A few more interesting things that have crossed my desk recently... all are recommended!
RODRIGO AMADO / KENT KESSLER / PAAL NILSSEN-LOVE
The Abstract Truth
The son of a painter and an accomplished photographer himself, it’s not all that surprising that Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado is such a consistently invigorating improviser. Whether or not they’re explicit in his own leanly spiraling abstractions, having a broad base of creative stimulation outside the immediate must have an effect on Amado’s palette. The Abstract Truth joins him with Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (The Thing) and Chicago bassist Kent Kessler on eight collective improvisations, a follow up to 2005’s Teatro. The tunes here are punchy and more concise than those on the album’s predecessor, Amado’s rolling economy a good match for Kessler’s anchor and Nilssen-Love’s dry, detailed athleticism. One might expect a modern and mostly European tenor-based power trio to be either mechanically full bore or sparse and erudite. While moments of each occur throughout, there’s a seeker’s warmth and a loving, cottony delicacy to Amado’s playing, both of which contribute to the brightness of the trio’s music. With a recent US tour by the Humanization 4tet, one of a number of groups that count him among its members, one can only hope that Amado’s international visibility remains on the rise.
DENNIS GONZALEZ CONNECTICUT QUARTET
Songs of Early Autumn
I’ve probably stated this a few times elsewhere, but the dictum is true – that the music of the 1960s could not be played by today’s musicians simply because they are too technically proficient and know too much. Nevertheless, it’s sometimes refreshing to hear a player so hungry to make music that perhaps the record button is pressed before much wood-shedding has been done. Timo Shanko, normally thought of as a bassist, apparently hadn’t been biting the reed long when Songs of Early Autumn was recorded in 2005, under the leadership of trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez. That’s not to say he isn’t a “good” saxophonist – quite the contrary, he’s got a burnished tone and his phrase construction is based on meaty, barking lines. He and Gonzalez make an excellent front-line pair, the trumpeter’s steely punch shoring up Shanko’s screaming rough edges. Luther Gray and Joe Morris (on bass) make up the rhythm section, a loosely-knit surge of constant bedrock melody and ambiguous time. The session was recorded around the same time as Gonzalez’ No Photograph Available (Clean Feed) and, while not quite the hairy revivalism of that date, Songs of Early Autumn is an impressively natty disc.
It’s too bad that I got a hold of Addictive Tendencies well after the regular review-release cutoff (one year and some change) came around. Supposedly, there is more music with Tubby Hayes and drummer Tony Levin in the can waiting to be issued, and this two-disc set on Levin’s Rare Music label serves as an excellent primer. British saxophonist/flutist and vibraphonist (how’s that for a combo?) Hayes died in 1973 at the age of 38; one of the most respected jazzmen in England, his name should be mentioned alongside Rollins and Coltrane as one of the purest tenor saxophone improvisers in modern jazz. If he were American, that would be the case. His phrasing is wry, from buried quotes and dug deep into chords a la Trane, not to mention orchestrally thick and colorful. There’s really nobody else like him. Addictive Tendencies captures Hayes live in 1966 with his quartet of pianist Mike Pyne, bassist Ron Mathewson and Levin in the year leading up to the watershed Mexican Green LP. Hayes’ own tunes are interesting, but on well-worn standards he really lets fly – the scorching take on “Walkin’” that starts off the set is worth the price of admission alone, a real “Chasing the Tubbs” performance. The rhythm section is strong, Levin and Mathewson ratcheting the tempo and Pyne assembling a jovial, percussive amble on a decidedly out-of-tune instrument. On “Alone Together,” Hayes’ turns are tough and imply a wrought, poetic companionship at a cage-rattling clip. Addictive Tendencies is an absolutely incredible set, a must for any fan of modern jazz and the tenor saxophone in particular. Better late than never.
