Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mike DiRubbo & Larry Willis

Mike DiRubbo (sax) / Larry Willis (piano)
Four Hands, One Heart (Kasanti Records; 2011)

Staying with the duet theme this week, Mike DiRubbo and Larry Willis deliver a magnificent collection of standards and a couple of originals that are warm and inventing on Four Hands, One Heart  (Kasanti). This is the first album on DiRubbo's own label and its a great way to begin.

Sweet and soft touches of Mike DiRubbo for me have a lot in common with the more comfortable but hard bop of Joe Henderson and Jackie McLean. Larry Willis for me has always had a delicate soul-influenced tone which blends perfectly to DiRubbo's rhythms. Willis has been able to move from both R&B, Rock and Jazz throughout his career. He can sometimes be compared as a soulful Harold Mabern or Kenny Barron. And when you listen to this stellar little record you might even be reminded of a recent release by the late Frank Morgan and John Hicks entitled Twogether (High Note).

On the opener, "Introspection", written by DiRubbo from his second album as leader Keep Steppin' (Criss Cross; 2001), the two maestros set a lovely free moving pattern; very little improvising, just focusing on the song structure. Not that different from the original but it does allow the listener to gently move into the realm of the album's main theme which is the unity between the two musicians. But it can also reflect the unity between friends, families, lovers and just the listener's connection to music in general.

"The Maji," a track written for Willis' Sanctuary (Mapleshade Records; 2003) album is completely stripped down from the quintet piece this was originally a part of. But the uptempo level has been dissected to a more insular tone between sax and piano to gives the song a real emotional impact the original doesn't deliver. Horace Silver's "Peace" maintains the same soulful energy of the original but makes a bolder impact thanks to DiRubbo taking over a combination of notes from Blue Mitchell (trumpet) and Junior Cook (sax). But it's Willis who shines here. He transforms Silver's passages into a deeper register that really leaves you hanging onto every note.

"Alone Together" makes for a beautiful closing number. A simple three chord pattern from Willis in the opening and a long sultry soliloquy from DiRubbo extends the piece with a stirring resonance that is both powerful and uplifting.

Four Hands, One Heart is a wonderful contemporary album that merges both the talent of a legendary pianist and the already accomplished and well respected saxophonist. This is great stuff that deserves everyone's ears...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Phil Woods & Bill Mays

Phil Woods (sax)
Bill Mays (piano)
Phil & Bill (Palmetto Records; 2011)

Two legends who don't really need a whole lot of introduction, Phil Woods has worked with almost everyone in jazz/pop including Tony Bennett, Bill Charlap, Hank Jones and even Steely Dan. He has a tone that has always brought to my mind Stan Getz.

Bill Mays has decorated his jubilant keys across a wide array of albums by artist, including his partnership with trumpeter, Marvin Stamm, drummer Matt Wilson, and his recent Trio recordings. But his big hands & soft tone is slightly reminiscent of Harold Mabern.

So when these two legends got together to record you had to know it would be a nice walk to bebop avenue. And its a walk you won't forget.

Listening to Phil & Bill, I get a strong and proud feeling similar to recent legendary duets in the recent years by Hank Jones & Charlie Haden, Hank Jones & Frank Wess and the Frank Morgan duet album from the nineties entitled, You Must Believe In Spring. There are sultry, romantic moments as well as classic hard driving numbers that give you a deeper appreciation for these two legends. In addition, you will scream to yourself, "Why they don't get the recognition they truly deserve?"

"Blues For Lopes" an early Woods number, is infectious. A bouncing rhythmic pace is set by Woods but is equally met by Mays with a few improvised moments adding a little bit of humor to the outing. It's fun challenge between the two and you will enjoy the atmosphere of every note. Soulful and sweet is how you will best describe the feeling after weeping under the soft tones of "Danielle." It moves softly but with an joyful nature circling inside. Lovely melodies from Woods all the way. He stretches notes at just the right time and allows Mays to come in and take things to a soft and delicate closing.

