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A Clinic in Tunesmithing and Improvisation From This Era’s Greatest Jazz Guitarist

Albums that combine state-of-the-art tunesmithing with similarly rapturous improvisation are rare. That’s what Bill Frisell does on his latest release, Music IS, a solo recording presumably streaming at Spotify momentarily. His previous album, Small Town, was a similarly spare, low-key set, recorded live at the Village Vanguard with bassist Thomas Morgan. This one’s even more intimate, a master class from this era’s greatest jazz guitarist. Or maybe, considering that Frisell has never limited himself to jazz, it’s time to consider him as this era’s greatest guitarist, period. Americana has been an important part of his catalog for decades, but on this album it really comes to the foreground. He’s in the midst of a long stand at the Vanguard this month, with sets at 8:30 and 11. Today and tomorrow, he leads a trio with Morgan and the great Rudy Royston on drums. Then on the 20th, the three add add violist Eyvind Kang.

At a time where every six-string player with fast fingers and absolutely nothing to say seems to be going into jazz, Frisell stands out even more. He can play lickety-split when he wants, but throughout his career, his songs tend to be on the slow side. This album is a clinic in how he does it, just guitars and Frisell’s trustly loop pedal.

The songs are a mix of new ones and stripped-down versions of older material. The standout among the album’s sixteen tracks is Change in the Air, a somber, plaintive, Britfolk-tinged pavane, Frisell methodically building lingering rainy-day ambience around a simple one-five bass figure. Like most of the other tracks, it’s over in less than three minutes.

Go Happy Lucky comes across as a minimalist collage based on the old blues standard Since I Met You Baby. In Line, which could be an electrified John Fahey tune, begins with a lusciously chiming vintage soul progression, then Frisell deconstructs it using every wryly oscillating, floating or echoing patch in his pedal: is that a twelve-string effect, or the real thing? Likewise, is that an acoustic that Frisell’s playing on the subdued, spare oldtime folk-style ballads The Pioneers, or just his Tele through a pedal?

Sometimes Frisell’s loops are very brief; other times he’ll run a whole verse or chorus. Kentucky Derby has one of the longer ones, a very funny juxtaposition of distorted roar and flitting upper-register accents. He expands very subtly on a stately oldtime folk theme in Made to Shine, then artfully makes a forlorn, abandoned, Lynchian ballad out of a purist Jim Hall-like tune in Miss You.

Another ballad, Monica Jane is more spare and lingering, Frisell turning up the tremolo and spicing it with the occasional tritone or chromatic riff for distant menace in a Steve Ulrich vein. There’s also a punchline, a long one.

In Pretty Stars, Frisell stashes a simple, twinkling two-note riff in the pedal, then makes soulful country gospel out of it – lots of history and a little mystery at the end. Rambler follows the same formula, in this case a surreal wah-wah figure that completely changes the mood from pensive to bemused, compared to the alternate take included as a bonus track at the end of the album.

Frisell salutes iconic bassist Ron Carter with a stark, saturnine theme, part 19th century spiritual, part Wayfaring Stranger, with a little Wes Montgomery at the end. The album’s most anthemic track is Thankful: methodically crescendoing with burning, distorted, bluesy leads. it’s the closest to rocking the hell out that Frisell does here. Although the simmering miniature Think About It is pretty loud too.

The album’s most wintry number is What Do You Want, again bringing to mind Steve Ulrich and Big Lazy in pensive mode. A blues with uneasy ornamentation, Winslow Homer has a similarly surreal cinematic feel. All this is another notch on the belt for a guy who might have made more good albums than anybody else over the past thirty-five years.


Dave Douglas Radically Reinvents Dizzy Gillespie at Jazz at Lincoln Center

On one hand, there were probably a thousand groups around the world who were doing what what trumpeter Dave Douglas and his sextet did this past evening at Jazz at Lincoln Center  But those bands’ improvisations on Dizzy Gillespie themes were probably limited to solos around the horn. What Douglas did was simple on the surface – distilling riffs and phrases into their simplest, catchiest essence, often to the point of unrecognizability, and then jamming them out. But it was far more sophisticated than that.