Sensible Shoes is the fourth disc by English jazz-rock quintet Led Bib and their first for a US label. Elsewhere the group has been called the “future of jazz” which probably relates to the fact that they draw from sources like noise-rock and prog as much as they do the jazz/free improvisation continuum. All but one of the compositions are by drummer Mark Holub, who has a top-heavy attack without sounding bludgeoning – on the opening “Yes, Again,” my first point of comparison was with Exploding Customer percussionist Kjell Nordeson. Careening keyboard gloop and fuzz bass recall the Soft Machine though the approach here is down, dirty and far less minimal. In fact, the simplicity of the pummeling arrangements fits in with groups like The Thing, though the soft, bubbly tones of altoists Chris Williams and Pete Grogan give the music an airy quality even within segments of heavy thrash. “Early Morning” begins with a salty two-alto statement of the ballad theme, soon joined by light rhythm plod and clusters of electric organ. Percussive piling and an insistent bass vamp buoy keening alto as keyboardist Toby McLaren wraps romantic snatches around and underneath the ensemble. “2.4:1 (still equals none)” is another spare piece, placing high-pitched burbling electronics alongside a spare alto and bass walk. These are areas of tension in an often explosive, jaunty set. For those who like their jazz tinged with gritty prog and vice versa, Sensible Shoes is recommended.
JOHN PILCHER/MARTIN McKELVEY
A Bun Dance
This disc arrived on my doorstep in the waning days of Bagatellen, a bedroom-concréte duo of pioneers in rural New Zealand crafting compositions from electronic sources, found sounds, and guitar. The tapes apparently lay dormant for nearly thirty years until their excavation at the beginning of the 2000s. Initially these collages might sound a little dated; there’s bit of the Apollo moon landing speech gummed up and overrun with buzzing, rising tones, and it’s hard not to separate a sample like that from its (at one time) cultural ubiquity. But objectively, Pilcher and McKelvey – through tapes, feedback, looping and guitar plink – do (or did) create some certifiably unruly homemade electronic music. “Collection Plate” begins with wrangled six-strings buried in tape garble, only to return in snatches of distant lo-fi fuzz and shaky acoustic pluck, equal parts Dead C and MEV. Percussive rattle, accordion/melodica-like fragmented wheeze, and wiry dissolving progressions mark “Song for O,” like most of the pieces here a brief extract of something probably larger. The inclusion of bits of melody and drumset tap within a larger electronic stew, no matter how futzed with, give the recordings humanity. That's likewise indicated by tape hiss and ragged edges. The longer-form pieces don’t always hold attention - wandering collages of defiled audio snippets, occasionally invaded by damaged acoustic music. The seven-minute “Ohmn” is probably the most intriguing, a la Robert Ashley’s “Wolfman” with a psychedelic tinge. In all, this is a fascinating collection of work that stands in powerful relief to academic electronic music of the same era.
Improvising percussionist Weasel Walter is an extraordinarily busy leader, and also not a patient person. He would rather put the time and effort into releasing music on his own ugExplode label than wait around for one of the myriad other indie jazz outfits to pick it up. Apocalyptik Paranoia is a split release with the French Gaffer label (Shiek Anorak), featuring guitarist Henry Kaiser, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, and trumpeters Peter Evans, Forbes Graham and Greg Kelley in various combinations. “Scintillations” was probably taken from the Plane Crash session, and is a fine (if brief) example of the gestural clarity Walter strives for in both dense and spare improvisation. A duo with Kaiser in constant pattering phrase elaboration – wry, free-bluesy guitar plinks offset by an orbit of sharp stabs, taut and ritualistic patterns with a basis in Tony Oxley, Milford Graves and Hiroshi Yamazaki. “Threnody,” for two trumpets, guitar, cello, electronics and percussion, mixes folksy pluck, Walter’s ricochets, a skewed electric drone and Evans’ cyclical swagger. At higher levels of density, mass and specifics become entangled at a level that makes them hard to parse. Pieces like “Mass Erection” and “Raging War” are respectable in their extremity but at the expense of confounding interaction – the brief but incredible Kelley/Evans duet on “Creaking Bones Break,” for example. If that is the sound of the apocalypse, count me in for a ticket.