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Klaus Lang
Tehran Dust
Another Timbre at190

Austrian composer and organist Klaus Lang returns to Another Timbre for his third release on the label, capturing three of his own compositions interspersed with his arrangements of pieces by Renaissance composers Johannes Ockeghem and Pierre de la Rue. For the recording, Lang drafted the Austrian Trio Amos, comprised of flautist Sylvie Lacroix, accordion player Krassimir Sterev, and cellist Michael Moser with Lang also performing on organ. In his notes for the CD, Lang starts off with the following statement. “The beginning of western philosophy, and the basis for all western art, is grounded in the fascinating intellectual achievement of Pythagoras: to find, by observing the concrete and contingent in nature, a purely abstract principle: numbers ... The combination of structural clarity and beauty with rich sensual quality fascinates me in nature, and that is what I try to achieve in my own work.” That balance of “structural clarity” and lush lyrical beauty is at play throughout.

The program starts out with a piece Lang wrote for the trio in 2011, “origami” which lays out deep, quavering harmonies, with flute and cello oscillating above the deep, reedy voicings of accordion and organ. Lang’s materials accrue slowly, with a penchant for blending the instruments into a commingled whole. Over the course of 15-and-a-half minutes, things ebb and flow, starting with a dark massing from reverberant lower registers intermingled with the swarm of cello and flute. Gradually, the lower register moves in and out against the through-murmur of the upper registers, with cello and accordion intertwined in rich overtones. Moser is well-versed in these micro-movements from his playing in the group Polwechsel who also collaborated with Lang. As the piece progresses, a stately microtonal lyricism emerges, adeptly navigated by the group. The following reading of “kyrie (missa prolatium)” by Ockeghem connects with the voicings of Lang’s compositions, and while its contrapuntal nature is quite different, the approach toward overall massing of sound is a touchpoint for Lang’s music.

The title piece, “tehran dust.” for cello and accordion is glacial in its measured consideration. Originally composed for harmonium and cello, the breath-like quality of the accordion brings a relaxed, coursing quality to the mercurial microtonalities. Lang’s careful placement of notes across registers creates lush modulations of sound. Here in particular, the acoustics of the 9th century Benedictine Abbey where the session was recorded provides effective resonance. A brief interlude of de la Rue’s “agnus die” provides a glimpse of the 15th century composer’s polyphonic requiem, leading to Lang’s closing “darkness and freedom” for the ensemble. At 25 minutes, it is the longest piece, allowing Lang’s approach toward the measured, laminal accretion of sound to build with daunting deliberation. The upper registers evoke the vocal shimmer of a chorus which are shrouded across the multi-layered groans and reverberations of the ensemble. All of the members are astutely keyed in to the harmonic depth of the composition, maintaining sonorous clarity as they traverse the score. Lang’s work is rarely recorded and this release, documenting his long-standing collaboration with Trio Amos is a welcome addition.
–Michael Rosenstein

 

Ingrid Laubrock + Andy Milne
Fragile
Intakt CD379

Brandon Lopez + Ingrid Laubrock + Tom Rainey
No Es La Playa
Intakt CD376



A startlingly imaginative voice, Brooklyn-based German-born saxophonist and composer Ingrid Laubrock’s simultaneously poised and experimental reeds adorn an array of settings. While her focus is on her own projects, which have encompassed forward-looking vehicles like Anti-house, Serpentines, and Ubatuba, as well as larger ensembles, she’s also a generous collaborator and an in-demand sidewoman. A full list of her partners would read like a who’s who of leading lights in a firmament which includes Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richards Abrams, Dave Douglas, William Parker, Kris Davis, Cory Smythe, Myra Melford, Tom Rainey, Tyshawn Sorey, Nate Wooley, and Mary Halvorson. All the better then to hear her in the more intimate surroundings of the two records here.

