Of Rain and Kinship: The Guitar Work of Charlie Rauh and Cameron Mizell

Since its inception, Austin-based Destiny Records has documented a range of artists in their natural habitats, but perhaps none so intimately as Charlie Rauh. On Hiraeth, his second solo album for the label, the guitarist peels back emotional transparency after transparency until only the glowing ember of his heart remains.

Hiraeth

The title is a Welsh word connoting one’s longing for a place to which one cannot return and which may never have existed in the first place. Fortunately for us, the music here is real and delineates a place to which we may return at any time.

Recorded in a wooden cottage during a residency for the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in Florida, these tunes take inspiration from two years of European travels. The title track is an invitation to share in the acoustic signatures that bind performer to listener. Rauh’s gentleness and near-spiritual dedication is palpable. Some tracks, such as “Patience” and “May Came In Accompanied by Rain,” feel like songs without words, dangled over a vast expanse of possibility, while others share a one-to-one correlation with the places and figures they describe. In the latter vein, “Fanø,” named for a Danish island, evokes listing waters and a foggy horizon while “Norma & Wallace” lets in the sounds of rain outside the recording space. The album’s deepest passages are found in “Eleven Seventeen.” Composed as much of bones as of the flesh around them, it bleeds with the inevitability of watercolors. “Observer” likewise blurs boundaries between notes until only a compound color remains.

Tempting as it is to characterize these as sonic postcards, they are better thought of as pages in a cinematic diary. The images move at their own speed and in service of memories whose only reason for existing is to be conveyed, soul to soul. In this respect they invite listeners to move along in real time, as if in a dance of regard and interpretation. The result of all this is more of a beginning than an end—an implication of something beyond the edges of the screen to which our ears have been directed in service of an interpersonal story.

What We Have In Common.jpg

If Rauh’s solo work is the darker side of a creative moon, then we find its sunlit counterpart in What We Have In Common. This companion album of sorts pairs Rauh’s acoustic guitar with the electric of Cameron Mizell. The atmosphere is indeed brighter and in the opening “A Thousand Faces” renders the kind of nostalgia one would only expect to find in a shoebox of aging photographs. Whereas “Dogwood,” “A Song About A Tree” and “You Are Missing From Me” shine with distinctive Americana, each a hypnotic regression through childhood, the rocking-horse arpeggios and unified harmonies of “Kuksa” reveal fresher sheen. Rauh’s “Tomorrow Will Worry About Itself” and Mizell’s “I Didn’t Find It To Be That, Exactly” are highlights for their nocturnal moods, as are two songs with vocalist Ess See, who adds her own lyrics to “All Along The Way” and “A Thousand Faces.” Both are tender examinations of faith in something greater than blood: the very kinship of lived experience.

For more information on ordering, and to hear samples, check out the Destiny Records Bandcamp page here.

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

Evans/Fernández/Guy: Free Radicals at Dom

Free Radicals At DOM

Recorded live at Moscow’s DOM Cultural Center in November 2017, Free Radicals documents the assembly of three master improvisers: American trumpeter Peter Evans, Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández and British bassist Barry Guy. While all have unleashed their unquenchable fires in other contexts, this is their first album as a trio and the results are both exactly what anyone familiar with them would expect and yet enchantingly surprising.

Over the course of two tripartite sets, we fall into a conversational category of sound, whereby opinion and assertion blend to the point of indistinguishability and the purpose at the core of it all sheds its skin in search of jagged horizons. The piano’s innards are subjected to an especially fascinating surgery as Guy illuminates the operating table with his bass and Evans melts his trumpet down into a scalpel.

Where the first set isn’t afraid to throw some vinegar into the baking soda, neither does it shy from ponderance, treating quietude as a breeding ground of undiscovered order. The second set is even more substantive, achieving astonishing congruence at almost every turn. Moments in which bonds seem to crumble are those in which unity would come across as hypocritical and which by its very ejection leaves room for listener engagement. Part Two of the latter set is a suspension of disbelief that runs back and forth along the top of the proverbial fourth wall until it erodes to the ground. The encore is more of a beginning than an ending and by its suggestions of eternity rips off the “im” from “impossibility” and skips it across the pond of expectation until the final plop is heard on a shore too distant to see yet close enough to hear.

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

Steve Kuhn Trio: To And From The Heart

To And From The Heart.jpg

To And From The Heart, the latest on Sunnyside Records from pianist Steve Kuhn’s trio with electric bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Joey Baron, is a walking tour of dreams. By its guidance, we are led through one scene after another, each a step out of time. Two of the most fully rendered among them are by Swallow. “Thinking Out Loud” unfurls the set’s welcome mat into a sound so warm and inviting it feels like we’ve just stepped into an intimate jazz club. That the trio has a long performing history to its credit only adds to the live atmosphere. Such comfort as that expressed here can only come with age and experience.

