Monday, July 11, 2016

CD Reviews: Brooklyn Blowhards, Michael Bisio & Kirk Knuffke, Brian Groder Trio

"So little music, never enough time," I told myself a few days ago, while rooting around in search of a particular CD and finding two more that I wanted to play immediately. That thought epitomizes the past weekend in Pittsburgh. The Bad Plus played in town Friday night, at the family-friendly outdoor area South Park Amphitheater. (I interviewed BP's Dave King here, also.) Friday and Saturday, the Deutschtown Music Festival presents a total of 180 bands in the neighborhood for which it is named. (See the previous post for a re-cap.)

This particular entry was started about three times this weekend, with the days and times in the last 'graph rewritten about three times. Several thoughts were discarded since I elaborated on them in the Deutschtown post. Now I'll get back to the opening sentence. Since it relates to new releases, I have decided to group some recent CDs together because they have a thread that runs from the first to the second, and another one going from second to third. 

Brooklyn Blowhards

Jeff Lederer dreamed up a crazy idea for the group Brooklyn Blowhards, that ultimately sounds pretty profound: Put compositions by Albert Ayler side-by-side with traditional sea shanties. To render them appropriately, get a few horns (Lederer on tenor and soprano saxophone, Petr Cancura on tenor, Kirk Knuffke on cornet and slide trumpet, Bryan Drye on trombone), an accordionist (Art Bailey) and three drummers (Matt Wilson, Allison Miller, Stephen Larosa) who play an array of concert percussion, ship bells, chum buckets (the world needs more of those) and chains. 

Without a bass to ground the music, the group comes off like a rollicking marching band, or a more original redesign of groups like Slavic Soul Party who bring traditional folk music into the 21st century with all the original parts intact. In fact, if this octet weren't already a group of busy creative improvisers and composers on their own, they could probably make a killing by playing this music at hipster weddings all over Brooklyn. 

Ayler's "Bells" launches the album with a jolly mood, but his material is drawn largely from the Love Cry album, which included several direct, folk-like melodies. "Island Harvest," not on that album but performed live at the time, originally featured vocalist Mary Maria reciting some childlike philosophy between choruses almost like a calypso singer. Mary Larose, who sings on five tracks, fills that role here, making the best of a rather sophomoric work. She also sings on a version of "Shenandoah." Guitarist Gary Lucas (the one-time bandmate of Captain Beefheart) brings his resonator guitar to three tracks, adding to the party atmosphere. Even when things get more pensive, the percussionists maintain that festive mood, with double snare drums and thundering bass drums driving the mood.

The true test of Lederer's concept comes when traditional shanties like "Santy Anno" and "Black Ball Line" sounds like they could have come from Ayler's Live In Greenwich Village album, and when his work evokes images of seafaring gents (and dames, for that matter) hoisting the main sails. The distance between these musics suddenly doesn't sound so distant.

Michael Bisio & Kirk Knuffke
Row for William O.
(Relative Pitch)

Cornetist Knuffke, one of the Blowhards, has played with bassist Michael Bisio before. Last year, he appeared on the bassist's excellent Accortet album on Relative Pitch. On Row for William O., they're on their own, conversing in a few compositions by Bisio, an improvisation and a piece by the album's namesake, the clarinetist who has composed several modern classical compositions, following a stint with Dave Brubeck in the 1940s.

Pre-conceptions about a person connected to classical music and Brubeck fly out the window with the stop-start melody of his "Drago," which opens the album. The title track starts with a written structure that eventually leads to an unaccompanied bass solo which reminds these ears that, as much as I enjoy Bisio with pianist Matthew Shipp, a greater appreciation of his technique and writing comes across when he steps away from the individualistic pianist.

The music is grounded, not free and wild, but that nevertheless generates close listening. Sometimes Knuffke and Bisio play in an in-between place which doesn't feel like the bass is echoing the cornet. But they're not really playing on parallel plains either. "Oh See O.C." presumably, is inspired by Ornette Coleman, and this melody, with its high leaps for Knuffke in the beginning, but Bisio reshapes the scenery as they proceed, starting with a chase, scuffling up close together, then moving slower. "December," the one piece credited to both players could have been a spontaneous invention, or a starting point that they created together. It works so well among the other pieces that it's hard to uncover its origins.

Brian Groder Trio
R Train on the D Line

Trumpet-led trios can be a challenge, in terms of maintaining dynamics and momentum, but Brian Groder has proven his skill with this set-up. Reflexology (2014) was a solid album of original compositons with Michael Bisio and drummer Jay Rosen helping Groder keep things going. It was one of many albums that would have been written about here if there would have allowed.

Groder (who also plays flugelhorn) often has Bisio playing the compositions in unison or harmony with him on R Train on the D Line, the second all-original set from the trio. This arrangement occurs in both "Retooled Logic" and "Drawing in to Pull Away," with different results surrounding the music. In the former, Bisio bows a long solo, before Groder returns to go on a fast, free run and things wrap up. Rosen begins "Drawing" with solo using mallets all over his kit, building in dynamics until his comrades introduce the angular melody. Rosen also punctuates the songs with bells and cymbals, creating more excitement. In "Asterix" bass and drums go wild while Groder holds things together.

The trio is adept at this type of Ornette-ish chordless music (one track has a line that inspired me to compare it to "Peace" in my notes), but they also sound stunning when they strike a calmer pose. Long brass tones and bowed bass make "Isolating the Why" a penetrating statement, and one of the shortest tracks on the album, which leads me to believe it was written-through with no improvisation. Later in the set "Whispered Sigh" delivers a mood of tranquility.

Although Bisio played with both Groder and Knuffke, these brass players each have an approach that's hard to be pin down technically and impossible to really compare to one another. Both favor a rugged tone, but that's really where it ends. Better to just revel in the strength of their ideas at the moment.

There you have it: three album, all connected in some ways, but all very different.

No comments: