Saturday, April 30, 2011

Robert Kusiolek: Nuntium

Robert Kusiolek (accordion, electronics)
Nuntium (Multi-Kulti Project)
Anton Sjarov (violin)
Ksawery Wojcinski (bass)
Klaus Kugel (drums)

Another big thank you to the excellent Polish Jazz blog for turning me on to another emerging artist on the global scene. Nestled somewhere between the works of Kronos Quartet and ECM's "New Series" lies this rewarding and inventive piece of modernism by accordionist, Robert Kusiolek.

Obvious Astor Piazzolla comparisons would arise when listening to a piece composed by an accordionist but let's truly take Kusitolek's Nuntium debut on its own merits. Kusiolek is a well studied and uniquely gifted musician, composer and improviser.

Combining a classical tradition with avant garde aesthetics his quartet build a deeply melodic but emotional responsive album built on seven "chapters". Each chapter finds the group experimenting with different sound structures that are beautifully executed and set a lovely and relaxed mood. "Chapter III" and "Chapter VII" both present an exploratory vision of Kusiolek's thoughts as a composer he's combination of chamber music and minimalism wrapped in long verses and tightly interwoven storytelling.

Both Sjarov and Wojcinski shine in a dueling interchanges with Kusiolek on "Chapter V" which moves up and down in pace. Sjarov adds that free jazz movement in his subtle but highly effective basslines. "Chapter V" really is where the group lets loose in dramatic fashion with Kugel and Kusiolek ripping through chords with reckless abandon. "Chapter VI" brings things to bit of a more level tone but still with a sense of freedom and adventure led by some fine improvisation by Kusiolek and Sjarov.

Moving through various themes and patterns in just under 50 minutes, Nuntium is relaxing, thought-provoking and beautiful. In the same manner in which Kronos Quartet have been destroying the thoughts of classical music for decades, Robert Kusiolek's arrive shows that there are more musicians thinking how modernism can continue move upward and beyond. Nuntium may not be every one's cup of tea but if you are a fan of avant garde and improvised chamber music, Robert Kusiolek has created brilliant work that is a serious must listen.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Re-Thinking...Benjamin Drazen

Benjamin Drazen (sax)
Inner Flights (Posi-Tone Records; 2001)
Eric McPherson (drums)
Carlo De Rosa (bass)
Jon Davis (piano)

I normally shy away from re-posting but a couple of weeks ago I went to visit a friend a few states/provinces away. I took Benjamin Drazen's Inner Flights as one of my "driving albums". I ended up listening to the album for four days straight. In and out of the car. Inner Flights has become an infectious record for me on various technical, thoughtful and entertaining levels. It has also become a contender for top albums over the year. So I decided I really wanted to share my original thoughts on this album with some of you again.

There is something warm and positive about Benjamin Drazen that keeps me coming back to Inner Flights (Posi-Tone Records). Drazen, a veteran of the New York scene has performed in various settings (funk, jazz and soul) as well as with some prestigious company (Rashied Ali, Dave Liebman, Lew Soloff and Gary Bartz to name a few). It is a surprise that Inner Flights is his first album as a leader.

Pretty much growing up in the New York scene, Benjamin Drazen shows wonderful penchant for strength in performance and melody. The opener, "Mr. Twilight" is a fast paced number with real intent. Drazen bring a muscle to his musicianship that I haven't heard since early Branford Marsalis or Eric Alexander records. While the obvious compositional influences are there (Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk and Jackie McLean) Drazen makes his individual voice known very quickly and I think every lover of jazz will gravitate to him, no problem.

The follow up "Monkish", a playful and appropriate tribute, delivers with great verve. The quartet, especially Jon Davis on piano will have you imagining Monk setting in the audience saying "This kid is pretty good" (Well, maybe Monk wouldn't say it so nicely). The title track, "Inner Flights" and "Neeney's Waltz" both add depth, intensity and intimacy to the sessions. The quartet shows a real richness and lovely craftsmanship that switches from a uptempo funky groove (in the case of "Inner Flights") to delightful romanticism ("Neeney's Waltz").

