Showing posts from July, 2020

John Fedchock NY Sextet lays down good blend of solo and collective excellence

Desirable outcomes in studio recording sessions usually mean that the material is known well in advance to the parti John Fedchock leads a unified sextet cipants and the bandleader structures it in such a way that solos, accompaniment, and ensemble passages seem soldered into place. I like when, from moment to moment, everyone seems to be focused on presenting a musical object more than foregrounding "expression."  That's the impression I pick up from "Into the Shadows" ( Summit Records) , the latest recording by the John Fedchock NY Sextet.  And that doesn't have to mean the jazz that results seems cut-and-dried —  a simple triumph of planning. Trombonist-bandleader Fedchock has created arrangements for himself and five colleagues that maintain pulse and momentum while giving us something as solid and functionally appropriate as a well-made chair. To take from the album the clearest link to the tradition of great jazz sextets, "Alpha Dog" is an ea

Deeply rooted suburban fantasies maintain resonance

It's easy to get puzzled by the Trump-driven narrative shoring up his reelection prospects. As used as we think we are to the perspective that he has also imposed on the Republican Party, there are new swerves in his rhetorical aggressiveness. It's hard to keep up with them all. A recent one was the inclusion of a prediction that Joe Biden, if elected, would destroy the suburbs. What was that all about, I wondered, until I saw Trump's tweeted warning to "suburban housewives of America." "Housewives"! Were they twisting their hands nervously in immaculate aprons as they looked out the kitchen window at a perfect lawn and a white picket fence? It fell into place: the Trump slogan "Make America Great Again" focuses squarely on the dream of a pristine suburbia. Suburban dreams in the makIng: Levittown under construction And that means solidly white enclaves, the heritage of the Levittown developments that followed World War II, the metast

Eighth Blackbird takes flight with a linked program by three composers

Susannah Bielak's cover design hints at the gems within. An adventurous new-music ensemble teases out the meaning of its name with "Singing in the Dead of Night" ( Cedille Records ), a collection of music by three composers whose works under this title are linked to lyrics of the Beatles song "Blackbird." Eighth Blackbird is named after a stanza in Wallace Stevens' poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," which runs like this: "I know noble accents / And lucid, inescapable rhythms; / But I know, too, / That the blackbird is involved / In what I know." I can't guess why the "eighth blackbird" of Stevens' poem attracted the ensemble's attention as a best summation of its artistic mission.  But surely the compositions of David Lang, Michael Gordon, and Julia Wolfe in "Singing in the Dead of Night" are loaded with noble accents and lucid, inescapable rhythms, though the latter in particular mig

Fused names and simpatico artistry of French saxophonist and Italian pianist fuel Spirabassi

Giovanni MIrabassi (left) and Stephane Spira are a compatible duo. "Improkofiev" is the major work on the new CD of that title representing a meeting of minds between Stephane Spira (whose website provides access to the release) and Giovanni Mirabassi. The seasoned musicians, a soprano saxophonist and a pianist, respectively,  collaborate with seeming effortlessness in their punning salute to Sergei Prokofiev, specifically drawing upon the Russian composer's First Violin Concerto. The three-movement suite references the concerto chiefly in its tunefulness and its hints of sentimentality, always a vein accessible to Prokofiev that he used to balance his nose-thumbing sauciness and modernist flair. The near-constant demands on the soloist are not replicated in the jazz suite. The signature spikiness and skill with disjunctive lines characteristic of Prokofiev make the suite's first movement the most satisfying as a tribute. So does the presence of an extra voic

Australian pianist sets down a manifold expansion of solo jazz piano

Alister Spence has set down on two discs a different kind of solo improvisational maximum, worthy of comparing to, but not dependent on, such a milestone as the Keith Jarrett "Köln Concert." Alister Spence in "Whirlpools" offers a wealth of puzzlement. The veteran Australian pianist-composer has assembled 23 free improvisations, eccentric to most kinds of jazz pianism, where his roots are. Over the course of two brightly recorded discs, "Whirlpool" (Alister Spence Music) amounts to a highly charged example of what this essential instrument in just about all Western music can express on its own, with relatively few unconventional techniques now and then expanding the sonic palette. Spence's keyboard lucubrations are not for everyone, it's safe to say. Like the music itself, the titles he's chosen vary from illuminating to baffling. They are all uncapitalized, starting with a parenthetical short word connected by implication with a longer

'Under My Thumb' sums up the current President's view of the USA

The President seems fond of using “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” at his rallies. With those mass gatherings... Posted by Jay Harvey on  Sunday, July 19, 2020

Ricardo Grilli lends his guitar-centered inspirations to changes of time and place

