Friday, January 31, 2014

Joe McPhee, Sonic Elements, for Pocket Trumpet and Alto Saxophone

Joe McPhee has become a kind of legend for his very productive career making great improvised music under his own name and with Trio X. He is one of the very few (Bennie Carter being the first?) that can hold his own on both trumpet and saxophone. But the point of interest is of course what he plays on the instruments, not just that he plays both well.

He does not record as unaccompanied soloist with any frequency, excepting spaces here and there within ensemble contexts, so an entire solo album is welcome. We have just that in Sonic Elements (Clean Feed 278) and I have been listening closely.

It's comprised of two segments, each lasting around 20 minutes. The first is for pocket trumpet, the second for alto sax. "Episode One" is for Don Cherry, "Episode Two" for Ornette Coleman.

That makes sense of course since Maestro McPhee comes out of a modern improvisational lineage that recognizes both as important "ancestors", so to speak. And anyone who listens to the new jazz with any seriousness knows the importance of the two artists to what follows.

McPhee combines an absorbed attention to the sound element of both instruments for some invigorating abstractions but he also makes both instruments "sing" in song-like ways, and that is part of the McPhee approach in general so it should not surprise us.

Nonetheless he comes across here as very focused, very committed, and very much worth hearing. This is music minus nothing. Joe McPhee is the complete artist.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Keith Jarrett, Concerts, Bregenz, Munchen, 1981

If you've listened carefully enough and across the board historically to Keith Jarrett's solo piano recordings, you've no doubt seen patterns emerging. Perhaps you can divide them up into three periods, with the first ending in 1981, the second covering the rest of the '80s and at least part of the '90s, and etc.

There are the sorts of improvisations he did and still does, and some he doesn't do as much now, and finally things he does now he mostly didn't then. There are those gospel-voiced rousers, there are romantic harmonic improvisations that could be from the time of Liszt, there are outnesses, there are the hypnotic trance repetitions, there are rockers, there are funk boogie-woogie take offs that go where only Keith would take them (but of course are imitated these days too), there are standards, mostly in the later period, and other things besides. He has of course made a huge impact over the years with these solo performances. There have been plenty of lesser imitators, some straying into new age, and there have been those who have taken the influence to places of their own. But aside from Cecil Taylor, no one has had such a dramatic impact on the scene. Keith and Cecil are two poles in a magnetic field that of course is still as powerful as ever. At least that's how I look at it.

If you count the first period ending in 1981, then his Concerts, Bregenz, Munchen could be the culmination of that period. The original release covered all the Bregenz and a brief part of the Munchen concerts. Now we have a reissue in 3-CDs that for the first time covers the complete Munchen concert as well (ECM B0019483-02).

I tend to gravitate toward this period, the initial Facing You onwards to this end point. Not that I do not appreciate the later solo improvisations, but there is a peak to be heard in those days that was not duplicated as much as it all changed up and Keith in part began exploring some other territories.

With the now complete three-part version of Concerts we can hear the expressive highs, a little of the transitional tentativeness, but mostly the very satisfying brilliance that put him so much to the forefront in those days.

Now would I like to hear Keith perform again in a quartet? A big band? Do more orchestral works again? Well, sure I would. But whether or not he does that I still find his solo work totally compelling. I don't feel satiated even if there is an awful lot of it out there. Concerts would be one to hear even if you have no inclination to become a solo Jarrett completist.

It may not be his absolute best--but then I would be hard-pressed to chose only one or two. It's up there with prime examples of that period. So if you do spring for it, and you know what to expect, I sincerely doubt you'll be disappointed. He was (and is) brilliant. That initial take off and flight was an exciting moment for him and for audiences. You can hear that on these sides.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Elton Dean, Remembrance, 2004

Throughout his life saxophonist Elton Dean had a varied number of associations and styles in which he worked with a sureness and mastery very rare. Whether straight-ahead with Harry Beckett, jazz-rock and beyond with the Soft Machine lineups, or just plain out, he did it all with grace, poise and fire.