The addition of bassist Brandon Lopez to the recognized duo of Laubrock and drummer Tom Rainey provides proof once more, though maybe not in the manner Aristotle envisaged, that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. The liners allude to the success of the threesome’s first gig at Park Slope’s Barbes in 2017, and the reasons for their satisfaction can be heard all over the outstanding, unpredictable, and empathetic interplay across the six studio improvs which constitute No Es La Playa.

Lopez, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican heritage, is increasingly encountered around town, often in the company of drummer Gerald Cleaver, but sighted also with the likes of Whit Dickey, Rob Brown, Guillermo Gregorio, Nate Wooley, and Zeena Parkins. Whether consciously or not, he’s absorbed the lexicon of European free improvising bassists such as Peter Kowald, John Edwards, and Joëlle Léandre, and woven those unconventional techniques into propulsive streams which derive from the jazz tradition, with William Parker at his most left field being an obvious forebear.

He combines with Laubrock and Rainey in a string of unfolding dialogues which can veer into the weeds at will, but then frequently uncover new trails to be pursued. The juxtaposition of long saxophone tones against bristling bass and drum sonorities proves a favorite gambit, but there’s gold in them there hills. The first strike comes on the title cut, after an introduction of looming mystery, pizzicato fragments and fingers rubbed across drum heads, as Laubrock’s refined lyricism etches a contrasting line which has enough balance and poise to suggest she might be following a score.

A similar appreciation of form on-the-fly permeates the program. “Campsanto Chachacha” supplies another case in point. In its first section it almost functions as a concerto for bowed bass, as Lopez careens between the registers. Subsequently Laubrock’s urgent seesawing flowers into a probing soliloquy. The instant she stops, Lopez and Rainey simultaneously leap back into the fray as if orchestrated, before the saxophonist rejoins with a sequence of rapidly tongued tenor figures on which the piece ends. Such exploratory tendencies are another fixture, whether her ululating tenor skronk on “When The Island Is A Shipwreck” or the whistles, wails and quacks on the texturally varied “Saturnian Staring.”

It doesn’t really need saying that Rainey is all over this set. He’s attained a level in which just the right tone colors appear at just the right moment. He allows enough air for the ensemble passages to breathe, while at the same time remaining precise and crisp in his articulation. On the percussive interchange of “Little Distance Before,” he’s part of the indeterminate rattling, knocking, rustling, but he’s also the one who crystallizes the shared inkling of direction, gradually underpinning the exchanges with a bass drum thump and tolling cymbal, until it finally soars with Laubrock’s frothing altissimo distortions. The date closes with the relatively short “The Black Bag Of Want,” which culminates in a classic power trio move of overblown bellows and roiling bass and drums, as if to say: yes of course we can do this too. Here and throughout, they ally restless energy to a joyous feeling of adventure in a winning blend.

Fragile, a twosome with Canadian pianist Andy Milne, offers a glimpse of Laubrock the composer. It’s the third in a projected series of five duets with pianists for the Intakt imprint, treading in the footsteps of Kasumi with Aki Takase and Blood Moon with Kris Davis. Laubrock first got to know Milne when they were both participants at George Lewis’ Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute workshop in 2012, but although they kept in touch they hadn’t performed together until now. In a slight departure from earlier entries in the series, on this occasion Laubrock claims sole writing credits, on ten numbers written with Milne in mind. Given the pianist’s tenure with Steve Coleman’s Five Elements crew and the work of his own genre-fluid Dapp Theory you might expect a heavy dose of rhythmic high jinks, but that’s not the aspect of his personality which she chooses to bring out. Instead, her charts lean into his sophisticated harmonic sense and by doing so also serves to expose her own.

Nowhere is that more true than on the haunting opener “Equanimity”, featuring a luminous richly voiced Milne intro, which presages some of the thematic material, before the hazy luxury of Laubrock’s tenor curls around the piano’s subtle chordal shifts. Laubrock’s tunes rarely follow established pathways, being more likely to incorporate unlikely deviations, sudden about turns, and abrupt halts, and that’s just the scripted elements. Also factored into the mix are the opportunities, large and small, for individual expression, fully exploited by both players whether on the explosive angularity of “Unapologetically Yours,” the enigmatic textural double act of “Kintsugi” or the darting convulsions of “Bolder Fall Ejecta,” which briefly shines the spotlight on Milne’s rhythmic acumen during an almost funky vamp and a subsequent unfeasibly dashing hoedown bringing to mind a player piano.

