New York Music Daily

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Chris Pattishall Flirts With Psychedelia in an Iconic Jazz Suite

Over the past few years, pianist Chris Pattishall has entranced New York audiences with his performances of Mary Lou Williams’ cult classic Zodiac Suite. From time to time, he’s engaged his longtime guitarist colleague Rafiq Bhatia to create a sound that’s closer to ambient music or psychedelia – or Radiohead – than postbop jazz. Now they’re made an album out of it, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s like nothing yofoxu’ve ever heard anyone do with this, at one moment completely purist and true to its origins, at another drifting over into a completely different universe. He and the band don’t usually stay in one place for very long here: he really leaves you wanting more.

Pattishall evinces some richly bell-like tones from the upper registers before the band stomp their way in, trumpeter Riley Mulherkar joyously running the big hook over the piano’s proto-Monk chromatics, bassist Marty Jaffe and drummer Jamison Ross lurking back. There’s enough echo on the trumpet solo to drive a truck through, Bhatia’s processing adding a woozy dubwise edge

Pattishall has fun warping the time as Gemini gets underway, only to diverge into a spacy, surrealistically plucky Bhatia guitar interlude. The band’s leap into racewalking swing turns out to be a false start;

Cancer, like the opening track, has darkness and bluesy majesty as the group lift off slowly. A trumpet solo signals a pause, then Pattishall brings the eerily chiming surrealism and grimly organlike textures back. The shivers of Ruben Fox’s sax solo out are equally phantasmagorical.

Leo is here and gone in less than a couple of minutes, a strangely martial fanfare . Virgo swings genially with more than a hint of a Miles Davis classic and a suave sax solo. Pattishall’s saturnine solo lyricism in Libra is one of the album’s high points; it’s over too soon.

Creepy slinkiness and bright horns contrast in Scorpio, up to a dissociative ambient interlude before resuming with a coy bounce. Pattishall makes impressionistic, Debussyesque blues out of Saggitarius, solo, then bass, drums and subtle, strange electronics return for an exploratory, tantalizingly short, moody take of Capricorn.

Mulherkar raises the warmly anticipatory edge of Aquarius, although there’s subtle phantasmagoria here too: we are dealing with the occult, after all. With its Monklike chromatics, Pisces is the quiet stunner here, just enough of a dusky carnival to be genuinely sinister. The group romp their way through a swinging, hard-hitting, Brubeckian take of Aries. The electronics here may leave some listeners mystified, but Pattishall has really gone under the hood with this music, and the nuances, and surprises he unveils here are the best advertising he could possibly give his live show. Now we need to see him play somewhere soon around these parts!

A Brilliant Live Album From Reggae Road Warrors Tribal Seeds

Roots reggae band Tribal Seeds were a big draw on the summer festival circuit until the lockdown. All that time on the road obviously inspired their latest album, Live 2020, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s one of the few records made in a studio during that time to surface so far, and even though there was (presumably) no audience there giving the band energy to feed off, their set really nails the outside-the-box sensibility of their live show.

This is a long album, fourteen tracks. The template seems to be Burning Spear’s immortal 1988 Live in Paris record: prominent lead guitar, brassy horn breaks, a kaleidoscope of keyboard textures and many breakdowns into dub. They don’t waste time hitting a dubwise, echoey theme as the opening number, Down Bad Vibes gathers steam, part Burning Spear’s We Are Going and Exodus-era Bob Marley

With echoey guitar, swirly organ and balmy horns, Rude Girl has more of a 21st century, post-pop vibe, reverbtoned sax and more dubby echoes bursting up from individual instruments.

They pick up the pace with Guerra, a bubbling, minor-key antiwar anthem in Spanish. Then they slow things down again for Tempest, first bringing to mind Jah Spear and then hitting a catchy Marleyesque four-chord groove with crackling clavinova and spacy organ.

Taking a cue from Peter Tosh for inspiration, the band lash out at “illuminati” in Blood Clot, picking up with an ominous vortex and a snarling, metalish guitar solo out: total Spear, 1988. Fallen Kings has a stark, echoey string section on the intro and a wry detour into J.S. Bach before the band pulse and swoosh their way the rest of the way: the orchestration is a really cool touch.

Dark Angel is even more orchestral: the idea of a reggae suspense movie theme might seem pretty insane, but this works insanely well. Then the band completely flip the script with Lift, a bright, bouncy love song.