As far as the out side is concerned you are well served by a new two-CD set of an unreleased session from 2004, appropriately titled Remembrance (No Business NBCD 59/60). Dean and a very able quartet give us extended outings. Elton plays the alto, the incandescent Paul Dunmall takes up the tenor, Paul Rogers smokes the acoustic bass, and the ever-stoking Tony Bianco gets at the drums.

It's a sort of round-robin set. Paul takes the first number with rhythm, the full quartet goes at it for the second, the rhythm section takes it alone in the third segment and Elton joins them for a trio on the fourth.

It's free-out jazz wall-to-wall with lots of inspiration and fire. It is a testament certainly for Elton's way with this form, but Dunmall, Rogers and Bianco sound fabulous as well.

All I can say is you need to hear this one!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ran Blake & Jon Hazilla, Kaleidoscope

Ran Blake, avant legend pianist, rarely records with drummers. I am scratching my head to remember one. It's a matter of what he sets out to do I suspect, and the drummer needs to fit in. As it happens he does appreciate Jon Hazilla as the right drummer for his music. He recorded a duet, Kaleidoscope (CIMP 391), with him a little while back and it's out.

Jon is no stranger to Cadence/CIMP, having recorded a number of good things in his own right for the labels. I still have a copy of his first LP and have appreciated him for some time as a sort of "thinking person's drummer". He graduated from New England Conservatory and no doubt initially impressed Ran at that point.

The duo gets an excellent rapport throughout. There are a few solo drum spots interspersed in the progam, most notably "Monk's Drum Dream" where Jon channels Frankie Dunlop's brilliant drum melodics with Monk and extends them even further. Ran counters with a couple of very nice solos of his own.

Beyond that Jon shows you why Ran appreciates his playing. The two really strike it off and Hazilla brings a sensitivity toward Ran's stylistic personality that is nothing if not striking. Maestro Blake comes through as his usual inventive, adventurous self, playing some notable originals (which he hasn't done a great deal of lately) and reworking standards, harmonically, melodically and otherwise, in brilliant ways that give the songs a very original, personal stamp.

In the end we have one beautiful set with Hazilla inspired and seemingly inspiring Ran Blake for some fabulous music. Grab this one!

Jose Rizo's Mongorama, Baila Que Baila

We're levitating over the floorboards this morning with some more fine Latin Jazz. As the opening strains of Baila Que Baila (Saungu 004) waft over my cheesy computer music system I want to dance. But no, I must type. The band is Jose Riza's Mongorama. It's their second. Charanga-jazz modern style by a large band kicks up some dust here and I must type, not dance.

Needless to say Mongo Santamaria has influenced them. When they get the violin, flute, horns, piano, percussion, bass and vocals going, you fall into it without reflecting on influence. The vocalists are very good. There are a couple of songs in English and one is better than the other. Spanish sounds percussive when the vocalists go at it. English doesn't always have that hitting it quality. But no matter; we are talking about twelve kickers and in the end it makes no difference to the quality of this disk.

These folks are on it!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pete McGuinness, Voice Like A Horn

Not everything is known. We don't know everything. And sometimes, we learn just by hearing. Take singer-trombonist Pete McGuinness and his CD Voice Like A Horn (Summit 609). You look at the cover, you have no idea what is inside. Could be anything. But then you listen. Hey!

Pete McGuiness is a real-deal jazz singer in the tenor register and a very decent trombonist-arranger, too. The album has roots in classic bop and after, the horns and rhythm section give out with the good stuff. But above it is Pete the singer. At first you think Chet Baker, because it's that register and a little gentleness at times like Chet. But, no, the cat has a bell-like tone when he gets working. He phrases and scats beautifully and the arrangements are hip.

We are talking mostly classic songbook songs here. But the arrangements and singing put it where it should be, a launching pad for jazz-ness.

I don't like every singer I hear, of course. They must have that something that puts them over. Pete McGuinness has that something! I mean it. Listen to this guy.

Bob Dorough, Duets

Bob Dorough prevails, he flourishes, still. The one singer Miles agreed to record with at the height of his powers? Bob Dorough. A singer-songwriter supreme in the jazz realm, he may not always get the attention he deserves. Even now. But you know what? That is their problem, not ours.