Laubrock generally shuns the extremes within her oblique narratives other than for emotional emphasis, like the way she caps her phrases on “Equanimity” with a succession of tremulous flutters, in an understated gesture intimating a vulnerability and uncertainty underlying the more robust contours, but she does co-opt less conventional timbres too. On “Fragment” and “Splinter,” two versions of the same composition, she blows breathy shakuhachi-inflected soprano saxophone, using false fingered notes to elicit an otherworldly atmosphere. This is also where she accentuates another component of Milne’s armory. Having witnessed him perform at Lincoln Center with French pianist Benoit Delbecq, and two koto players at the Lincoln Center where he utilized inside piano preparation, she left his part unscripted, and simply asked him to respond to whatever she played. The results are dampened strings, playful discourses and minimalist patterns, occasionally recalling a gamelan orchestra, which unite with soprano for a jerky marionette dance on “Fragment.” Taking an alternative route on “Splinter,” Milne supplements rolling prepared motifs with songlike musings and ringing variations to counterbalance Laubrock’s circling soprano, effectively uniting multiple facets of his musical personality. On this evidence it’s a pairing which contains much more untapped potential.
–John Sharpe

 

Rachel Musson + N.O. Moore + Olie Brice + Eddie Prévost
Under the Sun
MRCD108

Eddie Prévost
Collider – Or, ‘whose drum is it, anyway’
Matchless MRCD107



Undoubtedly, every appreciation of Eddie Prévost upon his 80th birthday will foreground his groundbreaking work with AMM. Few, if any, will mention that approximately 60 years ago he was known within a small circle as the Blakey of Brixton. Although he is a trenchant critic of jazz’s recent state – his notes for Under the Sun contain several well-aimed salvos, and a couple that land in the weeds – the fact remains that he thoroughly absorbed the work of Blakey, Max Roach, and others early on. No matter how rigorously one contextualizes early influences decades later, traces of them remain, even in the most ostensibly unrelated work.

Take the lengthy snare roll that opens Collider – Or, ‘whose drum is it, anyway’, which documents a 2012 London solo concert; although its purpose is not to jumpstart a romp on “Blues March,” it nevertheless has the building suspenseful excitement integral to jazz percussion aesthetics since the 1930s. The orthodoxy of kit solos stipulates that they open with a promise of fireworks, which are then set off to maximum effect. Prévost mediates this approach with his own formalism – derived from a distancing temperament, attention to the granular, and a keenness for long pieces – to produce a finely calibrated, thoroughly engaging 25-minute statement.

Propulsion is the foundational value in jazz drumming, requiring a nanosecond’s foresight into the emerging moment, so that a minimal gesture – a flam on the snare, underscored by a vigorously stomped bass drum; or a short press roll on a floor tom punctuated by a cymbal crash – sparks an ensemble forward. There are too many instances to count where Prévost does something to this effect on Under the Sun, a 2021 live quartet set with tenor saxophonist Rachel Musson, guitarist N.O. Moore, and bassist Olie Brice. Prévost knows by heart the old-school recipe to spur collaborators, and take the music upstairs – equal measures of chops and restraint. He makes the tried and true new.

This by no means suggests that Prévost is a jazz drummer at his core, nor that this aspect of his work comes anywhere close to AMM or his long-standing workshops in assessing his considerable legacy. But it is part of the story; its size and significance depend on how origin stories are valued, and how narratives involving multiple journeys are proportioned. Prévost has travelled several roads, not only as a musician, but also as an author and essayist, his writings being as provocative as any music he has produced. It is a lot to get your head and ears around. It requires time. There are no shortcuts to Eddie Prévost.
–Bill Shoemaker

 

Miles Okazaki
Thisness
Pi PI93

Thisness is the third album from guitarist Miles Okazaki’s band Trickster released by Pi Recordings. Like The Sky Below (2019) was to its predecessor Trickster (2017), Thisness takes another leap forward, documenting the next chapter in the group’s evolution. Unlike the ensemble’s first two releases, which featured shorter, fixed pieces, this date features longer, more expansive compositions.

