Jazz Prospecting: March 2012

Juhani Aaltonen and Heikki Sarmanto: Conversations (2010 [2012], TUM, 2CD): By no means the only important figures in Finnish jazz, but the tenor saxphonist and pianist, respectively, were its first notable figures, their ambitions announced in their early-1970s group the Serious Music Ensemble -- not that there wasn't a certain amount of joking even there. Sarmanto's early 1970s groups drove fusion to the edges of avant excess, while his 1990s UMO Orchestra placed bets on jazz tradition. With Sarmanto and on his own, Aaltonen has always offered a clear and eloquent voice. And while I'm actually an admirer of his albums with strings and his frequent forays into flute, I'm pleased to note that he sticks to tenor sax here, simply accompanied, as soulful as ever. A-

Available Jelly: Plushlok, Baarle-Nassau, Set 1 (2007 [2011], Ramboy): Michael Moore's longest-running group, dating back to an album of that name released in 1984. Moore writes most of the material -- 5 of 7 here, the covers a trad piece from Myanmar and a very striking "Isfahan" from Billy Strayhorn -- and releases it on his label. Sextet, with Tobias Delius (also of ICP) the second sax, Eric Boeren and Wolter Wierbos the brass, Ernst Glerum on bass, and Michael Vatcher on drums. The mischief is in the horns, flipping and flying in all sorts of directions, the harmony all the more humorous. A-

Available Jelly: Plushlok, Baarle-Nassau, Set 2 (2007 [2011], Ramboy): Could have been packaged into a 2-CD set in which case I'd just say, "more is more." Actually, the three Ellington covers had my hopes up, as did a closer called "Kwela for Taylor" (whoever that is), but the rowdiness level is down a bit. Terrific kwela, by the way. B+(***)

Jon Balke/Batagraf: Say and Play (2009 [2012], ECM): Pianist, b. 1955 in Norway, has a dozen albums since 1991, most ECM. Not much piano here. Batagraf is his percussion group: Balke's credits start with tougone, darbouka, and hand drums; Helge Andreas Norbakken adds sabar, talking drums, djembe, metal percussion; and Erland Dahlen just drums, with Emilie Stoesen Christensen's vocals and Torgeir Rebodello Pedersen reading poetry (4 tracks). Beats are mostly African, maybe filtered through Cuba and back again. B+(*) [advance]

Tim Berne: Snakeoil (2011 [2012], ECM): Alto (and sometimes baritone) saxophonist, a protégé of Julius Hemphill, took some time finding himself but must now be considered a major figure. First album as a leader on ECM, although he's appeared as a key sideman a couple times, most notably on David Torn's Prezens (2007). Quartet with Oscar Noriega (clarinet, bass clarinet), Matt Mitchell (piano), and Ches Smith (drums, percussion) -- no bass (or guitar, the instrument of choice in Berne's trio). The horn interplay is complex, often scintillating. B+(***) [advance]

Kyle Bruckmann's Wrack: Cracked Refraction (2010 [2012], Porter): Oboe player, also English horn; b. 1971 in Danbury, CT ("hometown of Charles Ives"), studied at Rice and Michigan, moved to Chicago in 1996, on to Oakland in 2003. AMG lists eight records since 2000, not counting "the art-punk monstrosity" Lozenge (and who knows what else). Started avant-classical, moved into avant-jazz mostly in his Chicago phase which culminated in the album Wrack, with violist Jen Clare Paulson and drummer Tim Daisy both then and now, trombonist Jeb Bishop, and bassist Kurt Johnson. Here Anton Hatwich takes over the bass slot, and Jason Stein's bass clarinet supplants the trombone. A front line of oboe, bass clarinet, and viola may sound like a nice chamber group, but as Wrack they break into all sorts of odd fractures, refracted through the many antipodes of the group. B+(***)

Michael Campagna: Moments (2010 [2012], Challenge): Tenor saxophonist, also plays flute (a lot of flute here). Graduated University of Miami; has taught in New York, and currently in Genoa, Italy. Second album, mostly quintet with trumpet (Michael Rodriguez), piano (Robert Rodriguez), bass (Hans Glawishnig), and drums (Eric Door), plus harp (Brandee Younger) on four tracks. Postbop, aims for evanescence but gets rather squishy with all the flute and harp. B

Tony R Clef: Tuesday Afternoon (2011, Big Round): Guitarist, first record, AMG saw Purcell as the first composer and slotted it as classical, but he also does three Brazilian tunes, two relatively arty Beatles/Kinks tunes ("When I'm 64," "Sunny Afternoon"). Solo guitar, light and airy but distinctly picked. B+(*)