So here is new Bob Dorough, released in the middle of last year but a few months aren't going to matter. It's a set of Duets (self-released) of Bob and a bunch of game folks. Proceeds benefit the Delaware Water Gap Celebration of the Arts Festival (COTA), and that's great.

What most counts is Bob still sounds very good and his songs, many I do not know, are front and center along with that stinging wit. The duets are with such as the New York Voices (a nice version of "Devil May Care"), Nellie McKay, Janis Siegel and etc.

The ever-young hipness of Dorough comes through here, and plenty of classic and potential classic tunes from the uniquely Doroughian way of looking at it all. The musicians are doing the jazz thing for real. The singers that join with him give each a special spin but it's really still all about Dorough. And that is something to be about!

Get this and support a great cause. To buy a copy go to

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Arturo O'Farrill and the Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, Final Night at Birdland

Chico O'Farrill of course was a prime moving force on the Latin Jazz scene for many years, a great composer, arranger and big band leader. With his passing the big band he kept in top form for long runs in New York clubs, the Chico O'Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, was taken over by his son Arturo. For fourteen years the band held forth at the reconstituted Birdland on Monday nights.

As Arturo recounts in the liners, the pressure of keeping a crack big band going and at the same time forwarding his own bands and music became too much, so on July 16, 2011 the band played its last night at the club. Fortunately for us the recording equipment was running that evening, preserving in all its splendor the Final Night at Birdland (Zoho 201311).

Everybody is in top form, the charts include many classic Chico numbers and a moving tribute-piece by Arturo, and the recording has presence and grit.

All I can say is that this recording gives you a hell of a good look at why Chico was something else, and is a testiment to the band and its last ten years under the leadership of Arturo as well. If you've been into Chico it is an affirmation, if not it's a great introduction.

That Latin-Jazz lives and thrives today has much to do with the O'Farrills, past and present. Play on players, listen on listeners!!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Gregg Kallor, A Single Noon

Not every jazz-oriented pianist that plays a solo set is going to sound like either Keith Jarrett or Cecil Taylor, thankfully. We of course already have the originals. Gregg Kallor on his solo album A Single Noon (Single Noon 3) sounds like himself, which is essentially expressively tonal and exploratory within that realm. One thing to note, this is a nine-movement suite and though it has the rubato of jazz improvisation sometimes it is a formally composed work. So I could easily have placed it on my classical-modern blog. But after hearing it a number of times I thought it would be of interest to either audience. And here it is more unexpected but related to solo improvisation as practiced today. So here it is.

The work has the each-movement-its-own-logic sort of form to it. None of it is in any way hackneyed, which is important to stress because of course jazz-tonality-composition could quickly cross a border into new age pap. There is nothing of the kind here.

The intricately composed, passionately performed work brings into play some jazz roots (even a hint of boogie woogie) in ways that are appealing.

This is not an end-of-one-world, beginning-of-another sort of work. It's worth your ear time and points to good things to come from Gregg Kallor. I look forward to more. Meanwhile, listen to this and I think you'll enjoy it.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Devototionalien, sollen uns in demut uben in harmony zu ieberluben

"We join this program already in progress." That's what they used to say on TV when a show was interrupted by a announcement or news flash that cut into programming time. In a way you could say that about the free jazz quartet Devototionalien and their album sollen uns in demut uben in harmony zu ieberluben (Not Two MW 887-2). I say that only because ultra-spontaneous free music as performed as well as it is here is never complete because there could always be more when the players have something to say as they do surely on this one.

It's a recording made on location at Celeste in Vienna. Eric Zinman mans the piano and euphonium, Kilian Schrader plays electric bass and effects, Mario Rechtern plies the sopranino, alto and baritone saxes as well as the flute, and Johannes Krebs is on drums.

This is full-out energy freedom with no concessions made to anything but the band's collective talent and physico-musical thrust. And that is an excellent thing because each of them is primed and lucid. It's the all-over kind of freedom, tumbling ahead with hard-edged sound expression as the goal. Zinman-Schrader-Rechturn-Krebs are masters of that tumble. No, they do not sound like somebody else; they ARE somebody else.

