Monday, August 07, 2017

Things we like: Tyshawn Sorey, Dennis Gonzalez, Free, Nazz

1) If you read publications like The New Yorker or the NYT, you don't need my perpetually-swinging-after-the-pitch ass to tell you about Tyshawn Sorey. In the Times article linked to above, no less a personage than Roscoe Mitchell, whose recent album the 37-year-old composer/multi-instrumentalist is all over, acknowledged Sorey as "the next generation of us." Growing up in Newark, Sorey built his own drumkits and played in R&B bands, taught himself piano in his church's basement, and studied trombone at school before beginning academic studies under Mitchell's Chicago contemporaries George Lewis and Anthony Braxton, the latter of whose Wesleyan professorship he's about to assume, then honed his craft under leaders like Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer, and Lawrench "Butch" Morris (the latter famed for his conduction of improvising ensembles).

Sorey's multi-instrumental fluency gives him a deep understanding of the nuances of sound production, and he always gets the most out of the tonal and textural palette of whatever ensemble he happens to be writing for. On his latest album, Verisimilitude, he leads his regular trio (pianist Corey Smythe, who also manipulates electronics, and bassist Chris Tordini) into territory staked out by Morton Feldman and Karlheinz Stockhausen as though it's his own neighborhood (a "jazz piano trio" date this is not). The album is available via Sorey's Bandcamp site, as is its predecessor, last year's The Inner Spectrum of Variables, which teams his trio with a string trio. You'll need to go elsewhere to seek out his debut as a leader, the sprawling that/not, and the intriguing guitar-led trio Koan. Sorey's currently at work on Koan II with a different ensemble.

2) Speaking of Bandcamp, the estimable Dallas-based trumpeter-composer Dennis Gonzalez has been making some out-of-print gems from his extensive catalog available digitally there. Most recent to go online is Catechism, a 1988 date cut in London with heavy friends including longtime Soft Machine saxophonist Elton Dean, pianist Keith Tippett (who played on King Crimson's Lizard and whom Robert Fripp courted to co-lead that band), and drummer Louis Moholo from the legendary South African band the Blue Notes. The music has some of the flavor of South African township jazz, and boasts some of Gonzalez's very finest multi-horn writing.

3) Also in my CD player lately: Free's Tons of Sobs, the '68 debut by the band of teenage British blues-rockers led by future Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers, acclaimed by his peers as the premier British rock singer of his generation (possibly, to these feedback-scorched ears, because he eschewed the histrionics of pretty much all his contemporaries -- not just the proto-metal shriekers, but basically all of 'em save Rod Stewart, whom it turns out was aiming at Entertainment a la Sam Cooke all along). The album is a possible response to Jeff Beck's Truth (speaking of Rod the Mod); Led Zep I was another. Where Page, Plant, et al. made everything bigger and flashier, Free's approach was to make everything simpler, earthier, and more basic. Guitarist Paul Kossoff's wobbly vibrato came from classical training, not Albert King; a very different outcome than where King Fripp's similar studies led. Half-Guyanese bassist Andy Fraser's sound had a Caribbean lope that drank from the same well as Robbie Shakespeare and "Family Man" Barrett, although he'd apprenticed with John Mayall. They'd continue refining their approach, removing every gram of excess from their sound, and score a career-defining hit out of it with "All Right Now" -- written in five minutes in a dressing room -- before perfecting it with 1971's Highway, but Free never sounded more satisfying than where they started.

4) Finally, a wallow in Todd Rundgren's first three solo albums led inexorably back to the Nazz, the band with which he emerged from Philadelphia back in '68. Chris Plavidal's kids correctly identified the primary influences on the Nazz's self-titled debut LP as Cream (Todd had the solo EC perfected on Wheels of Fire's "Those Were the Days" down pat, and drummer Thom Mooney's footroll-happy solo on "She's Going Down" could give Ginger's "Toad" a run for its money) and the Beatles (those vocal harmonies, although the chords Todd was writing had more jazz and uptown R&B in 'em than the Fabs', which generally stayed closer to their Everly Brothers/Motown inspirations). Recent listens to old faves like Talmy-era Who, the first two U.S. Yardbirds LPs, and my beloved Blues Project Projections surprised me -- some of the music sounded almost quaint -- but the Nazz albums, which I'd always thought were uneven (suffering from the second side blahs), held up surprisingly well.

"Open My Eyes" -- which opens Nazz and was supposed to be the A-side of their first single before a DJ turned it over, played "Hello It's Me," et voila -- is a song that has it all: great crunchy mutated "I Can't Explain" intro, great fuzzed-out riff, great chorus, great Electric Flag-sounding instrumental break, and most of all, a great bridge (which the Move, who knew a good song when they heard one, had the decency to repeat, eschewing the instrumental break, when they covered it and the Nazz's other greatest song, "Under the Ice," live on their '69 U.S. tour). On songs like "When I Get My Plane" from the first LP and "Meridian Leeward" from Nazz Nazz, there's even a hint of the 'orrible 'oo back in that lovely moment between Monterey and Tommy when they looked as good as they sounded and produced the magic and wonderful Sell Out.

It's easy to play "spot the influences" with Nazz -- the descending chords on "Under the Ice" are the same as on Traffic's "Paper Sun;" "Rain Rider" on Nazz Nazz borrows from Cream's "White Room;" the blues tracks on side two of Nazz Nazz don't really work, although "Kiddie Boy" would when Todd produced James Cotton -- and by the second LP (originally envisioned as a double album called Fungo Bat), you can hear Todd's Laura Nyro fixation emerging. This would mean trouble: lead singer Stewkey Antoni didn't dig those songs, or the fact that Todd wanted to sing 'em, and Todd was soon out of the band, along with bassist Carson Van Osten. The Nazz played the '69 Texas International Pop Festival with replacements, and the label released the unused Fungo Bat songs with Stewkey's overdubbed vox as Nazz III (including some gooduns: the opening "Some People," the very Laura-ish "Only One Winner," the more rockin' "Magic Me" and "How Can You Call That Beautiful"), but by then, Nazz were done. So there.


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