Sunday, April 20, 2014

1 Sem 2014 - Part Nine

John Taylor
In Two Minds

By Brian Morton
John Taylor and his two minds. A cryptic title for the new work of the English piano player, which was released a little more than one year after his previous recording for CAM JAZZ, “Giulia’s Thursdays”. This is a concise album, for piano only (or at least so one might assume), in which Taylor bares himself, revealing two sides of his personality: his innermost, quiet and introspective side as opposed to his more lively, vivid, and cheerful side. Are these his “two minds”? A quite regular alternation of pieces in opposite moods seems to confirm this assumption. The enigmatic words with which Taylor comments on his album lead to the same conclusion. But, certainly, that’s not all. It’s not by chance either that Taylor talks about being “in two minds whether to make this recording a solo or a duet project”. Or that he uses the words “balance”, “timing”, and “to play (at the same time)”. The weird, innovative idea in “In Two Minds” is the use of two pianos to make the two tracks interlock, overlap, and match perfectly. Thus, one can delight in guessing and discovering where this comes true, starting with the long “Ambleside Suite”, nineteen minutes of outstanding music that captivate listeners right from the beginning. A piece that prepares them to travel through the other six pieces on the album, minor, though not less shiny, gems. All of these compositions bear Taylor’s signature, except for “Phrase The Second” by his friend Kenny Wheeler and a tribute to Duke Ellington, “Reflections In D”, that virtually closes the album.
Having listened to the entire recording, the matter is still pending: apart from the two pianos, it will be up to each listener to lose himself among John Taylor’s notes, in order to work out the two souls in the record, what they tell, where they come from and where they lead to. Past and present. Tradition and innovation. Country calm and industrial frenzy. Travelling and home-coming. To each his own “two minds”, to be explored, grasped and metabolised.
Recorded in Ludwigsburg at Bauer Studios - Recording engineer Johannes Wohlleben.

Vijay Iver

By John Kelman
There are times when it's possible to chart an artist's success through his association with record labels. Vijay Iyer—who, over the past 20 years, has built a reputation for genre-defying, forward-reaching music—spent the early part of his career on independent US labels including the highly regarded Pi Recordings, Savoy Jazz and Sunnyside Records. But it was with his move to Germany's ACT Music label and a series of trio and solo recordings, including the Grammy-nominated Historicity (2009), that the pianist began to garner even more attention. Still, as good as his four ACT recordings were, looking at the label's overall purview it's no surprise to find him relocating elsewhere in the same city of Munich, to the more highly esteemed ECM Records. Simply put, Mutations is a recording that Iyer could never have released on ACT, and it's that very freedom to explore less-traveled terrain—and the opportunity to work with an active producer in Manfred Eicher and his acute attention to sonic translucence—that makes this, hopefully, the beginning of a long and creatively fecund relationship.
On the strength of Mutations, it's clear that Iyer's relationship with Eicher is already bearing significant fruit. Focusing more on composition—though improvisation is by no means far away—at Mutation's core is the ten-part, 45-minute title suite, a dark, otherworldly piece of music for piano, string quartet and electronics. The suite is bookended by three pieces for solo piano and, in some cases, electronics: the crepuscular opener, "Spellbound and Sacrosanct, Cowrie Shells and the Shimmering Sea"—first heard on the pianist's 1995 Asian Improv Records debut, Memorophilia—is revamped from its original trio format into a solo vehicle, intrinsically providing Iyer more room for self-expression, especially when it comes to time; "Vuln, Pt 2" follows and, with the introduction of electronics that provide shimmering color and a subtle pulse, acts as a perfect segue into the Mutations suite; the closing "When We're Gone," with Iyer's sparely delivered abstrusities and subtle, panning electronic chimes, is the perfect coda to an hour-long journey through terrain defined by melodic cells or kernels and the manner in which subtle shifts—sometimes planned, other times a function of in-the-moment decision making when it comes to how and when to incorporate them—cause the very mutations that give the suite its title.
"Mutation I: Air" begins with a single bowed note, gradually joined by the rest of the string quartet to gradually build to a brighter, minimalist-oriented piece of counterpoint, a soaring violin line eventually emerging over the propulsive underpinning only to become subsumed as yet another kernel to be morphed, gradually, into something else, in this case a combination of long-bowed notes that drag the tempo down towards its conclusion. "Mutation II: Rise," is aptly titled; after a brief intro of delicately percussive electronics, the strings enter, beginning in a low register and gradually ascending until various members of the string quartet begin to inject oblique lines atop the persistent soaring of their partners. Iyer makes his first appearance in the suite on the equally well-titled "Mutation III: Canon," a contrapuntal miniature where thematic constructs and repeated phrases move in and out of the mix—one moment dominating, the next, supporting.
The ambitious nature of Iyer's work on Mutations may seem new, based on his extant discography; the truth, however, is something else. The MacArthur Foundation Fellowship recipient—often referred to as "the genius grant," and for good reason—has worked with classical instrumentation throughout his career—not just writing for them, but studying violin for 15 years and playing in string quartets and orchestras. It's a history that gives Iyer the deeper understanding which makes him particularly qualified to engage in these activities, even though he's been unable to record any of this work until now. The Mutations suite was, in fact, written in 2005, but has changed considerably over time, as Iyer explains, "by working with the same notated elements but pushing the real time element more and more."
"Mutation VII: Kernel" is, perhaps the best example of how Iyer combines compositionally defined constructs with the more unfettered possibilities of improvisation. Described, by Iyer, as "a kind of sculpted, open improvisation," the members of the string quartet are free to take compositional kernels and interpret them in ways that make each performance not just a new experience but, for the pianist/composer, "something new that I didn't even foresee."
Mutations is a landmark recording from an artist who, while already possessing an admirable discography, has clearly been limited to more decidedly jazz-oriented concerns. Representing a significant musical shift, if Mutations is but the first sign of the greater freedom ECM plans to afford Iyer, the only vaticinator of what's to follow will surely be its complete and utter unpredictability.
Track Listing:
Spellbound and Sacrosanct, Cowrie Shells and the Shimmering Sea; Mutation I: Air; Mutation II: Rise; Mutation III: Canon; Mutation IV: Chain; Mutation V: Automata; Mutation VI: Waves; Mutation VII: Kernel; Mutation VIII: Clade; Mutation IX: Descent; Mutation X: Time; When We're Gone.
Vijay Iyer: piano, electronics (2-13); Miranda Cuckson: violin (2-12); Michi Wiancko: violin (2-12); Kyle Armbrust: viola (2-12); Kivie Cahn-Lipman: violoncello (2-12).