Lushness returns along with the bubbling organ and bass and sunbaked guitar in Surrender. The band kick off Sekkle and Cool, their signature anthem, with a big, crescendoing sax solo, loosen into a dubby thicket and then pull back onto the rails. Then the band go back to vintage Marley catchiness with Moonlight, spiced with classical-flavored piano and shivery strings.

They stay in Marley mode with In Your Eyes, but with all kinds of neat touches: squiggly clavinet and a little surf drums. The defiant, blazing Spear ambience returns in Gunsmoke with sunburst horns and a jagged, slashing guitar break. The band wind up the set, pulling out all the eerie stops with the strings and guitars and keys in Vampire “Corruption spread like a virus.” No joke.

There hasn’t been a new roots reggae album this long, and this strong from beginning to end in years.

Intriguingly Moody, Individualistic Piano Instrumentals From Alexandra Stréliski

On her album Inscape – streaming at Bandcamp – Montreal pianist Alexandra Stréliski plays wistful chamber pop songs without words, often multitracking herself for textural contrasts. This kind of thing has been done before, although stylistically Streliski is much more classically oriented than early rock keyboard instrumentalists like Floyd Cramer. She sometimes uses folky guitar voicings; her songs can be very catchy. Catchy enough to became a gold record on her home turf – if this is what gold records were in 2020, it’s a good omen.

The opening number, Plus Tôt (meaning “soon”) hints at where she’s going to go later in the album, but this folk-pop theme, with its steady triplets, doesn’t move far from one place and isn’t one of her strongest numbers. You can start your playlist – and hum along – with The Quiet Voice, a gently strolling pastoral pop tune.

Par le Fenêtre de Theo (Through Theo’s Window) is where Streliski really puts the rubber to the road: it’s a big, melancholy rainy-day anthem in classical disguise. In Ellipse, she maintains the pensive ambience more spaciously, with light electronic touches. Then she goes back to terse, moody folk-pop with the waltz Changing Winds.

The simply titled Interlude is a study in persistent, loopy minimalism. Blind Vision has a recurrent reference to the Exorcist Theme, but it’s more just plain sad than creepy. The subtle variations of Burnout Fugue – great title, huh? – have a surprising, intricately rippling energy and precision,

As she often does here, she moves a simple bassline around beneath elegant broken chords, tersely emphatic riffs and a Beatles quote in Overturn, the album’s longest track. She closes the record with the more pop-themed Revient le Jour (Daylight Comes Once More) and then Materials, a robotic attempt at glitchy electronic sounds. Other than that, somewhere there’s an arthouse movie director who needs music like this.

Lush Jangle and Clang and Retro 80s Spacerock From Blackout Transmission

Once in a blue moon a publicist for a band absolutely nails what they’re about. Here’s Dave Clifford on what retro 80s psychedellc group Blackout Transmission are all about: “This is not set-it-and-forget-it delay pedal rehash. Strong drums and lush guitars.” Thanks for the punchline Dave! Their jangly, atmospheric debut album Sparse Illumination is streaming at Bandcamp.

They open with a slow, echoey spacerock instrumental, Once There: it could be one of the short, vampy pieces that the Church would end an album side, or begin one with, back in the 80s. That comparison may seem like impossible hype, but this duo nail the Australian legends’ blend of lush clang and drifting textures in several tracks here. The tense, anxiously pulsing chords as the icy Heavy Circles gets underway, and the anthemic, ringing peaks and valleys of Verdant Return, in particular, are a delicious throwback to albums like Seance and Sometime Anywhere.

Since She Guided You Away is a loping Laurel Canyon psychedelic anthem through the prism of the 80s, with its layers of buzz, burn and drift, the missing link between the Church and, say, the Allah-La’s. Likewise, Tactile Responses comes across as the Cure’s Robert Smith staring at the desert sand. And the band loop a Seventeen Seconds-style riff for the most hypnotic, shoegazy number here, Pacifica.

The dancing bassline and echoey guitar trails in Portals are straight out of the Brian Jonestown Massacre playbook. The band go back to the Church again to close the record with Sleepwalking Again, its restlessly tumbling drums and relentlesly uneasy chord changes. Lyrics and vocals don’t really figure into this music: it’s all about atmosphere, and textures, and tunes, and tight, purposeful playing. If that resonates and reverberates with you, fire this up and get lost.

A Lively, Fearless, Colorful New Album From Susie Ibarra

Susie Ibarra is one of the most distinctive and interesting composers to emerge from the New York downtown jazz scene of the 90s. She’s best known for her Electric Kulintang project, which draws on magical, pointillistic sounds from her Filipina heritage as a stepping-off point for improvisation and cross-pollination. Her latest album, Talking Gong – streaming at Bandcamp – is a trio collaboration with pianist Alex Peh and flutist Claire Chase.

