Sunday, July 31, 2011

2 Sem 2011 - Part Four

Luigi Martinale Trio
Le Sue Ali

By Dusty Groove America
A trio date, but one with a really fresh feel – kind of its own mix of lyrical energy and rhythmic pulse – in ways that remind us of some of our favorite French piano sessions of the past decade or two, but with some distinctly original touches as well! Luigi Martinale's got a wonderful command of the keys – stepping forth in ways that warm things up while still swinging hard – thanks to this natural rhythm that seems to bubble forth even during more melodic moments – a bit hard to peg in words, but it will grab you right from the get-go when you give the set a listen. Other players fall right in line with this great approach – and include Drew Gress on bass and Paolo Franciscone on drums – on titles that include "Dancing In A Ring", "Soft", "Le Sue Ali", "Beyond The Door", "Sno Peas", "African Flower", and "Falling Grace".

The Impossible Gentlemen

By Chris May
You may not have heard of The Impossible Gentlemen, for this is the group's first album, and you may not have heard of one of its two chief protagonists, as he has chosen to spend most of his career away from the metropolitan center of things. So here's a map reference, crude and approximate, but one that gets close to the buried treasure. Imagine guitarist Pat Metheny's trio masterpiece, Day Trip (Nonesuch, 2007), add a pianist of commensurate genius, and you are banging on the disc's front door. It is that good.
The Impossible Gentlemen is an Anglo-American quartet which got together in 2009. From Britain, pianist Gwilym Simcock and guitarist Mike Walker, who conceived it, and from the US, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum. Its London launch at Ronnie Scott's Club in May, 2010, was generally agreed to have been one of the year's landmark events. The debut album lives up to the considerable expectations which have preceded it, and may seal the arrival of a major new guitar star—"new," that is, after three decades at the coalface. About this, more in a moment.
It is, of course, at least borderline offensive to liken four musical characters as strong as Walker, Simcock, Swallow and Nussbaum to anyone else, and, in any case, the comparison needs to be thrown away as soon as the map reference is suggested. For although The Impossible Gentlemen is, like Day Trip, a gutsy, gloriously lyrical, guitar-led romp in the acoustic jazz tradition, ranging from the filigreed to the full-tilt, and with a twist of fusion thrown in, it has a personality all its own.
While the first musician to be listed in the credits is Simcock, much of that personality comes from Walker, the least internationally celebrated member of the lineup. Like Simcock, Walker, almost 20 years his senior, is from Manchester, in the north of England. Unlike Simcock, he's never left the area, which partly explains his relative obscurity, for England's music business is still overwhelmingly London-centric. Born in 1962, Walker came to local attention with the fusion band River People. Asked to deputize for John Scofield in trombonist/pianist Michael Gibbs' band, he was heard by trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, who recruited him to his big band. In the early 1990s, he toured the UK extensively with saxophonist Tommy Smith, and has since performed or recorded with a mini-galaxy of stars, including pianist John Taylor, bassist Dave Holland, bassist Arild Andersen, trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, saxophonist Tim Berne and keyboardist George Russell. Walker toured the US and much of Europe with Russell, but he's yet to make a headline splash in his own right, either with his own or a cooperatively-led band.
The Impossible Gentlemen should help change that. Not only does Walker share at least half the soloing space with Simcock—occasionally playing acoustic guitar, he mostly goes electric—he also wrote four of the eight pieces (to Simcock's three). His writing displays a penchant for odd time signatures and idiosyncratic structures, platforms for streams of exquisite melodicism, sometimes easygoing, sometimes urgent, always fast-flowing. Walker's lyrical gift is certainly the equal of Metheny's, but his style has rougher, tougher edges, heard throughout the album and most lengthily on the closing blues, Nussbaum's "Sure Would Baby."
None of this is intended to belittle Simcock's contribution, or those of Swallow (at 70 years the don of the group) and Nussbaum. All three shine—Simcock with lyricism, Swallow and Nussbaum with rhythmatism—but they need less of an introduction in these pages. Unexpectedly, Swallow, a regular partner of Nussbaum's since the early 1980s, takes no writing credits.
In the iPod age, album cover semiology is in danger of becoming a lost pleasure. But the group photos in the booklet speak clearly: here is a band which is having an absolute ball. As you almost certainly will too, if, after finding the approximate map reference given above to be potentially attractive, you hear The Impossible Gentlemen.
Laugh Lines; Clockmaker; When You Hold Her; You Won't Be Around To See It; Wallenda's Last Stand; Gwil's Song; Play The Game; Sure Would Baby.
Gwilym Simcock: concertina (5), piano; Mike Walker: guitar; Steve Swallow: bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums.

