15 Micro NapMicro-Nap
Walking Cliché Sextet (SeaJun Kwon)
Endectomorph Music EMM-013 (seajunkwonmusic.com)

Have you ever been drifting off into a much needed, deep afternoon nap; still lingering in that in-between state that acts as a transition from wakefulness to dreamland? These types of liminal spaces, where uniformity and chaos coexist are what the Walking Cliché Sextet attempt to reflect within their music on this latest release. Korean-born, New York-based composer, bassist and improviser SeaJun Kwon, has always been fascinated by liminal spaces and the duality within them and so decided to gather a fantastic group of musicians and classmates to give this concept a musical voice. Featured in the backing band are rising stars such as Aaron Dutton on alto sax, Jacob Shulman on tenor sax and Erez Dessel on piano.

Throughout the album, songs reflect that aforementioned duality incredibly well; even allowing for a clear image unique to each piece to be called forth in the listener’s mind. Muad’dib is a track where dissonance and consonance, peace and chaos co-exist, taking the listener on a true dream-like journey. Possibly most intriguing, intense mental imagery aside, is the way that both traditional and modern aspects of jazz have been incorporated into the pieces and how they peek through; constantly toeing the line between the familiar and unfamiliar. A truly unique example of contemporary, experimental jazz, this album would be a great addition to the collection of the adventurous aficionado.

Listen to 'Micro-Nap' Now in the Listening Room

16 ason Kao HwangUncharted Faith
Jason Kao Hwang; J.A. Deane
Tone Silence Music/Blue Cross Music TSM 00013 (jasonkaohwang.com)

A combination of triumph and tragedy, this devastating six-track project was created over a two-month period as New York violinist Jason Kao Hwang and Colorado synthesizer/software expert J.A. Deane improvised live sounds sent to one another over the Internet, which were then tone-shifted, synthesized, mixed and mutated into this comprehensive program. Believing in spiritual transition, Deane, 71, had already refused treatment for his illness and died of cancer just as the CD was completed.

Using electric and acoustic violins, Hwang’s initial and overdubbed string sweeps and strained buzzes are amalgamated with a series of watery whooshes and constantly rotating live processes from Deane whose screaming and gonging reflect fiddle glissandi at the same time as they mutate them. The mid-point Shamans of Light moves the timbre fusion to even higher levels as two separate layers of string stops and strums become audible. As granulated synthesized tones widen into thunderous drones, Hwang’s angled violin swipes include brief lyrical interludes. These remain during the climactic title track. A concluding sequence, Uncharted Faith, finds Deane’s processed wash of interlocking textures projecting an organ-like tremolo continuum over which near-melodic violin drones pitch-shift, connect and highlight disparate parts of the reconstituted improvised mixture. 

A fitting memorial to an electroacoustic pioneer, the CD once again confirms the sympathetic interaction of Hwang’s playing in many and some seemingly difficult contexts.

17 Dave DouglasSongs of Ascent, Book 1 – Degrees
Dave Douglas Quintet
Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1096 (davedouglas.com)

Trumpeter Dave Douglas is a musician so prolific that he has been hard not to notice over the past handful of years. While Douglas may not yet be a household name, achieving this kind of notoriety within the jazz and improvised music realm is a feat unto itself. Douglas’ label Greenleaf Music has been a brilliant springboard for the trumpeter’s ample releases under his own name, while simultaneously fostering a space for likeminded talents to produce and promote their music.

Greenleaf employs a smart business model, offering traditional sales and streaming of album-length content alongside subscription only “optional extras.” Songs of Ascent, Book 1 is offered in the former format, with Book 2 available only when curious listeners subscribe to Greenleaf Music. This writer was only given a copy of Book 1 to review, but this was enough of a journey to make me curious about what lies on its counterpart recording. 

Several noteworthy things jumped out during my first listen, namely the smooth high-quality studio sound. This is almost a contrast to the often-avant-garde music heard on the disc, but makes for an immersive listening experience. The sound quality of the band as a whole is even more impressive given that this album was recorded remotely.