If you are looking for a kicker, this is it. A whirlwind maelstrom of active inspiration awaits. You plunks down your money and you gets a great set of it. So check it out.

Autumn in Augusta, Songs My Mother Would Like

Today here in the States it is Martin Luther King Day. To honor and remember the Reverend with some rooted music today seemed appropriate. Just such a recording happens to be awaiting my attention and so we are all set. This is an EP of vocalist Lucy Smith with her piano trio: Michael Caskey, drums, Marcin Fahmy, piano and organ, and Junius Paul, acoustic bass.

The group is named Autumn in Augusta and the volume is entitled Songs My Mama Would Like (LMS 1263). This is a well-chosen program of classics like "Wayfaring Stranger", "House of the Rising Sun", an arrangement of the "Song of Joy" from Beethoven's 9th--"Joyful, Joyful", "How Can I Keep From Singing?" by Robert Wadsworth Lowry, and Leroy Carr's "How Long, How Long Blues".

Ms. Smith has soul and finesse and the trio gives her the right setting for her heartfelt set. She can belt it out and she does.

Enough said.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dennis Gonzalez Yells at Eels, Colorado at Clinton

There are few groups that I say of, "probably better catch everything they do". Dennis Gonzalez Yells at Eels is one. Their latest, Colorado at Clinton (Ayler 133) confirms that feeling I have. A couple of days ago I covered the Gonzalez brothers along with guitarist Luis Lopes and Rodrigo Amado in Luis's fine album (see the guitar blog for the review). Now we are back with Stefan Gonzalez, drums, and Aaron Gonzalez, contrabass, in their regular gig as the rhythm team for Yells at Eels. They sound beautiful. Of course Dennis is here, fronting the band on his always moving trumpet and cornet. Aakash Mittal joins the group on alto sax. Together the four make some dramatically forward moving jazz in the new, avant, sometimes free zone.

This is thoughtful music but also music of excitement and fire. Dennis contributes four of the pieces; Aakash two. They are excellent table setters and sometimes they are part of the meal, too, so to speak.

Aakash is an old childhood friend of Dennis; this is a reunion after many years of separation. And the two work together very well, which I am sure was satisfying to them. Musically we all are beneficiaries.

Another excellent one from Yells at Eels.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Frank Rosaly, Cicada Music

There is a core of Chicago new jazzmen that tend to cluster together these days. Frank Rosaly, drummer of merit and composer of magnitude, is one of them. He gathers together a group of these folks for an adventure in the new jazz, Cicada Music (Delmark 5006).

There's an excellent band in Rosaly on drums, piano and electronics, James Falzone, clarinet, Keefe Jackson, tenor sax, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, Jason Stein, bass clarinet, Jason Roebke, contrabass and cracklebox, and Jason Adasiewicz on vibes.

There are ten works to be heard. All in a way have something of the repetitive anarchy of cicadas, but never in any obvious ways. There are startling and engaging motives and some real ensemble colors to be heard with this unusual reed combination and what everybody is doing. And then of course there are some first-rate out-ish solos.

What I especially like is that you never can anticipate what is coming. It's totally without cliche and even without many of the reference points one might expect these days, though with all that bass clarinet going on with the vibes there is some very hip re-channeling of Dolphy, but again, not in any obvious way.

This one surprises but also confirms. Confirms that Rosaly and his compatriots are on some edge of newness. And it confirms that Chicago and new jazz go together as well as ever! Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Angelica Sanchez, Wadada Leo Smith, Twine Forest

Pianist Angelica Sanchez is one of those relatively new voices on the new jazz scene. She has great inventiveness, a harmonic-melodic brilliance which combines with a respect for the tradition that comes out in very original ways. She has been a part of some of Wadada Leo Smith's most important recent recordings and she now joins him in a series of trumpet-piano duets on Twine Forest (Clean Feed 287).

The two seem inspired, running through eight Sanchez compositions with greatly dramatic sympathy for one another's very music utterances. There is a poignant space that surrounds the two and punctuates their every phrase. It's the sort of outing where you hear new music avant influences in the overall matrix and then there are distinct blendings of that with a "jazz" sensibility. There are especially moving moments that have an out, yet bluesy soulfulness that Wadada and Angelica handle so well.

