Saturday, February 17, 2018

Roscoe Mitchell and Montreal-Toronto Art Orchestra - Ride The Wind (NESSA RECORDS 2018)

Steve Lacy once posited that the difference between an improviser and a composer is that the latter has abundant time to decide what to communicate musically with ten seconds whereas the former simply has ten seconds. It remains a pithy rejoinder to a strawman conundrum that’s dogged the intersection between the two idioms for decades. But what of the scenarios where improvisation actually serves as the basis for composition? Roscoe Mitchell explores that compelling overlap on Ride the Wind, a second document of investigations following last year’s at once similar and yet wholly separate Discussions on the Wide Hive label.

For the previous project Mitchell balanced orchestral transcriptions of earlier improvisations with new collective improvisations for the assembled large ensemble. The results revealed a captivating merger of the forms, although his own incendiary playing was limited to just several of the contexts leaving flautist Wilfrido Terrazas the welcome latitude to almost steal the show. Here, he exercises even more restraint on the playing end, appearing only in an extended, frenzied sopranino salvo on “They Rode for Them – Part Two” and leaving the disc’s remaining six pieces to the nineteen-piece Montreal-Toronto Art Orchestra. The deference is another indication of how seriously he takes the ensemble focus of the work.

Essayist Stuart Broomer drafts an edifying accounting of the session details in the accompanying notes and it’s immediately apparent that Mitchell’s canvas is different even though it pulls primarily from the same provenance as its predecessor, the series of recorded improvisations he engaged in with pianist Craig Taborn and percussionist Kikanju Baku from 2013 and later transcribed by a cadre of close colleagues. Mitchell handles the majority of orchestrations himself starting with swelling fugue-like waves of “They Rode for Them” that give way to an feathery improvisation by altoist Yves Charuest over shimmer color field conjured by the orchestra in sections.

“Splatter” builds from forceful collisions between percussion, strings, reeds and brass, which roil and swirl together in a textured centripetal spin. The title piece erupts with fanfare expansiveness before receding and dispersing into a succession of individual voices. Flimsy idiomatic descriptors like jazz, classical and the like are irrelevant to the proceedings, replaced by the umbrella adjectival phrase of organized and energized sound. The arboreal murmurings of “RUB” recall the Art Ensemble’s expeditions with “little instruments” while “Shards and Lemons” brings a delightful measure of dry humor in the timbre juxtaposition of disparate orchestral constituencies.

The disc caps with a quartet arrangement of the pivotal “Nonaah”, a piece Mitchell first performed nearly forty-five years ago. It’s one of the anchors of his oeuvre and the assembled team of three reedists and single bassist makes the rondo theme at the piece’s center both sing and shout before switching tacks to layered legato drones and icy overtones. As is the Nessa label hallmark, accompanying packaging and content is top-notch with copious session photos and the aforementioned deep dive annotations. Temporal considerations both immediate and indefinite converge to make this set another memorable entry in Mitchell’s copious catalog of momentous achievements.

Derek Taylor / Dusted Magazine

01 They Rode For Them - part 1 [12:51]
02 Splatter [04:34]
03 Ride The Wind [07:12]
04 They Rode For Them - part 2 [06:02]
05 Rub [07:06]
06 Shards And Lemons [12:34]
07 Nonaah [05:27]

Mary Halvorson - Code Girl (FIREHOUSE 12 RECORDS 2018)

Code Girl is the latest project of guitarist and composer Mary Halvorson, and her first project for which she has composed both lyrics and music. The band has already been described as “...a bold experiment in song form” by The New York Times. Deftly interpreted by Amirtha Kidambi (vocals), Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Michael Formanek (bass) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums), the music synthesizes influences of jazz, folk and improvisation to create an original take on songwriting. The debut album will be released on Firehouse 12 Records March 2018.

“Halvorson has set her sights high with Code Girl. It is the first time she has worked with a vocalist, not to mention writing lyrics for another member of an ensemble. The group exhibited some characteristic features of a Halvorson ensemble—tight associations between members where each musician develops their voice, responds directly and confidently with each other, connects at multiple points simultaneously. Meanwhile, the compositions also brew a rare cohesion that never feels forced and draws each member toward their greatest potential. Trumpet and voice mixed quite profoundly, at times, and the vocal styling of Kidambi—drawing from a broad range of influences ranging from the Carnatic tradition to old blues—created a haunting and emotionally rich panorama of colors, shapes, and images that made for both tangible and abstract consumption by the attentive audience.”

Amirtha Kidambi, vocals
Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpet
Michael Formanek, bass
Tomas Fujiwara, drums

Slagr - Dirr (HUBRO MUSIC 2018)

The meditative music of Slagr – whose latest album, ‘DIRR’, was recorded and mixed by Andreas Mjøs of Jaga Jazzist, the producer of two previous Slagr albums – provides a portal for the imagination to roam free: a magical sound-world whose simple melodies and drones combine with an audio-palette of austere yet beautiful instrumental textures to provoke an infinite sense of openness capable of conveying a myriad of meanings.