Louis Cole and Genevieve Artadi: Think Thoughts (2011, self-released): Cover only has title, but previous album didn't even have that so is listed eponymously under the artist names. Back cover lists songs and some "Ft." guests but no credits -- John Escreet and David Binney are pretty obvious, and Vikram must be the rapper on the last track. Cole is a drummer, and most of the tracks are built on frenetic beats. Artadi sings. Despite a few jazz connections, figure this as soft-core art-punk. B+(**)

Scott DuBois: Landscape Scripture (2011 [2012], Sunnyside): Guitarist, has a couple albums, notably Banshees (2008). Quartet, with Gebhard Ullmann (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Kresten Osgood (drums). If I'm a bit more ambivalent about this one, it's probably because Ullmann, uncharacteristically, stays well within the lines. B+(***)

Sarah Elgeti Quintet: Into the Open (2010 [2012], Your Favourite Jazz): Plays tenor sax, soprano sax, flute, percussion; born in Germany, based in Denmark. First album. Group includes a second sax (Marianne Markmann-Eriksen on alto and baritone), guitar, piano (or Fender Rhodes), bass, and drums. Has some interesting postbop sequences, but also dips into bland pop. Ends with a remix that evens things out. B

Floratone: Floratone II (2012, Savoy Jazz): File under guitarist Bill Frisell. All of the pieces are group-credited, with Matt Chamberlain (drums), Lee Townsend, and Tucker Martine -- the latter two are credited with "production" which ranges from sax-sounding synths to electronic beats to other disturbances of the aether, but there are also guests to account for (notably Ron Miles' trumpet and Eyvind Kang's viola). B+(***)

Nobuyasu Furuya Quintet: The Major (2010 [2012], NoBusiness): Japanese tenor saxophonist, has a previous album on Clean Feed, again recorded this in Lisbon with what looks to be a local group. This one is released in Lithuania on limited edition (300 copies) vinyl, but I'm listening to a CDR. Impressive depth in a free jazz setting, much aided by Eduardo Lâla's trombone -- gives the group a New Orleans polyphony feel, but rougher than that. B+(***) [advance]

Josh Ginsburg: Zembla Variations (2011 [2012], Bju'ecords): Bassist, first album, composed all eight pieces, then assembled a quartet that could not just play along but add something: Eli Degibri (tenor and soprano sax), George Colligan (piano, fender rhodes), and Rudy Royston (drums). Colligan is well established but rarely plays this fast and free on his own. Degibiri is a young Israeli with a couple of records, none this impressive. B+(***)

Dennis González/Yells at Eels: Resurrection and Life (2010-11 [2012], Ayler): Avant-trumpet player, from Dallas, has a long list of superb albums starting in the mid-1980s and getting a second wind around 2003, becoming even more prolific over the last few years. (I've reviewed a dozen of his records, but notice six more since 2009 that I didn't get but noted on my wish list.) Part of this burst is due to the maturation of his sons Aaron González (bass) and Stefan González (drums, vibes) in their joint group Yells at Eeels (along with trombonist Gaika James). This particular set adds ("featuring") drummer Alvin Fiedler, who frees Stefan to focus on the vibraphone -- the record is awash in tinkly chimes, not necessarily for the better, although the tight horns reward close listening, as does the bassist. B+(**)

David Greenberger with Jupiter Circle: Never Give Up Study (2011, Pel Pel): A writer, b. 1954, trained as a painter but got a job as "activities director" in a Boston nursing home, and built his "art" -- starting in 1979 with a self-published "zine" called Duplex World, extending to radio commentary on NPR and four records released late last year -- out of conversations with old people. The first person threw me off a bit, in part because the reading is so affectless, until the stories don't quite add up -- which takes a while here. Jupiter Circle provide unobtrusive musical backup. B+(**)

David Greenberger/Mark Greenberg: Tell Me That Before (2011, Pel Pel): More conversations from elderly centers, nursing homes, and suchlike -- a long list of credits is provided this time. Greenberg provides the background music -- also a long list of credits, including some bass guitar and drums credited to "DG" and guitar from "PC" (Paul Cebar). One track I should listen to again makes the point that creative people think up way more ideas than they can ever use, so the real skill is figuring out how to budget your time. B+(***)