The result was essentially two practically hourlong suites, packed with pairings, echoing, catch-and-follow and sometimes some pretty wild, untethered collective improvisation, drummer Joey Baron signaling the changes with gusty  abandon. The rest of Douglas’ band – second trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Gerald Clayton and Linda May Han Oh – turned in the kind of transcendence and joyous interplay you would expect from some of the world’s foremost improvisers.

Looking behind him down on the streetlights’ reflections on rain-soaked Broadway, Douglas went for appropriately distant, forlorn solo ambience to open the night’s second show. Oh bowed sepulchral high harmonics, Baron icing the windows, then the rest of the group joined, pensive and sparingly.

For the rest of the set, Douglas was Douglas; choosing his spots, always finding the mot juste. Space is a big part of his game: it seemed even more so this evening, whether punctuating the themes with sudden cloudbursts, wafting minor blues, snazzy sixteenth-note volleys or achingly melismatic lines that seemed microtonal – which probably weren’t, but Douglas can fake you out like that. For somebody who plays as many notes as he does, it’s amazing that he doesn’t waste any. Akinmusire basically played the role of flugelhornist: lots of long, methodically crescendoing legato solos, hovering around the midrange for the most part, occasionally in close formation with the bandleader.

Watching Frisell as a sideman was a trip. Only Baron was more exuberant. Yet Frisell also seemed to be the captain of the gravitas team, which also comprised Oh and Clayton. The pianist had been playing eerie, Satie-esque close harmonies for much of the set; it wasn’t long before Frisell decided to slam-dunk a couple. Otherwise, his shimmering, icily reverbtoned washes contrasted with judicious blues, shards of jangle and clang and an unexpectedly lighthearted detour into quasi-funk that Baron couldn’t resist spicing with polyrhythms.

Likewise, the drummer traded rims and hardware with Oh’s sotto-voce swings and vaults from the highest branches, finally getting a long solo in an epic Night in Tunisia and taking it from Buddy Rich to Wipeout and back. Oh and Clayton would throw a hot potato back and forth when least expected, notwithstanding how much murk and mystery they were building. When A Night in Tunisia finally coalesced, ironically it was Clayton who pulled away the latin noir he’d been shadowing all night,in to some jubilant tumbles. Meanwhile, Oh walked the changes  – but in Arabic hijaz mode, and expanded from there. Straight-up swing has seldom been so dark or interesting. The group finally closed with a verse of somebody else’s well-known tune: it wouldn’t have meant a thing if they hadn’t swung it as they had all night.

Douglas’ next stop on the never-ending tour is a duo show with similarly lyrical, individualistic pianist Uri Caine on Feb 27 at 7:30 PM at Filharmonie Brno in Brno, Czech Republic.

Iconic, Haunting Jazz Guitarist Bill Frisell Plays a Rare Duo Show in Brooklyn

Bill Frisell’s first album as a bandleader was just guitar and bass (and lots of overdubs). Who knew that this era’s preeminent jazz guitarist would ever revisit that format? Almost thirty-five years later, the bassist is Thomas Morgan, and the album, Small Town, is a live recording from the Village Vanguard from just a few months ago It’s hard to hear online, but you can catch the two when they make a relatively rare Brooklyn appearance at Roulette on June 30 at 8. Advance tix are just $20, and having seen Frisell in this particular borough, it’s not a safe bet to assume that the show won’t sell out.

The first track is an eleven-minute version of Paul Motian’s Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago. Resonant, starry, minimalist motives give way to a distantly ominous big-sky theme spiced with wispy harmonics and Morgan’s lurking presence. A wistful waltz develops and is then subsumed by  brooding pedalpoint with stark gospel allusions as Frisell builds a hypnotic web of contrapuntal loops. If this doesn’t end up in a Twin Peaks episode, that would be criminal.

The two make a briskly caravanning stroll out of Lee Konitz’s Subconscious Lee, threatening to take it down into the depths but never completely submerging. Morgan hangs back and punches in gingerly throughout most of the spacious, uneasy ballad Song for Andrew No. 1 (an Andrew Cyrille shout-out). Referneces to a famously infirm New Orleans funeral tune flicker amidst Frisell’s lingering single-note lines as he waits til the very end to go for the macabre.

