Nils Landgren/Jan Lundgren: Kristallen

Kristallen

Trombonist/vocalist Nils Landgren and pianist Jan Lundgren unite for an intimate and, as its title implies, multi-faceted program. The single-vowel difference in their surnames feels appropriate, as their set list is comprised of two distinct yet compatible decks of cards shuffled into each other. One of those decks is instrumental, the other vocal. Of the former persuasion, Lundgren’s “Blekinge” introduces a windswept pastoralism. A canvas brushed and primed for itinerant melodies, it uses the listener’s attention as a palette from which to draw its colors. Amid a smattering of Swedish folksongs, including “Byssan Lull” and “Värmlandsvisan” (both reworked into delicate grooves), they plant the evergreens of “Norwegian Wood” and Keith Jarrett’s “Country.” Standing tallest among these, however, is Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Wedding,” whose foliage glows with tender nostalgia before the snow sets in.

On the sung side of things, we’re treated to a bluesy take on another Beatles classic, “I Will,” wherein the duo gives us plenty of atmosphere to chew on. Standards “Didn’t We” and “The Nearness Of You” rub shoulders of equal height with Lundgren’s own “Why Did You Let Me Go” and “Lovers Parade.” The latter unfold with especial clarity, wintry and sincere. Landgren’s singing is every bit as brassy as his trombone is throated and lyrical: each informs the other.

Whichever lens through which we choose to view this album, we can be sure that these carefully chosen selections, cropped until their borders achieve a balance of definition and open-endedness, reveal a deeply personal sensibility at play. The result is an effect as inevitable as its pairing, a choose-your-own-adventure story in sound that asks of us only to take the first step.

(This review originally appeared, in condensed form, in the March 2020 issue of DownBeat magazine.)

Theo Bleckmann/Joseph Branciforte: LP1

LP1

This collaboration between vocalist Theo Bleckmann and electronic musician/producer Joseph Branciforte is their first album as a duo and the inauguration of Branciforte’s new Greyfade label. Bleckmann and Branciforte drew upon their experiences performing together with Ryuichi Sakamoto in 2018 before diving into this unscripted studio encounter. Using Bleckmann’s voice as foundation, Branciforte manipulated and mixed raw vocal elements into something greater than their sum, an entirely new entity that is both and neither, locus and void, present and timeless.

Outside references linger, but give us a portrait only of the music’s surface. One could easily characterize “3.4.26,” for example, as a haunting smoothie of Taylor Deupree, Nico Muhly and Tim Hecker. But to do so risks masking its unfolding into something entirely its own—a journey that would never exist without the input of its primary travelers. “4.19” is even more spatial, treating the voice as an architectural element of the cosmos, however the listener chooses to define it. One senses whispers and lullabies hiding in there somewhere, but only with the intention of half-sleep, lest we be robbed of messages yet to be conveyed.

The diamond rings of this eclipse shine in the opening and closing tracks. “6.15” unravels a breathy hope for melody. When the voice at last unclothes itself, we almost feel slain by its familiarity, as if it were the relic of a world that no longer exists except in shadow. “5.5.9” is molded by a more human touch, flesh and bone articulating cages of possible meaning around open syllables.

At just shy of 35 minutes, LP1 is a lesson in quality over quantity. This is music so intimate that it aches. Bleckmann’s voice never stops evolving and in Branciforte’s artistry it has found a lifelong partner.

(This review originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Craig Taborn/Vadim Neselovskyi: Da’at

Da'at

The Masada songbook is a gift that keeps on giving. Since Book 1 was introduced to the listening world through a coveted decalogue of CDs released in the 1990s by DIW, John Zorn’s magnum opus has continued to grow. Like the city of Beijing, over the years it has added one ring after another as newer residents flock in search of an indefinable center. In this iteration we find two pianists—Craig Taborn and Vadim Neselovskyi—interpreting tunes in solo and duo configurations.

Taborn’s six unaccompanied tracks tell a range of stories, each more involved than the last. Generally, these fall into two modes, exemplified by the swirling motifs, colorful vistas and deeply personal riffs of “Penimi” and dreamlike patience of “Kayam,” which works into denser and denser weaves, from gossamer to burlap. “Setumah” comes up for air from turgid surroundings with gentle persuasion, proof that this music requires virtuosity of an emotional register as much of a technical one.

Neselovskyi’s triptych of solo offerings explores different chambers of the same heart. His expressive palette, while monochromatic by comparison, is no less dynamic for its range of textures, moods and effects. The fibrillations of “Orot” are especially blood-rich. In duet with Taborn, he unleashes darkness and light in equal measure, guided by a mutual trust to follow wherever the music leads. Theirs is an act not only of communication, but also of deconstruction, whereby the very nature of language cowers at the feet of gestural vocabularies.

The final three tracks feature Neselovskyi’s trio with bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Ronen Itzik. Across reexaminations of “Bohu,” “Kayam” and “Penimi,” they leap from the page with sentient assurance. The rhythm section, in combination with Neselovskyi’s colorful sensibility at the keyboard, makes for one of the most robust flares to come out of the Masada sun in quite some time. Turning these tunes like a facet, we find that each catches the sun just so, a signal for some future interpreter to spin as they feel moved.

(This review originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

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.)