The instruments themselves – Hardanger fiddle, cello, vibraphone and glass harmonica – imply a measure of the music’s reach, from the folk tradition to renaissance polyphony to the contemporary avant-garde. It’s an aesthetic where the humble, home-spun legacy of Nordic fiddle tunes and church music meets the reticent yet sensuous minimalism of Morton Feldman amid a mysterious liminal soundscape where what is heard sometimes seems like it’s on the very edge of consciousness, as if one is half awake and half in dreams, the music half there and half not.

While it may be reductive to see Slagr’s music as quintessentially northern or Nordic, it does fit the Danish artist Asger Jorn’s conception of the north as “the dream centre of Europe”. This is music that drifts along like clouds, changing shape almost imperceptively as it goes. It also requires very careful attention from the listener, as one adapts one’s ears to a microscopic rate of change where the slow drag of a horsehair bow across bare strings can suggest the harmonic flutter of a Mongolian throat singer’s music of the spheres, and where the disturbance of air around the lip of a glass half-filled with water creates a spectral hum that seems to become part of the very atmosphere, like sonic weather.

But while the music of this very environmentally-aware trio (who in 2016 contributed to ‘Melting’, Amund Sjølie Sveen’s theatrical performance piece on the theme of global warming), inevitably carries strong associations of the natural world – one thinks, say, of a vast forest or tundra landscape whose open spaces represent a logical imaginative response to the wide open spaces of the music itself – there are important cultural associations too, not least with cinema and the filmic.

On the present album’s wonderfully pliant opening track, aur, Amund Sjølie Sveen’s glass harmonica drones can suggest the distressed piano-shimmers of Roy Budd’s introductory theme to the cult thriller ‘Get Carter’, or John Barry’s iconic cimbalon-strings on ‘The Ipcress File’, together with their well-attested mutual influence on the creepy Theremin opening to Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’. Indeed, one of the great attractions of Slagr’s imaginative open-ness is the potential it holds for hearing allusive echoes of all sorts of things, from sleigh bells to seances. And the idea of a seance – the conjuring up of a particular spirit or atmosphere – might be a relevant reference point. There is an inescapable sense of the uncanny here, a Gothic evocation of rituals in the dark that is very effective whether the music is listened to attentively or used as a kind of subtle ambient ectoplasm floating in the background.

‘DIRR’, while maintaining a satisfying aesthetic unity that allows the album to be perceived as a thematic whole, like a suite or a cycle of related pieces, is also remarkably various. The interweaving of the respective instruments’ at times strikingly similar-sounding timbres, the wide range of noises each instrument makes, and the constant alteration or exchange between the ‘lead’ voice or voices from track to track creates a continual sense of adventure and surprise that is very appealing. We may not know what the music of Slagr is about – if music can be said to be ‘about’ anything – but it conveys a powerful atmospheric presence, a sort of aural spirit-photograph or record of the spaces – both internal and external – the music seems to move you through as it plays.

1 Aur 2:46
2 Strimesong 4:43
3 Flimmer 6:07
4 Hel 7:01
5 Varle 4:46
6 Eir 3:07
7 September 4:15
8 Øyr 2:40

Cello – Katrine Schiøtt
Design – Aslak Gurholt*, Thomas Nordby, Yokoland
Hardingfele [Hardanger Fiddle] – Anne Hytta
Mastered By – Morgan Nicolaysen
Mixed By – Andreas Mjøs
Music By [All Music By] – Anne Hytta, Slagr
Photography By [Photo] – Amund Sjølie Sveen
Producer [Produced By] – Slagr
Recorded By – Andreas Mjøs, Espen Høydalsvik
Vibraphone, Performer [Tuned Glasses] – Amund Sjølie Sveen

07. March – Oslo, Nynorskens hus
08. March – Notodden
14. March – Trondheim

We Out Here - We Out Here (BROWNSWOOD RECORDINGS 2018)

A primer on London’s bright-burning young jazz scene, this new compilation brings together a collection of some of its sharpest talents. A set of nine newly-recorded tracks, We Out Here captures a moment where genre markers matter less than raw, focused energy. Surveying the album’s running order, it could easily serve as a name-checking exercise for some of London’s most-tipped and hardworking bands of the past couple of years. Recorded across three long, fruitful days in a North West London studio, the results speak for themselves: they’re a window into the wide-eyed future of London’s musical underground. 

The album bottles up some of the vital ideas emanating from that burgeoning movement. A reflection of how London’s jazz-influenced music has reached outward into new spaces, the sound of the record draws from a wide pool. There’s plenty of crossover between each of the groups, too, speaking to the close-knit circles which make up the scene; shared line-ups reflect the mutual cooperation and DIY spirit which are second-nature. 

