Monday, June 16, 2014

CD Reviews: Three by Ivo Perelman

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Michael Bisio/Whit Dickey
The Other Edge

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/William Parker
Book of Sound

Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri
Two Men Walking 

Maybe we could call Ivo Perelman "Lightning," since he never strikes twice in the same place. Although he has composed pieces for his albums in the past, the Brazil-born tenor saxophonist is now fully devoted to spontaneous creation each time he picks up his horn. 

As of late, his recorded output has been pretty prolific. (He's released 20 albums in the last four years.) These three discs come in the wake of two others that Leo released last fall. But they follow another criteria that Perelman adopted: none of them feature the exact same lineup. Perelman has played with a certain musicians on several occasions, but he typically prefers to switch out a player or two, so things are never quite the same. Not only does the music change each time, the process taken to create it always takes on a new wrinkle when different personalities come and go.   

Having said that, The Other Edge sort of acts an exception. It features Matthew Shipp's trio (pianist Shipp, bassist Michael Bisio, drummer Whit Dickey) returning to the studio with Perelman for the second time, 18 months after a session for the album The Edge. "I broke the rule because we felt this had so much potential," he explains. He's right. The backing trio is a cohesive unit on its own but together with the saxophonist, they form something bigger. There are layers of group interaction, so it sounds like much more than a guest rhythm section with a leader. Everyone takes the "lead" on the album at some point.

It's tempting to think of David S. Ware's quartet during the opening "Desert Flower." Perelman opens with an unaccompanied tenor solo full of fire and wails before the trio comes rolling in. (While Shipp's wave of chords and lines were a part of Ware's group, Dickey was also a member of the group for a while too.) The title track also recalls the Ware a bit too, as Perelman plays at a feverish level of intensity and without backing down until the end.

In between these bookends, the group explores their own ideas. "Panem Et Circenses" Parts 1 and 2 are marked rhythms that could almost be called grooves. It comes as a surprise after Part 1's pensive opening, which comes closer to a ballad. The second part almost falls into a march, with Perelman delivering a series of honks on the beat. "Petals or Thorns?" - a great set of options to describe music like this - begins as a quiet free ballad, before the tenor shatters the mood with a high, long wail. Later Bisio joins the altissimo squeaks with some high harmonic bowing, sounding like an additional horn.

The Other Side has some of the wildest playing of the three albums, but it never sounds like Perelman is trying to seer listeners with his upper register squeals or lower squalls. While it sounds intense, it also feels engaging.

If anything Book of Sound might seem like the album that would draw comparisons to Ware's group, since the session brings back Shipp as well as bassist William Parker, another anchor in that group. But the meeting of the minds comes up with the strongest set of music out of the three. In fact it sounds closest to composed music due to the way these three play together.

While the high end sax squeals seems more like punctuation on the previous disc, their appearances on Book of Sound come across more as extension of his lines in the lower registers, and a completion of thought. "Candor Dat Viribus Alas" with its dark but balladlike setting, has just the right blend of lyrical and gruff elements. "Adsummum" cuts loose with strong sense of direction, in which Perelman seems to play continually for several minutes without pausing during an extended idea. When Shipp and Parker hit on a two-chord vamp, with slight variations along the way, things feel a little sanctified.

Perelman's 2013 releases included the soundtrack to a film A Violent Dose of Anything, which he made with Shipp and violist Mat Maneri. The convergence of free improvisation and soundtrack might seem incompatible, but the trio excels at creating moods, and some of the results felt a little noirish.

Two Men Walking reunites Perelman and Maneri for a series of duets. Of the three albums, this is the most challenging listen. Without any harmonic or rhythmic instruments to hold or catapult them, both players produce a set of tracks (divided into unnamed "parts") where they echo each other (approximately), hold conversations or go at it on parallel musical lines. A strong rapport exists between the two, but the close range of their instruments and a similar, loose feeling doesn't differentiate between some of the tracks, when a little more variety could be used.

Perelman's of-the-moment approach to playing makes it a little easier to understand why he has become so prolific. Committing the music to tape is the easy part when like-minded friends are with you. It's not quite the same as Guided by Voices leader Robert Pollard's knack for sneezing out a handful of albums a year.