It's another breakthrough disk in many ways for Angelica; you hear her at great length and in inspired form. Wadada sounds his usual excellent self. There are very few out there who come close to his zen-like sound sculpture approach, his impeccable timing, his beautifully varied timbre and his always-right, always-meaningful entrances.

So if you follow the free, the new, the avant in "jazz" today, this is one not to pass by. Angelica Sanchez gives notice that she is here to stay and Wadada reminds us he's never left.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre Quartet, Musical Blessing

Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre left this earth this past November, after a long career dotted with important milestones and after garnering great respect from those who follow and make the new jazz music sometimes called "free".

He is gone but his recorded legacy remains for us to appreciate. One of his last recordings came out last year and shows him in good form. It is a quartet in his name and the title of the disk is Musical Blessing (CIMP 395).

Kalaparusha on tenor is joined by the acoustic basses of Michael Logan and Radu Ben Judah (aka Richard Radu Williams) and the drumming of the the prolific and percussively beautific Warren Smith.

It's a game combination that Smith particularly brings some strong, timely fire to, as you can depend upon. He is hard hitting, propulsive and creatively stoked throughout. The two bassists work well together and give considerable bottom drive to the pieces.

Kalaparusha sounds strong. After a bit of reed trouble that he works around well, he comes through with the sort of performance that made his reputation over the years. One thing Kalaparusha is not here and never was is a "lick" player. He creates his improvisations afresh every time out from the raw melodic-harmonic materials available to him, his interactions with the players on hand and the implications of the compositional materials that are put into play.

The disk contains a few somewhat unexpected touches--an impromptu version of Trane's "Impressions" and a mostly unaccompanied solo version of "The Very Thought of You," which Warren suggested Kalaparusha play in the manner he did when working his horn for subsistence on the NY subway--a sad reality and part of the reason he found himself caught as a new improviser in what he called a "starvation box". He is free of all that now. But we will miss him. We will remember him.

This disk is a fine tribute in its own way to his legacy. Kalaparusha puts himself out there like he always did, with no pretensions and just the love of playing to bring us to a good place. RIP, Kalaparusha.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Ralph Alessi, Baida

The trumpet has over the more than 100 years of jazz we know of become an instrument of central importance. I don't need to tell you this. But think of it. The trumpet is to jazz as the violin is to classical music. It's a pivotal instrument. (Just like the tenor is to the pianoforte in the two genres; but then the piano is to the piano, too!)

And Ralph Alessi is right there these days doing a pivotal advanced action. Sure there are others, too. A lot of very good ones out there. But listen to him on the recent Baida (ECM 2321) and you'll know he is in with the heavies.

There's a quartet of great players on this. Ralph, Jason Moran on piano, Drew Gress, bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums. They play around with rock-funk in a post-Milesian mode without channeling any of the usual riffs, just building off the feel and playing themselves along with Alessi compositional lines. They have free moments, they swing, and there is original music. That's what hits me especially--this music is a conceptual step ahead in feel, original compositional lines melding with state-of-the-art improvisation.

I don't need to tell you about these players if you know the music today, except to say they are in great form and Ralph shows you what he is made of!

I may be reviewing this one a little later than usual, but a couple of months doesn't change the fact that this album steps up to the plate and nails one out of here. Listen!!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Paul Carlon, La Rumba is a Lovesome Thing

Today, Latin jazz of a particular sort. It's tenor, soprano, flute-man Paul Carlon with a crack Latin big band doing Carlon arrangements of the music of Billy Strayhorn. La Rumba is a Lovesome Thing (Zoho 201309) gives you some excellent rumba-ed, Latinized Strayhorn, really hip arrangements of Billy works and a few he did in collaboration with the Duke, even an ear-opening version of the wildly modern "Tonk," originally a piano duet by the two.