He does Wildwood Flower a lot – this one offers genially blithe, bluegrassy contrast and some neatly understated counterpoint between the two musicians. 

The title track expands on the old Scottish folk tune Wild Mountain Thyme, Frisell finally flinging some noir and some wryly muted surf riffs into the purposeful, steady walk as Morgan straddles the same thin grey line. After that, the two pulse their way mutedly through Fats Domino’s What a Party; which sounds a lot more like the old folk song Shortnin’ Bread. Ironically, it’s the most pastoral track here – hearing Morgan toss off a handful of C&W guitar licks on his bass is a trip.

Poet – Pearl is a diptych. Morgan shifts around with a pensive incisiveness in the upper midrange, as he usually does throughout the set while Frisell plays a gently tremoloing lullaby of sorts. then the two follow the night’s most divergent courses, segueing into the lone Morgan composition here, a bittersweetly catchy jazz waltz where the bassist finally gets to carry the melody. The last song of the set is a spare, lowlit, increasingly desolate take of the Goldfinger theme that leaves no doubt that it’s about a spy. At the end, Frisell turns it into the old blues lament Baby Please Don’t Go.

Where does this rank in the Frisell pantheon? Maybe not on the towering, harrowing noir pinnacle with, say, 2007’s History, Mystery but it’s close. You’ll see this on a whole lot of best-of-2017 lists, not just here, at the end of the year.


A Long-Awaited, Auspiciously Intense, Stripped-Down New Album from Guitarist Chris Jentsch

In keeping with the current paradigm, composer/guitarist Chris Jentsch writes a lot more than he records. But damn, when he records, he makes it count. It’s been eight years since Jentsch’s lavish, epic previous large-ensemble album The Cycles Suite. The one before that, The Brooklyn Suite, is his classic. His debut, The Miami Suite was a blast of sunshine with a hard-to-believe-we’re-all-here-but-let’s-do-it vibe. His latest album, Fractured Pop – streaming at youtube – is a departure, a quartet effort also available in a lush DVD package including “alternate takes, slide show music videos, a high-resolution FLAC file of the audio CD, PDF lead sheets of the tunes, and four of the composer’s own remix/mash ups,” as the packaging explains. Jentsch and his quartet are at I-Beam tonight, June 9 at 8:30 PM; cover is $15.

Jentsch sometimes evokes the angst and resonance of David Gilmour, the fluidity of Pat Metheny or the bucolic side of Bill Frisell, but ultimately he’s  his own animal. As a big band jazz composer, Jentsch has a welcome gravitas, but also a dry and sometimes droll sense of humor. The new album, a mix of new, stripped-down arrangements of Jentsch’s big band arrangements, has both. The quartet opens with the  title track, a rock anthem of sorts reimagined with in 7/8 time with Matt Renzi’s microtonally-tinged, Joe Maneri-ish sax over the swaying rhythm section of bassist Jim Whitney and drummer John Mettam. Radio Silence takes Abbey Road Beatles to new heights of poignancy and grandeur: Jentsch intermingles Renzi’s sax and his own chordal attack for an effect that evokes a much larger unit.

Likewise, the harmonies between Jentsch’s lingering chords and Renzi’s smoky sax in the strolling Are You Bye; Whitney adds a slinky, spot-on solo that Jentsch catapult out of, into the clouds and then to a wryly gospel-tinged variation on the main theme.  The almost ten-minute take of the haunting, iconic Outside Line, the first of the Brooklyn Suite numbers here, switches out the orchestra for Jentsch’s resonant, sometimes burning chords, Whitney’s growly,, gritty solo, Renzi channeling every ounce of danger and energy . For those who know the original, it’s a revelation, sort of the musical counterpart to a sketch for a JMW Turner battle tableau.

Renzi’s bass flute over Jentsch’s careful, bittersweetly judicoiuus chords imbue the jazz waltz Old Folks Song (from the Cycles Suite) with a more distantly haunting intensity, the bandleader’s enigmatic solo raising the angst factor by a factor of ten, up to the elegaic chromatics that wind it out.

