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The Locals
Play the Music of Anthony Braxton
Discuss 99CD

Asked by Discus label boss Martin Archer if he had any unissued recordings he’d like released, Pat Thomas unhesitatingly offered this live set, recorded at the Konfrontation festival in Nicklesdorf back in 2006. The Locals Play the Music of Anthony Braxton offers Thomasfunk- and reggae-tinged arrangements of Anthony Braxton compositions: a meeting that turns out to be based, not on incongruity or sharpened contrast, but on a sympathetic moulding of Braxton’s pieces to fit different formal shapes (and vice versa). Braxton’s own pieces, as this act of recasting suggests, are not exactly idiomatic, though the selection is mainly of pieces from the more jazz-inflected records of the 1970s Arista period. Braxton’s own music has not often been critically linked to other forms of popular music, with the exception of jazz (and the occasional invocation of John Philip Sousa). Yet Braxton’s first musical hero, as he told Graham Lock, was Frankie Lymon, and his first musical venture a high school doo wop group; he professes admiration for James Brown, Janis Joplin, and Captain Beefheart, and has collaborated with members of Wilco and Deerhoof; while his son Tyondai’s Math Rock band Battles has at points outstripped Braxton Sr.’s own music in fame. A useful point of reference for the Locals’ Braxton – in spirit if not in form – might be Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time bands, with their interlocking, relentless rhythms and joyous melodic invention. (Recall, after all, that Braxton stayed in Coleman’s loft space when he first came to New York; meanwhile, Thomas and Orphy Robinson’s Black Top played with Prime Time bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma at the London Jazz Festival in 2014.) I also invoke Prime Time to emphasize that – whatever the racialized make-up of the band itself (largely white) – Thomas’ arrangements situate Braxton firmly in a tradition of Black popular music. We hear the funk (or reggae) in Braxton and the Braxton in funk – the rhythmic edges and overlaps that both separate and breach genre. When critics talk about “fusion” they might, indeed, turn to records like this for reference.

Split equally between the acoustic and the electric, The Locals’ unconventional line-up features Alex Ward on clarinet, swooping and diving in joyous, controlled abandon; Thomas on piano and occasional melodica – unselfishly preferring a role as arranger and bandleader than as soloist – and his brother Evan Thomas on chattering, stinging electric guitar. The fundamental grooves are delivered by Dominic Lash in a rare outing on bass guitar, supple yet rock-steady, ably assisted by Darren Hasson-Davies on drums. Rather than a theme-solos-theme approach, several voices are often in play at once, entwining around Braxton’s figures or inventions of their own within the leading guidelines of the groove. This is above all a cooperative contrapuntally-minded band, unfurling collective improvisations in which each voice can be heard at once, individually and together, like the intricate ink lines of Mark Browne’s cover art. Opening track “Composition 40B” sets a number of parameters for the record as a whole: the centrality of Lash and Hasson-Davies’ groove, Evan Thomas’ gnarly, barking guitar tone, Ward’s soaring wails as melodic anchor, and Pat Thomas’ rarely-acknowledged genius at “comping” (rarely has a well-placed dissonance been delivered with such relish or to such delightful effect). Ward and Evan Thomas pick up fragments of Braxton’s melodic cells and toss them around, along the way discovering inventive counter-melodies, while there’s a passage where Thomas’ guitar plays some simple scalar figures with inexorable force that’s just sheer delight. In Braxton’s original rendition of “Composition 6C” (“C-M=B05”) on The Montreux/Berlin Concerts, a sawed circus bassline and mirthful trombone and saxophone set up a deliberately unwieldy, semi-comic framework for virtuoso solo exploration. The Locals turn it into a bona-fide hit single, Evan Thomas’ opening guitar squall leading to a solid groove and Braxton’s melody dancing out in slick yet rough-edged unison, inexorable and irresistible. “Composition 115” opens with Ward solo, delivering a more conventionally Braxtonesque account of the piece, but the bassline groove that begins around 40 seconds – replacing John Lindberg’s expertly morphing walking bass on the 1984 original – is having none of it. “Composition 23B,” one of Braxton’s catchiest, debuted on New York Fall 1974 – and was recently rendered in sprightly jazz double-time by the Artifacts Trio (Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid, and Mike Reed) on their 2015 album of AACM covers. Once again, The Locals entirely remake the piece, as Lash’s hushed harmonics, wavering pops and electrified strings segue into a repeating groove with Thomas’ piano offering snappy, dissonant chords and Ward insinuating the melody to Evan Thomas’ oblique, perfectly-placed melodic commentary. “Composition 6I” channels a reggae bassline: Pat Thomas briefly turns the inside of the piano into King Tubby’s recording studio, before delivering the melody in tandem with Ward’s clarinet, his clusters splashing in the best Don Pullen manner. On the final piece, “Composition 23G” has (Pat) Thomas’ melodica and (Evan) Thomas’ electronic feedback vaguely recalling the outer-space tendencies of Miles Davis’ 1970 bands – imagine Thomas’ melodica as Davis’ organ in miniature – with Evan Thomas offering some particularly and wonderfully gnarly feedback throughout, the track ending on Ward and Lash’s diminuendo’ing melody, like slowly-popping bubblewrap. A joy from start to finish, and one of last year’s finest releases. Excellent music in its own right, in the process this album tells us something about Braxton’s music that might return us to it with fresh ears.
–David Grundy