There is room for some good soloing from Carlon and others and the Strayhorn gems are pretty much all here. It will get you off of your seat and it will do it in very cool ways. Oye!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Odean Pope Trio with Marshall Allen, In This Moment

I sometimes swear to myself that I will never again review music received as downloads. It is a nightmare of PDFs, clogged hard drives, download glitches that cause skips, drop outs and mysterious track disappearances, and toggling back and forth in totally counter-intuitive ways to get information that when in hard copy form takes only a minute to transcribe. Who says our technology is so great? A bunch of 12 year olds, mostly, who will soon learn perhaps that their future is dismal thanks in part to those "labor saving devices" we are no longer allowed to do without. You go shopping and see people smiling like idiots in the aisles because. . .not because they recognize you or your humanity, but because they are talking remotely to somebody you'll never know. It's a thankless, cold and nasty world out there. Our technology in some ways has made it worse. I am no Luddite, but the current state-of-the-world can be frustrating and alienating, OK? But no I know, it's all here to stay and I am in the thick of it without thought of turning back. We cannot.

Paradoxically I now get to the subject at hand, in a medium that would not have existed several decades ago. The CD thank the stars was received as a real concrete entity so I can get this review done in half the time and be sure that it will play on my machine as I typo-type this. So what is it all about? It's the master tenor Odean Pope, and I will take a leap and say of all the players out there, Maestro Pope is at the very top in terms of of unsung brilliance. Anyway it's the Odean Pope Trio with Marshall Allen and their recent release In the Moment (CIMP 394).

The group includes Marshall of course on alto plus Lee Smith on acoustic bass and Craig McIver on drums. The sound is full and purist in the CIMP fashion and that works out just fine. The group takes a pure music, gimmick-less approach, which is always the Pope method. Producer Bob Rusch has been a staunch supporter of such things and Odean's music for many decades, as many of you will know.

There is an Allen-Pope duo track and one with Pope and Smith. There is also a brief but interesting Lee Smith unaccompanied track. The rest is the band all the way. Allen and Pope, as you might expect, hit it off musically and have a sort of vinegar and oil identity-in-separateness which is quite pleasing. The Smith-McIver rhythm team get friction and frisson by playing a strong "hostess with the mostest" foundational role to some very hip two-horn improvisations, some hip horn solo moments and otherwise set the pace with heat and subtlety as needed.

The program is well thought-out and Pope's compositional sense gives it a guaranteed substance that the performances and improvisations make into an excellent totality.

This is free-thinking free music, with soul and thought put into every bar, not that bar lines are a big factor when the band gets full-out into the moment. In This Moment has that state-of-the-art feel to it. Pope is doing great work. You should support this music because it deserves support, but of course also because it is so good.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Remi Alvarez Trio, Lafahmisi

Mexico-City based tenor Remi Avarez keeps getting better and better. You can hear it in his new trio release Lafahmisi (Intolerancia 172). It's Remi plus Arturo Baez on the contrabass, Gustavo Nandayapa on drums. And they are inspired on this set. Eight tunes, all originals I believe, and it's fire-breathing all the way.

The rhythm section is hot and supercharged. Whether involved in advanced time or freetime, they are on it. When I first put this disk on I thought, "hmm...I hear Dewey Redman and/or Ornette on tenor being rechanneled!" but then the music shifted a bit. There are "new thing" roots to be detected here for sure but the trunk and branches are Remi and the trio, and they sound terrific.

Remi plays with an authority, command and fire I've not heard from him before. At least not like this. That's not to say that his earlier sides weren't excellent (type his name in the search box above and press enter for earlier reviews); they were. But the combination of this hard-charging rhythm section working with some very good compositional head material seems to have catapulted Remi into a really articulate, very steam-driven zone. His tone is edgy but full and he is in TOTAL COMMAND.

You must hear this, ye of the free persuasion. This sounds like a milestone to me. Viva Remi Alvarez; viva his trio!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Marilyn Lerner, Ken Filiano, Lou Grassi, Live in Madrid

When a music considered by most to be in the avant garde reaches a certain maturity, there usually is some sort of consensus among those practicing it as to what the language consists of, what has become standard operating procedure, that sort of thing. I am not sure that is the case today with the music ordinarily known as "free jazz". The music has license by its own definition to do whatever it sees fit at any given moment. One can of course group practitioners into various schools and some have done this, myself included at times. Yet the reality is at least at this point that "free" means there is free invention, that improvisation is a critical element, and that at least theoretically "anything goes". Of course there is nothing wrong with this. In fact it is a sign that the music is living, healthy, moving ahead.

