Joshua Redman Quartet: Come What May

Come What May

Come What May is the third round for saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Like its predecessors, the album presents a spectrum of tunes, working at an even deeper level of maturity. Given that their last studio effort was recorded in 2000, it makes sense that the band should have taken a giant leap in intuition, but such a process is easier said than done and more than a mere consequence of sharing the road and the stage together.

Although varicolored from a thematic standpoint, these seven Redman originals partake of a binding confidence reflective of a conscious willingness to treat medium as message. The title cut and its follower, “How We Do,” are the front and back of the band’s aural business card. In both, Redman and Rogers define and unravel a genuine compositional voice, which resonates through the bandleader’s willingness to explore every idea to its logical end. Goldberg and Hutchinson, for their part, shine in the power walk that is “I’ll Go Mine,” crossing every ‘t’ without a hint of intrusion. These four musicians, whether at their quietest (“Vast”) or most forthright (“Stagger Bear”), would need to expend unfathomable effort not to let their two-plus decades of camaraderie show through. Indeed, “DGAF” sounds like a bunch of old friends finishing each other’s sentences.

That same spirit is reflected in the engineering, which allows every instrument to occupy its own space. While at first this effect feels jarring (there is none of that sense of movement through space only a live experience can articulate), it ultimately leaves it up to the quartet to bridge the gaps between them. The end result is best described as a laid-back adventure, one that is smooth yet grounded enough to withstand the force of expectation.

(This review originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Eggersman/Borger/Eick: Unifony


“Unifony” is a word invented to describe the audible tesseract forged by producer Minco Eggersman, engineer Theodoor Borger, and trumpeter Mathias Eick. Watering electroacoustic seeds, and from those nurturing an incidental crop, they drift between graspable melodies, ambient sound designs, and cinematic embryos. Indeed, each of their debut album’s 12 tracks is a film for which only the inner ear can serve as projector screen.

If asked to assign an overall shape to this project, one would be hard-pressed to come up with anything better than a sphere. Such is the coherence and three-dimensionality one encounters. From the first blush of “Glow,” we find each vibrational frequency churning within the confines of its own dreams as the only way of transcending them. Eick’s tone is wrapped in a human touch as only a singer’s might be, and by its gentle force of suggestion indicates the forward motion of seeking and finding something we didn’t even realize we were looking for. Here, as throughout, rhythms are never applied from without but instead emerge from within, each an unpredictable treasure, sacred and wrapped in shadow.

That same feeling of travel persists throughout “Found” and “Ghostly,” wherein narrative impulses of what’s discoverable through the body trade molecules with the spatial evocations of “Drive” and “Rock” as if the only promise worth keeping is that made by a receding horizon. “Ascend” balances the horizontal axis with a vertical one, threading an arpeggio of plucked strings through a braid of trumpet, piano, and circulations of the heart.

Yet nowhere do we understand the nature of things so clearly as in “Blur.” As individual as every soul that inhales it, this music renders space like an open-ended video game, charting maps in real time through ghost towns and ruins of lost civilizations in search of places where voices might still reside.

In that sense, Unifony is all about kindship—not only between the musicians and producers whose lives have intersected in these achingly beautiful nebulae, but also between listeners thousands of miles away, so that the mere push of a virtual PLAY button is all it takes to breathe the same air. As the name of the final track—“Tangible”—suggests, we are left with something transportable, a relic from the future through which we are given a choice: to continue wallowing in self-absorption or shed our egos in search of timeless unity. Let us all opt for the latter.

Unifony is available for purchase on Bandcamp here.

Lucian Ban / Alex Simu: Free Fall

Free Fall

In 2018, the Romanian duo of pianist Lucian Ban and clarinetist Alex Simu toured their homeland in a series of concerts inspired by the improvisational genius of Jimmy Giuffre. What transpired throughout this particular performance, captured at Bucharest’s French Institute, is a fitting embodiment inspired by one of jazz’ humblest stalwarts.

Ban’s “Quiet Storm” opens the concert by immersing listeners in the robust tenderness for which Giuffre will be forever known. Harnessing an illustrative power akin to incidental music of the theater, Simu comports himself like an actor on stage, deviating just enough from the script to wrap his performance in a cloak of individuality. Following this, two entirely improvised interludes (the jagged title track and more liquescent “Mysteries,” an album highlight) sandwich Carla Bley’s “Jesus Maria,” which in its present iteration feels as spontaneous as it does timeless. Moving with ghostly patience, it crowns the metaphysical heart stirring within each of these songs.

