Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Steve Coleman & 5 Elements at Fulton Street Collective

On Monday night I got down to Fulton Street Collective for Steve Coleman and 5 Elements [Coleman (as) Jonathan Findlayson (trpt) Kokayi (v) Anthony Tidd (b) Sean Rickman (d)]. It's somewhere I've been meaning to check out for a while now and it's a nice space. It was good to be close to the action and acoustically the room was ok - the horns sounded great but the electric bass lacked a bit of clarity... but my ears adjusted to it. This was the second time I had heard this lineup (last time was at Constellation) and like then, it was an enjoyable evening. Actually, I may have enjoyed last night a bit more. They played one long set - almost 2 hours in length mostly consisting of pieces strung together without rest. At times the music drifted a little (or maybe it was my mind drifting) but I didn't really mind, possibly due to the trance/ritualistic/cyclic vibe they generated. Kokayi is a great fit for the group and it seems Coleman's tone gets richer each time I've heard him (four times now). He's been in town for most of April, and had I been more organized I could have got along to a lot more than this one night. Hopefully Coleman fans made the most of it.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

And so it continues

Now that digitizing the CDs has almost wrapped up, I decided it was about time to restore a little order. Maybe one day they'll be in strict alphabetical order, but for now they are clumped together in varying ways - a pile of soprano players, a stack of solo sax albums, NZ jazz albums, and grouping artists' albums together (Paul Bley, Lee Konitz, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Yusef Lateef and Sonny Rollins form a pile, Ran Blake, Monk and David Liebman form another etc.). My progress was thwarted when I ran out of space saver sleeves, so things will change as I continue to rehouse discs in jewel cases and multi-disc folders (the latter made it easier when moving but I find I don't listen to the discs as much as the ones on the shelf).

Accompanying me while I sorted out the mess was Some Time (Wout Gooris Trio plus Hayden Chisholm & Erwin Vann), Dream Flight (Liz Gorrill ..aka Kazzrie Jaxen), Arnold Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire" (Christine Schafer & Solistes De L'ensemble Intercontemporain) Bela Bartok's "Concert for Orchestra (Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Fritz Reiner) and Mingus Plays Piano.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Some pics from NYC

Downtown Music Gallery
A fruitful visit to Downtown Music Gallery
Zurcher Gallery
Evan Parker & Ned Rothenberg at Z├╝rcher Gallery, April 5 2018
Punjabi Deli strikes again
Troost bar
TJ Maiani (d) Michael Brownell (b) Nick Lyons (as) at Troost, Greenpoint, April 8 2018
Yonkers Brown Ale

Saturday, March 31, 2018

NZ Jazz: Chris Mason-Battley Group - Dialogos

Chris Mason-Battley Group - Dialogos (Rattle)
New Zealand Jazz Rattle Records
Chris Mason-Battley (ts/ss/ewi) David Lines (piano) Sam Giles (bass) Stephen Thomas (drums/loops)

I had no idea what to expect from this album. Many years ago I heard Two Tides from the CMB Group (also on Rattle) but it didn't make much of an impression on me. This time around there are exploring compositions by John Psathas. And although I'm not familiar with the compositions, this was the kicker for me to pick up Dialogos – contemporary jazz group interpreting contemporary classical compositions. I can't say my unfamiliarity with the compositions lessened the listening experience for me - just take the music at face value and away you go. Similarly, I'm not really familiar with the musicians involved, so once again the (almost) clean slate ruled the day (or month in this case).

There is a nice sense of space across the album. This contrasts/compliments the (at times) busy drums, which are featured throughout. The chops-heavy, busy playing, while creative, didn't appeal to me. Along with Mason-Battley, Thomas is the dominant solo voice, but I felt that he could have backed of a little without sacrificing his contribution. Rhythm is a unifying force across the album. As Mason-Battley stretches out on “Calenture Reprise: Dialogos,” the underlying rhythm from the rest of the band keeps things grounded.