David Greenberger/Bangalore: How I Became Uncertain (2011, Pel Pel): The elderly stories are short and pithy here, their frequent redundancy and cliché distancing them from Greenberger's first-person earnestness -- also the stories where the narrator identifies herself as a woman. Bangalore is a guitar-bass-drums band, more rock than the others, with Phil Kaplan's guitar sharp contrast. B+(***)

David Greenberger/Ralph Carney: OH, PA (2011, Pel Pel): Carney, who started out playing sax in the Akron rock group Tin Huey, became a long-term sideman for Tom Waits, and has a checkered solo recording career (including some Serious Jass), has done up music for a couple spoken word albums before, so he should be a natural here. However, his score is pretty scattered here, mostly keybs that get in or out of the way. As with the other discs, mostly Greenberger reading the stories of elderly people, but four cuts carry the concept one step further, with Mal Sharpe playing Greenberger interviewing subjects voiced by Greenberger. B+(**)

Holshouser, Bennink & Moore: Live in NYC (2009 [2011], Ramboy): Accordion player Will Holshouser's name is spelled right on the front cover, but misspelled two different ways on the back. He's the bedrock here, with Michael Moore's reeds building on his tone, but the oustanding performance here is by drummer Han Bennink, whose rat-tat-tat sound distinct from the start and develops into a tour de force. A-

Vijay Iyer Trio: Accelerando (2011 [2012], ACT): From Iyer's liner notes: "today's context sounds like acceleration: rising inequality, populist revolution, economic crisis, climate change, moore's law, global connectivity. as the flow of information gets faster, denser and more intricately networked, our attention shifts to the larger forms, the slower tempos that gracefully evolve like the spiral arms of a hurricane." Some issues there: I'd say information is getting sucked into individual fractal wormholes, so the more you have the less good it does you, leading not to a bigger-picture view but to an ever tinier one. For that matter, those graceful slower tempos are less striking than the frenetic ones, but this piano trio is all about motion, not just speeding up and slowing down but dodging in and out. A-

Steve Lehman Trio: Dialect Fluorescent (2011 [2012], Pi): Alto saxophonist, studied under Anthony Braxton and Jackie McLean, leans toward the latter in this sax trio (Matt Brewer on bass, Damion Reid on drums), closing with McLean's "Mr. E." Also covers Coltrane, Duke Pearson, and "Pure Imagination" by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, mixed in with four (or five) originals. A

Don Mark's Fire Escape: In a New Light (2011 [2012], Niromi): Front cover adds: "Jammin' Rhythm & Jazz Fusion"; I'd try to work "honkin'" in there somewhere. Mark plays tenor sax; has three previous albums, described as "solo projects." Credits are scant and don't match his website, but band includes piano/keyboards, electric bass, and drums: groove enough to set the sax off wailing. All covers, with "St. Thomas" and "Song for My Father" outstanding, as always. B+(**)

Michael Moore Quartet: Easter Sunday (2011, Ramboy): Plays alto sax and clarinet, originally from California but settled in Amsterdam and has become a prominent member of the Dutch avant-garde scene, including a spot with the ICP Orchestra. Issued a shotgun blast of six albums at the end of 2011, mostly culled from live tapes, the sheer number and consistency of which make it hard to grade on any sort of curve. This is a quartet with piano (Harmen Fraanja), bass (Clemens van der Feen), and drums (Michael Vatcher). Runs 70:24. All originals, except for an especially nice "It Might as Well Be Spring." B+(**)

Michael Moore Quintet: Rotterdam (2008 [2011], Ramboy): With Eric Vloeimans' trumpet complementing the leader's clarinet and alto sax, Marc van Roon on piano, Paul Berner on bass, and Owen Hart, Jr., on drums. All Moore compositions, recorded live, runs 67:33. Has a light and playful air, the horn interplay developing into something remarkable. B+(***)

Michael Moore Quartet: Amsterdam (2010 [2011], Ramboy): Same lineup as the later Easter Sunday: Harmen Fraanja (piano), Clemens van der Feen (bass), Michael Vatcher (drums, saw, percussion). There are stretches where Moore's clarinet scales the heights so deftly that I find myself thinking this must be the pick of the litter. Then I wonder. B+(***)

Jeremy Pelt: Soul (2011 [2012], High Note): Trumpet player, b. 1976, early in his career was tabbed as a "rising star" due to his exceptional chops, but nine albums since 2002 don't offer much more than the whiff of talent. This seems at cross purposes at first, as he clearly wants to take it slow and aim for quiet storm, but saxophonist JD Allen would rather burn, and the rhythm section -- Danny Grissett on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums -- is happier with Allen. Joanna Pascale contributes a vocal to the slow side. Pelt can hang either way. B+(**)

