Recent CDs Briefly Reviewed
Bill Shoemaker

Lotte Anker +
Craig Taborn +
Gerald Cleaver
Leo CD LR 441

Danish soprano and tenor saxophonist Lotte Anker has given few North American performances and has played on only one CD issued by a US label. She gave a memorable duo concert with Marilyn Crispell at the Vancouver Jazz Festival several years ago, and recently finished a short US tour with the pianist and bassist Michael Formanek. Anker does stand out in a crowd on the 2001 Screwgun album documenting Tim Berne’s collaboration with the Copenhagen Art Ensemble. Subsequently, Triptych has the capacity to either create or confirm a first impression for most US and Canadian listeners. It is not an immediately overwhelming album. Rather, Anker, pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver are somewhat roundabout in establishing the very wide parameters within which they improvise. Yet, whether they are exploring a pointalistic approach to free improvisation or running over the voodoo with off-kilter grooves, this trio is very sure-footed. There is no flailing or off-balanced veering into the clichéd. Anker, Taborn and Cleaver have a deliberate approach, but it has sufficient spark.       

Constant Comments
FMR CD156-i1204

Pianist/accordionist Fred Van Hove is one of the earliest first-generation European free improvisers to largely abandon the doctrine of unrelenting intensity codified on such early FMP recordings like Peter Brotzmann’s Machine Gun, and develop contexts that placed far greater emphasis on space and dynamics. Somewhat ironically, his joining vocalist Phil Minton, cellist Marcio Mattos and drummer Martin Blume in Axon, brings a visceral presence to an ensemble that achieved a low-decibel intensity on their only previous CD, Perceptions (Random Acoustics; 1993). Even in quieter passages, Van Hove prefers an insistent staccato attack and dark, foreboding lines and clusters. Especially when Minton lays out, the resulting trios are bristling, with Mattos bowing and plucking heatedly and Blume spattering rhythmic kernels. When Minton (whose ability to blend with a vast array of instruments is always a wonder), Mattos’ electronics and Van Hove’s accordion are hot in the mix, the music is propelled by a whirl of textures. Given that Axon’s last CD is now more than a dozen years old, passing on Constant Comments and waiting for their next is ill advised.

Pierre Boulez
Notations &
Piano Sonatas

hat [now]ART 162

The quandaries of material, structure and temperament Pierre Boulez confronted in these solo piano compositions dating between 1945 and ’57 still reverberate in improvised music and post-jazz composition. The reason for the durability of compositions such as “Troisieme sonate pour piano,” in which he articulated a “mobile structure” through a graphic cueing system, is that Boulez began to use serialism as a tool, and ceased bowing to it. The transformation Boulez’s music underwent in the decade subsequent to “Douze Notations pour piano” is remarkable: instead of explicating designs, he captured moments. The stark luminosity of Pi-Hsien Chen’s readings serves the works extremely well. This version of “Douze Notations” first appeared on a Telos CD; the three sonatas are issued for the first time.

Dave Douglas
Greenleaf Music GRE-02

Dave Douglas Quintet
Live at the Bimhuis
Greenleaf Music Paperback Series GRE-P-01

Any doubts that Dave Douglas’ prodigious output would slow with the launching of his Greenleaf label should be put to rest with the almost simultaneous release of Keystone and Live at the Bimhuis. Douglas’ deft marketing touch is also in evidence with the advent of his plain-brown-wrapper Paperback series, which will expedite the release, and presumably lower the cost, of recordings such as this excellent undated Bimhuis gig with his “Infinite” quintet. It’s been a while since the trumpeter has delivered such an effective 1-2 combination. Once the initial reeling of the senses subsides, it is clear that the music for Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle films on the CD/DVD Keystone taps Douglas’ humanism as deeply as Sanctuary and Witness, despite the great differences in subject matter. Even though Douglas’ music is largely shaped by grooves, Jamie Saft’s deranged Wulitzer electric piano and DJ Olive’s layered sounds, it reflects a thorough understanding of Arbuckle’s humor and underlying tenderness (bassist Brad Jones, drummer Gene Lake and saxophonist Marcus Strickland round out Douglas' sextet). Live at the Bimhuis is a flat-out blowing date: bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn are stokin’ and Douglas and electric pianist Uri Caine are smokin’. The album should also go some lengths to rehabilitate the reputation of saxophonist Rick Margitza, who most critics have forsaken, but who throws it down with surprising strength. It is Douglas’ ability to present himself both as the artist eyeing the long horizon and the working musician who’s only as good as his last solo that sets him apart from the pack. And he does so here as well as he ever has.