"Kickin' Up Dirt" highlights Benjamin Drazen's more soulful side. It's also an opportunity for DeRosa to standout as well, with some touching and fluid pace on the bass. The closing number is the standard, "Polka Dots And Moonbeams" which seems the perfect way to end this outing. Drazen makes it a lush, bluesy and beautiful affair. He doesn't oversimplify the passages here. He just let's the melody speak for itself but he ends up having the listen remember exactly who is performing.

Benjamin Drazen, after all these years on the scene gets to standout on his own and he delivers with a real diamond of a debut. Inner Flights features mainly all original material and will definitely impress even the non jazz fan. I really had to put listen to this a couple of times because I kept saying to myself, "this can't be this good." Man, I was so wrong. This is really impressive. So if you are reading this blog for the first time or if you've been reading it for awhile--Inner Flights is one of those classic, straight ahead jazz records that is rare nowadays and well worth your time. Enjoy listening...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Aram Shelton...Rising Above It All

Aram Shelton (sax)
There Was... (Clean Feed Records)
Tim Daisy (drums)
Jason Roebke (bass)
Jason Adasiewicz (vibes)

Aram Shelton has spent years moving and developing his musical language. From his home state of Florida to Washington D.C., Chicago and now currently residing in San Francisco, Shelton is becoming one of the most revered saxophonist's in underground circles. All the while, he has maintained a creativity that is both skillfully harmonic and resolutely improvised. Aram Shelton encompasses both the free jazz aesthetics of Ornette Coleman and the tonal language of Jackie McLean. Shelton was an integral part of the Chicago scene with the groups Fast Citizens (w/Keefe Jackson), Dragon 1976, and his most consistent and flourishing, Arrive.

Arrive is now on their third record, There Was... (Clean Feed Records) the quartet puts together some fantastic arrangements with dizzying improvised moments in between. There Was... could be considered the second official album. The previous album Live At Elastic includes all but the title track "There Was". The Elastic album is a bit rawer and possibly more "works in progress" until fully realized for There Was.. On the opener and title track, Shelton and Daisy interchange some aggressive and fun-filled passages. This is met with the same energy when the trio of Daisy, Roebke and Adasiewicz gather and tear through chord changes. It's a well structured melodic piece with improvised moments that settle nicely inside your ear.

"Lost" really experiments with time, rhythm and harmonics. The group gently improvises its way through the first half with a steady and balanced groove laid just underneath by Roebke and Shelton. Adasiewicz later takes the group into "third stream" territory. It's a frenetic dreamlike moment between the trio again before Shelton completely lets loose. It's the type of aggression that makes his collaborative efforts with Keefe Jackson shine.

"Golden" quickly becomes an expression of free acoustic magnification (I kinda made that one up. Needed something that sounded good.). But "Golden" does typify everything Aram Shelton is about--exploring new structures, deconstruction and re-framing/reshaping the sense of things. It's has ballad-like quality that slowly builds into a triumphant exclamation of purpose.

With There Was... Aram Shelton again makes the case that Chicago artists (whether in Chicago or just leaving) are on the boundaries of jazz and testing it, to see what come next. Highly Recommended stuff.

Monday, April 25, 2011

David Braid: Spirit Dance

David Braid (piano)
Spirit Dance (Opening Day Records)
Chuck Daellenbach (tuba)
Brandon Ridenour (trumpet)
Gene Watts (trombone)
Dave Martin (trombone)
Mike Herriott (trumpet)
Jeff Nelsen (horn)

Canadian pianist David Braid may not be widely known to most U.S. jazz fans but he is a highly accomplished and respected artist in circles of the jazz community here as well as in Europe. Not to mention, a critical favourite at home. He has recorded nine albums including a recently released solo piano album entitled Verge. But it's an album he released last year with the legendary Canadian quintet, Canadian Brass called Spirit Dance (Opening Day Records) that is a lyrically beautiful document of two Canadian treasures that has inspired me to write today.

While many people may know the Canadian Brass from classical recordings, the group are the perfect compliment for Braid's peaceful piano. Braid's work makes a technical, quiet, and personal statement throughout Spirit Dance . Canadian Brass have joyfulness to their playing that transcends traditional classical pieces. The combination makes for a great blend of the two traditions and an exquisite introduction to both performer and quintet.

