Thursday, March 17, 2016

Marc Copland - Zenith (2016)

Label: Innervoice Jazz
Source: Allaboutjazz

After releasing a series of excellent but under-recognized CDs on various small record labels—starting in the mid-1980s— pianist Marc Copland rose in prominence in 2006 when he took up residence on Germany's Pirouet Records. The highlight of his Pirouet days was a set of trio discs wrapped in a marketing package dubbed "The New York Trio Recordings." Modinha (2006); Voices (2007); and Night Whispers (2008), with a shifting set of band mates: Gary Peacock or Drew Gress on bass, Paul Motian or Bill Stewart drums, showcased Copland's skills to perfection. These discs attain the pinnacle of the very best piano trio offerings, ever, and they won for Copland some very well-deserved recognition. Copeland's sound in the piano trio is singular: he dips deeply into harmony, creating glistening chords and shimmering rhythms, a sort of diaphanous dream music so beautiful it's almost hard to believe.

Then there's Marc Copland teaming with horns, whether it's with saxophonist Greg Osby on Crosstalk (Pirouet Records, 2011), or with trumpeter Randy Brecker on Both/And (Nagel Heyer, 2006), the horn additions to his trio set-up changes his music, giving it a different momentum, more urgency, more grgariousness.

Zenith finds Copland with long time cohorts Drew Gress (bass) and Joey Baron (drums), teaming with trumpeter Ralph Alessi, for perhaps the best of the pianist's non-trio outings. It also finds him without the backing of a record company. Marc Copland has started InnerVoice Jazz, his own label.

Alessi, after releasing very successful records on the Clean Feed and CamJazz labels, has landed on ECM Records with Baida (2013), and in early 2016, Quiver. He is a consummate jazz man/improviser, with sideman slots in recordings, sitting in with Drew Gress on Black Butterflies (Premonition Records, 2005), plus set with Ravi Coltrane, Sam Rivers, Don Byron and Steve Coleman. He brings to Zenith a brashness and energy, a beautiful sense of abstraction.

"Sun at the Zenith" opens the disc with Copland's impressionistic melody. His piano is, as expected, gorgeous. The band floats. Alessi's open horn has a measured richness as it issues wandering lines that weave sinuously in and around the rhythm section. "Mystery Song," from the Duke Ellington songbook, 1931, doesn't sound Ellingtonian. It's a controlled tumult, a shifty, sneaky version, Copland's piano work sounding particularity inspired and on edge, with Baron and Gress injecting the sense of rolling, tumbling mystery.

The centerpiece, "Air We've Never Breathed," is a fourteen minute group improvisation, a sometimes playful, sometimes introspective rumination on Bill Zavatsky's poem, printed on the inside of the fold-out cover. "Waterfalls" is roiling rapids, an implacable rush of water. "Best Bet" brings in a beautiful ballad mood, and "Hurricane" begins gently, calm before the storm mode, then slow cranks things up to near gale force.

Zenith, Marc Copland's debut on his new label, meets all of the expectations his stellar work at Pirouet Records established.  Dan McClenaghan

1. Sun At the Zenith  8:26
2. Mystery Song  9:17
3. Air We've Never Breathed  14:00
4. Waterfalls  7:52
5. Best Bet  9:11
6. Hurricane  10:39  

Marc Copland piano
Ralph Alessi trumpet
Drew Gress bass
Joey Baron drums



Joe Chambers - Landscapes (2016)

Label: Savant
Source: All Music

 Joe Chambers is an extremely versatile and tasteful master of all post-bop idioms. Chambers drives an ensemble with a light hand; his time is excellent and his grasp of dynamics superb. He's not a flashy drummer by any means, but he's a generous collaborator who makes any group of which he's a part as good as it can possibly be. Chambers worked around Washington, D.C., in his late teens. After moving to New York in 1963, he played with Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Giuffre, and Andrew Hill. In the mid-'60s, Chambers played with a number of the more progressively inclined musicians associated with the Blue Note label, such as vibist Bobby Hutcherson and saxophonists Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, and Sam Rivers.

In 1970, Chambers joined Max Roach's percussion ensemble, M'Boom, as an original member. During the '70s, Chambers played with a great many of jazz's most prominent elder statesmen, including Sonny Rollins, Tommy Flanagan, Charles Mingus, and Art Farmer. With Flanagan and bassist Reggie Workman, Chambers formed the Super Jazz Trio. In the late '70s, he co-led a band with organist Larry Young. Chambers recorded with bands led by trumpeter Chet Baker and percussionist Ray Mantilla in the early '80s. He also maintained his association with Roach into the '90s.

As a solo artist, Chambers has released a tidy number of albums including Almoravid (1973) with trumpeter Woody Shaw, New World (1976), New York Concerto (1981), Phantom of the City (1992), Mirrors (1998), and Urban Grooves (2002). Beginning with 2006's Outlaw, Chambers released a steady stream of albums for Savant Records with Horace to Max (2010), Joe Chambers Moving Pictures Orchestra (2012), and Landscapes (2016), featuring bassist Ira Coleman and pianist Rick Germanson. 



Nolatet - Dogs (2016)

Label: Rotal Potato Family

The wit in the name of Nolatet finds a direct reflection in the music they make. Yet together as a four piece unit, keyboardist Brian Haas (Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey), vibraphonist Mike Dillon (Critters Buggin,' Garage A Trois), bassist James Singleton (John Scofield, John Medeski) and drummer Johnny Vidacovich (Charlie Hunter, Robert Walter), create a seamless sound that transcends comparisons to their previous work. No question Dogs is steeped, and deeply so, within the grand tradition of New Orleans, but even as Nolatet pay reverent homage to the Crescent City, they do so only fleetingly as they nod to their own previous work.

