A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: April, 2011

Recycled Goods (#84)

by Tom Hull

Still marking time, picking off targets opportunistically rather than making any sort of systematic effort to find out what's new in old and to sort it out. Koivistoinen is a worthy Jazz CG album that I decided to spend more space on here; in turn it led to me to the earlier Sarmanto reissues. Carmen McRae and Chris Connor came up as discussion topics from Christgau's Expert Witness commentariat -- the former a pick, the latter just a query -- so I thought I'd use Rhapsody to investigate further. Everything else started with trying to flesh out some background info on Misha Mengelberg to get a better grasp on a couple Jazz CG albums. After running through the Mengelberg on Rhapsody, I found a couple old FMP items over at Destination Out, then one thing led to another. This is the first time I've noticed whole albums available there -- they run a lot of individual cuts, which isn't very satisfactory for the reviewing I do. Perhaps I should look for other sites like that as a way to broaden what I can cover?

The upshot is that I have a lot of jazz and nothing else. As long as I'm being unsystematic, I guess that's a risk. No news on where this is going over the longer term. Not even any speculation.

Eero Koivistoinen & Co.: 3rd Version (1973 [2010], Porter): Finnish saxophonist near the start of a long and distinguished career. I imagine him listening to the contemporary English avant-garde, which took account of John McLaughlin's guitar and prog rock keybs and spun them in more radical directions. With Kukka Tolonen on guitar and Heikki Sarmanto on electric piano, some furtive bird sounds, and blazing sopranino-to-tenor sax. A-

Carmen McRae: Carmen Sings Monk (1988 [2001], RCA Bluebird): A singer renowned for her studious fidelity to the lyric sheet, in many ways the polar opposite of Jon Hendricks, who wrote seven of thirteen lyrics here -- or more accurately, slapped them on the sides of bebop riffs like hit-and-run graffiti. McRae doesn't do Hendricks justice; she does him a big favor, not so much taking the words seriously as tucking them so neatly back into Monk's bent tunes newbies may not realize how out of joint they are. Also helps that the band, including the redoubtable Charlie Rouse -- Monk's main man on tenor sax -- handles the music with the proper respect. A- [R]

Carmen McRae: Sarah: Dedicated to You (1990 [2003], RCA Bluebird): Sarah Vaughan, of course -- McRae never had a problem looking up to the other greats because she was too modest and proper to be one herself. Nothing here by Vaughan, none of her trademark phrasing or scat. Even the songs I know from Vaughan I know just as well from others, so while the tribute is sincere, this could just as well be McRae's own show, and really it is, not least because she's managed to clean up all the ego and fetishism that made Sassy so difficult and annoying. By the way, the exceptionally talented pianist who holds this together is Shirley Horn, who declined to sing. B+(***) [R]

Misha Mengelberg/Steve Lacy/George Lewis/Harjen Gorten/Han Bennink: Change of Season (Music of Herbie Nichols) (1984 [1986], Soul Note): Nichols cut three CDs worth of material for Blue Note in 1955-56, a bit more or Bethlehem in 1957, then fell out of sight and died young in 1963. Trombonist Roswell Rudd studied under Nichols and made a number of efforts at reviving his music, including Regeneration, an exceptional 1982 album with Steve Lacy, Misha Mengelberg, Kent Carer, and Han Bennink, which was split with one side of Nichols' compositions, the other of Thelonious Monk tunes. This follows up with an all-Nichols program, with Lacy, Mengelberg, and Bennink returning, George Lewis replacing Rudd at trombone, and Harjen Gorter instead of Carter at bass. The soprano sax and trombone contrast strongly while tracing out the contours of the music, while the Dutch avant-swing section picks the rhythm apart. B+(***) [R]

In Series:

FMP stands for Free Music Production, a label founded in 1966 by Jost Gebers and several young musicians who would soon be notorious leaders of free jazz in Europe: Peter Brötzmann, Peter Kowald, and Alexander von Schlippenbach. They racked up a large catalog of LPs, most of which languished out of print especially as the world and they moved on to CDs. I dug back through every edition of The Penguin Guide, even back to the LP era, and built up a wish-list of more than 100 records, only tracking down 20 or so. Several old albums were licensed to Atavistic when John Corbett started his Unheard Music Series -- I did an "In Series" on them back in June 2005, although some came earlier and some later and some just got away. Over the last year there's been another attempt to recover the lost albums. I'm not sure who's doing what here, but the jazz website Destination Out! -- which has always provided a wealth of information on free jazz -- has set up shop to sell digital downloads of select FMP albums. And most helpfully, you can stream the full albums, so I did. Thus far they have seventeen, with new ones coming out roughly one per week. All but two of those were new to me -- I've had Chirps and Elf Bagatellen for quite a while, but gave them an extra listen anyway. No real disappointments; a couple of very pleasant surprises, and much in between.

