Friday, June 04, 2010

A whole bunch of good jazz records

I've been remiss in reviewing stuff the past couple of months, so this weekend I plan to listen my way through the massive stack of discs here on my desk, starting with the last _two_ releases from estimable Portuguese label Clean Feed.

Most titanic among their recent offerings is Soulstorm, a double CD's worth of improvisatory dialogue between the first-time trio of Brazilian-born tenorman Ivo Perelman, cellist Daniel Levin, and bassist Torbjorn Zetterberg, recorded in a single afternoon and evening's worth of unbridled inspiration. The players are conversant enough in the language of their instruments and skilled enough in the art of listening that their inaugural collaboration sounds like the work of a seasoned group. The pieces take their time unfolding -- most are over ten minutes long and "Plaza Maua" runs 24:34 -- and are magnificently detailed, nuanced, and shaded. Over the course of the two discs, the musicians cover the whole spectrum of emotions, their interplay often recalling that of Ornette's '60s bands with David Izenzon, or his more recent two-bass lineup. There's a whole universe of music encapsulated in the 1's and 0's on these shiny silver discs.

Saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock is heard to good advantage on two new Clean Feed trio releases. Pool School finds her in the company of leader/drummer Tom Rainey and guitarist Mary Halvorson. Rainey's a familiar of Julius Hemphill acolyte Tim Berne and a most cerebral percussionist, last heard by me on Ash and Tabula, an electronics-heavy trio recording with Nels Cline and Andrea Parkins. Halvorson's an alum of Berne and Anthony Braxton's bands, capable of a nasty, skronky, Sonny Sharrock-like attack. Laubrock's main axe is soprano, but she plays a lot of tenor here, as well, her sound infused with dark melancholy. On Paradoxical Frog, she plays tenor exclusively and collaborates with pianist Kris Davis and monster drummer Tyshawn Sorey; imagine if Tony Williams instead of Sunny Murray had accompanied Cecil Taylor and Jimmy Lyons at the Cafe Montmartre in '62. All three of these musicians are composers first, and it shows in their interaction. The ringer in the set is "Homograph," a 12-minute-plus example of extreme minimalism.

Dual Identity is the name of a quintet co-led by altoists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman. Mahanthappa's best known for his association with pianist Vijay Iyer, with whom Lehman's also worked in the cooperative trio Fieldwork. Also on board is guitarist Liberty Ellman, playing a semi-hollow electric rather than the flat-top acoustic he employs with Henry Threadgill's Zooid. The two saxes harmonize, play contrapuntal lines, and intertwine their solo voices the way Arthur Blythe and David Murray did on Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition. Ellman comps like early John McLaughlin and provides a rich-toned third solo voice. Matt Brewer's a supportive bassist, while Damion Reid's a crisp, propulsive drummer. The live recording is impeccable.

Octal: Book Two is a solo recording of performances on a prototype eight-string guitar/bass by composer/multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp. For someone who's exploring all the possibilities of his instruments, including atonal and percussive sounds, Sharp can be relentless, sending seemingly endless chains of notes cascading over each other, leaving nary a second of empty space. In other pieces, you can hear his orchestral concepts (in the liner notes, he references post-quantum physics and string theory), while elsewhere, he sounds like Robert Fripp and Tony Levin from the early '80s edition of King Crimson embodied in a single musician, which can be quite frightening! On the closing "Inverted Fields," he uses an eBow and feedback to wring multiple tonal voices from the same instrument. A rigorous and challenging program that rewards repeated listenings.

(To be continued...)

ADDENDUM: Perhaps the term "jazz" is outdated. Perhaps something like "improvised music" or "creative music" would be more apropos for the recordings reviewed here -- particularly the Elliott Sharp. Or would that be too much hair-splitting? Dunno.


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