Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Jeff Albert’s Instigation Quartet
The Tree on the Mound
Rogue Art ROG-0046

The Tree on the Mound presents nearly an hour’s worth of new New Orleans Music by way of Chicago, under the direction of trombonist Jeff Albert and his Instigation Quartet, featuring legendary NOLA tenor man Kidd Jordan and the rhythm section of drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Josh Abrams. The program consists of five originals and two renditions of Fred Anderson compositions (rarely performed outside of the late saxophonist’s groups). Known for his work with the Chicago ensemble Lucky 7s and with Crescent City reedmen Tony Dagradi and Ray Moore, Albert has a broad and precise approach to the instrument that blends classically honed poise and a cool garrulousness reminiscent of pre-multiphonic Albert Mangelsdorff. Interestingly, the creative traversal of the Mississippi from gulf to Great Lakes is something that three out of the four members of this ensemble share, as well as a connection to Fred Anderson. Jordan frequently worked in Chicago with Anderson, and like the late saxophonist, Drake relocated to the Windy City from the small town of Monroe, Louisiana at a young age.

Maybe it’s the laconic, conversational drawl that is half-expected from New Orleans musicians, but the dialogue between Albert’s trombone and Jordan’s tenor is tight, buttery and telepathic, their interplay granted both complex measurement and an easy, yarn-spinning collectivity. I’m not sure whether Jordan’s burred, split tones and Ayler-related bray are usually discussed in terms of phrasal particularity, but placed next to or interwoven with a front-line partner who has Albert’s garrulous clarity, it’s quite easy to see the sounds’ delicacy. The brief title composition begins with an absolutely stunning trombone-tenor duet, wherein each player unravels eliding, string-like lines into flinty gobs and vocal sighs, duskily supported by rumbling percussion and yanking pizzicato. The contributions of Abrams and Drake to these gesprächfetzen can’t be understated. On “Instigation Quartet #6” the focus is on the bassist in duet with Jordan at the outset, shifting between nasal, incisive arco and meaty pluck, before Drake and Albert pick up the mantle in a passage of subdued clatter. As the full band resumes, much of the weight is placed firmly on the horns with drums and bass providing a dry, insistent yet semi-removed chug. While perhaps The Tree on the Mound exhibits a humid, funereal pall – especially as the music progresses – the weight is somewhat lifted by Anderson’s “The Strut,” which closes the set with loose strokes and an economical swagger. Jeff Albert’s Instigation Quartet presents a remarkable slice of collective improvisation from the banks of the Big Muddy that’s well worth seeking out.
–Clifford Allen


Lina Allemano Four
Live at Tranzac
Lumo Records

Lina Allemano is one of the most exciting new voices of the last few years and a strong sign that Toronto may be the place to head for creative music. She made a splash a year or two ago with Jargon, her Four’sinstrumentation – trumpet, alto, bass, drums – invariably conjuring up echoes of the classic Ornette Coleman quartet. That’s definitely the lineage, but the sound-world here is, if you will, northeast rather than southwest. A closer analogy might be the New York Art Quartet with John Tchicai and Roswell Rudd. There’s a delightfully dry, plainspoken quality to Allemano’s brass playing. She isn’t garrulous and isn’t obsessively thirling the upper register, though she can squall with the best of them.

The best word for this music is playful, in the bantering sense. It doesn’t take its avant-gardism too seriously. She may or may not be aware that “jargoning” is the term used by psychologists to describe the post-babbling but pre-verbal form of baby talk. It’s a stage where improvisatory freedom converges with unambiguous meaning. The opening of “Jargon” itself was a tightly voiced unison figure from Allemano and saxophonist Brodie West picked up by drummer Nick Fraser, whose tight rolls are always strikingly effective, and then patiently spun out by bassist Andrew Downing, who might seem the quiet man of the group but is always there with something effective to say and has something of Peter Kowald’s enormous gravitational field, drawing the music into orbital bass tones rather than driving it on in a more obviously linear way.

All this is taken a step further on the splendid Live at the Tranzac from the same group. For some curious reason, these seem more like composed pieces than the earlier record, more conscious of form, trajectory and destination. “Flummox” is a delightful puzzle piece, its dictionary definition being a famous piece of wishful invention on the part of the OED compilers who thought it was probably an English dialect word representing something thrown down roughly and untidily, and it’s Allemano’s great skill to be able to throw away apparently casual phrases that turn out to be absolutely logical and ideally placed. “Atomic Number 22” (which any swotty boy can tell you is titanium) is a more developed performance than many of these, which tend to hover round the five, six, seven minute mark. Again, Downing seems to provide the gravity. It possibly loses energy part way through, and the guiding drone is a little too subfusc to sustain interest for long; but the track is well-placed in a very well chosen program, which doesn’t simply lay out a single club performance but selects material from three nights up to eight months apart in 2011 and 2012.