Early tracks are loose and ethereal in nature, but from the very start of Peace Within Your Walls listeners are offered more traditional sounding song forms. The contrast between loose and composed moments sets a precedent for the rest of this exciting album.

18a Ahmad Jama 1963 1964 Emerald City Nights: Live at The Penthouse 1963-64
Ahmad Jamal
Jazz Detective DDJD-001

Emerald City Nights: Live at The Penthouse 1965-66
Ahmad Jamal
Jazz Detective DDJD-002

At 92, Ahmad Jamal can look back on a brilliant career, one reaching levels of success unimaginable to most jazz musicians. Cited by major figures such as Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett as an influence while often being dismissed by critics, Jamal explored unusual formal and textural dimensions, concentrating on rhythmic invention in a distinctive way and organizing his tunes into elaborate patterns of vamps and riffs that expanded on the kinds of big-band formal practices developed by Duke Ellington.

18b Ahmad Jamal 1965 1966These two 2CD sets come from 1960s performances at the Penthouse, a prominent Seattle jazz club of the period at which Jamal performed frequently. Originally recorded for radio broadcasts, the sound is excellent, with each set covering appearances over a two-year period. Jamal is joined by a series of rhythm section pairings, including bassists Richard Evans and Jamil Nasser and drummers Chuck Lampkin and Vernel Fournier, each team forming a vital partnership in executing Jamal’s complex extrapolations, combining detailed arrangements and fluid improvisations. Works here often develop at length, including a crystalline version of Jamal’s own Minor Moods and a virtuosic I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, one approaching the quarter-hour mark, the other exceeding it, but there are no empty segments, each one a model of focused musicality. The contemporary Feeling Good, a hit for Nina Simone, sounds like it was written for Jamal. Meanwhile, Jamal’s art is also an allusive one, whether he’s inserting Nat Adderley’s Work Song into that Bricusse-Newley pop hit or Charlie Parker’s Now’s the Time into Cole Porter’s All of You

Jamal’s multi-dimensional art, already set deep in jazz traditions, might be linked with the architectural dimension of his faith. In 1959, following travels in Muslim Africa, he moved to Chicago where he opened an alcohol-free night club called the Alhambra. Hearing the compound, suddenly shifting patterns that he and his bandmates bring to Richard Rodgers’ Johnny One Note, from delicate tinkling upper-register figures to rolling bass crescendos and sustained drum rolls, one might readily imagine that 1959 trip very likely included a visit to Spain and that other Alhambra: the palace in Cordoba. Like the palace, a Jamal performance can be a hypnotic series of abstract signs, whether geometric forms, an unknown alphabet or both, organized into fluid patterns, ones in which abstraction and attraction can arise, often free of specific meaning, everything in celebration of a transcendent symmetry.

A Rodney Dangerfield in most musical configurations, the double bass doesn’t get much respect since its workhorse qualities are used for accompaniment rather than upfront. That changed in the 20th century, especially in jazz, and then more prominently in improvised music. Innovators such as the UK’s Barry Guy, France’s Joëlle Léandre and American Barre Phillips all recorded notable solo bass discs in the 1970s and 1980s and since then many others bassists have tried their hand(s) at the challenge. What follows are a few recent examples.

01 BjornhornConcentrating on the bow, Sweden’s Johan Berthling, known for his Fire! trio with Mats Gustafsson, scratches and slices pitches and thumps from his instrument’s strings and wood on Björnhorn (Thanatosis Productions THT 12 thanatosis.org). Often sul tasto and frequently spiccato, his strained low pitches and scrappy mid-string forays frequently work up to near bagpipe-like tremolos. As on Björnhorn III, resolution is usually projected with stentorian drones. His clenched hand-on-bass-neck techniques concentrate most billowing buzzes into a solid mass, yet on Björnhorn V he spackles high-pitched colours to lighten the narrative. While the presto and staccato friction projected by his bow work sometimes suggests the strings are a millisecond away from literally bursting into flames, his one turn to pizzicato thumps out wide spatial suggestions. Furthermore when he assays Charlie Haden’s balladic For Turiya, his buoyant vibrations show he’s also capable of melodic storytelling.