The album’s centerpiece is the almost seventeen-minute title track, referencing the gong’s use as a means of communication in the Philippines, in the same vein as African talking drums. It’s typical Ibarra, Peh negotiating its rigorous staccato and rippling textures with a steely intensity, the bandleader adding nebulous and sparkling color, Chase’s breathy pops and coyly oscillating textures leading to a more-or-less straightforward drive. A wary strut with moody bass flute calms to mystical sparseness, chiming passages alternating with storminess, clustering frenzy, deep-forest rapture and what could be lumberjacks there. The Asian pentatonics come to the forefront more and more as the music develops.

Peh’s bell-like staccato and brooding resonance contrasts with Ibarra’s spare cymbals and toms in Paniniwala (Belief). The solo piano piece Dancesteps vividly brings to mind the imploring repetition of Jehan Alain’s iconic organ work Litanies, with similarly stark harmonies but more nimble rhythms and a rapturous bird-on-the-wire interlude midway through.

Speaking of the avian kingdom, there are two tracks here inspired by our feathered friends. Ibarra’s evocation of a hummingbird in Kolumbrí is much more than just delicate, muted fluttering. We get a taste of the flowers and greenery and this creature’s businesslike activity, which is less hyper and far more mysterious than you might think. Chase is deputized, solo, to play Sunbird, a native Philippine species, with cheery, resonant lines, circumspect ambience and anxious stepping around: it’s a showcase for her daunting extended technique.

There are also four largely improvisational miniatures here which Ibarra calls “meriendas,” meaning “snacks.” The first is flitting and muted; the second is a jaunty, trililng flute/piano conversation. Chase dances between Peh’s brooding droplets in the third, and all three musicians join in a ticklishly jungly thicket in the final one.

Not only is this entertaining music: it’s a triumph of artistic fearlessness. It’s impossible to remember what ridiculous restrictions Andrew Cuomo had put in place, in violation of citizens’ Constitutional right to free assembly, when the trio recorded this album at a (presumably) empty SUNY campus space last July. Whatever the case, Ibarra, Peh and Chase made the record undeterred. Let that be an inspiration for the rest of us.

An Anthemic, Vividly Tuneful Octet Album From Ellen Rowe

The funniest song title on pianist Ellen Rowe‘s latest album Momentum: Portraits of Women in Motion – streaming at Soundcloud – is The First Lady (No, Not Melania). It doesn’t seem to be a portrait of any first lady in recent memory. It’s too gentle for Michelle Obama, and there’s too much bluesy shuffle for Jackie Kennedy, let alone Rosalyn Carter. And none of the others from the past several decades rate. Maybe it’s a look forward to the time when we have a confidently easygoing woman in the Oval Office.

It always makes sense to open your record with a song you can close a show with, and the first number here, Ain’t I a Woman fits that bill perfectly. Rowe’s stern gospel voicings and an increasingly artful lefthand line anchor balmy individual horn voices – that’s saxophonists Tia Fuller, Virginia Mayhew and Lisa Parrott, clarinetist Janelle Reichman and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen coalescing with a steady, swinging march beat. Trombonist Melissa Gardiner takes it further toward New Orleans, Rowe closer to the blues, Fuller bringing it all together, followed by a slinky bass solo. There’s a lot going on here.

Balmy horn harmonies over Allison Miller’s suspenseful drizzle of cymbals kick off RFP (Relentless Forward Progress), lithely blippy bass underneath an increasingly soaring, optimistic theme that quickly hits a chugging latin groove echoed by a spiraling Jensen solo.

A biting, upward chromatic piano interlude opens off The Soul Keepers, a boogie with plush, sailing brass. There’s a bluesy late 40s Gillespie band purism here, Rowe’s gritty incisions ceding the stage to a triumphant alto solo and sagacious trombone.

There’s a wistful, gorgeously pastoral sensibility to Anthem, Reichman’s clarinet at the center over the bandleader’s precise chords, down to another purposeful bass solo. Saxes converse cautiously and broodingly as The Guardians slowly rises toward a pensive quasi-bolero groove: in a quiet way, it’s the album’s most vivid and strongest track. Rowe closes it with the playful but determined Game, Set and Match, a web of New Orleans riffs building to a return to Miller’s second line-inflected swing. At this point it hits you: this is one of the most tuneful jazz albums of recent months, arguably the high point in Rowe’s underrated career.

