Sunday, November 10, 2013

2 Sem 2013 - Part Fourteen

Stefano Bollani & Hamilton de Holanda
O Que Será

By Thom Jurek
Recorded live just a year before its release, O Que Será pairs Italian postmodernist jazz pianist Stefano Bollani with one of Brazil's great musical innovators, Hamilton De Holanda playing bandolim (a ten-string mandolin). The pair met on-stage in 2009 and played just two numbers, but it was enough; they realized what was possible. They played a full show in 2011, and in August of 2012 they appeared together at the Jazz Middleheim Festival and made this recording. Despite the stark instrumentation, this program is lively and full of risky moves. Of the ten pieces here, seven are from the Brazilian canon. Each participant contributed one composition and there is a haunted, heartbreaking read of Astor Piazzolla's "Oblivion." The classically trained De Holanda is well known in his own country, having recorded several albums both solo and orchestral. He has also collaborated with everyone from Mike Marshall and Béla Fleck to Richard Galliano and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Bollani has, in recent years, become well known as a stylist, recording material by everyone from Prokofiev and Scott Joplin to the Beach Boys and Thelonious Monk. He has employed Brazilian music on numerous recordings, among them Orvieto with Chick Corea and on his own fine Stone in the Water. O Que Será commences with a limpid, graceful reading of Edú Lobo's "Beatriz." The duo demonstrate their intimate communication skills, moving through the melody with elegance and restraint yet chock-full of emotion. Next up is Bollani's fiery yet dryly humorous "Il Barbone Di Siviglia," which employs a brisk tempo that quotes the opera, but via the pulse of baião and his high-register arpeggios, the improvisational quotient is high. The effect is knotty and slightly dissonant, yet deeply intuitive. This contrasts beautifully with De Holanda's "Caprichos de Espanha," which weds flamenco, bolero, Middle Eastern modal music, choro, and Western classical musics in a dazzling, labyrinthine journey. The tender reading of Jobim's "Luiza" engages bossa but shifts the focus toward jazz in order to reveal another musical possibility for this simple song. "Canto de Ossanha" is a burner that weds choro, samba, and syncopated modernist jazz in a fiery display of near symbiotic interaction with electrifying solos. O Que Será is a one of a kind dialogue between two musicians who understand that music is an adventure; they submit themselves to it fully with a wealth of ideas and bring out the heat, intimacy, and humor in these tunes. 

Tim Lapthorn
Seventh Sense

By John Fordham at TheGuardian
Tim Lapthorn is a young UK pianist who is very much absorbed in standards, and the 40-year-old piano trio legacy of the late Bill Evans. How much he favours the Evans trio's conversational approach is firmly declared in the opening account of Thelonious Monk's clangy Bright Mississippi, which becomes a conversation between all three members ( Arnie Somogyi is the bassist, Stephen Keogh the drummer ) almost as soon as the theme appears. Lapthorn has the long-line vision of the best improvisers, which he often sustains within pieces that have contrastingly fragmented rhythmic identities, and he uses references to familiar jazz-piano licks sparingly. Three out of the nine tracks are his own, with the quiet title track having a little of Brad Mehldau's inclination to develop slowly-blooming melodic possibilities from a simple vamp-like start. The Bark and the Bite merges a contemporary rhythmic feel, a classic-bop melody and a long, uptempo improvisation against Keogh's cymbal beat and Somogyi's emphatic walk. Lapthorn's touch, flow and fresh ideas suggest a lot of music to come, and in all probability it won't always be as close to the tradition as this is.
6. LAURIE (EVANS) 7:11

