Friday, November 30, 2012

Huseyin Ertunç Trio performing Phill Musra's "The Cretor Spaces" (Musiki - Intex, 1974)

A new world of improvisational freedom opened up for me when I first heard drummer Huseyin Ertunç's 1974 LP Musiki (Intex), with reedmen/multi-instrumentalists/brothers Phill Musra and Michael Cosmic. Ertunç returned to his native Turkey about twenty years ago (and performs with the Konstrukt collective), but Musra - this tune's composer - now resides in Los Angeles and, as regular readers of this blog know, is still active in music. Although I initially assumed that Musiki and Musra's companion LP The Creator Spaces were recorded at the same session, in truth Musiki was recorded months earlier. The Creator Spaces is a bit more spacious than Ertunç's date, though both are quite intense documents of self-produced and spiritually-directed improvisation. Knotty and weird, there's a folksy unhinged-ness that really spoke to me in a way quite different from Albert Ayler, the AACM, and other music I was spending time with when I dropped the needle on the trio's debut album. Ertunç's percussion work really shocked me and it's still absolutely fascinating (as you'll hear below), and Cosmic's organ playing behind/around Musra's tenor is just... something else. A CD reissue was floating around a few years ago and can probably still be procured.

My hope is to get Musra out to the East Coast next year for performances in Boston and Brooklyn. More details on that as things come together, of course. Though Michael Cosmic passed in 2001, there's also hope that Musra and Ertunç might be able to get together and perform again. But for now, enjoy "The Creator Spaces" and keep your eyes and ears peeled for more.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Briefly Reviewed: Giving the Drummers Some

I am slowly getting back into reviewing post-relocation, so today I present some capsule statements on a number of drummer-led dates. Dig in and support independent creative music.

Tragedies of Love

Percussionist Laurence Cook isn’t exactly a household name (who in this music is?), but as far as sensitive, swinging fire-stokers go, he should be better known. Having recorded and performed with trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon, pianist Paul Bley, vibraphonist Bobby Naughton and altoist Jemeel Moondoc (among others) over the past four decades, Tragedies of Love is the first disc to have his name first on the marquee. On five improvisations recorded live in 2009 at Outpost 186 in Cambridge, MA, Cook coaxes, caresses and spars with squirrelly alto firebrand Jim Hobbs. In phrasing and tone, both players are acerbic and unpredictable, but neither quality necessarily abandons lyricism – in this sense, Hobbs and Cook are very well matched. The recording isn’t exactly high fidelity but it doesn’t need to be – this is raw and energetic music rendered dryly and honestly, mirroring the pair’s sensitivity.

The Air is Different
Though Tomas Fujiwara is firmly associated with the avant-garde, working with Anthony Braxton, Mary Halvorson, Taylor Ho Bynum and the Steve Lacy repertory ensemble Ideal Bread, the Alan Dawson-schooled drummer’s own unit fits more staunchly within the post-bop milieu. On the group’s second album, The Air is Different, Fujiwara is joined by Halvorson, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, tenorman Brian Settles and bassist Trevor Dunn (replacing Danton Boller). As fluid and stately as the music is – muscular brass and reed lines that open up into wide areas for soli and collective improvisation – Fujiwara’s compositions never stray far from the beat. As the front line makes direct connections between sparsely placed dots, flinty grooves keep the music in continual, intelligent motion. The link between Dunn’s supple and precise pizzicato and Fujiwara’s deft, often airy application of tempo makes for a well-oiled machine. In the annals of drummer-led groups, such as Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers or Max Roach’s various ensembles, the drums are often front and center. The same isn’t exactly true for The Hook Up – while the “one” is abundantly clear, the pieces’ expression is entirely collective while also beautifully ornamented. That said, the attendant heel tapping is impossible to keep in check.

