. The album closes on a surprisingly tender note with an expansive solo piano rendition of “Jug Handle.”

Harmonic Constituent is an unpredictable and compelling set worthy of repeated spins. Careful listening reveals a variety of challenging compositions performed at a consistently high level of creativity. Expect the unexpected.
–Troy Collins


Frederic Rzewski
Songs of Insurrection (2016)
Coviello Classics CDV 92021

Pianist/composer Frederic Rzewski is best known in improvised music circles as a member of MEV (Musica Elletronica Viva), the pioneering ensemble he founded with Alvin Curran and the late Richard Teitelbaum in Rome in 1966. As a composer, his work frequently references political themes, typified by The People United Will Never Be Defeated (1975), 36 variations for piano on Sergio Ortega’s revolutionary Chilean anthem “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” a protest against the Pinochet regime. Songs of Insurrection continues the practice of converting protest songs into concert piano music, recasting seven songs from around the world in an hour-long suite. In pianist Thomas Kotcheff’s hands, it’s powerful work, and the presence of strong melody makes it stand out. It’s also open to improvisation at the performer’s discretion, another unusual element amidst contemporary concert practice.

The sequence is tied together, both musically and thematically, by the emotional range signalled by the idea of insurrection itself, which promises nothing and suggests everything, wedding grim chance to potential liberation and presenting possibilities of community, freedom, and self-determination at the risk of greater pain, oppression, and possible death. It is this motherlode of emotion ‒ from love to identity to terror ‒ that drives the possibilities of this music, borrowed from the will of the collective and attached to the expressive possibilities of solo piano composition and the form and intensity that concert virtuosity can bring.

The music frequently combines determined melody with shifting moods, playful pointillism, and rich reflection, this compound methodology linking the individual pieces in the sequence and suggesting the possibility of achievement, a larger sense of form and coherence. The German “Die Moorsoldaten” (“The Peat Bog Soldiers”), created by prisoners at the Börgermoor concentration camp in 1933, is at once playful and sinister from its beginnings, its elaboration becoming both more ruminative and more starkly and grimly abstract. The Russian “Katyusha,” which inspired both Russians and anti-fascist Italians during the Second World War, begins in lyric meditation, developing as it goes. “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” sung by African Americans protesting segregation in the U.S. south in the 1960s, uses odd rhythmic shifts to expand its emotional reach, moving towards resolve amidst a welling complexity. “Foggy Dew,” a product of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Uprising matches dance-like lilt with moody sub-text. The 1971 Portuguese song “Grândola, Vila Morena,” was banned by the dictatorship, was broadcast on April 25, 1975 to launch the Carnation Revolution. It begins with foreboding, Kotcheff drumming on the wooden body of the piano before turning to the keyboard for a series of dissonant chords, later becoming insistent presences against the rising melody, before a return to the resounding drumming on the piano suggests footfalls. “Los cuatro generals,” an adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Los cuatro muleros” from the Spanish civil war, is genuinely song-like. The concluding “Oh Bird, Oh Bird, Oh Roller,” dating to the Korean peasants’ revolt of 1894, invokes the sound of Korean string instruments, somehow achieving the contradictory effects of pooling lyricism and percussive insistence. Throughout the sequence, overlapping patterns of contrast and development serve to create an overall coherence and structural integrity, a sense of passion and purpose united.

The work develops its special power by combining both the tradition of emotive and virtuosic piano music of the past two centuries with the force of political protest, creating a tentative, even utopic space in which the concert hall itself, its economics, scale, and allegiances become the subject of inquiry. Kotcheff brings a combination of virtues ‒ rhythmic power, singing lyricism, a strong sense of dynamic contrast, and a certain improvisatory freedom ‒ to the realization of this music. By the work’s conclusion one has a sense that the concert hall, however compromised, might still serve as ground for reflection as well as refuge.
–Stuart Broomer


Angelica Sanchez + Marilyn Crispell
How To Turn The Moon
Pyroclastic PR 10

The germination of this keyboard summit lay in a friendship which developed following an encounter between Angelica Sanchez and Marilyn Crispell at the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock. It’s not a new situation for Sanchez who duetted with Kris Davis on her Duopoly, an affinity affirmed by subsequent concert appearances. For her studio date with Crispell, Sanchez was inspired to create a sheaf of compositions, which together with three joint improvisations, constitute her debut on Davis’ Pyroclastic imprint.

While piano duets have a checkered history, the wide-open sound and clear separation on this recording ensures that there is no hint of either redundancy or murkiness. Instead the session presents a fertile meeting of two personalities who just happen to share the same instrumental outlet. Sanchez may be more direct in terms of melody and rhythmic impulse, while Crispell perhaps works with fuller voicings and more readily at the extreme ends of the keyboard, but both are totally empathetic and at the top of their game here.

Sanchez’ prior experience of the format manifests in a thoughtful range of settings to showcase the varied aspects of the partnership in the best possible light. The liner notes reveal that Sanchez has opted for brevity in the lead sheets to allow maximum scope for interpretation and exposure. As a result they traverse a raft of permutations from careering simultaneously to making respectful space for extended solo interludes.

In the first camp is the opening “Lobe Of The Fly”, a courtly line with rhythmic interjections until the two pianists settle on a gradually accelerating dual phrase. Once they gain escape velocity, both strike out in parallel, fast flowing and mercurial. It’s an engaging start which writes a check more than amply cashed by what ensues. Such twin expression, albeit in contrasting form, also distinguishes “Ancient Dream”, which begins in a spacey exchange of unconventional textures from the piano bodies and interiors, before resetting to a scripted abstract minor key lyricism to conclude.

In other instances one holds down a refrain while the other expounds. The apotheosis of this approach comes on “Ceiba Portal” where the pair constantly alternate roles, either tracing a stern martial undercurrent, or juxtaposing a series of vibrant, dancing, increasingly dramatic lead voices. It’s one of the highlights of the disc. Different in mood, but with a similar dynamic, Crispell commences “Fires In Space” alone with a sprightly staccato which steadily loosens its moorings before settling on a bluesy vamp which forms the backdrop for Sanchez’ tight rhythmic figures and surging excursions.

On the spare impressionistic “Sullivan’s Universe,” first Crispell, then Sanchez enjoy lengthy unaccompanied episodes, before uniting in the written material at the close. “Calyces Of Held” also offers individual opportunities before a final section in which Sanchez and Crispell intertwine in fluttering counterpoint until, in an echo of the opener, they explode into soaring flight.

Their dialogue is at its most concentrated on the three improvisations. “Space Junk” comprises a wiry timbral discourse, while “Windfall Light” is brooding, slow, and mysterious. But it’s the angular, dense, and muscular “Rain In Web” which proves a further high point, building to a percussive climax before a wind down which finds Sanchez belaying a repeated motif as Crispell muses. Whatever gambit they explore, the outcome provides the intense pleasure of eavesdropping on two kindred spirits communing in transporting narrative richness.
–John Sharpe


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