Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Steve Beresford + John Butcher
Old Paradise Airs
Iluso IRCD25

The Last Dream Of Morning
Crucial Anatomy
Trost TR196

Since emerging on the London scene in the early 1980s, British saxophonist John Butcher has developed a unique approach which melds a staggeringly detailed command of multiphonics, timbre, and overblowing with an overarching sense of musicality. He employs a litany of jittery trills, gruff honks which abrade into distortion, grasshopper stridulations, circular breathed quacks, and parping plosives which stretches the definition of what an acoustic instrument can achieve. By now his name among the credits inevitably flags something worthy of further investigation.

Old Paradise Airs reunites Butcher with Steve Beresford, another of the so-called second generation of British improvisers. Although frequent collaborators, remarkably this live recording from Iklektic, (hidden away behind London’s Waterloo Station in the titular Old Paradise Yard), represents their first appearance as a duet on disc. Beresford plays electronics as well as the perhaps to be expected piano, but also utilizes a panoply of implements from which he teases an enormous variety of sounds. Mouth organ rubs shoulders with sine waves, gurgling plumbing sonorities with piano preparations. But while creatively impulsive, he still somehow conveys focus.

Beresford establishes the sonic signature for each cut, leaving Butcher with the challenge of how to respond to the oblique and continually changing attacks. But with the saxophonist’s history of seeking out resonant spaces, he has almost made a career of dealing with such conundrums. While the dialogues thrive on juxtapositions, there is enough shared synchronicity, activity, and dynamics to infer a narrative. When on “Dirl” a burst of harsh electronics prompts an immediate squalling rejoinder from Butcher. It only lasts a few seconds but exemplifies the saxophonist’s hair trigger responsiveness.

You have to marvel at their inventiveness. Apart from the delightful introductory “Krotyl,” where Butcher’s soprano sinuosity comes warped with overtones, these are shape shifting pieces, and the resultant exchanges of noise transmuted into music defy easy categorization. However, more conventional tonalities do surface, particularly when Beresford is seated at the keyboard, but also in such instances as Butcher’s near lyrical line repeated three times at the close of “Marr.” But regardless of the terrain traversed, such seasoned practitioners always discover apposite endings which help validate and give satisfying closure to what has passed before.

Crucial Anatomy presents Butcher in one of his most visceral and emotionally direct settings in harness with two absolute masters of their trade, bassist John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders. (Others which spring to mind are with Stray on Into Darkness (Iluso, 2018) and with the Portuguese Red Trio on Empire (NoBusiness, 2011).) It’s the follow up to Last Dream Of Morning (Relative Pitch, 2017) which now serves as the band’s name. There are few better at patrolling the intersection of free jazz and improv than this team, as evidenced by their stints fuelling the likes of Evan Parker, Paul Dunmall, and Wadada Leo Smith.

And they bring out the best in Butcher too. The saxophonist tends more to jagged rhythm and wiry repetition in this explosive company. Sometimes his phrasing recalls Steve Lacy, in that it attains an idiosyncratic lurch, which you can’t quite call swing, but nonetheless absorbs momentum as he navigates the choppy surging currents. Culled from two sets at Cafe Oto, the three long-form excursions are unpredictable and varied. Each cut packs more rich drama than many entire albums. As a unit, they are totally simpatico in terms of pacing, transitions, and receptiveness. Their reactions are razor sharp, such that they can move from snarling saxophone with wayward arco tangents and aggressive clatter to creaking tone manipulation in the blink of an ear, as they do on “Free Of Ghosts.”

Rewarding combinations occur throughout. On “Curling Vine,” Edwards’ keening sawing momentarily reinforces the cadence of Butcher’s ritardando. Later the same track features some delicious braiding between further kinetic bowing and Butcher’s scratchy bleating soprano. While Edwards and Sanders switch between driving energy and tonal interplay, their great talent is the delivery of both at the same time. In keeping with the egalitarian ethos, when Butcher steps back, a series of tremendous bass/drum interludes crowd center stage. Edwards astounds with the sheer physicality of his snapping strings, flying bows, and tensile fingering, all the while shadowed by Sanders’ on-the-nose textures.