In both this understated groove and “Away,” a bright and easygoing swing, Swallow’s solos are natural extensions of his comping and vice versa. Kuhn likewise stirs his own compositional palette with the concluding medley of “Trance/Oceans in the Sky.” From a sailing piano intro, it navigates rolling waves to dock on shore, where Swallow leads a long walk inland to Baron’s spotlight monologue, wherein he compresses an entire landscape into its first blade of grass. Along the way, into their joyous circle the trio welcomes Michika Fukumori’s “Into the New World,” a sunlit field dotted with Kuhn’s expository footprints while also throwing in a couple of standards—not only for good measure, but also to measure the good. Where Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley’s “Pure Imagination” balances elegance and humility, as epitomized by Baron’s scintillations and Swallow’s robust detailing, Jay Livingston/Ray Evans’ “Never Let Me Go” shows Kuhn to be one who understands that melodies aren’t made to be broken but stretched until one can see through them. When music is this good, this nostalgic yet forward-thinking, it can only be a matter of fate.

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

Search Ensembles: Prescient/Legend

Prescient:Legend

With Prescient/Legend, producer and sound artist Dale Lloyd deepens his Search Ensembles project excavation after breaking ground with its 2015 self-titled debut on Lloyd’s and/OAR label. Although released 2019 on the either/OAR sibling imprint, this follow-up was culled from recordings made between 1986 and 2018 by a range of field recordists and instrumental artists, including Alan Courtis, Cedric Peyronnet, Cyril Herry, Eric Lanzillotta, Jani Hirvonen, Jon Tulchin, Mark Reynolds, Michael Northam, Mike Hallenbeck, Phil Legard, and Slavek Kwi. Lloyd sifted through their previously unreleased archives, forging timeless relationships in reassembly, while also inviting new material to be added through a variety of instruments.

“Search Ensembles started as an archaeological dig in the audio sense,” says Lloyd of the project. “I’d always wanted to do a project that revisited this planet’s history, but in a sense beyond anything we’ve learned in our school textbooks. It’s similar to something I started in early 90s called Lucid, for which we intentionally ‘weathered’ or ‘aged’ the recordings to give them an older aesthetic. That’s one of the motivating factors for digging into past recordings with so-called less-than-perfect sound quality. It felt compatible at all levels.”

Search Ensembles renders each of its sources, both organic and manufactured, as instruments in a compositional array. The result is a catalyst for elemental reactions. As far as choosing material that felt appropriate, Lloyd notes that coincidences of opportunity played an important role in shaping what emerged. “It was partially a happenstance thing. Some of the material, for instance, was gradual—things I had heard over time and which felt both appropriate and available.” Beyond that, he points to a relatively new interest in library production music as a tangible influence. Such recordings are forgotten time capsules, and hold in their nostrils the fragrances of ancient civilizations. In that sense, what we have here is nothing short of a patient awakening of buried melodies and textures after millennial slumber. In keeping with the metaphor—indeed, treating it as more than such—the album lays out artifacts still clinging to dust. Each is a village unto itself, spoken in the language of a place that no longer exists.

What follows is this listener’s own field notes, taken while surveying the album’s discoveries and calibrated by ears undeterred by temptation of silence…

1
As natural causes bubble to surface of perception, each works symbiotically with the other in a conversation so internal that it slips through the other side into an external manifesto. Tones at once distant yet so ingrained in the skin that you cannot help but be wounded by them coil around one another, searching for ideas as if they were physical traces left by immaterial souls.

2
Heartbeats and hints of thunder are kindred spirits. Their children are our ancestors, whose messages make paper of our brain tissue when we dream. Worthy only of being imbibed like plants crushed in stone and brewed into a tea of knowledge, they grow for the purpose of being snipped at the source. The crickets nestling around them are not messengers of the night, but remnants of the day speaking in tongues of sunrise.

3
Birds flock behind closed eyes, touching the liminal covering of reality with their wingtips but always returning to the percussion of flesh, metal, and bone.

4
A perpetual shushing of impulses by mothers whose evening chorus filters out the purest components of twilight. Voices are implied by the horizon’s arching back, flush with starlight as a lotus to pond’s surface. What was once implied becomes doctrinal, yearning to bring distances together: a Big Bang in reverse to the first pinprick of creation.

5
That same calling echoes here as dotted lines surround areas of conquering. Like frightened children wielding chalk on a blacktop, they reveal themselves in a tentative cartography, as predictive as it is unknowable.

6
The insects arrive with songs in their thoraxes, hidden until the final sting ejects their souls into death. They wander as if to wonder, hoping for the sky to fill in their broken choices with the possibility of a new hive, only to watch it die with roll of a farm machine intent only on destruction.

7
Splashes of water eject molecules of death, giving way to imaginary towers whose resonant chambers are the beginnings of life.

8
The printing press of the night leaves its mantras visible in the sky above, while the ground below thrives with pre-cultivation memories. A synthesizer is aurora to the flute’s borealis, reaching in for warmth and finding a talisman that is cool to the touch.

9
Static made biological: a song of conception, fertile in its detail. In the background: the cry of a mother yet to be born.

10
Overtones are undercurrents of faith, each dripping with reason until only truth is left in its evaporated wake.

Throughout this album, things hidden in the recesses of our collective past are being reckoned with sonically. More than that, they are turned in the hands until their sharpest points become rounded. A roof over solace, a library of parthenogenetic design whose shelves are as layered as the rock from which they were unearthed. “We’re documenting cultural activity,” Lloyd observes, “something that hasn’t been documented in any other way or is far less known to us.” More than unknown, I would venture to say that what we stumble upon here is a culture that does not exist except by the grace of those fortunate enough to give it three dimensions in the listening.

(For ordering information and to hear a sample, click here.)

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

“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.)