Spirit Dance grew out of the long standing relationship Braid has had with Canadian Brass and the desire the musicians had to work together on a project. These compositions were written by Braid over the course of four years. The opening number "Interior Castles" starts as a melodic free flowing solo piece but builds and modulates after the Brass join in. It continues to keep its lovely harmonic tone and takes you onward to a peaceful conclusion.

"Temple Heaven Walk," with its crystalline use of prepared piano and eastern vibe feels like a combination of Stephen Drury's interpretation of John Cage and Jon Hassell's "possible worlds" recordings. The Canadian Brass add an element of mysticism to the piece that elevates it to spiritual level. Many have compared Braid to Bill Evans and Glenn Gould. Bold comparisons, but I do see the similarities in "Resolute Bay" with its deep rolling harmonics and chord changes. The introduction of the quintet in the second half of the piece gives it more of a thematic feel. Mike Herriott and Jeff Nelsen really standout towards the end of "Resolute Bay" as well.

"Spirit Dance" moves up and down in a romantic procession. There's a lot going on throughout this piece as it evokes images of great composers like Bernstein and Gershwin. Beautiful, melodic and yet jubilant all at once. "Wash Away," as Braid mentions in the liner notes is the resulting thoughts on what a composition written by Chopin and Ray Charles would sound like. This folks, is brilliant thinking. "Wash Away" has the dominate blues/gospel melody but with a layer of chamber magic added by the Canadian Brass.

Spirit Dance turns out to be both a wonderful classical record and melodic solo jazz outing. The compositions are both delicate and improvised within the tradition of great composers from both genres. For those who have never heard David Braid this is great record to start with. For those who thought Canadian Brass were nothing but a classical quintet this is will be a big revelation for you. I've been listening to this record for a few weeks now and everyday new a track pops up as my favourite. I think we all take that as the sign of a great record...right?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Foton Quartet...Poland Strikes Again!

Foton Quartet (group)
Zomo Hall (Not Two Records)

Gerad Lebik (sax)
Artur Majewski (trumpet)
Jakub Cywinski (bass)
Wojciech Romanowski (drums)

The rich and versatile Polish jazz scene has gone through a big transform in interest over the last decade. Due in large part to the resurgence of the great Tomasz Stanko. Over the last few years a number of artists have leaped into the consciousness of jazz fans all across the globe. From Marcin Wasilewski Trio, Mikrokoletyw to RGG Trio, Polish artists are showing us all that great, creative and forward thinking jazz can come from more than just Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Denmark, England, U.S. and a few select countries.

One such collective is Foton Quartet and their debut, Zomo Hall (Not Two Records). Zomo Hall might sound like a trip into the avant garde for the uninitiated, its actually upon the deeper listening that you will find the detail. There are qualities here that are reminiscent of the more experimental work of Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Art Ensemble. But the journey through these six "untitled" tracks is truly fruitful and a superb listen.

Artur Majewski (also a member of the duo Mikrokoletyw) and Gerad Lebik combine to bring forth some incredible phrasing and stellar improvising throughout this recording. Track three has a steady meditative tonality with both horns taking different patterns while Cywinski lays down a dreamlike bassline. Majewski later gains a bit of steam midway through but the track never loses its reflective aural sculpture.

Track five brought back memories of listening to Ornette Coleman's soundtrack for Naked Lunch. It's a journey through recess of my own mind that I'd rather not experience. A powerful performance from both Lebik and Cywinski, who turns his bass almost into a cello. This is the longest track on the album but its also the deepest and most creative as it takes the listener through a number of different themes all quiet in nature but adventurous in execution. Track six does stretch out with the band demonstrating that it can take the listener to far reaches of thought while still holding your interest (in only two and a half short minutes).

Foton Quartet is yet another piece of the new Polish jazz scene that must be heard by a wider audience. Zomo Hall standups against anything from rest the minimal, avant garde in other countries. And the work of Artur Majewski should really start to be noticed by more people as well. His collaborative work on the scene for me, is some of the best in Europe at the moment. 