This outing will likely figure highly come the year’s end.
–John Sharpe


Jim Black Trio
Intakt CD 334

Gordon Grdina’s Nomad Trio
Skirl 044

A veteran of the downtown New York scene, Jim Black’s numerous appearances as a sideman are more than enough to confirm his credentials as one of the most important drummers of the last two decades. Black has one of the most instantly recognizable styles in jazz – his loose-limbed phrasing has a disruptive, ramshackle quality that often alternates between extremes, from driving rock backbeats to impressionistic cymbal work. He has been an integral part of esteemed groups like Human Feel, Tim Berne’s Bloodcount, and Endangered Blood, as well as leading his own bands, such as Alas No Axis, and Malamute, although projects under his own name rarely receive the same level of acclaim. Combining melodic focus with rhythmic adventurousness, his self-titled trio (with bassist Thomas Morgan and pianist Elias Stemeseder) is both engaging and challenging.

Morgan, who’s contributed to recordings by Tomasz Stanko, Craig Taborn, and Dan Weiss, has a strong harmonic sensibility that fits Black’s concept perfectly, establishing tuneful motifs with understated poise and a resonant tone. He can launch into nimble extrapolations or provide a thoughtful bassline and offers a clear through-line when others splinter into abstraction; Morgan has the confidence to underplay where another accompanist might not. Stemeseder, who has worked with Anna Webber, is developing a lush romantic voice of dexterous fluidity, but also has a few surprises up his sleeve – such as his feisty prepared piano. Like Morgan, he never overplays, underpinning right-hand melodies with left-hand chords less often than many pianists, while leaving space for swelling pedal flourishes or strident percussive asides that accentuate the prevailing mood.

Reckon is the trio’s fourth release and their second on Intakt Records, following 2016’s The Constant. Much like The Bad Plus, Black and company see how far they can stretch a tune; each is developed differently, sometimes in a straightforward manner and then deconstructed, other times by gradual accretion. These variations serve as springboards for freewheeling collective improvisations that venture into uncharted territory, while always returning to the melody. Worthy of repeated spins, this effort will please longtime fans and potentially win new ones as well.

Adapting Arabic forms to Western creative improvised music, Vancouver-based guitarist and oud player Gordon Grdina has produced a series of uncategorizable releases over the last decade and a half for several independent labels. Working with forward-looking Canadian, American, and European musicians, Grdina is known for his diverse output, which includes recordings by the Egyptian orchestra-meets-jazz big band Haram; The Marrow, a contemporary Persian-influenced ensemble; the atmospheric Gordon Grdina Quartet; and a free-punk duo with drummer Kenton Loewen named Peregrine Falls, among many others.

Nomad, the trio’s self-titled debut on Skirl Records, is the third album Grdina has issued in the past few months, preceded by Cooper’s Park (Songlines), by his quartet with Oscar Noriega, Russ Lossing, and Satoshi Takeishi, and Skin and Bones (Nottwo), an intimate encounter with Matthew Shipp and Mark Helias. Nomad Trio features the unorthodox lineup of ubiquitous pianist Matt Mitchell and renowned drummer Jim Black. Grdina composed all the tunes, drawing equally from rock, free jazz, Eurasian folk forms, and 20th century classical composition, but what is most remarkable about this genre-defying collaboration is its extraordinary interplay. Grdina focuses his attention on electrifying guitar solos, although the labyrinthine progressions and elaborate rhythms written for Mitchell and Black are just as unrelenting. The juxtaposition is captivating – Grdina’s jagged fretwork contrasts with Mitchell’s richly hued accompaniment, which evokes a concert pianist stretching the harmonic boundaries of modern jazz, while Black navigates tricky time signatures with aplomb.