Roberto Miranda’s Home Music Ensemble
Live at Bing Theatre – Los Angeles, 1985
Dark Tree DT(RS)14

Bassist Roberto Miranda has been active in the Los Angeles jazz scene since the 1960s, playing with musicians like Charles Lloyd, Bobby Bradford, John Carter, Vinny Golia, Horace Tapscott, and Tim Berne. In the mid-1980s, Miranda was earning his master’s degree at University of Southern California’s Jazz Studies Department and had received a jazz fellowship grant from the NEA. With that money, the bassist funded his master's recital concert, inviting Bradford, Carter, Tapscott, and James Newton along with the USC jazz studies chair Thom David Mason on reeds, guitarist David Bottenbley, and a full percussion ensemble including his father, brother, and cousin. Miranda’s father was a percussionist in Latin jazz bands and the bassist got his start playing percussion in his teens. The bassist was also a mainstay as part of Tapscott’s Pan African People’s Arkestra and that communal sense of unbridled freedom and community-based inclusivity imbues this expertly recorded set of seven of Miranda’s pieces.

Things kick off with “Platform for Freedom,” with Tapscott’s blazing piano and Miranda’s double-time bass surging along across the twinned drums of Louis Miranda, Jr. and Elias “Buddy” Toscano. Midway through, the horns come in, buoying the welling density before dropping out for a stabbing, angular interlude by the pianist, opening up to a darting, give-and-take duo by the drummers bringing things to a close. “Faith” follows, with solemn horn voicings flowing along with an almost Strayhorn-like lushness. The relaxed swing of Newton’s flute solo is a particular standout. Miranda’s Latin roots come to the fore on “Agony in the Garden” as drums, claves, timbales, and drums start out at a slow simmer with Mason’s bass clarinet and Bradford’s clarion trumpet trading licks as the groove builds and Newton’s flute soars off over the gamboling polyrhythms.

“Prayer #1” is next up, with Bradford’s dusky brass playing leading the horn players along the stately sway of the piece. Then five minutes in, Tapscott starts to stoke the momentum as the tightly orchestrated horns buck along the goading percussion undercurrent. Here, in particular, the leader’s charts maximize the ensemble colors, making the band sound much bigger than it is. Each of the horn players get a bit of space to stretch out including a striking solo by Carter. Mason introduces “Deborah Tasmin” on tenor which builds to an unhurried shuffle as the horns come in. The leader’s bass is prominent throughout, guiding the alternating horns across his euphonious theme. Guitarist Bottenbley also gets to step out on this one, with a scrabbling solo over the churning percussion as the horns dive in and out. Miranda’s 6-minute unaccompanied piece highlights what a powerful soloist he is which leads into the introductory incantatory vocals and percussion of the closing “Dance of Blessing, Happiness & Peace,” melding ceremony and freedom with aplomb. The leader’s slinky line enters, building momentum as the horn players come in for a celebratory finale. Amazingly, this was the first (and possibly only) time that Bradford, Carter, Tapscott, and Newton appeared together and Miranda movingly points out that this was the first time he got to perform together with his father, brother, and cousin all in tow.