Zomo Hall was a hard record for me to find. I had known about it for some time but couldn't even stumble across it. Then one day my good friends at Downtown Music Gallery got it in and I immediately put down the money. I suggest if you are interested in something new and creative--do yourself a favour and pick up Zomo Hall. Highly Recommend!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Adam Cruz: Drums In Front

Adam Cruz (drums)
Milestone (Sunnyside Records)

Steve Wilson (soprano sax)
Chris Potter (tenor sax)
Miguel Zenon (alto sax)
Steve Cardenas (guitar)
Edward Simon (piano)
Ben Street (bass)

Lately it seems that there aren't enough drummers who are stepping out of the shadows as leaders. Sure you may have your Brian Blades, Jeff Tain Watts and Tomasz Stronen's over the last two decades to make some exciting albums as leaders but extending that list doesn't go that far (I know I'm not including probably another twenty...but you get the point). So when I was listening to the debut from Adam Cruz, Milestone (Sunnyside) I was giddy with anticipation.

Adam Cruz has played with a plethora of musicians over the last two decades including Chick Corea, Sam Newsome, Tom Harrell and most notably with David Sanchez. Here was a consummate sideman finally after almost two decades getting the chance to lead his own group on record.

Milestone is an superb debut in both composition and execution. Adam Cruz has delivers similar results that Billy Higgins delivered on his all too few solo albums as leader. Milestone moves from straight-ahead contemporary with the "Secret Life" to more complex and adventurous material like "The Gadfly" and "Magic Leader" where Cruz really shines with some bristling palpitations on the drums.

"Bird Of Paradise" a midtempo number which actually closes the album is a highlight for me in that it showcases the bands at full stretch romantically. Ben Street and Steve Cardenas add beautiful touches on their solos giving the piece a powerful resonance. Edward Simon and Cruz intertwine in time magnificently drawing small comparisons to the Billy Higgins/Cedar Walton. "Crepuscular" is a great piece with an ethereal tonal structure, slow building with almost Abercombie-esque passages from Cardenas deep in the background. "Crepuscular" rising on slightly towards to the end as Steve Wilson and Chris Potter push through with some powerful harmonics making the closing highly rich and expressive.

Arguably just as inventive but certainly more upbeat than Brian Blades debut (no, I'm not criticizing Blades' debut), Adam Cruz has created a well rounded and dynamic recording that spreads across varying tempos and themes. It's a great piece work feature a an array of stellar individual performances. Cruz sets forth on some very expressive and expansive structures making Milestone a highly rewarding purchase for every jazz fan.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jared Gold

Jared Gold (organ)
All Wrapped Up (Posi-Tone Records)
Jim Rotondi (trumpet)
Ralph Bowen (sax)
Quincy Davis (drums)

Jared Gold is one of those organ players that uses the instrument more like a piano than an instrument to bang out chords. Like the legends Larry Young, Sherily Scott, or Jack McDuff, he uses his compositions and band mates to construct an impressive and unique environment around himself. Gold creates beauty within a soulful jazz groove that quickly becomes infectious. But you the listener will be more influenced by the performances of this quartet more than the idea of a funky groove.

And that idea is clear and on display throughout All Wrapped UpGold's fourth album as leader. Opening with the fiery "My Sentiments Exactly," Gold makes a bold statement that this will be a heavy session but with a lot emotion and input from his fellow bandmates. This time around he circles himself with a superior lineup of Ralph Bowen, Jim Rotondi and Quincy Davis, all of whom have played with Gold in one incarnation or another. But on All Wrapped Up each member contributes to the session giving the proceedings a versatile and dynamic nature. Bowen is the real highlight on "My Sentiments Exactly" as he exchanges some tonal acrobatics with Gold that really get this piece smokin' during the mid-section. Awesome stuff.

Another set of soulful notes occurs on "Piece Of Mine" which sees Bowen, Rotondi and Davis delivering some very romantic rhythms. Jim Rotondi continues to show why he is one most electrifying hard bop trumpeters on the scene today. He delivers some hard poppin' solos during this piece, while Quincy Davis and Gold share some head-bopping, toe-tapping grooves that holds the listener's excitement throughout. "Dark Blue" is as it sounds, more a deep ballad with Gold effectively shaping the sound from the outside in. He adds some deeply soulful tones that construct a more Jimmy Smith or Doug Carn atmosphere than the usual aforementioned influences. "Dark Blue" was written by Jim Rotondi, so it is expected that he would shine with delightful solos along with Bowen.

