Thursday, August 11, 2022

CD Review: Secret People

Secret People
Secret People 

Dustin Carlson (guitar), Kate Gentile (drums, vibraphone) and Nathaniel Morgan (alto saxophone) are no strangers to the Out of Your Head roster of players. All three appeared on Carlson's Air Ceremony, a septet session and the second release on the label in 2018. Beyond that, each one has a significant number of recordings under their own names and as part of other bands. They may be secret now, but that won't last long. 

Moments occur on the trio's self-titled disc where they sound quite a bit like one of Tim Berne's projects. Part of that could be a sonic comparison, since Morgan's alto often has a tart tone similar to Berne's, and Carlson takes swipes at his guitar that recall Marc Ducret. Gentile has also played with Berne, absorbing the ever-shifting rhythmic scope of his melody lines.

A middle section of the 10-minute "Peephole" even sounds like it could have come from a Snake Oil set, with guitar and alto playing just a heartbeat apart. Gentile joins them on both drums and vibraphone, making the whole thing rise out of the improvisation that preceded it. But just as things seem to catch fire, the trio stops on a dime.

Therein lies the difference. Before this Berne-esque knot, the group traverses through a fuzz guitar/alto mix of punk/free fusion, with Gentile providing the kick, before everyone melts into a drone of percussion clatter and moans that can blur the difference between reeds and strings. "Peephole" concludes in a similar vein, with a noirish sea of sounds that create a late night soundtrack to street noises outside the window, or beneath the street level. 

Secret People excel in both this type of loose improv and fully composed works. "Ascetic Dust" (a solo guitar interlude) and "U" (the whole trio) are complete works that present as much protein as the album's longer tracks. With regard to the latter, "Swamp Gaze" tries on several hats, from a manic free introduction to a bit of death metal where Carlson's "Bass VI" credit on the cover rears is low-ended head. Gentile's well-placed crashes ensures that things rock hard and never get excessive or turn into a parody. The same goes for Morgan. As the track morphs through a few different sections, he never resorts to cathartic shrieks. His quick lines joust perfectly with Carlson's restless fretwork. 

His alto does scream earlier in the album, on "Legitimate Perseverance," but that could be because he and Gentile both seem to have trouble keeping up with Carlson's fast lines, which might either be inspired by either hardcore or fusion. As choppy as the rhythm gets at times, Gentile still manages to groove in the rocky terrain of "Choc(h)oyotes" which also ends dynamically with some trippy, bowed vibraphone. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

CD Review: Tyshawn Sorey Trio- Mesmerism

Tyshawn Sorey Trio
The releases of John Coltrane's Ballads album and Thelonious Monk's Plays Duke Ellington were both considered, to some degree, ways to make both of these bold individuals palatable to a greater audience. Familiar tunes could draw in listeners who might not be ready for their own music. While that might really have been Orrin Keepnews' thinking with Monk, it has been debated back and forth whether the Coltrane session was really the idea of the saxophonist or his producer Bob Thiele. 

More than half a century later, it doesn't really matter. They're both good albums. But today, when a musician digs into the "classic" jazz repertoire, it's still often seen as an attempt to cater to a wider audience rather than an attempt to reexamine some past works and add a new signature to it. 

But when you're talking about Tyshawn Sorey - drummer, composer, band leader, Doctor of music who knows his way around a piano and trombone too - one would be a fool to make such an assumption. Sorey calls himself a post-genre artist, meaning his music transcends genres. I've said at least once that he's creating music for which we don't really have accurate descriptions yet. (Here's a sampling of what I've covered on this blog.

To discover that Mesmerism finds Sorey (on drums) leading a trio through chestnuts like "Autumn Leaves" and "Detour Ahead," along with works by Horace Silver and Duke Ellington might come as a surprise. But rest assured it also comes with the same depth that fuels the good Doctor's original works.  

Sorey is joined by pianist Aaron Diehl and bassist Matt Brewer. He's worked with the latter before but this marks his first collaboration with the pianist. Mesmerism came together in an afternoon, meaning the musicians didn't have time to overthink the music, but to dive in and listen to one another. The trio doesn't deconstruct the music, although they do stretch in different ways. 