Although my preference is for acoustic, the electric bass fits in to the group sound well. Occasionally I thought things got a little muddy, but then I'd listen again and didn't notice it. If anything, the sum is greater than the parts. There is a definite band sound that I find stronger or more appealing than the individuals. Dynamics are often neglected in jazz performance, but the CMB Group harness them across the album to great effect (and not just in that “building to a climax” kind of way). Likewise, there is plenty of textural variety throughout the album. These two elements added plenty of strength to the performance and kept my ears primed.

The overall mood is dark, brooding and perhaps, at times, introspective. With all that is going on here at the moment maybe it wasn't the right month to pick this album, and as a result I probably haven't listened to Dialogos as much as some of the other albums in this listening project to date.

If you are after a swinging jazz album, you'd be best to look elsewhere, but the exploratory playing provided plenty of surprises and resulted in stimulating listening this month. I wouldn't hesitate recommending Dialogos for those looking for something a little different in the New Zealand jazz discography. Plus, fans of John Psathas would be well advised to hear where his compositions can go in the hands of improvisers. Perhaps it's time to cast fresh ears on Two Tides

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Digitizing the CD Collection

I'm not sure why it has taken me this long, but I'm finally getting around to digitizing my CDs. A work in progress, but well on the way. I'm using Fre:ac which seems to be doing the job, although plenty of discs don't register in the database so there is the slightly painful process of adding artist, album and song info. If anything it has been a nice way to survey the library and listen to a few things that caught my eye or haven't had airtime for a while.

Some of last week's listening featured tracks from John Surman - Westering Home (mostly the soprano tracks), Gil Evans - Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions (for the Steve Lacy tracks, but there's plenty for Cannonball fans too), Sonny Rollins - Complete Live at the Village Gate 1963 (I still feel his 60s work is overlooked), and Frank Gratkowski - Artikulationen (although known for his use of "extended" techniques, I really enjoy his clean tone and line playing).

On Saturday I had these three keeping me company - the youthful exuberance of Nils Wogram's Root 70, Max Roach's ever-relevant  We Insist! and Ornette Coleman's Virgin Beauty, which I hadn't listened to in about a year when I was considering playing the title-track in a solo performance (I went with "Beauty is a Rare Thing" instead).

I'm not sure how many I have left to go (nor how many I have done... or how many I have in total) but the end is now in sight.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

NZ Jazz: Mark de Clive-Lowe – First Thoughts

My search for replacing my long-lost copy of Mark de Clive-Lowe's Vision is ongoing, but along the way I have managed to pick up a couple of albums from the short-lived Tap Records - most recently Kiwi Jazz Tracks (via England), and prior to that, First Thoughts (via China), which has been accompanying me this past month.
NZ Jazz Tap Records
Perhaps I'm a stick-in-the-mud, but I'm not much of a fan of the groove/dance/nu-jazz/hip hop/house/jazz thing. That's what de Clive-Lowe is best known for and as result I really haven't kept that close an ear on his career. But I am keen to acquaint myself with his acoustic work.

Recorded in 1997, I guess you could place First Thoughts somewhere in the post-Herbie/Bill/McCoy etc. contemporary piano trio tradition. Not music I listen to all that often, so the ears have had a re-fresh this month (and in many ways that one of the things I wanted to get from this listening project). The trio of Mark de Clive-Lowe (p) Cameron Undy (b) Nicholas McBride (d) have a really well-balanced, unified sound.

His arrangement of the Japanese traditional song “Sakura Sakura” bookends the album – opening with solo piano and closing with the trio. It's a nice touch that rounds outs the album. There's also an arrangement of “O-Edo Nihonbashi” which features a particularly enjoyable dialogue between the bass and piano. The two combine melody and drama quite nicely.

The slinky swing of “Dialogue” almost acts as a mid-album interlude. It's attributed to all three performers and brought to mind Herbie Hancock's album Inventions and Dimensions (I'm not sure why!). It's a short piece that left me wanting more.

