Moment's Notice

Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
Bill Shoemaker



The Society of the Spectacle
Emanem 4120

BadlandThere’s a fairly low threshold for being an established group on the UK improvised music scene – three or four gigs, max. So, an ensemble that’s been together for ten years, even if they’ve only made three tours in that decade, is downright Historic. Badland – comprised of alto saxophonist Simon Rose, bassist Simon H. Fell and drummer Steve Noble – has reached this rare benchmark, and this, their third album, speaks well for longevity. The trio has, as Rose mentions in his tray notes, “some of the qualities of jazz in its original, unsanitised expression.” Read: they value heat and forward rhythmic motion. Additionally, they have an ingrained jazz instrumentalist sensibility in their respective approaches, which leaches through in even their most non-idiomatic passages. Where’s the line between free jazz and improvised music? That’s a question that Badland broaches, if unintentionally.


Winter & Winter 910 112-2

BedrockBedrock is a name with two wildly contrasting connotations: geology and The Flintstones. The neo-fusion of keyboardist Uri Caine, bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Zach Danziger has both granite solidity and a yabba-dabba-doo-time frivolity in roughly equal measures. Their grooves have a pneumatic drill-like force one track and then go zany the next. Still-Life, their second CD, is a non-stop morph, where everything from gameshowy themes to Brazilian-tinged kitsch and pedal-to-the-metal boogaloos are strung together with multi-layered collages and expeditions deep into the funk. There are two central reasons why this works. The first is Caine, not only because he is a dazzling virtuoso, but also because he is unerring in matching keyboard sound to material. Lefebvre and Danziger are strong players, and had a hand in writing all of the 17 pieces. However, there’s no getting around the fact that there is a very thin line between this proposition being the rousing success that it is, and it being an unmitigated disaster, and that Caine is largely responsible for that cushion against doom. The other factor is the smart platooning of instrumentalists like trumpeter Ralph Alessi and saxophonist Bootsie Barnes, as well as DJs and technologists like DJ Olive and nnnj. Consequently, Still-Life is one wild ride.


Anthony Brown’s Orchestra
Water Babies WBR 1010

BrownAnthony Brown’s recasting of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” as a multicultural tapestry is a much-needed lightning rod. In a very potent way, the percussionist has taken a page out of Lester Bowie’s book: Find what is subversive in music that is generally dismissed as trivial or even banal, and throw a bright light on it. Essential to Bowie’s strategy was being true to a work’s ability to entertain, which Brown adheres to, as well. On the surface, Bowie’s approach seems especially problematic with “Rhapsody in Blue,” given how the piece has been reduced to cliché through mass media. Additionally, given the contingent of Asian instruments in his orchestra, Brown also ran the risk of backing into double-whammy caricatures. After all, on paper, Gershwin played on an erhu (the angelic Chinese violin) sounds deadly.

However, Brown pulls it off on Rhapsodies, in part because he front-loads the Lesterian tip with “Bread & Bowie,” the album’s second track. A strutting, second-line arrangement of “Shorten’ Bread,” fueled by a gregarious David Murray tenor solo, this track alone will make some politically correct listeners squirm. It is cutting and cartoonish, and all the more powerful because of its jaundice-free joyfulness.

Yet, Brown’s six-part treatment of “Rhapsody in Blue” is a far more sensitive litmus test than “Bread & Bowie. “Exposition” begins with Ellingtonian hues, highlighted by clarinetist Jim Norton, but is propelled through a couple of worm holes by a tandem of Chinese hammered dulcimer and zither, and then Will Bernard’s Montgomery-like guitar. The shorter “Rumba/Recap” and “Gagaku” stay within their stated idiomatic parameters; but, they continue to force the listener to suspend judgement. “Scherzando” finds Bernard traipsing down that lonesome road in search for the real America, sounding a bit like Danny Gatton. After a gauzy ensemble highlighted by erhu, steel drums and glockenspiel, Bernard restates the main theme on “Andantino/Adagio”, evoking Santo and Johnny. Led by Henry Hung’s Miley-like muted trumpet, Brown’s orchestra gives the finale tartness as well as a regal glow.

Brown brings all this in less than 20 minutes, so the pace is quick. Subsequently, there often is not enough time to latch onto a specific combination of instruments and attempt any decoding. The same goes for the genres Brown taps. It leaves questions of orientation and influence deliciously open. Then, when you place “Rhapsody in Blue/American Rhapsodies” within the context of the entire album, which includes protean Mingus, exotic Ellington and bassist Mark Izu’s double-edged solo Chinese mouth organ version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” it becomes clear that Brown’s is not a simplistic, feel-good agenda. And, that’s why this album is important.