Willem Breuker Kollektief: Live in Berlin (1975, FMP): Close to the beginning of what came to be called New Dutch Swing, Breuker played various saxes and clarinets, his Kollektief an 11-piece band that played classical, swing, and avant-garde with uncommon whimsy and an emphasis on the surreal; just how much whimsy isn't totally clear until they knock off a pop song ("Our Day Will Come"), but even the mock-classical "La Plagiata" is strung with laughs. A- [X]

Peter Brötzmann/Fred Van Hove/Han Bennink Plus Albert Mangelsdorff: Live in Berlin '71 (1971, FMP, 2CD): The tenor sax and trombone blister and bluster but at least back off part on occasion to let something develop; Bennink is credited with a long list of percussion including the catchall "home-made junk"; he dazzles on his own, as does pianist Van Hove when the thunder breaks; even the noise can be wondrous for a while, but it does go on too long. B+(**) [X]

Peter Brötzmann/Misha Mengelberg/Han Bennink: 3 Points and a Mountain . . . Plus (1979 [1999], FMP, 2CD): Carefully balanced, with each player writing three songs, much space for the piano without Brötzmann blowing it out of the water, and as wide a range of sax and clarinet as you're likely to find -- although note that at least some of the tenor sax and clarinet is Bennink; a lot of fascinating bits, but a long haul to put them all together. B+(***) [X]

Peter Brötzmann: 14 Love Poems (Plus 10 More) (1984 [2004], FMP): Solo exercises on a range of saxophones and clarinets including a taste of tarogato, all improv except for a bit of "Lonely Woman," mostly modest in tone and dynamics although not without the occasional jarring squelch; anyone serious about Brötzmann might find this a useful lens, as most of his kit is here, in manageable portions. B+(*) [X]

Rüdiger Carl: Zwei Quintette (1987 [1988], FMP): Below the title line: "Two Compositions by Rüdiger Carl"; the two pieces run 40:41 and 36:28, originally on two LPs, not sure that there's even been a CD reissue; Carl plays tenor sax and clarinet, along with Philip Wachsmann (violin, electronics), Stephan Wittwer (guitar, more electronics), Irčne Schweizer (piano), and bass; the first (40:41) piece keeps a repeated riff in play with minor variations, never less than enchanting; the second (36:28) starts stuck in ambient mud, takes a while before more strenuous sax manages to dislodge it. B+(**) [X]

Andrew Cyrille/Peter Brötzmann: Andrew Cyrille Meets Brötzmann in Berlin (1982 [1983], FMP): Duo, with Cyrille on drums and Brötzmann rotating between tenor sax, baritone sax, tarogato, and E-flat clarinet. Not sure which of the latter is responsible for an extended high-pitch barrage, but it's a bit much to handle. Brötzmann is no less combative on any other horn, but the others make more sense, and draw Cyrille out more. Won't make him any new friends, but very impressive as these things go. B+(***) [X]

Globe Unity Special '75: Rumbling (1975 [1991], FMP): Alexander von Schlippenbach's avant-orchestra, formed back around 1967, cut down to an octet here (plus a dog, unnamed in the credits) -- Steve Lacy, Evan Parker, and Gerd Dudek on reeds; Kenny Wheeler and Albert Mangelsdorff on brass; Peter Kowald and Paul Lovens rounding out the rhythm section; starts with a Misha Mengelberg march, portending mischief, and ends with Lacy on Monk; in between abstract sounds improbably colliding for something more than noise. B+(***) [X]

The Noah Howard Quartet: Schizophrenic Blues (1977 [1978], FMP): Alto saxophonist from New Orleans, may be why he never lost his party sense even while testing the limits of ESP-Disk's "only the artist decides" rule; rools the upper registers with Itaru Oki's trumpet never far behind, and sounds like he's been listening to then-recent Ornette Coleman. A- [X]