Route 666 – a title that surprisingly hasn’t been taken as much as it could be – works sax/guitar tradeoffs along with Jentsch’s sunbaked, lingering lines over a jaunty 10/4 strut up to a big, emphatic, anthemic drive. Meeting At Surratt’s follows a gorgeous, almost conspiratorial pastoral jazz groove into the reggae that Jentsch has embraced in his most psychedelic moments, Renzi switching to bluesy cello.

Imagining the Mirror, a suspenseful track from early in the Brooklyn Suite, opens as a joyously focused take on bucolic Led Zep, then Renzi’s sax takes it back to Brooklyn and Jentsch’s eerily reverberating, sparely exploratory lines. Cycle of Life, another Cycles Suite track, has a squirrelly intro, Jentsch’s spare phrases intertwining with Renzi’s sax and bass clarinet multitracks and the rhythm section’s tropical, insectile ambience, an allusively grim study in echo effects building to a steady, syncopated stroll with artful guitar/clarinet exchanges.

The album winds up with Follow That Cab, a brisk, purposeful, rather blustery segment from the Brooklyn Suite,  reinvented here as stripped-down, bustling urban postbop, engaging Mettam’s drums far more, Renzi once again slipping into microtonal unease.


First-Class Tunesmithing from Pastoral Jazz Guitar Great Cameron Mizell

Cameron Mizell is the great pastoral jazz guitarist not named Bill Frisell. Like Frisell, he has a laser sense for a catchy hook, a spacious approach to melody, a fondness for the unconventional and a flair for the lurid that occasionally bares its fangs from deep in the shadows. Mizell’s latest album Negative Space – streaming at Destiny Records – is a trio effort with multi-keyboardist Brad Whiteley and drummer Kenneth Salters. Mizell is playing the small room at the Rockwood on March 13 at 7 PM.

The album’s opening miniature sets the stage, a brief, resonant Frisell-style tone poem of sorts, just a couple of tersely exploratory guitar tracks and a little cymbal work from Salters. Big Tree takes those hints of unbridled gorgeousness and, to paraphrase Richard Thompson, really brushes those treetops, a series of soul-infused echo phrases. The slowly swaying Yesterday’s Troubles, Mizell’s distorted riffage paired with Whiteley’s echoey Rhodes piano, sounds like Beninghove’s Hangmen covering a set piece from Quincy Jones’ In the Heat of the Night soundtrack.

Likewise, Whiskey for Flowers hints that Mizell’s going to plunge into Marc Ribot  noir, but instead hits a warmly vamping pastorale shuffle that builds to an unexpectedly sweet Jerry Garcia-ish peak (it’s inspired by couple-bonding: Mizell’s wife has come to share his appreciation for the hard stuff). By contrast, Take the Humble is a crescendoing funk shuffle that owes more to Booker T than to, say, Scofield, especially when it comes to Whiteley’s organ solo.

Mizell builds a slow burn over Whiteley’s ominously circular Philip Glassine piano phrases on the album’s cinematic centerpiece, Clearing Skies, rising to David Gilmour epic grandeur, Whiteley channeling blues through the prism of REM balladry. Don’t laugh: it works. Likewise, Get It While You Can, a punchier take on the Grateful Dead version of the old folk song Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.

Barter reaches from spare and then expansive Booker T-ish verses toward Pink Floyd grandeur. A Song About a Tree would be a standout track on any Frisell album, a luscious song without words assembled from catchy electrified bluegrass hooks, drifting matter-of-factly further into space. Unfolding has such an odd rhythm – at heart, it’s a reggae anthem – that it almost seems like the drum was a last-minute overdub. The album’s title cut has an ECM feel, Whiteley’s waves of piano building and then receding way too soon: it could have gone on for twice as long and nobody would complain. The final track is part Dark Side of the Moon majesty, part cinematic Ribot menace. Beyond the tunesmithing here, the absence of bass makes this a great practice record.


