Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Avishai Cohen - Two Roses (Friday April 16, 2021 NAÏVE / BELIEVE)

Many musicians dream of making a record with a symphony orchestra, but few can afford to make it a reality. Thanks to an extraordinary ability to compose melodies that take root in his listeners’ minds and because he has patiently performed these compositions on stage to the point where they are practically a part of him, Avishai Cohen was well-positioned to execute such an ambition. Two Roses (Friday April 16th, 2021, NAÏVE / BELIEVE) is the result of a long process, which began in 2013 when Cohen recorded his album Almah, with his trio and a small chamber ensemble of four string instruments and an oboe.

Cohen’s music is an intricate tapestry of global and historical influence. A master of Afro-Caribbean music, Cohen has absorbed its complexity. Equally affected by the melodies of Israeli folklore, and the complexity of their Sephardi, Ashkenazi or Yemeni heritages, he reintroduced the traditional Ladino “Morenika,” as well as popular tunes from his native country, such as “Two Roses”, which lends its title to this album. The title itself works as a metaphor for the album’s adept fusion of jazz, and the symphonic world. Cohen, a fan of jazz standards, which he likes to make his own through very personal arrangements — in this recording, with a version of “Nature Boy” — nevertheless remains a composer of themes in his own right. Many of his own “classics” take their cues from North Africa, the Middle East, Slavic countries and Russia.

“Recording with an orchestra is an adventure in itself. It’s nothing like making a jazz record,” An orchestra has its own rhythm, you have to understand how they breathe, says Cohen. 

And now he has finally found an ensemble capable of providing this experience: the 92 talented women and men of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Hanson. Cohen did not embark on this adventure alone: his trio includes two musicians for whom he is full of praise. Azerbaijani pianist Elchin Shirinov, who appeared on Cohen’s previous record, and New Jersey native drummer Mark Guiliana, with whom Cohen revolutionized the trio’s approach. 

“I’ve basically devoted myself to the same songs my whole life,” admits Cohen, “which hasn’t prevented me from writing and learning new ones…” He explains that his arrangement in E major of “A Child Is Born,” by Thad Jones, now transposed to the symphonic scale, dates back to the time of his own International Vamp Band, in which he played primarily the piano. Two Roses, however, includes originals such as “When I’m Falling,” which testifies to the autobiographical dimension that his work has taken. “Hearing songs like ‘Morenika’ or ‘Puncha Puncha’ is like switching eras, finding yourself in a time when nothing is the same,” notes Cohen. The unfolding of Two Roses, in several respects, resembles the soundtrack of an epic film, at times tinged with nostalgia, carried elsewhere by a hectic and vibrant energy. On Two Roses, the only things that count are performance, emotion and the personal expression of a citizen of the world who sees music as his only true homeland.

Almah Sleeping – Avishai Cohen (composer, arranger), Jonathan Keren (arranger)
When I’m Falling – Avishai Cohen (composer, arranger), Jonathan Keren (arranger)
Nature Talking – Avishai Cohen (composer, arranger), Jonathan Keren (arranger)
Song For My Brother – Avishai Cohen (composer), Robert Sadin (arranger)
Emotional Storm – Avishai Cohen (composer, arranger), Per Ekdahl (arranger)
Two Roses (Shnei Shoshanim) – Mordechai Ze’ira (composer), Ya’Akov Orland (author), Avishai Cohen (arranger), Robert Sadin (arranger)
Nature Boy – Eden Ahbez (author, composer), Avishai Cohen (arranger), Jonathan Keren (arranger) 
A Child Is Born – Thad Jones (composer), Avishai Cohen (arranger), Robert Sadin (arranger)
Puncha Puncha – Avishai Cohen (arranger), Robert Sadin (arranger)
Morenika – Avishai Cohen (arranger), Robert Sadin (arranger)
Seven Seas* – Avishai Cohen (composer, arranger), Robert Sadin (arranger)
Arab Medley – Avishai Cohen (arranger), Tscho Theissing (arranger)
Overture ‘Noam’, Op. 1* – Avishai Cohen (author), Robert Sadin (arranger)
Alon Basela – Avishai Cohen (author, composer), Robert Sadin (arranger)*vinyl exclusive

