Thursday, March 31, 2011

John Escreet

John Escreet (piano)
Don't Fight The Inevitable (Mythology Records)
Nasheet Waits (drums)
Matt Brewer (bass)
David Binney (sax, electronics)
Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet)

You know I'm always out on the hunt for pianists who can come close to caliber of my favourites, Jason Moran or Kris Davis. It's very hard to find that kind of forward thinking talent. But recently I stumbled across some great work from Englishmen turned New Yorker, John Escreet. Escrett's new album Don't Fight The Inevitable is a sublime piece of compositional thinking that will leave listeners staggering around trying to figure out what just hit them. That would be a might dose of creativity!

Escreet has only been around for a few years but has quickly made a name for himself stateside in that short time. Originally a member of the British outfit Empirical, John Escreet left the band prior to their first record and moved to New York to study at the Manhattan School of Music. In addition to his studies he also did a number guest musician spots. But it has been his studying and association with the great Jason Moran and Kenny Barron that seems to have had lasting impact on his compositional work. His debut recording, Consequences (Posi-Tone Records; 2008) was an astounding piece of work with mainly original material. The epic opener "The Suite Of Consequence" is reason along for any jazz fan to stand up and take notice.

Don't Fight The Inevitable is a whole step above. Where Consequences was a brilliant intersection of avant garde and post bop craftsmanship, Don't Fight The Inevitable is the work of a musician thinking far beyond the boundaries of the aforementioned sub-genres. His band consisting of David Binney, Ambrose Akinmusire, Matt Brewer and Nasheet Waits utilize some stellar abstract changes and phrasing, especially on "Civilization On Trial" and the title track, which illustrates Escreet has learned a lot from his mentor, Moran over the last few years. But don't be fooled into thinking that Escreet is a clone of Jason Moran. Escreet has quickly developed his own voice that resonates throughout the lengthy eight tracks on this sophomore effort.

"Magic Chemical (For The Future)" is the perfect example of how Escreet can switch gears from the more complex free form work to a more post bop midtempo number with lovely exchanges between Waits, Binney and Escreet. It's beautiful, powerful, arresting and challenging all rolled into twelve minutes. With "Trouble And Activity", Escreet has carved a wonderful piece in which Akinmusire stands high with some arching solos. Escreet's performance is sharp and crisp with real muscle and maturity beyond his 25 years. Another balladry moment is captured in the short but lovely "Gone But Not Forgotten"--a touching number that his mainly Escreet and Binney in duo form.

The album closes on the multi-layered and visceral tone of "Avaricious World" which seems to build and collapse upon itself with various sonic moments. The quintet really move through various patterns and soundscapes on this piece. It sort of encompasses the entire ethos of the album--post modern but circling the outskirts post bop.

Don't Fight The Inevitable is a post modern classic from a young talent that has become an established and revered composer on the scene very quickly. It's challenging music but I think John Escreet should be on JazzWrap readers list of artist to check out sooner rather than later.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Orrin Evans: Captain Black Big Band

Orrin Evans (piano; b. 1975)
Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone Records)

As the next generation of jazz musicians get more experience, albums and live performances under their belt, its almost inevitable that they will record a big band record. In recent years we have seen it from Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Dave Holland, Nicholas Payton, Joe Lovano and now Orrin Evans. With the Captain Black Big Band though, Orrin Evans has created more of a giant jam session than the Ellington, Basie, Armstrong homage. This is a live recording that is rich and festive in sound as well as collaborative in spirit.

Originally a project developed for live performances at Chris' Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia, Evans combines the talent of young and elder statesmen into a surprisingly cohesive 38 piece ensemble. This live recording was recorded over three separate gigs throughout New York and Philadelphia during 2010. Orrin Evans, who has experience in big bands already as a member with the Mingus Big Band which plays consistently in New York City, put the group together to explore his sometimes complex but always entertaining and stellar arrangements. The name Captain Black comes from the pipe tobacco but also Evans memories as a child and his father, who smoked the Captain Black brand. He also used it for the title of his second album release in 1998 on Criss Cross records.

This big band outing opens on the high spirited note of "Art Of War" (written by drummer and friend, Ralph Peterson) with some great solo work from Rob Landham. Solos throughout this session is something that Evans appears to be committed to. While Evans leads the group, he specifically wants to highlight the talents of individual members on the recording. The vibe on this record is definitely a party atmosphere and that continues with "Inheritance", a piece that vibrates and swings with propulsive solo from Todd Marcus (bass clarinet), whom also arranged the piece. In addition, Walter White (trumpet) and Anwar Marshall (drums) star with powerfully dynamic solo work--especially Marshall towards the end of the piece.

