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Tag: free jazz

An Electrifying Album by Two of the Most Distinctive Players in Jazz

Soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom is the rare improviser who can pull a complete song out of thin air. As one of the world’s most electrifying and distinctive drummers, Allison Miller always has a gig – even when live music is criminalized. Together the two conjure up one of the year’s most entertaining albums, Tues Days, streaming at Bandcamp. The sound is much fuller than you would expect from just two instruments. Hubristic as this is to say, the absence of a bass isn’t an issue (although this is a great album to play along to on just about any instrument). Most of these numbers are completely improvised, although Bloom brings along a handful of her compositions. It’s full of humor, and depth, and inspiring interplay.

Miller begins with romping rudiments, then some flurries and her signature color from every surface on the kit as Bloom plays a jaunty, bouncy theme followed by some wry quotes in the album’s title track. She launches into cheery latin phrasing as Miller ranges from New Orleans to Wipeout rumbles in the second number, Technicolor.

Bloom’s spacious, desolate phrasing over Miller’s understatedly funky drive in Rowing in the Dark is one of the album’s most gripping interludes. This Is It is Bloom at her playful, deviously entertaining best, choosing her spots and airing out her riffbag as Miller holds the center with an effortlessly churning drive.

The two play hide-and-seek in a Shinto temple in Five Bells, one of the funniest and most evocative tunes here. The most expansive, subtly conversational improvisation here, The Wild Frontier pairs Bloom’s airy, pensive sustain with Miller’s restless rustling. Miller’s bottomless toybox of textures finally lures Bloom spiraling out of the clouds.

Bloom wafts in with some of her most subtly vivid, wistful playing in Light Years Away, with a similar dynamic between the two musicians, although this time Miller is more minimalistically steady. A & J’s Test Kitchen – which is what this album is, essentially – is a more lively study in spacious sax versus busier drums. The ending is pricelessly funny.

There’s some Mexican jumping beans, some sagacious retro balladry and also a lot of carnaval in Crayola. The album’s final two tracks are Bloom compositions. Maybe ironically, On Seeing JP is where drums and sax diverge most widely, Bloom’s alternately spare and amiable splashes over Miller’s clever implied swing. The two close with Walk Alone, Bloom spare and guardedly hopeful while Miller whispers with her hardware and rims.

Surreal, Individualistic Music For Sitar and Bass From the Travis Duo

Just the idea of a bass-and-sitar duo is enticing. The two players in the Travis Duo. ubiquitous bassist Trevor Dunn and sitarist Jarvis Earnshaw, join with some first-class special guests who make colorful contributions to their utterly surreal new album Hypnagogia, streaming at Bandcamp. It seems completely improvised, it’s often invitingly enveloping and psychedelic to the nth degree.

Much of the music is akin to a palimpsest painted wet: the undercoats bleed through, sometimes when least expected. To open the album, Dunn’s wryly warping, bowed lines linger below the judicious, warmly spare sitar lines, then the bassist adds more emphatic layers and dissociative loops. The sparse/busy dichotomy is a recurrent trope throughout the album. Earnshaw’s big payoff – a false ending of sorts – is worth the wait.

Daniel Carter and Devin Brahja Waldman’s saxes waft in to introduce the second track, FAQ, then there’s a steel pan-like xylophone line, Earnshaw a distant gleam behind the gently percolating upper-register textures. Dunn punctures the bubbles and joins with guest drummer Niko Wood to introduce a pulse as the sitar grows more prominent, then recedes.

Orchid Hoodwink has Earnshaw’s stream-of-consciousness vocals over a mingled web of sitar, xylophone and metal percussion. Is there a sense of betrayal in Fair Weather Friend? It doesn’t seem so; the washes of bass beneath the resonance of the sitar and Earnshaw’s earnest tenor vocals give the song a warmly rustic feel.

Carter floats in on flute over the hypnotic, sustained textural contrasts of Hitherto. He brings an unhurried, exploratory vibe on sax over increasingly bracing chaos in Uncanny Valley…and then gets pulled into the vortex. Meanwhile, Dunn is having tongue-in-cheek fun at the bottom of a waterslide.

