评语：Michael Brecker said (2001): ‘What would I like to be remembered for? … Doing a good job; playing great music; being part of it, I guess. Posterity and influence: those aren’t things that interest me much.’
Michael Brecker appeared on more than 500 record dates, but made few discs as solo leader. His steely brilliance and sense of structure inform almost every solo he played; whether it was matched with emotional resonance may depend on the listener. He exerted an influence on contemporary saxophone-players like no one since John Coltrane (who had influenced him) and Wayne Shorter, and while he made no innovations commensurate with theirs, his cumulative impact on contemporary jazz is immense.
Brecker and trumpet-playing older brother Randy made a name as the Brecker Brothers, playing a savvy jazz-fusion that allowed them to move almost at will into bop-based situations or rock and pop, whichever way the phone call went. It’s perhaps unfortunate that Michael didn’t make more records of his own, and he surely would have if illness hadn’t foreshortened his career, but he was the type of a working jazzman and his diary must have been a sight to see. To compound the perspective, the early GRP albums have been out of circulation for some time. However, the later Verve records are around, and they pretty much sum him up in high-quality surroundings.
Time Is Of The Essence was a tag-team effort with three different quartets; Michael cruised along imperiously. He was outwardly less convincing on the ballad album Nearness Of You, but his discomfort with more expressive agenda was perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy. There were other problems, common with these big-money dates and this was perhaps the most expensive band ever put together: it sounded like a supergroup idling in the departure lounge.
Pilgrimage was posthumously released, which guaranteed it even better press. It may seem harsh to say it, but Brecker’s enormous reputation and influence are rarely suggested by his own records and his great talent often best expressed itself on other leaders’ work. That said, a line-up like this could hardly have produced a bad record and Brecker’s late-developing interest in composition yielded some fascinating lines here, notably the two long tracks, ‘Anagram’ (which may be too much like the old closed-off Michael) and the moving finale, ‘Pilgrimage’. Whether ill-health made a physical difference (‘When Can I Kiss You Again?’ is a direct reference to his chemotherapy, something his son apparently said) or whether he had simply found a new philosophical calm in the face of mortality, there is a calm authority here which avoids the parade ground playing of previous years. The pianists seem to treat him very respectfully, and as a memorial it’s pretty good. We suggested in our previous edition that our rating might have been less generous if Michael were still around. This was somewhat misread. So impressive, so meticulously crafted were his solos, and so many of them in circulation, that it was always easy to think there would be another one along any minute. Until 13 January 2007, that was the case. The ensuing silence has changed the value of what went before.
评语：Ravish Momin says: ‘While we all carry “miren” (sadness from lack of closure to past events) with us, this recording allowed me to come to terms with my own. We painstakingly recorded the entire album in a lovely studio, but scrapped most of it in favour of live cuts from a tour that immediately followed. They captured the raw emotional energy I’d been looking for. The second take of “Fiza”, with the added violist, is my favourite track, a step closer to my dream of adding a mixed “east/west” string section to the band sound.’
It was hard to keep track of the different ethnic traditions feeding into Momin’s first two Trio Tarana CDs. He spent his childhood in Bombay and Bahrain and has also studied Japanese and Afghan music. While some musicians might turn all this into an undifferentiated ‘world music’ mélange, Momin has clear lines of direction and a strong sense of how they should be communicated.
The debut CD, Climbing The Banyan Tree, teamed him with violinist Jason Kao Hwang and bassist/oudist Shamir Ezra Blumenkranz, who between them shaped a record that visited Chinese opera one moment and archaic Levantine ritual the next. Momin’s percussion is always melodic in nature, weaving a collage of musical philosophies. Few recent records have opened up such a strong sense of new rhythmic possibilities available to ‘jazz’ or post-jazz.
A second CD, released on the Polish Not Two label, consolidated the group’s language. With a new personnel, though, Miren is both sensational and more obviously a jazz project. Bardfeld has more in common than Hwang with contemporary jazz violin-players like Mark Feldman, and Terzic maintains a steady drone behind the others, even when he isn’t featured. Kalmanovitch is only present on a second version of ‘Fiza’, which suggests the potential for all these pieces to be recast in larger, possibly even orchestral, forms. ‘Ragalaya’ is based on a traditional theme and finds Momin at his most physical, using hands and body to accentuate the linear progress of the piece as well as its visceral impact. ‘What Reward?’ is the most interesting hybrid, coming over like a cross between a gutbucket blues and some pan-Asian thing of complex provenance. ‘Fiza’ in both its forms is the best of the set, especially when Momin uses Paul Motian-influenced cymbals as a backdrop to the violin. Impressive, and lovely.
评语：Steve Noble says: ‘Obliquity was recorded in the rehearsal room I shared with Wilkinson – a dingy, damp room in an old hospital in Dalston, London. This was only the fourth time the trio had played together! An 11 a.m. start, a four-hour session; do or die! London calling – free jazz style, innit?’
Though consistently underrated, Noble has been a key figure on the British improvisation scene for more than two decades. He studied with Nigerian master drummer Elkan Ogunde and all his work has an alertness of context that suggests he considers music a social rather than a merely individualistic activity. He has worked in partnership with Alex Maguire, Derek Bailey and countless others, but typically, he’s not well-represented on record as a ‘leader’. Noble’s listed first on the superb Obliquity, though it obviously has to be considered the work of a collaborative trio. Wilkinson’s fiery, often humorous tack on improvisation suits Noble’s approach to perfection. The level of interplay between the two is extraordinary, often curiously reminiscent of Coltrane and Rashied Ali. In Edwards, there’s a third contemporary master in the group, a stunning technician who seems to play with bottomless enjoyment. Much of it is headlong and fierce, but Noble’s sense of time and its elasticity means that the music isn’t just a blow-heater but has pace, dynamics and considerable subtlety.