"Just A Suggestion" sees the group really move into the funky Meters-type realm. Definitely a barn-burner if you hear it live. The group really lets loose and you feel the fire that builds up throughout the entire session really exploding on this piece. Gold gets the best beats out of Davis on "Just A Suggestion." A solid group effort to finish out the session.

Jared Gold in just a few short years on scene has really established himself as an upcoming force on the scene as a leader and musician. All Wrapped Up succeeds not just because of the experience of the lineup but also the versatility of the quartets leader. In All Wrapped Up, Jared Gold has made a fourth album that burns and soothes in both sound and composition.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dave Douglas in Ecstasy

Dave Douglas (trumpet)
Brass Ecstasy At Newport (Greenleaf Music)
Vincent Chancey (french horn)
Luis Bonilla (trombone)
Marcus Rojas (tuba)
Nasheet Waits (drums)

Dave Douglas has been beyond the borders of jazz since he started out in the early '90s. An artist who for those unfamiliar, has combined the exuberance of Louis Armstrong, the adventure of Lester Bowie and the artfulness of Woody Shaw into what I believe is the best and most creative trumpeter of his generation. Douglas' new album Brass Ecstasy At Newport is just more evident of how he is making a definitive statement inside and outside the jazz landscape. 

This is essentially a live document of Dave Douglas' newest of many collective ideas Brass Ecstasy debut album from last year, Spirit Moves (Greenleaf Music). The performance was originally recorded by WGBO in Boston so the sound quality is excellent. But its the music that really delivers on an astonishing note.

This live performance surfs with New Orleans territory with more verve and intrigue than others have done over the last decade. Both the title track and "Fats" swing and generate a rich excitement that later lays into the bluesy outlook of "I'm So Lonely I Could Cry." The twelve minute closing number "Bowie" is a wonderfully brilliant tribute to the legendary Lester Bowie in which each member explodes in festive form that the great trumpet would undoubtedly enjoy.

Every Dave Douglas fan will gravitate to this live outing with no problems. The real thing is what those of you who haven't discovered Dave Douglas should do. If you are a fan of Armstrong but also are looking for something updated, different and compelling, Brass Ecstasy At Newport is a great introduction to one of many Dave Douglas projects. And could, along with the studio album, Spirit Moves make two perfect companions that will definitely open your world to one the greatest trumpeters of the late 20th Century and one of the future legends of the 21st.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Eddie Mendenhall

Eddie Mendenhall (piano)
Cosine Meets Tangent (Miles High Records)
Mark Sherman (vibes)
Akira Tana (drums)
John Schifflett (bass)

A lush harmonic beauty exudes from Cosine Meets Tangent (Miles High Records), the debut recording from Monterey teacher and musician, Eddie Mendenhall. Absorbing a scene that crosses both Japan and the U.S., Mendenhall has developed a voice that is disciplined, rhythmic and entertaining throughout the course of this session.

This is a fresh and very inviting album that has shades of some of the legendary and entertaining sessions from the likes of Hank Jones, Cedar Walton and more recently Cyrus Chestnut or David Hazeltine. Mendenhall's approach is a straight forward bop sound that can be both intricate and accessible to new & old jazz fans alike.

"Protocol" opens with bounce from both Mendenhall and Sherman who make sure to grab the listener and bring them right into the rhythm. Sherman doesn't stretch like some the more avant garde vibraphonist but he makes the best of influences like Bobby Hutcherson and Milt Jackson. And that makes "Protocol" all the more rewarding.

"Rain Hike" sees Mendenhall telling a story and taking the listener on a journey which encompasses not just his jubilant take on the keys during the solos but also a passionate demonstration by his band. Sherman and Schifflett have some impressive performances as well, and Tana slides gently underneath with superb timing but without it this track becomes more a jam than a hard driving piece of modern bebop.

"Lament For The Ocean" is a passionate soliloquy (written in response to the BP oil spill crisis) which Mendenhall really delivers his best performance. It's introspective but warm and inventing enough that you really are affected by it with a real sense of urgency. One of my favourite tracks on the album.