"Hank Jones" is a lovely tribute by Woods to the great pianist who just passed away last year. Woods and Mays' performance is beautiful with touches of Stan Getz and Oscar Peterson. This again rises with "The Best Thing For You Would Be Me". Soft and bubbly but with the intricate stops and twists to make you feel this one has been done in the club setting before and they just keep making it better and better with each version.

Phil & Bill is one of those records that you will automatically fall in love with at the end of the first tune. These are two great musicians still delivering a powerful and romantic impact after decades of service. It's contemporary and it opens a door to the beauty of jazz history. And it deserves to be heard by everyone. Highly Recommended.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Martin Kuchen: The Lie & The Orphanage

Martin Kuchen (sax)
The Lie & The Orphanage (Mathka; 2010)

Swedish saxophonist, Martin Kuchen, has explored various soundscapes for almost two decades now.

He has worked with Magnus Broo (in the quintet, Angles), Exploding Customer, Taco Bells trio and Erik Carlsson to name a few. He has worked with both avant garde settings as well as slight straight-ahead trio outings. But with each project he shines on multiple levels.

His bellowing arches of sound made on both baritone and alto sax almost sound like a full quartet at times. On his most recent solo release, The Lie & The Orphanage (Audio Tong), Kuchen creates a host of other worldly atmospherics that are beautiful, frightening and revelatory.

"The Testimony Of Marie Neumann" is a rolling experiment in chord changes. Kuchen manipulates the sax with different breathing techniques and additional found sounds. It's awesome. Like a futurist, Ken Vandermark. You get the feeling you are on a journey through a long cavern with dying flashlight. "The Orphanage" and "Plausible Lies" both feel like an audio collage to a dark nightmare that you somehow can't get out of. It's dense passage and crackling movements swirl inside one's psyche until you realize there is no resistance.

"Killing The Houses, Killing The Trees" inflects a layered and almost tribal element into the setting. The harmonics are pulsating and the focus really becomes the up and down movements of Kuchen's techniques both through breathing and precise note placement. It has cavalcade affect with little shots of intricately placed noise towards its closing notes.

Well most of The Lie & The Orphanage can be placed within the context of improvisation, there is not doubt that there is a melody and orchestration in place that leads the listen on the journey. I am a big fan of baritone sax and when someone finds new ways of conjuring up different sounds and theories it blows me away. Kuchen has done just that on his third solo outing. It really isn't a hard listen but it is definitely a must listen for everyone...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

John Coltrane: Live

John Coltrane (sax)
Live At The Jazz Gallery 1960 (RLR; 2011)
McCoy Tyner (piano)
Pete LaRoca (drums)
Steve Davis (bass)

In a similar vein to the Miles Davis Live Europe release, John Coltrane Live At The Jazz Gallery 1960 is a bit of a rare breed. First, there are few live albums from this year. You would normally find dates from '62 onward. Particularly dates when Eric Dolphy was featured in his group. Secondly, Live At The Jazz Gallery was recorded just a few months after Coltrane left the Miles Davis group (shortly after Kind Of Blue).

The quartet is also slightly rare as it was originally a lineup that featured Steve Kuhn (piano) but he left very early on. It would have been interesting to see what the group would have done in the studio had he stayed. In place of Kuhn came what would becoma a long standing relationship with McCoy Tyner.

Jazz Gallery was recorded in June of 1960 and its a weird time period as Coltrane was between albums, having just finished Giant Steps in December of '59 and looking forward into Coltrane's Sound in '60. Working on new material and working with new members.

He was playing live gigs left and right with the Jazz Gallery kind of a standing "extended" run according to all discography information I have looked at. This group featured the brief partnership with Steve Davis and Pete LaRoca. Davis would go on with 'Trane to record Coltrane's Sound and My Favourite Things. LeRoca was replaced by Elvin Jones.