The closest thing to a raga here, and the most contiguous piece, is Folie a Deux, Dunn bowing astringent harmonics and then taking over a very minimalist tabla role as Earnshaw chooses his spots. It’s very Brooklyn Raga Massive, and quite beautiful. There’s also a bonus track, Lollop, which could be a Sanskrit pun. Xylophone and sitar ripple and ping, the horns hover and flutter while Dunn pulses tersely in the midrange. The keening overtones emanating from the bass strings as the group wind out slowly are the icing on this strange and beguiling sonic cake.

Another Edgy, Highly Improvised Masterpiece From Gordon Grdina

Gordon Grdina is the rare jazz guitarist who plays a lot of notes, yet manages to find a way not to waste them. His music has always been more about mood and narrative than merely a display of gritty chops on guitar and oud, both of which are scary-good. Since the late teens, he’s been on a wild creative tear, which does not seem to have been adversely affected by the lockdown. He got a solo album out of it, and now also has a richly textured, edgily conversational new quartet record, Klotski, just out and streaming at Bandcamp.

Grdina calls the band Square Peg. Violist Mat Maneri and bassist Shahzad Ismaily play with their typical purpose, choosing their spots. Christian Lillinger is just as much colorist as timekeeper behind the drum kit. The album is a highly improvisational uninterrupted suite of variations on cell-based melodies. The camaraderie is high spirited, matched by a meticulous focus: jazz improvisation is seldom this outright tuneful.

Resolutely unresolved viola wafts around over Lillinger’s rustles on his hardware to introduce the album’s opening number, Impending Discomfort. Then Grdina’s guitar angles in, sparely. Maneri wryly responds in kind to Grdina’s slide licks; a steady, brisk stroll develops, Ismaily playing suspenseful, terse polyrhythms. The fireplace tableau that results pits Maneri’s yellow flames over Grdina’s deep-ember sputter.

Grdina calls the next part Escherian, Maneri in contrast to Lillinger’s black reflecting pool, Grdina running loops beneath Ismaily’s smoky ambience. The Halloweenish drollery the quartet link arms and eventually stroll into is irresistibly funny, especially when you hear where they go with it. A little obvious, maybe, but the fun these guys are having is visceral.

Maneri and Grdina have additional fun exchanging volume knob-style washes over Lillinger’s flutters and Ismaily’s wise, steady, sparse pulse in Bacchic Barge, before the bandleader takes centerstage with a solo that’s more Juno on the prowl than Bacchus falling off the boat. His matter-of-fact contentedness as he switches to oud contrasts with the unexpected wrath Maneri and Ismaily pull from the shadows.

Pitchblende bass, bucolic viola, scrambling oud and rises and falls from the drums permeate Sulfur City, up to a snarling march that Ismaily eventually colors with blippy, harmonium-like synth, finally luring Grdina into the brambles.

The quartet work sagaciously expansive chords out of a simple, well-used blues riff as they move methodically through Kaleidoscope, Maneri’s giddyup phrases and shivery harmonics balanced by a contiguous attack that his bandmates rise and pull away from. A bit of a sepulchral surprise sets up the lively, bubbling segue into Microbian Theory, once again developing out of a familiar minor-key blues lick. The descent into plaintive washes afterward might be the album’s most offhandedly gripping interlude.

Murk and vampy acidity interchange in Sore Spot, a catchy, tolling metal anthem in spiky disguise. Lillinger fuels the suite’s coda, Joy Ride, with a tricky quasi-Balkan circle dance groove, Ismaily’s hypnotic riffage anchoring the bandleader’s increasingly volatile, blues-infused meteor shower. It ends unresolved.