The bassist has continued to play a critical role in the LA jazz scene as a performer and an educator at USC, the LA school district, and currently UCLA. Dark Tree Records has been doing a fantastic job of unearthing important archival recordings from the LA scene. Add this one to that worthy list.
–Michael Rosenstein


Hafez Modirzadeh
Pi Recordings PI87

For his 2012 release Post-Chromodal Out!, tenor saxophonist and composer Hafez Modirzadeh retuned the piano to explore alternatives to the constrictive Western system of equal temperament. On Facets, which features pianists Kris Davis, Tyshawn Sorey, and Craig Taborn, Modirzadeh refined this process by retuning eight notes in the piano’s upper half. This retuning, along with Modirzadeh’s utilization of alternate and false fingerings to play microtones and timbres not normally heard on the saxophone, creates a distinctive and engrossing sound world. Davis, Sorey, and Taborn each play on six tracks, either as a duo with Modirzadeh or as a soloist. The music is often quiet, sparse, and delicate, and rarely goes above a mezzo-piano. Modirzadeh’s tenor has a sublimely light, nuanced, and dry tone. He approaches the music as one might handle a delicately woven garment – with the utmost of care, knowing that any inadvertent tug of a loose thread would unravel the entire piece. As the album progresses between solo and duo tracks, it is easy to get caught up in the piano, as the tuning makes the listener focus on how the overtones of each note – both retuned and not – ring together. In this way, listening to Facets requires the same kind of attention that listening to Morton Feldman does; there is so much fine detail that it is easy to miss the forest for the trees.

The differences in the pianists’ interpretations and approaches to utilizing the retuned notes can be subtle, and over the course of the album it can be difficult to identify the pianist. “Dawn Facet” and “Facet 27 Light” are based on the same composition. On the former, Sorey plays the rising accompaniment pattern slowly and largely unadorned, while on the latter, Davis takes it at a quicker pace, extending the ascending lines, bejeweling them with the retuned notes. The contrast becomes more apparent on three tracks featuring Monk’s “Pannonica” and “Ask Me Now.” Davis mixes the two compositions together during her solo performance of “Facet 34 Defracted.” Her liberal use of the retuned notes along with her Monk-esque broken phrases and rhythms, rubato, and occasional stride inflections amplifies Monk to the next power. Taborn and Modirzadeh’s interpretation of “Ask Me Now” immediately follows. Their interpretation is more dialed-back and introverted than Davis’, just as it is on “Pannonica,” on which Taborn reworks the tune while Modirzadeh frolics above it.

“Facet Sorey” is one of the few longer pieces that goes into a deeper exploration of the possibilities of Modirzadeh’s tuning system in the context of the entire keyboard. Here Sorey choreographs dances between the retuned and standard-pitched notes, delicately spun figures, and his thunderous left hand (and perhaps forearm), loud and soft, dense, and spare. One listens not so much for melody or form but for sound, tone, dynamics, and texture. Some of Modirzadeh’s most captivating playing is on “Facet 39 Mato Paho,” a duet with Sorey. On it Modirzadeh’s long, rhapsodic lines and vibrato-laden held notes contrast against Sorey, who moves from arpeggios in the right hand to sustained notes and chords in middle and bottom end of the keyboard. The album closes as it began, with a brief solo piece from Taborn.