02 Daniel StuderIf there are so many notes and tones in Berthling’s solos to almost make them feel cramped then Swiss bassist Daniel Studer takes the opposite approach on Fetzen Fliegen (Wide Ear Records WER 064 wideearrecords.ch). Recorded from various points in an anechoic chamber, Studer, who besides working with many groups, teaches improvisation at Bern University, uses this spatial situation to layer his sounds with as many extended silences as pressurized string trembles and swells. Making a virtue out of slowness, hard string thumps, clanking arco variations and the scraping friction which introduces the final two variations of four are magnified even more to contrast with the silent interludes. But the session is more than singular arco slices or frog-against-string accents. Cumulative friction at the end of Fetzen Fliegen 2 is so thick that jet plane engine noises are suggested before the tone thins to bow strokes. With col legno slides, Studer at junctures also creates responsive echoes between that technique and throbbing string plinks. Managing to nearly replicate recorder-like whistles with spindly stings and drum-like rumbles, his brief pivots into metallic discord only add to the expositions. Emphasizing sound shards among the quiet, Studer offers a unique definition of all that a double bass can do at a slow, anything but easygoing, pace.

03 Mike DownesFor a complete change of pace though, there’s Mind Mirrors (MMusic mikedownes.com) by veteran Toronto bassist Mike Downes. Perhaps it’s because he’s Canadian, the multiple Juno Award winner has created 11 solos, which are tasteful and somewhat gentle, but without ever letting go of the underlying beat. Still, who else but a Canuck would title the folksy, but powerful variations on one track Campfire Waltz? He’s also the only bassist here to play a standard, I Fall in Love Too Easily. Yet he’s crafty enough to avoid familiarity by offering up balanced variations on it before subtly revealing the melody. Crucially though, Downes is adventurous enough to mate field recordings of crackling thunder with the dynamic modifications from the triple stopping and reflecting tones of a Yamaha SLB200 hollow-body electric bass on Thunder. He sticks to the regular double bass on the other tracks, showing his arco and pizzicato skills. In fact on Morning Sun Ringing he alternates plucking slippery vibrations from the instrument’s strings and wooden body, while at the same time creating a warm connection with measured arco triple stops. Some pieces are foot tappers, as he modulates up and down the strings with rumbling bow work. Elsewhere he preserves the rhythm impetus on a track like Alone or Together with lighter strokes that take on flamenco colourations and darker ones which suggest Charles Mingus-like soulfulness.

04 Hernani FaustinoSomeone who evolved from playing electric bass in rock bands to creative music with the likes of Carlos Zingaro is Portuguese bassist Hernâni Faustino. His work is characterized by a deep dark tone which he displays throughout Twelve Bass Tunes (Phonogram Unit PU 5 CD phonogramunit.com). While the percussiveness and power he lays out link him to jazz stylists like Mingus and Ray Brown, his upper register echoes and col legno vibrations and recoils show that he’s firmly attuned to 21st-century improv. In fact, the first sound on Sequência, the CD’s opening track, is a buried bomb-shelter thick strum. But soon powerful string pulls give way to an agile up-and-down theme projected with guillotine-sharp slices before returning to squeaky friction. This orthodox-offbeat dichotomy plays out during most of the other 11 bagatelles with some tracks as melodious as if they were being vocalized by an operatic basso and others dedicated to string experiments. While rappelling along the string set on a track like Tríptico da Virgem de Lamego for instance, Faustino extends his multiphonic expression with thrusts that sound as if he’s also digging into the instrument’s wooden body. He can also double and triple string stop at the same time as he speeds up the exposition as on Co’ Os Olhos deepening and darkening them as it evolves. At lento and adagio tempos he can outline the timbre of each string as he touches it as on Pertença do Gato Grande, yet subtly elevate to reverberating andante lines before the conclusion. Even a rare move to arco playing on Serra das Meadas mates expressive melancholy with torqued pressure as he emphasizes bridge-centred tones. Concurrently nearly every note sounded comes out balanced and well-rounded as his multi-string and atmospheric asides are firmly grounded with straight-ahead and carefully measured plucks.