Silver's original "Enchantment" had an exotic feel, coupled with a standard hard bop drive. Sorey, Diehl and Brewer give it a laidback funky feel. It's not a smooth funk, but it has an easy groove to it. "Detour Ahead," which was closely connected to pianist Bill Evans, gets drawn out in a rich 14-minute epic. None of that time is wasted, however. Diehl plays with a lyrical feel that blurs the lines between choruses, making it easy to loose track of time. Brewer also gets a solo early in the piece, and he also steps up in "Autumn Leaves." Along with some time changes in the opening and closing choruses of that song, the bass solo gives some drive to the wistful tune.

Conversely Sorey never demands any solo space throughout the whole album, not even trading fours for tradition's sake. For a player who can make the most angular time signatures swing hard, this is his most deliberately laidback set. But laidback doesn't mean subdued, as his accents really inspire Brewer in "Autumn Leaves," eventually kicking up the mood when Diehl returns.

Motian's "From Time to Time" gets the biggest remodeling job, as the group breaks it down into individual lines with wide gaps between them. Lasting just less than six minutes, its time goes as quickly as the lengthy "Detour Ahead." Ironically, Muhal Richard Abrams' "Two Over One" might be the most straight ahead piece of the whole set, though it retains a unique stamp in Sorey's drum part, which plays across the toms a lot. 

The album closes with "REM Blues," which Duke Ellington brought to the Money Jungle session with Max Roach and Charles Mingus in 1962. It only appears on the CD and streamed versions, which makes a strong case for hearing the album in that format. The downhome groove of the song, with an appropriately loose quality in the band, feels like the ideal way to end the album. It has a familiar, lived-in quality to it, but it doesn't settle for being a simple homage to the master. This version is just as much about Sorey, Diehl and Brewer as it is about Duke.

For someone so committed to developing his own compositional voice and getting his own work out to the public, Sorey took a bold leap in trying his hand at classic jazz. Not everyone could pull off such an artistic gear shift. But a post-genre artist is built with that kind of flexibility. 

Monday, July 11, 2022

CD Reviews: Lisbeth Quartett - Release / Punkt.Vrt.Plastik- Zurich Concert

Lisbeth Quartett

Alto saxophonist Charlotte Greve has been involved in a number of musical projects both in her new home of Brooklyn home as well as her birthplace of Germany. (Her native country recently lauded her with the Deutscher Jazzpreis Artist of the Year award.) Her Lisbeth Quartett project began a dozen years ago back home, with five albums already to their credit. Release arrives after a five-year hiatus during which the saxophonist worked on a few other projects. 

Greve chooses her lines thoughtfully, as if she's in the midst of a deep meditation. She might not blow hard or cut loose, but she can wail, sliding easily into the upper register of her horn. Pianist Manuel Schiedel locks in with her on "Le Mistral" where both peel off rapid lines in unison with ease. Greve follows with a solo that begins in short clusters of phrases that become lines that float away gently. If her playing sometimes feel spare, she balances things with a strong, crystal-clear tone. It might contrast with the swampy inspiration for "Bayou" but that two-movement track offers one of the highlights of the album.

After launching "Bayou" with splashes across his kit, drummer Moritz Baumgärtner deliberately shifts between backbeats and offbeats during the second part of the piece, to keep things unsettling. In "Arrow" bassist Marc Muellbauer practically solos beneath Schmiedel's piano solo, which pushes the energy along and without making things sound too busy.

The loose, flowing quality of the Lisbeth Quartett sometimes evokes Paul Motian's work as a leader, an observation I noticed on Greve's album with Vinnie Sperrazza and Chris Tordini. This comes in to play during "Full Circling" where Greve repeats a series of circular five-note lines as the rhythm section unfolds, piano and bass eventually joining her

"Outro" closes the album with the saxophonist alone, her lines echoing off a mountain top behind her. (Could it be a siren call to ECM? The group would sound right at home on that imprint.) It's a fitting sign-off but much like the title track, which precedes it, there feels like something more could have come from the group - more of a climax or, to extend the meditation idea, more insight as a result of that reflection. Nevertheless, the time away has done nothing to keep these four from developing strong interactions, which often feel gentle on the surface, but driving and intense beneath the surface.

Zurich Concert

Punkt.Vrt.Plastik started out as a 2018 album by Kaja Draksler (piano), Petter Eldh (bass) and Christain Lillinger (drums). But two albums later, it's safe to say that the album title has become synonymous with this band of feisty European players. I've listened to a bit of their other two albums in a noble but futile attempt to keep up their label's vast output. Hearing the live Zurich Concert set indicates that it's time to go back and do a dive into their previous releases. The fire started onstage at unerhӧrt!-Festival provided the perfect blend of manic Euro free improv, along with the knack at keeping a groove somewhere at the heart of it.