Entertaining, Mesmerizing Solo Soprano Sax? Check Out Sam Newsome on the 9th

It’s hard to imagine anything more difficult than playing a solo show on a chordless instrument. Sure, there are buskers…but it’s rare to see someone sticking around to watch an entire solo “set.”. On the other hand, the prospect of watching soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome play a solo show is enticing to the extreme. He has three solo live albums out and all of them are worth hearing. And if his East Village duo show with guitarist Elliott Sharp last weekend is any indication, his upcoming gig on Oct 9 at 2 PM at the Urban Meadow park at the corner of President and Van Brunt in Red Hook is going to be off the hook.

You could take the B61 bus and get out just down the block from the Jalopy, but it might be even faster to take the F to Carroll, exit at the front of the downtown train, take First Place straight to the pedestrian bridge over the BQE, then make a U-turn at the base of the bridge, go another block on Summit and then hang a left on Columbia. That’s about ten minutes from the subway.

It’s funny how, ten years ago, Newsome was regarded as the rising star for straight-ahead postbop jazz on the soprano. Then all of a sudden he started turning up at places like the late, great Spectrum and took a deep plunge into the avant garde. It was then that his mind-blowing extended technique really came to the surface. For example, at the East Village gig, he got his horn to resonate with a low digeridoo buzz, or a keening wail like an Indian shennai or a Bulgarian zurla, shedding otherworldly overtones and duotones. And while Sharp was playing through his usual arsenal of effects, Newsome was completely unamplified. What had he done to his reeds, or his valves, or both? Who knows – but it was raw magic.

There were all kinds of irresistibly amusing moments, when Newsome would pick up a rack of wind chimes, or two, slinging them over the body of the horn as he blew looming duotones for background. Then there was the point where Sharp, who’d been tapping out tensely frenetic sequences, fired off a phrase of about twenty notes. Newsome paused and played the whole paragraph back to him, and suddenly the dialogue shifted from jaunty banter to a serious joust. Musicians engaging each other with short. singalong riffs is the oldest cliche in the book, but this seemed to be a philosophical discussion between two sages. What they were philosophizing about wasn’t entirely clear, but it was deep.

Meanwhile, Sharp maintained his edge throughout about fifty minutes of close interplay, whether opaquely ambient, squirrelly, skronky, or lingering in a couple of brief, overcast A minor interludes. Newsome got plaintive in response to the first one, then expansive on the second, drawing out similarly thoughtful flurries from the guitarist. There were plenty of other points in the improvisation that were funny, and formidable, and fleeting; you can expect the same at the Red Hook show.

East Village Free Jazz Pioneers Celebrate the Cutting Edge on Their Home Turf

Francisco Mela has been a prime mover in the New York free jazz scene for decades. And free improvisation remains one of the East Village’s most durably entrenched musical demimondes. So it only makes sense that he would be part of this year’s LUNGS festival. He’s playing with a killer trio including tenor saxophonists Steve Wirts and George Garzone at 3 PM on Sept 25 at the 11BC Garden on 11th St between Ave. B and C.

Mela’s latest release in a career that only gets more and more prolific is Music Frees Our Souls, a trio set with two longtime collaborators, bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp, dedicated to the late, great McCoy Tyner and streaming at Bandcamp.

Mela and Parker quickly build a floating swing for Shipp to color in the epic, twenty-minute first track, Light of Mind, opening with insistent variations around a center. The conversationality of the trio immediately makes itself known when Shipp hits his first big, stabbing peak, and the bass and drums are right there with him. From there the variations range from stern and insistent to scrambles in the upper registers. Shipp limits his emulation of Tyner to frequent stormy lower lefthand intensity. When Mela gets the pot boiling, the other two guys punch in hard with a modal bristle, a feeling that persists in the lulls. Shipp’s stygian, regal exit is spot-on beyond words.

Track two, Dark Light, is much briefer and has more spacious, lingering moments and judicious chordal work from Parker. This being Mela’s session, he opens the last number with an amusing solo that hints at oldschool disco before he expands outward. Who would have expected a salsa woodblock beat over Shipp’s flurries and Parker’s stabbing polyrhythms? The triangulation is a little looser here, everybody on a longer rhythmic leash, although Mela and Parker seemed to be joined closer to the hip. The point where the bass signals a creepily twinkling Twilight Zone transmission from Shipp will give you goosebumps.