Kit Downes Trio

By Bruce Lindsay
Golden is the first album by the Kit Downes Trio--and it provides plenty of evidence to support the growing reputations of these three young musicians. The trio, led by pianist Kit Downes, has been together since 2005 when its members were in the early stages of their studies at the Royal Academy of Music. The quality of writing and performance on this album so soon after the players' graduation demonstrates their huge potential and ensures that the album itself is one of the finest debut recordings of 2009.
Downes wrote seven of the eight tunes, with bassist Calum Gourlay contributing “Roots.” Drummer James Maddren has no writing credits, but his distinctive percussion style is central to the trio's sound--something which is most apparent on the title track where his hypnotic and controlled drumming is almost counter-intuitive but strikingly effective.
Golden opens and closes with two extremely beautiful tunes: “Jump Minzi Jump” and “Tom's Tune.” Both pieces are characterised by lovely, delicate melodies that are immediately accessible but endowed with enough depth and complexity to repay repeated listening. “Jump Minzi Jump” does lose focus in its mid-section before Downes returns to its melody line but “Tom's Tune,” dedicated to Downes' tutor and fellow pianist Tom Cawley, stays strong throughout with Downes' piano weaving in and out of a swinging and seemingly effortless groove from Gourlay and Maddren.
The musicians are capable of powerful and intense playing--on “Power and Patience (the bear)” for example--but they excel in more restrained and delicate compositions where their ability to display emotion and empathy belies their relative inexperience. “Madame” is a prime example of this quality--a “love song with no words” according to Downes' liner notes, it opens with Gourlay's simple but emphatic bass line before Maddren and Downes enter and Downes' piano takes charge of the tune. There are no unnecessary flourishes from any of the musicians: every player is precise, delicate, and supportive of the others and the result is a triumph.
Each of these musicians is already in constant demand and is building up an impressive resumé. Talented and versatile musicians such as these deserve this success, but hopefully this group will remain a priority for all three of its members. Golden is a genuine pleasure, and hints strongly that there is more great music to come from the Kit Downes Trio.
Track Listing:
Jump Minzi Jump; Golden; Homely; Power and Patience (the bear); Madame; A Dance Took Place; Roots; Tom's Tune.
Kit Downes: piano; Calum Gourlay: double bass; James Maddren: drums.

Dan Tepfer Trio
Five Pedals Deep

By Jacob Teichroew, Guide
Dan Tepfer’s Five Pedals Deep, a trio album that features bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Ted Poor, is permeated by a contemplative, pensive mood. The trio, without much surface grandeur, sustains long-arching growth, at the root of which often lies simple and repeated melodies. The piano trio is one of the most vibrant and rich forms of the contemporary jazz ensemble, in part due to the innovations of Brad Mehldau, and stepped up recently thanks to Aaron Parks and his Invisible Cinema, which added elements of refined rock to a genre that seems increasingly to value the phrasing and character of classical music.
On Five Pedals Deep, rock and classical elements are both present. The driving rhythm and headlong chords in “Peal, Repeal,” blossom or erupt into fits of uncontainable melancholic frustration. “The Distance,” with a similar brooding sentiment, Tepfer originally composed as part of a piano concerto. With its glacial growth and subtle emotional shifts, it eschews the charms of immediacy and embraces an aesthetic that is more akin to symphonic works.
Despite the wide use of influences that often occupy the space outside of jazz, swing is still present, and the trio uses it as a tool, just as effective as any other, in conveying the dim and agitated emotional atmosphere that cloaks Five Pedals Deep. “Diverge” teases out a buoyant swing, accented with pointed and dissonant melodic gestures. The last piece on the album, a solo rendering of “Body and Soul,” uses nostalgic phrasing and elaborations of the melody, although both are immersed in fresh harmonies.
The highlight of Five Pedals Deep is an original composition called “I Was Wonderin,’” a playful piece that is untethered to any of the aforementioned genres. There are hints of swing, rock, and even classical music, but insofar as they are all there simply to service the nuanced shading of the piece, they are hardly worth mentioning.

