My latest review for RootsWorld online magazine is of a fascinating side project by violinist Bjarte Eike (known to ECM listeners for his appearances on the Siwan recordings) called the Alehouse Sessions. Click the cover below to read my thoughts on the album and the group’s debut stateside performance in New York City.
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.)
Bruce Williams isn’t afraid to loosen his seams and let rawness seep through, and nowhere is this so true as on the alto saxophonist’s fourth album. In the opening punctuations of “Mata Leon,” the organic nature of his compositional grammar is revealed, as are his interlocking relationships with a roving cast of bandmates, shuffled throughout to fit the needs of individual tunes. While the initial vibe is fragmentary and searching, the title track that follows has a brighter, classical energy actualizing the album’s core concept: squeezing hardship until essential oils of affirmation drip into the bell of his horn. Likewise in “Premonitions,” which, despite its airiness, speaks incisively through the leading voices. Williams on soprano and trumpeter Josh Evans spin webs of future possibility, only to sever them with ferocious retrospection.
Williams is unafraid to ask probing questions metaphorically, but also titularly in “Forever Asking Why?” Such is his quest for resignation by means of a tone so razor-edged that even in the most brooding passages, it cuts to the quick. “The Price We Pay for Peace” and “Last Visit in the Mirror” are further examples of this characteristic. The latter opens with a cultivated intro from pianist Brandon McCune, cushioning a soulful awakening from Williams. Here is the heart of this album—numerically, emotionally, spiritually.
The jauntier “Old Forester” levels darker weights on the fulcrum of trumpeter Freddie Hendrix. “The Void” unfolds in kind and finds Williams belting out his inner world as if it were an improvisational assembly line. Guitarist Brad Williams and core rhythm section of bassist Chris Berger and drummer Vincent Ector are vivid comforts, as are the meatier “I Still Carry On” and “View through a Sheet,” which balance straight-from-the-gut extemporizing and mystery before the smooth landing of “Past Tense.”
Though haunted by memories of a father who took his own life nearly 30 years ago, this is music of survival when all the heart wants to do is curl up in obscurity.
(This review originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)
The title Chroma evokes the colors of human experience. Recorded live in December 2015 at New York’s Onassis Cultural Center, bassist Petros Klampanis’ Motéma debut allows said colors to intermingle in utterly lyrical ways.
Klampanis takes much of the composing credit, starting off on the rightest of feet with the album’s title track. Its trim opening, replete with tuned percussion, eerily recalls the postmodern minimalism of Nik Bärtsch’s Mobile before the guitar of Gilad Hekselman and bow-work of a top-flight string section make it clear that we are in far more extroverted territory. Klampanis possesses a relativity all his own when it comes to crafting melodic cages in which to improvise. His multifaceted rhythm sectioning with drummer John Hadfield, artfully gilded by percussionist Keita Ogawa, gives just the right amount of uplift to maintain an uninterrupted aerial view toward the final vista, “Shades of Magenta.” The latter’s Brazilian pulse and Nana Vasconcelos-esque vocals (courtesy of Klampanis himself) offset a smooth highway with soulful detours.
“Tough Decisions” eases the listener into a patient unfolding. The bassist’s soloing spotlights his refined approach, in which every note feels like a necessary leaf in forested surroundings. For its surprising reveries and groovy resolution, “Little Blue Sun,” with its oceanic vibe, comes across as the most dynamic piece.
Hekselman contributes “Cosmic Patience,” introducing it by way of starlit guitar and expanding the possibilities of his interactions with the bass like heat lightning personified: distant yet glowing with colorful immediacy. Pianist and frequent Klampanis collaborator Spyros Manesis is behind “Shadows,” another prime surface for Hekselman’s warm touch.
If you’ve ever woken up from a dream with beautiful music in your head, only to forget it as the day goes on, Chroma will make you feel like you have recaptured some of that spirit.
(This review originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)
My latest review for RootsWorld online magazine is of Norwegian singer Solveig Slettahjell’s Poetisk Tale. Slettahjell has collaborated with many ECM regulars, including Tord Gustavsen, Nils Økland, and Jon Balke, and on this album is backed by guitarist Eivind Aarset, the Vertavo String Quartet, percussionist Helge Norbakken, and keyboardist-arranger Kjetil Bjerkestrand. A must-listen for fans of anyone involved. Click the cover to read my full review and listen to samples.