Music

Fungible Insights

by

Pick Hits

FME

Cuts

Okka Disk

What makes Free Music Ensemble Ken Vandermark’s best pure improv showcase is how conducive bassist Nate McBride and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love are to his basic style—rough, rock hard, punkish. That may not have been the idea when he named the group to honor Germany’s avant-noise FMP label, but this is a band that could have been designed to kick out the jams. Still, most cuts do have soft parts—clarinet with minimal accompaniment, McBride often arco—and these cohere like never before. A

SHEILA JORDAN + CAMERON BROWN

Celebration

High Note

She grew up in a coal town, fled to the city, chased Bird, and caught his piano player. George Russell asked her to sing a song in 1962, and she would have been unforgettable for that alone. It was another decade before she worked steadily, but she waltzed away with the album on Roswell Rudd’s Flexible Flyer—long my favorite jazz album. At 76 she threw this birthday party, with just bassist Brown behind her. It’s an uncharacteristically loose and happy set, strung together from medleys with generous scat and patter, sometimes ad-libbed into the music. Makes me think she’s the only real jazz singer left—the only one worth chasing, anyhow. A MINUS


URI CAINE/BEDROCK

Shelf-Life

Winter & Winter

One problem with ’70s fusion is that when pianists like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea went electric they gave off an air of slumming. That’s not an issue with younger players weaned on funk, disco, and hip-hop—electronics for them are an invitation to have fun. Matthew Shipp and George Colligan are good examples, but Uri Caine—surprisingly for a guy with whole albums of Schumann and Mahler in his closet—tops them all. He got it right on the first Bedrock album: Zach Danziger’s beats come first, then Tim Lefebvre’s grooves, and anything he does on synth just elaborates. This one goes further, adding a guest horn here and there, even a couple of vocals, but never losing track of first principles—which for him closes with a straight Philly soul classic. A MINUS

PETER EPSTEIN/BRAD SHEPIK/MATT KILMER

Lingua Franca

Songlines

All three have interests in the world’s many musics—there are subtle Indian, Balkan, and West African spices here—but all three are homegrown and play conventional instruments. Shepik’s guitars intertwine with Kilmer’s percussion. Epstein’s alto or soprano sax floats above, as if charming snakes. A MINUS

RICH HALLEY TRIO

Mountains and Plains

Louie

The desolate, rugged landscapes in the cover snapshots are a fitting analogue to the deliberate articulation of Halley’s tenor sax in this bare-bones trio. Based in Oregon and trained as a field biologist, with previous records about Saxophone Animals and Coyotes in the City, Halley obviously comes at free jazz from far afield. And he’s collaborated with Dave Storrs and Clyde Reed for so long that they get the balance just right. A MINUS

ARTHUR KELL QUARTET

Traveller

Fresh Sound New Talent

Jordi Pujol named his label for an ad touting the “fresh sounds” of West Coast jazz in the ’50s, but his search for nueva cool has focused on New York and Barcelona. The New Talent series produces a steady stream of Honorable Mention wannabes—tight, cleverly arranged, tepid little albums with much to admire and little to get excited about. This one is exemplary, with Kell’s bass firmly anchoring his tunes, while Steve Cardenas’s expansive guitar lines and Gorka Benitez’s golden-toned tenor sax flesh them out. A MINUS

STEVE LACY/JOËLLE LÉANDRE

One More Time

Leo

The grand master of the soprano sax ended his long residency in Europe with a series of “farewell concerts” in 2002, made all the more final by his death last year. A box is promised, but this duo with bassist Léandre got carved out first. She’s worth concentrating on, proving that the bass is a sonic tool kit of amazing breadth. But focus inevitably drifts to Lacy in an intimate performance that is both typical and exemplary. One to remember him by. A MINUS

HILARY NOBLE & REBECCA CLINE

Enclave

Zoho

Good students. Noble studied sax with George Garzone and Yusef Lateef, but he also did extra credit in Afro-Cuban percussion, and he puts both to use here. Cline picked up her piano from Joanne Brackeen and Chucho Valdés, and she delivers the whole package—she’s impossible to ignore, even in the background. Whereas most Latin jazz gravitates toward siesta, leave it to a couple of Yanks to shake things up. A MINUS

TRIPTYCH MYTH

The Beautiful

AUM Fidelity

Another case where an album title has become the group name for a second album, giving reclusive pianist Cooper-Moore a bit of cover. He reminds me of Horace Tapscott—not as fast, but as dense and exacting, if anything more sensitive to the other two panels of his group, bassist Tom Abbs and drummer Chad Taylor. They play the way freedom is supposed to work—untethered but aware and complementary. A MINUS

