Saturday, November 10, 2018

CD Review: Four from Out Now Recordings

Yoni Kretzmer's New Dilemma
Months, Weeks and Days

Thomas Heberer/Yoni Kretzmer/Christian Weber

Shay Hazan Quintet
Domestic Peace

Eric Plaks

(Out Now)

Out Now, the imprint spearheaded by saxophonist Yoni Kretzmer, released these four albums throughout 2018. Although several months have gone by since the music hit the streets, it's still worth talking about them, as they continue the label's track record of challenging, but quite impressive jazz.

Kretzmer brings a heightened level of intensity to a performance any time he picks up his tenor saxophone. During one solo of Months, Weeks and Days he yells in between sax wails, in the place where lesser players would simply take a breath. 

His New Dilemma project expands the scope of his work by adding cellist Christopher Hoffman and violist Frantz Loriot to the ensemble. Strings in free jazz can often result in shrill dissonance or metallic scrapes, but Loriot and Hoffman add some strong color to the music. "June 14th" starts with free frenzy but evolves like a Tim Berne piece, with cello, viola and bass (Pascal Niggenkemper) uniting in a powerful riff beneath Kretzmer and Josh Sinton, whose bass clarinet is a strong foil to the leader's tenor. This opens the second of two CDs in the set, while the previous disc ended with "June 20th," where the horns provide the drone and the strings play the melody. The music might feel dense and unrelentless but bright moments (the relatively soulful changes in "Jan 19th 2015") do exist in tandem with the heaving blowing. The cohesion of the group, rounded out by drummer Flin Van Hemmen, is astounding too.

Kretzmer is right at home on Big, which presumably was a freely improvised set, since all six tracks are credited to him, trumpeter Thomas Heberer and bassist Christian Weber. In this setting the saxophonist shows off the great range of his playing. While he can peel off some intense altissimo lines, he also contributes some smoky mid-range work, as evidenced in "Spine."

All three players are attentive listeners, creating in the moment something that sounds pre-determined ("Bait and Tackle") pushing each other towards upper levels of intensity or keeping it understated when required. The only minus with the set comes from Heberer's occasional vocalizations which probably attempt to imitate his horn but sound closer to insipid babytalk. Luckily once he stops, "Everybody in the Cemetery is Dead" becomes another spiritied three-way conversation.

Domestic Peace is the only disc of these four that wasn't recorded in the US. Bassist Shay Hazan took his group into a studio in Tel Aviv, which is also Yoni Kretzmer's birthplace. The quintet's music is a blend of tradition and free blowing, each track revealing a different approach. 

"New Year's Eve" opens the set with a slow, rubato melody. The only soloist is drummer Haim E. Peskoff who moves freely across his kit, marking a solo with dynamic pauses and thunder, thanks in part to a production that make him sound like a rock drummer. "Cycles" begins very much in the vein of Crescent-era John Coltrane before Tal Avraham takes it somewhere else entirely but reaching to the bottom of her trumpet's register for some grit.  "Hybrus," which comes in two consecutive parts begins with a free Cecil Taylor-esque romp before moving into a pedal point drone and finally a 7/4 groove, which again is driven by Peskoff's fire. Hazan doesn't put his own playing on much display here, but his compositions, solid accompaniment and, therefore, his leadership do all of that for him. 

Pianist Eric Plaks decided a few years ago to create a book of 100 themes that could be used as material for improvisations. Ideas would range from free flights to more structured approaches. At the time of Chrysalis was being assembled, he had worked out 34 such themes. Six of them appear on the disc, along with three improvisations. He is joined by Andrew Hadro (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, B-flat clarinet), Leonid Galaganov (drums) and on three tracks Evan Crane (bass). 

Without looking at the titles, it can be hard to discern the improvised tracks from the ones built on the Themes. Plaks and his crew do a good job blending the two approaches. "Ashes to Ashes" opens with a mutant boogie woogie riff, and features Hadro playing all three of his reeds. "Theme 1," based on a transcription of a Plaks solo, comes off like a thoughtful meditation, with linear changes built into it, as well a feeling that evokes ragtime. Dedicated to the late David S. Ware, "Theme 18" almost feels like a tango,, while a dedication to Cecil Taylor, "Theme 11," incorporates some of the embellishment techniques that pianist used in his '60s recordings. This Book of Themes concept is off to a strong start.


Anonymous said...

Tal Avraham is a woman, not a man :)

shanleymusic said...

Oh damn! Sorry! I’ll correct that.