Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Michael Moore Quartet at Constellation

Saturday night was spent at Constellation. The venue's excellent programming continued with the Michael Moore Quartet. Joining the alto saxophone and clarinet of Moore were locals Josh Berman (cornet) Jason Roebke (b) Frank Rosaly (d).

There was an intimate feel musically and atmospherically. The quartet huddled together, close to the hushed audience in the darkened concert hall (my notebook was surprisingly readable when I opened it this morning). The acoustics allowed for the quartet to play quietly and clearly, though there was still plenty of clarity when the dynamic level shifted gears.

The two sets of all original material from Moore had a nice mix of freedom and form etc. Considering the material was new to 3/4 of the band they still managed to create a create a fine ensemble sound.  In particular, Moore and Berman were a pairing I would like to hear more from - their blend was superb.

I've been lucky to catch Moore in concert about half a dozen times over the last 8 or 9 years. In fact, the very first time I hear him was in concert in at the jazz festival in Wellington - a quartet with Han Bennink (off the top of my head the rest of the personnel escapes me... anyone care to fill me in?). Moore has a melodic conception and tone that a greatly admire - a player who has developed a personal approach to the instrument and to improvisation.

You can find many of Moore's recordings on his record label - Ramboy Recordings. Also, be sure to check out this playing with the ICP Orchestra and Clusone Trio.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Frank Gratkowski Trio Gestalten (JazzHausMusik 1995) Frank Gratkowski (as/b.clar) Dieter Manderscheid (b) Gerry Hamingway (d/perc)
The line up of sax/bass/drums has long been a favorite of mine. Though I am still working my way through his fairly extensive discography (there is still A LOT left to hear) Gestalten is the Gratkowski album I have listened to the most over the years.

Leaps from the sax create a “push & pull” type effect. The accompaniment features spacious playing from the bass (in some ways an eco of the sax) and minimal fills from drums. Each players’ part breathes freely, no member encroaches on the other two and everyone sticks to shorter phrase lengths.

Alongside the quite busy playing from sax and drums, the Bass is quite a contrast - almost as if he is playing a ballad and the others are up tempo. He utilizes plenty of space. Around the half way mark a slow and dirge-like section appears as the sax wails on top with the drums at his side (urgent but not over powering). The bass remains very much in touch with (not detached from) the trio - very effective. The entire range of the sax comes into play - a distorted bottom end (reverse altissimo?), right through to stratospheric whistles. A short pianissimo burn finishes things off.

A bass feature emerges from the whispers of the trio, working its way to pointed higher register sounds contrasted with bent and sliding notes. The accompaniment - key sounds and air from sax with textural rattles and accents from drums - builds until it becomes a three way dialogue about 2/3rds of the way into the piece. Some great light-toned lines quietly burst free from the sax. The finish is somewhat abrupt. 

"Con Affetto" 
A ballad featuring rich arco tones from the bass and quiet, low register counter lines from the bass clarinet. A nice, economic use of notes for the duration of the piece. Throughout, Hemingway manipulates the pitch of his drums (not a cymbal to be heard) to create a glissandi-like backing. 

"Dancing Derwish”
Urgent bass gets things underway basing his lines on a repeated figure. The intensity gradually rises as the bass clarinet enters alternating clean and distorted sounds, at times very throaty. Manderscheid's fingers really start to fly backed by some great low volume playing from Hemingway (his use of dynamics across the album is impressive). He gets some room to strut his solo playing later in the tune.
Often on this album, the continuity is such that it is difficult to separate the compositional from the improvised sections. For example: following the bass solo when bass clarinet enters, over a solid groove from bass & drums, could easily be composed. 
At 11 and a half minutes this is the longest track on the album. Most sit between four and six minutes with only one other over 10. For those of you that find longer pieces (particularly free improvisations) hard work, take note.

"Stag Rustler" 
A mysterious beginning - at times it's difficult to differentiate between the players parts. Amidst the clicking, clacking, blowing, and occasional low end rumble, a melody makes a brief. The melody retreats and the 'background' intensifies before dropping out altogether and the melody takes us out. Composed by Hemingway

Melodic microtonal playing from sax (at times producing a flute like tone quality). When I tune into the bass & drums low volume backing of the sax, I find them wonderfully in sync. A delicate, haunting ballad.

“Duck Hunt”
A piece of contrasts - starting out quiet(but busy) high register arco bass, light textural percussion and airy, vocalized sounds from sax until 3 and a half mins when alto grunting appears. The saxophone takes on an abrasive, gritty & distorted tone and the notes gather pace. The bass playing becomes more angular, sliding and stark. A wash of sound from the drums covering the whole kit - unrelenting until the seven and a half minute mark when the trio suddenly cuts down to a whisper for the final two minutes - watery breath sounds, stringy bass and scraping drums (at times mimicked by the sax).