Fred Hersch & Julian Lage
Free Flying

By Victor L. Schermer 
This album is the latest of several recordings in which pianist Fred Hersch solos or joins forces with some highly intelligent, advanced musicians to provide jazz renditions with a sophisticated, chamber music quality. Others are Hersch's Alone at the Vanguard (Palmetto, 2011); Leaves of Grass (Palmetto, 2005)—an ensemble composition based on Walt Whitman's poems—and two additional solo albums: Fred Hersch plays Jobim (Sunnyside, 2009) and In Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis (Palmetto, 2006). He also collaborated with trumpeter Ralph Alessi on Only Many (Cam Jazz, 2013). On Free Flying, Hersch collaborates with guitarist Julian Lage , who, at 25, has already achieved a performance level which makes a good match for Hersch and challenges him in some respects. Lage was hailed as a guitar prodigy when, at age eight, he was playing with Carlos Santana . He was early attracted to jazz, and by the time he was 13, he had performed with Gary Burton and Herbie Hancock. Since then, he has developed into a top-flight guitarist both as a leader and sideman, and has released his own albums, including Sounding Point (Emarcy, 2009) and Gladwell (Emarcy, 2011) The fate of a musical prodigy depends on whether he can transcend the "genius" stereotype and become a working musician, evolving his own musical idiom; Mozart accomplished this and became a composer for the ages.
Closer to home, guitarist Pat Martino —a slow developer compared to Lage—was playing with top groups in his teens, and went on to become an icon because of his innovative and instantly identifiable approach and sound. Lage has reached the point of mature competence and is now striving to evolve into a true guitar master. This album shows that he has the potential to join that venerated pantheon, along with the likes of Martino. Doing so will depend on live and studio encounters that give him an opportunity to fully develop his own influential idiom. Here, he has already demonstrated his superb craftsmanship and ability to step up and work closely with a master like Hersch; his job is to blend and, in doing so he succeeds supremely well. Only the future will determine whether or not he adds a unique stamp to his guitar playing.
The key element of this outstanding album is the seamless interplay of piano and guitar. Historically, and instrumentally speaking, if you combine a piano and guitar, you get a harpsichord, a keyboard that plucks the strings rather than hammering them. This was the primary keyboard instrument of the Renaissance and Baroque eras, soon to be supplanted, in Bach's time, by the pianoforte—the modern piano. Moreover, Bach owned and wrote several compositions for lauten work, a harpsichord with the softer sound of a lute, a precursor of the guitar.
The historical connection between lute, harpsichord and guitar hovers around this duet collaboration between Hersch and Lage. Moreover, as an important basis of jazz counterpoint, highlighted in the bebop era, it derives from Bach as well. Thus, the musical sensibility of this recording is not unlike Bach's tightly textured yet exploratory "Goldberg Variations," except that Hersch and Lage carve out jazz motifs and modern harmonics. The delight of the music comes from its contrapuntal weaving of themes, and variations so well integrated that, except for the different sonorities, they seem to emanate from one player and instrument. Like Bach and the harpsichord, Hersch and Lage vary dynamics and intensity sparingly. The listening pleasure, of which there is plenty here, comes from the mutual brilliance of execution and the architecture and development of musical ideas. This is co-improvisation taken to the highest level.
The compositions on this album are largely Hersch originals previously recorded in other contexts by the pianist. The two exceptions are "Beatrice" by Sam Rivers and "Monk's Dream," from Thelonious Monk