Great musicians shouldn't have to think in terms of dollar and cents but it can be hard to keep up with someone who releases so much, while droves of other musicians like him are vying for listening time. This music is not disposable. But do you listen to it once and shelf it to make way for the next album? Do you pass up one disc in favor of another, or wait until the next one comes along? Presumably, we should leave that to the folks at Leo to worry about, and just listen. For now, Perelman has given us plenty to absorb.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

CD Review : Marc Ribot Trio - Live at the Village Vanguard

Marc Ribot Trio
Live at the Village Vanguard
(Pi Recordings)

There simply aren't enough musicians sharp enough to sequence an album to have "Old Man River" get sandwiched between two Albert Ayler compositions, with the second one to be followed by a drop-dead sincere reading of "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)." Marc Ribot does that on this set of recordings, taken from a January 2012 stay at the legendary Village Vanguard. It's quite possible that the order of tunes is not only the result of savvy sequencing, but that it happened that way in the New York club. Either way, it speaks volumes about the diversity of guitarist Ribot's huge palette of musical perspectives, in addition to the weight of music on this album.

Ribot's bandmates for this set are bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor. The three of them have played together for over a decade, first coming together in Spiritual Unity, a group devoted to Ayler's music, which also featured the late trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr. Their interactions live up to the name of the previous group. Ribot's spiky tone stands out and can combine romantic with sarcastic on "Old Man River." Taylor adds to this track by throwing in a bossa nova beat on the middle eight of one chorus, and tom rolls on another which stoke the fires.

Together they turn Ayler's "The Wizard" into boogie-rock with a 2/2 groove from Grimes and Taylor which works because of the way Ribot colors it. By the closing chorus, things have taken on a freer direction, with Taylor evoking a calmer version of Sunny Murray or either of the Ali brothers, Rashied and Muhammed.

"Bells" lasts about as long as Ayler's original version, but starts in one place, revists the marching theme that held the original together and moves in a different direction. Grimes produces a flowing arco solo after an almost pastoral free guitar intro. Things get loud but never excessive. After the group brings it down for "I'm Confessin'," they go back for the final kill with a tight version Coltrane's "Sun Ship." (The saxophonist's "Dearly Beloved" opens the album.)

The appearance of Ribot, whose jazz work swings far to the left, at a institution like the Vanguard, known for presenting more grounded jazz artists, is not exactly a combination to be taken lightly. With that in mind, the trio doesn't take the scene in stride either. They pour themselves into the music playing with passion and conviction that even the straight ahead fans should appreciate on an emotional level. Also of note: Grimes hadn't performed at the famed club since 1966, when he appeared with Ayler, for what would be the saxophonist's Albert Ayler in Greenwich Village album.

Finally, Pi Recordings says on their website that Live at the Village Vanguard is available on vinyl, although "Bells" does not appear, due to length. However, the record comes with a download card for "Bells," as well another Ayler tune and a Ribot original. Now that's smart marketing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tom Rainey & Ingrid Laubrock Hit Pittsburgh

Last Thursday, Tom Rainey and Ingrid Laubrock played at the Thunderbird Cafe. Tom has been a drummer around New York for years, playing with Mark Helias, Drew Gress and Tim Berne. Ingrid hails from Germany but has been living in the states for a few years, playing with Mary Halvorson in addition to leading her own groups. They're also husband and wife.

Although Tom just released an album called Obbligato which reexamines some jazz standards, the duo also put out an album called ...and other desert towns, 10 tracks of complete improvisation. At the Thunderbird that was their approach too. Attribute it to the end of the tour tightness (they were heading back home after this tour) or a generally strong rapport between the two of them, but the music was propulsive and engaging.

Rainey didn't look at his drums while he was playing, or if he did, his eyes looked down as he faced forward. At first he was sticking to ideas on the rack and floor toms. He frequently shifted from brushes to sticks and back without taking a break in the sound. At one point, he only used one brush, while his other bare hand served as a good way to get accents off the heads. There was also a moment where he got a low rumble off the floor tom with his hand. 

