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The blog covers releases in the areas of free and mainstream jazz, world music, "art" rock, and the blues. Classical coverage, which was originally here, continues on the Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review
The thing about Bob Gluck? He is a glorious pianist and electronician. And he writes wonderful books on important jazz-historical topics. We get another chance to appreciate the former expression sets on the recent album he made with world-class drummer Tani Tabbal, namely At This Time: Duets (Ictus 181).
It is thoughtful kind of freedom to be heard in this set. Bob wields the acoustic piano and live synth with articulate vision, pacing through logically meandering improvs and focal renditions of some classics like "Sanctuary," the Chilean anthem "The People United", and "I Fall in Love Too Easily" (associated with Miles Davis and Gluck's latest book The Miles Davis "Lost" Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles). Tani Tabbal can always be relied upon to grace a session with very musical drumming. He does so here, providing parallel percussion lines and timbres that come up alongside Bob's intricate piano and electronics freedom with a drum set freedom that remains independent of the Gluckian arc of improv yet is not at all divorced from it. It is not a line imitation but instead a formidable second line.
The electronics part of Bob's improvisations are special. He to my mind is one of a handful of improvisers today who has mastered the electronics idiom as one of special timbres and wide spatial outpourings. Jean-Marc Foussat, Denny Zeitlin, Rob Mazurek and George Lewis come to mind as other very significant practitioners. I am sure I inadvertently leave out others.
The piano-drums segments show too that Gluck is very much his own free yet rooted 88.
At This Time, Duets is surely one of the primo key outings of the past year. Needless to say I recommend you listen carefully. It is very much worth your time.
So hey it seems time once again to explain myself. What in tarnation am I doing and why? The answer is simple. I have no idea what I am doing! No, I am kidding. In the world today much of what we know is on a need-to-know basis. So why know what you do not NEED to know? Why anything? When I come on here and plug my new, 12th CD Pastoral Dream I, it is not out of a lusty desire for mountains of shiny lucre. Face it, making my music at this point is not going to make me rich.
What matters right now is the music on Pastoral Dream I. What is the narrative behind it? What is there musically and how do I see it? And why would you find it something you might consider as an addition to your music piles and your listening life?
So What of It?
Really, so what? The music you hear on Pastoral Dream I (Ruby Flower CD) was put together over a number of years. It captures a fleeting dream mood that depicts the musical search, love-making and loss of a phantom ballerina that took shape in my head when first listening to the old rock song "Pretty Ballerina."
Like Piaget's idea of the perception of infants, that an object is only thought present when physically in front of him or her, the ballerina is here-gone in the dream, but the dreamer gradually believes she exists still, and searches for her continually over various pastoral landscapes.
The music is all virtual multiple me's occupying many tracks, instruments and subjected to studio enchantments to make of it an orchestral whole. Volume two will continue the journey and cover new ground.
A Bit More on the Music
Just because the music exists alongside a programmatic concept does not mean that the music was put together solely to exemplify that. Some of it was fashioned before I had the idea, but makes present in sound the dreamy search. All of the music has a mood consistent with the story-idea of the search and the pastoral landscape. Yet it was conceived in purely musical terms, though in the back of my head I was thinking about the here-gone dream I have had for so many years.
The album begins with some evocative electro-acoustics and a couple of simple early studio history quartet jams that reflect the utter joy I felt playing the guitar again after a long pause. They are not technically astute in any way, but they are that joy as was the pastoral dream traversal and singular life search.
The last three numbers form the core of Volume One. As previously the Psyche Mobius Machina Garage Orchestra is an orchestra-sized collective gathering of an electric guitar section, a synth strings section, multiple keyboards appearing as themselves, bass guitars, a percussion section of drum set and other percussion, and a small "choir" at times, all put together layer-by-layer in my studio as I played all the instruments and sang the parts one-by-one.
"Holiday Flubber" begins the sequence with a somewhat mysterious orchestral new music improv. The entire unfolding is based on a first-take, thematically diverse keyboard improvisation, which then becomes the multi-dimensional root to the many part construction that makes up the whole that we hear. The acute absence of the ballerina is felt especially around the holidays and the by-product flubber that holiday celebrating makes present is a poor substitute indeed.