Evans playing is understated on this recording (he also includes two additional pianist, Jim Holton and Neil Podgurski) but you do get a great sense of joy and excitement from these live sessions which particularly puts the listener in the front row of what must have been some really smokin' performances. "Easy Now" (originally from the Evan's 2004 album of the same name) is a somber but expressive piece. This live big band version is gives that melodic ballad a bit more breathe but retains the overall emotional effectiveness of the piece. "Easy Now" does see Evans taking more of a prominent role as his playing in vital to the piece. The solos from Mark Allen on sax and Tatum Greenblatt on trumpet are beautiful and carry a deep emotional resonance. The closing number "Jena 6" is a killer piece. Featuring Jaleel Shaw (sax), who is quickly becoming one of the more explosive saxophonist of the next generation, delivers a blistering statement of intent that should really get wider attention from jazz community.

The Captain Black Big Band really doesn't feel like your average big band session. For as many members included on this date it feels more like a quartet or quintet. Instead of Ellington or Basie you'll reminisce on Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. All the members are in unison and keep the direction and vision of its creator, Orrin Evans, who definitely has sense for structure when its needed and freedom when it demands. The Captain Black Big Band should have huge appeal for everyone.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

ASA Trio

ASA Trio (group; formed 2005)
Plays The Music of Thelonious Monk (self produced; 2011)
Anders Thor (guitar)
Scott McLemore (drums)
Agnar Mar Magnusson (organ)

It's a funky kind of weekend. I thought it might be appropriate to wait till now to spring this killer new record on everybody. I'm really glad the group and I stumbled upon each other in cyberspace here. I got a copy of ASA Trio's latest album, Plays The Music Of Thelonious Monk and was very intrigued by the idea of an organ based trio doing Monk tunes. I have fallen in love with this Icelandic band over the last few weeks and I think everybody seriously needs to check them out.

Now dedicated organ trios are nothing new in the jazz history. What makes ASA Trio standout is they stick to what makes organ trios so satisfying--a deep attention to and understanding of basic instrumentation, blues, funk and jazz harmonics.

ASA Trio are led by Agnar Mar Magnusson (organ) - who's style resembles the great Larry Young -  Anders Thor (guitar), and Scott McLemore (drums). The band started almost by accident. During the Reykjavik Jazz Festival in 2005 there was a band cancellation and this thrust Anders into the spotlight to create a band to perform that day. His two bandmates had performed only briefly in separate incarnations but this performance went off supremely well. And shortly after the band become ASA Trio. The group have recorded two digital only albums previously - A live album, and what is becoming an underground classic, a complete recording of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. Both albums are available on the band's website and you must check them out. But today our focus is on Plays The Music Of Thelonious Monk.

While there have been plenty of artists that have done Monk inspired albums (Fred Hersch, Wynton Marsalis, Anthony Braxton, Paul Motian, E.S.T., Alexander von Schlippenbach) I don't think any of them would have envisioned a whole album performed by an organ dominated group. Nor would you or they have envisioned it being this exciting, inventive, well played and all around a pleasure to listen to again and again. With most albums of this nature you will see the usual Monk standards "Well You Needn't," "Nutty," and "Epistrophy". But Asa Trio have decided to go in a slightly different direction with minimal Monk standards "Bemsha Swing" and "Straight No Chaser" mixed in with many lesser covered Monk gems.

"Bemsha Swings" opens the album (this was also one of the tracks they first performed at the festival in 2005) beautifully, showing a group that plays within the groove as well as demonstrating a consistent unity among the three. You can feel each instrument throughout this piece. Magnusson's organ never overwhelms the others. This is a hard bop trio utilizing its ability to groove but also staying within tradition. "Raise Four" is both bluesy and funky. Thor's melody is smokin' and free-wheeling like Grant Green or early George Benson. McLemore shows the versatility of a young Billy Higgins throughout this session. His ability to shift in time and rhythm adds an element of surprise with each track.

On "Green Chimneys" Thor picks up Charlie Rouse's chords masterfully. It's not as striking as you would think and the patterns blend harmonically with Magnusson playing the Monk extremely subtle allowing the focus clearing on Thor and McLemore. It's a great example of this collectives creativity in re imagining what could well be a difficult piece. McLemore's solo is bit more fierce than Ben Riely's original but it clearly suites this highly imaginative version.