Hamid Drake & Bindu
Rogueart ROG-001

Percussionist Hamid Drake is such a ubiquitous presence that his role as a conduit between the Chicago and New York creative music communities is often hidden in plain sight. Yet, his choice of two of New York’s finest, Daniel Carter and Sabir Mateen, AACM stalwart Ernest Dawkins and one of the younger members of Dawkins’ Chicago 12, Greg Ward, to play in Bindu makes too much musical sense to be simply an exercise in bridge-building. All four ably play two or more horns, allowing Drake to change palettes on a track-by-track basis. Generally, when Drake plays frame drums and tablas, clarinets tend to be more prominent, the exception being the opening track, a cleansing breath-like duet with guest artist, flutist Nicole Mitchell. When he switches to a jazz kit, saxophones are more in the foreground. In terms of material, Drake tends to keep it loose: three of the eight performances are collective improvisations, while only his exhortative salute to Fred Anderson and two contrasting takes of his buoyant dedication to Ed Blackwell have what could be called a head. Ending the album with an authoritative, if lengthy traps solo, Drake confirms that he is the leader.

Marty Ehrlich
News On The Rail
Palmetto PM 2113

In the late ‘30s, bassist John Kirby’s Sextet was billed as “the biggest little band in the land.” Much the same can be said about the sextet Marty Ehrlich has convened for News On The Rail. Granted, Ehrlich’s compositions are a central reason why the ensemble’s sound is, at turns, lush and riveting. The clarinetist/alto saxophonist always pushes form and cadence to the brink of idiosyncrasy, but never obscures the blues grit and the romantic glint that are at the root of his pieces. Still, whether he is tapping a happy-go-lucky swing feel on “Erica,” plumbing the depths of loss on his tribute to Sam Furnace, “ Keeper of the Flame,” or simply summoning the funk on “Hear You Say,” Ehrlich’s character-rich writing needs to be animated by a versatile ensemble, which is why Howard Johnson (who plays tuba, baritone saxophone and bass clarinet) is such a valuable asset. James Zollar’s equal fluency on trumpet and flugelhorn, and pianist James Weidman’s occasional doubling on melodica also extend Ehrlich’s palette. Greg Cohen is a smart choice for the bass chair, as he has a big buttressing sound and knows the value of understatement. The unexpected magneto of the session, however, is Allison Miller. Most drummers influenced by Tony Williams go too heavy on the monster chops and too light on the innovative ensemble approach of Williams’ first Blue Notes and his tenure with Miles. Miller has the right balance, making this a benchmark recording for the emerging drummer. It is also one of Ehrlich’s best.

Live in Addis
Ethiopiques 20
Buda Musique 860121

This is not Either/Orchestra’s first foray into Ethiopian music; “The Ethiopian Suite,” culled from vintage ‘70s sides (now available on Ethiopiques 13, Ethiopian Groove), was issued on the E/O’s More Beautiful Than Death (Accurate; 2000). But, the 2-CD Live in Addis promises to be the door-opening album for Ethiopian music in the US. Instead of turning Ethiopian music into jazz, saxophonist/arranger Russ Gershon and his nine cohorts found the means to highlight the common ground between the Ethiopian and American concepts of soul and groove, without altering that which cannot be translated from the Ethiopian. They abidingly adhere to the Ethiopian tendencies to keep themes spare and declamatory (allowing their versions of old favorites to be instantly recognized by the Ethiopian audience), minimize flourishes in the arrangements, and sustain the rhythms at a simmer. Their jazz erudition is admirably kept in check; instead, solos tap the same emphatic quality favored by Ethiopian singers. As a result, this is Ethiopian music with an American accent, not an appropriation. The E/O’s approach more than passes muster with such esteemed guests as vocalist Baht-Géebrée-Heywéet, tenor saxophonist Gétachéw Mékurya and percussionist – and godfather of the Ethiopian-jazz fusion of the 1960s – Mulatu Astatke (the three are the subjects of respective volumes in the Ethiopiques series). Their performances are ringing endorsements of the Either/Orchestra’s spirit.