05 Joao MadeiraConcentrating on arco invention, fellow Portuguese bassist João Madeira cycles through all manner of burly drones on the two extended instant compositions which make up Aqui, Dentro (Miso Music MCD 49 22 misomusic.me). Lisbon-based Madeira, who is part of other free jazz configurations, including a double bass duo with Faustino, concentrates on using sul ponticello and sul tasto slices to extrude a chunky interface that’s almost impenetrable. Nearly, but not completely. For among the reoccurring drones, tone gradations can also be heard. At points, elevated shrieks are heard, as if he’s cutting into the instrument’s wood as well as stroking the strings. At times, these high-pitched motifs take on viscous bassoon-like suggestion or bagpipe-like hums. Emphasizing ripples across the strings as tempos shift from lento to allegro, the heavy drones even maintain their shape elsewhere when Madeira’s progress ascends to allegrissimo and prestissimo. Often, emphasized passages are repeated so frequently in sequence that you begin to fear there’s a recording fault, until he exposes new singular textures that he buzzes to a resolution. Moving into the second selection, simultaneous warm vibrating plucks and knife-sharp strokes display his facility with both techniques. As intermittent frails move to the foreground so does a touch of melody. But the key to Aqui, Dentro is how nearly oppressive bulk can be made to express polychromatic tones with an inventive strategy.

Each player here has designed a solo double bass procedure that goes far beyond expected approaches. As time evolves, it’s certain that even more novel strategies for the bulky instrument will be discovered.

01 Neil SwainsonFire in the West
Neil Swainson
Cellar Music CM111821 (cellarlive.com)

Canadian bassist extraordinaire and composer Neil Swainson’s newest release is a jazz aficionado’s dream. Blazing trumpet and saxophone melodies, catchy rhythms and energetic yet mellow bass riffs come together to form a stellar, oh-so-pleasing-to-the-ear record. It may be a surprise to some, but this is the first time in his 35-year-long career that Swainson is leading a quintet… but what a fantastic job he does yet again as a bandleader. Featuring famed musicians on the roster, such as Renee Rosnes on piano, Lewis Nash on drums, Brad Turner on trumpet and Kelly Jefferson on tenor sax, this record sees a set of fiery tunes lifted to new heights via a scintillating backing band. The album is chock-full of Swainson’s original works, serving as a great example of not only his musical talents but also his compositional prowess. 

The talented bassist says of the formation of the record: “In the process of preparing for that re-release [49th Parallel], I thought that it was time to do something in a similar vein, using the same… format on some current tunes I’d written.” “Current” being the keyword there, in the way that Swainson does a truly great job of bringing the traditional jazz sound into the contemporary musical world, modernizing melodies and rhythms while maintaining a perfect balance with a hark back to the past. A great addition to any jazz-lover’s collection.

02 Robert DiackSmall Bridges
Robert Diack; Patrick O’Reilly; Jacob Thompson; Brandon Davis
Independent (robertdiack.com)

Toronto-based drummer, composer and producer Robert Diack has released a scintillating sophomore album, taking the listener on a meandering journey through genres. The record is finely tuned throughout, a true audiophile’s dream; a sonic landscape emerges right in front of the listener and instantly transports them to another musical dimension. All pieces are penned by Diack himself along with occasional co-writers from amongst the band, truly showcasing the young drummer’s compositional talents as well as unique conceptualizations reflected within his music. The cream of the crop of famed young Canadian musicians have been gathered together for this album: Patrick O’Reilly on guitar; Jacob Thompson on piano; and Brandon Davis on bass. A perfect companion to the picturesque scenes and landscapes of autumn, this is a great addition to the explorative jazz-lover’s collection. 

The album draws upon influences from several genres, including both contemporary and traditional jazz, post-rock, fusion and country; blending them together and transitioning between them seamlessly. The result is a poignant hodgepodge, evoking a mix of emotions and images in the mind’s eye within every track. Diack himself has said that with this set of tracks, he “wanted to explore a broader swath of genre and texture” and delve into a diverse musical landscape, which he does brilliantly. Beautiful, captivating melodies layered over complex rhythms make for a must-have for the jazz aficionado who wants a true sonic experience.

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