The beauty of such Monk ballads as "Ugly Beauty" and "Ask Me Know" illustrate another aspect of ASA Trio that I love--they are constantly challenging themselves throughout this recording. It's hard enough to tackle Monk compositions that others don't usually look to work with. It's another thing to challenge yourself with both his uptempo, multi-layered pieces and his intricate ballad material. "Ugly Beauty" in particular, while staying in line with Monk's original intent, shows Magnusson applying delicate pressure on the Hammond which in turn give the piece a bit more emotional punch.

I guess you really couldn't close this session with an unknown Monk piece but what better way to do it than with the universal "Straight No Chaser". Thor really dominates as a replacement for the sax (which would have been Sahib Shihab on the original). Magnusson delivers a pulsating solo that you could imagine Keith Jarrett doing early in his career. Great stuff.

ASA Trio have carved a nice niche for themselves in their native Iceland but I think soon the rest of the world will definitely start talking about this trio. With Plays The Music Of Thelonious Monk, ASA Trio have delivered a document that is all together absorbing, challenging, fun and different than some of the material that's out at the moment. In addition, to the Monk album you should also check out their Live At Domo and A Love Supreme: Live At Cafe Cultura digital only album. Highly Recommended stuff. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Northern Exposure with Peter Hum

Peter Hum (piano)
A Boy's Journey (self produced; 2010)
Peter Hum (piano, electric piano)
Kenji Omae (tenor sax)
Nathan Cepelinski (alto, soprano sax)
Alec Walkington (bass)
Ted Warren (drums)

We sometimes get so caught up on where the music is coming from (New York, Chicago, Oslo, London, Sydney, Paris, Stockholm, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Lisbon, etc.) that we forget what ITS all about. ITS about the MUSIC! Not about where IT comes from.  So when I got a copy of Peter Hum's A Boys Journey, I was surprised to learn that Peter was from Canada. I know Canada has a great jazz scene but I hadn't really been exposed to new artists from there in a long time.

Ottawa native, Peter Hum is a wonderful and refreshing pianist with a stellar debut. Hum has a unique perspective on the jazz scene as he is also a journalist for the Ottawa Citizen newspaper.  He brings a well-studied and articulate vision to the proceedings on his debut, A Boys Journey.  It's a journey that is sometimes autobiographical (describing his father and as well as moments of his childhood) but more importantly its a album that holds your attention from beginning to end. Hum's career in jazz stretches over three decades both as writer, student, composer and musician. His style is subtle, elegant and joyful. For me its reminiscent of Cedar Walton, McCoy Tyner or more recent artists like David Hazeltine and Stephen Scott.

Peter Hum put together a solid band of musicians he has known and played with in various forms over the years. They provide an atmosphere that is both calming and exciting throughout A Boys Journey. The ability to play off each other makes these ten tracks feel like they had been performing them for decades instead of just a few days in the studio. "Take The High Road" opens on a soulful and impassioned note with some strong displays from Hum and his horn section. It's an infectious number because of its lyric beauty and lush arrangement.

Hum's compositions allow the band to stretch out individually, as on "Big Lou", with it's slow but deep groove laid out Walkington in its opening chords and then aided buy Hum masterfully on electric piano. Nathan Cepelinski shines here with some excellent scale work and shadows Hum note for note. As with the beginning, Walkington returns to level the field again as the group slide nicely into its closing bars. 

Peter Hum also shows his gentle side on the lovely ballads "Midway" and the title track which are intimate portraits balancing out the albums more uptempo moments. They also serve as highlights for the saxophonists who display complete command and depth of the compositions.

"Unagi" adds a bite to the session with fierce solo work from Warren and Omae and Hancock-esque funk from Hum on electric piano. Hum seems comfortable as both the fusion and acoustic setting which also makes A Boys Journey a very dynamic record to experience.  "Three Wishes" closes out the session and is almost a microcosm of A Boys Journey. It builds slowly with a delicate interaction between Hum and his horn section before the entire group joins in with some great rhythmic patterns and dense grooves. This gives way to a powerful solo from Walkington before the entire group returns on a gentle note to close out the piece. Well structured all around.