Noah Howard Group: Berlin Concert (1975 [1977], FMP): Group includes a pianist I've never heard of (Takashi Kako), bass, drums, and percussion; don't have the song credits, but "Olé" would be Coltrane's, and the alto saxophonist shows more inclination to take the Trane than anything else; toward the end he dominates the album and it just lifts up and sails away. B+(***) [X]

ICP-Tentet: In Berlin (1977 [1979], FMP): Stands for Instant Composers Pool, the Tentet later renamed Orchestra, still extant thirty-some years later, still led by pianist Misha Mengelberg and drummer Han Benink with cellist Tristan Honsinger the only other name still in the group; the horns are delirious in unison, rooted in old European pop, but they can also clash violently -- this was, after all, the group's enfant terrible phase. B+(**) [X]

Peter Kowald/Wadada Leo Smith/Günter Sommer: Touch the Earth -- Break the Shells (1979-81 [1997], FMP): Bass-trumpet-drums trio, the bassist literally fleshes such out an amazing range of sound he threatens to reduce the others to accents, but neither reduce easily; Smith's spare eloquence is typical of him in this period; Sommer has a rapid roll to his drums, more rolling thunder than random lightning, but that all leads back to the remarkable bass work. A- [X]

Steve Lacy & Evan Parker: Chirps (1985 [1991], FMP): The two giants of modern soprano sax in a duo; I would have expected more stylistic clash, but they're very attentive to each other, up and down and in and out, more like birds dancing than chirping; of course, the sonics are limited to the instrument, which is difficult to play and difficult to listen to over the long haul. B+(**) [X]

Misha Mengelberg/Han Bennink: Eine Partie Tischtennis (1974, FMP): Dutch piano-percussion duo, hooked up in the mid-1960s and have been inseparable ever since; the pianist flirts with boogie but prefers a sharp attack, especially on the high keys; the drummer will attack anything, with logs and woodblocks among his more common victims; too sharp, shrill, and loud to really enjoy, but it does rivet your attention. B+(*) [X]

Sam Rivers: Portrait (1995 [1997], FMP): A solo showcase: first surprise is that he starts off on piano and makes a credible showing; moves on to tenor sax (mostly), soprano sax, flute, and finally back to piano; it's tough to make solo anything work, much less tenor sax, but he's steady and ingenious throughout. B+(*) [X]

Schlippenbach Trio: Elf Bagatellen (1990, FMP): That would be pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, working with Evan Parker (soprano and tenor sax) and Paul Lovens (drums); Parker's sax runs scratch at the surface, tearing it down rather than trying to build something on top -- an effect both self-limiting and bravely tenacious. B+(**) [X]

Cecil Taylor/William Parker/Tony Oxley: Celebrated Blazons: The Feel Trio (1990 [1993], FMP): I count 18 records for Taylor on FMP from 1988-91, an intense outpouring that dominates the later half of is career; several were Feel Trios, with longtime bassist Parker shoring up spectacular fireworks from the others -- a rare record where the drummer gets in even better licks than Taylor. A- [X]

Keith Tippett: Mujician I & II (1981-86 [1988], FMP): Solo piano, cut in two widely separated sessions but pretty much seamless, mostly fast rhythmic fluttering although some of it sounds rather fishy, like the piano has been tampered with -- low parts with a lot of stringy reverb or just lots of rumble, high crystal clear. B+(*) [X]

Briefly Noted

Chris Connor: Chris Connor (1956, Atlantic): June Christy's successor in Stan Kenton's band, famed for her smoky tone, with Atlantic's first vocal jazz album, a hodge podge of band and song styles -- a John Lewis trio, a larger band with Zoot Sims, a welter of period strings; she's credible in all contexts, more so when she gets a Cole Porter lyric. B+(*) [R]

Chris Connor: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (1956, Atlantic): I certainly don't like Ralph Burns' strings anywhere near as much as the jazz groups on part of her debut, but midway through I focused on nothing but voice on "Suddenly It's Spring, then dismissing the orchestra was surprised to find them robust in "About the Blues"; Rhapsody's song order is shuffled from the one listed in AMG, but the treatment is so consistent is must be acclimatization either way. B+(**) [R]

Chris Connor: I Miss You So (1956-57 [1958], Atlantic): Title song her only chart single, not big but a memorable one; again, strings dominate, this time with Ray Ellis conducting, and again Connor overcomes them on the stronger songs; the one odd song out is "They All Laughed," done with a crack jazz group, a first taste of what became her best album, Sings the George Gershwin Almanac of Song. B+(**) [R]