So here we have a document of an extreme moment in time, and recorded actually not too badly. It's not the best sound quality but its better than some of the worst bootlegs you'll hear. 

Coltrane and Tyner quickly seem to meld together and have a unique unity that you could tell would be the foundation for the future. The harmony on "Every Time We Say Goodbye" is something truly beautiful.  "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes" (one of my favourite Trane numbers ever) feel powerful and burst with emotion (even if the sound isn't great). "Body And Soul" has sounded better but you get a nice direction in the styling of both Tyner, Davis and LaRoca who handle the material with a steady calm which is different than some of the other live versions you may have heard.

The highlight as many other who have this disc will tell you is the 30 minute "Liberia". This is a track from Coltrane's Sound which wasn't released until October of 1960, so we get and early incarnation of the this midtempo number. Its a piece in progress and you can feel the group moving in out changes finding where each member works best within the piece. 

As a historical document, Live At The Jazz Gallery is a very important piece in a transitional year for one of thee LEGENDS of jazz. This might only be for the collector but I think even if you are a moderate jazz fan is probably worth owning, just to impress you're friends. For me, this could be my top reissue of the year. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Miles Davis In Europe

Miles Davis (trumpet)
Live In Europe 1967 (Columbia/Legacy; 2011)
Herbie Hancock (piano)
Wayne Shorter (sax)
Ron Carter (bass)
Tony Williams (drums)

For many jazz fans we own a gazillion Miles Davis live albums (official and unofficial). But every once in awhile I like to mention a few that are must haves. Live In Europe 1967 is definitely one of them. This is a boxed set of a series of unofficial recordings (aka bootlegs) that have been on the market for years. I own two of the three included in the box already but on this first legitimate release we get a little clearer sound quality.

The really cool thing about this is that while there is a plethora of live albums involving Miles' electric period and a few with Coltrane, this quintet doesn't always get recognized despite the legendary names it includes. The quintet features a scintillating Wayne Shorter who had only recently joined the group after the short tint of fellow great George Coleman, on sax. This is the same quintet that recorded E.S.P., Miles SmilesSorcerer and Nefertiti. All albums that would lead up to Flies Of Kilimanjaro and of course In A Silent Way.

This was a fertile and prolific period for Miles and each of his band members. There are some fierce renditions of "All Blues" and "Footprints" where Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams are in blistering form. These were true "young lions" quickly becoming the benchmark for jazz to come. Miles sounds happy and inspired by his companions. His playing is crisp and sharp and at times free flowing. These tunes played on this date don't completely shed light on what would come only a few years later but you do get a sense of Miles thinking more about the freedom of space for his members to create within. "Masqualero" played at each of the three nights in this box is intense and has an aggression that pulls the listener in with each note. Shorter, Hancock and Miles drill you into a meditative mood with great ease.

The dates recorded here find a group that was in fine form and played with exquisite speed and beauty. And while some may ask, why do I need to buy another Miles record? Well the short answer is, because its Miles silly. But seriously, Live In Europe 1967 really did deserve an official treatment and release. The accompanying DVD of live footage also adds to how great this quintet was. And surprisingly the box is reasonably priced making it affordable for collectors and those wanted to investigate a different side of Miles live. You can also check out some of JazzWraps other thoughts on great Miles Davis live albums here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sean Nowell: Stockholm Swingin'

Sean Nowell (sax)
Stockholm Swingin' (Posi-Tone Records; 2011)
Fredrik Olsson (guitar)
Joe Abba (drums)
Lars Ekman (bass)
Leo Lindberg (piano)

Well, swingin' is definitely the best way to describe Sean Nowell's third album on Posi-Tone, Stockholm Swingin'. It's a well balanced and straight-ahead killer set from the Alabama native now New Yorker.

Establishing himself as a solid performer and laying in a steady stream of clean accessible rhythms in this live setting, makes Stockholm Swingin' an enjoyable listen and enticing venture for every music fan.