评语：Myra Melford says: ‘Playing with Mark and Matt is always a great pleasure, whether performing for an audience or recording. There’s a sense of trust that the music can go anywhere and everyone will be right there enjoying the ride.’
Melford’s piano training, which began with boogie and blues and moved on to lessons with Art Lande and Don Pullen, is hardly orthodox, even for a latter-day avant-gardist. What is consistently delightful about her work is the ability to sound like a musician in touch with all the jazz traditions, even when she is spinning a free line, and to sound edgy and oblique even when she is playing within an orthodox form. Some of her comfort in developing an amalgam of vernacular and advanced procedures has to be put down to an apprenticeship in the groups of Leroy Jenkins and Henry Threadgill, both leaders who command a blurring of forms.
Melford moved to New York in the mid-’80s, but didn’t begin recording under her own name until almost a decade later. Her early discography has sadly disappeared into the deleted zone, but recognition came from hat ART, Arabesque and then Cryptogramophone and, together with recordings for other leaders, there has been pretty much an album a year since the mid-’90s, the titles often taken from Rumi’s mystical poetry, the music ever more confident.
Big Picture comes from Melford’s Trio M and jumps straight into the ‘essential’ category. It might seem strange that a record in what has become the most conventional of all jazz instrumentations should seem such an imperative, but even allowing that this is very much a collaborative trio, she’s never played with such command and authority. ‘BrainFire And BugLight’ is a wild surreal thing, ‘For Bradford’ revisits Ornette Coleman on the least Ornettish of instruments, ‘Freekonomics’ suggests a world turned upside down, while ‘Secrets To Tell You’ is a small-scale emotional epic that must be stunning in live performance, with prominent roles for all three. A definitive modern jazz record.
评语：Gary Smulyan says: ‘At the end of the day, this session felt less focused and cohesive than its precursor, Hidden Treasures, but there were moments of excellence. We completed the session in five hours and most tunes in one or two takes. It had the spontaneous feel of a blowing session from the 1950s and ’60s.’
We beg to differ somewhat, about the first point if not the rest. Or, perhaps it’s because this one sounds so uncluttered and immediate that we like it so much. Smulyan is easily the most interesting mainstream baritonist of the moment, a follower of Pepper Adams, though by no means a slavish copyist. His tone is indeed peppery and with none of the unctuous quality that sometimes overtook even the great Gerry Mulligan. Smulyan’s also a fascinating student of the repertory, favouring rarities over more familiar themes. His most recent disc was a jazz interpretation of Frankie Laine songs! Hidden Treasures (2005) stuck closer to the jazz canon, but kicked off with Art Farmer’s ‘Stretch In F’ and ended with a Coltrane rarity, ‘Fifth House’, taking in little-known material by Harold Vick, Donald Byrd (‘Omicron’) and Tadd Dameron (‘Jahbero’) along the way. The set’s one standard, ‘A Woman Always Understands’, is associated with Nat Cole, but few younger listeners would know that. To make things tougher still, Smulyan chose to work without piano, in a spare trio setting.
He brings in Mike LeDonne for about half the tracks, and has the late, great Dennis Irwin and the estimably tight Steve Johns in the rhythm section. LeDonne delivers an exquisitely shaped accompaniment and solo on ‘Chick’s Tune’, but tops it with his spot on the baritone ballad ‘Beautiful You’, dragging the chords romantically without losing touch with the basic pulse. Smulyan seems to be making bigger stretches on his horn now, modulating his expressive sweeps up and down the scale with impressive ease.
It’s a bold mix of themes. Apart from the Chick Corea tune and the solitary Smulyan ballad original, there’s Gigi Gryce’s ‘Sans Souci’, Horace Silver’s ‘Quick Silver’, Sal Nistico’s rarely covered ‘For You’, Monk’s ‘Suburban Eyes’ and Sonny Rollins’s ‘Evans’, a programme that would guarantee intrigue even if it weren’t so beautifully played. The leader’s reservations notwithstanding, we have no hesitation in pulling this one out of the bag; anyone who samples it will doubtless want to hear the others, and make a personal judgement.
Winter in New York 2006
评语：Joëlle Léandre says: ‘Les nombreuses rencontres en duo que je fais, que j’ai fait et que je ferai encore sont simplement un plaisir intense et une réflexion toujours chez moi, de la musique, de l’écoute, de la mise en forme, l’improvisation au fond ne s’improvise pas, c’est un sujet de structure/forme/mémoire et l’écoute, surtout l’écoute, et un travail immense … C’est une musique “risquée”, mais la vie ne l’est elle pas? Le duo avec Kevin contient tout cela. Les sons “claquent”, les mélodies et rythmes sont justes, les interactions vivent; j’aime tout l’aspect aussi des timbres et couleurs avec le vibra! Et puis toujours ces questions: est-ce du jazz ou pas? Arrêterons-nous un jour de nous la poser? La musique est bien plus importante que les “bacs à disques” … Créons! Inventons! Le duo avec Kevin est d’une fragilité et richesse d’écoute absolue. Au fond il faudrait beaucoup aimer et être “à fleur de sons” (jeu de mots pour “à fleur de peau”) … l’aventure de la musique est toute notre vie! Un son peut contenir toutes les musiques du monde!’
Raised in the South of France, Léandre studied double bass in Paris and Buffalo, where she met the musics of Feldman, Cage and Scelsi, who remain powerful influences. Her work has straddled improvisation and modern composition. She was drawn to free playing by Derek Bailey but has worked in so many contexts and with such an individual voice (in the instrumental sense; she also vocalizes) that it is impossible to pigeonhole her. There is now a substantial discography, in solo and group situations, and Léandre has been on a remarkable creative streak since the turn of the ’00s, performing at a higher and higher level.