From there the central theme of "Pretty Ballerina" comes to the forefront in a slow and sultry orchestral blanket that has a rather orgasmic core. It is in the very expressive lyrical cosmic zone that seemed just right for the transformation made possible by the Garage Orchestra.
From there the definitive mix of "Paiute Gathering Pinenuts" gives a final climactic send-off for Volume One. Paiute Indian women gather pinenuts in the woodlands while the menfolk are off hunting game. Why are we here? They sing of that wonder as the ballerina is off someplace unseen. It is a sort of prog-minimalist psychedelic paean to life in nature, to a pastoral dreamtime that has its actual dimensions in a communio with the natural world. A cosmic drone rock anthem builds slowly and in the end the movements of the earth around the sun takes over the aural plane of sound with a cosmic spinning of infectious (I hope) intensity.
That Pretty Much Covers What I Want to Say
And that is what you can hear if you get the CD. Volume 2 will follow shortly and take up where the first volume leaves off, including a Four Seasons for King Oak and the Ballerina as a Young Girl. Meanwhile you can grab the first volume at Amazon now by following the link:
Before the year ends I need to cover an album that deserves to rank among the year's best. I refer to Wadada Leo Smith's CD Najwa (TUM CD 049). It's an electric freedom here. Trust Wadada to do that right. He heads up a really fine all-star lineup: Michael Gregory Jackson, Henry Kaiser, Brandon Ross and Lamar Smith on guitars, Bill Laswell on the electric bass, Pheeroan AkLaff on drums, Adam Rudolph on percussion, and of course Wadada on trumpet.
It's post-Milesian psychedelic avant music done to a turn. This is the Yo Miles idea allowed to blossom out and find its very personal, conclusive-for-now expression. Any of you who might have been skeptical about electric music, the classic Miles sides, and all the other things wonderful that have come out then and since (and I think you were wrong about that) listen to this and think again. For this in a way is a conceptual, compositional and improvisational culmination of all that. But there is still more Miles and Miles to go in this genre. It is by no means a dead creative avenue. Just listen to this one and use your imagination.
It is supremely balanced, elevated freedom music. And again, if you think we do not need freedom, look around. Some people may think they did it and do it "my way." No way to some of those folks. Your way? No, this way, please. Step forward or step aside.
There is a wonderful balance between AkLaff's churning drums, Laswell's smartly solid bass anchoring, the beautiful coloring and punch or the guitars and Wadada's supremely soulful smarts on the trumpet.
You wonder where it is going yet it is already there and moving ahead always. THIS is part of that.
Whoever you are, and I no doubt know many of you personally, I enjoin you to give this music some close and repeated attention. It is forward moving and a joy to hear.
I've come across some threads in social media lately, asking why it is that no major innovators have emerged on the new jazz scene today. A good answer by I-forget-who was that the scene has changed so that there is important work being done, but that none of it has been centrally confined to a few major figures. It is true. Part of that is a product of so much new jazz having become available these days via a combination of numerous smaller boutique labels, self-releases and the major jazz conduits. There are local hotbeds of progressive jazz and improvisation all over the world right now, with a sizable number of artists advancing the music in slow increments perhaps, but at the same time codifying and synthesizing the implications of major and some rather obscure artists who have helped make things the way they are now.
It is true in general also of modern classical composers and avant rock artists. The promotion of the next big thing is no longer a priority with the moneyed music business interests as a rule, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Absolute hegemony in modern music scenes would kill off much of what is excellent out there that did not fit the bill of the would-be big avant stars of the present.
And perhaps it is so that the mainstream audiences for such things is no longer very large, though one might argue all-the-more dedicated. Much of new jazz is an underground affair. The available work in clubs and concerts has shrunk a good deal in the last 30 years, making it necessary for hyper-local scenes to remain relatively isolated and insular. Like the old territory bands, there are sub-genres in new jazz, quite a few if you take the time to locate them. All this is probably a good thing for the quantity of good-to-excellent new jazz emerging out there. It is decidedly not a very good trend for the economic health of the artists.