Solitary bass clarinet opens up the piece. The use of dynamics is impressive - from barely audible to loud (not raucous). Scraped cymbals accompany with very occasional arco bass punctuations (he makes each one count). A nice wind down and finish to the album.

General observations:

Form/StructureAs mentioned above it is often difficult to distinguish the improvised from the composed. Form is an important element in Gratkowski's work and here he is playing with artists that can realize improvised structure. The compositions (4 by Gratkowski, 1 by Hemingway & 4 group improvisations) play an important part in the form also - the shape of the album as a whole. Each contain different moods, textures, intensities, tempos, densities and relationships between players.

TextureWhile Gratkowski doesn't expand his arsenal like he does on some albums (no clari/contra bass clari here) he still creates a variety of textures. Playing with clean and distorted tone, mixed articulations, dynamics, air & key sounds, smears, varied tonal color, multiphonics, microtonality etc. 
Plenty of variety from the rhythm section too. The bass uses pizzicato and arco, scratching sounds, percussive playing, string sounds, slides, bends, harmonics, pulse and non-pulse playing. The drums make use of all the sounds available on the kit, varies attack, pulse/non-pulse, rumbles, crashes, rustles, swings,busy at times but rarely overpowers the rest of the trio. 
All three make great use of space and dynamics across the album. 

Unity - A trio of 3 equal parts. As a sax player, my focus is drawn towards the horn. But everyone is on the same wave length and plays a crucial role in shaping each piece.

To my knowledge this trio only made one other album - "The Flume Factor" (I'll add it to my list) - before evolving into a quartet with the addition of Dutch trombonist Wolter Wierbos.

Nick Mazzarella Solo

Corbett vs Dempsey have hosted a number of concerts this year and I have tried to get to as many as possible. On Saturday afternoon the gallery presented a solo concert by alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella (nestled amongst artwork by Peter Brötzmann).
Brotzmann: Untitled (Landscape) 2012

The hour long set filled the gallery with Mazzarella's searing, overdriven tone containing plenty of bite and vocalized distortions (and the occasional bell chime).

Mazzarella is lightning quick around the horn and his use of trills, repeated phrases, sequences and the gallery's acoustics, created a "wall of sound" that, at times, reached near breaking point.

The opening piece, with it's wide intervals, sudden dynamic shifts and space was another example of his awareness of the room to help his notes harmonize/overlap/clash with themselves.

When his notes bent and swooped an acidic, barbed Johnny Hodges came to mind. 

I would have liked to heard him explore the quiet end of the spectrum a little more. When he did, it was particularly effective - another dimension was added to his sound and the subtleties of his pitch inflections and dynamic range were more pronounced.

Mazzarella's trio is playing at Chicago Jazz Festival Saturday 31 October 12.30pm

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Dana Hall's Black Fire

At this years Straight Ahead Jazz Camp (see my post here) Dana Hall presented an excellent lecture on the music of Andrew Hill. It was during that lecture that he mentioned this gig:

Dana Hall's Black Fire: The Andrew Hill Project 
This concert was part of the Made In Chicago: World Class Jazz Concert Series at Millennium Park.
A smaller version of the group made its debut at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival last  year. Last night the expanded group consisted of:
Dana Hall (d) Orrin Evans (p)  Geof Bradfield (ts) Justin Thomas (vibes) Clark Sommers (b) Nick Mazzarella (as) Russ Johnson (trpt) Jose Davila (trb)

A nice sized ensemble - big enough to allow plenty of variety in the arrangements and small enough to draw on the flexibility of a small group.

The group played one long set (1.5 hrs I think) that contained plenty of variation - uptempo, latin, ballads, collective improvisation, rubato sections, featured soloists.

- Not Sa No Sa (The Day The World Stood Still)
- Dusk (Dusk)
- Artemis - an original by Hall commissioned for the event.
- Dedication (Point of Departure)
- Noontide (Passing Ships)
- Catfish (Invitation) - possibly..... I may have mis-heard him announce it
- Ode To Von (Smokestack)
- Spectrum (Point of Departure)
- Symmetry (Andrew!!!)

Hall has assembled a fine group, with a nice mix of musical personalities to play the challenges of Hill's  material. Hopefully they have more opportunities to get the music out there.

My listenings have been pretty much limited to Point of Departure, Black Fire, Time Lines, Dusk and Joe Henderson's Our Thing. It's been a while since I have listened Hill, perhaps it's time to revisit them?

Great to see a big crowd too - plenty in the seats and on the lawn. Let's hope it encourages people to get out to more live music.