Since no single work is ‘representative’ and all of it is undertaken with the same high passion and commitment suggested above, it’s only possible to pick out one outstanding disc among many. Like Léandre’s text, it sums up many of the issues that confront the improvising community. It is also a formidably fine and disciplined performance. The clichés have run out: metal and wood, earth and air, yin and yang, cold without, heat within. The New York encounter with Norton was a remarkable thing, caught live at the Stone club. Léandre has rarely, if ever, sounded better, strongly centred and so technically assured that merely technical issues are set aside from the start. Norton is one of North America’s genuine innovators, a man destined for lasting greatness on his instrument(s). The tone colours of the vibraphone resonate with the persistent overtones of the bass. It’s clever music, in the sense that high-order musical concepts are invoked, but it also has a visceral intensity that lasts and lasts.
评语：Tony Malaby says: ‘Originally the trio was called Exploding Heart. I had to change it because a punk band from the Pacific Northwest threatened to sue if we went with their name. As a boy growing up in Tucson I often ate tamarind pulp with chili. In Spanish it’s called Tamarindo. It was the first thing that came to mind when renaming the band: earthy, spicy, stringy pulp.’
Malaby is a remarkable fellow, not least in his modest refusal to conform to the notion of the improvising saxophonist as an inspired and ecstatic voice. His music is thoughtful, not stripped of emotion but not given over to it either, and, as the cliché runs, Tony plays very much for the band. For that reason, he turns up in a good many contemporary situations, but mostly unsung, other than by fellow players, who admire him greatly.
On Cosas for Nine Winds, he shared composition credits with trombonist Joey Sellers and that looked to be a terrific partnership; sample ‘Mesopotamian Love God’, which seems to be a reworking of the ‘Girl Talk’ line, unlikely as that sounds. However, Malaby has been striking out in his own directions and Tamarindo is an essential contemporary record, all the more persuasive for its modesty of purpose and refusal of rhetoric. On ‘Buried Head’, ‘Mariposa’ and ‘Mother’s Love’ (the last of these notably unsentimental), Malaby weaves lines that have the clarity and directness of prose. Parker’s tendency to the sententious is reined in and Waits plays free time with great discipline. It’s an almost impossible record to fault.
评语：Andrew Rathbun says: ‘Affairs Of State was conceived during a difficult period in American politics; the country was engaged in an unjust war based on misdirection and fear, and only the privileged were represented in Washington. More damage was done to the future of this nation than at any other time in US history. This CD was my commentary.’
Politically engaged jazz artists have not been particularly thick on the ground in recent times, which makes Rathbun all the more intriguing. The Canadian – and perhaps it’s because he is Canadian – wears his heart on his sleeve. He makes an impressive showing as a sideman, but his own projects are quite ambitious in form, drawing on an interest in the relation between music and verse. The whole of his first record, Jade, came out of seeing something written in the subway; the second, True Stories, takes the work of Margaret Atwood as its starting-point. The third, Sculptures, recorded in the month of the WTC attacks in New York, also implies an extra-musical programme, but has no vocal part. He’s a deft composer and already a sophisticated soloist. He has a nicely rasping touch when it’s called for, though for the most part the early records look for a lyrical/expressive vein.
They were all made for Fresh Sound New Talent, but in 2006 Rathbun switched to Steeplechase and made a firm start with Shadow Forms. Its sequel sees him hit stride and reach a new maturity. It was already clear that his reaction to 9/11 (which happened in his adopted home city) was neither pro forma nor sentimental. On Affairs Of State, with a fine band at his back, he delivers a heated verdict on post-9/11 America. No poetry, no soapboxing, just tersely written modern jazz which lets form and harmony tell its own story. ‘Break The Chains’ and ‘Folly (Of The Future Fallen)’ are both devastating statements and Rathbun’s own voice rises to meet the challenge.
Tina May Sings The Ray Br
评语：Tina May says: ‘The Van Gelder Studio is a sight to behold – church-like and all wood inside; it sounds beautiful. We had a “team” photo taken on the “John Coltrane steps”. During a take of “Little Lullaby” – a gentle piece with Patience Higgins and Jay Brandford playing bass clarinet – we suddenly heard the great New Jersey voice of Rudy himself saying: “Patience, you moved!” Mr Higgins had drifted off the legendary Neumann microphone. Great ears, Rudy … a true artist, with a dry sense of humour, too.’
Trained as an actress as well as a singer, May has one of the best and boldest jazz voices in the United Kingdom, with an unmissable onstage presence and an ability to sparkle one moment and communicate deep melancholy the next. She has some of the lean, light quality of the bop singers of Buddy Stewart’s generation, yet her deep, English voice is strikingly apart from American influences; and she has a worldly, been-around-the-block quality which doesn’t prevent her from investing even familiar lyrics with wonder.
Her run of albums for 33 Records has been of consistently high quality. Jazz Piquant from 1998 shows off her complete mastery of the French language in a set of the native songs, and with Coe on top form this is an irresistible confection. But it has to bow to the quite superb One Fine Day, recorded the following year, a repertory set so finely achieved it should make most singers nod in appreciation.
The streak continued into the new decade, throwing May together with some of the most expressive reed-players around – Scott Hamilton on I’ll Take Romance, Tony Coe on More Than You Know, Stan Sulzmann on A Wing And A Prayer – partners who helped underline just how elegant an improvising instrument the May voice is as well as being a finely dramatic vehicle for song. The next in the sequence, though, was quite, quite dazzling, in both conception and execution. While other singers rag-pick the Great American Songbook, May goes straight for the song at the heart of jazz’s bluesiest contemporary master. Sickler’s arrangements are spare and sassy; Rudy Van Gelder gives the studio a plain, intimate sound, with Tina sounding as if she’s sitting on a barstool in a half-circle of players. ‘Dreaming My Life Away’ is a throwback to the great bop singers, but with a fresh-minted quality that keeps it miles from pastiche. The Bryant duets conjure up a lost era in jazz, with ‘Little Susie’ deliciously transformed. A faultless vocal album.