On “Wildfire,” the aptly named opener, scorching guitar leads, hefty piano trills, and protean drumming elicit a vivacious combination of freewheeling improvisation and muscular drive. The piece surges to a steady groove, before a deconstructed interlude eases into a hushed coda; similar dynamics play out across the set. Grdina introduces “Nomad” with an introspective soliloquy, making way for Mitchell’s brash pianism, then takes the lead with interlocking phrases that accentuate Black’s vivid drumming. “Ride Home” builds from halting call-and-response to a frenzied finale as the tempo increases, ending with a breathtaking crescendo reminiscent of John McLaughlin’s early work. Likewise, “Benbow” starts subtly, with Grdina’s ethereal intro preceding Mitchell’s enigmatic variations, which set the stage for a stratospheric conclusion. Conversely, Black opens “Thanksgiving” with scintillating textures that congeal into a lumbering groove, while Mitchell joins the guitarist in flinty counterpoint that fragments into pithy abstraction. Closing on a subdued note, “Lady Choral” offers the sole opportunity to hear the bandleader’s elegant oud.

Grdina’s reputation has grown over the last few years in regard to the panoramic scope of his various projects. Whether basing his work on the bluesy twang of his electric guitar or the steely modality of his oud, Grdina has integrated his eclectic approaches into a singular style. Aided by his venerable colleagues, Grdina’s Nomad Trio offers a convincing fusion of Eastern and Western idioms, exploring a vast musical terrain that relatively few succeed in mastering.
–Troy Collins


Bobby Bradford + Frode Gjerstad + Kent Carter + John Stevens
Blue Cat
NoBusiness NBLP 130

Though not specifically billed as such, this archival release from NoBusiness captures a recording from a 1991 UK tour of the group Detail in a quartet formation with cornetist Bobby Bradford, alto player Frode Gjerstad, bassist Kent Carter, and drummer John Stevens. Bradford first played with John Stevens’ Spontaneous Music Ensemble when he traveled to London in the summer of 1971 (documented on a great Nessa recording) and played with Detail (Gjerstad, Stevens, and bassist Johnny Dyani) on a short tour in 1986 shortly before Dyani’s death. By the late 80s, bassist Kent Carter had been recruited to the group which continued until Stevens’ death in 1994. That later version of the group didn’t record much, making this recording all-the-more valuable.

Over the course of three extended pieces, the four stretch out with the type of freewheeling, open-pulse, collective improvisation they all relished. Gjerstad and Bradford are effective foils for each other, a partnership they’ve continued to mine over the years. The two grab on to free melodic themes and spin them with loose, spontaneous lyricism. Bradford’s warm, round tone meshes well with Gjerstad’s lithe angular phrasing. Carter honed his ability to propel open thematic improvisation most notably in his extended tenure with Steve Lacy, and his driving lines galvanize the music throughout. And, as usual, Stevens’ spontaneous, dynamic sense of free momentum thrusts the quartet along with pliant energy. What really stands out here is the way the four effortlessly coalesce into a collective unit. Lines are seamlessly tossed back and forth between Bradford and Gjerstad as Carter and Stevens spur things along with supple energy. The vibrant fluidity of the playing is outstanding throughout, full of taught intensity and potency.

Each of the players gets plenty of solo space which they make the most of. But it’s how they navigate their way through the pieces together, moving in and out of synch that really energizes the set. The theme of the second piece is reminiscent of Ornette Coleman, someone Bradford spent time working with, and the way the quartet structures their playing has an affinity with the early ‘60s Coleman quartet while still sounding completely unique. This documents a previously undocumented grouping at a point where Detail wasn’t recording much. The recording quality has a clear presence and everyone is nicely balanced, particularly considering that it was captured live. All too often, these sorts of archival finds have some historical interest, but are really for completists. Happily, this is far from the case with this set which still sounds vital almost three decades later.
–Michael Rosenstein


Hat Hut

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