Thisness represents a post-quarantine return to live interaction for the band, whereas the recent Trickster’s Dream was a virtual concert released on Bandcamp as part of Pi Recordings’ This is Now: Love in the Time of Covid series. Recorded in March of 2021 at Oktaven Studios, Thisness once again reunites the guitarist with electric bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman (all alumni of Steve Coleman’s Five Elements), along with Matt Mitchell, who has held the piano/keyboard chair since the band’s sophomore effort.

Some of Okazaki’s most challenging sideman work has been with Coleman, yet Okazaki has followed a similarly cerebral path, aided by Tidd and Rickman, who’ve been performing together with Coleman for almost a quarter century. Their ability to adapt to quick transitions with an unlimited repertoire of rhythmic motifs makes them well suited for Okazaki’s intricate methodology. Mitchell, with his combination of technical virtuosity and conceptual ingenuity, shares a terrific rapport with Okazaki; their dexterous weaving of contrapuntal lines exudes an uncanny precision that sounds effortless rather than pyrotechnic.

Okazaki derived inspiration for this music from Dream at Salt Creek, a watercolor by his mother Linda Okazaki, which is reproduced on the album cover. It’s also influenced by historian Robin D. G. Kelley’s writings on Surrealism, with song titles culled from a poem by Sun Ra, “The Far Off Place,” which is found in the liner notes of his 1966 album Monorails and Satellites: “In some far off place, years in space, I’ll build a world, and wait for you.” Okazaki conceived the music in open-ended fashion, akin to the Surrealist parlor game exquisite corpse. Careful listening reveals subtle transitions where one or more members of the ensemble takes the music in a new direction when signaled by the leader.

The expansive opener “In Some Far Off Place” changes gradually, evolving from a warm, folk-like ballad into a simmering, odd-metered groove. Okazaki’s acoustic guitar, floating above the lilting pulse, becomes more assertive as Tidd and Rickman generate the first of many grooves; halfway through, its dreamy flow mutates into more assertive rhythmic variations, culminating with Okazaki overdubbing his electric guitar alongside his acoustic to heighten the contrapuntal contrast.

“Years in Space” is built around a descending phrase from Okazaki, complemented by Mitchell. Tidd and Rickman vamp with machine-like precision, before Rickman breaks up the beat, leading Mitchell’s piano into a scintillating dialogue with Okazaki on both acoustic and wah-wah guitars; together they play different but complementary melodies in counterpoint. Around halfway, the tempo slows and the music shifts from playfully assertive to harmonically lush.

“I’ll Build a World” begins with a groovy bassline and a funky backbeat, but the guitarist and keyboardist’s bop-inflected lines prevent the titular world building from proceeding easily. When the frenetic rhythm changes suddenly, everyone adjusts on the fly.

“And Wait For You” features Okazaki interweaving bluesy lines throughout Tidd and Rickman’s off-kilter polyrhythms. All four musicians display masterful control over shifts in time, tempo, and texture, with increasing entanglement between Okazaki and Mitchell; Okazaki’s effects pedals and Mitchell’s synth flourishes eventually transform the tune into psychedelic post-bop.

Developing with their own enigmatic logic, the complexity of Okazaki’s compositions never wanes, with layers of overlapping melodic lines and rhythms made even more convoluted by textural chatter from computer-generated “robots” programmed to improvise along with the recorded tracks. Okazaki’s “robots” are perhaps an unnecessary addition, but one of the things that makes the date so compelling is how engaging it is despite its intricacy; one can appreciate the music without having to understand its arcane construction, making Thisness Okazaki’s strongest work to date.
–Troy Collins

 

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