Erik Friedlander: Spinning Plates

Whether accompanying John Zorn, Laurie Anderson or Fred Hersch, Erik Friedlander has exhibited a complex knowledge of the cello that has placed him at the vanguard of both improvisational jazz and contemporary classical music. Named after the incident that prompted Oscar Pettiford to begin playing the cello, Friedlander’s 2008 release Broken Arm Trio continues his progressive vision for the cello in the 2000s. A fine example of his vision is the album’s opening track “Spinning Plates.”

Friedlander combines a swinging melody and an unyielding rhythm section to secure his musical statement. During his solo from :33-1:30, Friedlander keeps the energy going with lengthy arpeggios and lively themes. Sarin’s sometimes spasmodic performance keeps Friedlander’s solo fresh with Dunn going back and forth from rhythmic to melodic roles whenever he sees fit. Friedlander punctuates his melodies with wonderfully executed double-stops at 1:40 which spice up the arrangement and allow Dunn to improvise. The double-stops are a welcome accompanying device as opposed to a walking bassline or a more traditional chordal playing. A true testimony to the achievement of a modern cello giant.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Fred Lonberg-Holm: And You Smile

Fred Lonberg-Holm straddles the line between jazz and experimental music. After studying with Anthony Braxton and Morton Feldman, Lonberg-Holm began to establish himself in the New York avant-garde music scene. After his move to Chicago in the late 1990s, Lonberg-Holm increased his visibility with performances with Peter Brotzmann’s Tentet and Ken Vandermark. With his 2007 effort Terminal Valentine, Lonberg-Holm offers ten compositions that display a wide range of styles. One of the album’s highlights is “And You Smile”.

Beginning with a gorgeous arco passage, Londberg-Holm starts with a legato phrase before transitioning into a disjointed sounding melodic figure. What is most interesting about his sound is how easily he can change his expressions throughout the piece, at times sounding like a classical cellist and at other times resembling a free jazz saxophonist. The dynamic between the three musicians is quite palpable, with the solid rhythmic design of Roebke and Rosaly further augmenting Lonberg-Holm’s sophisticated performance. An essential addition to the current state of improvisational cello.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: Little Brother Bobby

Hank Roberts’ sound incorporates the diverse styles of jazz, classical, rock and folk. As a student at the Berklee School of Music, Hank was able to hone and sharpen his performance expertise, creating an original improvisational style. Upon relocating to New York City in the 1980s, he began an association with Bill Frisell, which continues today.. Roberts made his debut with Frisell on the guitarist’s album Lookout for Hope, which featured the song “Little Brother Bobby,” a tour de force that showcases his contributions to contemporary jazz cello.

The song exhibits Frisell’s reverb-soaked tone, which works brilliantly with Roberts’ smooth melodic resonance. Roberts displays a lyrical performance style that contains equal parts avant-garde, classical and traditional folk methods. The overall quality of his tone remains the same throughout the subtle shifts in tempo and character. Though Baron sometimes supplies discordant rhythmic patterns, the interaction between Frisell and Roberts is what makes the song flourish and thrive, with Hank performing with a more legato technique when Frisell is displaying a more staccato sound. The subsequent rhythmic counterpoint enhances the overall excitement of the piece and is a testament to the talents of Hank Roberts.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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David Eyges: Crossroads

Alongside Abdul Wadud, David Eyges refined the presence of the cello in smaller ensembles. Originally trained at the Manhattan School of Music, Eyges heard blues musicians such as John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters after leaving college and as a result, he developed an earthy, blues-based style. The title composition from his 1981 album Crossroads is a perfect example of Eyges’ unique style.

Eyges begins the song by performing a motif with strong emphasis on beats one and three giving the entire song a rock-like feel. Eyges displays a great rhythmic interplay with the ensemble, displaying more of a solid accompaniment role than Murray. The relationship between Eyges and Lancaster is of special importance with the two men developing a call and response pattern early on, resulting in an exciting push and pull element throughout. Murray also contributes to the push and pull effect, switching between an even pulse on the ride cymbal to a swing feel. This change in feel interrupts the atmosphere at times, resulting in ebbs and flow with the rhythm throughout the song. These interruptions keep Eyges and Lancaster on their toes, allowing them to experiment with different phrasings and ornamentations.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Julius Hemphill: Body

As one of the few jazz musicians to play only the cello (as opposed to doubling on bass) Abdul Wadud is equally versed in both classical and jazz styles. Wadud’s resume includes stints with everyone from the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra to Arthur Blythe. His work reached a particular peak of experimentation on the song “Body” from Julius Hemphill’s 1980 album Flat-Out Jump Suite. Wadud firmly grasps the funky feel of the song by performing with a raw bluesy touch. Wadud’s wide and distinct sound stands out when he plays in unison with Hemphill and Dara. The song goes through several tempos and textures, with Wadud adding slight ornamentations during each change. When the song moves into a swing feel, Abdul goes back and forth between a walking bass line and chordal accompaniment. Though his is the only stringed instrument in the ensemble, his performance is the heart of the song and an excellent addition to contemporary jazz cello style.