A couple of things always seemed to catch my ear. The “hook” played in unison by the bass and piano in the melody of the title-tune - I caught myself humming this phrase on more than one occasion this past month. Another was the use of octaves at the end of Sting's “When Angels Fall.” I'm not that familiar with Sting's work so I listened to his recording to give me a little more perspective. I can see the appeal of taking this tune and improvising on it. The trio raise the tempo a little but it works.

If I had to single out a favourite track, I'd probably go with “The Walking.” Collective improvisation leads into the melody with plenty of energy and interaction throughout.

First Thoughts is nicely put together with enough variety to things keeps the 45 minutes moving along. I haven't picked an album for March just yet, but stay tuned for more.

You can read more on Tap Records over at Audio Culture.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Miles Davis Quintet Prestige Sessions

Miles Davis – The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions

Maybe inspired by giving the Jimmy Giuffre 3 a or three spin a couple of weekends ago, last week I decided to revisit more music I hadn't listened to for a long time.

As an aspiring jazz musician it's pretty hard to pass by these recordings, and I definitely spent a fair amount of time with Cookin', Relaxin', Workin' and Steamin' – and of those I'm probably most familiar with Relaxin.' Over the years there's been the odd track here and there, but it's been a while that I've sit down and listened to them from start to finish. This set also includes The New Miles Davis Quintet (that I'm less familiar with) and a disc of live material (that is new to me but I only gave it a single run this week).

Phrasing, time feel, space, economy, conciseness, continuity – Miles' playing has an immediacy I find hard to resist. The way he plays the melody on “Diane” (love the sound of Philly Joe 's cymbal behind Miles), his solo break on “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” the bubbly feel of his longer lines on “Oleo” (PC is totally on here too), the swinging simplicity of “Trane's Blues” and this open horn tone on “Woody'n You.” Sometimes I feel Miles overdoes the harmon mute. Aside from his great tone on the open horn it would have been nice to hear him use other style mutes. But this could be one of the disadvantages of listening to a box set I guess.

As before, I'm not really struck by Coltrane's playing on these recordings. Dare I say that, on the earlier tracks at least, in comparison to Miles, he sounds labored (things pick up a bit on “Four” and “Salt Peanuts” “Airegin”). Although, as usually happens when I listen to Coltrane, I warm a little to his playing throughout the week. But for me, it still misses the mark. And how about his blend with Miles on the head of “Stablemates”?... the intonation gives the piece an interesting vibe. But Coltrane is the foil to Miles, and the contrast is part of what makes Miles' playing so effective. Would it work as well if it was a trio with P.C and Philly Joe? (Actually I think it would.... why didn't they do that?!)

Garland has his moments “Oleo” sounds like he's channeling Lennie Tristano (there are hints on “Well You Needn't” too). And his playing (comping and solo) on “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” is on point. I didn't remember Garland's chord solos - “There Is No Greater Love”, “Something I Dreamed Of Last Night” and “When Lights Are Low” - and in general, I preferred them to his line playing. So while he never really grabbed me as a soloist, his comping is an important component of the overall band sound and he locks in well with Chambers and Jones.

In general, during the piano and tenor solos I found my concentration moving towards the bass and drums. This week has been a reminder of how much I enjoy Philly Joe's playing (had I forgotten....?)
Philly Joe's tone enjoying it more than I remembered – the variety he gets from the cymbals and snare, and a nice deep brush sound too. And then there's the effortless flow and pop of Chambers' walking lines – they just go and go and go.

As with the Giuffre disc, I've enjoyed revisiting these recordings, and across the week it reinforced some of my earlier memories of this music. Much like before, my ear was drawn to the playing of Miles and the combination of Chambers and Philly Joe. For me, these recordings aren't ones I reach for to hear my favourite soloists (Miles being the exception), but it's the overall band sound of these recordings that hit the spot.