The closer and title track is more complex than you would originally think considering how free and open the rest of the album is. "Cosine Meets Tangent" is brisk with some great harmonic structures and improvised moments that stretch the quartet more than the rest of the proceedings. It definitely shows the strength of the band. Schifflett gets a great opportunity to let rip and has some terrific conversation with Mendenhall through the middle of the piece. The builds to a quick yet festive conclusion which keeps in the tradition of outing.

Cosine Meets Tangent is a great debut from a talented musician and teacher who has a lot to share and stories to tell. It might be a difficult record to find but if you come across it either online or at your local record store, it is well worth the price. Enjoy the experience.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Alon Nechushtan

Alon Nechushtan (piano)
Words Beyond (Buckyball Records)
Dan Weiss (drums)
Francois Moutin (bass)

I became aware of Alon Nechushtan from his work with what I would call "avant garde klezmer" outfit Talat and was extremely excited about what Nechushtan would do as leader. He is a talent and in-demand musician who has worked all over the globe with festivals and musicians as diverse as Roy Campbell, Chris Speed, Marc Dresser among others.

The work he has done on his debut, Words Beyond (Buckyball Records) is simple. He has deliver an album of real invention, originality and clarity that should catch the ear of most jazz listeners as this record gets out to more people. With the obvious influences circling this session, Monk, Jarrett, Bley, etc. I tend to notice Uri Caine more in the flexibility of the compositions and Nechushtan's own performance on Words Beyond.

There is a playful nature between the trio on the first two tracks "Muppet Shock" and its successor, "Different Kind Of Morning". Both display an elegant, joyful and quick witted Nechushtan creating some intense patterns as the excellent Weiss and Moutin follow with a deep one, two's of improvised moments. Lovely interplay especially throughout "Different Kind Of Morning." On my current favourite track on the album "Dr. Masterplan", Nechushtan illustrates some complex arrangements but his play is so high-paced that you are immediately sucked into the rhythm and a journey that is buoyant and accessible.

The complexity and cleverness of Alon Nechushtan's writing does remind me of the earlier straight ahead jazz albums of Uri Caine (or his Moloch record for the Tzadik label). They can be complex in composition but yet still mesmerize even the newest of jazz fans. I feel this way on "Spring Soul Song" and "Heartbreakthrough". The first having more of an upbeat and sometimes staccato moments but overall moves the listener with a sense of adventure. The latter is a more a traditional ballad in which Weiss and Moutin both are raised to forefront with superb performances. Weiss adds a gentle wash to discussion while Nechushtan and Moutin both give real emotional impact with their interchanges.

Words Beyond is a stellar debut from a composer and musician who is reaching new heights with every recording session and performance. If you haven't listened to Alon Nechushtan already, I highly suggest you start now. Highly Recommended.

Be Lee...Alon Nechushtan from JMJProductions on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Arszyn/Duda: The Polish Avant Garde

SE (Lado ABC)
Krzysztof Topolski (drums; percussion)
Tomasz Duda (sax)

First, I must thank fellow jazz blog, Polish Jazz, for turning me on to some great stuff over the last week. One such record is SE by Arszyn/Duda. This piece of incredible improvisation and experimentalism reminds me of the Ken Vandermark duo sessions of the last couple of years (especially Complete Friction) or even Sonore (with Peter Brotzmann). This improvised session was created by two young and talented musicians who have studied under some of the best in Polish improvisational jazz legends.

SE encompasses three lengthy "untitled" tracks that search, examine, devolve and reconstruct sound through fracture chords and manipulated patterns. There are also elements that remind me of the Master Musicians of Joujouku, especially in the first track which moves ever so closely towards a rolling cacophony of sound and tribal drum beats. It's fierce, blistering and sometimes painful when you're listening with headphones but I loved ever ear-splitting second of it. Track one becomes more free and sparse toward the end as Topolski and Duda share almost silent improvising moments before building up momentum into Track two which turns into a mellow yet still experimental affair.

Track two sees Topolski's pulsating drums subtely shifting in and out of range with Duda creating one and two note poems over top. Towards the end, Duda becomes more like Ornette Coleman with some really beautiful tone dialling and phrasing that may stop you in your tracks thinking there's a melody that's about to break out. Ha, Ha, you're wrong!

Track three follows a similar path but the listener experiences every emotion throughout this piece. Beginning with short half notes and periodic squeals, and lower frequency swathes of the brushes and subtle electronics, this piece than gentle brings the listen down for a soft landing after a good sixty minutes of mind blowing soundscape surgery.

