Tuesday, October 31, 2017

NZ Jazz: Chisholm / Meehan / Dyne - Unwind

I first met Hayden when he toured NZ with Root 70 in 2007 and have been listening to his music since about 2003 (more on that later). Of all my friends I've written about his music the most - and I still feel a bit guarded in doing so. Going back to 1999, Norm and Paul were teachers of mine at jazz school and earlier this year while back in NZ, I got to hear them both - P.D with Jasmine Lovell-Smith, and Norm just happened to be playing a gig at the airport(!) when I was there to head back to the U.S. This series of posts is going to challenge me to write about my friends, teachers and associates more than I have in the past. 

New Zealand jazz
Unwind is quite the contrast to the Space Case discs from last month. Following the initial spin I played word association and scribbled down some words that came to mind: space; warmth; quiet; understated; open; cozy; subtle; intimate; sparingness; dark; unhurried; joy; communicative; and intense.

The three originals from Haden have been explored before in the alto/piano/bass setting. “Fly,” “Inebriate Waltz” and “Tinkerbell's Whim” all appeared on Breve with the latter named “Tinkerbell Swing”) and “Inebriate Waltz” is also on Star Shepherd. One thing I haven't done this month is give some comparative listening to the match-ups of Dyne/Meehan, Penman/Taylor and Kaufmann/Eldn alongside Hayden. Norm contributes seven pieces and “Nick Van Dijk” (Hi Nick!) seemed very familiar to me. I think it's from watching the video of the trio that John Fenton posted on his blog late last year as I don't recall hearing another recording of it. There are some strong melodies here and later in the month I started working on “Free Motian” and “S.T.B.”

It's always interesting what pops out as you listen passively - “Edward” and “Free Motian” were the two melodies that initially drew my ear. And there's phrase from Hayden's improvisation on “Nick Van Dijk” (at 1.54) always seemed on leap out at me and now I catch myself waiting for it. Parts of the melody (the bridge) of “View of the Moon” remind me a little of “Ballad of the Hurting Girl” from Norm's Small Holes In The Silence (also on Rattle).

One of the keys to the album is the nuanced playing and subtleties – Paul's upper register playing during the melody of “Beekeeper,” or the way Norm uses a pedal tone to generate some gentle propulsion during the out head of “Free Motian.” Hayden's Basie-esque riff behind Paul's bass solo on “S.T.B” (a live track to end the album) and Norm's intro to his solo on the same piece. Some of these examples last only a matter of seconds but are vital nonetheless. On a mostly ballad outing such as this, textural variety can make a big difference. The piano/alto duo of “Free Motian,” the brief solo sax opening up “Tinkerbell's Whim” the bass/alto duo on “View of the Moon,” and Hayden's comping behind Paul on “S.T.B” provide enough variety to keep the ears fresh. Oh, and the counter point on the out head of “S.T.B” is a nice touch too (the melody of this tune brought to mind Bernie McGann).

The trio brings some laid-back churchy blues to Hayden's arrangement of Robert Schumann's “Sei Gegrusst Viel Tausendmal.” I'm enjoying the way Paul's interactive lines breath with the soloists.
Following the melody, “Unwind” momentarily features the tangled lines of dueting alto and piano before the bass reenters. This tune has bit of a different vibe to the other pieces – maybe a bit darker or starker (again, a nice bit of variety). But that feeling is more apparent during the melody statements than in the improvisations. It's nice hearing the melody used as a tool for accompaniment. I could hear this tune reimagined as a wilder out-of-tempo free-jazz thing too.

A positive vibe prevails on “Edward” which features communicative collective playing and swell to the accompaniment thats builds throughout the song. 3.28 and 4.20 were another couple of phrases/sound bites that caught my ear.

On the mid-tempo pieces like “Tinkerbell's Whim” and “S.T.B” Norm's lines have a nice singing quality to them. His playing on the latter has some nice twists and turns and use of space/phrasing that I'm digging. Paul's sound really pops on “View of the Moon” and “S.T.B” as he digs in for some walking and he plays some lovely counter melodies on “Beekeeper” and the title track.

Hints of Hayden's Johnny Hodges roots come through in “Inebriate Waltz.” The breath is very much part of Hayden's sound and while some players try to hide air sounds (or it is taught out of them), Hayden embraces it. At the six-minute mark he links two phrases with air – not something I hear people doing.