A Boys Journey is a touching debut from an artist who sits on both sides of the musical fence. Peter Hum's watching, learning, performing pays off in an incredibly rich and rewarding manner through A Boys Journey.  A Boys Journey is a real touch of class from north of the border that you should definitely check out.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Travis Reuter: Sound And Vision

Travis Reuter (guitar, electronics)
Rotational Templates (New Focus Recordings)
Jeremy Viner (sax)
Bobby Avey (fender rhodes)
Chris Tordini (bass)
Jason Nazary (drums)

Rotational Templates is a record that could disrupt the order of things in 2011. Travis Reuter, a classically trained guitarist but you wouldn't be able to tell by this dazzling and inventive array of tracks   that his group have assembled.

Travis Reuter delivers a some great compositional structure and improvisation mixed with the sheer joy of exploring different sound worlds throughout this debut. In Rotational Templates you can hear echoes of fusion and experimentalist greats like Miles, John McLaughlin and Derek Bailey. On the opener, "Vacancy At 29", Reuter allows the group (especially Chris Tordini's funky basslines) to really set the stage as he manipulates the sound around the outside. Reuter has a band that has played together for awhile and appears know each other's next move. Bobby Avey adds the '70s ethereal element with some superb work on the Fender Rhodes. Reuter rises up in decibel and displays some very complex harmonic structures that are rich, dense and mesmerizing.

"Residency At 20 (Parts 1 and 2)" show two distinct sides of Reuter's compositional thinking. Part 1 focuses more on deep exchanges between Avey and Reuter. They have a real connection of investigation rhythmic patterns and sound that gives "Residency At 20" a Bitches Brew feel to it (e.g. "John McLaughlin"). Part 2 is more of a group effort with Viner really coming to the forefront. There's a lot of improvising happening but it remains in a well placed groove that is impressive and fast paced. "Flux Derivatives" starts in a multi-layered pattern and slowly moves into more midtempo structure all the while seeing Viner and Avey laying down some intricate almost psychedelic beats.

Rotational Templates (listen to tracks from the album) is a remarkable and rewarding debut from a talent young guitarist and composer thinking well outside the box. Like Mary Halvorson, Travis Reuter is definitely an artist you should be looking out for in 2011.

Travis Reuter delivers soundscapes, experimentation and a vision that is equally challenging as it is exciting to experience. This is definitely part of our top albums of the year for sure. Highly Recommended!

JazzWrap caught up with Travis Reuter recently to ask a few questions.

While your background is both jazz and classical, there seem to be elements of minimalism and experimental rock simmering just underneath. Is this something you wanted to add to the recording?
I can’t really think of any minimalist or experimental rock musicians that I am directly influenced by. I do love effects pedals and sound manipulation, though, and I enjoy experimenting and finding new ways to incorporate noise and signal processing into my playing and writing.
Were there artists or albums that inspired you on the more experimental/improvisational side?
Evan Parker’s Six of One, The Derek Bailey/Evan Parker duo album Arch Duo, Tyshawn Sorey, Tim Berne and his groups, Anthony Braxton and Andrew Cyrille’s albums Duo Palindromes vol. 1 and vol. 2, Little Women’s album Throat.
We are big fans of Bobby Avey's work. Have you worked with him for a long time? What effect did he and the rest of the band add to Rotational Templates?
I have played with Bobby since 2008; we have played a lot together, and he has played with my band since 2009, when it was in its earliest formation. I played a gig with his group last year that was challenging and very musically rewarding. He also uses Chris Tordini and Jeremy Viner in his group from time to time, so there is some group chemistry on the album. I really respect his playing and writing, and I can trust him with any musical decisions he makes while playing my music. He has his own harmonic and rhythmic approach, and really adds a lot to any playing situation he is in.
The compositional and improvisational structure of the album seems to be a group effort. How would you describe the writing process?
With each piece I try to experiment with a new concept that focuses on form and rhythm. I feel that this is most obvious in Singular Arrays (track 3). In Singular Arrays, the first half of the piece, up until the drum solo, is an exploration of the balance and relationship between post-tonal theory and tonality over a form that is in a perpetual state of transformation. In the opening section of the piece, the written material switches back and forth from tone rows to tonal centers, while containing an immense amount of rhythmic counterpoint. After the drum solo, I wanted the piece to have a solo section, for the piano, that contained notated material for the bass and tenor sax, so that they would be aiding in both the development of the composition and the improvised solo, and from this, there is an established continuity between the written material and the improvisation. The piece ends with a re-capitulation of the drum solo section for a guitar solo. By reworking an already introduced form this way, I am seeking to give the compositional arc of the piece an evolutionary character.
Have you been listening to or reading anything that is pushing your creativity forward?
The Peter Evans quartet cd Live in Lisbon, and the Evan Parker cd Scenes in the House of Music. Last week I saw Fieldwork play at the Jazz Gallery, and the week before I saw the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) play the music of Mario Davidovsky at Miller Theater. I am trying to check out as much live music as possible right now. In addition, I am always revisiting old cds that to me are constant sources of inspiration. These include: Steve Lehman’s Demian as Posthuman and On Meaning, Vijay Iyer’s Blood Sutra, Ben Monder’s Excavation, and many others.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Matana Roberts