Gwilym Simcock & Yuri Goloubev
Duo Art: Reverie at Schloss Elmau

Gwilym Simcock and Yuri Goloubev: Reverie At Schloss Elmau

By John Fordham
Gwilym Simcock felt released from the unbending rigours of a classical-piano schooling by the discovery of jazz in his teens, but he has never abandoned its inspirations – and in this duo with the remarkable Russian double-bass virtuoso Yuri Goloubev, he has a partner who shares his love of 19th-century Romanticism, and with whom he shares perfect pitch, flawless execution and an improviser's imagination.
Recorded at Act Records' favourite Alpine location, Duo Art shimmers and dances with European art-music references, which surface in the elegant themes (Goloubev's nods to Schumann and Brahms are particularly unambiguous), the liquid movement of Simcock's improv phrasing, and Goloubev's astonishingly light-touch lyricism and cello-like purity.
The Russian's fast pizzicato improvisation on his own trancelike Lost Romance is breathtaking. Simcock's Shades of Pleasure opens at a playful skip but shifts mood between reflectiveness and sprinting intensity, the fast-moving Antics finds both players revelling in the driving momentum while never missing a step, and the lively Flow draws the bassist into a floating high-register tone so pristine as to be almost eerie. The prevailing lyrical elegance doesn't hamper the improv attack of either participant, though the set might be a little over-pristine and melodically orthodox for hardcore jazzers.
Track Listing: 
Pastoral; Lost Romance; Shades Of Pleasure; Antics; A Joy Forever; Non-Schumann Lied; Flow; Vain Song; Reverie.
Gwilym Simcock: piano; Yuri Goloubev: bass.