Artfully Shifting New Ambient Music From Enona

Ambient ensemble Enona were born out of the most popular musical meme of 2020: trading files over the web. When the group, featuring members of Ensemble Et Al. and Quatre Vingt Neuf, realized that their remote experiments during the ugliest early days of the lockdown were worth releasing, they put a trio of them up at Bandcamp as their debut album, The Challenge Is in the Moment. As with most drifty, immersive music, it’s best appreciated as a cohesive whole, letting the subtle thematic development carry you off to a better place…like a year ago, when the members of the group were free to play and record wherever they chose, and invite audiences to see them.

Slowly pulsing long tones hold the center as slashy electronic thunderbolts enter and then recede in the almost 22-minute opening title track. Eventually, Ron Tucker’s electric piano punctures the surface, tentatively and sparely: the melody would be a wistful ballad if played at quadruplespeed. Arun Antonyraj’s simple electric guitar echoes coalesce into a countermelody to variations on a piano loop; from there, an elegant web of contrastingly calm and gritty tonalities develops.

Another Kind of Open could be a scary proposition, a slow, brooding series of synth chords flecked with echoey, muted hits on what sounds like an acoustic guitar. Again, a loopy electric guitar phrase ties it all together, bittersweetly.

The final theme, Present Air Will Have to Do is more of a shimmery dreampop guitar tableau, spiced with simple, jaunty electric piano flourishes and electroacoustic ambience from saxophonist Jason Candler. It’s always rewarding to hear an album of slowly unwinding music like this and find substance in it beyond “This is a great record to help you stay centered while you multitask!”

Revisiting a Favorite of the New Classical Scene

“Anybody who thinks that classical music is dead wasn’t here,” this blog enthused about Caroline Shaw‘s sold-out concert with the Attacca Quartet at Lincoln Center a little over a year ago. Lincoln Center’s concert halls may be cold and dead at the moment – what a hideous reality, huh? – but you can hear some of what she played that night on their most recent album, Orange, streaming at Bandcamp.

Before Shaw won a Pulitzer (for a piece that wasn’t even one of her best), she was highly sought after as a sidewoman, both as a violinist and chorister. Since then, she’s become more widely known as one of the foremost composer-performers in the new classical scene. By the time she recorded this, most of the material had been thoroughly road-tested, and it sparkles with catchy, emphatic riffage and clever humor.

The title track, essentially, is Valencia, inspired by a big, juicy orange. Circling high harmonics, driving glissandos in the lows, echo riffs, suspenseful dopplers and brisk handoffs populate this artfully minimalist theme and variations. Brooklyn Rider gave the New York premiere of the trickily rhythmic yet anthemic opening track, Entr’Acte, earlier that year. The version here seems more spacious and richly textured with microtones, not to mention dynamics. The ensemble  – violinists Amy Schroeder and Keiko Tokunaga, violist Nathan Schram and cellist Andrew Yee – take advantage of the studio space to sink to a whisper and then pluck their way back up toward a Philip Glass-ine circularity.

The album’s centerpiece is Plan & Elevation, a seven-part suite inspired by the same landscaped Washington, DC greenery that Igor Stravinsky was drawn to over a half-century ago. Steady pulses, jaunty pizzicato, indian summer haze, spirals across the strings and expertly textured harmonics interchange, rise and fall: Shaw’s reliance on the low midrange, here and elsewhere, is striking, particularly in the third movement’s slow upward slide.

In Latin, Punctum means “point;” it’s also the opening of a tear duct. The group really max out the dynamics, from a wry off-scene strut, to obliquely resonant late Beethoven references and some neat polyrhythms. The album’s longest and most hypnotic piece, Ritornello contrasts shifting tectonic sheets with playful pizzicato riffs over a quasi-palindromic structure with a devious false ending. The concluding number is the plucky, pastoral Limestone & Felt.

A Spontaneously Rapturous Duo Album by Jane Ira Bloom and Mark Helias

A low-key duo album with Jane Ira Bloom on it might seem like the last thing you’d ever expect to hear, considering that she’s arguably this era’s great master of spine-tingling soprano sax pyrotechnics. Desperate times, desperate measures. Beginning in the terrorized early days of the lockdown, she and bassist Mark Helias began jamming over the web. The two quickly realized they were on to something. By September, they’d recorded enough material for an album, Some Kind of Tomorrow, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s two veterans with huge bags of riffs and spontaneous tunesmithing ability at the peak of their game.