Unwind, lets you do just that – highly recommended. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Straight Horning: Jan Garbarek - Folk Songs

Jan Garbarek (ss/ts) Charlie Haden (b) Egberto Gismonti (g/p)

Folk Songs (ECM) is the trio's follow-up to Magico (both recorded during 1979) and four of the six pieces feature Garbarek on soprano (albeit of the curved variety....I'm being a little flexible with the “Straight Horning” title today). A few years back I made an effort to check out a fair amount of Garbarek's work, and almost without exception I preferred his playing from the 70s. Garbarek's distinctive tone (perhaps even unique) was the thing that struck me when first listening to him many years ago. It's very easy to pick and that alone is worthy enough reason to give him a listen. Considering soprano is his second horn makes it all the more impressive. And judging from the more recent things I have heard (mostly via concert footage on Youtube), it's still fairly well intact.

ECM Folk Songs
It's a bold sound, resonant, full and the upper register can have a laser-like focus at times. While revisiting Folk Songs this week I started noticing how he uses tone to maintain energy (on both ballads and up tempo pieces). The attack, buzz, vibrato and dynamics have an urgency to them and gives him the freedom to use space and not overplay while still maintaining energy and momentum. “Cego Aderaldo” is a pretty good example or the held notes on “Equilibrista” or the title track.

The influence of Ornette Coleman comes through in his soprano playing but I don't hear it as much in his tenor playing (but that could be because my listening has focused on his soprano work). It is hinted at in his phrasing, melodic material and certain intervals. Maybe it is most apparent on “For Turiya” (side note: the opening of the piano solo on this track always seems to make me think of Mike Nock). “The Windup” from Belonging with Keith Jarrett is another example of the Ornette influence on Garbarek too.

I like the way the notes are almost smeared together on uptempo lines on “Equilibrista.” At times this track brought to mind David Liebman but I think it had to do the post-Coltrane type content of the lines rather than the articulation/smeared phrasing (or maybe it's just because Lieb is playing in town next weekend and he was on my mind).

Haden plays great and there are times when I listen to this album just to focus on his playing. As usual he makes a great study for using the minimum to the maximum.
I'm making an effort to keep up the weekly straight horning post. I'm yet to decide on what soprano album will be the next to get some attention, but stay tuned for more.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Straight Horning: Tony Malaby at Constellation

Anthony Cox JT Bates
Due to computer error we're running a little late this week...... a week late.
The trio of Tony Malaby (ts/ss), JT Bates (d) and Anthony Cox (d) were at Constellation on Saturday night (7th) and it was during the set break that I decided to scribble (well, type on the phone) some notes for a straight horning post.

While I've been to Constellation many times, this was the first time I've been in the smaller of the two rooms. It seats about half as many people and was about 3/4 full (maybe 45 or so for the first set ....  not bad considering that there were less than 10 not long before the scheduled kick off). Acoustically it was pretty good, but maybe not quite as nice as the larger space.

I heard Malaby live a couple of times several years ago (with mixed results), and although I've heard a little from him on soprano, I've always considered him a tenor player. Still, I was excited when saw the soprano set up last night. I didn't have to wait long for him to switch horns, and as it turned out, he pretty much split time evenly between the two horns over the two sets.

The soprano wasn't treated as "tenor up an octave" (as can be the case when soprano is the secondary horn). Malaby took advantage of the sonic differences he has on the two horns - the lighter, fleetness of soprano and the robust tenor with lush subtone. He has a well balanced soprano sound with plenty of depth and a nice crisp edge. Add to that the bends, growls, altissimo, multiphonics, dynamics, air sounds and a bit of "sax can moo" (as Lacy would say) - it's a very flexible approach to the horn.

Just as his sound had variety so too did the improvisations - melodic and lyrical, dense and rapid, and textual/sound oriented playing kept things from getting bogged down. There was plenty of ebb and flow throughout the sets and the textural and dynamic elements were important factors.

I haven't followed Malaby's work that closely, and maybe he's playing soprano more these days, but it's rare that soprano as a second horn hits me the way it did on Saturday night. I could have listened to Malaby on the straight horn all night .