Matana Roberts (sax)
Live In London (Central Control)
Robert Mitchell (piano)
Tom Mason (bass)
Chris Vatalaro (drums)

I first came across, Chicago native (now full blooded New Yorker), Matana Roberts last year at a duo concert with Vijay Iyer. I was blown away and I've been waiting for new material ever since.

Live In London (Central Control) is a work of compositional beauty. The album was culled together from performances at London's Vortex club. Roberts has surrounded herself with some great UK talent in Robert Mitchell, Tom Mason and Chris Vatalaro. This is group was put together specifically for this show but it feels like they have played together for years. The interaction between Roberts and Mitchell is truly astounding.

Live In London opens with a epic piece (in length), "My Sistr", a very dark and melodic piece originally written by "alternative folk" artist, Frankie Sparo (real name: Chad Jones). This version that demonstrates Matana Roberts as an artist that is constantly searching, improvising and improving with every note. It's a piece that travels a long way and is experimented with all along the journey. The original version carried an almost "My Funny Valentine" feel (if it were sung by Nick Cave). Roberts explores this beautiful through an emotional and inventive interaction with Mitchell and Mason. Mason sounds as if his bass is carrying the vocal parts while Roberts and Mitchell explore boundaries.

While earlier albums and sessions may have shown signs influences of Albert Ayler, Fred Anderson, Anthony Braxton and even John Coltrane, Matana has been working hard on her craft in the last few years. Live In London really shows sign of her underground voice burst upwards and becoming a real beacon to a new audience.

"Pieces Of We" sees Roberts in full command. It's a track that opens fluidly with Roberts and Mitchell playing off each other beautifully. As the piece moves forward the tonality levels to an almost structural groove with some nimble movements from Mason. "Turn It Around" is an absorbing track with a mixture of blues, gospel and improvisation swirling throughout. Midway through Matana switches gears and it becomes an exploration of sound as she maneuvers through various phrasings.

"Glass", for me, has shades of Ornette Coleman, but you can also hear Roberts exploring different themes all in the span of this 13 minute piece which goes by surprisingly quick. The album closes with "Exchange", a track from Matana's previous album, The Chicago Project. This version is drastically different from the more guitar-centric opener of The Chicago Project. Here we get a more measured and soulful aspect in its live incarnation. It has a wonderful balladry vibe to it and becomes a relaxing mood setter after a well traveled journey.

Live In London delivers a very different vibe than its predecessor due to the accompanying musicians. While the tracks are different, the influence of Chicago and London also provide a very interesting contrast that makes listening to both records a must. Matana Roberts has grown and expanded her compositional skills and musicianship in the few short years since The Chicago Project.

In May, Matana Roberts will release an ambitious cultural project, Coin Coin, which she has been working on for an extended period of time. Coin Coin should solidify her as one of the most promising new musicians on the scene. She continues to develop a unique voice that is resonating across both sides of the Atlantic. Matana Roberts should not be a considered an underground secret anymore. This is an artist who is determined to pushed jazz forward. It may tough listen for some of you but trust me, you will be happier for it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ernest Dawkins: Why Chicago Is Important

Ernest Dawkins (sax; b. 1953)
The Prairie Prophet (Delmark Records; 2011)
Marquis Hill, Shaun Johnson (trumpet)
Junius Paul (bass)
Isaiah Spencer (drums)
Steve Berry (trombone)
Jeff Parker (guitar)

(Photo: John Broughton)

Ernest Dawkins has been a stalwart of the Chicago jazz scene for over four decades. He is the Chairman of the influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM), which was as founded by follow sax legend, the late, Fred Anderson. Dawkins has built a solid reputation on his keen ability to blend both post bop and free jazz into something that is both accessible and adventurous all in one listen.