Laubrock can get wild and noisy if she likes, but in the beginning of the set, she was playing a series of short phrases that strung together as a full, extended thought. When she switched to soprano, she delivered a moody sound that could have passed for a written-out idea. During the second of the extended "pieces" that they played, she started to growl a little more, getting a fluttering sound by playing with the side keys of the tenor. Rainey responded by getting a whole back of sticks and placing them on the floor tom and whacking them for accents. 

Their whole set lasted about 45 minutes. A little more would have been cool, but it was still a good length for the set. Many times when there's an avant jazz show at the Thunderbird, there audience numbers somewhere around the teens. While it wasn't jam packed during Rainey & Laubrock's set, there was a throng of people standing up front and paying attention. Part of that could be attributed to the headliner, Cory Henry of Snarky Puppy who played next. But either way, the duo got a warm welcome. Henry's audience did pack the area in front of the stage for an electric, groovy set that added some tricky time turnarounds. I stuck around for a little of that, but the next day was a long, rigorous so I bowed out.

Go hear to read a quick Q&A that I had with Rainey prior to the show.

Friday, June 06, 2014

GBV and DoS in Pittsburgh - a review

It took a few weeks to show up, but my review of Guided By Voices and Death of Samantha is now up on the Blurt website: Check it out there.

Hopefully tomorrow morning I'll have a report on the Tom Rainey/Ingrid Laubrock show last night. Today, I'm all about the Fun Fair at the kid's school. God help me.

Monday, June 02, 2014

CD Reviews: Jeff Platz + 3, Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio

These two discs have been out for a few months. Both have been sitting around, waiting for me to write about them. My brain couldn't wait any longer so I figured I'd do capsule reviews of both:

Jeff Platz/Daniel Carter/Francois Grillot/Federic Ughi
Past & Present Futures

Free improvisation isn't always balls-to-the-wall, room clearing caterwauling. Sometimes it can sound like composed works, other times it sounds like a few introspective minds going at it at once. The session, organized by guitarist Jeff Platz (he doesn't really "lead" it, since it's a spontaneous session) leans closer to the latter scenario.

His guitar is out front, clean and rather subdued. With him is Daniel Carter (also of Test, Other Dimensions in Music and groups under his own name), who alternates saxophones, trumpet and clarinet. Bassist Francois Grillot and drummer Federic Ughi had never played with Platz prior to this session and for some of the album, at times they seem like they're figuring out how to get acquainted with one another. Sometimes the rhythm section doesn't flow with the melodic instruments, or even move together in parallel lines, a good sign in free improv situations. Yet there are tracks where rapport develops. Carter's soprano sax on "Evolve" sounds like it's playing a composed part, while Grillot riffs in 3/4. Eventually the bass locks in and briefly  joins Platz in a duet.

"Distance" also takes a strange and intriguing path. Carter begins playing a pensive clarinet lead over bowed bass, before things open up, with Platz playing through some effects that take his tone closer to one of Sun Ra's space keyboards. It's hard to pick up on all of Past & Present Futures in a few listens. But therein lies the advantage it has over a life performance: the chance to revisit it and discover all the nuances of it.

Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio + Jeb Bishop
The Flame Alphabet
(Not Two)

All four of the musicians on The Flame Alphabet receive writing credits on all four tracks, implying another set of free improvisations. However they move together like they're following some sort of pre-set structure. Leader Amado's tenor saxophone blends with guest trombonist Jeb Bishop (of numerous Chicago projects). Amado blows strong, thoughtful lines that reach a frenzied wail at times, but often stay on the ground, spreading around a series of pointillist lines around that are extremely engaging.

The rhythm section really keeps the whole thing moving in top gear. Drummer Gabriel Ferrandini can easily switch between quiet percussives and explosions that spread across his whole kit. The title track begins with a lengthy duet between him and Amado which sets the bar high. One track later on "First Light" Bishop and Ferrandini get the opening statement. Miguel Mira plays cello, which recalls Abdul Wadud's work with Julius Hemphill. But the way Mira approaches his instrument makes it sound like a bass, in terms of depth that it brings to the session.

Somewhere in a pile of discs, I have a live Rodrigo Amado CD that came in the mail with this one. I would've reviewed it in tandem, but I felt like this review couldn't wait any longer since they've been out for awhile. Suffice to say that I'm looking forward to that one too.