Who needs jazz clubs with owners too cowardly and shortsighted to stand up to apartheid orders from the Mayor’s office when we have musicians of this caliber playing outdoors? No doubt somewhere McCoy Tyner is smiling.

An Otherworldly, Drifting Diptych by Joe O’Connor, Theo Carbo and Tim Green

An eclogue is a pastoral poem. How bucolic is Eclogue, the new album by Joe O’Connor, Theo Carbo and Tim Green? It’s streaming at Bandcamp – you decide. The trio create a warmly drifting sunrise ambience with subtle textures and minimalist accents, plus the occasional creak or quaver as tectonic sheets of sound make their way slowly through the frame. Overtones and harmonics rule in this comfortably enveloping universe.

Without knowing the instrumentation, you might think that the slow oscillations and echoey blips could be electronic, but they’re actually from O’Connor’s prepared piano, Green’s brushed drumheads and Carbo’s guitar.

There are two tracks here. The first is about fourteen minutes and rises to watery rivulets over a steady calm, echoing a familiar Pink Floyd dynamic originally manufactured using a vintage analog chorus pedal. Rustles from the drums and a single somber, recurrent piano note hint that the forest or faraway galaxy here is about to awaken, and it seems more of a galaxy than a bright, green naturescape as it does.

Keening highs and squirrelly, muted percussive activity contrast as the twenty-minute second half gets underway. Playful figures that could be whale song, or beavers gnawing out the raw materials for a new home, appear amid the stillness. Gentle cymbal washes and that persistent low piano note add a second dichotomy, then the two reverse roles, Erik Satie at quarterspeed. A warped quasi-gamelan ensues, then it’s back to Satie territory to close on an absolutely otherworldly note.

Matthew Goodheart & Broken Ghost Consort Build Playful, Entertaining Machine-Shop Ambience

Matthew Goodheart & Broken Ghost Consort’s new album Presences: Mixed Suite For Five Performers and Nine Instruments – streaming at Spotify- is weird but playful music that owes a lot to the AACM as well as Anthony Braxton’s tectonic graphic-score themes. Moments of ambient calm contrast with abrasive industrial sounds, all of them organic. Although the music follows a slowly drifting tangent, it’s also unexpectedly energetic and amusing in places. Nobody plays his instrument as it was intended, and the group – the bandleader on piano, with Georg Wissel on clarinet, Matthias Muche on trombone, Melvyn Poore on tuba and George Cremaschi on bass – indulge in flurries of percussion as much as they employ their usual axes.

The album’s opening number is awash in scrapes, fragments of simulated birdsong and gonglike, metallic washes – the bells of horns and piano strings polished to a ringing, keening harmonic shimmer, maybe?

Clarinet is featured but doesn’t exactly take centerstage until late in the second movement, with a steady, enigmatic, Messiaenic resonance. Trombone, tuba and eventually cheery clarinet engage in a tongue-in-cheek exchange with squirrelly percussive flickers – and a mini-gamelan – from the rest of the ensemble in the thirteen-minute third movement, Impulse Response Variations.

Jawharp-like oscillations, distant buzzsaw sonics, looming trombone and a wryly warbly faux-pansori interlude filter down to the spiraling gears of the vortex in the practically eighteen-minute final movement. This is not for people who need catchy hooks or have short attentions spans but it’s entertaining if you let it pull you under (although the joke in the opening spoken-word sequence is a little much).

An Edgy, Entertaining New Album From Individualistic Jazz Cellist Hank Roberts

While thousands of New York artists were getting brain-drained out of this city, cellist Hank Roberts went against the current and came back. And quickly returned to being a ubiquitous presence at the adventurous edge of the New York jazz scene. His new album Science of Love reflects a particularly fertile period after his return here, recorded in 2017, but just out now and streaming at Sunnyside Records.

