08 Trance MapCrepescule in Nickelsdorf
Evan Parker; Matthew Wright; Trance Map+
Intakt CD329 (intaktrec.ch)

In the 1970s, English saxophonist Evan Parker began developing and combining a series of extended techniques, including circular breathing, false fingerings, harmonics and multiphonics, eventually creating sustained improvisations that could simultaneously suggest flocks of birds and keyboard works by Terry Riley. Eventually he combined these processes with multi-tracking and electronic musicians, further mutating and extending the materials. Between 2008 and 2011, Parker worked with composer/sampling artist/turntablist Matthew Wright to construct a piece using materials from Parker’s collection of recordings, resulting in Trance Map. In 2017, the original materials became the basis for the group heard here, Trance Map+, which adds bassist Adam Linson, turntablist John Coxon and Ashley Wales, all three employing electronics.

This performance from the Austrian festival Konfrontationen 2017 is as complex and engaging a performance as one may hear from the world of improvised music, a maze of sound in which different sounds come to the fore, most frequently Parker’s soprano but the others as well, whether foregrounding the ambient bass rumble of heavy amplification or the subtle harmonics of Linson’s bass.

At the beginning, there’s a passage of bird song in the foreground, a literal trace from Parker’s recordings. That sample of the natural world floats into the soprano’s mechanical world. Then the mirror worlds of Crepuscule unfold, combine and shift: saxophone and bass, bird chirp and insect song, oscillator blip and needle scratch, tease and confound the ear, mutating into and beyond one another’s identities.

09 VoyageVoyage and Homecoming
George Lewis; Roscoe Mitchell
RogueArt ROG 0086 (roguart.com) 

A mostly trio session featuring only two musicians, this CD is defined that way because Voyager, its more-than-25-minute centrepiece, features close interaction among veteran improvisers, trombonist George Lewis and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, and an acoustic Disklavier piano programmed by Lewis’ interactive Voyager software.

Reacting to the sounds generated by the horn players, the piano’s recital-ready introduction soon develops splintered and syncopated cadenzas and clusters which, during the sequence development, accompanies first the trombonist’s expansive pumps and then the alto saxophonist’s bluesy extended line. Obviously never outpacing the humans, the piano accompaniment moves from dynamic glissandi to jolts and jumps, making common cause with Mitchell’s thin reed snarls and Lewis’ plunger blats. The polyphonic climax arrives as the three sound layers intersect at top volume, but with individual contributions very audible.

While the concluding Homecoming is a classic duet between trombone and soprano saxophone, Qunata, the debut track, has Mitchell’s sopranino saxophone carving out a place for its shrill peeps and gaunt trills from the concentrated synthesized samples and inflated granular warbles produced by Lewis’ laptop. Working up to a textural program that could be the soundtrack for a film on cosmic exploration, the track ends with a programmed voice repeating “unable to continue.” That sly electroacoustic joke doesn’t characterize a disc that auspiciously offers profound instances of how man and machine can cooperate musically.

10 BleyWhen Will the Blues Leave
Paul Bley; Gary Peacock; Paul Motian
ECM 2642 (ecmrecords.com)

Previously unreleased, this 1999 recital finds pianist Paul Bley (1932-2016), drummer Paul Motian (1931-2011) and bassist Gary Peacock (b. 1935) at the height of their mature mutual powers. This Lugano-recorded set is particularly notable since concentration is on the pianist’s infrequently exposed compositions.

A lively run-through of Mazatlan begins the showcase, as nuanced keyboard strategies pulsate and pause with unexpected sonic detours while a sinewy tandem dialogue is established with Peacock. Meanwhile Motian’s shattered clanks help juice Bley’s unexpected bursts of low-pitched emphasis and swelling timbres which recap the head. Not known for funkiness, Bley still invests Told You So with a tranche of walking blues even as he fragments the narrative with bent notes and expansive tonal quivers. The selections also encompass a relaxed, impressionistic and balanced variant of I Loves You, Porgy, taken at a moderate tempo. As well, the bassist’s subtly low-pitched string swipes and pulls alternate with vigorous, lightning-quick patterning when playing his own Moor.

Trio skills are best expressed on the Ornette Coleman-composed title track, With the pianist’s swift glissandi changing the exposition’s speed and pitch nearly every bar, the performance intensifies once drum rim shots and rattles combine with bass thwacks to emphasize the melody. Yet even as the trio collectively descends the scale to hit a groove, the originality of the tune – and by extension Bley’s conception of it – are confirmed when the ending lacks a conventional pattern completion. Twenty years on, the disc’s vigour and intensity still echo.