September 10, 2009 · 0 comments

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Eric Dolphy: Out There

For his second album for Prestige, Eric Dolphy added Ron Carter to his group. The instrumentation of the group was similar to the Chico Hamilton quintet, of which Dolphy had been a member. Carter was originally a cellist, but switched to bass as a teenager. His cello technique was still strong, as witnessed by his performance on the Dolphy album’s title tune.

Dolphy and Carter begin the song by performing the melody in unison. Carter’s bowing style gives his sound a primal quality, which complements Dolphy’s acidic tone. Carter holds the last note of the melody as he begins his solo, and he manipulates that note for nearly half a minute with a variety of classical bowing techniques. Dolphy provides an ear-stretching alto solo before Duvivier’s exploratory solo. “Out There” remains an essential recording1 in the catalog of Dolphy and modern jazz cello repertory.

September 09, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Skies of America

Ornette Coleman's approach to playing the "vierd" blues that resulted from "harmolodic movement of forms" was an amazing mix of folk tales and angel voices, ramblin' changes and tears inside. But aside from Free Jazz, could he create extended compositions? A major opportunity came when Columbia agreed to record Skies of America, which was subsequently partitioned into 21 shorter sections by the producer (with Ornette's apparent approval and his sub-titles), and with the theme and title section placed right at the beginning.

The skies were definitely dark and turbulent. In fact the first half of the entire album coughs and shrieks, all hard-driving percussion and harsh straining strings. Only in the second half, when Ornette's own keening alto joins in soloing over the orchestra, is there a sense of relief, as the strange beauty of his unique conception comes to the fore. But back at the beginning, the opening 2-plus minutes, the orchestra cried out unanswered. And the entire botched event (which saw some sections omitted due to time constraints and his quartet barred from participation by England's visiting musician rules) rendered Coleman's angst-ridden, non-ethereal lament for alto and orchestra incomplete. Sadly, these skies are just not blues enough.     

April 22, 2009 · 0 comments

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Gypsy Schaeffer: Grape Soda and Pretzels

This must be Braxton week at my house. It seems like every other disc I pick up has some sort of Braxton influence. It's either that or a listen to the Willisau quartets recording is long overdue.

Gypsy Shaeffer launches “Grape Soda and Pretzels” with a stiff but humorous march that's supported by a kind of one-note samba, if you forget about the samba part. The sax rides on top of this, playing a head that can be best described as 'cheerful.' This is no novelty act though, as the curtain is pulled back to reveal a rhythm section that swings relentlessly. Once the groove has solidified, there's no turning back. Everybody gets in on the solo act. The horns take their turns as does bassist Jef Charland. And don't give me any of that “Oh no, the bass solo” junk – this guy means business. Heck he swings hard enough to maintain that groove through Chris Punis' drum solo.

After all of this serious jazzification, the horns return for one last go-round with the main theme, during which a smile will creep across your face.

April 07, 2009 · 0 comments

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Prince Lasha: Congo Call

Prince Lasha grew up with Ornette Coleman in Fort Worth, TX, playing with the great altoist in R&B and church groups. As adults their paths diverged, but their music continued in similar stylistic directions. Yet they found vastly different degrees of notoriety, with Lasha attracting attention briefly in the early 1960s only to thereafter disappear from the jazz world. Here he teams with Sonny Simmons, an altoist who owed much of his sound to Coleman. On the African-inspired "Congo Call," Lasha's and Simmons' vibrato-less tones blend well as they piece together an exotic melody over an octave-doubled ostinato by bassists Peacock and Proctor. Though both Simmons and Lasha stay mostly inside the minor harmony, there are a few exciting moments that indicate their cutting-edge interest in freeing their improvisations from conventional norms. While Simmons's brittle, wailing tone is reminiscent of Coleman, his playing is more precise and with no superfluity. Lasha articulates the blues of his Texas upbringing during his solo, while developing a few distinct themes. Hypnotic, dramatic and evocative, "Congo Call" is an undemanding and under-recognized early free jazz recording.

January 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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Ornette Coleman: Beauty is a Rare Thing

John Millington Synge once noted that for poetry to become human again, it must first learn to be brutal. Forget for the moment the precepts of harmolodics or the pieties of free jazz: Ornette Coleman's philosophy of music is not much different from the sentiments expressed in Synge's aphorism. This is the rare beauty he celebrates in the title of this seven-minute performance. The brutality in Coleman's instance was directed toward the vocabulary of modern jazz, which he pares down with a vengeance on this track. His solo is plaintive and liberated from any lingering traces of bop or blues or big band, those three B's of postwar jazz which were to Coleman's contemporaries as constitutive as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms to the symphonists of an earlier age.