Great choices, too. “Tiger Swallowtail” has a mysteriously lovely quality, “Hush” and “Spin” are direct and to the point and “Middle Finger” ... well, it might be making lots of different gestures but with a smile on its face. There’s no mistaking that Allemano is an important new talent and, perhaps even more important, that she has around her a group that seems to be responsive to her imaginative direction. Hope there’s more on the way.
–Brian Morton


Byron Allen
The Byron Allen Trio
ESP 1005

Born in Omaha on December 9, 1939, alto saxophonist and composer Byron Allen was based on the West Coast and befriended Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, Paul Chambers and others before moving to New York in February 1964. At the insistence of Ornette Coleman, Allen formed a trio and recorded his eponymous debut for ESP on September 25, 1964. Featuring the support of bassist Maceo Gilchrist and drummer Teddy Robinson (who also worked with Donald Byrd), the four originals clock in at just under 45 minutes.

A free acolyte of Charlie Parker, Allen’s cool-toned bebop gestures and intensely warbling exhortations are reminiscent of Anthony Ortega, Sonny Simmons and Carlos Ward. Though perhaps not as codified as the music of Albert Ayler’s 1964 small groups or the New York Art Quartet, Allen’s trio has a similar kind of parallelism in which the velocity is shared while the directions may sometimes seem obliquely related. “Three Steps in the Right Direction” has an impulsive, cracking swing that also feels like it’s on the verge of coming unglued, Robinson’s percussion shimmering in minimal waves and bombs against Gilchrist’s motoring pluck and Allen’s rounded, mouthy lines. Atop the slippery rhythm section, “Decision for the Cole-Man” finds the saxophonist putting forth keening, bluesy flecks and obsessive down-home harangues, while the segued “Today’s Blues Tomorrow” is comparatively epic by way of Allen’s blurred and curious connections and a pliant, sinewy walk distracted only by Gilchrist’s wandering solo. A session like this is a little confounding because it traces a line between odd-yet-specific looseness and patent shambles, but I guess that’s part of the charm of early free music.

Embittered by the New York music scene, Allen relocated to Vermont in 1968 and once again to the Bay Area where he recorded and privately issued his second and final LP, Interface: A Common Boundary Between Matter and Space (ACC Productions 791), in 1979.
–Clifford Allen


Han Bennink & Uri Caine
Sonic Boom
816 Music 1201

Han Bennink & Jaak Sooäär
Beach Party
Barefoot 028

Jason Roebke & Tobias Delius
Not Two 881

Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg called one live duo album (translating) A Ping Pong Game, apt cognate: fast, combative, linear and irreplicable. But not unrecordable, though the moment doesn’t always translate to disc. Two new Bennink duo discs bring the music back alive.

For a range of musicians the drummer is an ideal duo partner. If you bring your tunes, he’ll play along: he has a keen sense of form (despite the wild man rep). Standards? He knows hundreds and can swing all of them. Instant composing? Now you’re talking. He’s a telegrapher. There’s a world of music in his snare drum, not least with snares retracted: he’s quick, precise and tonal, manipulating pitch with one stick while striking with the other, or dampening with a dish towel for even more instant decay. (No Bennink, no Paul Lovens.)

The Bimhuis concert that yielded Sonic Boom was billed as Han’s first improvised duo meeting with Uri Caine – the sleeve places it on April 12, the Bim schedule on the 11th – but they’d crossed paths before. Caine’s stylistic breadth as pianist is almost absurdly broad, but this was not a night for Mahler. (A faint whiff of Bach, maybe.) He too has mastered gem-hard percussive attacks in every dynamic range. Like Han he’s a virtuoso listener – there are quiet dialogues of Socratic clarity, where Uri lowers the temperature just when the drummer risks boiling over (“Grind of Blue”). The pianist also knows how to set the drummer up, with a rollicking walking bass line and quiet trade of fours (“Lockdown”), pile-up of two-handed syncopations or a hint of a Chicago shuffle (“Hobo”), a Brazilian tinge further tinted with the blues, which is never far from the surface. (Every snare ping and rustle on the strings was superbly recorded by house engineer Marc Schots.) Uri primes him, and then works with Han’s grooves; when they wham those downbeats together, the walls move.

Save for “’Round Midnight” taken as a stomp, they share (instant) composer credits, but it’s hard to believe much of this thematic material wasn’t percolating inside Caine’s head before they hit the stage, so well does it address both their strengths. They don’t just play, they make a varied program.

Given Han’s amply documented and variegated duos, partners may now approach such situations as a chance to showcase him. Anyone preparing for such a night can study his feints, jabs, timing and rope-a-dope – and also to see the range of friendly experiences playing with him may afford. It’s not all thunderdome cage match.