Ubiquitous, much-lauded saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings is the project’s musical director. His own recent projects span from South Africa-connected, spiritually-minded jazz players Shabaka and the Ancestors to Sons of Kemet, who match diasporically-connected compositions with viscerally-direct live shows. His input ties together a deft, genre-agnostic sensibility that’s shared through all the players on the record. 

Nodding to spiritual jazz influences, Maisha’s ‘Inside The Acorn’ is a wandering, explorative rumination, balancing delicate washes of piano and percussion with sharp interplay between flute and bass clarinet. Ezra Collective – whose drummer and bandleader Femi Koleoso has toured with Pharaohe Monch – run a tight, Afrobeat-tipped rhythm on ‘Pure Shade’, with the final third changing gear into a melodic, momentous closing stretch. 

On Moses Boyd’s ‘The Balance’, the drummer – who co-produced Zara McFarlane’s recent, critically-lauded album, as well as touring with the likes of Sampha – builds a steadily-paced, atmospheric creation, loosening up the rhythm and intensity as it progresses. Theon Cross – who’s part of Hutchings’ Sons of Kemet – starts his track, ‘Brockley’, with the solo, distinctive low rumble of his tuba. Winding and mesmeric, it sees tuba and sax lines winding together in rhythmic and melodic parallels. 

Showing a similarly controlled approach, Nubya Garcia’s ‘Once’ is taut and carefully-poised, her tenor sax guiding a carefully-built energy to an explosive conclusion. Shabaka Hutchings’ ‘Black Skin, Black Masks’ is typically difficult-to-define: with an off-kilter, shifting rhythmic backbone, repeated phrases – mirrored between clarinet and bass clarinet – shape the track with an alluring hue. 

Triforce’s ‘Walls’ is a performance in two parts: starting with Mansur Brown’s languorous, lyrical guitar, the second half switches up to a low-slung, g-funk-tipped groove. Joe Armon-Jones, whose ludicrous chops on the piano have seen him touring with the likes of Ata Kak, showcases earworm-like, insistent motifs on ‘Go See’, balanced with a playful, improvisatory approach with room for ad-libbing and solos a-plenty. Finally, taking a softer tact than many of the other entries, Kokoroko – whose guitarist Oscar Jerome has been making waves with his solo material – spin a lyrical, steady-paced meditation on ‘Abusey Junction’, matching chanted vocals with gently-played guitar.

1. Maisha - Inside The Acorn
2. Ezra Collective - Pure Shade
3. Moses Boyd - The Balance
4. Theon Cross - Brockley
5. Nubya Garcia - Once
6. Shabaka Hutchings - Black Skin, Black Masks
7. Triforce - Walls
8. Joe Armon-Jones - Go See
9. Kokoroko - Abusey Junction

The Fulcrum Ensemble - Tim Daisy's Fulcrum Ensemble 'Animation' (RELAY RECORDINGS 2018)

The Fulcrum Ensemble is an experimental music sextet organized by Chicago based percussionist and composer Tim Daisy and is a primary vehicle for his compositional style which mixes intricate orchestration with spirited improvisation. 

The three compositions on the group’s latest release “Animation” take inspiration from a range of contemporary musical ideas including: the innovative performance and compositional techniques pioneered by the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, structural and textural innovations connected to contemporary composers including Earle Brown, Anthony Braxton and Terry Riley, as well as the energy and spirit generated by the American “free jazz” movement of the 1960’s and 70's, notably the work of Julius Hemphill, Marion Brown, and Don Cherry. 

The intention of the Fulcrum Ensemble’s music lies in the assimilation of these multiple influences with the hopes of creating something new and unique. Utilizing some of the leading lights of today’s improvised music scene, the realization of these compositions would not be possible without the strong personalities, shared experience, good humor, inventiveness and collaborative spirit of the ensemble members. 

‘Animation’ is the second recorded document from the Fulcrum Ensemble (formerly called the Celebration Sextet – see relay records 016) and the group has every intention to keep creating these unique collaborative sounds together well into the future.

1. Corner Counter 11:10
2. Glass And Lead 08:52
3. Means To An End 16:33

James Falzone: Clarinet
Steve Swell: Trombone
Josh Berman: Cornet
Fred Lonberg - Holm: Cello
Dave Rempis: Alto and Baritone Saxophones
Tim Daisy: Drums/Marimba/Metronomes/Califone/Composer

The second release from composer/percussionist Tim Daisy's latest ensemble, (formerly known as the Celebration sextet.) Three brand new compositions mix intricate orchestration with spirited improvisation, performed by a cast of world-class improvisers. Recorded at the Elastic Arts Foundation in Chicago, IL

All Compositions by Tim Daisy (Split Music/ASCAP)
Recorded on August 8th, 2017 at the Elastic Arts Foundation, Chicago Il
Recorded by Dave Zuchowski / One Room Studio
Mixed/Mastered by Alex Inglizian at Experimental Sound Studio
Artwork/layout by Fede Peñalva