评语：Pete Malinverni says: ‘Italo Calvino’s fantastic imagination harnessed by impeccable craft is a good metaphor for the jazz musician. Places have many meanings, corporeal and super-earthly: every time I’ve visited Venice I’ve found it to be a city of many disorientating layers of memory. The recording also gave me a chance to comment on the sad fate of New Orleans after Katrina. And I thought: “Lonely Town” would stand for any city when one is alone, at least in the heart.’
Malinverni already had a fine body of recording when this fine quintet date came along. He’s among the most thoughtful of contemporary composers and is also inspired by a strong religious faith, which has fed into a number of recent gospel-inspired projects like Joyful! and the Good Shepherd Suite. Invisible Cities has a strongly philosophical cast, inspired by Calvino’s narratological games and speculations in the book of that name. In it, Marco Polo tells the Khan about the ever more improbable places he has been in the realm and in doing so sparks a meditation of desire, time and place. Malinverni has been very subtle in translating the spirit and mood of the book into music, though Malinverni’s cities are real locations, only revealing what he describes as their ‘super-earthly levels’ as each composition progresses. In addition to learning Italian in order to read Invisible Cities in the original, Malinverni gave a copy to each of his colleagues in the band and it became a kind of meta-score for the session.
The disc begins conventionally enough with a version of ‘I Love Paris’, but even here the City of Light is revealed to have another side, not necessarily dark but certainly mysterious. ‘Lonely Town’ is the other standard, though one somehow aches to hear how he might have handled ‘A Foggy Day’ with this personnel. Hagan’s hooded tone and Perry’s subtle harmonics contribute to the mystery and the other rhythm section players keep the music alert and shifting. Among the other locations visited are Istanbul, Chicago, Venice and the Salem of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Scarlet Letter. Hagans leads the mourning song for hurricane-wracked New Orleans with a trumpet solo that proposes an alternative to Wynton Marsalis or Terence Blanchard. Unsurprisingly, given Malinverni’s beliefs, the set ends in ‘The City Of Heaven’, reinforcing the impression that each of these corporeal visits has been leading towards some moment of transcendence. The leader’s piano-playing has never been more vivid and rich, but he plays for the group, or rather for the music, which grows in stature with each appearance.
评语：Mike Reed says: ‘The recordings started in 2005 and completed in 2006. The original sessions were lost and also included tracks with Jeff Parker and Jim Baker. The actual record was my best attempt to salvage what would have been the record. The title, which has many meanings, also alludes to the lost, or “ghost”, recordings of the year before.’
Reed’s a fascinating figure in that he deploys large elements of freedom within what’s essentially a contemporary post-modal jazz idiom, or perhaps vice versa. He is the kind of musician who makes things happen around him, a member of groups led by fellow Chicagoans Josh Berman and Rob Mazurek, leader of his own Loose Assembly (as in Last Year’s Ghost) and People, Places & Things, but also the founder of Emerging Improvisers Organization, a body which supports creative music in the Chicago area.
Reed put out In The Context Of with 482 Music in 2005, using a group that included such local luminaries as flautist Nicole Mitchell and guitarist Jeff Parker. It was a record full of intrigue and intricacy, but still reaching, and our first reaction to the shorter improvised pieces on Last Year’s Ghost was that they were primers to the group’s language rather than fully achieved tracks. Listening again in the knowledge that the whole record is a re-creation of something earlier and lost repositions listening and makes these pieces sound more integral with the rest. The band has a new, alert sound: Reid’s cello provides a fascinating new improvising voice, Ward is terse and arresting, while Adasiewicz has proved to be among the most interesting young players on his instrument in years. ‘The Entire State Of Florida’ shows how much the group is embedded in old Chicago blues-jazz. The folk melody of ‘Temporary States’ leads directly into the double waltz-time of ‘Ghost Writer’, the best single track, while ‘Day Of The Dead’ conjures up a strange dreamy space. Reed closes in that same displaced vein: ‘Dreaming With Jill’ is an avant-garde ballad, none the less lovely for its disturbing undercurrents. If ever a contemporary record grows with familiarity, this is it.
评语：Michael Musillami says: ‘This was a landmark release for two reasons. It was only the first time we had added a fourth member to the complete programme. It was also a way to give a gentle nod to my old departed friend, Thomas Chapin. Thomas brought Mark Feldman to my attention on his “and strings” release Haywire and I promised myself then that Mark and I would work together in future.’
Originally inspired by rock, Musillami took lessons with the charismatic Joe Diorio and started out playing a mixture of R&B and more straight-ahead jazz before, having moved east, he hooked up with Thomas Chapin, Mario Pavone and others round the Hillside Club in Waterbury, Connecticut. One interesting influence that the guitarist claims is Bill Barron, and his themes certainly manage to revise conventional forms in the way that Barron’s compositions often would. That, along with the company of Chapin’s cohort of savvy young innovators, gave Musillami a sound that is in some superficial way conventional enough but always brimming with unexpected harmonic possibilities and unclichéd melodic ideas.