Although the sentiment conjured up by the phrase, “poetry and jazz,” is one of scruffy beatniks intoning verse to the accompaniment of a stoned bongo player, the intersection of poetry and improvised music has a longer history. As far back as the 1920s poets like Langston Hughes integrated jazz energy into their work and subsequent interaction involved whole groups of literary and musical types, with notable instances in San Francisco, Liverpool and Vancouver up until the present day. Some of the discs here extend the idea of sounds complementing words, while others work on the more difficult task of integrating both elements.

01 NabatovA particularly fascinating instance of this is Readings Gileya Revisited (Leo CD LR 856 leorecords.com). On it, Russian-born, Cologne-based pianist Simon Nabatov has created musical settings for poems from members of the Gilya group, a Russian Futurist movement that thrived just before, and for a time, after the Russian Revolution. The pianist’s associates are Germans, reedist Frank Gratkowski and electronics master, Marcus Schmickler, American drummer Gerry Hemingway and most importantly, Dutch vocalist Jaap Blonk. While Schmickler’s skills are used sparingly, as on the penultimate track where granular synthesis and processing deconstruct a sample of one of the original Futurist’s recitations, and then are superseded by resounding pattering from the drummer. In another instance, on A Kiss in the Frost oscillated aviary echoes share space with Blonk’s double-tracked theatrical recitation of a Futurist poem, completed by reed buzzes and piano patterns. But the nub of creativity is most thoroughly expressed in the ways in which Blonk’s phrases plus piano-reed-and-percussion sounds interact as equals. For instance the gargles and yells that express the budding of Spring are met by hard keyboard comping and drum pops following an introduction of ethereal flute puffs. Imagist stanzas that warble and plead are extended with reed bites and press rolls on And Could You?, while harmonized keyboard tinkles and formalistic clarinet trills do as much to define the theme of Palindrome as matched nonsense syllables from Blonk. Most crucially, with the boisterous dynamics that characterize Shokretyts, composer Nabatov and the others confirm that Futurism is as much an instrumental as a vocal art. After Blonk intones “when people die they sing songs,” Gratkowski’s tenor saxophone response is almost (Stan) Getzian in its lyricism, although it’s followed by dynamic key crunches and sprays of notes from the pianist, and bass drum pounding and wild-boar-like snorts and altissimo screams from the saxophonist, until all four shout out the track title. As the players’ instruments replicate the syllables, Blonk intones them to complete the poem.

02 BigTentApproaching the idea differently, American trio Big Tent, with pianist/vocalist Jerome Kitzke, bassist Steve Rust and percussionist Harvey Sorgen add poems by Beat forefather Lawrence Ferlinghetti among the trio’s advanced improvisations on I Am Waiting (NotTwo MW 989-2 nottwo.com). Kitzke’s low-key, tongue-in-check recitation makes clear the contemporary relevance of this sardonic mid-20th-century verse. For instance, the exaggerations turned on their head in I Am Waiting “for the rebirth of wonder” including Elvis Presley and Billy Graham changing places, are underlined with swelling bass string pumps and alternating splashing or tinkling piano chords. Meanwhile a bop fable about Christ, Sometime during Eternity, uses banjo-like twanging to signal Jesus as “real dead” and stentorian plucks to contrast his teaching with the subsequent ignoring of it by his so-called followers. Without words the trio’s improvising is also nuanced. Facing kinetic drum rolls and piano string strums on Trio in a Bottle, Rust constructs a sequence that vibrates from the bass’ scroll to its spike. Kitzke bends tones and patterns in the kinetic exposition that is Blues Afield, harmonized with the bassist’s stylized pings. Meanwhile ground bass lines and mid-range keyboard swing on Sweet for the Eternal Spring giving Sorgen space to boisterously roll out sprays of percussion power, advancing the theme rhythmically and finally calming it with paradiddles.