ASSIF TSAHAR/COOPER-MOORE/HAMID DRAKE

Lost Brother

Hopscotch

Cooper-Moore emerges as a double threat: no piano, just homemade toys. His ashimba slips in between Drake’s frame drums for stretches of pan-African groove, with Tsahar’s bass clarinet gently tooting along. But when Cooper-Moore cranks up the twang of his one-stringed diddley bow, Tsahar switches to tenor sax and his usual Aylerisms lurch into overdrive, a style we might as well call avant-honk. A MINUS

MARK WHITECAGE & THE BI-COASTAL ORCHESTRA

BushWacked: A Spoken Opera

Acoustics

Except for one lyric written in 1776, the spoken words come from news reports, but they rivet your attention. The intent is outrage, but I find the words, so unflinchingly rooted in the real world, calming—compared to the anarchic jazz swirling around them. A MINUS


Dud of the Month

LINCOLN CENTER JAZZ ORCHESTRA

Don’t Be Afraid . . . The Music of Charles Mingus

Palmetto

This became inevitable once flacks tried to draw an orchestral line from Ellington to Mingus to Marsalis—otherwise, wouldn’t Mingus be a bit too outré for the uptown crowd? Mingus has yet to develop into a repertory staple, at least outside of the official tribute bands Sue Mingus rides herd on, and even there recent albums like I Am Three suggest they’re running on fumes. What’s missing from all the remakes is Mingus himself—the virtuoso bassist, of course, but more importantly the leader who drove small bands to play huge. Here 15 musicians play small. At the end of the tricky title piece about the clown, they even laugh small. B MINUS


Honorable Mention

DOMINIC DUVAL/MARK WHITECAGE

Rules of Engagement, Vol. 1

Drimala

No agitprop, just bass and reeds, a starter kit without the racket.

RANDY REINHART

At the Mill Hill Playhouse: As Long as I Live

Arbors

Trad jazz teamwork—Kenny Davern, Dan Barrett, and John Sheridan are friskier than on their own recent albums.

SAM RIVERS/BEN STREET/KRESTEN OSGOOD

Violet Violets

Stunt

Old times only easier, so reminiscent of his ’60s grace it could be a self-tribute.

BAYASHI

Rock

Jazzaway

Norwegian avant-sax trio—two vets dating back to George Russell days, and TDWR drummer Thomas Strønen.

JOE FIELDER TRIO

Plays the Music of Albert Mangelsdorff

Clean Feed

And, finally, simplifies the avant-trombone master for much needed clarity.

BILLY JENKINS

When the Crowds Have Gone

Babel

. . . you’re alone, just guitar and harmonica, crying like Blind Willie Johnson without even the Lord for comfort.

DOMINIC FRASCA

Deviations

Cantaloupe/Serious Music

Guitar minimalism, the patterns expanding harmonically rather than repeating ad absurdum.

JOEL FUTTERMAN/ALVIN FIELDER/IKE LEVIN TRIO

Resolving Doors

Charles Lester Music

Piano-sax roughhousing, refereed by an AACM drummer who keeps both sides swinging.

THE ONUS

Triphony

Hipnotic

Darryl Harper’s clarinet trio is a marvel of studied moderation, searching but not rushed, long but not wearing.

TRYGVE SEIM

Sangam

ECM

Large group, the deep horns, accordion and strings move slowly in thick layers of harmony.

PAUL MOTIAN/BILL FRISELL/JOE LOVANO

I Have the Room Above Her

ECM

Lovano’s ballad sense is suspect, but he adds substance to Motian’s slow abstractions.

JOE GIARDULLO

No Work Today: Nine for Steve Lacy

Drimala

Meditations on solo soprano sax—a real tightrope act.

HAMID DRAKE & ASSIF TSAHAR

Live at Glenn Miller Café

Ayler

Two-thirds of Lost Brother takes its avant-honk on the road.

GEORGE COLLIGAN’S MAD SCIENCE

Realization

Sirocco Music

More organ than synth, more drums than beats, so the advance starts from further back, trading Grant Green for Tom Guarna.

JULIUS TOLENTINO

Just the Beginning

Sharp Nine

Fancy hard bop with Jeb Patton piano and extra brass, sandwiched by originals celebrating Parker, lamenting Jacquet.

MARK WEINSTEIN

Algo Más

Jazzheads

Flutes, chants, hand drums, soft homespun Afro-Cuban roots.

RAKE-STAR

Some Ra

Spool/Line

Canadians who look and sound like they just arrived from Saturn.

THE PETER BRÖTZMANN CHICAGO TENTET

Be Music, Night

Okka Disk

Mike Pearson’s reading of Kenneth Patchen poetry provides a dry counterpoint structuring the avant-noise.


Duds

JAMIE CULLUM

Catching Tales

Verve/Forecast

NNENNA FREELON

Blueprint of a Lady: Sketches of Billie Holiday

Concord

DAVID MURRAY 4TET & STRINGS

Waltz Again

Justin Time