Ernest Dawkins expansive group, The New Horizon Ensemble shares slight similarities to follow Chicago avant-protagonist, The Art Ensemble Of Chicago. They both share unique ability to shift gears at will within a piece. While startling on first listen it becomes more clear and exciting upon the second spin. Moments of spirituality and personal empowerment bubble to the top in many of his recordings. All these aspects are on show on his new release, The Prairie Prophet.

The Prairie Prophet is dedicated to his friend, Fred Anderson and his much beloved venue, The Velvet Lounge in Chicago. The club was a bastion for free improvisation and thinking. The album opens on a gospel-tinged but political note with "Hymn To A Hip King" which is both a subtle tribute to Anderson but more a statement of great African American leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The piece opens like a Sunday morning roll call all the while holding on to some beautiful post bop sensibilities. The performance from both Dawkins, Hill, Parker and Johnson are real emotional standouts--bristling with energy and joy.

"Sketches" delivers on that AACM heritage with uptempo rhythms and time changes and some fierce playing by Dawkins and Spencer. "Sketches" is a great example of Dawkins philosophy of playing what some may call "inside/outside"--the ability to play both accessible language built on an avant garde theme (or vice versa). "Mesopotamia" written by Steve Berry is a lovely, meditative piece that explores the range of the entire ensemble. It's a ballad with a great deal of depth and range. Berry and Spencer take the lead in the beginning with great solo work. Parker joins in later with an effective and resonant performance. Dawkins closes out the piece with a gentle and impressionist display.

The closing number "Baghdad Boogie" is a whimsical yet jumpin' number that also serves as political statement on the horror in Iraq. The ensemble displays a real craft for melodic movements within solid, bold statements. The chants, vocals and force of Dawkins sax and the intricacy of Parker, Paul here delivers a real impact for me. There have been very few musical statements in jazz about the war. "Baghdad Boogie" hearkens back to the Black Power Movement of the late '60s and '70s and the Vietnam War. A great close statement. 

The Prairie Prophet is yet another stellar and importnat document from the Chicago scene that blends the old and new guard thoughts with ease. Ernest Dawkins keeps the flame and philosophy of AACM, AEC and Fred Anderson alive with another powerful performance that while it might be label as free jazz is still thought-provoking and listenable by any music fan. Highly Recommend.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rez Abbasi

Rez Abbasi (guitars)
Natural Selection (Sunnyside Records)
Bill Ware (vibes)
Eric McPherson (drums)
Stephan Crump (bass)

Rez Abbasi has been layering his multi-cultural rhythms on the scene for almost 20 years. I really only knew about him in name. I had seen his name in live listings but never really ventured out to check him out. This past week I was surprised when a friend gave me a copy of his latest album, Natural Selection (Sunnyside Records).

Abbasi is originally from Pakistan but has been in the US for most of his life. He has studied and played with a variety of genre bending musicians including, Greg Osby, Rudresh Manhanthappa, Kadhri Gopalnath, Tony Malaby and Marilyn Crispell to just name a small few. Rez Abbasi like Manhanthappa and Gopalnath, has seamlessly blended his Eastern heritage into his Western learning and it is perfectly done on Natural Selection. It is a straight ahead jazz album but you get his life experience as the foundation throughout the session.

Natural Selection gets started with a cover of one of my favourite artists of all time, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan 's "Lament". This caught me completely off guard because I didn't really look at the track listing before I put the CD on. And I knew within seconds who he was covering and my head went spinning. So now that he's caught my attention... "Lament" is a somber tune and driven by what in this case would be usual instruments from the traditional Pakistani style--guitar, vibes, drums and bass--this turns out be a beautiful swirling opener and homage to the legendary voice.

"Pakistani Minor" delivers an almost John Abercrombie-esque quality with some wonderful passages and manipulation. Eric McPherson sounds extremely stunning on drums. In addition, Bill Ware and Stephan Crump hide dreamlike inside the melody making this Abbasi original a real standout. "Up On The Hill," a dedication to the great pianist Andrew Hill, has many of Hill's philosophy built in. There are multi-faceted statements here both large and small. Complex, but a real delicate beauty as played out by Abassi and Ware in unison. One of those foundation points for me was "When Light Falls", a short piece with just Abbasi on guitar, but what you get is that East-West blend from an instrument that is clearly Western in nature. Played with the intimacy and integrity of years of understanding.