Luis Perdomo: Universal Mind (2010 [2012], RKM): Pianist, b. 1971 in Venezuela, based in New York. Picks up a lot of side credits, notably with Miguel Zenón. Fourth album, a trio with Drew Gress and Jack DeJohnette. Nice, tight set, but within the postbop frame, not against it. B+(**)

Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: Family Ties (2011 [2012], Leo): Tenor saxophonist from Brazil, released a cluster of six albums a year or two ago to celebrate twenty years recording: he had to differentiate those, but here he's back to his core strength, blowing fierce free sax. The bassist and drummer create an energetic background, but the focus is rarely away from the sax. Starts with a bit of kazoo, which doesn't channel enough wind, then raises his game. After the hard stuff, he's so relaxed he opens up and soars. A-

Tan Ping: Paradise (2011, Goody Heart Productions): Singer-songwriter, grew up in Taiwan, don't know much else. First album, brimming with hopefulness, good wishes, determination; not a cynical bone in her body. B

Rampersaud Shaw Martin Neal Krakowiak: Halcyon Science 130410 (2011, Barnyard): Canadian group: Nicole Rampersaud (trumpet), Evan Shaw (alto/baritone sax), Wes Neal (bass), Jean Martin (drums, laptop, trumaphone), Tomasz Krakowiak (percussion). Only Martin has much of a discography. Group improvs, interesting moments, nicely balanced, dense but not squawky. B+(**)

Pete Robbins Transatlantic Quartet: Live in Basel (2010 [2012], Hate Laugh Music): Alto saxophonist, b.1978, based in New York, AMG lists four albums since 2002. Quartet with guitar (Mikkel Ploug), electric bass (Simon Jermin), and drums (Kevin Brow), offering Ploug a lot of space. B+(*)

Wallace Roney: Home (2010 [2012], High Note): Major league trumpet player, 16th album since 1987. Basically a hard bop quintet with electric keybs, split between three drummers (none taking command). Once again, brother saxophonist Antoine Roney does most of the heavy lifting, with the trumpet weaving around expertly. Sound strikes me as thin, distant, murky. Perhaps more volume would open it up? B+(*)

Matthew Shipp: Elastic Aspects (2011 [2012], Thirsty Ear): Nominally a piano trio with Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums, although much of this is done solo, and a couple pieces feature Bisio solos -- deep arco things that contrast with the hard percussive piano spots. B+(***)

Stone Quartet: Live at Vision Festival (2010 [2012], Ayler): One of those ad hoc all-star groups that are so easy to form on the avant-garde, but remain collages of individual talents, in this case: Joëlle Léandre (bass), Roy Campbell (trumpet, flutes), Marilyn Crispell (piano), and Mat Manieri (viola). Two string instruments and no drums keep this within the parameters of chamber jazz. Two pieces: one 32:20, the other 9:20, pure improv. B+(**)

Justin Walter: Stars (2011 [2012], Walter): Trumpet player, b. 1978; looks like he has one previous album, plus an EP, plus side credits, mostly with experimental rock outfits like Nomo and His Name Is Alive (appearing on the latter's Marion Brown tribute). Dense postbop here, most cuts with trombone, two or three reeds, guitar, Rhodes, bass, and drums -- none of which emerges all that distinctly. B

Ben Wendel: Frame (2011 [2012], Sunnyside): Saxophonist, specifies plural here, plus bassoon and melodica. Third album, postbop with piano (split between Gerald Clayton, Tigran Hamasyan, and Adam Benjamin) and guitar (Nir Felder), bass and drums -- robust in the middle, with striking sax leads. B+(**)

Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts: An Attitude for Gratitude (2011 [2012], Palmetto): Drummer, has a dozen albums since 1996, composed 3 of 11 pieces here, plus one each from group members Gary Versace (piano, organ, accordion) and Martin Wind (bass). The other group member is Terell Stafford (trumpet, flugelhorn), and he's the one who carries the melodies. Covers hop all over the place, from "Happy Days Are Here Again" to "Bridge Over Troubled Water" via John Scofield, Jaco Pastorius, Cannonball Adderley, and Hugh Hopper. I read a blindfold test with Wilson where I was struck by his ability to find merit in everything. He adds merit too. B+(**)

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