A Darkly Brilliant New Album and a Release Show Tomorrow Night at Smalls by Saul “Zeb” Rubin

When he’s not running a loft – where for a couple of years he backed just about every A-list jazz singer on this continent – this cat is the great unsung hero of jazz guitar in New York City. An economy of notes and laser-like purpose define Saul “Zeb” Rubin, sideman to the stars. While there’s no hip bebop voicing that’s off-limits in his book, where he excels with such consistency and understated power is when he goes deep into the dark, grittier side of his own picturesque, shadowy compositions, bristling with suspense and implied menace. In that sense, he’s the missing link between Gene Bertoncini and Bill Frisell. He gets props for writing charts and playing guitar in the Roy Hargrove Big Band, and he’s a regular Sonny Rollins sideman. But his best material ultimately might be his own. His new album, his third, is titled Zeb’s Place, a shout-out to the second-floor Chelsea studio space where he held court and brought in a parade of talented singers to rival the Vanguard. He’s playing the album release show tomorrow night, Nov 6 at 7:30 at Smalls with his “Zebtet” – trumpeter Josh Evans, alto saxophonist Lummie Spann, tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard, trombonist Frank Lacy, bassist Jonathan Michel and drummer Brandon Lewis.

It’s a mix of both originals and standards with pretty much the same band plus some special guests. Rubin distinguishes himself as a multi-instrumentalist, playing both electric bass, piano and keyboards on several of the numbers here. The bandstand-burner Android opens the album with a bright four-horn frontline, purposefully brief solos all around, Rubin’s own terse, boisterously witty cascades at the center. Those same horns give a lowlit lustre to the slowly swinging, funk-tinged Oh God Show Me the Way, Dillard’s enigmatically strolling lines building a lattice before Rubin himself delivers a pensive three-way conversation, on guitar, bass guitar and string synth.

The first of four standards here, Billy Reid’s The Gypsy is a rapturous duet with Hargrove, Rubin’s judiciously voicing his chords and the spaces around them in tandem with his longtime collaborator’s airy flugelhorn melody. Rubin opens the eerily cinematic diptych Mean Old Joe/Darkness on piano, building to a brooding crescendo spiced with Lewis’ spare cymbals; then the arrangement expands with moody, noir horns, up to a harrowing Evans trumpet cadenza. Dillard shifts to brighter terrain over angst-fueled flurries as the piano carries the theme to its darkly latin-tinged conclusion.

The group does Thomas Chapin’s Who? as a briskly resonant bossa, Dillard and Evans each following a a tenderly melismatic trajectory up to Rubin’s understatedly impactful, fluttering tremolo chords and hammer-on lines. Rubin’s own slinky stroll Cobi Narita gives tenorist Ned Goold a platform for spaciously lowdown prowling matched by the guitarist’s pensive, low-key chordal attack and shadowy solo.

Rubin goes to the well for a couple of standards, making an epically furtive, haunting bossa and then shadowy swing out of All or Nothing at All in a trio setting with Neal Caine on bass and Charles Goold on drums. Rubin’s starkly direct, solo take of Autumn in New York draws a straight line back to Joe Pass and Jim Hall, a rapt kaleidoscope of shifting harmonies. The final number is Rubin’s own coy Halal Falafel, a funny, surreal, hip-hop flavored tribute to New York Middle Eastern street food. There will no doubt be plenty of uneasy urban tableaux, purist sophistication and babaganoush-fueled wit onstage at Smalls tomorrow night.


Tom Csatari Brings His Individualistic, Tuneful Pastorales and Improvisations to Barbes

Guitarist Tom Csatari writes some of the most distinctive and thoughtfully compelling music of any composer in New York right now. With epic film soundtrack sweep, the improvisational flair of jazz and grey-sky postrock atmosphere, his work for both large and small groups transcends genre. It’s just good, and it can get dark when the band veers away from pastoral colors. Csatari is bringing his Uncivilized large ensemble to Barbes on March 16 at 8 PM. What they do is well capsulized by the epic track Escarpments (up at Soundcloud), hypnotic post-Velvets meets 70s blaxploitation soundtrack meets chamber noir.