With all this in mind I turn to a recent release that exemplifies the importance of new jazz along with its sometimes obscurity. Here we have Abstract Window (WhyPlayJazz RS032), featuring drummer Kasper Tom Christianson, pianist Alexander Von Schippenbach and clarinet-bass clarinet master Rudi Mahall. It is a European free date that allows a very creative and spontaneous frisson of eloquent free invention from three important figures very much active today.
Kasper Tom may be less known but he shows us he is fully worthy to be in the company of these two stellar artists. The program consists of 11 relatively short improvisations that cohere in the best senses of what the jazz-past-drenched realm of freedom in Europe means today.
All three are in mutually coherent dialog throughout, each responding on a three-way channel of independence-through-togetherness synchronicity.
It is an exciting example of one subrealm of free improv jazz that continues to grow and evolve today.
More you will understand if you give this album some deep listening. It is in its own way landmark.
For the 100th Thelonious Monk birthday year we have an issue of a rather obscure Monk studio session from Europe, 1964. It comes in the form of a deluxe 2-CD set. Les Liaisons Dangereuses features Monk with Barney Wilen and Charlie Rouse, plus Sam Jones and Art Taylor. A short version of the spiritual "We'll Understand it Better Bye and Bye" is one of the more unique features of this set, but there are others as well.
An unusual arrangement of "Light Blue" with an off-kilter drum part is also notable, here present in two different versions plus a set of rehearsal takes (the latter of which is not essential).
The band is definitely on it and Monk himself is in top form. We get several solo Monk versions of things and multiple takes of "Rhythm-a-Ning" of "Crepuscule with Nellie," a single take of "Six in One," two solo takes of "Pannonica" and two quartet takes, and so forth.
Any Monk fan will find all of this a delight. If they had left out the rehearsal takes of "Light Blue" it all would fit comfortably on a single CD. On the other hand a Monk devotee would hardly quibble about this, as the content is primo and a refreshing go for this period. Therefore I do shout the praises of this offering! Monk ever lives.
As we celebrate and commemorate the 100th birthday of Thelonious Monk, we mark the occasion in a number of ways. Perhaps no more touchingly and succinctly a marking can be found than on trumpet master Wadada Leo Smith's Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk (TUM CD 053).
The premise is simple: turn Wadada loose in the studio with just his trumpet and some clear ideas on how solo improvisations can capture the essence of Monk's special mastery while also allowing Wadada to create art wholly his own.
This is tour de force trumpet artistry and a source of insight into Wadada the gifted improvisational inventor. Every phrase seems deliberate, nothing is as if an aside.
You hear Wadada as he is right now, an artist who in a way has come full circle through Yo Miles and ambitious jazz compositions, all of a very high order. Now once again he proudly proclaims his artistic independence as a player and in the process shows his great respect and love for the master, Thelonious Monk.
I could blather on at great length here. It is not entirely necessary. Suffice to say that Wadada Leo Smith is one of our real treasures, a giant among American artists living and excelling today, one of the world's musical wonders, so to speak.
He says it all with the utmost of inspiration and compactness, with just his trumpet and all his considerable innovative faculties.
Can I suggest you get this and live with the music for a while? You'll come away with something you would not have inside you otherwise, maybe. That is how rewarding this set is.
There is a special place in my heart for both Hindustani (North) and Carnatic (South) Indian Classical Music. I grew up at a time when there was an intersection of Indian Classical and Rock, much to do with Beatle George Harrison studying with the great Ravi Shankar. It opened up vistas for those who took it seriously, and I did. The rest has been a joyous exploration for me and I am grateful to have been present when it entered Western cultural consciousness and allowed us a pathway to its full presence.
This new recording, Peace Worshipers (Affetto 1706), by arguably the greatest living Hindustani exponent of the Sarod, Amjad Ali Khan, and his colleagues Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash on sarods and Elmira Darvarova on violin is very worthy of our attention. It brings to us the excitement of Jugalbandi (duet improvisations on a Raga structure) and the freewheeling compositional possibilities both inherent in Jugalbandi and beyond.
Most of the music is based on a particular Raga and composed by Amjad Ali Khan, There is also a recomposition of a Bulgarian folk song by Elmira Darvarova.