Facets is also beautifully recorded, with Modirzadeh’s tenor miced close enough to hear the action of the keywork, the rasp of the reed, as well as every one of his timbral inflections. The clarity of the piano is also stunning. The richness of the instrument’s overtones is so well captured that one hears how they often interact in ways where the pitch slightly bends through time. Even the sequencing was carefully thought out: the relative quiet and space of “Ebb Facet” is an aural palette cleanser after Davis’ relentless and crunching left hand and stabbing right on “Facet 31 Woke” brings the music to an almost unbearable zenith. At its essence, Facet is sui generis. It is the work of a unique musical thinker, player, and composer who, with the aid of three brilliant pianists, is pointing to the possibilities and unexplored territories of sound. Modirzadeh’s music teaches and reteaches us how to listen and to question things like equal temperament that are often taken as an unquestionable given. Above all, the album shows us new sounds, and in the process reminds us how much we have yet to hear. Like all pioneers, Modirzadeh is showing us the way.
–Chris Robinson


Alex Paxton
Music for Bosch People
Birmingham Record Company BRC011

Alex Paxton’s first album is serious music saturated with the silly. This is high art stuffed full of the kind of pop culture that is so quotidian you don’t even notice it’s there unless someone like Paxton comes along and blows it out of proportion, warps it almost beyond recognition through the tubes of his elastic-ecstatic-spasmodic trombone. When I spoke to him, Paxton told me he wants to put his horn in “perpetual motion” – no mean feat on an instrument with neither valves nor keys, rendering circular breathing particularly complicated. Yet for all this grueling technical striving – stimulating in-and-of-itself – Paxton’s playing also leans on the trombone’s human (animal!) qualities: humor and pathos born of the transmutation of the voice. In the opening passages of the album’s title track – a sort of stand-alone suite – we hear the trombone run the gamut from furious chatter to muffled screams, sorrowful sighs into searing growls and back. “Virtuosic” doesn’t really cover it.

The album is titled Music for Bosch People. Personally, the notable washing machine manufacturer was what first came to mind (the music certainly sounds like it’s been spun around at high velocity for several hours). Apparently, my intuition was not entirely wrong: Paxton explains in an interview that he has two Bosch washing machines in his house. The main point of reference is, however, Hieronymus Bosch, the 15th-16th century Dutch painter whose fantastical renderings of everyday life act as loose inspiration and analogue for the music. But that’s not all. Music for Bosch People is also a play on “music for posh people,” simultaneously sending up classical music and the commercial uses it’s put to. The music itself is as multi-layered as the title’s meaning, so dense with references it sounds like it’s about to burst. Paxton calls this his “Where’s Wally aesthetic.” Though that’s not exactly what he meant when he said it to me (he was, specifically, responding to a question about the moment in the middle of “Prayer in the Darkness” where his falsetto trombone quotes Ornette Coleman’s “Dancing In Your Head”) this is what I mean when I say that pop culture saturates his sound. Another way to put it could be: operatic Game Boy music played by a virtuosic motley crew that’s inexplicably been hired to provide live jingles for a primetime TV show sometime in the recent past that never quite was. This sound is produced by layers and layers of recording piled high like a teetering Tower of Babel (Pieter Breugel, who painted three versions of the aforementioned biblical structure, is another of Paxton’s favorites). In more pedestrian terms, the music is made by shapeshifting combinations of trombone, voices, electric guitars, saxophones, piccolo, violin, viola and electronics. The resulting edifice has a back-to-the-future quality to it: anachronistic music that feels more futuristic than the present.

