So much of this week’s recommendations could be filed under Something Different. Wildly expressive, huge visions and boundless creativity are amongst the traits possessed by many of this week’s top album in the jazz aisle. It’s looking like 2014 is going to finish strong. Let’s begin…
Mathilde Grooss Viddal, El Aaiun: Across the Border: Outstanding large ensemble free jazz set from saxophonist Viddal. An expansive viewpoint, where Nordic Jazz serenity cohabits the same space as wildly careening improvisations. The best moments, however, are when both are incorporated into the same space, and the folksy charm of a Hardanger Fiddle blends right in with fluttering wings of saxophones and the murmuring rattle of percussion. Just sensational. The kind of boundless creativity one hopes for in their artists. Pick of the Week.
Reto Suhner & Fabian M. Mueller, Schattenspiel: Stunning display of virtuosity by saxophonist Suhner and pianist Mueller, who offer up improvisations that sound as if they were meticulously planned out. Melodic sequences that hint at serenity, then suddenly ignite. Rhythmic shadowplay that hints at blues, hints at a rag, hints at random patterns of coincidence, and always maintains a motion and a flow that keeps the listener close. Absolutely sublime and Highly Recommended.
Guillaume Martineau, Par 5 Chemins: Thrilling and seriously expressive debut from pianist Martineau, who takes melodies out for long journeys, fueled by dynamic rhythms and on the wings of rich harmonies. Sort of from the school of Brian Blade’s Fellowship, it’s modern jazz and it’s not. Songs are built around the melody and then restated in fragments. Rhythms rarely, if ever, swing or bop, and tend to enhance the music’s cinematic appeal. And, as stated, it’s pretty damn thrilling. Joining Martineau are saxophonist Tevet Sela, guitarist Francois Jalbert, bassist Simon Page and drummer Raphael Pannier. Recommended.
Shotgun Chamber Trio, Themes and Dances: Very cool session from the trio of bari saxophonist Oleg Hollman, guitarist Hannes Buder and drummer Lucia Martinez, who find a way to incorporate their backgrounds in jazz, folk and blues. This is avant-garde music that likes hanging out on the front porch and waving friendly to neighbors as they pass by. For the most part, all the tunes portray their quiet side, even as they muss things about randomly. This album doesn’t sound like much else out there, and that the trio can consistently express that unconventional form of expression throughout the length of the album is no small thing. There are some tuneful moments of a staggering beauty to be found here. Second mention in the Jazz Picks column in 2014 from drummer Martinez, whose Cuarteto put out a decent album over the summer (De Viento y de Sal).
Jozef Dumoulin & the Red Hill Orchestra, Trust: The “orchestra” in this instance is the trio of keyboardist Dumoulin, saxophonist Elery Eskelin and drummer Dan Weiss. Moody tracks that are sometimes reminiscent of Nordic folk-jazz and other times a 70s Miles Davis fusion. There’s a strange poetry at work here, as disassembled passages and interludes of free association suddenly congeal into a logical construct of form and function. There’s a serious intelligence at work here, even if it doesn’t always make sense. Enjoying this one increasingly with each listen.
Tony Cattano Ottetto, L’uomo Poco Distante: Alluring, yet almost mournful set from trombonist Cattano, who leads an octet that offers up strong melodies floating atop the surface of dreamy harmonies. Songs move along slowly at an easy pace, patiently expressing themselves. Some moments that get rambunctious, but nothing that shatters the peaceful spell developed throughout. The octet consists of flutes, saxophones, bass clarinet, vibes, guitar, clarinets, bass and drums. I’m quite taken by this recording.
OMVR, Colectivo: Nice, energetic modern set from the quartet of saxophonist Nicolás Ocampo, guitarist Eduardo Valdes, bassist Fernando Mendez and drummer Matias Romero, who add a small army of wind instruments, strings and voices to the mix, providing warmth and a harmonic infusion to go along with sharp melodies. Enjoyable start to finish.