Roberts is an exceptionally versatile and purposeful player. Sometimes he’s part of the rhythm section, walking the changes like a bass player as he does early during the opening number, a careening swing tune that doesn’t take long to hit a colorfully haphazard dixieland-flavored raveup with a bubbling interweave from trombonist Brian Drye, clarinetist Mike McGinnis. pianist Jacob Sacks and violinist Dana Lyn over drummer Vinnie Sperrazza’s low-key groove. The rhythm drops out for a surreal freeze-frame tableau while Roberts picks up his bow for extra low-end resonance.

The album’s epic centerpiece is a fourteen-part suite titled G. It opens with a title track of sorts, Sperrazza’s altered latin groove quickly giving way to Sacks’ clusters and then a bright, anthemic theme from the rest of the band, which they take on a loose-limbed stroll with echoes of the Claudia Quintet.

Many of the suite’s segments are miniatures, akin to film set pieces. There’s a tongue-in-cheek, distantly suspenseful interlude, an uneasy, Satie-esque piano theme, and a cello/piano conversation that decays from austere steadiness to playful leaps and bounds. Roberts wafts uneasily over Sacks’ brooding minimalism and Sperrazza’s muted, scattershot snare in the fourth segment, Earth Sky Realms,

Part five, titled D23 pairs Roberts’ bluesy riffs against Lyn’s coy, jawharp-like accents and Sperrazza’s squirrelly shuffling as the harmonies grow denser and hazier. How funny is Levity Village? It’s more of an expectant, resonant string theme. The two brief passages afterward flit and dance acidically, then Roberts and Sacks pair off in a more wistful direction.

A wryly tiptoeing. deceptively catchy dance gives way to the GLC Magnetic Floating Stripper, a cheery quasi-match that shifts to more rhythmically unsettled terrain, McGinnis’ soprano sax bobbing and spiraling in a stormy sea of low midrange piano.

A lusciously lustrous, Ellingtonian theme introduces the suite’s practically thirteen-minute next-to-last section, which kicks off with a fondly lyrical trombone/piano duet, Roberts stepping in for Sacks with darkly sustained chords as Drye solos amiably. A shambling, undulating groove sets in as the music grows more dense yet also more agitated. Roberts’ solo, from stark acerbity to a little funk, is arguably the high point of the record. Anxious piano and cello trade off as Sperrazza rustles, then the whole group gets into the act. They close the suite on a surprisingly suspenseful note and then close the album with a rainy-day orchestral melody.

Roberts’ next gig is July 24 at the Fingerlakes Grassroots Festival upstate.

Jim Watt Leads a Riveting Jazz and Painting Performance to Benefit Musicians Imperiled During the Lockdown

Thursday night at Collab in Bushwick was a rare opportunity to watch painter Jim Watt creating art out of thin air. Beyond public murals, sidewalk art or the occasional landscaper dedicated to capturing a scene alfresco, painting is typically a solitary craft. What made the evening even more fascinating was that Watt was engaging with an allstar improvisational jazz quartet, in a multimedia spectacle that resulted in about twenty black-and-white Japanese Sumi ink washes, each of them projected on a screen behind the band as Watt worked, methodical but unhurried.

The night was part of Watt’s ongoing 1000W project, where he hopes to raise a hundred thousand dollars to benefit musicians imperiled by the lockdown through sales of these works through his dealer, Jim Kempner Fine Art. Filmmaker Danny Clinch is also working on a documentary about the project.

Watt’s setup was simple: two brushes, one in a container of ink and one in water, which he didn’t bother to change as it grew cloudier. Occasionally, he’d reach for a cloth when he felt the need for a broader brushstroke or smudge.

Bleed is the key to this Japanese technique. The most spectacular moment of the night was when he sketched out a geometric figure with his water brush, invisible onscreen until with one deft stroke of ink, the design filled up in seconds flat. With magic like that, who needs electronics?

