Miroslav Vitous: Ziljabu Nights

Ziljabu Nights

Ziljabu Nights is an emotional black box recovered from the wreckage of a bygone era and brought intact into ours. Recorded live in June of 2016 at Germany’s Theater Gütersloh, it features saxophonists Gary Campbell and Robert Bonisolo, keyboardist Aydin Esen and drummer Roberto Gatto. Leading them all in a program of mostly original compositions is legendary bassist Miroslav Vitous, whose experiential integrities shine among those of like-minded maestros.

The performance documented here is at once nostalgic and spontaneous. Vitous, who turns 70 this month, and his musicians inhabit their respective continents, yet on stage forge a veritable Pangea of sound. “Ziljabu” eases us into the album’s tender awakenings with a mélange of keyboards and flanged bassing. Its fusion-leaning tendencies recall certain landmark ECM albums from the 1980s, not least of all the bassist’s own for the label. A one-letter difference in the title of “Ziljabe” yields an equally subtle shift in tone. A subtle maturity percolates throughout the 17-minute “Morning Lake.” It unfolds with patient respect, under cover of which Bonisolo’s sopranism provides the aerial view to Campbell’s terrestrial excavations, while in “Miro Bop” the reeds play out a dancing exchange of tenors, both feet on the ground.

Vitous pays homage to late fellow bassist Scott LaFaro in an unaccompanied rendition of “Gloria’s Step Variations.” What seems relatively straightforward on the surface, however, reveals a depth-charge of interpretation, with equal parts muscularity and flexibility woven into its fuse. The same holds true of “Stella By Starlight Variations,” wherein the band sends love to the periphery as Esen takes solo flight at the center of it all.

The album finishes off with an interview, in which Vitous speaks a little to his history as an artist, his growth out of the initial iteration of fusion giants Weather Report and the blessedness of his musical life. “It’s not so much searching,” he says of his rapport with this band. “Basically, we hear it.” And it’s all we can do in return to appreciate that which has been heard.

(This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

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ECM and Streaming

Eicher Hand

Official press release from ECM Records:

Over the past week we have begun the process of entering streaming, and from November 17th, the full ECM catalogue will be available to subscribers to services including Apple Music, Amazon, Spotify, Deezer, Tidal and Qobuz. This simultaneous launch across the platforms – facilitated by a new digital distribution agreement with Universal Music – invites listeners to explore the wide range of music recorded by our artists in the course of nearly five decades of independent production.

Although ECM’s preferred mediums remain the CD and LP, the first priority is that the music should be heard. The physical catalogue and the original authorship are the crucial references for us: the complete ECM album with its artistic signature, best possible sound quality, sequence and dramaturgy intact, telling its story from beginning to end.

In recent years, ECM and the musicians have had to face unauthorized streaming of recordings via video sharing websites, plus piracy, bootlegs, and a proliferation of illegal download sites. It was important to make the catalogue accessible within a framework where copyrights are respected.

ECM Press Office
Munich, November 14, 2017

John Zorn: There is No More Firmament

Firmamament

Throughout his career as musician, producer and collaborative lightning rod, John Zorn has never forgotten the importance of putting pen to paper. This all-chamber program of pieces spanning 2012-2016 speaks deeply to his indefatigable spirit and the obvious care with which he chooses his musicians.

Two brass fanfares, consonant and invigorating, are palate cleansers of a sort. “Antiphonal Fanfare for the Great Hall” commemorates Zorn’s historic 2013 day-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It moves harmonically and with a precision that fortifies its ancient roots. “Il n’y a Plus de Firmament” likewise breathes formidable life into the wind quintet genre. With attentions to texture, rhythm and color rarely heard outside Edgard Varèse, Zorn provokes each strand of motivic DNA to fullest unraveling.

“Freud” is an enchanting psychoanalytical detour. Violinist Chris Otto and cellists Jay Campbell and Mike Nicola are its breathtaking interpreters, negotiating neuroses and reveries with comparable aplomb. Its wilder moments recall Zorn’s seminal pieces for the Kronos Quartet, but also the chamber music of Henryk Górecki. “Divagations,” inspired by the poetry of Stephane Mallarmé, places a through-composed score at the hands of classical pianist Stephen Gosling, with the interpretive jazz rhythm section of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, who must make spontaneous decisions along the way.