Estonian guitarist Jaak Sooäär knew his man, meeting Han for two nights (in Tallinn and Tartu) that March. They’d worked together some, going back at least to a 2003 trio with saxophonist Mikko Innanen (documented on TUM). On most tracks, the duo improvises on open terrain before a tune breaks out: a Tartu march, “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” Misha’s “Hypochristmutreefuzz” (taking Han all the way back to Dolphy’s Last Date), “O Sole Mio” à la mandolin. Sooäär’s solid-body work is part Ed Bickert translucent jazzing, part Pete Townsend Live at Leeds – the raunchy timbre, rocky momentum and crack timing – and a smidge of Dick Dale. (The title’s a tell.) And there are ballads: “Pannonica” and “Darn That Dream,” where Bennink lays down a cushion under single-note lines. Uptempo, Sooäär rides Han’s wave like that Fender’s a surfboard.

The repertoire’s an oddly satisfying mix, and ignites Han like a butane lighter. When Sooäär starts romping on “I Got Rhythm” like Charlie Christian at Minton’s, Han threatens to put his brushes clear through both snare heads; he follows up with his own solo on same melody, with sticks. It helps when everyone knows their history. Sooäär ranges from Gershwin to the garage, with the door up to annoy the neighbors. How many guitarists know “Hypochristmutreefuzz”?

Bennink’s ICP Orchestra colleague and occasional quartet mate Tobias Delius enjoys his own international meet-and-greets. During ICP’s spring 2011 US tour he ducked into a Chicago studio to record Panoramic, a set of impromptus with bassist Jason Roebke, a mainstay of the city’s post-Vandermark generation of improvisers. Delius has one of the most malleable sounds of any tenor saxophonist; he can stage whisper like Ben Webster or bleat like cohort Ab Baars, and cover a lot of sonic/historical ground in between: he’s a sound player and a balladeer. A single held note can bloom and undulate and feature different overtones as it ages. He has something of a drummer’s timing, too, using slap-tongue and other early jazz plosives, and a modern quiver of smears, growls, sputters, flutters and buzzes. (He plays clarinet also, with a sound to remind you it’s hollow/pipe.)

Jason Roebke’s resourceful as well, a close listener who keeps up his end without crowding, contrapuntal. Percussive pizz and a nicely noisy arco abet rowdy pointillistic byplay and scrappy phrasal abstractions. But where Bennink works the contrast between open time and swing, Roebke opts for a more atomized pulse and conversational rhythm. Nothing wrong with that, but I miss swing as a leavening agent; a dose of it can catapult Delius up to another level of expression. It’s as if one corner of the ping pong table is obstructed. He can’t get to some of his best moves.
–Kevin Whitehead


Joseph Bowie & Adam Rudolph
Good Medicineo
Meta/Defunkt Music 016

It should come as no surprise that IgBo, the duo of Joseph Bowie and Adam Rudolph, delivers such a massive and orchestrated palette of sounds on their debut disc, Good Medicine. An alumnus of the AACM-inspired St. Louis Black Artists Group, Bowie is chiefly known as a trombonist and erstwhile leader of the Downtown NYC avant-garde funk band Defunkt, while Rudolph’s work is known for interleaving Afro-Asian music and contemporary composition. A native Chicagoan, Rudolph is a student of Indian tabla, Gnawan sintir, and West African drumming, thus giving his work a fluid diversity. The pair has a lengthy history, first performing together alongside reedman-composer Yusef Lateef (with whom Rudolph has studied and recorded for a quarter century) and have subsequently developed a striking language drawing from Afro-Asian, electro-acoustic and contemporary improvised music.

The opening “Spiritized” finds Bowie in a slick, garrulous mode with delayed and pedal-actuated split tones reminiscent of George Lewis, albeit hotter, and fascinatingly mated with the naturally reverberant resonance of Rudolph’s hand drums. As Rudolph discusses in the notes, “throughout much of Africa musician-healers have used ... methods to complexify the voice of their instruments so when played, a parallel ‘shadow line’ of sound is heard. These rhythm overtones are sometimes called ‘the voice of the ancestors’ and are linked to the transcendent quality of the music.” One could easily extrapolate that electronics are part of the development of an overtone-laced environment and facilitate such a sculpted, all-encompassing and trans-dimensional mass. “Atmos” follows in an even sparser environmental path, chortles and guffaws laced with bells, shakers, balafon, hand drums and gongs in an enveloping, lacy stew. But there are also elements that fit in nicely with Bowie’s Defunkt bag, such as the atmospheric funk exhortations of “Y-Do-U Treat Me So Bad,” which is alternately flip and forceful. “Aja’s Language Temple” is the lengthiest piece here, insistently picking up where “Spiritized” left off, crisp and trance-like before opening into an AEC-like vista of bells, gongs, shakers and guttural moans, segueing into pensive flits from trombone, flutes and harmonica. The set closes with the rural country of “All Alone Blues,” Rudolph’s sintir making broad geographic connections alongside Bowie’s voice and harmonica, another snippet of Ancient to the Future music that, when set against the previous forty minutes of Afro-spiritual improvisation, could have been beamed in from another planet. It’s a rewarding cap on a fascinating set of music.
–Clifford Allen

Intakt Records

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