Chris Connor: A Jazz Date With Chris Connor (1956, Atlantic): Like most of Connor's Atlantics, cut in three sessions with slightly varying groups, this one centered around pianist Ralph Sharon, with occasional sax (Al Cohn, Lucky Thompson), trumpet (Joe Wilder), flute (Sam Most), guitar (Joe Puma), vibes (Eddie Costa), even a bit of conga (Mongo Santamaria); nice to escape the strings, but Connor sings much as before, making little of the extra freedom; Rhapsody picks this up from a twofer reissue, tacking Chris Craft -- reviewed separately below -- on to the end, a pretty good deal. B+(**) [R]

Chris Connor: Chris Craft (1958, Atlantic): With Stan Free on piano and Mundell Lowe on guitar, Percy Heath of George Duvivier on bass, Ed Shaughnessy on drums, this group has some snap to the rhythm, and Connor responds, showing fine timing on the fast ones, her usual vocal depth on "Lover Man." B+(***) [R]

Chris Connor: Sings Ballads of the Sad Cafe (1959, Atlantic): Only nine cuts, they run a bit long as well as slow, with strings arranged by Ralph Sharon sometimes giving way to a big band borrowed from Count Basie -- Stan Free is the pianist, but the roster is full of Basie-ites from Frank Foster to Sweets Edison to Freddie Green. B+(*) [R]

Chris Connor: Witchcraft (1959, Atlantic): Richard Wess conducts, sometimes dipping into the strings, more often letting a pretty sharp big band get in its punches; neither approach works all that well, except as they frame Connor's voice; however, she sings as authoritatively as ever, which is key here (e.g., "Just in Time"). B+(***) [R]

Noah Howard Quartet (1966 [1993], ESP-Disk): Short (29:35) debut album for the New Orleans-bred alto saxophonist, with Ric Colbeck on trumpet and bass-drums players I've never run into again; Colbeck, who had one album and two more side-credits by 1970, jousts gamely with Howard; note that Rhapsody has this album listed under its last song title, "And About Love." B+(*) [R]

Misha Mengelberg/Steve Lacy/George Lewis/Ernst Re˙seger/Han Bennink: Dutch Masters (1987 [1994], Soul Note): Two Lacy pieces, two by Mengelberg, two by Thelonious Monk who remains a mainstay of both leaders; don't understand the spelling of ICP's longtime cellist's name -- it's Reijseger everywhere else; while the Dutch provide the oddball swing here, the prime sound masters are the Americans. B+(***) [R]

Heikki Sarmanto: A Boston Date (1970 [2008], Porter): Finnish pianist, bills his quintet as The Serious Music Ensemble, plays advanced freebop with Lance Gunderson's guitar tightening the rhythmic weave and Juhani Aaltonen's tenor sax waxing eloquent; Aaltonen is one of the world's most underappreciated saxophonists -- young then, still active 40 years later -- and this is his showcase. A- [R]

Heikki Sarmanto Quintet: Counterbalance (1971 [2008], Porter): Same group, give or take a bassist, but a different sound and gestalt, more fusion with Sarmanto's tinkly electric piano, rarefied but not quite ethereal with Juhani Aaltonen restricting himself to flute. B+(*) [R]

Alexander von Schlippenbach: The Living Music (1969 [2002], Atavistic): A septet, more a stripped down version of Globe Unity Orchestra than anything else, with two brass (Manfred Schoof on cornet, Paul Rutherford on trombone), two reeds (Peter Brötzmann on tenor sax, Michel Pilz on bass clarinet, both on bari sax), enough horn power to raise the roof, with the piano-bass-drums tending to slash and bang, quite dramatic but surprisingly coherent, breaking new ground. B+(**) [R]

Schlippenbach Quartet: Hunting the Snake (1975 [2000], Atavistic): Really unheard music, broadcast on Radio Bremen then shelved for a quarter century; with Peter Kowald on bass on top of the pianist's regular trio -- saxophonist Evan Parker and percussionist Paul Lovens -- for four 20-minute (two more, two less) pieces; somewhat unfocused as a whole, but each player does remarkable things throughout. B+(*) [R]

Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody ([X] is some other stream source). The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments.

For this column and the previous 83, see the archive.

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Copyright © 2011 Tom Hull.