Paul Dunmall + Paul Rogers + Phiip Gibbs + Tony Levin
Thankyou Dorothy
Duns Limited Editions DLE046

Philip Gibbs + Paul Rogers + Paul Dunmall
The Big Return
Duns Limited Editions DLE 045

Alex von Schlippenbach + Paul Dunmall + Paul Rogers + Tony Bianco
Slam CD262

DunmallHistorically, musicians have created their own labels as a last resort in the face of corporate indifference. British saxophonist and bagpiper Paul Dunmall has turned that proposition on its head. His Duns Limited Edition has seemingly become his venue of first resort for documenting his work with a core of collaborators, including guitarist Philip Gibbs, drummer Tony Levin and bassist Paul Rogers. Generally, DLE sessions have a markedly casual, even happenstance feel compared to Dunmall’s larger ongoing concerns like his mighty Octet or special projects like the meeting with pianist Alex von Schlippenbach. Such is the case with Thankyou Dorothy (sic) and The Big Return, which were recorded on the same day. The heat and relative brevity of the quartet CD suggest the iridescent trio sides may have ensued from something as simple as Levin running late. Regardless, the fact that three improvisers can produce such vividly contrasting albums in a single day is a measure of their resourcefulness.

Vesuvius meets the high expectations anyone familiar with these improvisers would naturally have. It is particularly satisfying to hear a fired-up Schlippenbach respond to the torrents of Rogers and drummer Tony Bianco, and play off the rhythmic push and pull of Dunmall’s motive-based essays. Still, the greater rewards stem from listening to the three CDs in close proximity, which facilitates two worthwhile comparisons. The first is the respective merits of Bianco and Levin. Hoards of drummers appropriate Elvin Jones’ licks; but few have extracted the undulating quality from Jones’ polyrhythms like Levin, and then applied it to an overall personal approach. Bianco has a similar orientation, but is more prone to lay down a withering barrage than Levin. The second is Gibbs’ work, with and without the presence of a drummer. In a few passages, Levin seems to coax a more jazzcentric approach to comping from the guitarist; but Gibbs’ responsiveness to the ever quantum-leaping Rogers is a constant on both DLE sessions.

The real surprise of the three CDs, however, is Dunmall’s Joe Farrellish serpentine soprano lines on Thankyou Dorothy. The album’s ample portions of sprinting energy make it a recommended introduction to these improvisers for listeners coming from a freebop tip.


Sonny Fortune
Sound Reason SRSF1001Trilogy Collection
Sound Reason 0710

FortuneIt’s been more than 30 years since Sonny Fortune hit the scene upside the head on recordings like McCoy Tyner’s Song For My Lady (Milestone). He still has the stamina and inventiveness to hold an audience in rapt attention for several dozen choruses over the course of an hour’s blow. Arguably, the definitive Sonny Fortune album has yet to be made. There’s something about a studio environment, 8-minute tracks and a rotating cast of stellar cohorts that doesn’t exactly hamper him, but precludes the type of extended performances that regularly gets a crowd on its feet and holler. Recorded in 2003, Continuum is getting close. A quartet date with pianist George Cables, bassist Wayne Dockery and drummer Steve Johns (Steve Berrios adds percussion on four of the nine tracks), the album has sufficient portions of blues, Coltrane-inspired vehicles and mid-tempo groove-mining for the hard core Fortune fan. Cables doesn’t immediately spring to mind as the perfect complement to Fortune, whether he is playing flute, soprano, alto or tenor, be it on burners or ballads; but it turns out that Cables is the right pianist for Fortune at this point in his career. There are more than a few moments on the date where Cables supplies the same appealing mix of brawn and stateliness as he did with Dexter Gordon, which places Fortune in a different light, but one that suits the leader well.

Trilogy Collection is a 3-CD reissue of Fortune’s mid-‘90s Blue Note sessions: Four In One, an all-Monk program, and two featuring Fortune’s tunes – A Better Understanding and From Now On. On one level, it is somewhat shocking that Blue Note would let these albums get away from them; but, in a way, it’s a sign of the times that Fortune has put them out on his own. In this environment, it’s never too soon to have a retrospective. Intriguingly, Fortune’s says a lot for what major labels can do well. First and foremost in this regard was Blue Note’s ability to bring in a host of artists: pianist Kirk Lightsey on the Monk album; the counterintuitive tandem of trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez and trombonist Robin Eubanks on A Better Understanding; and Joe Lovano, a blue-chip sparring partner on From Now On. Much to their credit, Blue Note also recognized the need for bona-fide, 15-round, burn-down-the-house performances like “Come In Out of the Rain” from From Now On.