Csatari’s most recent album is with that ensemble and shares its name with them; there are a few numbers from it up at Bandcamp. His most recent release to come over the transom here is Outro Waltz, streaming at his music page. It’s an ambitious double album, the first comprising original compositions, the second a live set of originals and covers recorded at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint. Csatari’s lineup on this one is only slightly less ornate: along with fellow guitarist Cam Kapoor, there’s Levon Henry on tenor sax and clarinets, Adriel Williams on violin, Ross Gallagher on bass and R.J. Miller on drums. Csatari distinguished himself from the legions of hipper-than-thou jazz guitarists out there in that he’s not afraid of melody and doesn’t feel constrained to play stereotypical jazz voicings or use complicated harmony where a simple major or minor, or a spare, gently emphatic phrase would make more of a point. Bill Frisell seems the most obvious influence, although Jimmy Giuffre and the Claudia Quintet also seems like reference points.

Guitars and percussion open the album with a gamelan-tinged, atmospheric miniature. The group follows that with New Boots, a gorgeously plaintive, trippily jangly pastorale, then Nolan, a purposeful wistful, swaying tone poem with tender sax and violin.

The epic Uncivilized playfully hints at bluegrass; Csatari’s slide guitar and the band’s tricky syncopation give it a desert rock feel transposed to the Eastern Seaboard that eventually decays into a surrealistic improvisation. The warily hazy El Morrisony opens with swirling guitars and bass clarinet over a steady pulsing shuffle spiced with stark violin.

Rawlings II veers between twinkling deep space pulsar sonics and a wistful folk theme, deconstructed. Blues for Robbie mashes up enigmatic 80s indie jangle, pensive Americana and an artfully disguised, Doorsy roadhouse groove. After Plastic shifts elegantly between a loping C&W-inspired theme and a loosely pulsing cinematic vamp. Likewise, Wharfs & Drifts, between angst-fueled guitars and jauntily shuffling violin in tandem with the rhythm section.

With Legion, the band builds fluttery unease over a slow spacerock vamp that the guitars eventually take waltzing. The last of the studio tracks is Sisters, slowly coalescing to a clustering, tensely bubbling interlude and then up toward rock anthemics before descending gracefully.

The live album opens with the band making a long, gospel-infused intro of sorts out of Lee Morgan’s Search for the New Land, gently decaying into lingering atmospherics. Thelonious Monk’s Light Blue shuffles coyly between swing and offcenter deconstruction, while Elliott Smith’s Speed Trials reverts to a wistful, swaying nocturnal vein, with an indian summer tenor sax solo by Kyle Wilson at the center. The first original here, Curationisms segues out of it with a return to jangly but purposefully strolling contemplation.

Kingsnoth blends lush sweep and amiably ambling interplay that hints at dixieland but doesn’t go there. Chris Weisman’s The Winning Blues again looks back toward Frisell, in lingering anthemic mode: by the end, it’s a straight-up rock song. Miller, who’s been giving all this a gently swaying groove, finally gets to cut loose as Water Park Rodeo slowly comes together out of starlit guitars to an ominously shivery theme and then an unexpected detour toward 70s psychedelic soul. Call this what you want – jazz, rock, film score – it’s music to get lost in.


A Walk in the Dark with Mary Halvorson

What’s the likelihood of getting to see guitarist Mary Halvorson trading riffs with pedal steel icon Susan Alcorn, building an alchemical stew from there? Along with a familiar and similarly-minded crew including erudite trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson; polymath trombonist Jacob Garchik; the even more devious Jon Irabagon on alto sax; tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and her irrepressible deadpan wit; groovemeister bassist John Hebert, and potentially self-combustible drummer Ches Smith? It’s happening tonight and tomorrow night, December 15-16 at 7:30 and 9:30 PM when Halvorson leads this killer octet at the Jazz Gallery. Cover is $22.

Who’s the best guitarist in jazz? Pretty much everybody would probably say Bill Frisell. But how about Halvorson? Within the past year or so, she’s released a drolly noisy, politically spot-on art-rock record with People as well as a methodically-paced, texturally snarling trio album by her Thumbscrew trio with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, al the while appearing on a slew of other artists’ records. To get an idea of what she’s likely to do with a larger crew alongside her, your best reference point is probably her moodily orchestrated 2013 septet masterpiece, Illusionary Sea (Spotify link).Halvorson’s latest album, Meltframe – streaming at Firehouse Records – is a solo release, a playlist of radically reinvented standards and covers by colleagues who inspire her, tracing something of a career arc for an artist who rather dauntingly hasn’t reached her peak yet.