"Blu Vindaloo" is an adventurous number which could easily appear on a Jason Adasiewicz album. The performance from Ware sounds almost like a piano at times. Crump and McPherson shine here in slow midtempo blues. "Ain't No Sunshine" (the Bill Wither's classic) closes out the album in a soulful and spiritual way. Abbasi delivers this rendition fairly straight forward and romantically. But it also shows a soft tone and versatility that many current guitarists may not take with number like this. A really superb passage.

For me, Natural Selection was a rich surprise from a unique talent that I probably should have been listening to for awhile. The use of all acoustic instruments and the manner in which each musician tackles the compositions is truly stunning. And at times you really wonder "how'd they do that?" I may be late for the train and some of you might be too--so let's get onboard together. Rez Abbasi has delivered a document of high quality and inventiveness that is well worth your time.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mostly Other People Do The Killing

Mostly Other People Do The Killing (group; formed 2003)
The Coimbra Concert (Clean Feed Records; 2011)
Moppa Elliott (bass)
Kevin Shea (drums)
Jon Irabagon (sax)
Peter Evans (trumpet)

In the manner of John Zorn's albums, Naked City and Spillane, the quartet, Mostly Other People Do The Killing uses a dose of humor on outside to draw you in and once the doors are shut--the music lets loose. Mostly Other People Do The Killing just by the name, will draw you to the album if you're in a record store or flying around online. Their album covers are a homage (detractors may say send up) of their influences (Ornette Coleman, Roy Haynes, among others) but at it's core, this is a group that is as fierce, improvisational and engaging as they come on today's scene.

It's only been seven years but it feels like MOPDTK have been together 20 years. While the band was conceived by bassist, Moppa Elliott, they act as a free flowing unit with no clearly designated leader. And that's what makes them even more exciting.

Their latest release, The Coimbra Concert, their debut for Clean Feed Records, is probably the best installment of their manic personalities come to life. And it's well worth your investment. Recorded live in Brazil last year, the album cover pays tribute to the legendary, Keith Jarrett Koln Concert (ECM Records). But let's dive into the music.

Covering material from all four of their previous albums (mainly coming from the last three) MOPDTK showcase their innate ability of playing point/counterpoint but still enabling the listener to find the melody as evident on the frenetic but beautiful "Round Bottom, Square Top." This is almost a New Orleans swing that quickly goes off the rails but you go with it and the results are phenomenal. "Drainlick", for me, has a John Zorn quality that is chaotic but exquisitely composed Moppa Elliott. Peter Evans and Kevin Shea rip through chord changes at a dazzling pace while Irabagon and Elliott and some rich texture around the outside making this highly compelling piece and you get that up close, live feeling.

While improvisation is the key to this quartet you still get an element of humor an homage as evident in the mid passage of "Blue Ball" (from their fourth album Forty Fort) when the band breaks in a very different tempo of "A Night In Tunisia" (from their second album Shamokin'). The funky yet avant garde "Pen Argyl" also from Forty Fort, immediately takes its outset from Coltrane's A Love Supreme but blends in elements from New Orleans, New York and beyond. A crafty mixture that is a lot fun to absorb. "Elliott Mills" taken from the group's first album, albeit the shortest track on the album is still a wonderful bit of deconstruction of jazz theory by this quartet that must be heard to be believe.

In many ways, a live show is the best way to experience an artist or group. It's only then that you get the full breath and vision of their compositional thought. And with The Coimbra Concert that is exactly what you get with Mostly Other People Do The Killing. For me this would be the album I would recommend venturing to first. You will get a huge understanding of the band and be able to experience music from all of their albums. Then of course you need to go back a get the studio albums as well. So don't let their artwork and song titles fool you. Mostly Other People Do The Killing mean business and they do it quite well.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sangeeta Michael Berardi

Sangeeta Michael Berardi (guitar; b. 1939)
Earthship (Sunjump Records; 2008)
Hilliard Greene (bass)
John Esposito (piano; drums)
Peter O'Brien (drums)
James Finn (sax; flute)

I think we can all name at least ten musicians who have been lost in record rakes of time for one reason or another. It's a shame because a lot of these artists created some stellar and in many cases unbelievable pieces of art. One such musician is Sangeeta Michael Berardi.

Berardi's career has encompassed being a promoter, painter, poet and performing with the likes of Rashied Ali, Archie Sheep, Roswell Rudd, Sonny Simmons among others in the '60s, '70s avant garde. The strange thing is Berardi's playing isn't necessarily avant garde. Berardi also didn't record many albums (two from what I can find) as leader although he did perform allot as sideman. So what we have is one highly sought after debut from the '80s and his most recently released Earthship (Sunjump Records).