"Body Decline - Natt Raum" (two separate compositions by Eldh, played together) presents a good example of the trio's cohesion. Draksler begins slowly in leaps up the keyboard and eventually Eldh starts pedaling a steady line. When Lillinger joins in with a ride cymbal groove, punctuated by a fast set of rolls, the pianist begins twirling over them until all three of them finally come together in a section that isn't quite 4/4. The way they play, it sounds like they're not even sure of a time signature but they're having fun tripping up over it. The sense of esprit de corps can be heard more apparently in other tracks on the album, when members of the band burst out in a laugh in the middle of a performance.

The speed and visceral feeling of the music might account for the first part of the band's moniker, as they feel like a punk trio. Tight editing makes everything run together like a suite, not even leaving space for applause. All three compose individually for the group, with Lillinger submitting more than half of the album. Moods vary with each piece, ensuring that the band never stays on one idea long enough to wear it out, not do they embark on any Cecil Taylor-esque excursions for too long either. 

To that end, it should be noted how distinct Draksler's performance sounds throughout the album. Even at her freest, she knows exactly where she wants her fingers to land. At several moments during the set, she gets a sound out of her piano that resembles bells, with pitches bending slightly. Equal mention should be given to Eldh too, who is equally versed in jerky tense lines ("Nuremburg Amok") and angular leading lines created when Draksler feeds him chords ("Amnion"). 

All the compositions on Zurich Concert appeared on both of their previous albums, but as Alexander Hawkins states in the liner notes, things transpired onstage that were much different than what happened in the studio. This is a great place to start for those who haven't heard the trio before. 

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

CD Review: Miles Okazaki - Thisness / David Virelles - Nuna

It's been a while since I've written about releases from the Pi Recordings label. 2021 was an especially fruitful year for Pi as it marked its 20th anniversary and released albums by Henry Threadgill (the first artist released on the label back in '01), Snark Horse and Steve Coleman. The Snark Horse release was a six-disc set by the duo of keyboardist Matt Mitchell and drummer Katie Gentile, along with many friends. That, and the other two artists' work were pretty intriguing efforts that involved some head-scratching and deep listening, the qualities I've come to expect from the label. The following albums are much more recent though they both came out a few months ago. Now it's time to put down some thoughts about the sounds on the discs.

Miles Okazaki

Miles Okazaki's last few albums for Pi (including this one) have incorporated the myth of the trickster,  a scalawag from literature who thrives on disrupting the norm and breaking taboos. Like many bands, the title of their first album, Trickster, has become synonymous with Okazaki's quartet with Matt Mitchell (piano, Fender Rhodes, Prophet-6), Anthony Tidd (electric bass) and Sean Rickman (drums). 

As a side note, different kind of trickster might have been afoot in the production of Thisness. When the disc was placed in my laptop player, all titles appeared in Chinese symbols. When translated through an online system, they all read "How to be a great office worker," or "How to become an excellent office worker." The question becomes, Is the trickster toying with us, or does Okazaki's music improve inter-office skills? 

It should be also be noted that the guitarist came up with actual titles of the four tracks after they had been recorded, all of them coming from successive lines in a poem by Sun Ra, "The Far Off Place."  The music was composed in a manner that evoked the Exquisite Corpse game that was invented by surrealists, in which one artist made a drawing and folded the paper downward so only a little bit could be seen and would give the next artist only a vague cue on how to proceed. Each artist did the same thing, leading to a work that combined several disjointed but entertaining illustrations coming together. 

The writing and the sound of the band make Thisness quite the surreal performance to drop in on. Tidd's fretless bass takes the sound back to '80s electric jazz, all slippery and tight. It's not smooth but it feels like it could be, as it blends with Okazaki's clean guitar lines, played on a Gibson ES-150 "Charlie Christian" model. Rickman often plays  his kit like he's trying to stem the tide, sounding skittery while Tidd is getting funky ("I'll build a world"). 

Like an exquisite corpse image, things change in the middle of each song, sometimes gradually, sometimes radically. What was loose and flowing at first suddenly gives way to a 4/4 groove, though Okazaki keeps things choppy before grooving in his own way ("In some far off place"). Rickman sets up a beat in some hard-to-pin-down cluster that seems to total seven in the track "years in space" and the band makes it swing with authority. When that foundation eventually morphs, so too does Okazaki who sounds like he's switched to acoustic guitar.