Ornette starts with simple melodic phrases here, and when he finally moves beyond them it is to engage in some perfunctory squeals and shrieks on the horn—delivered, alas, without much conviction. (But his Free Jazz session, only a few weeks in the future, would be a different matter entirely.) Cherry is folksy in a diatonic way, but tosses in at least an occasional bit of syncopation to remind us that, yes, this is our jazz music. Blackwell fights his own battle against the tyranny of a swinging beat, and teaches us that the biggest challenge the freedom fighters faced was often in the persistence of the pulse, which typically proves more difficult to avoid than the chord changes. Haden is off in his own arco soundspace, and keeps the walking lines under lock and key. A rare thing indeed . . .

December 16, 2008 · 7 comments

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Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Summer Suite

Now this is a big statement. At just a shade over 39 minutes, Satoko Fujii's "Summer Suite" employs everything from more traditional sounds to Ayler-esque squeals of passion. After the first few mournful minutes, when you're beginning to think that a New Orleans second-line thing is about to happen, a single trumpet and then saxophone introduce some full horn section unison lines. The next transition takes a more "out" route, with those lone sax and trumpet offerings deconstructed into squawks and moans. When the full band kicks in again, it seems like a celebration. And on it goes for the next half hour. I've come to think of the unaccompanied solo passages as the connective tissue between the muscle of the assembled horns. And let me tell you, they have the power to make any 'ole statement they please!

December 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Karel Velebny: The Uhu Sleeps Only During The Day

Coming from a somewhat obscure multi-instrumentalist and composer from Communist Czechoslovakia, SHQ is challenging jazz but for the most part, isn't free. One exception is "The Uhu Sleeps Only During The Day." A rootless piece that's seemingly trying to find a root, the searching aspect becomes the song. As Velebny's vibes combine with Stivin's flute, it becomes impossible to ignore the ghost of Eric Dolphy's "Out to Lunch." Svabensky and Stivin eventually battle for space and Karel Vejvoda's temporarily bowed bass adds a creepy undertow. Velebny reasserts control with a flurry of mallets before the band downshifts the tempo at the end to restate the loping theme of the beginning.

The term "free jazz" typically has meaning in the musical context only. In light of the Prague Spring and subsequent Soviet invasion that transpired around the time of SHQ, there's a political context here as well. "The Uhu Sleeps Only During The Day" was as unrestrained as Velebny himself yearned to be.

November 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Karel Velebny: Andulko Safarova

This feels like a requiem for something or somebody. Maybe for a really big fan of Rahsaan Roland Kirk who met with a tragic end? Seriously, I hate to make light of Velbny's composition because it's a very textured affair just loaded with ominous sounds and off-kilter rhythms. Beginning with phrases presented by flute, recorder and bowed bass, successive rounds are punctuated with chunks of prepared piano, scraped bass strings, bells, and some of the moodiest bass clarinet passages you've ever heard. A lively, almost angry flute does come in to make a few insistent statements before the full band plays out the tune's last spooky lament.

November 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gunter Hampel Group: Heroicredolphysiognomystery

Wow, and you thought "Klactoveesedstene" was tough to pronounce! Well, no matter. The fun here is in the listening. During the composition's opening minutes, Willem Breuker and Gunter Hamel run incredible circles around each other – clarinets, flutes and saxophone careening with abandon. Some full-band cacophony (my goodness, Breuker might give Peter Brotzmann a run for his money) leads into a Hampel/Corbois vibraphone/drum duet of sorts. This takes us slowly back into horns-behaving-badly madness. Hampel dedicated this piece to Eric Dolphy. The result is certainly in that spirit. When the last cymbal strike rings off into the distance, you will find yourself reaching for the repeat button.

November 17, 2008 · 1 comment

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Paul Bley: Batterie

Carla Bley has had a career-long flair for writing theatrical pieces that sometimes sound like they should accompany silent movies. Her compositions can project absurdity and somberness, often in the same song, whether rendered by a full orchestra or a small group.

Even in a 5-piece outfit playing unrestrained jazz, this quality shines through, as it does for "Batterie." The frantic theme is not dissimilar to one Ornette Coleman used years later for his "Happy House," and once the formalities are done, listeners are assaulted with a fierce, one-two punch from the Sun Ra Arkestra's Allen and Johnson. The leader responds with some oddly rolled chords and fragments in pensive counterpoint to the savage horns. Meanwhile, Graves is a one-man wrecking crew on his kit, doing the work of two drummers at twice the speed. Gomez does well just to keep up with everyone else.

Who says there's no drama in free jazz? There's plenty to be found in "Batterie."

November 17, 2008 · 0 comments

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