Friday, March 17, 2017

The Michael Blum Quartet, Chasin' Oscar, A Tribute to Oscar Peterson

Something unusual today, a tribute to jazz piano great Oscar Peterson by a very hip guitarist, Michael Blum and his quartet, on an album entitled Chasin' Oscar (Michael Blum Music).

Some swinging contemporary jazz is what we get, most of the music associated directly or indirectly with Oscar. Blum much of the time has adopted Oscar's recorded solo from each tune and made it live for guitar. He is seconded very nicely by pianist Brad Smith, bassist Jim Stinnett (whom Blum cites as an important teacher and mentor) and drummer Dom Moio.

Michael also sings on "Tenderly" and that sounds good as well.

This is music of high artistry, from a guitarist who has absorbed Peterson's ethos and made it over in his own image and sound design.

I must say I enjoy this album thoroughly! Take a listen.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Mark Whitfield, Grace

As we proceed through our musical lives, we generally find ourselves within earshot of a  number of artists who do things that catch our ears, that somehow express a simpatico musical vision that speaks to us. Guitarist Mark Whitfield and his new album Grace (Marksman Productions 8.2268533147-3) resonates with me in this way. It's him and his well accomplished guitar, his sons Davis and Mark, Jr. on piano and drums, respectively, and Yasushi Nakamura on bass. Vocalist Sy Smith drops in for vocals on the title cut.

The music is in the straight-ahead zone, alternately swinging and funking its way through some attractive Mark Whitfield originals (with help from Dave on one, lyrics by Sy on the title cut).

Everyone is in the pocket, Davis plays some hip piano, but in the end it is the considered fluency and inventiveness of leader Mark himself that wins the day.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lisa Mezzacappa, avantNOIR

Lisa Mezzacappa is a formidable avant jazz acoustic bassist and composer. She is someone with a good idea of where she is going, as you can hear from her latest CD avantNOIR (Clean Feed 401 CD).

This is avant jazz that reflects the black and white noir sensibility through eight interconnected numbers that give us an Asphalt Jungle sort of musical narrative. Lisa on bass, Aaron Bennett on tenor, William Winant on vibes and percussion, Tim Perkis on electronics and Jordan Glenn on drums give characteristic voice to the charts and solo well as needed.

The compositions are out front, but then the solos are inextricable from the finished result. Lisa sounds great on bass, John has a good out feel on guitar, but then Aaron's tenor is pivotal to the ensemble as is William's vibes.

Of course John Zorn has something to do with the noir jazz uprising and you can hear his influence here. Ultimately, though, it all steps forward nicely into Mezzacappa territory.

Mezzacappa gives us richly constructed music that leaves us with a very modern take on NOIR sensibility.

A good one! Very recommended.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Trevor Giancola Trio, Fundamental

From Toronto we have a hard-swinging, line-creating contemporary outing from guitarist Trevor Giancola and his very together trio, in an album dubbed Fundamental (self-released).

Trevor and his companions Neil Swainson on bass and Adam Arruda on drums give us a beautiful set of originals, standards and some deserving jazz composition chestnuts (Elmo Hope's "La Berthe" and "De Dah," Joe Henderson's "Punjab," etc.).

It's a fully enabled trio, which means that bassist and drummer not only swing forward greatly but contribute worthy soloing as well.

Giancola has a lining knack and a very nice harmonic sense. The changes underneath go by effortlessly in the hands of Trevor and the trio.

Here's a tasteful and important new voice on the guitar. The trio makes it all a joy!!

Hear this!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Obake, Draugr

We heard some nice guitar confluence a while back from Eraldo Bernocchi and Prakash Sontaake (see my posting from November 23 of last year). Now Bernocchi returns as part of the hard rocking prog-avant outfit Obake. Their album Draugr (Rarenoise CD or vinyl 34849) has much about it that I like, especially in its refusal to cave to formula, something far too many, possibly untalented bands can do these days. Not Obake.

The band is Bernocchi on very electric guitar and electronics, Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (LEF) on very respectable vocals and electronics, Colin Edwin on electric bass and Jacopo Pierazzuoli on drums.

This is super-heavy stuff with riffs but a pronounced tendency compositionally to meld it all together in creative ways. Bernocchi can get very out there in space and that makes for some very nice moments. And they get that very big spaced-out sound that roars at you with a nice hugeness.

Now will everybody that reads this take readily to the music? Possibly not, but my job is to thrust forward interesting musics that the adventurous ear might find as absorbing as mine does.

So if you are in the mood for led-heavy astronautics, by all means check this one out!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Josef Woodward and Charlie Haden, Conversations with Charlie Haden

You do not know Charlie Haden? Anyone reading this column needs to know if they don't. Simply put, Charlie (1937-2014) was a titan of the acoustic bass, among the select handful of the most important and influential bassists of the second half of last century.