Available from:


Jacob Garchik
Yestereve 01

GarchickWhen assessing new leaders entering the jazz arena, promise counts for a lot. It’s a given that they are polished, well-schooled, etc. It’s the sense that their music can grow beyond where it is currently that really counts. Trombonist Jacob Garchik, who has accumulated quality sideman credits in large ensembles led by John Hollenbeck and Lee Konitz, as well as the Ohad Talmor/Steve Swallow sextet, conveys that quality on Abstracts. The judiciously concise album finds Garchik stepping confidently out of the shadow of formative influences and into his own light, particularly in regards to his writing, where Andrew Hill and Steve Coleman have obviously made an impact. His playing is harder to peg, due to his spotless articulation and seemingly doctrinal avoidance of tailgating. Pick a name: Julian Priester, Albert Mangelsdorff, Robin Eubanks … But, the thing that really distinguishes Garchik is how he has calibrated his nuance-filled compositional voice to a bold trombone-piano-drums trio, and how he has elicited spot-on performances from pianist Jacob Sacks and drummer Dan Weiss. A good portion of the album has a floating or loping rhythmic feel, and the themes sometimes have spaces that you can park a Hummer in, requiring not only the instincts of when to lay out, but the ideas that will reverberate through the ensuing spaces. All three musicians repeatedly show admirable abilities in these regards. These traits also carry over to the few occasions they work a groove, and the results are refreshingly sleek. For the most part, Sacks and Weiss reinforce Garchik’s refined sense of line in space and his relative disinterest in proclaiming overt jazziness. These musicians are in motion, and it will be interesting to see where they go next.


Vinny Golia
Music for Like Instruments: The Clarinets
Nine Winds NWCD0279

The Vinny Golia Large Ensemble
20th Anniversary Concert
Nine Winds NWDVD250

GoliaFew American composer/improvisers have fostered more resilient, vital creative music communities in the past 30 years than Vinny Golia in LA. Congregating in the woodwind player’s various concerns – most notably his mighty Large Ensemble – and in various configurations documented by his Nine Winds imprint, these musicians have time and again demonstrated rigorous ensemble skills and improvisational daring. This has allowed Golia in particular to thrive as a composer and to work in a variety or challenging settings such as the clarinet quintet featured in the latest of his Music for Like Instruments series.

Golia was a beneficiary of the mid-‘70s AACM migration to New York, where he was mainly pursuing visual art. His early music focused on the intersection of advanced jazz and post-serialism in a manner that mostly escaped the long shadow of Anthony Braxton. Throughout the subsequent decades, Golia has refined an approach that employs asymmetrical structures that leads the listener to unexpected spaces, and replaces such traditional pay-offs as jazzy flag-waving climaxes with a more thought-provoking experience. Because he has such a deep bench of players (spanning classical players like violinist Ludwig Girdland and blue-chip jazz stylists like trumpeter Rob Blakeslee) Golia has devised ways of integrating notated and improvised materials that keep the listener second-guessing as to which is which.

Both The Clarinets and 20th Anniversary Concert are recommended listening. That may be a backhanded compliment to a DVD. But, given that the visuals are constructed from camcorder footage (a never-moving wide shot from the balcony and hand-held units catching more music stands than anything else from their front row vantages) and stills, it is doubtful that the video will received any other kind. It remains, however, an important document. With 36 members, Golia has vast options with the Large Ensemble, both in terms of mixing timbres and sequencing ensembles and improvisations. Subsequently, he is able to sustain a weighty atmosphere throughout a long program that would ordinarily be oppressive. Still, the most rewarding aspect of Golia’s writing on 20th Anniversary Concert is his resourcefulness in summoning the Large Ensemble’s power without gratuitous bombast.

On The Clarinets, Golia is joined by four players (Andrew Pask, Jim Sullivan, Brian Walsh and Cory Wright) who play only Bb and bass clarinets. He achieves surprisingly diverse palettes by playing nine different horns himself (including taragato, something of an orphan in the woodwind family) and by changing the ratio of high-pitched and low-pitched instruments on a track-by-track basis. Compositionally, Golia sticks with what works for him elsewhere – sparing use of overtly jazzy or post-serial materials, and a relatively even split between well-delineated ensembles and passages that grant improvisers plenty of latitude. The resulting music is thoroughly engaging.