Phil Bowler & Pocket Jungle, Phil Bowler & Pocket Jungle: A re-boot of veteran bassist Bowler’s groove-based Pocket Jungle. Those grooves come in strong, but rarely the same way and always wrapped around a nice melody. Pete Smith switches up from electric guitar to a 9-string on track “Time Released,” and it’s all kinds of beautiful. But a track like “Little Bear” is the kind of cheerful, fun tune that typifies this nifty recording. Joining Bowler (and Smith) are tenor saxophonist Paul Carlson, drummer William “Beaver” Bausch and Scott Latzky, who doubles on drums and tablas.
Axel Kuhn Trio, Open Minded: Very likable modern piano trio session led by bassist Kuhn, who handles strong melodies like they were crafted for a pop song and works them into a modern jazz framework. This means that songs are going to stay light on their feet with a quick-witted rhythmic attack that always circles back to a place where the melody will thrive, no matter how far out the trio roams before returning back to home base. The album’s only weak link is a cover of Guns ‘n Roses “Don’t Cry.”
Trio (Mit) Marlene, The Surface of an Object: Interesting improv session from the trio of bass guitarist Giacomo Merega, percussionist Satoshi Takeishi and alto saxophonist Michael Attias (who doubles up on Wurlitzer). Music with a brooding intensity that sometimes bubbles over into aggression. Most appealing is that its got a pretty composite personality, so the expressions and nuance become familiar quickly, making the music easier to connect with and follow along. Some very thoughtful moments on this recording.
Leo Appleyard, Pembroke Road: Likable debut from guitarist Appleyard, who plays it pretty straight, focusing more on the musicianship than the compositions. Nice series of solos from a quintet that includes saxophonist Duncan Eagles, trumpeter Neil Yates, bassist Max Luthert and drummer Eric Ford.
David Mott & Jesse Stewart, Anagrams: Compelling duo performance by bari saxophonist Mott and percussionist Stewart. Free-flowing conversation between the two, sometimes at one another, sometimes tangential lines that just happen to move in the same direction. The kind of improvisation where the exploring nature of the dialog comes through clearly.
Samuel Blais, Cycling: Nice straight-ahead set from saxophonist Blais, who teams up with fellow saxophonist Dave Liebman for a set that gets plenty charged and balances out the energy with some nicely placed blues. Nothing earth-shattering, just some good ol’ enjoyable music. Bassist Morgan Moore and drummer Martin Auguste round out the quartet.
Vein Trio, Jazz Talks: Guest saxophonist Dave Liebman really brings out an element of modern piano trio Vein Trio that accentuates their quirkiness and livens up their repertoire. Vein’s newest has a real liveliness to it, whether scampering through an up-tempo piece or taking it slow with a ballad. Good stuff.
Silent Jazz Ensemble, Nightwalker: The ensemble, in this case, is a trio of a musician on 5-string electric bass, a drummer/percussionist, and a third person on a variety of wind instruments. Heavy infusions of folk music in the modern jazz set. Strong point of view held consistently throughout. Tunes are often expressed patiently, sometimes flailing about, sometimes merely drifting. Melodies are elastic things that aren’t developed so much as stretched. This is curious music that is sometimes quite compelling.
Trish Clowes, Pocket Compass: An album with a boozy motion. Melodies teeter and lean precariously to one side or the other. Tempos stagger and sway. And like a conversation with a happy drink, the music is personable, engaging, and capable, at times, of delivering up tiny, marvelous epiphanies. A couple tracks at the heart of the album take a more conventional turn, but for the most part, it’s a lot of unexpected twists and turns on this interesting recording. Saxophonist Clowes is joined by the BBC Concert Orchestra along with a very strong quintet of guitarist Chris Montague, pianist Gwilym Simcock, drummer James Maddren and bassist Calum Gourlay… all names mentioned previously in this column on many occasions.
Raphael Walser’s GangArt, Wolfgang: I go back and forth on this one. A quintet with alto & tenor saxes, piano, bass and drums. It gets a big fussy and tangled when the group goes up-tempo, but when they slow things down and work a melodic angle, damn, it gets all kinds of evocative. The way in which they weave their individual takes on the melody around one another and the beautiful harmonic fallout that results from it… that’s why I’m including this album amongst my recommendations.