03 PneumaA more difficult stanza interpretation is expressed on Pneuma’s Who Has Seen the Wind? (Songlines SGL 1629-2 songlines.com). Not only does Montreal-based vocalist Ayelet Rose Gottlieb personalize the often-translated (by herself) words of Japanese, Iranian and English poets, but her only accompaniment is the three clarinets of Vancouver’s François Houle and Americans, James Falzone and Michael Winograd. With one clarinetist usually playing chalumeau for continuum, Gottlieb confidently cycles through moods ranging from wistful to lighthearted, with her lyric soprano harmonized and used as much as an instrument as the woodwinds. This is particularly obvious on the suite of brief Japanese poems where a single image or mood is conveyed by the timbre of Gottlieb’s voice rather than the words. Another instance is Passing Through/Lament for Harry, honouring her deceased grandfather, where emotion is expressed by melodic warbling linked to coloratura clarinet peeps and trills. In the same way, the impressionistic title track, from a poem by Christina Rossetti, harmonizes the clarinets in a near-baroque manner. The melded timbres flutter up the scale, but not enough to detract from the poem’s gentle imagery. In contrast James Joyce’s Alone brings out emphasized melisma as Gottlieb swallows the lyrics with low tones as the clarinets move upwards. Trembling/Light is an erotic poem, but that may be masked as the response to her vocalization is thumping tongue stopping and echoes from the bass clarinet. Finally Neither You Nor I/Conversation with Ora, which she composed after the death of a close friend, is no dirge but a defiant celebration where the melody moves via bird-like trills and tongue slaps from the clarinets, until voice and reeds join for a jocular up-tempo final stanza.

04 TapscottThere are suggestions of spiritual singing from Pneuma and an equivalent instance of turning ecclesiastical words and music into a secular form on Why Don’t You Listen? (Dark Tree DT (RS) 11 darktree-records.com) by Horace Tapscott/Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and the Great Voice of UGMAA. Los Angeles-based pianist Tapscott’s nonet expresses its characteristic message on this 73-minute concert, not only through his highly rhythmic arrangements utilizing three double basses and three percussionists, but through songs performed by the l2-member UGMAA. In its vocal blends the choir, whose initials mean Union of God’s Musicians and Artists Ascension, bring the sound of a sophisticated gospel ensemble to the selections. But divergence occurs since the word-poetry isn’t on sacred texts, but instead, variously salutes a Nigerian musician known for his struggle against dictatorship (Fela Kuti); provides an object lesson of the accomplishments of jazz heroes (Why Don’t You Listen?) and praises the mother continent itself (Little Africa). The most accomplished achievement is the second tune, where singing over a captivating rhythmic groove, the voices invest the listing of innovators with the same sincerity a church choir would bring to the scriptures, emotionally extending the words with melisma and hocketing, as boisterous, sinewy solos from the pianist, saxophonist Michael Session and drummer Donald Dean are interspaced like extra voices. When choir director Dwight Tribble ends the extended track with near-R&B testifying, the spiritual link between improvised music and Black empowerment is complete. Tapscott’s worldly arrangements, which combine exploratory sounds and grounded beats, characterize the non-vocal parts of the disc, with the slippery blats of trombonist Phil Ranelin and Session’s soaring slurs particularly impassioned.

05 GoldbergAdding another twist to this theme is Bay area clarinetist Ben Goldberg’s Good Day for Cloud Fishing (Pyroclastic PRO 5 pyroclasticrecords.com). Here Goldberg, trumpeter Ron Miles and guitarist Nels Cline improvise on Goldberg’s compositions inspired by Dean Young’s verse. Present at the recording session, Young wrote new poems influenced by the music. A set of entry and exit poems are included in the package. Designed as three separate art pieces, it’s fascinating to try to work out linkages. Overall, the exit poems seem to reflect the sounds more directly than the music reflects the verse that inspired it. For instance, the clash and clatter of distorted guitar licks, reed flutters and trumpet growls lead Young to mix musical and literal metaphors on Section 8 instead of the string of plaints on the Sub Club Punch Card that is its entry poem. Or the herky-jerky guitar clinks which underscore the high-pitched trumpet and low-pitched contra-alto clarinet blowing in ambulatory reflection on Dandelion Brainstem winnows to coloratura reed smears and string plinks by the finale, though the mordant imagery of the exit poem Corpse Pose further extends the metaphor. Putting aside the search, you can appreciate Young’s turn of phrase on 24 poems. Fittingly as well, compositions and interpretations stand as notable music on their own and are carefully modulated to build on each player’s skills. With tracks varying from boisterous near-oom pah pah instances of almost pre-modern swing with string licks that could come from a ukulele harmonized with trumpet smears (Phantom Pains/Crow Hop) to experiments which meld clarinet glissandi and gliding guitar distortions into a stretched but not broken narrative on Surprised Again By Rain/How’d You Get Here there’s no questioning the music’s power. After all, doesn’t this double artistic expression properly define each of these sessions? 