A Brazilian-born guitarist living in New York, Ricardo Grilli has a creative fixation on dates and Brazilian-American guitarist Ricardo Grilli has a lot on his mind. settings for his musical practice and development. Without filling in all the evident blanks by which he substantiates this focus, it may suffice to indicate that "1962," his new CD's title, is the birth year of his mother. The obvious generative force of such an association accounts for much of the music he has set down here with the assistance of tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Eric Harland (whose first name unfortunately appears as "Erick" on the album cover). In "1962" ( Tone Rogue Records ), Grilli shows the penchant of jazz guitarists to use the instrument to connect with both the vernacular street and the lofty empyrean. An edge-to-edge vista of darkest interstellar space dominates the jacket's design. After some preli

He's the Top, all right, but only in the topsy-turvy world he made

In the upside down world Trump has done so much to create, there can be little doubt: He’s the Top! Posted by Jay Harvey on  Thursday, July 16, 2020

Veteran drum maestro highlights trio dexterity in 'Catch Me If You Can'

Jeff Hamilton takes care of business. With his Hoosier roots impeccable (born in Richmond) and his durability a source of justifiable pride, Jeff Hamilton has held a place on the A-list of drummers for several decades. His new trio recording, "Catch Me If You Can" (Capri) adds to the distinction. This is not an artist focused on breaking new ground, however. If personality and the skillful means to express it count for much, Jeff Hamilton is an understandable role model for how to put one's stamp on an ensemble while projecting individuality as well. You will find his mainstream concept of (what is usually called) the jazz piano trio worthy of the conventions it adheres to and  refreshes throughout these ten tunes. He chooses sidemen with an expert knack for amplifying his vision; the pianist, Tamir Hendelman, has been with him for more than 20 years. The new bassist, Jon Hamar, fits right in. And the style allows the range of nuance and technical aplomb in t

A "break beat play" helps Fonseca Theatre Company break back into Pandemic World

FTC's "Hype Man": Verb and Pinnacle lay it on the line with beat support from Peep One. The cover of the trim program of Fonseca Theatre Company' s return to live productions carries an intriguing graphic.  The illustration gets at a main source of tension in the play, "Hype Man" by Idris Goodwin, with performances through July 26. A hand stretches toward us and toward a handheld microphone: Is the hand grasping or releasing? Is this a gesture reaching for relevance and amplification or is it a mic drop? Desperation or triumph? The hip-hop culture of assembling sound material — stealing, tweaking or borrowing it, with creativity and personal testiimony the catalyst — necessarily prioritizes a reputation for authenticity.  But where does identity come into conflict with authenticity? How well can you "represent" if the goal of acquiring and holding onto public attention, expanding a coterie into a mass following, remains uppermost? Pinnacl

Prolix and prolific, pianist Eldar Djangirov continues to load his music with intensity and detail

Eldar Djangirov with the vehicle for his grand improvisatory fantasias. Hailed as a jazz prodigy as soon as he resettled with his family in the United States shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, where he was born, Eldar Djangirov has released recordings in abundance. All that I've heard speaks to his ample resources of technique and imagination.  And with "Rhapsodize" ( Twelve Tone Resonance ), his most recent release fronting a trio, there is further evidence of his creative amplitude, presented in 11 installments of mostly originals.  Raviv Markovitz, bass, and Jimmy MacBride, drums, are his game companions. The first three cuts present too much of a muchness, for my taste: After an ebullient run through "A Night in Tunisia," the Dizzy Gillespie evergreen, the trio explores the sensory overload of today's airports (pre-pandemic, of course) in a piece called "Airport," with the piano sound extended and maximized technically. Th

'Racing a Butterfly': Anne Mette Iversen memorializes via small-group jazz an encounter while running

Bassist-composer Anne Mette Iversen A major force in acoustic small-ensemble writing, Anne Mette Iversen has a visionary grasp of program music in jazz. The Danish bassist, a luminary in the Brooklyn jazz scene at the turn of the century,  is now based in Berlin.  This CD expands on the legacy of her founding connection with Brooklyn Jazz Underground and is released on its label, BJURecords . In "Racing a Butterfly," Iversen and four other players have lots to do in projecting her visions onto a picturesque screen. The genesis is the sight and the feeling of visually tracking a butterfly during a run one morning in France. There was an interplay between runner and insect that seemed playful and intentional to Iversen, so she decided to translate the experience into music. In the title tune, appropriately, the theme seems to have lots of air beneath its wings. Peter Dahlgren's trombone solo lifts the well-formed theme to a higher plane. Often, though Iversen's

Covid-19: Will it miss you or kiss you?

COVID-19: Will it miss you? Putting the question to anti-maskers, social-distance scoffers. Posted by Jay Harvey on  Wednesday, July 1, 2020