Bill Evans
The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961
Riverside 3RCD-4443-2

Bill Evans Trio
At Shelly’s Manne-Hole
Riverside –9487-2

There’s no getting around them. Bill Evans’ 1961 Village Vanguard recordings are among the most celebrated and consequential of the modern jazz era. So, why revisit these performances, particularly given their continuous availability in the CD era? Their presentation in chronological order reminds even the well-versed listener that all of these gems were recorded over the course of five sets in a single afternoon and evening. This puts the sensitive fire that the pianist, bass virtuoso Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian trademarked in a fresh light. Particularly in the second and third takes of classics like “Gloria’s Step” and “Waltz for Debby,” the trio’s exploratory approach is much more appreciable than on the original albums, which are now considered sets of diamonds, prized for their seemingly infinite, intricately symmetrical facets.

The concurrent release of the 3-CD Vanguard package and the mid-’63 date recorded at Shelly Manne’s LA club is a reminder of the fleeting and tenuous nature of the moments and the relationships that yield immortal jazz recordings. Within weeks of the Vanguard recordings, LaFaro died in a car wreck. With his commercial viability increasing, Evans’s playing became more formatted (until Trio ’64). Though bassist Chuck Israels and drummer Larry Bunker gave Evans empathetic support, they rarely approached the summits Evans regularly scaled with LaFaro and Motian. A fine album by most standards, it is nevertheless doomed to remain in the shadows of the Vanguards and Trio ’64.

Dizzy Gillespie +
Charlie Parker
Town Hall. New York City, June 22, 1945
Uptown UPCD 27.51

The source tapes and discs for the great majority of important archival jazz CDs have been known to collectors and researchers for years, if not decades, prior to release. The June 1945 Town Hall concert that captures Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in early flight is an exception. Most probably recorded by the Town Hall professional recording service, which would account for the surprisingly good sound, the seven double-sided discs containing what is ostensibly a quintet date with Al Haig, Curley Russell and Max Roach came to Uptown’s Richard Sunenblick from out of the blue. His usual care and thoroughness is imprinted on every aspect of the project, from expert mastering to an information-rich booklet, in which texts by Ira Gitler and himself are accompanied by relevant photographs and contemporary print media commentary and advertisements. Subsequently, this package is a snapshot of the crystallization of bebop, and Gillespie’s role as soloist and composer in the music’s ascent.

Don Byas sits in for the opener, “Bebop,” and demonstrates his adaptability to the new music in a solo that is as rousing as it is compact. Gillespie’s solo, however, gives a persuasive precis of his innovations, which a late-arriving Parker underscores in an equally exciting turn. Haig, here and throughout the proceedings, is still trudging up the learning curve, playing well but not at the level he would soon achieve. Taken at a slightly relaxed tempo, “A Night in Tunisia” finds Parker at the crossroads between shouting blues and bop complexity, while Gillespie brings on the show-stopping high notes. Big Sid Catlett replaces Roach for “Salt Peanuts” and “Hot House;” again, the idea that bop radically departed from prevailing practices is undermined by Catlett’s fervent drumming. A short take on Monk’s “52nd Street Theme” closed the set.

Dennis Gonzalez’s Spirit Meridian
Idle Wild
Clean Feed CF035CD

String Trio Of New York +
Oliver Lake
Frozen Ropes
Barking Hoop BKH-009

The high common denominator between these CDs is alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, who emerged 30 years ago, just prior to the recorded debuts of both the String Trio of New York and Texas-based trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez. Though he is largely known through his work with World Saxophone Quartet, many of Lake’s best recordings were made before its inception. On albums like Heavy Spirits (Arista-Freedom: 1975), Lake not only extended the bold, vocal stylistic trajectory articulated by Eric Dolphy, but established an original compositional voice in part by working with small groups of stringed instruments.

These facets of Lake’s artistry are all over these two albums, even though he is the leader of neither. Gonzalez’s Idle Wild, which features a quartet rounded out by bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Michael T. A. Thompson, finds Lake frequently spurring on the band with his signature piercing attack and adventurous sense of line. On Frozen Ropes, he not only plays cogently but confirms his abilities to compose challenging, ultimately satisfying chamber jazz.

Both Spirit Meridian and STNY give Lake much to work with. Gonzalez’s Texas roots are never far from the surface of his compositions and his trumpet playing. The tandem of Filiano and Thompson has plenty of fire, but they also have appreciable finesse when the material calls for it. Likewise, the compositions of STNY bassist John Lindberg and guitarist James Emery emphasize Lake’s ability to simultaneously push the envelope and dig deep into the blues. The rapport between Lake and STNY violinist Rob Thomas is particularly keen. It is one of several tips on both albums worth pursuing in the future.