Avishai Cohen: vocals, acoustic bass, electric bass, minimoog synthesizer
Mark Guiliana: drums
Elchin Shirinov: piano
Alexander Hanson: orchestra conductor
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra

Produced by: Avishai Cohen, Lars Nilsson, Lenny Ben Basat

Mark Feldman - Sounding Point (Intakt Records 2021)

The New York violin virtuoso Mark Feldman presents a new solo album, a portrait of the artist now, some twenty-six years after his first solo CD. Sounding Point contains six of his own compositions as well as one piece each by Sylvie Courvoisier and Ornette Coleman. Coleman’s 1987 Peace Warriors is one of three pieces in which Feldman skillfully employs overdubs. The American jazz critic Kevin Whitehead writes in the liner notes: “In my 30+ years following violinist Mark Feldman, no record I know shows him off better than Sounding Point. He’s made much great music in groups, but solo play gives him maximum elbow room, fully exposing the richness of his sound, his distinct personal voice, and his sensitivity to sonic texture and pacing, all at the service of musical storytelling.

Take for example the shortest piece here, the improvised “Rebound.” He starts with a simple gesture, the bow’s horsehairs bouncing lightly on the strings, a gesture he periodically returns to (and ends with), between scenic flights: high notes and trills, bracing close-interval wailing on adjacent strings, a burst of percussive pizzicato, falling glissandi, whispered notes barely bowed… Fancy stuff. Yet those expansions and contractions, and the contrasting dynamics, sound natural as breathing.”

1. As We Are 04:31

2. Sounding Point 04:10

3. Peace Warriors 07:27

4. Unbound 04:30

5. Viciously 09:25

6. Rebound 04:01

7. Maniac 05:00

8. New Normal 04:14

Mark Feldman: Violin

Compositions by Mark Feldman (SUISA, ASCAP), except “As We Are” by Sylvie Courvoisier (SUISA, ASCAP) and “Peace Warriors” by Ornette Coleman (Phrase Text Music, ASCAP). Recorded at Studio Lulu, Brooklyn, April 2020, by Owen Mulholland. Mixed by Ryan Streber. Mastered July 2020 by Scott Hull, Masterdisk Studios, NY.

Fred Frith / Ikue Mori - A Mountain Doesn't Know It's Tall (Intakt Records 2021)

A Mountain Doesn't Know It's Tall. The title reflects the mood of this duo record of Fred Frith and Ikue Mori – playful, poetic, mysterious and open. The guitarist and the sound-artist have been working together for forty years. Live excerpts from their work are documented on Fred Frith's 3 CD box set Live at the Stone (Intakt CD 320). In January 2015, Frith and Mori met in Germany to record the music for a radio play for Werner Penzel, the filmmaker and longtime friend of Fred Frith, for his film Zen for Nothing. After finishing their work, they used the free studio day to record their first duo album together. Influenced by the film music and inspired by the long friendship 15 pieces were created that are both wonderful sound sculptures and fascinating dialogues.

Fred Frith writes: “Air moving through ears and hair and lungs and pores, through songs,and scrapes, and scraps of this, that and the other.” And Ikue Mori writes: “… it was about playing with the everyday noises that arise when cooking, playing ping-pong, and especially when laughing. There is a lot of joy in working with these recordings, interacting with them and making music.”