02 Brodie WestKick It ’Till You Flip It
Lorna 10/ HAVN 054 (brodiewest.com)

Alto saxophonist/composer Brodie West makes music that’s both exploratory and engaging, growing from varied experiences playing jazz and its transmutations in Toronto and further afield, including stints with Dutch drummer Han Bennink and Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria. West’s groups typically emphasize rhythm (his eponymous quintet has two drummers), but his octet, Eucalyptus, takes it further. Drummers Nick Fraser, Evan Cartwright and Blake Howard feed data to West and trumpeter Nicole Rampersaud as they bounce around the multi-directional polyrhythms and ostinatos.

West’s compositions can suggest African pop music, but they also have affinities with a broad swath of work, from Terry Riley to Ornette Coleman. Something Sparkly is perfectly dreamlike, its slow theme weaving through bright electric guitar and exotic overlapping rhythms. It suggests Sun Ra’s stately early music, a resemblance heightened by Ryan Driver’s trebly clavinet, a keyboard Sun Ra called a “solar sound instrument.” West’s solo seems suspended between melody and birdcall. The title track develops with the horns playing a short, taut figure, then gradually moving out of synch with one another amidst the various rhythmic paths at hand. The entire LP testifies to West’s artful concision, but his compressed, expressionist solo here is a miracle of improvisational economy.

The final track, Triller, is another beautiful floating mystery, its minimalist components ultimately weaving a complex whole; it’s enhanced by Alex Lukashevsky’s bending guitar tones, until parts drop away and only electric bassist Mike Smith’s pulsing ostinato remains.

03 One Night in KarlsruheOne Night In Karlsruhe
Michel Petrucciani; Gary Peacock; Roy Haynes
SWR Jazzhaus JAH-476 (naxosdirect.com)

Michel Petrucciani, who once said, “I think someone upstairs saved me from being ordinary,” followed up his proclamation with a vast discography of truly extraordinary music. He had the virtuosity of an Oscar Peterson and the fluttering lyricism of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. However, his playing is characterized by a singular voice driven by an almost primal energy and an edgy emotionality. Although he was marked, throughout his short life, with monumental pain from osteogenesis imperfecta, his music expressed unfettered feelings of joy.

One Night in Karlsruhe, made at a live performance in July 1988, captures him at the height of his pianistic powers and he appears to be made completely of music. Petrucciani always had an infectious way with dancing rhythms and the program is rich in expressive contrasts and diverse song forms in which dance and variation occupy a position of importance throughout. His playing – on 13th, In a Sentimental Mood, Embraceable You and a signature bravura version of Giant Steps – has a particularly magical touch to it and he responds to the diabolical changes on the latter with spontaneity – while at the same time communicating the music’s sense of colour and of pageant.

Petrucciani also approaches the music’s harmonic boldness and astringency with a kind of vivid bas-relief. He is accompanied, on this sojourn, by bassist Gary Peacock and living legend, drummer Roy Haynes. The intensity of this power trio is magnificently captured on this recording.

04 Kayla RamuLiving in a Dream
Kalya Ramu
Independent (kalyaramu.ca)

One of my favourite songs to request is You Go To My Head – a gorgeous ballad that, admittedly, is not all that easy to pull off if you haven’t done your homework. So when a singer nails it, I am won over, as I was upon hearing Toronto-based jazz vocalist Kalya Ramu’s sultry and soulful version, one of 11 beautifully rendered tracks featured on her debut album, Living in a Dream, which includes four of her original compositions. Ramu’s voice has a warmth, depth and maturity to it that belies her 25 years. As a young girl, she fell under the spell of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee, and it shows; I also hear hints of Helen Merrill and Doris Day.

Like her jazz vocalist heroines, Ramu understands the importance of phrasing (something often lacking in younger singers), allowing time for the natural arc of a line to wend its way to the next one, as is evident in her sensuous rendition of What’s New, as well as in her lovely ballad, Find in Me, and her torchy/sexy She Drinks Alone.

The woman can also swing! With stellar assistance from tenor saxophonist and clarinettist Jacob Gorzhaltsan, pianist Ewen Farncombe, bassist Connor Walsh and drummer Ian Wright (and assorted special guests), Ramu serves up spirited takes on Just You Just Me, Four or Five Times and It’s A Good Day. A singer warranting your attention, Kalya Ramu’s debut CD is dreamy, indeed.

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