Friday, June 28, 2019

CD Review: Nature Work

Nature Work
Nature Work

The term "nature work" comes from bass clarinetist Jason Stein. To reach a certain point in improvisation, a musician needs to shut off the conscious mind and let the subconscious take over. By seeing the subconscious as a natural expression, therefore, playing music can be considered "nature work," according to Stein. So don't let the album cover fool you. This is not pastoral music representing all creatures great and small. This is free thinking music that still knows how to swing, born on the vibrant streets of Chicago, with some influence coming from Brooklyn, Berlin and Los Angeles.

Stein and alto saxophonist Greg Ward have worked together in numerous setting in the Windy City, most recently on a tour with Mike Reed's Flesh and Bone group. Both of them composed pieces for this quartet, with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jim Black. The group itself came together for two performances earlier this year, with the recording session coming quickly thereafter. Maybe the group was just excited to document material that was so new, or maybe the comfort they felt with one another gave them the ease to really make it fly. Either way, Nature Work is full of fire.

Jim Black has always been a spastic drummer who's ready to utilize his entire kit - and random percussion artillery - at all times. "Zenith" centers around him in the theme, where his drums get punctuated by the horns instead of the other way around. Stein seems totally inspired by the drums, wailing in the upper register before Ward joins him in a new closing theme. Revis (a member of the Branford Marsalis Quartet and Tarbaby) feels right at home here, and in pieces like the free floating "Opter Fopter," where he straddles bow scrapes and dynamic plucking. When a tune requires him to keep it simple ("Cryptic Ripple"), Revis holds down the riff, until of course things go wild in the end.

Both reed players sound extra inspired, perhaps because of being in each other's company. In "Tah Dazzle," Ward doesn't lock in with the rhythm section, but he has some internal rhythmic ideas that he puts out that still blend right in with the bass and drums. When the pattern in blowing section shifts into a chord change, Stein leans hard into it, which adds to the excitement.

There are plenty of other examples of this on the album, blending uninhibited blowing and sly themes ("Hem the Jewels," "South Hempstead") as well as jerky themes that leap the forefront immediately ("The Shiver"). Considering the far-flung residences of the band members, it's hard to say when they'll reconvene, so listen to this often.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival - Prelude to a Recap

I'm going to write a whole report for Pittsburgh Current on the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, which took place last week. In the meantime, I figured I'd do a teaser with a few very Pittsburgh-centric photos from last Friday. 

Last Friday, the festival hosted a Jazz Crawl in Downtown Pittsburgh, where several venues presented local musicians during Happy Hour. The Original Oyster House - a Pittsburgh institution - hosted the Tony Campbell Quartet, with Mr. Campbell on alto saxophone, Dr. James Johnson II on piano, Tony DePaolis on bass and John Korpiel on drums. There was no better way to dig this group but to take them in while having a Famous Fish Sandwich for dinner, which is just what I did.

But there was more to the set. Fred Pugh, who is something of a catalyst around town when it comes to music events (he was the one who got me to the Crawford Grill in the early '00s and he has his own FP3 Promotions now) got up and sang "Bye Bye Blackbird" and a few others in his rich voice. It was a great way to start the weekend. After thinking about doing this for several years, I finally requested to have the whole weekend off to check out the event.