Simu offers two originals. “Near” finds him unaccompanied on a custom bass clarinet, expounding upon the influences of Giuffre’s playing, while “The Pilgrim” lures Ban into a gorgeously restrained exercise in itineracy. Two tunes by Giuffre close out the set. Where “Cry, Want” is a bluesy affair bathed in modal shadow, “Used To Be” bids farewell on an optimistic note, sending off the spirit of a fallen hero on a pyre of reed and ivory.

(This review originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

John Zorn: The Interpretation of Dreams

The Interpretation of Dreams

The Interpretation of Dreams ranks among John Zorn’s most mature amalgamations. Sporting three compositions from 2016, its program is a triangle within a triangle. Both “Naked Lunch” and “The Exterminating Angel” pair vibraphone virtuoso Sae Hashimoto’s navigations of a meticulously through-composed score with the ecstatic improvisations of bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. The first piece, in both concept and execution, pays obvious homage to William Burroughs, whose disillusionment with control pulses here in near-cultish abandon. With characteristic smoothness, Zorn’s writing spins the genre wheel from contemporary classical flourishes to noir-ish inflections of a jazzier persuasion. Hashimoto elicits surreal precision, if not also precise surrealism, in her malletry. “The Exterminating Angel” increases magnification on Spanish auteur Luis Buñuel. This time the effect is even more multilayered and of greater contrast between movements, the second of which breathes with plangent immediacy. Like the many secrets hidden beneath the dinner table of its eponymous film, “The Exterminating Angel” hides as much as it reveals. The result grabs the listener by the scruff with breakneck synchronicity and finds a suitable vehicle amid Zorn’s attentive search for order in chaos.

Between these sits “Obscure Objects of Desire,” an obituary piece for Buñuel. Subtitled “a study in frustration,” it draws a needle and thread through sexual tensions within the director’s oeuvre and which in this context bear out as gradations of virility and impotence. Pianist Stephen Gosling performs alongside the ever-adventurous JACK Quartet, by turns dominant over and submissive to a textural litany of desires. Tensions culminate in a breathtaking passage played sul ponticello on the strings while the piano reveals its fantasy life with psychoanalytical panache. That such images find points of commonality at any given moment is an achievement in and of itself and indicative of a composer whose finest works are coming to light in the hands of trustworthy interpreters.

(This review originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Aaron Parks: Little Big

little big

Little Big is an album you’ll want to spin like a globe, placing your finger anywhere and opening your eyes to take joy in where it lands. From first to last, Aaron Parks amps up his artistry in a ripe configuration with guitarist Greg Tuohey, bassist David Ginyard and drummer Tommy Crane. Gliding through a set of 14 originals, the itinerant keyboard player renders a sound perhaps best characterized as photorealistic.

Little Big runs on a spirit of genuine appreciation, be it for childhood (“Kid”), love (“Good Morning”) or worlds within our own (“Aquarium”). Every surface reflects some form of nostalgia, made possible only by the quality of its summoners. Parks and Tuohey are as inseparable yet distinct as gesso and pigment, each defining the other in mutual appreciation, while Ginyard and Crane uphold their canvas with algorithmic integrity. As a whole, these musicians render tessellations of melody and rhythm that would give M.C. Escher a run for his money.

Parks’ writing speaks power into being, unrolling the full breadth of this quartet’s capabilities across the brain. From the intimate piano solos “Lilac” and “Hearth” to the representative “Rising Mind” and “Doors Open,” a purpose-driven energy prevails. Among the music’s many strengths is its evocative clarity, exemplified to the fullest in “Small Planet.” The steampunk ambiance of “Professor Strangeweather” offers another highlight in treating each instrument like a cog for a balanced machine. “Digital Society,” by its own measure, grounds us in the here and now through its bitmapping of the modern soul. If the band’s name tells us anything more, it’s that once any contradiction becomes a reality, you wonder why you ever thought of it as a contradiction to begin with.

(This review originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Rudy Royston: Flatbed Buggy

flatbed buggy

With Flatbed Buggy, drummer Rudy Royston has come into his own as a composer. Joined by reedplayer John Ellis (chiefly on bass clarinet), accordion player Gary Versace, cellist Hank Roberts and bassist Joe Martin he channels influences as diverse as Bill Frisell and Ron Miles, tied together by memories of his partial Texas upbringing in a melodically rich chamber suite.