Stretching and flexing notes like Dexter Gordon or Sonny Rollins, Nowell sets a fire in a live session. More scintillating than his previous two releases only in the sense that in the live setting you really get a better feel for the band, the arrangements and Nowell as a performer. "Ack Varmeland, Du Skona" (more known loosely as "Dear Old Stockholm" for the rest of us) is smokin'. With the usual infectious top-tapping notes delivered beautifully from Lindberg and Nowell, this classic number takes on rich lively tone. Juxtaposed with the great performance from Fredrik Olsson it feels like a Kenny Burrell/John Coltrane session or a flavourful early George Benson album.

Nowell's own "NY Vibe" is cool and bluesy at times. It really does spell out New York for those of us who have experienced the scene for years. A great little number that even my kid was flipping out over. Nowell pulls a lot of punches with these original compositions. His playing is bold and has a lot of strength. "NY Vibe" has a lot more in common with his previous record The Seeker. It's a burst out of speakers and spell a presence of an real entertainer.

The entire quintet set a real pace and impact on "Sweet Night", written by Lingberg and Olsson. Nowell allows the guitarist to take to the fore but the rest of the group are in unison adding stylistic touches that standout in their own way along the path. Nowell rejoins the group just in time to tear into the mid section; adding a buoyancy and vitality that blisters with life.

With Stockholm Swingin' you get the feeling if you've been listening to Sean Nowell for awhile and that he really let the wheels off the wagon and just went for it this time. This is a live session that works on many levels. It's perfect for many traditionalists and a nice opening for new fans. This is the sound of modern standard jazz. It is good for all. Enjoy...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thomas Heberer: Klippe

Thomas Heberer (trumpet)
Klippe (Clean Feed Records; 2011)
Joachim Badenhorst (clarinet)
Pascal Niggenkemper (bass)

Stunning. Simply stunning. I really stumbled into this record. It came about as a result of listening to the recent Equilibrium album, Walking Voices. I wanted to investigate some more material that Joachim Badenhorst had worked on and the new album from German born now New York resident, Thomas Heberer kept coming into view. Mainly from friends constantly telling me I need to check this guy out. And I finally decided I'd better take a listen. And what a surprise...

He studied under the great Manfred Schoof as well as plays in the collective Instant Composers Pool, led by Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink. But aside from those illustrious backgrounds, he has a loaded catalogue of music that varies in themes (somber to cinematic to Moleaver-esque electronics) but is played with the highest of quality.

On his latest album, Klippe, Heberer delivers a chamber session that is moving as well as experimental in texture. The title refers to Heberer's childhood growing up near the Baltic Sea. The music strongly evokes a sense of space, long depths and far-reaching exploration.

"Torn" opens the disc with a delicate examination of space that has both a European classical element as well as encompassing aesthetics of free jazz. It slowly builds just for a moment and quickly recedes back into your consciousness. Heberer's performance is steady and emotionally effective.

Heberer's composition, "Mole" reminds me of early Enrico Rava. It's crisp and vibrant with sharp passages from both Badenhorst and Heberer. Niggenkemper adds an eerie backdrop with his soft touches on the bass strings. "Stapellauf" shows some of the affect Schoff's influence has had on Heberer. It swirls with frenetic and dark tones from both Niggenkemper and Heberer that pulsate and shift back and forth.

"Blanker Hans" and "Luv und Lee" both feature a mixture of improvised and structured chords that sees Bandenhorst and Heberer playing counterpoint while Niggenkemper rides up and down the scales with subtle abandon. "Einlaufbier" returns the listener to shore after a long journey. It's quiet and short but the final notes will linger in your memory well after the session ends.

Klippe is beautifully composed and executed. Stripped of additional instrumentation and giving his fellow musicians the room to roam and improvise, Thomas Heberer is becoming more than just one of the best kept secrets in the European and New York music scene. Highly Recommended.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

David S. Ware: Planetary Unknown

David S. Ware (sax)
Planetary Unknown (AUM Fidelity; 2011)
Muhammad Ali (drums)
William Parker (bass)
Cooper Moore (piano)

Reaching far out and beyond has been a hallmark of David S. Ware's music since first bursting on to the scene, over three decades ago.