They don't look that pleased but the music hadn't started yet

Monday, August 12, 2013

Notebook 2: One Free Note

Here's part two from the Notebook Series (Part one is here).  

This exercise was part of my lessons with Richard Tabnik. What struck me was the simplicity, fun, and effectiveness of Richard's ideas.
Symphony for Jazz Trio
He introduced this exercise to me when we started working on free improvisation. It most definitely had a flow on effect when I played tunes too - loosening and opening up the lines I played. 

Over the years I have worked on it by myself, with friends (great for duos), used it as a daily warm up, and applied it to tunes (this is something I want to do more of). 

Start with a single note. Hear and feel the note. Play the note - it can be loud, quiet, long or short - whatever you feel in the moment.

Relax, breathe, listen and play your next free note.

The note is what it is in that moment - don't aim to control it. Let it be free. Listen to it as you play. 

Stay playing single notes until it feels right to move on to two notes - Don't rush, take your time.

Now's the time for two free notes. The process is the same. Play the note you hear in the moment, listen to that note and then play your second free note

Hear and feel the note-to-note connection between the two notes!

Relax, breathe and listen before moving onto your next two free notes. It becomes quite meditative.

Again, continue until it feels right to move on to three free notes. And so it goes on through up to seven free notes - phrased in one breathe with rhythm, articulations, dynamics, tempo etc as you feel them in the moment.

Once you spend some time playing seven free notes it feels quite natural to move into free phrases - these do not need to be more than 7 notes (they can be though).  Approach the free phrases the same way as you have the 1-7 notes groupings.  Relax, breathe, listen and then play a free phrase - repeat.

Working your way back down from free phrases to seven free notes all the way back to one free note can be a blast. How does playing one free note differ now to when you started?

Find someone to trade free notes with - this is a blast. I have done this with a couple of friends, working from one note up to free phrases. Just simply trade notes - you play one free note, they play one free note etc. Eventually one player will change to two free notes, then three free notes and so on.

As I said earlier, this was passed onto me by Richard Tabnik - a wonderful alto player. Be sure to check out his music. His latest recording is Symphony for Jazz Trio (New Artists Records 2012) with Adam Lane (b) and Roger Mancuso (d) - a 2CD set featuring live and studio recordings of his three movement work "A Prayer For Peace" (plus half a dozen other pieces too).  His work and teaching have had a profound impact on me - Thanks Richard!! 

Here's the original notebook page typed up.
* One Free Note (RT) *
  • Play It => 1 note! (could it be any easier?)
  • Hear It
  • Feel It
  • Long, Short, Slow, Fast
  • FF, pp
  • Free It
  • Sing It
  • ! Be Relaxed !
  • 2 Free Notes, 3, 4, 5 etc (up to 7)
  • One Free Phrase (hear it, feel it)
  • Another
  • Another
+ Great to play/trade with another person/other people
+ Try it when playing a session/on a tune
+ By the time you have done 7 free notes for a while, Free Phrases will naturally flow - trade Free Phrases with someone.
+ After playing 1, 2, 3 etc Free Notes after Free Phrases work backwards... Free, 7, 6, 5 etc to 1 - it's quite a different feeling.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Quicksand - Spectral Reflections - Dizzy

Lately, Frank Gratkowski has been on the playlist. I find myself listening to his music in blocks - spend a week or two listening to a few of his albums and then take a break.

First up is his trio disc Quicksand (Miniscus 1999) Gratkowski (as/clr/b.clr) George Graewe (p) Paul Lovens (d/singing saw).
I bought this album late last year and it had been a good four or five months since I had last listened to it.
I am always amazed by the variety of sounds Frank can bring out of his horns, but usually the thing I enjoy most is his line playing - "Green Fuse"  has some nice alto lines with Graewe's piano playing likewise and Loven's drums interjecting and implying various pulses.
The energy is ramped up until the lines lead to breaking point. Things drop down with piano and drums moving into a lengthy duet with clarinet joining them in to round out the piece. The playing and interaction throughout the set is on a high level. For the most part this is fairly high energy free improvisation, but there is enough variety to keep things interesting. The music breathes and is nicely paced. Very nice sounding live recording too.
I find the length of the album refreshing - 44 minutes.