(Singlespeed Music)

Incline presents duets between Swedish percussionist Kjell Nordeson and Bay Area reedman Aram Shelton (heard here on alto saxophone). Both musicians are now West Coast players even though they are associated with scenes elsewhere. Shelton remains firmly tied to his Chicago past, while Nordeson (a veteran of Scandinavian-centric groups AALY, School Days, and Angles) is now studying at UC San Diego. Even as the participants are composers of challenging work, the upshot of this music is that it’s immediately infectious and one can feel its taut energy, even on sparser pieces. While not “exercises,” these duets are notable for being highly concentrated. Certainly limiting one’s performance palette can result in striking thematic developments, and Nordeson and Shelton hew to these sorts of tests with interesting results. Shelton’s burred extrapolations are hotly reminiscent of Roscoe Mitchell on the opening “Village” and elicit a soulful calm on “Test,” his phrases lined by detailed accents and micro-surges. The saxophonist’s breathy subtones and flutter-tonguing on “Grade” are delicately matched by Nordeson’s damped staccato, leading into the unaccompanied alto veers of “Rig.” Afro-Latin and kwela intersect on the wonderful “Soles,” highly reminiscent of Marion Brown’s 1967 recordings with Han Bennink (Porto Novo, Polydor), albeit sans bass. Incline is an exciting and thoughtful duet album that shouldn’t escape notice.

Camino Cielo Echo

Drummer Tom Rainey is another percussionist who has, despite a long career in this music, only recently stepped out as a leader. Camino Cielo Echo is his second disc with a trio comprised of guitarist Mary Halvorson and tenor/soprano saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock (following 2010’s Pool School on Clean Feed), tackling a program of thirteen shortish compositions by each group member. All three musicians have worked together across a variety of ensembles for a number of years, so the trio is as much a cooperative venture/shared language development as it is Rainey’s vehicle (notably, all three are also in Laubrock’s Anti-House), and the tunes seem more like outgrowths of that collective voice rather than individual nodes. Sonically, noise-rock energy sussed out from Halvorson’s guitar and battery of pedals complements Rainey’s arch, classicist and dynamic push, while Laubrock threads a sonic focus that’s equal parts Wayne Shorter and Evan Parker. Whether embracing group stomps (“Two Words”) with an incisive fracas (“Mullet Toss”) or a winnowed and muted palette (“Metal Stencil”), the trio present a well-balanced if somewhat reserved approach to group composing. Even in the hairiest moments, the music feels as though it hasn’t completely let fly. My ears might want a little more willful destruction, but perhaps that is beside the point of this trio’s work.

Clean on the Corner

Chicago drummer Mike Reed works in a variety of settings, but my feeling is that People, Places & Things might be the most rewarding of his talents as a bandleader on disc. The group is basically a quartet consisting of bassist Jason Roebke, altoist Greg Ward and tenorman Tim Haldeman, and has employed a fascinating range of guest improvisers including Ira Sullivan, Jeb Bishop, David Boykin, and Art Hoyle. One of the most interesting aspects of People, Places & Things is the fact that the ensemble’s book includes rather striking renditions of lesser-known Chicagoland tunes including those of Sun Ra, Wilbur Campbell, Clifford Jordan, and John Jenkins. Album number four, Clean on the Corner, augments the basic quartet on two tunes each with pianist Craig Taborn (who is wonderful on a rollicking, explosive and Ra-esque arrangement of altoist Jenkins’ “Sharon”) and cornetist Josh Berman. There’s also a wonderfully loping version of Roscoe Mitchell’s “Old” (the esteemed saxophonist and composer took part in Reed’s Empathetic Parts disc, with the drummer’s Loose Assembly), on which Ward almost seems to reach back to Mitchell’s cusp with obsessive bluesy shouts. Co-penned with vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, “House of Three Smiles” is languid and glassy, culminating in terse, bunched notes, and one can feel the open-stop swirls of the author’s hand even without the vibes being present. Perhaps it’s safe to say that Adasiewicz is, at a young age, becoming quite a distinctive composer. Reed’s “The Lady Has a Bomb” is a loose anthem in the vein of mid-Sixties Don Cherry, though the tempo sections support fiery Latinate gobs in Haldeman’s curious swagger. “Where the Story Ends” is a thick ballad that shifts into dusky conversation during the saxophonists’ solos, maintaining tension throughout. A bracing cooperative, People, Places & Things engage tradition in its most rugged aspects, putting the “Sound of Joy” into modern Chicago jazz.