Music for Bosch People is unabashedly weird. But despite its silliness – at times teetering on the edge of irony, or even tipping right over into it – the album remains touching. Just listen to “Prayer with Night Pictures” and try not to squirm. What is all that celestial squealing? And why does it make me want to laugh and cry at the same time? The paintings of Hieronymus Bosch certainly contain clues, described variously as “wondrous,” “gruesome,” “fantastica,” “horrific,” and so on. But the music itself is both dense and expansive enough to yield its own answers – most likely a different one on each listening. Here too the parallel with a Bosch painting is apt: each time you go back to it you’re liable to discover something different, another detail lurking in plain sight. Or are we talking about Where’s Wally again? It doesn’t really matter. The point is this is music to re-listen to and get lost in.
–Gabriel Bristow


Ivo Perelman + Matthew Shipp
Special Edition Box
SMP 012

Matthew Shipp + Evan Parker
Leonine Aspects
Rogue Art ROG0108

In a sizeable discography jammed with solo, duo, trio and quartet dates, pianist Matthew Shipp has demonstrated a special affinity for tandems with hornmen, much more so than say, drummers. Indeed, his 1988 debut recording featured him in the company of alto saxophonist Rob Brown. Since then, he has paired with reedmen as diverse as David S. Ware, Roscoe Mitchell, Darius Jones, Daniel Carter, Sabir Mateen, and John Butcher. But none matches the almost symbiotic partnership he has developed with Brazilian tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman. Together they appear on over 10 albums, encompassing some 17 discs, which are all the more remarkable for retaining their potency.

The latest installment of their craft arrives sumptuously documented in Special Edition Box, released to celebrate Perelman’s sixtieth year, which unites a January 2019 studio CD with a Blu-Ray disc containing concert footage from Sao Paulo in July the same year, as well as a 47-page booklet on their provenance by Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg.

With the ability to select material and the option of editing, the studio encounter, entitled Procedural Language, presents them in mellow frame of mind and ranks among their most profound exchanges. Like previous studio sessions, the set comprises a series of short tracks, in this case twelve pithy miniatures. As always there’s high drama afoot, but here they distill their interaction to its essence, extolled in concentrated form with no unaccompanied digressions from either man. Although programmed so that brighter more animated pieces alternate, a somber mood nevertheless predominates, albeit cut through with an austere poetry.

By this stage their understanding has been so well honed as to suggest telepathy. So even though both are spontaneously flexible in time and syntax, cohesion abounds. But in a consistently elevated dialogue, Perelman’s tenor nonetheless takes pole position. The shape of his phrases increasingly provides a sonic analogue to his abstract paintings, oozing and twisting like molten jewelry, as he ransacks the expressive toolbox to color and shade notes, with a Ben Websterish breathiness to the fore, beside whispy emanations and a querulous falsetto, all burnishing a keen emotive edge.

In a move that demonstrates characteristic awareness of the bigger picture, Shipp recognizes that the saxophonist has hit a peak and wisely dials back his contributions. That’s perfectly exemplified by “Track 9,” where Perelman moves seamlessly from lush, enveloping exhalations to the highest partials, and then effortlessly rotates between the two, showing stunning command at the upper extreme to repeatedly sift a melodic kernel for yet another exquisite evocation, all flawlessly set off by Shipp’s stark tolling and spare embellishments.

By way of complement, the film amply illustrates the breadth of possibility inherent in this combination. After taking to the stage with applause, they launch without fanfare into an unbroken hour-long performance of capricious discourse in which instantaneous reactions come guided by a canny mix of intuition and shared experience. Dashing twin excursions result in the sudden heightening of tension, subject to just as sudden dissipation.

It’s immediately apparent that Shipp wields equal agency, catalyzing change whether with emphatic pummeling, or fast sequences of clipped notes produced by almost pawing at the keyboard. As an aside, it’s wonderfully illuminating to be able to observe the pianist’s hands so much of the time to see just how he extracts the various sounds. His heavy bass clusters, which punctuate the presentation, above all push Perelman into an intoxicating incantatory altissimo.

Their distinctive individual styles meld in a chemistry which can sometimes approach alchemy. Oppositions may sometimes seem tangential, but can also hit sublime heights, as when in a fruitful gambit Perelman’s soars ecstatically over Shipp’s dark pounding. There’s congruency too. When Shipp chops between plucking at the strings and small gestures on the keys, Perelman answers by playing on his mouthpiece alone, fluctuating between a tuneful squeal and a husky chuckle. But just when a trade of textures beckons, Shipp thwarts the prospect by deploying a prettily picked lilt. Such willful duality means they seldom embrace the obvious, engendering the sense of continual discovery which pervades the work of both men and perhaps helps explain the longevity and fertility of their collaboration.