Colin Vallon Trio

By John Kelman
As much as many artists have a clear idea of where they are and where they're going, there's no denying the value of a strong producer. Colin Vallon's first two trio discs—2004's Les Ombres, on the small Swiss NotsiNOISY label, and 2007's Ailleurs, on the more widely distributed Hatology label—both demonstrated plenty of promise, albeit in contexts where it seemed as though the young Swiss pianist was like a kid in a stylistic candy store. Vallon's classical background clearly informed the music, but so, too, did an allegiance to the American tradition, through Paul Bley and, in particular, Keith Jarrett's American Quartet of the mid-1970s, with plenty of freedom thrown into the mix. What elevates Rruga, the now 30 year-old pianist's debut on the even more venerable ECM label, is its clearer sense of focus and direction, two characteristics that producer Manfred Eicher has brought to hundred of jazz sessions over the last four decades.
Not that Vallon and his trio—which includes percussionist Samuel Rohrer, familiar to ECM fans for his work on pianist Wolfert Brederode's Currents (2008) and their work with singer Susanne Abbuehl on her label debut, the stunning April (2001)—are lacking in direction, but their first recording for ECM has a greater sense of unity, a more consolidated voice that also speaks to the trio's greater longevity, with Rruga reuniting the same lineup as on Ailleurs, also featuring bassist Patrice Moret, a participant on reed man Domenic Landolf's similarly empathic New Brighton (Pirouet, 2010).
The greater unity of Rruga is all the more curious for its fundamental shift in compositional input. Vallon remains its titular leader, but Rruga is the first to introduce writing from his trio mates. Rohrer contributes three tunes: "Polygonia," where a brooding intro leads to a moment of absolute silence, the trio emerging, like soft rays of sunshine with a stronger allegiance to time, and Vallon and Moret equal thematic partners; the simmering "Noreia," its gentle song form and intrinsic lyricism driven by a pulse from Vallon's left hand and Rohrer's consummate balance of timbre and tempo; and the closing "Epilog," with Moret's softly spoken bass intro foreshadowing its melancholy melody, dark-hewn by Vallon's languid but note-perfect performance.
Playing what the music demands—nothing more, and nothing less—seems to be a defining marker for Vallon and his trio. Moret's two contributions—the slow, repetitive build of the opening "Telepathy," and the sparer "Fjord," where slow arpeggios from Vallon are injected with occasional unison punctuations from the pianist and Moret—are open-ended, to be sure, but rely on the inherent chemistry of the trio for their dramatic arcs. And while "Iskar" is a group improvisation, it's not without a basis—Stefan Mutafchiev's folk song, "Shope Shope," though it's unlikely the Bulgarian would ever have envisioned Rohrer's small tuned gongs and deliberate but largely suggestive pulse, or Vallon's ability to gradually unveil a brief window of form, before dissolving, once more, into ethereality, coupled with Moret's sweeping, harmonic arco.
Vallon's title track—and its later variation—ebb and flow with a series of changes; materializing with dynamic movement, but avoiding the melodrama towards which such elemental melodism often leads in lesser hands. "Eyjayjallajökull" is an exercise in stasis, free expression and tonal experimentation, while "Meral" is more direct, though never approaching obvious virtuosity; instead, it's in Vallon's chiming outro, that it becomes clear how he, along with his trio mates, places greater emphasis on exploration of sound and service of song, rather than any kind of coarse, overt impression.
ECM has always held a special place for the piano trio, and its rich catalogue has successfully managed to avoid the trappings that stifle so many of this staple jazz format. Instead, its roster—the past twelve months seeing compelling and unmistakably different titles from Julia Hülsmann, Anat Fort and Marcin Wasilewski—continues to find new nooks and crannies to explore, adventuresome explorations of a format that, for some, has become tired and staid, but here remains as vital and forward-looking as ever. With Rruga, Vallon and his trio joins an elite group of piano trios that, despite a clear reverence for what has come before, focus more decidedly on what's to come.
Telepathy; Rruga; Home; Polygonia; Eyjayjallajökull; Meral; Iskar; Noreia; Rruga, var.; Fjord; Epilog.
Colin Vallon: piano; Patrice Moret: double-bass; Samuel Rohrer: drums.

Dee Dee Bridgewater
Eleanora Fagan(1915-1959) To Billie With Love From

By Jeff Tamarkin
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Dee Dee Bridgewater chose to record a tribute album to Billie Holiday. In quick succession beginning in the mid-'90s Bridgewater cut tribute albums to Ella Fitzgerald, Horace Silver, and Kurt Weill, and prior to that, in the late '80s, she was nominated for an award for her one-woman star turn in a European theater production of Lady Day, the Holiday story. That Bridgewater would eventually turn to Holiday (whose given name of Eleanora Fagan explains the title) for an album-length exploration was almost a given -- it was just a question of when. It's one of her grandest efforts, too. With arrangements by Edsel Gomez (who also provides piano) and a stellar cast of participants including bassist Christian McBride, saxophonist/flutist/bass clarinetist James Carter, and drummer Lewis Nash, Bridgewater doesn't attempt to mimic Holiday's mannerisms or inflections but, as one would expect of such a gifted artist, to absorb and reframe Holiday -- this is pure Bridgewater, not another performance of Lady Day. Gomez, for his part, quite often pulls the arrangements squarely away from Holiday territory to reinvent these classic songs for a modern audience. The opening "Lady Sings the Blues" is both instantly recognizable yet freshly reconceived as something of an uptempo blues packed with polyrhythmic punch. "All of Me," which follows, is taken at near-breakneck speed, Bridgewater jumping ahead of the beat, following Carter's thrilling soprano sax solo with a raging scat that's more Ella than Billie. Not everything is meant to redefine, though: "God Bless the Child" is mostly true to the original, though Carter's soprano solo again brings the tune into the new century, and "Lover Man," though livelier than Holiday's take, is offered in a somewhat timeless and straightforward manner. As one might expect, there's no way a singer with Bridgewater's commitment to jazz history could release a Holiday tribute without tackling "Strange Fruit," the controversial anti-lynching landmark that remains Holiday's most daring moment, and it's saved for last here. It's an eerie, ominous interpretation, Bridgewater's raw vocal up front and fraught with emotion. Carter's brooding bass clarinet and McBride's bass lend a foreboding quality to the take, Nash relies heavily on his cymbals to dramatic effect, and Gomez's piano is subtle, allowing the nakedness of Bridgewater's voice -- at times unaccompanied -- to retell this story that can never be told enough. It's a stunning finale to one of the finest Billie Holiday homages ever recorded.

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