Montreal Parade
(482 Music

If it seems like the reviews here are 482 Music-heavy, it’s partly because the well-regarded East Coast label has consistently documented several drummer-led or percussion-centric ensembles, including Chicago saxophonist Dave Rempis’ twin-engine unit. Montreal Parade is the quartet’s fifth album and alongside stalwart drummers Frank Rosaly and Tim Daisy, the disc features bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten occupying a chair formerly held by Anton Hatwich. In a free improvising ensemble it’s especially true that, in order to shift the compositional structure one has to shift the personalities. That goes both for the change in bassists and Rempis’ varied saxophone resources. While Hatwich is an excellent anchor, Flaten’s robust and frenetic approach adds breadth to the proceedings. Flaten and Rosaly also have an interesting history together – both musicians have collaborated in the bassist’s Chicago Sextet (with Rempis) and The Young Mothers as well as the Scorch Trio with guitarist Raoul Björkenheim. Montreal Parade features two lengthy group improvisations totaling an hour; at times the percussionists are coloristically orchestrated and flit diffusely while in other instances, such as the beginning of “If You Were a Waffle and I Were a Bee,” they play a swinging Kenny Clarke/Kenny Clare role a la the CBBB (with Rempis as Pete King). Rempis is given to excitable and searing phrases, loquacious and steely – one can almost feel the sweat and spit flying as Flaten, Rosaly and Daisy tug and yaw to keep a massive freight of rhythm and color on the rails. In sparser moments, husky baritone sputter is the anchor to Flaten’s fingerboard glisses and a range of microscopic accents. Going on eight years of togetherness, they remain a group to keep a bead on.

Aurora Distillations

Auroura Distillations presents an LP’s worth of duets between percussionist/composer Paul Kikuchi and alto saxophonist Wally Shoup (there is one percussion solo, “Aperture,” which opens side two). It’s a bridge between Kikuchi’s sonic research leanings (with Stuart Dempster, among others) and contemporary improvisational acumen (the post-Carter/Bradford Empty Cage Quartet), and finds the pair exploring space and resonance in an abandoned and partially collapsed railroad tunnel in Stevens Pass, Washington. Shoup’s tack is often searing, but here he sounds positively introspective and subdued – but that doesn’t mean the music isn’t fraught with intensity, for the duo’s economy of phrase combined with reverberant spatial sound-mapping makes for powerful results. Across four improvisations the pair – or trio, as the space is certainly an active participant – document an interesting relationship between musical and spatial action. The environment is resonant and present, but at the same time the recording does not feel overpowered by where it took place. Both open and narrow, Aurora Distillations presents a simple and effective imprint of conversations between air, limbs and concrete.

Ominous Telepathic Mayhem

This recent compilation features duets between erstwhile New York (ex-Chicago/Oakland) drummer and improvising composer Weasel Walter and a host of partners, some regular and others less so. Split across five improvisations, all three members of the Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans trio are represented, in a pair of frantically unhinged trumpet and drum duets with Evans and three explosive and colorful guitar-drum charges that build on 2007’s wonderful Opulence (ugExplode). Both players have evolved in the ensuing years and these raucous and compelling 2009 pieces shows that quite clearly. Walter and altoist Darius Jones have collaborated most notably in earlier editions of the Marc Edwards-Weasel Walter Group, and Jones’ bluesy entreaties have also graced the noisy no wave/improvisation quartet Little Women. Whereas Jones’ playing is often granted such qualifiers as “searching” and “spiritual,” these pieces are crueler and more aggressive. Even if the saxophonist does bring out a curious, almost swinging sense of motion in Walter’s phrasing, the result is fairly absurd. English clarinetist Alex Ward is always a treat to hear, and three roguish duets swiping titles from early Pere Ubu tunes (“Non-Alignment Pact”/ “Final Solution”/ “30 Seconds over Tokyo”) add Ward’s distorted and tinny guitar to the mix alongside Walter’s disembodied clarinet mouthpiece. Ominous Telepathic Mayhem is a fine sampling of Weasel Walter’s work in settings that are equal parts stripped-down and full, geared to both the ugEX neophyte and collector. This disc is also an excellent complement to the forthcoming Unplanned Obsolescence LP with altoist Chris Pitsiokos.