Earthship was actually recorded in 1996 but not officially released until 2008. Sangeeta Michael Berardi as you will hear was highly influenced by the latter works Coltrane but crafted his own vision of that Far Eastern spiritual sound into dreamlike soundscapes that are truly phenomenal. Berardi's style might be somewhere between Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin's work on their Coltrane inspired collaboration, Love, Devotion and Surrender and McLaughlin's work on Bitches Brew. But the difference here is his raw quality that runs throughout Earthship.

The opening title track is a real full throttle journey in sound as Berardi weaves a nice thread between mood setting groove and electric firestorm. Finn and Esposito both rise to challenge with some nice improvised moments throughout the piece. "Coltrane Lights Our Way" really highlights Sangeeta's mastery on the guitar. The tune sways onward and upward with some fierce assistance from O'Brien on drums. This might be the closest Sangeeta comes to sounding like Santana without the overbearing theatrics. But there are also some rock elements running inside this piece that really set Berardi's style apart.

"Trane's Church" is another display of Berardi's blistering sound world while the gentle tandem of Berardi and Finn (this time on flute) on "Evening, Woodstock" add a gentle and soothing element to the high spirited tracks that proceed it.

Probably the head-turner of the session is the closing number, the legendary "My Favourite Things". While John Coltrane's version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic has become a benchmark in jazz circles, Berardi's version certainly needs to be recognized as completely different take that is rich, inventive and stellar in its execution. It's pulsating, passionate and modern while all wrapped in a divine layer spirituality. It would make Coltrane proud and probably have Rodgers & Hammerstein cringe. I love it.

Earthship is a work similar to Berardi's debut that is seeking a much higher devotion than just the one in the studio or the one coming out of your speakers. It is truly hard to believe that this record was recorded in 1996. Considering the time period there were very few albums like it at the time (the closet I could think of was David S. Ware's Wisdom Of Certainty). And listening to Earthship now you would have thought it was recorded two months ago.

Sangeeta Michael Berardi has been ill for quite some time now and it would be great for people to discover his music now. Earthship contains the kind of thinking music people actually crave but can't find. A real treasure.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Fred Hersch: At The Vanguard

Fred Hersch (piano;b. 1955)
Alone At The Vanguard (Palmetto Records)

Fred Hersch has always been one of my favourite pianist. His style is elegant, emotional and intelligent. Hersch has been prolific in various settings including duo, trio, quartet, quintet and orchestral. But the one setting that many (including myself) love the most, is his solo outings. Hersch is someone who takes a tune and transforms it into more than just melodies. He creates stories.

Fred Hersch's latest story is taken from a series of sold out nights at the legendary Village Vanguard in New York City. For once I was smart enough to get my arse downtown to see him solo. I have since him in duo and quartet settings but never solo; until this particular week of shows. I only went to the second night and as usual it was mesmerizing.

Alone At The Vanguard documents the final evening of that series of performances. The intimacy and beauty of this evening is what will really grab you when you listening to a track like "Echoes", an original piece Hersch piece. It's a rich, lush piece that finds Hersch moving up and down the scales in a calm but exalted manner. A nice signature moment of Hersch's quality. After listening "Echoes" you will realize how important Fred Hersch is to jazz music.

"Memories Of You", one of my favourite standards is more intimate than ever in the masterful hands of Hersch. It's heartfelt and he basically opens the door for you to see and hear the detail of each note. A clear perception and tone that is unlike many other pianist of his generation. Monk has definitely been an influence on Hersch (he has already recorded an album of just Monk covers). But there are probably only two musicians who can really re-imagine a Monk tune--Jason Moran and of course Fred Hersch. On "Work", a song Hersch has already covered on the three disc set, Songs Without Words (Nonesuch; 2001), he again takes the Sonny Rollins/Thelonious Monk piece and energizes it with playful confidence.

The Sonny Rollins standard "Doxy" closes out what must have been a perfect evening for the audience. The forceful yet emotional and sometimes blues-inflected tone Hersch adds is another example of his creative interpretation. Alone At The Vanguard is another solo masterpiece from a truly great master of the instrument. Live is always the best way to see Fred Hersch, but if you can't make this is the best document to be a part of the experience. Highly Recommend.