What’s most striking here is how sad, desolate and often utterly Lynchian these songs are. Halvorson’s own material is hardly lighthearted, but her sardonic sense of humor so often shines through and shifts the dynamics completely. She doesn’t do that here: it’s a raptly bleak and occasionally harrowing late-night stroll, almost a challenge as if to say, you think you really know me? This is me with my glasses off. The material spans influences readily identifiable in Halvorson’s own compositions, including the AACM pantheon, similarly off-the-hinges guitarists past and present, the blurry borders of rock and jazz songcraft…and Ellington.

The album opens with a carefree but blazing fuzztone bolero-metal take of fellow six-stringer Oliver Nelson’s Cascades. Avant jazz singer Annette Peacock’s original recording of Blood is a lo-fi, careless mess of a vignette: Halvorson’s take is twice as long, segueing out and then back into the previous cut in a brooding flamenco vein, distortion off and the tremolo up to maintain the menace.

She shifts gears, sticking pretty close to the wistful pastoral shades of guitarist Noel Akchote’s Cheshire Hotel, but with a lingering, Lynchian unease that rises toward fullscale horror as it goes along. Ornette Coleman’s Sadness blends hints of the gloomy bridge midway through Iron Maiden’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner into its moody modalities, an apt setup for her lingering deep-space/deep-midnight interpretation of Duke Ellington’s Solitude.

Ida Lupino, a Carla Bley tune originally recorded by her husband Paul Bley, returns to a nebulous Spanish tinge amid the hazy, strummy variations on Sonic Youth-style open chords, Halvorson playing clean with just the hint of reverb. She keeps that setting as she spins, spirals and then lets her chords hang around McCoy Tyner’s Aisha, one of the more deviant interpretations here. Then she cuts loose with a brief blast of distortion and saunters off toward the deep end of the pitch-shifting pool.

Platform, a Chris Lightcap composition, gives Halvorson a stepping-off point for some gritty crunch and wryly Maidenesque grand guignol. When, by Fujiwara plays off a loop of enigmatically chromatic chords; it sounds like something a drummer might write on an unfamiliar instrument. The album closes with a pensively pitch-shifted, Dave Fiuczynski-esque cover of Roscoe Mitchell’s Leola. Guitar jazz doesn’t get any more individualistic or intense than this in 2015.


Jeremiah Lockwood and the Sway Machinery Blaze Into Union Pool This Sunday

If you follow this blog at all, you know all about the Curse of the Residency. It goes something like this: a band book themselves into a venue for a show every week for a month. First night is a success: everybody’s friends are there. But the second night doesn’t draw, and the third night is a wash. The final night of the month gets a better turnout, pulling all the stragglers who’ve blown off the first three shows and are feeling guilty about it. Last month at Barbes, guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood shook off the curse and played a monthlong series of early Satuirday evening shows that by all accounts were absolutely transcendent. This blog caught the second and third installments.

The first of those two was a simmering, low-key duo set with singer Fay Victor, emphasis on the blues. The second was another duo performance with multi-keyboardist Shoko Nagai, and gave Lockwood a chance to really cut loose on the fretboard. This guy is an absolutely incendiary player, and what’s more, for somebody who likes long, flashy solos, he doesn’t waste a note. He’ll be bringing that rare blend of adrenaline and economy to his show with his individualistic Malian cantorial psychedelic rock band the Sway Machinery this Sunday, August 9 at around 8 at Union Pool. Another high-energy crew, latin rockers El Imperio open the night at 7 PM. Cover is $10.

Both with Victor and with Nagai, Lockwood played National Steel guitar, amplified only by the club’s PA. He didn’t need anything more, firing off slithery filigrees, jackhammer chords, nimbly rustic delta blues lines, creepy klezmer chromatics and Middle Eastern riffs and the occasional flurry of wild tremolo-picking. He also varied his dynamics, particularly with Nagai, a longtime collaborator and purveyor of similarly eclectic sounds, from epic film themes to animated avant jazz improvisation.