1. Bodaishin 01:07

2. The Biggest Lie 00:57

3. Stirred by Wind and Waves 01:23

4. Nothing to It 05:11

5. Fushiryō 01:42

6. The Biggest Idiots 02:11

7. Nothing at All 03:16

8. Shōdōka 03:02

9. Good for What? 02:39

10. The Same Moon Sometimes Seems to Smile 02:12

11. Things as They Are 01:56

12. Hishiryō 03:50

13. A Thief Breaks into an Empty House 02:17

14. Now Here 05:17

15. Samadhi 05:27

Fred Frith: Home-made instruments, various toys and objects, electric guitar (on “Nothing to It” and “Now Here”)

Ikue Mori: Laptop electronics

Alexander Hawkins (feat. Evan Parker/Matthew Wright + Riot Ensemble) - Togetherness Music (Intakt Records 2021)

With Togetherness Music, British pianist and composer Alexander Hawkins presents a fascinating musical panorama, a distillation and synthesis of different traditions and influences, reflecting the broad spectrum of an extraordinary musical spirit. Released to celebrate Hawkins' 40th birthday, this six-movement quasi-orchestral work is an extensive expansion and revision of a piece which originated with a commission from conductor and composer Aaron Holloway-Nahum for the Riot Ensemble, to feature Hawkins and saxophone icon Evan Parker – with whom Hawkins has enjoyed a now more than decade-long musical association – as soloists. The new incarnation of the work features the original forces, augmented by additional acoustic improvisers and the electronic wizardry of Matthew Wright.

Whilst the Riot Ensemble are primarily renowned for their performan- ces of notated contemporary classical music, and Parker is one of the seminal figures in free improvisation and the post-Coltrane jazz continuum, roles shift fluidly throughout this work, creating an entirely distinctive soundworld.

"Collaborations among improvisers and classical musicians can be fraught – a clash of cultures," writes musician James Fei in the comprehensive liner notes. "When it works, however, something unique and in-between becomes possible." Indeed: Togetherness Music shows new musical possibilities. A highly contemporary musical work, which points to the future.

1. Indistinguishable From Magic 09:31

2. Sea No Shore 07:24

3. Ensemble Equals Together 06:57

4. Leaving the Classroom of a Beloved Teacher 08:31

5. Ecstatic Boababs 08:50

6. Optimism of the Will 09:33

Alexander Hawkins: Piano, Composition

Evan Parker: Soprano Saxophone

Aaron Holloway-Nahum: Conductor

Rachel Musson: Flute, Tenor Saxophone

Percy Pursglove: Trumpet

James Arben: Flute, Bass Clarinet

Neil Charles: Double Bass

Mark Sanders: Drums, Percussion

Matthew Wright: Electronics

Benedict Taylor: Viola

Hannah Marshall: Cello

Music by Alexander Hawkins (PRS). Rec July 30, 2020 at Challow Park Studios, Oxfordshire, UK by Will Biggs. Assistant engineer: James Towler. Mixed and mastered September 2020, London, UK, by Alex Bonney. Cover art and graphic design: Jonas Schoder. Linernotes: James Fei. Produced by Alexander Hawkins and Intakt Records.

Aki Takase / Christian Weber / Michael Griener - Auge (Intakt Records 2021)

"I really love the piano trio,” says Aki Takase, with a passion that mirrors her playing. “But not the old idea, where the pianist is king, and the bassist and the drummer are just sidemen. We are equal.” Indeed, all three musicians are in focus in the trio AUGE: bassist Christian Weber and drummer Michael Griener are among the most original virtuosos of their instruments. On Intakt they have presented brilliant albums with the New York saxophonist Ellery Eskelyn.

Christian Weber recorded albums with Co Streiff and Oliver Lake. Michael Griener is a member of the band Die Enttäuschung and Monks Casino with Alexander von Schlippenbach. Over the course of nearly four decades pianist Aki Takase has provided fresh impetus with different musicians such as reedists David Murray and Rudi Mahall or fellow pianist (and husband) Alexander von Schlippenbach.

The Berlin-based Chicago journalist Peter Margasak writes about the recording: “The music on the debut album from the collective trio AUGE is wide-open, operating from an unobstructed vista where every thing seems possible ... Free improvisation rarely sounds so cogent, rippling with an adroit command of rhythm and harmony that erases the line between design and spontaneity.”