Thus, "Pops" hearkens to the atmospheric likes of Haas' work with JFJO even as Singleton's bowing calls to mind his trio outing with drummer Stanton Moore. Likewise, his jaunty intro to "Bongo Joe," as he's joined with Vidacovich in a parallel bounce, gives way to recurring stretches of melody, explored by Haas on acoustic piano, underpinned with their fused rhythm work. At moments like these---and there are more than a few of them here—it sounds like there were more than four musicians within NOLA's Esplanade Studios making this album.

In a marked contrast to his often jarring eccentricity, Dillon knows when to lay out and remain in the shadows of deep support, no doubt fully aware he gets his room to shine when it counts, as in his point counterpoint with Haas, again on grand ivories during the title song. No man in this band remains invisible or inaudible for long though and each has a savvy instinct for when to step up, as does Singleton here, after Vidacovich's brushes enact a gateway for him to enter.  Read more...

Bongo Joe
Morphine Drip / Lento
There’s No Fire
Mellon Ball

Brian Haas: piano
Mike Dillon: vibraphone, percussion
James Singleton: acoustic bass
Johnny Vidacovich: drums



Nik Bartsch's Mobile - Continuum (2016)

Source & Label: ECM

"This music draws its energy from the tension between compositional precision and the self-circumvention of improvisation. From self-implied restriction stems freedom. Ecstasy through asceticism.”

Swiss pianist and composer Nik Bärtsch was born in 1971 in Zurich, where he still lives. He took piano and percussion lessons from the age of 8 and subsequently studied at the city’s Musikhochschule and university, simultaneously freelancing in diverse bands, “playing everything from fusion to free-funk, and all kinds of extroverted jazz”.

As Bärtsch’s interest in composition grew and he immersed himself in the practices of John Cage and Morton Feldman, his attraction to live jazz waned: “I just didn’t see the sense of it any more, for me as an instrumentalist”. In 1997 he created an acoustic group, Mobile, which “develops integral musical concepts within a musical framework”.  Continuum, with an “extended” version of the Mobile ensemble is scheduled for Spring 2016 release on ECM.

The band Ronin (named after the freelance warriors in Japanese history who served no master) was born in 2001 out of Bärtsch’s desire for a group that could also work in the clubs and “play with more power”. The pianist has described the band’s work as “Zen-funk” and “ritual groove”: “Our music is somewhere between jazz and modern composition, progressive pop, ritual music, groove music in general”. Writer Michel Mettler has characterised the group’s aesthetic as “creating the maximum effect by minimum means”: phrases and motives are repeated, combined and layered, creating shifting, complex rhythmic patterns which typically build slowly over time with overwhelming dramatic impact.

Ronin has released three studio albums on ECM to date, Stoa (2006), Holon (2008) and Llyrìa (2010), as well as a double CD, Live (2012), which anthologises a suite of concert performances from their appearances around the world between 2009 and 2011, a collection which reveals its own inner logic and dramaturgy.



Hendrik Meurkens - Harmonicus Rex (2016)

Label: Height Advantage

While the swing side of harmonica master Hendrik Meurkens' personality has basically been dormant for the past fifteen years, it hasn't disappeared. After highlighting his Brazilian jazz bona fides on record after record, Meurkens now returns to straight-ahead jazz on this instantly pleasing date.

Harmonicus Rex, despite it's humorously monstrous title, isn't a roaring beast. There are no high speed scenarios to speak of and no bash-and-crash displays to witness. This record's strength is in its ability to get the point across without all of that needless showboating. It's essentially a model for how feel and taste can trump tempo and dynamic excess in terms of establishing a swinging environment. And with a cast that includes drumming legend Jimmy Cobb and under-the-radar heavies like pianist Dado Moroni and bassist Marco Panascia, it's easy to see why this album projects that train of thought.

In observing Meurkens here, it becomes increasingly clear that he's a master conversationalist with some incredible ears and reflexes. That's something that's often overlooked in discussions of his work, but it's central to the success of his art. Whether trading solos with trumpeter Joe Magnarelli on "Mundell's Mood," responding to Moroni with brief and subtle gestures during "In Your Own Sweet Way," blending and balancing his sound against that of Anders Bostrom's alto flute, or playing off of the rhythm section when in the spotlight, Meurkens' foremost concern is how he relates to the other musicians and the music at hand.

Meurkens clearly relies on a recipe that calls for stirring all of the essential elements of a straightforward date together and cooking everything on low to medium settings. It's a formula for success. By exploring the mellow environs of ballads like "Afternoon" and "Darn That Dream," inviting a little heat and embracing the swing uplift on "SKJ" and "Up Jumped Spring," finding the sweet spots between those locales, and even taking a quick dip into bossa territory on "A Summer In San Francisco," Meurkens manages to create a complete picture that offers rich viewpoints to admire from wherever you happen to be standing. 

Mundell's Mood
In Your Own Sweet Way
Falling In Love With Love
A Summer In San Francisco
Up Jumped Spring
Mean Dog Blues
Darn That Dream
 What's New

Hendrik Meurkens: harmonica
Dado Moroni; piano
Marco Panascia: bass
Jimmy Cobb: drums
Joe Magnarelli: trumpet, flugelhorn (1, 4, 5, 8)
Anders Bostrom: alto flute (2, 5, 7, 9)