Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
Aki Takase + Rudi Mahall
There are CDs that immediately command your attention, and this is one of them, a wonderful trip through ancient tunes by the duo of Aki Takase on piano and Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet. The two have ventured into this territory before in quintet format on Takase’s St Louis Blues (Enja; 2001) with Fred Frith, Nils Wogram, and Paul Lovens from 2002, and on Plays Fats Waller (Enja; 2003), with Eugene Chadbourne assuming the guitar chair. As a duo, they’ve previously recorded jazz repertoire – Duet for Eric Dolphy (Enja; 1997)—as well as the improvisatory The Dessert (Leo; 2002). Some of the material falls into the category of old pop songs—like “Tea for Two” and “Moonglow”—perhaps too melodically impoverished to be called standards. Other staples include the Ellington songs “Mood Indigo” and “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” and there are bop tunes, too: Bud Powell’s “Cleopatra’s Dream” and Tadd Dameron’s “Good Bait.” The approach varies from tune to tune, ranging from a utopian sweetness that suggests period correctness to a rambunctiousness that touches on free jazz, as in “I’ll Remember April” or “You and the Night and the Music.” Takase is a master of the Monkian wobble, and it’s often brought to a summit here, as in the wonderful “Two Sleepy People.” Mahall makes the occasional obeisance in the direction of Dolphy, but as often as not he sounds like Pee Wee Russell, down an octave, playing next to a supremely impassive (if secretly bemused) Harry Carney. Mahall get a wonderful croaking sound throughout “Good Bait.” Whether it’s a certain bittersweetness that touches “Mood Indigo” or the good humor of “You Took Advantage of Me,” there’s an emotional openness here that seems to be channelled directly from the material.
Trio 3 + Irène Schweizer
2008 marked the 20th anniversary of both Trio 3’s founding and also Intakt’s duo recording by pianist Irène Schweizer and drummer Andrew Cyrille. This concert in Berne from November 2007 falls just short of a commemoration, but there’s plenty to celebrate. The trio of saxophonist Oliver Lake, bassist Reggie Workman and Cyrille embody free jazz as deeply traditional and insistently lyrical, and the shared focus gives their music a consistent precision. There aren’t many musicians who could collaborate as seamlessly with the three as Schweizer, who belongs to the same traditions, deriving directly from sources like Cecil Taylor and Don Cherry, influences that are apt to be more apparent here than in the milieu of European free improvisation. The program is rigorously democratic. Each member of the trio provides a composition for the quartet, with interludes in which Schweizer joins each member in a duet. It’s all crowned by an intense episode of free improvisation. There’s a certain element of ritual in the performance, but it’s driven by an intense lyricism, each composition a miracle of linear simplicity that develops extended improvisation. Lake is frequently blazing here, singing in a distinct instrumental voice that ranges from coruscating lower register to upper register trills, all knitted together by his sense of song. It’s apparent on his opening “Flow,” but just as evident on Cyrille’s “Aubade,” formed on a characteristically Japanese pentatonic, and Workman’s “Ballad of the Silf.” No bassist is more melodic than Workman, no drummer more articulate than Cyrille, who is consistently tuneful as well as propulsive. Schweizer sounds like she’s always been a member of the band. The three duos are more than pro forma: each quickly finds a high level of exchange and develops from there.
Bertram Turetsky + Damon Smith
By the time Damon Smith was born in 1972, Bertram Turetsky had permanently expanded the role of the double bass in new music through watershed recordings like The Contemporary Contrabass (Nonesuch; ’70). By the time Smith, inspired by Peter Kowald’s Duos: Europa (FMP), left punk and art rock in ’94 to focus on the double bass and improvised music, Turetsky was frequently improvising with Vinny Golia and others. Smith’s rise in the past 15 years has been impressive, both as an improviser and organizer; the scope and the impact of his Balance Point Acoustics imprint increases with each release. There's grit to the music of Smith and his cohorts that is very much of its time and place (the latter being the Bay Area, though BPA releases have included musicians from throughout the US, Europe and Israel). Though his persuasive technique is, to some degree, attributable to occasional studies with Turetsky (who, during his distinguished tenure at UCSD taught Mark Dresser and others), that grit is central to Smith’s slant on what is now commonly called extended techniques; it goes a long way in parsing Smith's sensibility from Turetsky's, who first tested the capacities of the instrument outside a tradition-based genre or practice, and understanding the quality of the music on Thoughtbeetle. Granted, Turetsky's experiments are now central to the lexicon of the improvising bassist; but, their original context is now afield from current applications like Smith's. In this regard, Turetsky's energy in playing to and playing against Smith is endorsement enough. But, these seven improvisations – five of which were recorded in studio, while two are from a concert – convey a larger, heartening message about the long-term prospects for improvised music.
Due to a number of successful partnerships with the likes of Lol Coxhill, Jon Rose, Trevor Watts, and Phil Minton, among others, Weston has the reputation of a versatile and fluent accompanist and foil – a team player with quick reflexes and a broad stylistic acumen. Though not his first solo recital, Allusions, taken from a 2002 concert in Bordeaux, may be the one that displays his sensitive balance of considered detail and circuitous structure to best advantage. There’s a cool, confident lyricism to the seven extended pieces here; the music falls under his hands as if prearranged, expanding and contracting in a seamless sequence of episodes that sustain forward motion as they elude predictable resolutions. His sinuous chromatic harmonic palette and carefully plotted pace sometimes give the remarkable impression of what it might sound like if Mal Waldron played Bartok, but there’s no hint of mimicry. As if to dispel such notions, he shrewdly makes use of dramatic contrasts throughout the program – the zig-zaging melodic impetus of “Prelude to a Prelude,” tightly patterned strategies in “Out of the Mood,” the delicately shaped chords introducing “Hints of Habits” that gradually expose sharp edges and taut phrasing. In fact, Weston’s formal logic is so deft and decisive that the album’s title seems like a bit of an overstatement, or an afterthought; the emergence of “Over the Rainbow” at the conclusion of “Getting Somewhere” (Martin Davidson’s notes state there are several other quotes buried within) and the use of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” as material for emotional or thematic variation in “Prelude and Fug” are atypical, temporary diversions. The lasting qualities here derive from the breadth of Weston’s own improvisational resources.