Nagai’s first song, which she played on accordion, was a sweeping, bittersweeetly pastoral film theme: the duo did it as something akin to a duet between Bill Frisell and Tin Hat accordionist Rob Reich (both of whom have played Barbes, although probably not together). Then Nagai  ducked under the piano…and remained in that cramped position until it was humming, and then emerged, gracefully, managing to hold down the pedal without losing her bright orange, vintage Kangol hat. Had she dropped her phone, maybe? No. She’d begun by playing inside the piano. a la George Crumb, and since the Barbes piano is an upright, that’s where you have to go inside to pluck and brush the strings. From there the two alternated between frenetic clusters of notes and resonant, minimalist chords, diverging and then coming together for an intense cantorial theme that Nagai ornamented with every flourish she could muster.

Another cantorial rock theme rose to almost stadium proportions – Lockwood is as powerful a singer as he is a guitarist. Unleashing his passionate but minutely nuanced baritone, he belted with the intensity of someone who’s the heir to a line of famous cantors (which he is). His otherworldly, shivery melismas had the same white-knuckle intensity as his solos on the guitar. The two ended the show with some energetic if not quite as titanic exchanges of solos and riffs, through a trio of blues numbers: a tasteful, purposeful take of Blind Joe Taggart’s Everybody’s Got to Be Tried, Elizabeth Cotten’s Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie and an instrumental encore where Nagai’s coy ragtime inflections and playful glissandos soared over Lockwood’s purist, spiky picking.


Janel & Anthony Headline a Darkly Enveloping Night in Gowanus

Astonishingly eclectic, tuneful guitarist Anthony Pirog is doing double duty at I-Beam in Gowanus on Dec 12. He’s opening at 8:30 with the album release show for his Bill Frisell-influenced debut as a bandleader, Palo Colorado Dream, with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Ches Smith. That’s Pirog in jazz mode. After that, he’s doing a second set at 10 as half of lushly enveloping, broodingly cinematic duo Janel & Anthony with cellist/multi-instrumentalist Janel Leppin; cover is $15. Their most recent album is Where Is Home, which Cuneiform put out a couple of years ago.

In addition to guitars – which he frequently loops – Pirog plays electric sitar. Leppin plays cello (including a specially modified model with resonating, sympathetic strings, like a sitar), but also sarangi, sarod and various keyboards, many of them processed for extra atmospheric sweep. Yet as indelibly associated with Indian music as many of those instruments are, the pieces here are closer to Brian Eno, or Angelo Badalamenti – or, Bill Frisell, in the case of the ornately shapeshifting, brightly jangling opening piece, Big Sur (which for the record came out before the Frisell album of the same title). The album plays like a suite, many of the tracks segueing into each other, others separated by brief, lingering, occasionally Lynchian improvisations.

Leaving the Woods bookends a balmy, summery interlude with apprehensively vamping chromatics that would make a good horror film theme. Mustang Song is a wounded, moody, expertly assembled piece of guitar cinematics with judicious ambient touches. A Viennisian Life blends pensively ambered cello with gamelanesque ripples. Broome & Orchard begins as a somberly bluesy 19th century gospel-inflected tune and shifts to similarly downcast folk noir – a long history of Gotham decline, maybe?

The album’s final fullscale instrumental, Where Will We Go sets Pirog’s apprehensive fingerpicking and slide work over ominously cloudy atmospherics. There’s also a waftingly horizontal interlude livened with backward-masked guitar and a stately rainy-day one-chord guitar-and-cello jam with subtle variations. The backstory behind the album is an all-too-familiar one. Leppin’s childhood home – a bucolic summer camp in the Washington, DC suburbs – was sold and then bulldozed in order to pave the way for McMansions.

Now where can you hear this sonic gem? Well…there are a couple of tracks at Bandcamp and some stuff at youtube for people ambitious enough to sniff this stuff out. Otherwise, I-Beam is where it’s at.