Tempting as it is to be enchanted by this unique combination, it feels as organic as the music itself. To be sure, each instrument has inherent qualities. Bass clarinet and cello form an especially flexible spine, accordion a robust pair of lungs, bass legs on which to stand and drums a brain to prompt every member into action. But it’s the way in which they combine in the guise of one body that makes them stand out. Between opener “Soul Train” and brief outro “I Guess It’s Time To Go,” listeners are led from sunrise to sunset with the vividness of a favorite childhood memory. The past is therefore a running theme of Flatbed Buggy, the very title evoking country life in a time buried under the detritus of recent history and which reaches fullest evocation in “Twirler” and “Hourglass.”

While there are obvious examples of virtuosity, such as the whimsical round of solos in “Bobblehead” and thoughtful contributions of Versace and Ellis in the title track, a collective spirit overrides concerns of individual expression. Likewise in the swinging contours of “The Roadside Flowers” and two starkly narrative tracks “boy…MAN,” which shuttles bass through a loom of block chords, and the more ponderous “girl…WOMAN.” Whether in these protracted examples or the three jauntier interludes sprinkled throughout, this music is sincere, vividly articulated and not afraid of a little dirt under the fingernails.

(This review originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Yonezawa/Kamaguchi/Kobayashi: Boundary


After scrimshawing a name for herself in the ivory of jazz as sidewoman for saxophonist Greg Osby and following her 2016 leader debut A Result of the Colors (see my review for All About Jazz here), pianist Megumi Yonezawa releases her deepest personal statement to date. Boundary triangulates her tactful artistry with bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Ken Kobayashi in a set of nine freely improvised tunes, plus a lone standard for good measure. If said standard—Sammy Fain/Irving Kahal’s “I’ll Be Seeing You”—feels like a message that has traveled light-years to get here and shows the trio at its most resonant, then the spontaneous wonders cushioning it feel like messages yet to be revealed and show the trio at its most inward. As in the droplets of piano that open the title track, each turn of phrase makes known a realm that only the ears can grasp.

While other titles offer descriptors of what one encounters here, their truth is limited. “Alchemy,” for example, does indeed come across as a sonic conversion of base elements, even as one is constantly reminded of something far more precious than gold: namely, the coherence of flesh, bone and dedication that only musicians who listen to each other this closely can achieve. “Tremor,” too, despite an underlying quiver of spontaneity, names the album’s steadiest departure. Then there’s “Wavelength,” a duet between Kamaguchi and Kobayashi implying something greater than synergy: dialogue.

Even without such trail markers, one can hear the cartographic sincerity of “Reef” and tactile intensity of “Nostalgio” as if they were one and the same. The most absorbing promises are fulfilled in “Veil” and “Onement.” Where the former is as beautiful as it is intrepid, the latter swirls with life-giving immediacy. Mirroring the patient unfolding of “Meryon,” they seek catharsis on the path to getting there, so that by the end a new beginning has already opened its eyes for want of another day.

(This review originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Scott Worthington / Renato D’Agostin: Orbit


Orbit titles the intersection of bassist/composer Scott Worthington and Italian photographer Renato D’Agostin. Worthington’s minimal approach to sound, like D’Agostin’s to image, reveals the hidden complexities of interaction between bodies and the contexts of their transit. With an atmosphere that recalls the self-refractions of Stephan Micus, “A Time That Is Also A Place” fleshes out the flute of Rachel Beetz like vanes to a feather’s shaft, funneling into a quill hungry for a universal inkwell. Long tones beget longer drones to form a space in which the body retreats into itself. As multi-phonic light cradles shadows with aged hands, drawing static from its slumber into the foreground, the monochromatic heart of reality beats in the slowest of motions, as if to mark the passage of time beyond grasp of all measure. The effect is such that when the ambient “Interlude” opens its eyes against the sunlight of a thousand sun, we understand intimately the imperfection of the soul against a cosmos dripping with unity.

If we began with a circle, then “A Flame That Could Go Out” is another linking to it, resonating in a moan for all matter. In this bass-heavy flame, one encounters not a single flicker, but a steady flow of suicidal oxygen quietly accepting its fate. Each respiration is a word without speech, a simulacrum of mortality restored like an ancient instrument cleared of its corrosion. This leaves only the tracery of experience to communicate who we once were in the music of who we can never be again.

scott worthington - orbit - iikki 005_book_orbit 01 (outside front)

That all of this feels so downright terrestrial is due in part to the captivation of D’Agostin’s images, which grace the album’s accompanying book with nomadic coherence. Their high contrast reveals a mutual contradiction of flesh and spirit, even as it fortifies the connective tissue of art between them. In this sense, the dialogue here is not between individuals but within them, steering the self into waters of deeper self until only horizon remains.

(For ordering information, check out the IIKKI imprint here.)