1. Last Winter 02:58

2. Drops of Light 04:47

3. Are Eyes Open? 01:33

4. No Tears 04:13

5. The Pillow Book 06:30

6. Face of the Bass 06:28

7. Calcagno 02:50

8. Out of Sight 02:37

9. While in Rome 02:27

10. Motion in the Ocean 02:49

11. And if not, why Not 02:58

12. Underfelt 02:08

13. Who’s Going to Bell the Cat? 04:27

14. The End Justifies the Means 02:12

Aki Takase: Piano

Christian Weber: Bass

Michael Griener: Drums

The Tiptons Sax Quartet & Drums - Wabi Sabi (April 2, 2021 Sowiesound Records)

For over three decades, THE TIPTONS SAXOPHONE QUARTET & DRUMS have been making music to galvanize the senses and take listeners through unforgettable soundscapes. But in that time, they’ve been around the block enough to know to appreciate the unexpected ways in which the process of making good music can sometimes unfold. So rather than bemoaning what is not perfect in a perfect world, they’ve learned as improvisers how to work with limited resources or unforeseen challenges.

That is the spirit behind the band’s new single “Wabi Sabi” (out Feb 19, 2021) inspired by and named after the Japanese philosophy that translates roughly as “find beauty and take pleasure in the imperfect”. The track promises a forthcoming collection of new music to illustrate the sometimes unexpected beauty in our chaotic world. 

The Tiptons’ 14th album Wabi Sabi (to be released April 2, 2021 on Sowiesound Records) features eleven new compositions for saxophone, voice, and drums that explore styles ranging from modern emanations of traditional African American field hollers to the hum of tires on the Autobahn, tricks for the mind, a yodeling deconstruction, popping funk for December’s doldrums, and upbeat grooves for bad people with good intentions. 

With this latest release, the internationally renowned all-female saxophone quartet with drums is celebrating over 30 years as a band. Founding members/co-leaders Amy Denio (alto sax, clarinet, voice) and Jessica Lurie (soprano/alto/tenor sax, voice), are joined by Sue Orfield (tenor sax, voice), Tina Richerson (baritone sax, voice), and Robert Kainar of Salzburg, Austria on drums and percussion.

As a testament to the human willpower to survive obstacles when on a determined creative path, the band takes its name in honor of trailblazing transgender saxophone icon Billy Tipton. Born female and named ‘Dorothy Lucille’, Billy took on their brother’s name, choosing to live their life as a man in order to embrace their chosen identity and pursue a career in music as an instrumentalist in a heavily male-dominated field.

The all-women sax quartet had originally been going by the moniker Phlegm Fatale until they learned about the death of the tenacious musician and booking agent in 1989. The band asked Tipton’s family for permission to use their name, and with the family’s blessing, re-named their sax quartet in honor of the artist. At first, calling themselves the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, the group later expanded their repertoire and eventually shortened their name to ‘The Tiptons Sax Quartet’.”

“We started as an all women’s saxophone quartet back then because there really just weren’t any,” says Denio. “And as saxophone players, we loved the idea of getting more play-time because in typical bands sax players often have to wait around for very restrained participation.

As the group developed, we began to experiment more with working out our own arrangements, and that in turn evolved into us writing our own compositions.”

Those out-of-the-box origins and their comfort with evolving and reinventing themselves over time are both indicative of elements that really bring charm to the band: that they are a truly  diverse group of individuals, composers, and musicians. The individual members of the band are all interested in disparate traditions of world music, have different tastes, and very different styles of playing, making what they do together that much richer. Another unusual aspect of the group is their incorporation of the human voice into the band. Most saxophone quartets don’t sing, but the Tiptons love singing.  “All sax all the time can get tedious,” says Denio. “And I think that’s why we added drums later too, adding a groove to inspire different colors and add dynamic. We’re always interested in expanding our sphere.”