The Playscape label took its name from a band Musillami was going out with around 1999, when he established his imprint. It’s an elegant operation, with a solid contemporary list, and it has given the guitarist an outlet for his own work. After the excellent Perception, Those Times and Dachau came The Treatment, easily the best of the bunch. The live DVD performance of three of the pieces was recorded in Connecticut three days before the studio recording. There are, we suppose, a few rough edges, but it’s a delight to have so much more of this remarkable music. Musillami’s in great form, but it’s Feldman who steals the show. His quotation from ‘Surrey With The Fringe On Top’ in the middle of ‘Brooms’ is a sign of how quickly he’s thinking and his articulation is needle-sharp all the way. ‘Human Conditions’ has him playing mostly pizzicato, an extraordinary effect when combined with guitar and bass. ‘Stark Beauty’ is exactly what it says it is. Musillami has come on in bounds even since the last record, not least in his ability to integrate a new voice into the trio. This one is a minor modern classic.
评语：Saxophonist and Cuban music specialist Jane Bunnett says: ‘During the powerful changes that took place in jazz from 1959 to the 1970s (African influence and powerful polyrhythms) the American embargo left Cuba out of the party. But that influence is always there and it could yet have a seismic effect on American jazz.’
A Cuban émigré pianist, Rubalcaba created a minor sensation with his early appearances and was quickly signed up by Blue Note, for whom he recorded through the ’90s. He’s perhaps the most singular of those Cuban musicians who have made an impact on the American jazz scene of late. While he plays with as much grandstanding power as any of his countrymen, there is a compensating lightness of touch which one sometimes misses in the perpetually ebullient tone of most Cuban jazz.
After a run of excellent records for the label, brilliant but sometimes lacking in emotion, it sounds like Rubalcaba has taken a deep breath before this one and let the feeling come through. It’s still a technically dazzling performance but ‘This Is It’ and ‘Hip Side’ (both written by the brilliant Terry) lift the music onto a new level, astute but liberated from merely technical concerns. The long, long ‘Aspiring To Normalcy’, by Brewer, is another clever line. Horace Silver’s ‘Peace’ implies another line of descent for Rubalcaba, whose own ‘Infantil’ sounds like a gloss on Silver’s work. The rising star of the band is Rodriguez, who has touches of everyone from Booker Little to Woody Shaw and sounds as if he could walk into a Messengers date tomorrow and blow everyone away.
Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler
评语：Nicole Mitchell says: ‘Xenogenesis Suite is a science fiction-inspired composition. My goal was to explore the emotional process of fear, which Octavia Butler’s book Dawn developed through her character Lillith, who was plucked from the earth and brought into an alien environment. Facing fear head on is a human experience that we all may feel in the moments before real transformation.’
Currently co-president of AACM and 2006’s Chicagoan of the Year, Mitchell has made a considerable splash with her Black Earth Ensemble, whose music is not so much a throwback to 40 years ago as a strong reminder of how much has moved forward in cultural politics. Some of the creative ethos is still the same though, and there is no mistaking the power and ambition of Mitchell’s writing. Her flute-playing has an instantly compelling quality, as distinctive and arresting as a speaking voice, and on ‘Wonder’, the opening track of this remarkable sequence, she establishes a musical environment in which almost anything seems possible. Science fiction has often in the past provided a stimulus to creative jazz but those narrative energies have not been prominently engaged in recent years and Mitchell’s use of Octavia Butler is bold and self-determined.
The ensemble is tightly disciplined but still free to explore the dimensions of Mitchell’s big idea on their own individual terms. Mankwe Ndosi has a more specialized role than the others, but the combination of flute, voice and cello is what gives this incarnation of BEE its special character, those and the terrific combination of Evans’s drums and Avreeayl Ra’s percussion. One suspects that Mitchell, who already has a substantial discography and one breakthrough record, Black Unstoppable, is an important voice for the future and an unstoppable force in Chicago and beyond.
评语：Cuong Vu says: ‘Recording in Mexico City was an excuse for Stomu, Ted and I to gorge ourselves on some seriously kick-ass Mexican food with our new buddies. Chris Speed refused to take advice about what not to eat (street vendor food and raw lettuce) and got food poisoning that started to “cripple” him right as he played the last notes of “Never, Ever, Ever”, the last take of the record.’
The son of a Vietnamese pop singer mother and multi-instrumentalist father, Vu moved to Seattle when he was six. He swapped saxophone for trumpet and developed a remarkably powerful voice. In style, his recorded work ranges freely between Miles-influenced impressionism and a species of advanced rock, with a few more abstract soundscapes interspersed. He was always going to have to go some to improve on the debut record, Bound, which was one of our favourite contemporary records till Vu-Tet hove into view.
The quartet immediately sounds like a working group, evidenced by the improvised intro to the disc. That gives place to ‘Accelerated Thoughts’, a post-bop, post-jazz rush that re-establishes the close empathy between Vu and Speed. ‘Solitary Confinement’ dispels its own initial melancholia with some finely affirmative playing. ‘Never, Ever, Ever’ has a twitchy quality (and now we know why) but maintains a fine group discipline. The only oddity is the neo-traditionalist groove of ‘I Promise’ right at the end, but if this is Vu pointing to a possible future direction, bring it on.
评语：Evan Parker says: ‘This is the closest I’ve come to how it must be to make a film.’
In the mid-’90s, to no one’s great surprise, Evan Parker began to work with electronics, using the vastly underrated Philipp Wachsmann and soundmen Walter Prati and Marco Vecchi to create a sonic environment in which the levels of harmonic information the saxophonist attained on his solo saxophone recitals were suddenly and exponentially increased. More surprising was how quickly the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble became a permanent part of Parker’s language-group, bringing in the brilliant Lawrence Casserley and, as occasion dictated, musicians from electronics ensemble Furt and from other musical traditions.
The culminating achievement of the Ensemble was a commission from the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in England, a composed piece for improvising ensemble that delivered a work of unparalleled sophistication and presence. Parker acknowledges the role played by the commissioning body, engineer Steve Lowe, producer Steve Lake and the ECM label, and clearly the sound-world of the piece is determined to a broad extent by the individual performers, but it is Parker’s imagination – capacious, responsive, but in no way totalizing – that makes the piece so successful.