Jeff Ballard Trio
Time's Tales

By Ian Patterson
For several decades Jeff Ballard has been the first call drummer for a host of contemporary jazz's biggest names, notably pianist Brad Mehldau, with whom Ballard has played since 2005. Of late, however, Ballard has gone it alone. The 2013 debut shows of his quartet Fairgrounds, featuring electronics musician/bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Tigran Hamasyan and guitarist Lionel Loueke suggested Ballard's desire for greater compositional freedom and experimentation. The Jeff Ballard Trio's debut recording, on the other hand, is a fairly uncomplicated affair on the surface, with Loueke and saxophonist Miguel Zenon
bringing their prodigious wares to the table on a highly melodic selection of tunes that draws from various traditions.
Right from the off, on Loueke's dancing "Virgin Forest" Ballard's lively polyrhythms on kit and African percussion drive the trio. Loueke and Zenon glide between singing unison lines and riff-based accompaniment for each other's fizzing solos. Ballard duly steps up with a cracking solo over sparse accompaniment, sealing the tune with celebratory panache. Ballard's own composition, the dancing "Beat Street" is essentially a feature for the drummer, whose shuffling rhythms underpin some lively blowing from Zenon, and, in a quieter segment, a breezy melodic improvisation from Loueke. By contrast, George/Ira Gershwin's "The Man I Love" sees Ballard on brushes as Zenon and Loueke caress the melody with an improvisational subtlety that matches the trio's tender approach.
The Weather Report-influenced miniature "Free 1" segues into the heady "Hangin' Tree" by Queens of the Stone Age. Zenon's keening alto, Ballard's thumping back beat and Loueke's metal-ish guitar riffs create a potent brew that stylistically stands alone. On both this provocative rocker and the achingly beautiful ballad interpretation of Bela Bartok's "Dal (A Rhythm Song)" Ballard's trio shares something of the intensity and lyricism of saxophonist Yuri Honing's Wired Paradise. Zenon's delightful arrangement of singer Silvio Rodriguez' "El Reparador de Suenos" swings with Afro-Cuban grace, inspiring wonderful individual solos and collective groove.
The music covers surprisingly wide terrain; Loueke's elegant "Mivakpola"—with Ballard on hand drums—celebrates the beauty of a simple melody whereas the trio-penned "Western Wren (A Bird Call)," owes as much to the unified motifs and helter skelter call and response of bebop as it does to the birdsong that inspired it. The other collectively written number, "Free 3," stems from a moody, slightly abstract space somewhere in the vicinity of trumpeter Miles Davis' 1970s orbit, gathering momentum and intensity along the way.
Ballard's trio draws liberally from influences across time and geographical space. The exotic, beguilingly fused sounds, however, are much more than the sum of the trio's diverse backgrounds, which inevitably impart African, South and North American colors to the mix. Beyond the more obvious folkloric roots, the trio exudes an openness that embraces the simple and the experimental alike, the lyrical and the abrasive. This persuasive debut joyously disregards any distinctions between the timeless and the contemporary—the three musicians understand that the two are inextricably linked, and herein lies the simple formula for the magic of Time's Tales.
Track Listing: 
Virgin Forest; Western Wren (A Bird Call); Beat Street; The Man I Love; Free 1; Hangin’ Tree; Dal (A Rhythm Song); El Reparador de Suenos; Mivakpola; Free 3.
Jeff Ballard: drums and percussion; Lionel Loueke: guitar and voice; Miguel Zenon: alto saxophone.

Shadow Theater

By John Fordham
Tigran Hamasyan can count Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau as fans. But even if the 26-year-old Armenian pianist and singer/songwriter stuns piano stars, Hamasyan walks a wider landscape, which is how he has moved so fast from the comparatively private and personal revelations of 2011's A Fable to this broad and vocal-oriented tapestry of Armenian folk songs modernised by the jazz, pop and electric music sensibilities of the leader and a fine band including the bell-toned singer Areni Agbabian and guitarist Charles Altura. Its inspirations in traditional songs encountered in childhood link it with Avishai Cohen's music, but Hamasyan is mercurial and impatient, and these graceful themes change course constantly: from soft confidences to pounding choral sounds on Erishta, through the squelchy synth bass and jazz sax invading the folk melody of Drip; the contemporary percussion effects and ghostly vocals of The Year Is Gone; or the fast jazz piano lines and agile vocal variations from Agbabian on Pt 2 Alternative Universe. Hamasyan's jazz sensibility and broad knowledge give him so many options that the music has a constantly capricious variety, even if the jazz soloing stays on a tight leash.

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