Despite that fact that a lot happens in all four of these tracks, the music never sounds complex for complexity's sake. Even when Mitchell snakes in on a keyboard countermelody or sounds emanate from Okazaki's "robots" which are programmed to join the improvisation, the music has an organic feeling to it. When the final track, "and wait for you," folds up with barely a climax, it feels like a conversation that could have continued on, in great detail.

David Virelles
(Pi Recordings) see above or

David Virelles compiled a list of 35 pianists in the liner of Nuna that inspired him to create the 16 tracks. The roster starts with Johann Sebastian Bach and ends with Geri Allen, including Ethopian pianist Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, Alice Coltrane and Vladimir Horowitz to name just a few. It's a fascinating list equaled only by the range of the music that Virelles plays on the album, largely unaccompanied. Actually the music exceeds the intrigue of the list, to be honest.

The Cuban-American pianist doesn't single out any of his predecessors for a direct tribute, realizing that would oversimplify things. There are elements in many of the pieces that come from them, a flourish here, a percussive attack there, a low chord resonating thanks to the damper pedal. The overall effect of the music sounds both infectious and challenging, where the source becomes secondary to where Virelles takes the music.

"Spacetime" starts out not at the piano but with the marímbula, a wooden box with metal keys which is often used in Cuban changüí music. It kicks things off boldly, while emphasizing the percussive quality of the instrument Virelles typically plays. Among the 14 originals, two tracks come from composers in Santiago de Cuba. While the bright melody of "Cuando Canta El Cornetín" sounds like it might be an interpretation, it also has the feeling of a Bach invention.  "Germania" has a similar feeling. Percussionist Julio Barreto joins Virelles on three tracks, adding more nuances to a set already full of them. His entrance in "Ignacio Villa" - halfway into the piece - works as a clever move to elevate the music further.

None of the pieces on Nuna sound like spontaneous works. They all come off like compositions, some with room for improvisations but all of them well-formed. Few last more than five minutes, making the album like a vast program of what the modern pianist can do with a fertile imagination. 

For that reason, Villa should be required listening for all college freshman piano students. They don't need to learn how to play it or play "spot the influence." Instead, they should get to know it. Live in it. Ponder how Virelles came up this music. Then use their version of that process to develop their own voices.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

4LP Review - Hasaan Ibn Ali - Retrospect In Retirement of Delay: The Solo Recordings

Hasaan Ibn Ali
Retrospect in Retirement of Delay: The Solo Recordings

Stop me if you're heard this one before. Or skip ahead to the next paragraph. Normally I'm not one to get excited about Record Store Day items. Typically there is nothing available on that day that is brand new. If there is, chances are I won't be able to nab a copy in time. And I'm not fighting crowds in the wee hours of the morning to get something like that. I don't do that for estate sales (at least not now) or for pricey new things. 

But at the Illegal Crowns show (covered in the previous post), a friend reminded me of the set of newly discovered solo performances by the elusive, late pianist Hassan Ibn Ali. The music had been released digitally last November, but on Saturday, June 18 the four-record edition of the Ibn Ali set was available as part of an RSD Drop Day, when some RSD releases were made available. When I realized I had that day off from work, I decided to try my luck, not at 6:00 a.m., but around 9:30 a.m. at the Attic in Millvale. Sure enough, several copies of Retrospect in Retirement of Delay: The Solo Recordings were still available. So I grabbed it. Yes, it was pricey but it might be the best $85 I've spent on one release. And that includes The Complete Lee Morgan Live at the Lighthouse

Hassan Ibn Ali barely registers as a footnote in jazz history, at least outside of his hometown of Philadelphia. Though he was widely admired as a pianist and composer, he only released one album in his lifetime, and that one piggybacked on the established drummer who helped make it happen: The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan (Atlantic, 1965). A second album was recorded, but Atlantic shelved it when Ibn Ali was arrested on a narcotics charge. It finally saw the light of day last year as Metaphysics, a wholly unique quartet set that featured Odean Pope on tenor. Unfortunately, the pianist died 40 years prior, never living to see recognition for his playing.