. The setting is the Kitano jazz club in New York—a small, intimate space with a Steinway piano that has been fingered by some of today's best contemporary jazz pianists, among them Don Friedman , Bill Mays, Roberta Piket and Jim Ridl. The result is studio quality sound with a live ambiance and a touch of emerging jazz history.
The initial track is Hersch's "Song without Words #4: Duet," which evokes a madrigal-like quality, as if it could have been performed on period instruments from the Renaissance. The development has a modal feel, as the lilting melody soon lends itself nicely to a rumba-like dance development. (Hersch often mimes the mix of Latin and stride piano heard in the radio days of the 1920s and '30s.) Lage picks up on Hersch's phrasing, so that piano and guitar interact seamlessly. A natural follow-up is "Down Home," which relaxes into syncopated vaudeville with a ragtime twist. The emphasis on rhythmic patterns characterizes the whole set.
The mood changes significantly with "Heartland," a reflective ballad whose melody is introduced by Lage, providing a contrast to the driving quality of most of the tracks. Hersch gives a sampling of romantic lounge piano playing at its best, with an open, lyrical quality that owes something to the ethereal beauty achieved by the great Bill Evans.
The title tune,"Free Flying" first appeared on Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra Live at the Jazz Standard (Sunnyside, 2009). The percussive, four-bar theme and variations clearly illustrate the Bach influence, as does the repetitive drone-like bass and alternation of unison and counterpoint between the two instruments. Hersch and Lage work so tightly together that sometimes the only way to tell who's playing is by the sound of the instruments.
"Beatrice" a post-bop song by the late great saxophonist Sam Rivers, is one of the most swingable ballads in all of jazz. Here, Hersch and Lage take it at a lively pace, alternating off-beat syncopation with straight-ahead rhythms, releasing themselves from the tight contractions of the other tracks. The rhythm work is more playful, yet a certain tension and holding back of the beat pervade the piece.
As the album proceeds, Hersch gives Lage more room for his own improvisations, and the guitarist is clearly up to the challenge. "Song Without Words #3: Tango" is vaguely reminiscent of "Midnight Sun," with its descending lament motif. It features Lage, and is a perfect foil for him. He develops a blend of tango and blues in single lines resembling some of Pat Martino's best ballad playing, represented for example in the latter's memorable performance of "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life."
"Stealthiness" is dedicated to guitarist Jim Hall, possibly with some reference to the ingenuity of his playing, and the duo engages in rough-hewn Monk-ish rhythmic shifts and quizzical phrases. In this track, each player takes solos with the other comping, in contrast to the contrapuntal playing featured elsewhere. Eventually, Hersch leads up to an energetic coda, a quiet release, and a punctuated end. In turn, "Gravity's Pull" continues with the focus on Lage, showing his melodic style. After a quiet beginning, there is a gradual "pull" that develops into some brilliant Bach-inspired counterpoint.
The set ends with "Monk's Dream," with the duo using the Monk tune as a way to play their own version of Monk's punctuations; arrhythmias, and playful use of the upper register. They outdo Monk in eccentricity.
To sum up, Hersch and Lage mesh superbly and have put together a coherent and listenable set of sophisticated improvisations which fuse baroque counterpoint, punctuated rhythms, and diverse jazz motifs in a disciplined yet exciting way. Simply by virtue of the close coordination of piano and guitar and tightness of performance, the album points up the continuity of music from Bach to bop to modernity, and in this respect represents something of a measuring rod for the development of jazz forms.
Track Listing: 
Song without Words #4: Duet; Down Home; Heartland; Free Flying; Beatrice; Song Without Words #3: Tango; Stealthiness; Gravity’s Pull; Monk’s Dream.
Fred Hersch: piano; Julian Lage: guitar.

Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet

By John Kelman 
Since returning to the ECM fold in 1994 to record Matka Joanna(1995), Tomasz Stańko has virtually rebooted a career that demonstrated significant promise back in the 1970s, when he released Balladyna (1976) for the label, and worked with others including Finnish drummer Edward Vesala and American bassistGary Peacock. The Polish trumpeter was far from dormant in the period between 1981 and 1994, releasing a slew of recordings in Poland, but none—with the exception Bluish (Power Bros, 1992) and Bosonossa (Gowi, 1993)—came close to his work for the German label. That those last two recordings were made with stalwart ECM artists—Bluish, with bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen, and Bosonossa with the same group that would go on to record bothMatka Joanna and Leosia (ECM, 1997) (pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Tony Oxley)—may well have something to do with rekindling ECM headManfred Eicher's interest in Stańko.
Whatever the reason, the trumpeter's career has been refreshed and renewed over the past two decades, even as he's fronted a variety of projects ranging from his tribute to fellow Pole, pianist/composer Krzysztof Komeda (1997's Litania) to grooming a young Polish trio that, beginning with 2000's darkly melancholic Soul of Things, would ultimately continue as a standalone entity on ECM (Marcin Wasilewski Trio, last heard on 2011's Faithful), even as the trumpeter formed a new group for Dark Eyes (2010), which brought together a stunning Danish/Finnish collaboration whose 2009 performance at Norway's Molde Jazz Festival was but a warm-up for the quintet's incendiary closing show at the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival a year later.
Now splitting his time between New York City and Warsaw, Stańko may well have put together the best group of his career with his New York Quartet and its debut recording, Wislawa. Over the past decade, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver have shaped growing presences on the label, Morgan for his collaborations with guitarist John Abercrombie and pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, and Cleaver for his work with reed multi-instrumentalistRoscoe Mitchell, and bassist Miroslav Vitous and Michael Formanek.
Pianist David Virelles is the wildcard here, just as he is on saxophonist Chris Potter's outstanding leader debut for the label, The Sirens (2013). With Continuum (Pi, 2012), the Cuban expat was already breaking free of the shackles that confined his early work with Canadians including bassist Roberto Occhipinti and saxophonist/flautist Jane Bunnett. Not that he's deserted his Latin/Afro-Cuban roots, which Virelles combines with classical studies and a penchant for more idiosyncratic jazz pianists like Andrew Hill and Thelonious Monk, but with The Sirens and, quite possibly even more so here on Wislawa, Virelles is now able to more freely explore all points in this unique constellation and, despite still being on the shy side of thirty, has quickly proven himself worthy of mention in the same breath as Jason Moran, Craig Taborn andBrad Mehldau, three other American-based pianists who've caught Eicher's ear in a big way in recent times.
What makes Wislawa stand out amongst Stańko's consistently impressive ECM discography is that the trumpeter seems to have found a group that, from the get-go, is capable of the broader purview his recordings have always shown, but each in more specific, individualistic ways. Here, Stańko's quartet is capable of moving from effortless demonstrations of purer freedom ("Faces"), fiery swing ("Asssassins") and indigo balladry ("Metafizyka") to rubato tone poems ("Song for H"), episodic raptures ("Tutaj—Here") and pensive melancholy ("A Shaggy Vandal"). Two versions of the title track move from unfettered elegance ("Wislawa") to incendiary displays of power that are virtuosic without ever resorting to self-congratulatory pyrotechnics ("Wislawa, var."). The rewards of this quartet are plenty good enough without relying on the kind of back-patting gymnastics that all-too-often unnecessarily define whether or not a group is succeeding.
Instead, while every member of this group clearly shines individually and collectively—has there been a more imaginative bass/drums pairing, in recent years, than Morgan/Cleaver, who effortlessly groove when necessary, but with ears ever-open to respond to or push against what their partners are up to?—and there are impressive solos aplenty, it's always in service of Stańko's insidiously recognizable writing. Stańko's tone, with its characteristic grit, speaks of a lifetime of experiences good and bad; and his ability to levy visceral moments almost instantly contrasting with passages of revealing vulnerability remain unparalleled to this day.
Every one of Stańko's groups since Matka Joanna has been exceptional—each with its own definitive strengths—but none has afforded the trumpeter the breadth of freedom heard over the course of Wislawa's two discs, twelve songs and one hundred minutes. Stańko's quartet with Wasilewski slowly grew into freer playing over the course of seven years but never lost its innate lyricism; despite the occasional moment of departure, his Dark Eyes quintet was very much about time; and his Leosia quartet, even with players as capable of motivic melody as Stenson and Jormin, couldn't help but interpret those qualities in the context of Oxley's more liberated approach to time.
With Wislawa, Stańko has it all, with a group whose possibilities already seem limitless. With an unmistakable allegiance to the tradition, even as it twists, turns and occasionally collapses its supporting structures and introduces incidental contextual ideas from beyond, Stańko's New York Quartet feels like the group he's been searching for all along.
Track Listing: 
CD1: Wislawa; Assassins; Metafizyka; Dernier Cri; Mikrokosmos; Song for H. 
CD2: Oni; April Story; Tutaj - Here; Faces; A Shaggy Vandal; Wislawa, var.
Tomasz Stańko: trumpet; David Virelles: piano; Thomas Morgan: double bass; Gerald Cleaver: drums.