He has said on many occasions that he is not looking for the notes or the chords. It's the overall direction and the journey the music takes you on that should be the focus. This is what you get on Ware's latest, Planetary Unknown (AUM Fidelity).

Ware's interpretation of sound is beautiful and nearly indescribable. Yes, there is the free jazz element that lays itself on top of the consciousness of the listener but there is a much deeper exploration to be found with each release.

Planetary Unknown is mainly one long improvised session but the one difference here is the musicians have very rarely worked together (with the exception of Parker) so this was not only an unknown adventure but also discovery of what other worldly themes would develop. The epic and endearing opener "Passage Wundang" moves from soft yet intense to blistering and encompassing without notice. Ware's passages over the top of Ali's pulsating drums are rapturous.  Ali later gives way to an emotional yet sparse Moore who utilizes the space underneath to set some key tones. Ware and Parker later rejoin in a subtle blues-like fashion before they all fade to black.

"Duality Is One" actually does start off with "some-what slightly" noticeable string of chords, before spinning into the main theme--an improvised battle between drummer and saxophonist. It's great to see both musicians challenging each other and hit near unreachable notes. Ware really wails and Ali adjusts to the call with ease just as Ware's usually sparing partner William Smith has done for years. "Ancestry Supramental" and "Crystal Palace" both feature some tight rhythmic patterns from Moore that counter Ware's frenetic flow along with Parker and Ali's pulverizing timing. There are hypnotic moments in both pieces no matter how chaotic it may sound.

Planetary Unknown is the sound of an elder statesman who hasn't lost a single step. David S. Ware keeps reaching upward and out. Leaving this world and showing us the way to a new altogether more interesting one. All aboard...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Michael Dessen

Michael Dessen (trombone;electronics)
photo: Daniel Theunynck

Michael Dessen has an uncanny ability to craft pieces that are delicately structured but also uncharacteristic of his contemporaries.

Similar in vein to Ray Anderson, Dessen also has the ability to move between genres with ease. While he has recorded in many different settings, it has been his recent trio work that has really caught my ear.

Formed only a few years ago, Dessen uses the trio format to explore a number conceptual rhythmic structures. This makes for intensive listening but also a high degree of discovery. 

On their first album, Between Shadow And Space (Clean Feed; 2008) along with Christopher Tordini (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums) create a dense, evocative and fluid mixture of acoustic and subtle electronic instrumentation that is really mind-blowing on first and repeated spins.

The title track deploys a rich counterpoint and improvisation. Tordini and Sorey are the perfect counter for Dessen's compositions. This trio challenges and explores each other's strengths. Patterns are structures are slowly built up and quietly torn down over the course seven minutes on the opener and the listener gets a full understanding of what Between Shadow And Space will be for them--A journey through space, sound and thought.

"Chocolate Geometry" moves along in multi-layered fashion. It's like meditative suite. Gentle introspective passages delivered by simultaneously by Sorey's complex brushes and some dense strokes from Tordini. Dessen's trombone turns into a manipulated trumpet augmented by just the right amount of electronics to mix things up and send the piece soaring.

"Water Seeks" comes flying in to the close out the session. A beautiful and searching piece dedicated to Alice Coltrane with all the harmonics and resonance that would be associated with great composer/harpist/keyboard player. It's loaded with rich texture, sharp hues and rising atmospherics that quietly fades leaving the listener some traces of a long beautiful journey.

Dessen reassembled his trio for the even more rugged Forget The Pixel (Clean Feed; 2011). This time with Dan Weiss on drums and Tordini remaining. The results are the same but Weiss does pack a aggressive punch to Sorey's more insular and thought-provoking approach. Both drummers are perfect in this setting though.