Given the size of the ensemble and the technical resources on hand, it is a surprisingly restrained and even in places almost reticent work. It harnesses energy rather than dissipating it. There are extremely forceful passages – ‘Part IV’ is an immense free chorale and the closing ‘Part VII’ borders on the apocalyptic – but the overall tone is outstandingly calm and centred. British ‘free improvisation’, if the term still deserves currency and the nationalist attribution makes any sense of what is an international project, has travelled a great distance since its emergence in the late ’60s. Though some might cite the Ensemble’s transatlantic collaboration with Roscoe Mitchell as a greater achievement, this remarkable collaborative work is its masterpiece.
评语：Larry Ochs says: ‘When I called Satoko to ask if she and Natsuki would join the Drumming Core, I already had “Stone Shift” composed in my head, and told her I only wanted synthesizer. She said: “Synthesizer!? I cannot play it.” I replied: “But I heard you play it on Tamura’s electric quartet CD.” She said: “I have no experience. I just turned it on and reacted to the others.” I said: “Great, that’s exactly what I am looking for!” ’
One might assume that membership of a long-standing ensemble like the ROVA saxophone quartet might have convinced Larry Ochs that the best music is always to be had from situations where the participants are all alert to their companions’ every likely move. In fact, Ochs has proved to be a most welcoming musician, constantly making space on his own projects for new faces and voices. Hence the introduction into Sax & Drumming Core of new music’s most energetic couple, Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura.
Though he has commented privately that subsequent encounters profoundly enhanced the empathy between group and guests, no one approaching Stone Shift without preconception could possibly imagine that this was not already a settled partnership. Ochs’s long welcoming speech on ‘Across From Over’ is one of the best available representations on record of his remarkable post-post-Coltrane style, an ironclad line that ripples with harmonic potential. Tamura’s trumpeting takes some time to make its presence felt and Fujii’s initial movements on the synthesizer are tentative at best. By the time ‘Abstraction Rising’ is complete, though, each member of the ensemble has staked out a distinct territory within the sound space. Fujii does move to her piano for this one – Ochs commented that otherwise it would have been like asking Trane to play, but only on soprano! – and her utterly distinctive pianism, compounded of folk-like shapes, attractively ragged clusters and calligraphic splashes of pure tone, fits into the mix without strain.
‘Stone Shift’ was a well-attested trio piece when this recording was made, but Ochs allows the guest couple to inhabit it as they will. The dedication to Kurosawa makes complete sense. If this is ‘Oriental music’, it’s Eastern in a way that Shakespeare is Eastern, which is to say, universal. Saxophone and drums return to the heart of things on the closing ‘Finn Veers For Venus’, with trumpet, piano and tatters of synth taking a more decorative role than elsewhere.
It seems likely that the relationship documented will continue and grow, but for the moment this is a near-perfect hour of contemporary creative music.
For the Love of You
评语：Joe Locke says: ‘It celebrates the art of songwriting: stories of love, loss and elation given a new twist, while maintaining their integrity. Very different from previous projects, which focused on developing and performing new original music with atypical forms, this is a return to tradition.’
While Joe Locke can easily assert the kind of virtuosity associated with Gary Burton, it’s Bobby Hutcherson’s asymmetrical lines and dark, eruptive solos to which he sounds most in debt. He gets an idiosyncratic sound from the notoriously faceless instrument – he keeps the sparkle of the vibes but loses their glassiness. As an improviser, he weaves very long lines out of open harmonic situations, maintaining a momentum over short or long distances – he can send up resonant clouds of notes or pare a trail back to its sparsest origins. He can also make the most of slow tempos.
The son of a classical music teacher, Locke studied privately after moving to New York in childhood and quickly established himself as a thoughtful and expressive player, working a line parallel to Hutcherson’s boldly lyrical approach. Locke is an intensely emotional player. Every phrase seems packed with meaning. His early Steeplechase records have this quality in abundance, but it has grown deeper now that Locke has managed to avoid the risk he once ran of becoming a full-time guest star and is concentrating on his own luminous records.
For The Love Of You is a lyrical masterpiece. The material ranges from delicious originals (‘Verrazano Moon’, ‘I Miss New York (When I Been Gone Too Long)’), Morricone’s ‘Cinema Paradiso’ theme, the Isley Brothers title-track, Neil Young’s ‘Birds’, and standards as unashamedly romantic as ‘The Shadow Of Your Smile’ and ‘Two For The Road’. The Morricone is outstanding, with a plangently bowed solo from Mraz (one of the few bassists who delivers as much arco as he does when plucking) and one of Keezer’s most finely achieved solos on record.
It’s a romantic’s record, for romantics, but it would be unwise to overlook the steely musicianship that goes into even the apparently lightweight opener. There’s real authority here, and Locke finally lays secure claim to Milt Jackson’s crown.
评语：Sam Newsome says: ‘Making the record was a transforming experience. With no band to hide behind, I truly felt what it’s like to be exposed – the vulnerability of letting people hear the real me. When it was all over and done with, it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. It many ways, it made me even more fearless.’
Newsome settled on music after trying out for a time as a comedian, though frankly going from stand-up to solo saxophone performance is a little like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. A scattering of early records – mostly on tenor – suggested a highly inventive player who was a little constrained by the exigencies of hard bop. He courted trouble by framing tributes to both Coltrane and Rollins on the debut, but ‘In The Vein Of Trane’, basically a simple F-minor vamp, manages to reflect on its subject without slavishly copying him, and ‘Pent-Up House’ settles for the brazen confidence rather than the delivery of the young Sonny. Actually, Newsome takes his time in his improvising, building solos methodically, savouring his best phrases and going for tonal extremes only when he sees their logical point.