Arszyn/Duda have created a real treat for all us improvisation lovers out here. SE is not for faint-at-heart. You will be hit with sound. There will be blood. This is challenging music, folks. But this is why we love jazz!

(Again...Many thanks to fellow blog site Polish Jazz for turning me on to Arszyn/Duda. You guys should really check out what he has to deliver. We will be sharing some of their stuff over the next couple months as a way to spread more news about the great jazz scene in Poland. Stay tuned.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Daniel Levin's Modern World

Daniel Levin (cello)
Organic Modernism (Clean Feed Records)
Nate Wooley (trumpet)
Matt Moran (vibes)
Peter Bitebc (bass)


Daniel Levin has been on the rise since his Don't Go It Alone debut in 2003. And while there have been plenty before him that has set the groundwork for the cello as a major instrument in jazz, inlcuding: Eric Friedlander, Daniel Pezzotti, Hank Roberts, and David Darling among others, Daniel Levin is one artist who is quickly making the cello a prominent force in jazz composition.

With a presence that may be larger in Europe than in the states, those within jazz circles know what an amazing musician/composer he is. He has worked across the improvisational spectrum, with the likes of Ken Vandermark, Joe Morris, Andrew Cyrille, Anthony Braxton and many more. Levin brings a subtle adventurous beauty to this chamber setting on his latest, Organic Modernism (Clean Feed Records). His consist and always remarkable quartet of Wooley (trumpet), Moran (vibraphone) and Bitebc (bass) deliver an eloquent and colourful performance throughout the brilliant journey that is Organic Modernism.

"My Kind Of Poetry" is as touching as it is melodic and dense in a slow blues-like fashion. The interaction between Bitebc and Levin at times feels like one instrument. The piece continues builds slowly with the addition of Wooley and then Moran in a more laid back role on this piece. Then we finally arrive at what is an interesting and brief denouement as Levin and Bitebc briskly break in and bring the piece to its conclusion.

"Old School" begins with a haunting, swirling vibe started by Moran and Wooley and then intersects with Bitebc downward strumming and some intricate chord changes by Levin. It's an exploratory piece with a great deal of depth. Levin uses the space between perfectly and he and Moran interweave back and forth in the mix. There's a cool warmth to this meditative piece that gives you a realm glimpse of a quartet that has worked together for a very long time and knows how and when to fill the sound world they have created.

"Wild Kingdom" is a wonderful statement which Levin unveils a fierce opening while painting the outside borders for the group to follow. There's improvisation here, especially from Wooley and Bitebc, but there is also a real sense of direction and structure that you soon grasp a follow with interest on how this end. That's the excitement of the organic journey.

Organic Modernism delivers on the idea that the use of space, depth and sound can conjure some beautiful melodies. Organic Modernism also delivers the melody in unexpected structures, all the while, creating a pleasant listening experience for the audience. I hope for most people this isn't your first experience with Daniel Levin but if it is it is a great one. Now go buy the rest of his works.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Nate Wooley

Nate Wooley (trumpet)
(Put Your) Hands Together (Clean Feed Records)
Matt Moran (vibes)
Johs Sinton (bass clarinet)
Harris Eisenstadt (drums)
Eivind Opsvik (bass)

I haven't been a Nate Wooley fan very long but I have come to learn to expect the unexpected when I put one of his albums on. Nate Wooley's latest, (Put Your) Hands Together is no different. For me it is the best album as leader I have heard from him. And, (Put Your) Hands Together is causing my list of best albums of year to grow quicker, a lot earlier this year. Wooley likes to explore sparseness of sound and space. His music has melody but it is more the improvisation and harmonics that take precedent on his recordings. And his quartet take will take you on a journey that is both brave as it is illuminating.

(Put Your) Hands Together is a dedication to the family and friends that have shaped and inspired his life. There is exuberance and delicacy throughout this session making it also one of the more "accessible" yet still best improvisational recordings yet from the increasing important trumpeter.