Some of the designs were distinctly figurative, notably apartment buildings and a profile that resembled an Egyptian hawk hieroglyph. Other washes were more simple and geometrically-oriented. To what degree was interplay with the musicians involved? Watt was definitely the ringleader here. Drummer Alvester Garnett began the night solo, responding to Watt’s initial, stark design and then a murky, dense one by rising from suspenseful washes of cymbals to a shamanistic tom-tom tableau.

The rest of the band – guitarist Bill Frisell, trumpeter Antoine Drye and bassist Barry Stephenson – then joined the festivities, rising and then falling away as Watt would finish up and then move on to the next drawing. A mysterious pedalpoint fleshed out with lots of bass chords figured heavily in the first set, where the band were  most closely keyed into the visuals unfolding on the screen. Drye’s austerely resonant, often mournful, blues-drenched washes maintained a contrast with Frisell’s thoughtfully spaced jangles and pings and chordlets. The exchanges between band members grew more vigorously conversational as the night went on.

They began the second set by seemingly conjuring up an early 60s Prestige style postbop swing shuffle, Frisell spicing it with a handful of devious quotes. After that, the guitar icon led the group down a noir alleyway, his desolate clangs drawing a hauntingly wafting solo out of Drye before Garnett shifted gears into funkier, spikier terrain. Then, subtly caching a clave into a slinkier groove, he drove the atmosphere to an almost aching, distantly troubled, Bob Belden-esque vamp before ending the night on a calm but similarly saturnine, blues-infused note. While concerts and public gatherings in general have been in painfully short supply in this city until the past couple of weeks, this was unquestionably one of the best of the year so far.

Lennie Tristano Rarities For Adventurous Listeners

Volumes have been written about pianist Lennie Tristano’s singular impact on jazz, whether his imaginative use of early stereo and studio technology, or his bristling, disquieting harmonic sensibility. Any time someone announces that they’ve unearthed new, previously unheard material by a jazz icon, there’s reason to be skeptical: that material may have never seen the light of day for a good reason. But the Tristano archival collection, the Duo Sessions – dating from the 1970s and streaming at Spotify – has plenty of fascinating moments and historical value.

For example, this is the only known recording of Tristano playing as part of a piano duo, in this case jousting with another formidable improviser, the late Connie Crothers. Their two-part Concerto begins with thumping waves between the two, reaches a momentary plaintive phrase and then follows a twisted boogie-woogie march. Lingering quasi-whole tone scales flicker off into the abyss, Crothers having fun with lively embellishments, playing off Tristano’s lefthand rumble. They reprise the march just as steadily but with more of a jagged, insistent attack that coalesces to a triumphant anthem of sorts before disintegrating for good in the second part.

The album opens with half a dozen much more traditional duets between Tristano and tenor saxophonist Lenny Popkin, sax typically casual and matter-of-factly out front. Tristano comps stabbingly behind his bandmate’s jaunty phrasing in Out of a Dream, a jarring contrast, but maybe that was the pianist’s point here – and maybe why Popkin drops out all of a sudden. He gets on the page quickly in their pensive second number, simply titled Ballad, Tristano’s uneasy close harmonies even more insistent (and back in the mix), rising to his signature blend of lyricism and fanged unresolve.

The two hit a steady, optimistic swing shuffle in Chez Lennie, Tristano sticking with a more restrained stride and continue in the same vein with the miniature Inflight, while Ensemble swings just as hard but much more adventurously. If you want to hear Tristano put his signature spin on the blues, check out their final number, Melancholy Stomp.

There are also eight tracks worth of Tristano with a longtime Crothers associate, drummer Roger Mancuso. When the piano finally joins in the swing shuffle Palo Alto Street, it’s vastly more spare yet regally Ellingtonian at the end. Tristano’s persistent, volleying attack is in top shape in the two’s second number, and later on in My Baby. Other than in the gritty, cascading Minor Pennies, the rest of the recordings don’t really engage either musician’s strengths, such as they are.

The recording quality is all over the place. Endings get cut off, and it would be nice to be able to hear more Tristano in the sax duets. Sometimes that’s the price of history.