Manu Katché

By John Kelman
Since joining ECM for Neighbourhood (2005), Manu Katché has carved out a very specific niche for himself at a label whose purview continues to broaden—with this French-Ivorian drummer, perhaps surprisingly so. Contemporary? Yes, Katché has fashioned a nearly four-decade career as a superb groove-meister, whether in the rock world with artists Sting or Peter Gabriel, or with more decidedly jazz-centric artists like saxophonist Jan Garbarek, on Dresden (ECM, 2009), or keyboardist Herbie Hancock, on his (admittedly more pop-oriented) The Imagine Project (Herbie Hancock Music, 2010). But with his now four ECM recordings defined by accessible grooves and singable melodies, they're still absolutely players' recordings, and certainly nowhere near "smooth jazz" sphere to which some folks attribute them.
Manu Katché follows Third Round (2010), but returns to the slightly longer song lengths of Playground (2007), allowing his quartet, which brings back Third Round's Tore Brunborg, more maneuvering room. The saxophonist first appeared on the international stage with ECM and Masqualero, the now-legendary Norwegian quintet, led by bassist Arild Andersen and drummerJon Christensen, that also included a young Nils Petter Molvaer, here making his recording debut with Katché. The trumpeter has garnered significant attention, beginning with the paradigm shift of his electro-centric, pan-cultural 1997 ECM debut, Khmer, through to the present, his current trio continuing to bust down borders of orthodoxy, style and culture on Baboon Moon (Sula, 2011).
Manu Katché represents, then, a reunion of sorts for Molvær and the equally busy Brunborg—whose star has been on its own ascendancy for recent ECM work with pianists Ketil Bjornstad (2010's Remembrance) and Tord Gustavsen (2012's The Well). Katché rounds out his bass-less quartet with British pianist/organist Jimmy Watson, for a program that ranges from the post-bop swing of "Short Ride" and soulful, tom-driven vamp of "Bliss" to the modal funk of "Beats & Bounce," and "Loving You," a ballad at its core but possessing, with Watson's intervallic-leaping Hammond, considerably more forward motion.
Molvær expands Katché's soundstage, for the first time, with his technology-driven approach; harmonized, with copious reverb and other effects, the trumpeter's solo on the propulsive "Walking By Your Side" is a sonic tour de force, though he adopts a more burnished, acoustic tone in the front line melodies with Brunborg on tracks like "Short Ride" and "Loose," but with an immediately recognizable embouchure.
As ever, Brunborg solos with effortless aplomb, weaving melodic yet change-aware lines through Katché's writing, while Watson demonstrates similarly unfettered imagination on piano, whether it's on the soft ballad, "Loving You" or "Beats & Bounce," where he channels his inner Herbie Hancock.
Katché rarely solos, though when he does near the end of "Short Ride," it's quickly clear that he's got plenty of jazz chops to spare. Katché made the right decision to leave more space on Manu Katché, because it would be an absolute mistake to constrain a quartet this good to just three or four minutes. Still, not a note is wasted with what may be his best group yet. Manu Katché may be ECM's most vital, booty-shaking record ever—and live, this group must be positively nuclear.
Track Listing: 
Running After Years; Bliss; Loving You; Walking By Your Side; Imprint; Short Ride; Beats & Bounce; Slowing the Tides; Loose; Dusk on Carnon.
Jim Watson: piano (, Hammond B3 organ; Nils Petter Molvær: trumpet, loops; Tore Brunborg: tenor and soprano saxophones; Manu Katché: drums, piano solo (10).

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