Retrospect in Retirement of Delay comes as a revelation, one that could actually elevate Hasaan Ibn Ali's stature far beyond the scope of jazz critics and collectors. These solo piano performances were recorded informally by Alan Sukoenig, a friend of Ibn Ali's, between 1962 and 1965 in lounges on the University of Pennsylvania campus and at a few apartments around the city of Brotherly Love. They are to the pianist what Dean Benedetti's tapes were to Charlie Parker - except with much better sound quality (raw as it often is) and complete performances. They provide a greater understanding of a truly unprecedented player. As Matthew Shipp says in the accompanying booklet, "Here we get a full look at his poetic vision and imagination as it manifests as an alternative post-bop universe of sorts, and as a pianistic orchestral complex slab of dense beauty."

The recordings include both originals and jazz standards, which, side-by-side, work together to provide a deeper look at the pianist. Nowhere is better exemplified than the sequence of "Body and Soul" and Thelonious Monk's "Off Minor." The former lasts close to 14 minutes, with Ibn Ali unleashing chorus after chorus without any break in the flow of ideas. He seems to utilize the entire range of the piano for the piece too. "Off Minor" was one of Monk's most characteristically swinging tunes, which inverted a classic chord pattern and produced one of his most hummable melodies. Ibn Ali treats it with respect but, as Shipp points out, bends the song to his own will in a very natural way, something that doesn't always occur in a Monk cover.

Ibn Ali's percussive attack in "Sweet and Lovely" hints at another iconoclastic pianist - Cecil Taylor, who also played this tune on his debut album. Between this and some of the rapid stop-start waves that almost evoke Bud Powell (one might almost expect to hear Ibn Ali quote "Glass Enclosures" in a few spots), the pianist puts himself in league with the major players that preceded him. His torrents of notes also recall Art Tatum (his "On Green Dolphin Street" almost gets a little too heavy), as well as Monk, Powell and Taylor. It's a stature the Hasaan Ibn Ali rightly deserves. 

In reading through the rest of the booklet, penned by Sukoenig with extensive quotes from others who knew the pianist, it's hard not to feel bad for the way for the way the man born William Henry Lankford, Jr. ended up. His odd personality (these days, he might be considered on the spectrum) made it hard for him to get gigs, so he stayed at home with his parents, playing piano all day. If he went visiting friends, he often sat down at their piano and kept playing. When a fire destroyed the Lankford home, eventually taking the lives of both parents, Ibn Ali was devastated and sent to live in a home. Yet, while he was there, Odean Pope visited frequently and his friend was still coherent enough to discuss music with him. 

Too often the word "genius" is thrown around at people who do groundbreaking work that impresses others. Sometimes they get recognition, sometimes they die before a major crowd knows what they've accomplished. Retrospect in Retirement of Delay - both the music and liner notes - might lead some people to call Hasaan Ibn Ali a genius, and maybe they'd be right. But every so-called genius is likely to be a guy from the neighborhood who just happens to be really damn good at what he does. So good that another neighborhood guy named John Coltrane might pick something up from him. Forget about the accolades and just listen, because you might not be the same after you do. 

Yes. It's that good. 

PS Although if your record store doesn't have the four-record set, there are several copies for sale on Discogs as of this writing, all for a bit less than what I paid. 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Live Reports: Editrix and Illegal Crowns in PIttsburgh

Not sure why, but my activity on this blog seems to take a nosedive when June comes along. Last year, I did one post in June. In 2020, I did three. Now here it is, 16 days into the month (as I type) and this is the first activity I've done this month. Full disclosure, I have a JazzTimes assignment and there have been some family activities going on (kid off to camp for two weeks), so that's taken up time. And in less than seven days, two amazing guitarists have come to town with some great bands and I caught both of them. So before I run off to listen to a CD that I'll actually spend the night trying to unearth from the multitude of stacks around the laptop, here's my flash on those shows.

I kept my cards close to my chest about it, but Wendy Eisenberg (pictured above) came to Pittsburgh back in February and added one guitar track and two banjo tracks to the album I'm in process of recording. I really love Wendy's style so I was beyond psyched to hear that their band Editrix was coming to Pittsburgh. The trio was scheduled to come back in February, which was when Wendy was originally going to record the tracks, but the tour was cancelled at the last minute. (They came anyway a few weeks later, without the band, to do the session.)