“The thought of a world without a live, spontaneous musical connection was too hard to imagine,” Bloom confirms. Obviously, we can’t let lockdowner totalitarianism dictate how, when, where or even if recordings are made. But just the fact that Bloom and Helias were able to create such deeply conversational, moving interludes as these under the circumstances portends even more amazing things for these two as more and more musicians return from the virtual world to reality again.

In the album’s title track, Bloom weaves bits and pieces of a ballad – some of them distant echoes of My Favorite Things – as Helias keeps a dancing pulse going and pulls together a catchy, riff-driven groove that you will be humming to yourself afterward. Keep in mind that this was completely improvised.

Bloom treats us to sprightly spirals over Helias’ suspenseful, muted rumble as Magic Carpet takes flight. Then a spacious, similarly suspenseful dialogue ensues, Helias subtly introducing a Middle Eastern-tinged mode that Bloom picks up on immediately. Bloom flits around and induces some goosebumps with her trills, Helias jabbing and then sinking an anchor of stygian sustain to the river floor.

The two pursue a similar dichotomy in the sepulchral flickers of Early Rites: Bloom throws a flourish at Helias, then he bends it back with just enough of a different spin to keep the music slowly shifting.

The bassist pursues more of a shadowy response, then takes a tantalizing, stairstepping solo in the album’s fourth number, Willing, as Bloom plays sage, wee-hours blues phrases before following him into modal mystery again.

The two switch roles in Traveling Deep, Bloom’s broodingly liquid, clarinet-like phrasing in response to Helias’ jaunty harmonics. Their big, almost ten-minute epic is titled Roughing It, the closest thing to a spontaneous, lithely swinging ballad here before the two spin and drift into the ether again before triumphantly reconvening.

Spare, spacious contemplation returns and shifts into more tentative angst in Far Satellites: Helias’ high harmonics versus Bloom’s moody trils create one of the album’s most quietly riveting moments. Listening to Bloom develop one of the more lengthy themes and variations in Pros and Cons, from wistfulness to desolate blues is a treat. Again, Helias’ chromatics are the icing on the cake.

Drift is a master class in angst-fueled melismas and sheets of sustain. Helias takes the lead with his slides and chromatics as Bloom floats and flickers in Star Talk, one of the quietest and most haunting number here. First Canvas, a miniature, closes the album on a benedictory note.

Terse, Otherworldly, Magically Textured Solo Piano Pieces by Benoît Delbecq

Benoît Delbecq inhabits a unique, often otherworldly, surreal sound world. That’s because he prepares his piano, putting metal and other materials on the strings and elsewhere, for textures that few other pianists would ever imagine, let alone seek out. His compositions span the worlds of jazz improvisation, 20th and 21st century classical music, often evoking the work of Messiaen or Federico Mompou. Delbecq can be sardonically funny or piercingly plaintive, sometimes in the same song. His new solo album The Weight of Light is streaming at Spotify.

The opening number, The Loop of Chicago has spare, bell-tinged righthand phrases over muted but dancingly catchy, prepared textures that sound like a cross between a mbira and a balafon. This is definitely the Loop on a rainy Friday night when pretty much everybody has traipsed home.

Dripping Stones is an aptly titled, bell-like tableau that strongly brings to mind Mompou, with more rhythmic freedom. For the album’s third number, Family Trees, Delbecq brings back the approximation of the balafon and adds a clock-like timbre (think of Pink Floyd’s Breathe), with cleverly clustering phrases using Fender Rhodes voicings.

It’s as if Delbecq has a couple of muted, hypnotic bass drum loops going behind his sparse, rainy-day righthand in Chemin Sur Le Crest. The skeletal, arrythmic textures of Au Fil De La Parole are a spot-on evocation of the metal chimes of a mobile, an important childhood influence on Delbecq’s music.

He returns to the balafon-and-chimes analogue, more hypnotically at first and then with more of a traditional postbop jazz edge, in Anamorphoses: that could explain the title. Timbres shift to what could be harmonic pings on the high strings of an electric bass in Havn En Havre: the overtones wafting from Delbecq’s simple chromatic loop are deliciously disquieting. Then his righthand belltones drive the point all the way home.

The album’s most epic track is Pair Et Impair, with an increasingly complex web of plinky, dancing, mbira and Rhodes tones. He winds up the album with Broken World, its spacious, warily ringing phrases tinged with murk.

Fun fact: Delbecq takes the album title from his physicist brother, whose doctoral thesis proposed to verify that light has mass.