Wednesday, February 28, 2024

CD Review: Angelica Sanchez Nonet - Nighttime Creatures

Angelica Sanchez Nonet
Nighttime Creatures

Angelica Sanchez says she composed the music on Nighttime Creatures for the eight musicians that join her on the album and it definitely sounds that way. There are many tracks where the musicians seem to play their personalities. In the multi-part "Astral Lights of Alarid," everyone is used for distinct voicings in the theme, after they create a series of diminished chords with Sanchez's piano. The title track begins with a series of crescendos where half the horns answer the other half as the melody connects. Michaël Attias (alto saxophone), Ben Goldberg (contra alto clarinet) and Chris Speed (tenor saxophone, clarinet) stand out distinctly in one channel while Thomas Heberer (quarter-tone trumpet) and Kenny Warren (cornet) respond in the other channel. If anything is hard to discern, it might be the difference between the two brass instruments.

Even if Sanchez issn't exactly pulling a Duke Ellington, building her parts around specific musicians, the scope of her writing still has unique ebbs and flows to it. "Wrong Door For Rocket Fuel" begins with a three-way melody from Attias, Goldberg and either Heberer or Warren. The way they layer on each other still provides plenty of space to keep their parts distinct. "Land Here" starts free, with everyone waking up to the sound of Sanchez's jaunty playing. This continues for over three and a half minutes until a tight theme takes shape. Once again, they trade off, half of them playing sustained notes to shorter ones from the other half. 

Throughout the album Goldberg and Attias get a big cut of the solo space. Highlights include the former weaving around Sanchez's chords in the title track, and the latter engaging drummer Sam Ospovat in a duet during "Ringleader." Guitarist Oscar Tamez straddles incisive comp parts and quick solo space. Bassist John Hébert gets some room for double stops during a reworked version of "Tristeza," a piece by Chilean composer Armando Carvajal.

With Sanchez's skill at writing for specific players, it comes as a surprise that her interpretation of Duke Ellington's "Lady of the Lavendar Mist" comes up a bit short. While nothing feels wrong about it, and she again scores it well, the tune, which dates back to Duke's late '40s era, feels a little tranquil compared to the rest of the album. 

Nevertheless, Nighttime Creatures presents a strong evidence of how Sanchez's writing skills are creating a unique body of work.

Monday, February 19, 2024

CD Review: Jeremy Udden - Wishing Flower

Jeremy Udden
Wishing Flower

Saxophonist Jeremy Udden's albums, with groups like Plainville, seem to might have taken inspiration from both jazz and post-rock. The alto saxophonist clearly brings the melodic and improvisational perspective to his work from the former category. From there, he has often rendered his ideas in spare, very deliberate songs, which recall the slow-core bands of the past two decades. Space is often left wide-open in the rhythm section and even in Udden's own alto work; sometimes his minimal choice of notes and use of middle and lower range of his horn might make it hard to tell if he plays alto or tenor. 

The simplicity of the arrangements have frequently created some enchanting music. Much of the Plainville catalog could double as soundtracks for films of travels down long Americana highways. Udden skillfully imples that the destination plays second fiddle to the actual journey. 

Wishing Flower continues in that vein, although the inspiration to this album is decidedly urban. The music was inspired by walks with his daughters through their neighborhood of Brooklyn, taking in site of dandelions growing through sidewalk cracks, earning them the designation of "wishing flowers." While Plainville included guitarist/banjoist Brandon Seabrook and keyboardist Pete Rende, this album features a different quartet of longtime friends: Ben Monder (guitar), Ziv Ravitz (drums) and Jorge Roeder (bass).  

The production of Wishing Flower is very dry, with no echo or sustain. This benefits the band in most cases. Ben Monder never needs excessive volume to state his case. In "Pendulum," he sets fire from his corner of the room, as the rest of the band interacts in a vamp that might have gotten lost in a heavier production. The gentle "Lullaby" feels like a Paul Motian piece, moving gently in a free time.  

In addition to his alto, Udden switches to Lyricon for a few tracks. This 1970s electronic wind instrument is associated with recordings by Steely Dan, Michael Jackson and Weather Report, which should give an idea of how it sounds: sometimes intriguing (it frequently takes a moment to realize it's not an effects-heavy guitar), a little dated and something of a novelty. It fits in the funky lilt of "1971" in which Udden pulls a weird solo out of it. In "Car Radio" the instrument plays into the song's laidback feel perhaps a bit too much. Here, the production hampers the delivery a little; Ravitz seems to be laying down a groove by bashing away but the overall hit doesn't quite come across.

To close the album, Udden picks a tune far removed from his genre, though not from his mood: "Fade Into You," the 1993 dreamy, psych-folk hit by Mazzy Star. Already a slow song, Roeder plays the four-chord vamp at tempo that's barely awake. His bandmates take liberties around him, so Mazzy Star fans might only recognize the tune through close scrutiny. Udden plays the melody on Lyricon. Monder starts out sounding like cars hissing past on a highway and ends up stealing the show by the second verse. Eventually, the Lyricon transforms into something like an ornery clavinet, rising up without exactly disturbing the languid core of the tune. It's a successful and rather bold interpretation, though it can leave you wondering what might have happened had Udden switched over to alto at some point. 

Although some tracks on Wishing Flower could have benefited from a little more spring in the step, Jeremy Udden continues to create sonic landscapes that can motivate listeners to stop and appreciate things in the cracks like the dandelions. Why he hasn't been pulled into the world of film soundtracks is anyone's guess.