Apart from the occasional skittish transitional longeurs, they fashion a compelling show which delivers a panoply of emotions. Sometimes solo stretches arise, giving both pause and variety. In one Shipp deftly flicks the keys, popping the notes like a latter-day Bud Powell, interspersed with the sort of rhythmic figures which might grace one of his trio dates, while an unaccompanied spell for Perelman reveals his capacity for circular breathing to sustain a waxing and waning line. Towards the end both energy and friction are on the rise, lending a climactic feel to a journey which has traversed countless summits and valleys on its course. A lyric valediction of wavering delicacy furnishes the finale.

It’s worth noting that from a cinematic perspective Live In Sao Paulo At Sesc is a superb example of the genre. With two essentially static performers, director Jodele Larcher maintains interest by constantly but not jarringly shifting between several viewpoints, varying the framing from wide angle to close up and makes judicious use of split screen and cross fading. Stage lighting is also sensitively varied while some of Perelman’s artworks are projected behind. Unlike many concert films, he also manages to focus on the right person at the right time (admittedly easier when there are only two participants). Just make sure you have a Blu-Ray compatible player.

The intimate format is almost as familiar to British saxophonist Evan Parker as it is to Shipp (thanks to wide-ranging engagements over the years with pianists such as Stan Tracey, Greg Goodman, Agusti Fernandez, Alexander Hawkins, and Borah Bergman). The pair follows up the success of Rex, Wrecks & XXX (Rogue Art, 2013) with a live recording from Paris four years later. Courtesy of an already proven connection, on Leonine Aspects Shipp conducts a similarly scintillating colloquy to that he enjoys with Perelman, but one in which the poise comes freighted with eruptive salvos. In a dramatic arc which unfolds with only the briefest of lulls, both lead as much as follow, though who’s taking what role is hardly ever that clear cut.

Shipp corrals intrigue from a synthesis of belling repetitions, a rippling middle register, songlike fragments, plunges into the depths and tinkling patterns in the treble, and switches precipitately between them. Parker’s reflexes have been sharpened in the hyper-speed interplay of his trio with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton, which stands him in good stead here. All the expected traits are evident: guttural machine-gun chunter, plaintive murmurs, and split toned dissonance, all executed with devastating control.

In a reflective opening, Parker mirrors Shipp’s phrasing in passing which serves as both an affirmation of listening and as a launchpad for a 51-minute extravaganza which scarcely flags. The saxophonist’s high-density barrage encourages accelerated scurrying reciprocation from Shipp. One of the great pleasures of spending time with these two is to luxuriate in the dynamic of the blurring between call/response and simultaneous expression, and what ensues thereafter. The impact is cumulative and kaleidoscopic. Momentum picks up and slows at a whim. But even Shipp’s most abrupt u-turns don’t wrong foot Parker. While Shipp savors occasional space alone, there are two longer breaks for Parker’s trademark unbroken swirls of corkscrewing harmonics and multiple timbred tongues, one each on soprano and tenor.

The conversation advances obliquely. When Shipp mines a rich seam of flowing romanticism it’s met with enigmatic rejoinders, not abrasive but not consonant either. Even a rare insistent beat from the pianist elicits only off kilter accompaniment. Once again in the final stretch, Shipp summons the thunderclouds as intensity builds to a blistering conclusion. A concise second piece, probably an encore, follows. At its heart lies a torrential stream across the 88 keys alongside another multiphonic tenor skirl. Parker’s one time colleague guitarist Derek Bailey would meet shouts for more with the enquiry “which bit do you want to hear again?” For most audiences this particular portion would hit the spot.
–John Sharpe


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