I preface these comments to the album at hand today because my first reaction to it was, "oh, this is classically free piano trio music". Then I stopped myself. What can that mean? In any given point in the performances on this disk there are so many choices to be made by the three musicians collectively and individually that one could not say that the results are in any way predictable. And maybe that's crucial to what makes "free" music good.

What we have on hand is a recent disk, Live in Madrid (Cadence Jazz 1247). It involves Marilyn Lerner on piano, Ken Filiano on acoustic bass and Lou Grassi on drums. This is a well-recorded set they played live at a Musicalibre-sponsored 2012 Hurta Cordel Festival in January of that year.

There are three collective improvisations involved and they are by all definitions "free". The fact that each of the musicians are consummate masters of this musical zone of course has a great bearing on the results. You expect a certain level of interaction of all three in tandem; you expect solo moments where one of them steps forward, dynamic variations from quietude to rousing energetic fullness. You get all of that. Yet there is no real blueprint that an audience will have (if they know the music, anyway) about what should happen when.

What's especially good about this outing is just that. The three come together with highly inventive fare, each contributing in their own specific way whatever they deem goes together at any point. And it works, whether it's a full blown energy drive with each emerging from time to time with a riveting figure, then an equal sort of three way mix, then on again to someone coming a little forward to assert something else that stands apart, and so on.

The longish middle improvisation starts very quietly with a logic of bowed bass, malleted drums and inside-the-piano colors, gathers momentum with Marilyn emphasizing a repeating interval in her lower register that sets up freely articulated lines in the right hand while Lou's drums gather steam and Ken's bowing becomes more heated, switching to pizzicato while Lou switches to sticks and breaks out into a very busy, musical working of toms. This is what it's about. The arco solo that follows by Ken fits the sequence perfectly, too. And then it's on from there. It would mean virtually little if each musician did not have that inventive touch.

But of course they very much do. That's what makes this excellent "free jazz", a set that hangs together and builds excitement by the ecstasy of being in the moment. This is what musical creativity is about in the new improvisations today. Is it "classic" free jazz? In a way, yes, but not in any foreordained way. These three play what they hear and feel and the open form gives them all they need to place themselves in a state of continual invention.

So I would certainly recommend this one. Great trio sounds!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Burton Greene Trio, On Tour, 1966

Burton Greene deserves to be heard, both in terms of what he is doing now and as a pioneering pianist in the early "New Thing" era. His second album for ESP, the Burton Greene Trio On Tour (ESP 1074) is out on CD as part of ESP's anniversary commemoration, so here's a chance to check out some more from the early days.

It was recorded as part of the ESP New York State College tour that took place in the spring of 1966. I had the original LP back a little after its release but it is if I am hearing it for the first time now. And I find it intriguing.

The trio is notable for the presence of drummer Shelly Rusten, who didn't get a lot of exposure in terms of recordings in those days but had his own way. He plays "free" with a different approach than Sunny Murray or Barry Altschul did then. It's a lot of the full drum set in a virtuoso way and there is somewhat less of the sort of pulled-apart abstraction of "playing time" that you'd often get with Sunny or Barry. At least that's the impression I get listening. It makes the trio go in slightly different directions. Steve Tintweiss is on bass and plays in his own open-ended fashion as he did so effectively for others as well.

Burton Greene is his robust early self, playing inside the piano, hammering clusters, doing his all-over style and playing along with the other sequences one somewhat atypical number that starts with a more harmonically oriented tonal base than was the case with most of the free-compositional jumping-off platforms on the early recordings. But otherwise this is pretty firmly rooted in the free-out zone as you would expect.

It's an adventure and another important documentation of those first days of free jazz. It may not be Burton Greene's best album from the era but it's filled with some very bright moments and is a must-have for those who want to get a sense for the open possibilities available to the new thing then. It's been very hard to find in recent years so grab it now!