Friday, October 13, 2017

Pharoah's Tale

Martin Williams profiles Pharaoh Sanders for the May 16, 1968 issue of Down Beat. Click on the image to view PDF of the full article. More vintage magazine articles are available here.
Down Beat Magazine

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

New Zealand Jazz Album of the Year

I recently updated the blog to include a couple of pages regarding New Zealand Jazz (see navigation bar towards the top left of the page). The first an index of my New Zealand jazz posts - the NZ Music Month posts, the NZ Jazz series I started a couple of months ago, and a few others from the blog.

The second page lists the New Zealand Jazz Album of the Year winners and finalists, and the more recent APRA Best Jazz Composition winners and finalists. I wasn't able to find all of the winners in a single list, and I thought it could be useful to have them in one place.

It's a work in progress, but things are pretty well covered going back to 1981. I only have the winners for 1981 and 1982 (and I'm not totally confident '81 is correct). I have not been able to find anything for 1989-1991 and I'm thinking that there was no jazz award during those years. Also, I find results listing the same winners for 2010 and 2011. So I could be missing a years' results or there were no awards for one of those years (or it was a combined 2010/11 award?).

I'll try and keep the pages updated and I'm always open to suggestions, corrections and additions, so please drop me line if you have any information to share.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Straight Horning: Sam Newsome - Blue Soliloquy

Originally planned for last week, this post was placed on hold due to the Coltrane birthday postThe upshot being I was able to spent a little more time with Blue Soliloquy this week.

I’ve only heard Sam Newsome live once. It was a few years ago at Smalls along with Tim Berne, Andrew Cyrille, and Ethan Iverson - a pretty interesting lineup. I think it was a one-off gig, but I really enjoyed the two sets of free improvisation (not what you really expect at Smalls) and hoped that they would make a record together. That hasn’t happened (yet!) and Newsome has continued to focus on solo recordings. But last week he posted about his upcoming release - Magic Circle, a duo with pianist Jean-Michel Pilc - and it made me reach for Blue Soliloquy.

Life Lessons from the Horn Soprano Saxophone
The first time I heard this album I was struck by Newsome’s upper registers (3rd & 4th octaves). It had been quite a while between spins, but once again it was the upper register playing that really popped out at me. He has a really full tone, with a laser-like focus, that doesn’t thin out or get overly bright as he hits the upper reaches (“Blue Beijing” "Blue Sunday"). The evenness across the entire range of the horn is a standout and I recommend soprano players to check him out - if they haven't already (even if they aren’t investigating the upper register). An added bonus of a solo recording is that it can allow you to hear nuances that may have been hidden by an ensemble.

I like how Newsome presents techniques in way a that may be a bit more palatable to more mainstream audiences. Multiphonics (“Blue Swagger”), quartertones (“Blue Monk”), and slap tongue (“Mandela’s Blue Mbira”) are just some examples that appear in his album-long exploration of the blues. But it’s not just a string of variations of the usual 12-bar format; instead Newsome delves into various musics from around the globe as inspiration for blues exploration. Also, these techniques add plenty in terms of colour and texture, preventing the album from getting bogged down by streams of single note lines (not that this is necessarily a problem, but you have to be pretty special to pull that off of an entire solo sax album).

Sometimes I feel that Newsome’s playing is a little too “arranged.” And while it could be viewed as weakness, I’ve come to view it as adding strength to his solo recordings. It brings focus to the pieces and cuts down on the possibility of them drifting (for what it’s worth… I didn’t have this “arranged” feeling when I heard him live). The length of the pieces, 15 tracks running between 2 and 5 minutes (with only “Blue Sunday” clocking in at 7:45), makes for a program of tunes that remain on the move, and again makes the pieces quite approachable to listeners that may not be accustomed to solo recordings or the “exotic” sounds employed by Newsome.

Also on the cards last week was re-reading various chapters of Newsome's book. I tend to prefer books on jazz from the artists point of view (such as Art Taylor’s Notes and Tones, Ran Blake’s Primacy of the Ear, the Arcana series, Lacy’s Findings and some of Liebman’s books). Life Lessons from the Horn, pulls together short essays on his approach and philosophy of practicing and playing makes for some interesting reading in a very digestible form (adapted from his blog posts).

In a music where everyone struggles to “find” his or her voice, Sam Newsome definitely has one that is his own (and Life Lessons details some of that journey). If anything, Blue Soliloquy has reminded me I need to listen to more Sam Newsome. Eventually, I would like to work through some of his earlier soprano albums (such as his pre-solo work on Steeplechase), but the newly released Magic Circle will likely be my next stop.