"Fossils And Flows" rips through the speakers introducing the lineup and direction. The trio never let up. Its sound quickly becomes an avalanche and Dessen's use of electronics feels like a thousand aliens sending a message that things will be different this time as his group visits your stereo. "Fossils And Flows" is actually an observation on the BP oil spill in the U.S. and and when listening, you get the feeling how things quickly got out of hand in the Gulf is similar to how unique the sound of this trio moves shapes and patterns.

"Forget The Pixel" is a more organic and improvised piece with each member exploring different aspects of Dessen's composition. It's a number that moves, and moves with light but an effective pace. Dessen and Tordini's exchanges are tight and beautiful well placed. Weiss' drums come in first like a military band and quickly turn impressionistic. Tones and utilization of space is one of the reasons why I have been so captivated by Michael Dessen's trio work. "Three Sepals" is another exemplary mark of his unique writing skill. It's a subtle ballad that stretches from note to note. It also has just the right amount of hard tones to keep the listener engaged, waiting for the next unknown marker. A real treat for the ears.

I have to admit, I've only just discovered Michael Dessen's work in the last year so I have a lot of catching up to do. But from his trio work and a couple of other albums I've gotten over the last few months I am completely absorbed and excited by his material and direction. His playing and writing are superb. He doesn't use the electronics as a gimmick. The sounds are more a subtle aid moving in and out time. They never overtake the rhythm or the meaning of a tune. And that's pretty hard to do. Michael Dessen has proven he is a gifted artist with the trombone, electronics and in composition. An artist who is continually thinking and rising above.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Admiral Awesome

Admiral Awesome (group)
Admiral Awesome (Gateway Music; 2011)
Jacob Danielson (sax)
Christian Windfeld (drums)
Thomas Sejthen (bass)
Fredrik Lungkvist (sax)

Admiral Awesome are a young new Danish trio whose work is fresh and cracking with energy. Their self-titled debut is aided by legendary saxophonist, Fredrik Lungkvist of the group Atomic. As with Bobo Stenson's work with the young Swedish trio Plunge, Lungkvist gives a hard, grittier edge that challenges the group to reach new heights with each track.

In terms of experience, Admiral Awesome is not new. Each member has considerable work with artists such as Arve Henriksen, Fuzz n' Us, and Jakob Bro in addition to individual efforts. So there is no shortage of skill and creativity within this group. Admiral Awesome grew out of a number sessions and live performances over the last year or so. And the fruit of those experiments has resulted in a exciting and all around triumphant debut, consisting of live and studio material.

While your first thought might be the bombastic brass that sits on top of the melodies--this is more than just your usual free jazz session. The quartet quietly introduces itself on "LSB Vals" with a heavy downbeat from Windfeld just before the rest of the group come soaring in. Eventually the piece steams towards a jubilant cacophony only to return gently to its organic beginnings. "Different Directions" is a fierce little number with a jumpin' bebop touch that Charlie Parker would be proud of. The improvised moments are fun and still keep within a linear compositional structure. Something even the uninitiated to free jazz might still be able grasp hold of and enjoy.

"Stockholm Wilderness" has elements of spy-jazz, improvisation and what feels like a little tribute to Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" mixed in. There is a beauty duel between Danielsen and Lungkvist makes this one of my favourite cuts on the album. The stop/start pace and electricity of the performances here from the entire quartet are killer. "Piratsangen" begins in Brotzmann-esque style with powerful blustery notes from Danielsen. His improvised notes take listener or rocky ride that worth all the eight minutes. As the rest of the group slow move into focus the tune becomes more a bluesy ballad. It's haunting and beauty and closes with band singing farewell to a live audience. And that's a perfect way to end the album.

Admiral Awesome is one of those records I assure you will sneak up on you as the year continues. It is currently available on the Admiral Awesome website and will be released widely later in the year. This is an excellent debut and exciting on multiple levels. It's creative, well balanced and fun between the improvised lines. A great listen. Enjoy...