Wendy's musical output is really varied. Some of it is closer to singer-songwriter with a warped, post-jazz approach to melody and time. Some of it as free and unhinged. The trio Editrix just rocks. In some ways, they sound a bit like early Minutemen - tense and aggressive, ready to stop or shift gears on a dime. But as good as D. Boon was, he didn't have the chops that Eisenberg has. And on top of all that  somewhat heavy thrash, there's Eisenberg's voice - high and a bit sweet, but jarring in a way that fits perfectly with the music. 

The band's sophomore release is titled Editrix II: Editrix Goes to Hell and their set at the Government Center record store (Saturday, June 11) kicked off with the title track (the second part of it the title) which in turn kicked off with Eisenberg creating the sound of a melting guitar without even using a whammy bar. It was like mutant surf guitar that stayed out in the sun too long. While Wendy wailed on guitar, Steve Cameron played some solid double stop bass lines and Josh Daniel pushed it along behind the drums. The three of them fit the well-oiled machine description, going from song to song with a barely a nod of acknowledgement from one to the others.

Their set skewed towards the tracks from the new album. But they also made room for the great thrasher "Tell Me I'm Bad," the title track to their 2021 album. Eisenberg announced a medley that would evoke Broadway (if I remember correctly) but actually combined the newer "Heiroglyphics" with last year's "Torture," the former sounding both unsettling and relaxing with whispered vocals. Sometimes when you look forward to a show, you build it up in your mind so much that the real thing can be a letdown. Not so last week. Editrix raised the bar. 

Both local openers deserve some shout-outs too. The trio Emptier started the night off with what was apparently their debut gig. If that's true, these fellas are off to a great start. They recalled a style of '90s indie rock, with guitar lines that were fairly melodic, built on single string riffs as well as chords. Vocals were tense, not in the lung-shredding way but with a sense of dynamics and drama. 

Sometimes, long-standing Pittsburghers microwaves have been a little too heavy for me, but on this night, I was ready to be mowed down by their power. Heavy guitars, sub-bass bass, some weird electronic loops going in the background, screamed vocals that felt like they actually meant something. It all hooked me in. Only the accidental feedback squalls made me head to the other room for a break. 

I wanted to look around at the vinyl selection at the store but, between bands, the attention span was just not there. I'll be back over soon.

Illegal Crowns were supposed to tour the US in June of last year. But pianist Benoît Delbecq couldn't get into the US so the remaining members of the group - Mary Halvorson (guitar), Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn) and Tomas Fujiwara (drums) - went on tour anyway, coming as close to Pittsburgh as Cleveland's Bop Stop (see photos here). But last night (Wednesday, June 15), Pittsburgh got lucky because all four members of Illegal Crowns came to City of Asylum's Alphabet City venue on just the second night of their long overdue tour.

It was clear from the start that this group was different from the other projects I've seen by some of these players, including the trio of them last summer in Ohio. Delbecq has stealthily prepared the strings of the piano using a set of small sticks with tacks in them. For the opening piece, it made the piano resonate more like a marimba. (After the set, Delbecq showed a few of us what he uses on the strings, telling up how he doesn't use metal, in part because metal on metal piano strings can cause damage.) 

Throughout the set, the music had a subdued quality too it. Bynum cut loose during a few solos, but it wasn't until the final tune of the night that the whole band really got loud. Fujiwara played at a relaxed level, using brushes frequently. Whacking was not necessary, and the approach worked for the 6/8 foundations of several tunes. There were also a couple pieces that could be considered ballads.

The group didn't back announce any titles, so I can't connect the set to any particular tunes. I could've taken some extra steps to get details, but the unknown quality felt right the way it was. There were some moments where things began to take off, like when Halvorson added a skittery solo later in the set. Delbecq approximated gamelans in another tune where Bynum's cornet and Halvorson's strings played lines together than went against the "vamp" that the other two were laying down. 

After the set, I picked up the band's The No-Nosed Puppet album on RogueArt (it was the first time I've ever seen RogueArt vinyl). In the album's liner notes, guitarist Joe Morris says, "I could listen to one minute [of the album] over and over and still find things that I didn't hear before." Here's right. On my second listen today, I heard things that I didn't pick up on the first time. (Which is why, as I feel I state in every review, it's important to keep coming back to albums rather than expecting to have it all revealed on the first spin.) In a similar way, last night there was a whole lot to take in - new sound combinations, new ways of interacting, new compositions. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

CD Review: Tomas Fujiwara's Triple Double - March / Brandon Seabrook - In The Swarm

Tomas Fujiwara's Triple Double

It's no exaggeration to say that Tomas Fujiwara wrote the book on two guitar/two brass/two drums music. But that's directly related to the fact that there wasn't such a book written prior to Triple Double's self-titled debut in 2017. The group charted territory that explored the possible combinations of players in duos and trios with an array of sonic results.