This disc’s crown jewels are its solo pieces. Clarinetist Joshua Rubin performs “The Steppenwolf” on the rarely heard A clarinet, eliciting a dynamic and tonal range as only a master of the reed like Zorn could enable. “Merlin,” for solo trumpet, is even more compelling in the two versions presented here. Peter Evans fills the ears with wonder, his extended breathing providing the most thrilling moments of the program, while Marco Blaauw (on his custom-built double-bell trumpet in C) adds ghostly dimensions.

There is so much philosophy packed into this album, it feels like a living (auto)biography of which we are given a tantalizing synopsis.

(This review originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Vijay Iyer Sextet: Far From Over (ECM 2581)

Far From Over

Vijay Iyer Sextet
Far From Over

Graham Haynes cornet, flugelhorn, electronics
Steve Lehman alto saxophone
Mark Shim tenor saxophone
Vijay Iyer piano, Fender Rhodes
Stephan Crump double bass
Tyshawn Sorey drums
Recorded April 2017 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Assistant: Nate Odden
Mixed May 2017 by Farber, Eicher, and Iyer
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Vijay Iyer’s fifth record for ECM is the pianist’s most engaging yet. Over ten scenes, Iyer directs an original storyline with his freshly-cut diamond of a sextet. Graham Haynes (cornet, flugelhorn, electronics), Steve Lehman (alto), Mark Shim (tenor), Stephan Crump (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums) are not only actors playing multiple roles; they’re also real-time producers, editors and sound designers.

“Poles” and “Threnody” provide opening and closing credits. Both nurture storms of activity from raindrops, as if celebrating the end of a draught. They also balance the mutual extremes of locking and unlocking. In the latter vein, the leading horns take turns in “Down To The Wire” and in the title track, revealing the underlying irregularities that make this music so exciting. Like oranges, Haynes, Lehman and Shim’s solos are at the peak of flavor when juiced. No wonder, when their bandleader has given them so much soil and sunshine in which to ripen.

Iyer’s clairvoyance smiles across the delightful “Nope,” breathes to fullest capacity throughout “Into Action” and expands on South Indian beats in “Good On The Ground.” The latter two are masterstrokes—thematically and in execution. The rhythm section understands that being sportive can be serious and Sorey digs especially deep. Haynes also has his monologues in “End Of The Tunnel” and “Wake,” both of which work in the cerebral tendrils of his electronics.

Far From Over is a call to listening. More importantly, it’s listening to a call, as most evident in “For Amiri Baraka.” Here the core trio of Iyer, Crump and Sorey teaches the hard lesson shrouded by all this enjoyment. Baraka himself said it best: “There cannot be any apprenticeship for freedom.” Jazz may be heard as a genre of emancipation, but Iyer understands that freedom is illusory until actualized, that communal action is the embodiment of humanity’s reach for its flame and that music is one way to keep us from getting burned in the process.

(This review originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

DeJohnette/Grenadier/Medeski/Scofield: Hudson

Hudson

Although Hudson derives its title from the valley of the same name, don’t expect the swaths of greenery shuffled across the album’s cover. Its influences are less environmental than musical, the 1969 Woodstock Festival being a central theme.

Of all the greatness at play, most organic is the balance of backward and forward glances. Jack DeJohnette’s drumming references Tony Williams— honored by John Scofield’s original “Tony then Jack”— even as it ignites fresh hearths with that same torch. Larry Grenadier draws on the electric bassists who inspired him through his acoustic wonders, building an anticipatory language distinctly his own. John Medeski on Rhodes hints at electric Miles Davis even as he maps uncharted atmospheres at the piano. And guitarist Scofield, who recorded with Davis, brings that classic vibe into the 21st century, pulsing with abiding love for rock and blues. His other contribution, “El Swing,” is a modal gem frontlining his restrained fire. DeJohnette pens three: “Song for World Forgiveness” aches with beauty, not least of all through Scofield’s lyricism; “Dirty Ground” (written with Bruce Hornsby) features him singing with gritty sincerity; and in the final “Great Spirit Peace Chant,” wooden flutes, percussion and voices leave us holding a feather of ancient ways.

Much of this album, though, polishes gems of folk-rock until they glisten anew. Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” are replete with masterful exchanges. Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” moves in seamless retrograde while a reimagined “Wait Until Tomorrow” (Jimi Hendrix) emotes with bluesy abandon. On the same level is Robbie Robertson’s “Up on Cripple Creek,” which mixes its ingredients in all the right ways.

Like-minded gravity attracts us first, however, to the opening title track, an 11-minute improvisation that puffs up like four dinner rolls baking in fast- forward. This is musical comfort food, the abstractions of which are butter on the nooks and crannies.

(This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)