And a new book is out that will give you a bird's eye view of why he matters. Conversations with Charlie Haden (Sillman-James Press, 235 pages, paper, $19.95) is an insightful series of interviews Josef Woodward had with Charlie from 1988 to 2008.

The dialogs reveal Charlie as a thoughtful, aesthetically consistent artist who ever strived to realize himself  without compromise, no matter where that took him, from his precocious beginnings as a singer in the family hillbilly band with a regular radio broadcast from age two onwards, his polio and its sharp curtailment of vocalizing, the subsequent lifelong commitment to the contrabass as his principal medium of expression, his rise to fame as the innovative bass voice in Ornette Coleman's breakthrough quartet and its carving out of avant free jazz, and his subsequent involvement with other collaborations, the advent of his Liberation Music Orchestra and later, Quartet West.

All that is covered thoughtfully. Charlie gives us great insight into his involvement with and understanding of Ornette's harmolodic approach, of his bass as fulfilling the role of piano in that band, only being fed the harmonic implications of Ornette's lines rather than the reverse.

But there are lots of other things to gain from this book. Charlie's view of the importance of finding yourself and who YOU are musically is a recurring theme, for example, great advice for any aspiring artist.

It's a book that practically reads itself. Compelling commentary from a jazz titan! Read it by all means.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Joëlle Léandre, A Woman's Work..., 8-CD Boxed Set

World-class virtuoso double bassist and vocalist Joëlle Léandre was not on my radar in the years when graduate school, then overwork and low pay forced me to rely on my fellow traveler's avant discoveries to broaden out my knowledge of new improvisational trends. Working as a review writer for Cadence Magazine fortunately gave me access to a world of artists previously unknown to me. As it happened Bob Rusch sent me a Joëlle Léandre CD to review in a batch of new releases, around ten years ago. It was Joëlle on bass and vocals and another vocalist in a live duet set. As is often the case when confronting the truly new I at first did not know what to make of the vocals, though the bass playing was beautifully strong. In time I came to appreciate her artistry both on the bass and vocal front, as I did Cecil Taylor's vocals after some exposure.

Time has passed and I have happily been the recipient of a good number of subsequent Joëlle Léandre albums, and by now I know that her high, very creative level of avant jazz is a given. When she performs (or composes), you can depend on her to be one of world's most important and original avant jazz improv contrabassists and startlingly original vocalists alive today, someone who whether in solo, duo, trio, quartet or larger contexts will give spontaneous form to the proceedings while bringing out the best with those she performs with.

So when I heard from Joëlle that an eight-CD boxed retrospective was in the works, I jumped at the chance to give it all a close listen and, as you see, write up my thoughts when I emerged from the brown study of aural enlightenment.

So, to give you the complete title info, this is A Woman's Work. . . 8-CDs nicely packaged and available on the Not Two label (MW950-2). If I call it a retrospective I do not mean it is a sort of "greatest hits" collection. This is music we have not heard previously, most from 2015, each a special combination of Joëlle and her bass (one in solo), Joëlle and a live audience, Joëlle interacting in duo, trio, quartet, etc. with a select set of improvisational partners, many well known to the vet avant listener, some less so, but all entering into intensely rewarding dialogs with each other.

So we appreciate the collaborators and how in each case they engage Joëlle and vice versa for some excellent free music. Most of my readers will recognize some or all of the collaborators: Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Agusti Fernandez, Fred Frith, Zlatko Kaucic, Mat Maneri, Lauren Newton, Maggie Nichols, Evan Parker and Irene Schweizer.

There is nothing tired or stale about this music. To quote Joëlle from the very informative accompanying booklet, "The sound of a musician is what he has in his guts, in his soul, is what he has to say. Sound is tough work! It's your identity!" Amen! What we have in this box set is a gathering of major sound masters caught in the real-time process of actualizing themselves, through personal sound generation in an endlessly open field. In the process it gives you a definitive guide to the sound artistry of Joëlle Léandre today, bassist of endless productive creation in close conversation with like-minded free spirits, all masters of the sound fingerprint.

Is this all too much? Not at all. I do not suggest you sit down and try to listen to all 8-CDs in one sitting. Take them one or two at a time, then return to them all repeatedly. This is most emphatically NOT music to tire of. Each listen brings new awareness of another aspect of all the things going on, which is a considerable lot.

I would even say that this might indeed point the avant improv novice in the right direction, teach her or him to open the ears, to listen! Get the set and sequester yourself. And for those who know  Joëlle and the style it is a beautiful collection of contrabass profundities, a series of very fruitful avant summits, a collection to treasure, but yes, to help you learn to hear!

And it reminds us just how seminal Joëlle Léandre is in the music of today.