Recent years have seen Newsome work in more interesting areas and with the courage to work out on his own, not just as an unaccompanied performer but without a commercial label to back him up. Monk Abstractions is a fascinating project: ten Monk themes, interspersed with some very short ‘abstractions’ of Newsome’s, which obviously attempt to extract some common essence from the work. The obvious – too obvious – comparison is Steve Lacy, but Newsome plays as if Steve’s meditations simply didn’t exist, and he doesn’t really ‘do’ the obvious, this man. Starting out with an improv and then ‘Boo Boo’s Birthday’ keeps it from seeming in any way predictable. He keeps the bluesy quality of the originals intact but tinkers with the form, which is an interesting alternative approach. Some quibbles with the sound, but mostly it’s good and certainly sustains attention.
评语：Loren Stillman says: ‘It really was a “blind date”. We’d never played together before, which meant it had the potential to be a complete disaster, but having known the playing personalities of each musician ahead of time allowed me freedom to write for individuals. This lent itself very naturally to our way of playing together. I hope it’s a much fun to listen to as it was to make.’
Stillman was only 15 when he made Cosmos, which guaranteed his debut a certain level of attention. His light, agile tone was immediately sometimes likened to Lee Konitz’s and like the older man he was happy to dabble in free playing, as on the title-piece. Through no fault of his own, he got more attention for the date on his birth certificate than for the music, and it was some time before anyone recognized that here was a genuine writing talent and a musician who was in for the long haul rather than just a few column inches of ‘prodigy’ copy.
Inevitably, it took a little time to deliver a master statement. Blind Date featured a band to die for, elegant sound engineered by Jason Seizer and Stephan V. Wylick, and a batch of fine new compositions from Loren. It all adds up to a cracking contemporary jazz record. His alto sound has the kind of edge at the extremes of register that makes you wonder why he doesn’t double (notably) on ‘Shape Shifter’ and ‘Theme For A New Regime’, but at the same time glad that he sticks to his guns. Gress and Baron make a great partnership, tight and springy, and Versace keeps the ideas buoyant and alert. Hard to beat on the contemporary scene.
Time and the Infinite
评语：Adam Rogers said (2007): ‘I always liked the idea of working in a trio. It gives you a lot to do, being the only melody instrument, but gives a lot of space as well.’
Rogers was a well-respected sideman long before he made a move to record under his own name, but as so often in such cases, it was worth the wait, and a string of good Criss Crosses have issued, all illustrating Rogers’s bubbling, restless sound. He keeps his hand in for other styles as a charter member of fusion group Lost Tribe, but never sounds like a rock player manqué.
The debut Art Of The Invisible suffered from trying to do too much, but the guitarist’s coming out was more than welcome, since his considerable light has been under a bushel for some years. Wisely, Rogers stayed with the same line-up for Allegory, which in every way is a more coherent and polished effort. Perhaps it lacks the runaway energy and unfettered emotion of its predecessor, but it’s a more successful album for that. Apparitions was a barnstormer. The sleeve-notes aver that ‘the sound is anything but impenetrable and dense’, but density is actually the key to the music’s power: Rogers likes to pile up sonic bulk, and with the addition of Chris Potter, declaiming with tremendous intensity, he’s got a band of worldbeaters. It’s a classic modern record and so’s Time And The Infinite, which gets our vote by a whisker: state-of-the-art modern guitar jazz and trio playing of the very highest order. Rogers’s liking for abstract album titles – even notionally pretentious titles – might put off some potential listeners. It shouldn’t. He’s a wonderfully grounded player and his blend of standards (‘Night And Day’, ‘I Loves You, Porgy’) with originals like the title-track and ‘Elegy’ is pitch-perfect. The latter are sufficiently familiar in form to be comfortably assimilated; the former sufficiently rethought to make them interesting. Colley and Stewart complete an ideal line-up, both of them masters of what they do. Rogers may do better yet, which is a sobering thought on this form.
9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006
评语：Anthony Braxton said (2003): ‘The concept of Ghost Trance Musics is that of streams of consciousness, streams of notated material that are continuously present in the music, and which become established as a mutable logic construct, on top of which improvisation happens.’
If the unfolding Yoshi’s material from 1997 were Braxton’s Friday/Saturday At The Blackhawk, then this is his Plugged Nickel set, a comprehensive documentation of a working group developing a challenging repertoire over the course of a club residency, though of course in Braxton’s case this doesn’t involve varying a list of four or five favourite standards but working through the sequence of Ghost Trance Musics which still occupied him at the time, even as he was moving on into new phases of composition.
Braxton on Times Square. It seems improbable, but these four nights at Iridium represent what he himself regards as the most important summation of his work so far, and the culmination of the Ghost Trance Music series, a body of work whose rationale is not so very different, in the final analysis, from conventional jazz procedures. Though Miles Davis, Chick Corea and to a degree Keith Jarrett preceded him in terms of comprehensive documentation of a working residency, whether in a ‘club’ or concert setting, examples of an ‘avant-garde’ musician being documented in this detail and with such a lavish production are vanishingly rare. The set, complete with commentaries and other texts, is presented in an impressive box with booklet. The music is rich, strange and as vividly textured as the instrumentation would suggest. Bynum’s role is crucial, but Lehman, Fei, Halvorson and Rozen are now as securely embedded in Braxton’s musical philosophy (and perhaps with fewer residual preconceptions) as were the ‘classic quartet’ of Crispell, Dresser or Lindberg, and Hemingway, whose time with Braxton was, after all, two decades ago.