Davarova is a very fine violinist who fits in well with the Indian classicists. She and Amjad turn in some beautiful performances. And the ensemble as a whole engages in exciting and beautiful exchanges. Some of it reminds of Ravi Shankar's elaborate compositions that went into synchronized variations and thematic expositions based on but travelling beyond Indian tradition. Other have the subtle Jugalbandi interplay.
It is music in every way worth your time. Amjad Ali Khan brings brilliance to our ears in his lively and beautiful compositions. And the playing is all you could hope for. This is a stunner! Grab it by all means.
The dance music of Cuba is as beautiful to me, when well done, as anything I've heard. And when dance elements combine with a pronounced jazz flavor, so much the better. This holds true of the Maykel Elizarde Group and their recent album South County (Ansonica AR0004). It features the exceptional tres guitar of the bandleader, the fine vocals of Yudelkys Perez Jure, and a very together ensemble that includes six other fine musicians and some welcome guests.
The music is very lively, with the tres holding forth nicely, percussion and bass laying down a rock solid foundation and flute and ensemble embellishing it all while Yudelkys' voice soars atop in those numbers where she is featured. Tres solos sprinkle the music with a brilliance anyone can recognize.
In short this is contemporary Cuban music of real distinction, something that sounds great any time of day, any season, whenever you are in the mood to groove and stretch your soul. Recommended. Viva Ansonica Records for bringing this to us.
Jazz, excellent jazz can still be found. You may not be able to comb the stacks of a trusted record store this day and unearth something that causes you to try out an unknown possibility. Yet we still can take a chance and open up another set of fine musicians that interconnect. I get an awful lot as a reviewer and so get exposed to things in bulk. What emerges from all the listening I must do are various "finds," new worlds of jazz that my ear hears and appreciates whereas in earlier times I had less exposure to this much new music. So I try and help you with various possibilities you might not otherwise be hipped to.
Such an album is most definitely Brian Lynch's Hollistic MusicWorks Presents Tone Twister by Rob Schneiderman (Hollistic MusicWorks HMW 16). It is finely honed quintet jazz capturing the essence of classic Blue Note hard bop in the finely composed, arranged and nicely improvised mode. The piano-trumpet-tenor-bass-drums instrumentation of course is venerable. It is made concrete by the fine players who form Hollistic MusicWorks: Rob Schneiderman on piano, Brian Lynch on trumpet, Ralph Moore on tenor, Gerald Cannon on bass and Pete Van Nostrand on drums. All very good players well suited for the music Schneiderman envisions.
"Unforgettable" is the one standard we hear, and it forms a familiar island in a sea of inventive hard bop. The rest are Schneiderman-penned numbers, each with an element of style known well to us, Latin-tinged, loping, swinging funk, boplicitous excursions, mid-Trane-ish, Tyneresque feels, Monk-Duke modes, in short a good variety of moods and grooves. Within the whole there are nicely tight interlocking horn voicings, piano strengths and subtleties, and a continual powering by the rhythm team. A happy confluence is what we get throughout. Put it on and engage!
Nothing can be taken for granted in music or in life. Yet Denny Zeitlin and George Marsh have been playing together off and on so long and so productively that we might be guilty of overlooking just how much they have grown as individuals and as musical partners over the years. It has not been a continuous unbroken association since Denny had George on hand as a part of an excellent trio in the late '60s.
So with a new installment of their work together at hand, Expedition, Duo Electro-Acoustic Improvsations (Sunnyside SSC 1487), we are well served by listening closely.
Denny, of all the pianists that expanded from just acoustic piano to a live combination of the acoustic instrument and multiple synths, etc., has been one of the most brilliant exemplars of maintaining a very high level of musicality while orchestrating the notes with a composer's sense of variation in timbres and textures.
George in the meantime has become the ideal drummer in such a setting, with a sure sense of swing and a beautiful full and varied drum set sound.
The new one flows so well and so musically that I feel we are in the presence, that a lifetime of talent, and musical soul and brains is culminating in some of the very best "electro-acoustic" jazz ever! This one really ravishes our musical senses and gives us a virtual jazz orchestra that will make a believer out of the mouldiest figs of acoustic purity. This is above all integrated spontaneity, with complete timbral mastery joining fittingly with free jazz inventiveness of the highest order.
In the listening is the confirmation. Expedition is one of the finest jazz albums of the year!
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