Since that release, the band (Fujiwara and Gerald Cleaver on drums; Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook on guitar; Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet) has grown from a first-time blend of like minds to a group that, through Fujiwara's writing, has figured out the best ways to bring those voices to together. 

The music on March seems to be based as much on the written work as much as the very distinct improvisations that all the musicians will produce. "Wave Shake and Angle Bounce," to offer a good example, lets everyone cut loose at the start. Seabrook is up front, though that perspective could be all relative. The theme does sound like a march, with Halvorson bending notes while the brass blows passages behind her. Eventually the lines are again blurred between who is actually soloing or whether it's a group improvisation. Then the guitars revert to a rhythmic role, so as not to get in anyone's way.  

On their debut, each guitar/horn/drum trio was split between the two channels, making it a little easier to tell who was doing what. Not so this time. Of course, it's easy to tell Halvorson's hollowbody tone and bent pitches from Seabrook's quasi-psychedelic wailing, which starts to sound like Sun Ra's electric keyboard in reverse ("The March of the Storm Before the Quiet of the Dance"). Bynum and Alessi can sometimes be more of a challenge. though Bynum is likely the gruff one of the two. 

Cleaver and Fujiwara occasionally get into a friendly tussle but they also avoid excessive clatter and instead feel like one large trap kit, powering the music. While "Docile Fury Ballad" does not live up to its name until the final minutes of echo-heavy guitars, "Silhouettes In Smoke" does feel docile, with Fujiwara moving to vibes that work beautifully with layers of melody from the trumpet and cornet.

The only let down of March comes with "For Alan, Part II." Like its forerunner on the debut, the track features Fujiwara and Cleaver in a duet that pays tribute to Alan Dawson, who had been the former's teacher. Part one included audio excerpts of Dawson giving pointers to young Tomas, but Part Two is all drums. And it goes on for 17 minutes. Interesting layers of traps appear in the piece, such as when a steady pulse exerts itself and doesn't seem to be the work of either drummer. When the duo reaches a lull around the seven-minute mark, it feels like that might have been a good time to stop because the remainder lacks a strong dynamic push. "For Alan, Part II" comes at the end of the album so it doesn't disrupt the flow of a strong album.

Brandon Seabrook
In The Swarm
(Astral Spirits)

Oddly enough, the last time Triple Double was reviewed on this blog, it was paired with another album that included Brandon Seabrook. This time, Album Number Two features 2/6 of Triple Double: the guitar slinger - and banjo slinger on a few tracks - and Cleaver. The album might be credited to Seabrook but Cooper-Moore and Cleaver contribute just as much to the session, and could just as easily equal top billing.

Throughout the album Cooper-Moore, who handles low end bass parts on his hand-crafted Diddley Bow, and Cleaver, on drums, function in a unique way as a rhythm section. While Seabrook plays freely on his own, the other two sound simultaneously like they're in step with each other and splitting apart at the same time. The effect creates an interesting pulse to the music that is built on flexibility. 

All the music was created spontaneously by the trio, but Seabrook edited them into "songs." Cleaver also added some electronics. The post-production work adds a level of intrigue to the flow, such as a section in the title track when two additional banjo tracks - one in each channel - compliment the strings flailing away in the center. 

Throughout the album, the mood shifts from ambient to free skronk to no wave. The latter style is felt in "Seething Ecitations," in which the opening rumbles could actually be distorted voices or drop-tuned, trashy guitars. "Subliminal Gaucheries" begins and concludes with some terrestrial drones, abetted by sustained notes courtesy of a bowed banjo. As things unfold, it sounds like a couple different songs are spilling onto one another, but the feeling has a sound not typically associated with Seabrook - beauty. 

But it wouldn't be a Seabrook album without some serious mayhem, and the feral banjo strumming in "Adrenaline Charters" delivers plenty of that. In between, the trio creates some free psych-funk ("Vibrancy Yourself") and closes the album with 69 seconds that captures them rocking out in their own way ("Of The Swarm").As a final statement, the track seems to imply, "Tune in next time. There's more where that came from."