Frank Gratkowski Quartet - Spectral Reflections (Leo 2001)
Gratkowski (as/clr/contrabass clr) Wolter Wierbos (trb) Gerry Hemingway (d) Dieter Manderscheid (b)
The quartet covers a lot of ground over the six tracks - Abstraction ("Blonk"), Swing ("Annaherungem III"), Ballad ("Fenster"), Rhythmic intensity & full throttle blowing ("Loom"), Mysteriousness ("Spectral Reflections"). "Homage" combines many of the above - starting as a haunting ballad with arco bass and angular clarinet, adding vocalized sounds from trombone and minimalist textural playing from drums that gradually become more rhythmic. The trombone and clarinet move into a pointed dialogue with sparse accompaniment that gradually builds into full on swing from the rhythm section while the horns team up and dance on top. They then get a bit a solo space - with some particularly potent clarinet playing - before things drop back down and the piece wraps up with trombone and clarinet. I have heard a fair bit from the individuals in this group but haven't heard much of this quartet - time that changed I say. I would like to hear in concert.
Last December, Leo Records released a new album from the quartet - "La Vent Et La Gorge" I am yet to hear it.

Dizzy Gillespie's early years have had bit of a run over the last few days.
His first solo on record - "King Porter Stomp" from 1937 with the Teddy Hill Orchestra. "Pickin' The Cabbage" from 1940 with Cab Calloway & His Orchestra - was this his first recorded composition?
Coleman Hawkins 1944 recording of Gillespie's "Woody 'n' You" with Dizzy alongside other key players of the new music... Oscar Pettiford (b) and Max Roach (d).
"Blowing The Blues Away" from 1945 as part of Billy Eckstine's Big Band - Dizzy follows some extensive trading between the tenors of Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons.
Then it was on to some his early work as a leader - sextet sessions from 1945 including "Groovin' High" & "Blue 'n' Boogie" (this was the first Dexter Gordon recording I heard) and the session from a couple of weeks later (this time with Charlie Parker) "Dizzy Atmosphere" & "Groovin' High." 

Town Hall, NYC, June 22 1945 (Uptown 2005)
Charlie Parker (as) Dizzy Gillespie (trpt) Al Haig (p) Curly Russell (b) Max Roach (d) Sid Catlett (d)... sits in on the last couple of tunes (a great contrast between the drum generations) Don Byas (ts)... fills in during the first tune until Bird arrives to much applause from the audience (seems he was gaining a loyal following).
A historically important and great sounding live recording - burning through classic repertoire - "Bebop", "A Night In Tunisia", "Groovin' High", "Salt Peanuts", "Hot House."
Each time I listen to this album I always ask "Why haven't I listened to this more?" If you haven't already, be sure to check it out.

The announcements from Symphony Sid Torin are cringe worthy, though they do fill in a few details and give some context to the time.
Diz and Bird played appeared at the Town Hall the previous month - is there another discovery for fans in the future?

I finished things off with some of classics from Dizzy's Big Band"Manteca" and George Russell's  "Cubano Be" & "Cubano Bop." 

Saturday, August 03, 2013

listenings from the past week

Nils Wogram's Root 70 - Getting Rooted (Enja 2003) Wogram (trb) Hayden Chisholm (as/b.clar) Matt Penman (b) Jochen Rueckert (d)
The Root 70 albums are regulars on my listening rotation. Great group sound - a very distinctive ensemble. They have a new album due out this year - "Root 70 with Strings."

Dejan Terzic - Melanoia (Enja 2013) Terzic (d/perc) Hayden Chisholm (as) Ronny Graupe (g) Achim Kaufmann (p)
This one is new to me and it's only had one and a bit listens so far. Very intricate melodies with the sax, guitar & piano often each playing interweaving lines, lots of ostinato in the accompaniment - first impressions have me feeling that things are over composed. But this one needs more listens. Saxophonists, it's worthwhile taking note of the effortlessness of Hayden's playing (here, and on the album above).

Kaufmann's name in the line up above led me to Palaë (Leo 2007) by the trio of Kaufmann (p) Wilbert de Joode (b) Frank Gratkowski (as/clarinets). Seven free improvisations recorded during 2006. Often the trio sounds like a contemporary classical group (If you are searching for straight ahead, deep swing look elsewhere). I'm not a huge fan of prepared piano but Kaufmann uses it pretty well here without overdoing things. All three players have a large and varied palate to contribute to the group sound - Gratkowski brings out all kinds of sonic possibilities from his horns (alto sax, clari, bass clari & contrabass clari) - an amazing player. The trio's many subtleties are captured nicely on a well recorded album. I heard this group at Roulette during 2009 (possibly got the album at the gig) not long after meeting Frank in Greece. Palaë is the 3rd album (of 4) from the trio - I would like to hear the others.

Count Basie The Atomic Mr Basie (Roulette 1958)
This one seemed like the perfect accompaniment for cleaning the kitchen - time flew by. I can't remember the last time I listened to this album. It made a nice contrast to the odd time signatures/micro-tonality/free improvisation etc of the above albums too.