The worklist is now showing opus numbers that go beyond 350. In essence, though, these are mainly heads and themes that can be worked and reworked much as a conventional standards-and-changes player would work a basic jazz set. Braxton’s music requires – and deserves – demystification, and while this sumptuous box is only likely to appeal to established fans, it would do very well as a means of induction to Braxton’s misleadingly forbidding aesthetic. Here he is, doing what bandleaders have done for decades: leading a working band, making mistakes, having off-nights (the second disc is shaky in places) and some great moments (it gets ever stronger towards the end), and for the most part enjoying being in out of the cold and in the company of sympathetic fellow-travellers. What a long, strange trip it has been and it shows no sign of being over. A survey of Braxton’s work is more notable in the omission than the inclusion. Nothing from the ’90s, for instance, when he became increasingly prominent and no longer a coterie enthusiasm; no example of his controversial standards playing, which is fascinating, but at best problematic; no more of his large-scale operatic/orchestral productions; and no more of his solo alto recitals: the number of Braxton records currently available defies belief and two more arrived on the day of writing, albeit cut on the fly during overseas tours. He is a quintessential modern artist and a quintessential modern American, intriguingly held suspended between several strong gravitational fields, immense and unignorable.
评语：Brad Goode says: ‘I hope to capture the spirit of live performance on my straight-ahead recordings. This session was done quickly; one or two takes of each tune, no pausing to listen to playbacks. My philosophy is, just live with the truth about your playing.’
A Chicagoan who studied in Kentucky and made his base in Colorado, Goode has doughtily resisted New York’s gravitational pull and still created a lively, self-determined career for himself. He made some good records for Steeplechase before returning to the Chicago fold on Delmark and upping his game as he did so. There’s nothing unusual any more about a player who can work both ‘outside’ and ‘inside’, but few manage to maintain a high level of creativity in both.
On Nature Boy, Goode’s still a quietly daring fellow. Compare the plangent lyricism of ‘Nature Boy’, the notes delicately strained with emotion, with the stop-time bugling effects of ‘Nightmare Of The Mechanized World’. Then ‘Sealed With A Kiss’ receives a poppy treatment over a back-beat, Brad playing with his mute in. The set goes on in something like this vein, though none of the other juxtapositions are quite so stark. Eddie Harris’s ‘Infrapolations’ is an interesting inclusion, again muted, and the closing ‘All Through The Night’ bustles along unexpectedly. Intriguing and enigmatic.
评语：Dave Ballou says: ‘We improvised all the tracks in the order that they appear. There was no plan or discussion prior to the performance of each piece. Michael, Randy and I share an approach to improvisation that combines search for structure and sonic expression.’
Ballou is one of those ‘inside-outside’ players whose versatility might almost be thought a handicap. His clear tone and deftness are a clear plus for any other leader, but he hasn’t always found the right formula on his solo projects. Few jazz artists nowadays enjoy the kind of commitment from a label Ballou has had from Steeplechase, with eight records in catalogue at time of writing. The debut Amongst Ourselves was a bit lumpy, but repeated returns to these discs suggest not an artist struggling to find things to say on his own account, but one searching for adequate forms in which to express them. Some of the earlier records feature a piano-player – George Colligan on The Floating World and Rothko, Frank Kimbrough on Regards – but Ballou has stoutly refused the safety net and persisted with the tough discipline of trio playing. On Insistence, he pulls it off, and handsomely repays the label’s investment. Ballou himself has suggested he considers the record a culmination of his time with Steeplechase.
On it, he returns to the skeletal format of Volition and Dancing Foot, but what a difference! These are confident, muscular improvisations, most of them so well-constructed as to suggest a predetermined form but one that stands up to fresh interrogation. It’s hard to believe that these are spontaneous performances. ‘MF’ is a nicely ambiguous title: might refer to another iron-lunged trumpeter; might suggest that Dave is trying to throw off any artsy-fartsy reputation (Rothko, indeed!) and blow open and straight. The overall trumpet tone is, paradoxically, more hooded and insinuating than before, but Formanek holds the centre beautifully, allowing Ballou to take some interesting chances without falling flat. Peterson is so utterly musical that he works best in the sparest situations. On ‘Once Round’ and ‘Silly Dance And Coda’ Ballou demonstrates real authority and a graceful wit. Other people’s gigs are obviously part of the deal, but here’s an artist who has things to say and a voice individual enough to carry them. A more selfish tack might be in order.
评语：Ron McClure says: ‘One reviewer suggested that he missed the drums, but with players the calibre of Rich and George, I don’t. On New Moon, our 2009 Steeplechase CD, Billy Drummond joined us for a last date at Masuo’s studio, with his great Steinway “B” and the sound in general was much better. Soft Hands featured an “attack piano” used by rock’n’rollers, but George made it work. I hope he comes back from Manitoba, where he’s teaching. Rich makes everyone smile, and Billy can make anyone sound good. I’m a happy camper!’
A follower of Paul Chambers, whom he replaced in Wynton Kelly’s group, McClure worked in big bands for a time, before joining Blood, Sweat & Tears and then Charles Lloyd’s highly successful crossover jazz group. McClure himself experimented with a fusion group called Fourth Way, but since the ’80s has been established as a regular mainstream leader and composer. A superb soloist, with a highly developed arco sound, he is also an exceptional composer who draws on non-jazz tonalities. One of his characteristic devices is a percussive, almost marimba-like thrum achieved by striking the strings against the fingerboard.
McClure has been a fixture in the Steeplechase catalogue for two decades, since the release of McJolt in 1989, and the records simply get better and better. Ron marked his 65th year with a quiet masterpiece, his best record since Closer To Your Tears a decade earlier. These eight tunes are the work of a mature and assured composer and the drummerless format keeps the tempos open enough to allow at least some of the songs to change direction internally, as the last track, ‘Marble Room’, does to devastating effect. It’s by some way the longest cut of the set, but the rest all seem designed to give all three members a chance to address the material at reasonable length. The title-tune and ‘Gates Of Saffron’ are the other two pieces in a closing stretch that must be heard.