The title track, "Hands Together" puts forth the marching orders for the band--be expansive, creative but always intimate. One of the great things about Nate Wooley's music is the difficulty in trying to describing to my friends. I feel like Dave Douglas, Nate Wooley has his own vision of jazz going beyond what the instrument is supposed to do, how the composition sounds and how we the listener are expected to encompass it. "Hands Together" moves in different directions (both straight ahead rhythm to deconstruction) and it makes for an exciting launching pad after the sparse solo trumpet opener of "Shanda Lea 1".

Explorations in sound and density are always a benchmark of Nate Wooley's recordings. This plays out nicely on "Pearl", a short but evocative piece which the quartet take most if not all the lead. There is a hint of Wooley's interaction in the opening few chords but you have to listen closely. This composition is more a vehicle for the rest of the group to experiment with space and they do it exact and efficiently.

The repetitive motion and almost good nature of "Ethyl" and "Hazel" is another instance where Wooley moves between boppish themes and deconstruction with ease. With some wonderful interchanges between Josh Stinton and Matt Moran on "Ethyl" it feels ethereal and yet grounded in playful humour. "Hazel" brings a high level of beauty to the (Put Your) Hands Together. A ballad that is truly touching, emotional and introspective from its creator.

(Put Your) Hands Together is hopefully the moment where a new audience starts to advance towards the ideas put forth by Nate Wooley. There are very few trumpeters on the scene today with his kind of vision and the skill to pull it off. He is playing without really thinking about the structure so much as he is thinking where the music will take us next. Highly Recommended.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sunna Gunnlaugs

Sunna Gunnlaugs
The Dream (Sunny Sky Records)
Sunna Gunnlaugs (piano)
  • Loren Stillman (sax)
  • Eivind Opsvik (bass)
  • Scott McLemore (drums)

  • So if you've been reading JazzWrap for awhile you will know that I don't throw around comparisons to Esbjorn Svesnsson Trio at all. I've always felt that E.S.T. were a cut above every other modern trio of the last decade. Esbjorn Svensson was a magnificent pianist and is deeply missed. I recently started listening to Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs and I have been convinced that she could be one of the few pianists that might ascend to Svensson's heights.

  • While influences of Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans are well noted, there is an Eastern European element to writing and performance that add another layer of beauty and romanticism that will definitely connect with listeners. In the same manner as the earlier Esbjorn Svensson recordings.

  • Gunnlaugs had studied and performed in New York in the late '90s before returning to Iceland. The experiences of growing up near/with Scandinavian influences as well as being apart of a multi-dimensional scene in New York is definitely captured in Gunnlaugs recordings. On her most recent (sixth in all) album, The Dream (Sunny Sky Records), Sunna Gunnlaugs makes the perfect connection of intimate lyricism with buoyant melodies into exciting and sophisticated listening experience.

  • "Holding Ground" has a wonderful hard bop sensibility to it. Her movement on the keys has shown a definite New York influence. For me it felt like being at Smoke listening to Harold Mabern or Mulgrew Miller (something I do quite often actually). Gunnlaugs playing moves between delicate compositional structures and free form improvisations (as shown on the five interludes "Spin"). That European influence can felt on "Vitjun" in which Stillman and Gunnlaugs both deliver beautiful harmonies that give the piece a lush chamber music quality but somehow never feeling distant.

  • "Tunnel Vision" has become one of my favourite tracks on the album. Eivind Opsvik and Scott McLemore (also a member of ASA Trio) open with a very exquisitely played improvisation before Gunnlaugs and Stillman join in to create a bold well enclosed piece with each member stretching the parameters. "Korn" is yet another astounding combination for me that conjures both Icelandic, European and American themes. Gunnlaugs playing dominates this closing number as expected but it also features Opsvik accompanying her with terrific shapes and patterns on the bass.

  • In The Dream, Sunna Gunnlaugs has created a work that is reminiscent of early E.S.T. albums. It is the sum of influences but she uniquely stretches those influences into something wholly different. Gunnlaugs has moved from strength to strength with The Dream and it is her best record to date. If you are looking for something rewarding, exciting and combining some of the best playing you might hear all year on piano, The Dream is a great document to start with. Absolutely Brilliant!

(JazzWrap Note: Sunna Gunnlaugs is currently offering a free download EP featuring a live version of the title track "The Dream" on her site. It's a great introduction to her music. And they when you done, you should buy the whole album.)