Gunda Gottschalk + Peter Jacquemyn + Ute Völker
Henceforth 102

Partita Radicale
Frutas Azules
Free Elephant 006

GottschalkIn addition to historical centers of culture like Amsterdam, Berlin and London, off-the-beaten-trail locales like Wuppertal figure prominently in the evolution of European free improvisation. The home of bassist Peter Kowald, the small German city was the base of operations for Globe Unity Orchestra during a pivotal phase in the 1970s. The Wuppertal-based Free Elephant label was established in 2004 as something of a legacy label for Kowald, who died in 2002. However, violinist Gunda Gottschalk is now emerging as an artist capable of expanding the label’s mission. Intriguingly, Baggerboot, featuring her co-op trio with accordionist Ute Völker and bassist Peter Jacquemyn (who appears on an earlier Free Elephant with Kowald and William Parker) is the second title issued by the San Diego-based Henceforth imprint, an indication that the chamber music contours she favors has an international constituency. Prominent among the trio’s supporters is composer Pauline Oliveros, whose liner notes contain such key phrases like “rewarding feeling of unity,” “challenging in its multi-faceted detail,” and “feeling that is never trapped in virtuosity,” that not only apply to the trio, but to Partita Radicale as well. A quintet comprised of Gottschalk, Völker, viola player Thomas Beimal and flutists Ortrud Kegel and Karola Pasquay, Partita Radicale refutes the conventional wisdom that improvised music loses clarity with each additional player in the mix. Subsequently, Frutas Azules is a fine companion volume to Baggerboot. Together, the two albums introduce a community of musicians hitting their stride.


Hard Cell
Screwgun SC70015

Pre-emptive Denial
Screwgun SC70018

Hard CellSaxophonist Tim Berne and drummer Tom Rainey have developed a sublime game of tag both in Hard Cell, with pianist Craig Taborn, and in Paraphrase, with bassist Drew Gress. They pass rhythmic information between each other with impressive agility, even when the rhythmic feel of the material is off-kilter or even purposefully clunky. Berne can play long meandering lines that suddenly snap into short jabbing phrases. He changes tonal centers and scales and timbres. The moods swing from droll to roiling. Always, Rainey hears it coming and manages to glance off it without slowing himself down, and Berne always deals with Rainey’s pattern-based materials in kind.

And, so it goes, often for 20 minutes or more at a clip, as is the case on Pre-emptive Denial. When duration is a key element to the work, having a quick-witted bassist like Drew Gress is crucial. Throughout the two 25-minute tracks, Gress provides a frequently fevered forward rhythmic movement while sustaining the oblong patterns and elastic pulse rates Berne and Rainey employ. On the sub ten-minute tracks on Feign, where materials are more readily identifiable as thematic, Craig Taborn’s slippery unisons, which he feathers with well-placed chords and left hand vamps, give Berne’s compositions a formal weight, without getting ponderous. Additionally, Taborn’s harmonic subtleties dovetail the contours of Berne’s balladic essays.


Steve Lehman
Demian as Posthuman
Pi PI17

LehmanProps to Steve Lehman for taking a sizeable risk, when could have consolidated his position as one of the more provocative alto saxophonists just by doing what’s worked to date, leading hard-edged small group session and collaborating with Vijay Iyer and Tashawn Sorey in Fieldwork. Instead, he has made a startling departure with Demian as Posthuman, the bulk of which are pieces where Sorey and Lehman’s sequences and effects are his only accompaniment. Yet, it’s not the music alone that raises the ante; but his presentation as well, namely the decision to be photographed either wearing very dark contact lenses, or having alien eyes pasted in. In a way, the imaging is an extension of the fascination with science fiction jazz artists have reflected in their work since the 1950s, and more recently, and pertinently in terms of Lehman’s possible influences, in artists as diverse as Anthony Braxton and Steve Coleman. Lehman’s posthuman pose may cause old codgers may peel off and head back to Saturn, and attract younger listeners with industrial-strength sensibilities; but, in the end, it’s the music that trumps any art direction issue.

Lehman uses tracks featuring DJ Jahi Lake, electric bassist Meshell Ndegeocello and drummer Eric McPherson, to begin, end and mark the halfway point in the album. Iyer is brought on for the first and last, which gives the band the feel of Fieldwork on supplements. After the pianist’s brief introductory presence, the tone of the date becomes foreboding, as Lehman creates a miasma of sinewy themes, off-kilter grooves and frequently spectral effects in his solo and duo tracks. Lehman’s (Steve) Coleman-like edge is generally well suited for this setting, particularly on the tracks with overdubbed saxes; his penchant for sputtering Braxton-like phrases carries his one acoustic duo with Sorey. The vibe is vaguely menacing; but, overall, it’s vivid and incessantly engaging music.



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