This unique admixture of influences and dynamics has resulted in an expansive catalog of  Tiptons material, ranging from micro-Big Band to Gospel, Bluegrass to Balkan, whimsical Chamber Jazz, and nocturnal Funk to Free Jazz Improvisation. Using saxophones, clarinet, their own voices, drums, and inventive percussion, the band creates a genre-busting ‘world soul’ sound.  That sound achieves new creative heights on Wabi Sabi. 
“December’s Dance,” a Bebop number composed and arranged by Tipton’s baritone player Tina Richerson, shows off a compelling funk groove layered with acrobatic horn lines, propelling forward into reflection, soloist expression, and a surprise ending.  The track goes a long way in defining the Tiptons as a powerful groove band, able to play complex music with difficult melodies, yet making it fun and danceable rather than something that has the feel of an intellectual exercise.

Literally translated as ‘the large urinator, “El Gran Orinador” is written and arranged by Amy Denio as a Latin-tinged composition inspired by Pablo Neruda’s poem about a crazy rainstorm.. Somewhere between a Mosambique or possibly a Songo, the song can only be described as truly Tiptonesque! In a rare opportunity to improvise on a studio recording, the track features a free section in the middle where the band improvises the sound and fury of a storm using unusual saxophone techniques such as breathing through to make wind sounds and moving fingers on keys without playing to emulate the sound of raindrops.

“Working Song,” composed and arranged by Sue Orfield is inspired by traditional field hollers, a type of work song created by African-American slaves working on cotton plantations, not meant to keep a strict rhythm with the work, but to express the feelings of the workers. 

“Torquing of the Spheres,” a composition by Jessica Lurie, is based  on the safe yet Kerouacian maneuverings of the band’s Austrian driver Robert driver. The song describes a point in the middle of a European tour when everyone was exhausted, zoning out napping in the car. And all of a sudden, the band was awakened to the sounds of Robert intermittently speeding up, slowing down, moving off and onto the rumble strip on the side of the highway. He was amazingly playing the Autobahn like an instrument to the Tioptons’ inspired awe.

“For us, Wabi Sabi is the very richest array of compositions that we’ve done thus far,” notes Denio. “The compositions are super-refined, showing that all of us have really matured as composers. And technically as players were, we’re really out shining what we’ve done in the past. I like to say it’s a trifecta: it’s great compositions, really, really strong playing …and this all came together in a really inspiring environment.”  …’

Thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign, the Tiptons Sax Quartet met in Seattle in January 2020 to rehearse, perform and record the 11 brand new songs just ahead of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that would soon put a death grip on much of the music industry. The band only had a couple of days to rehearse before a trial by fire, doing several live radio broadcasts and performing concerts with the new material before heading to Seattle’s Studio LITHO, owned by Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, to work with the Tipton’s favorite recording and mixing engineer Floyd Reitsma.

Meanwhile, one by one, the band members came down with the worst case of the flu imaginable right in the midst of recording, often having to lie down in between takes. Yet, the band persevered and somehow managed to record everything in three days before sending the mix off to be mastered by Rachel Field at Resonant Mastering in Seattle.

“That’s how we roll and that’s the beauty of this group. We all bring our own unique contributions and ideas to the unknown; we improvise and songs tend to mutate and evolve through the experience. It’s always a super labor-intensive effort. But in the end, you get this vital, live feeling. It’s really is, basically, a live album with very few overdubs”.

1. December's Dance 04:28
2. El Gran Orinador 05:30
3. Wabi Sabi 04:14
4. A Sparkley Con 06:18
5. Root Dance 05:05
6. Torqueing of the Spheres 06:39
7. Jouissance 05:58
8. Memory Bait 04:32
9. Moadl Joadl 03:44
10. 3 x Heather's 17 06:29
11. Working Song 05:22
12. 4+7=47 (improvisation for donor Phillip Kancianic 03:36

Amy Denio: alto sax, voice
Jessica Lurie: soprano, alto, tenor sax, voice
Sue Orfield: tenor sax, voice
Tina Richerson: baritone sax, voice
Robert Kainar: drums