Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review of Dafnis Prieto’s “Absolute Quintet”

Absolute QuintetCuban born drummer Dafnis Prieto has established himself as an artist who commands an amazing array of poly tonal techniques. He plays all across his drum kit in a whirlwind of cyclonic energy. He is a vortex of percussive ideas from which the rest of this beguiling music magically emerges.

With his “Absolute Quintet” he assembles a unique grouping of musical voices with which to paint his sonic landscape. The instrumentation is unusual and features two string players, Christian Howes on violins and Dana Leong on cello, the piano and Hammond B-3 magic of Jason Lindner and the multiple saxophone voices of Yosavany Terry, with a guest appearance by Henry Threadgill on alto. Clearly the music is not melody driven, but neither is it devoid of melody, it just approaches it from another direction and therein lays Prieto’s gift. With his “Absolute Quintet” he has found like-minded musicians that not only share his rhythmic approach but revel in it.

Prieto’s diversity of sounds is apparent from the start on “The Coolest” he and keyboard artist Lindner do their best imitation of east Indian inspired Kokayi singing somehow weaving it in the clave driven beat.

On “Sensaciones” it is the sound of Howes violin and Leong’s cello mixed with the electric keyboard of Linder that creates this airy piece. Terry’s soprano saxophone takes flight nicely as Prieto fills in with his orchestral sound.

 “The Stutterer”, with its purposefully repeating rhythmic pattern, is started out with the percussive piano chording of Lindner, a strong kick beat from Prieto and some edgy alto by Terry. The strings are played  staccato as Terry builds his searing alto solo over a cacophony of rhythmic jags, making for an intensely frenetic musical journey.
On the most romantic melody of the album “Afrotango”, Henry Threadgill’s  probing alto is featured as the lead instrument, backed by some pizzicato string playing by Howes and Leong and some deft Hammond B3 playing by Lindner. The tune has the romantic undertones of the Tango, but Prieto’s penchant for multiple time changes and Lindner’s organ bring it somewhere into the realm of tango fusion. 

The album takes a distinctively chamber music like turn with Prieto’s “One Day Suite”. It is a three part orchestrated movement representational of the three parts of a day, Morning, Afternoon and Night.

The ten-minute "Morning" movement is the most ambitious, with the unique instrumentation of organ, violins and cellos working nicely to create the serene musical mood. Despite the lack of a bass, there is a clearly defined bottom maintained by Prieto, Lindner and Leong. Howes Indian inspired plucking, alternating with his muted bowing gives the music an definitive east meets west feel. Awakening is represented beautifully by the rising soprano of Terry, which leads into a masterful display of poly tonal creativity by Prieto.

On “Afternoon” Lindner’s acoustic piano, Howes bass violin and Leong’s Cello blend beautifully in this semi-chamber music piece that has no pretense of rhythm. This yields to the changing rhythmic environment that Prieto inevitably brings to bear in “Night” .  The ostinato plucking of Howes violin carries this rhythm for the most part. Lindner’s piano musings delicately hammer their way into foreground only to fade away again to Howe’s plucking violin and Prieto’s drum kit.  
“New Elephant” starts out with a drone from Linder’s keyboards, setting the bottom as Prieto’s creates a series of rhythmic patterns that never seem to repeat. Howes and Leong play long drawn out lines on their strings, which combined with Terry’s alto simulate the loping gait of the large mammal. Lindner plays a repeated key on the piano in the background as Terry and Prieto play in a bizarre unison that ends abruptly.
“Renew the Elephant” features some wonderful solo drum work by Prieto at the intro, which leads into mix of sounds that give the tune a clave crossed with fusion feel. Lindner ends the tune with a keyboard riff that comes straight from the soundtrack of a  TV detective show.

The “Innocent Bird” is the most confusing piece on the album. It starts out as a flight of fancy for Howes as he bows his way over the repeated rhythmic lines of Prieto and Lindner, until they break into this fairytale like melody that seems strangely out of place.  When Linder enters on the B3, the tune takes on a distinctively rock-blues sound that seems to come out of nowhere. 

This album has been around since 2006, but after recently getting a chance to really listen to it , I found the music for the most part is fresh, vibrant and compellingly original.

ZOHO – ZM200606

Recorded October 2005  Systems Two, Brooklyn , NY

Musicians: Dafnis Prieto (drums,, vocals on track 1, bells on track 5);
Jason Linder( Hammond Organ and keyboards, vocals on tarck 1); Yosvany Terry (alto on tracks 1,3, & 8, soprano on tracks 2,5,6 & 10. chekere on track 5); Christian Howes ( violin on all tracks, bass violin on tracks 5,6 & 7); Dana Leong (cello); Henry Treadgill (alto on track 4).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review of the new Charles Lloyd CD “Mirror”

Charles Lloyd "Mirror"
ECM B0014665-02

From the time saxophonist Charles Lloyd started playing in Chico Hamilton’s cutting edge group in the early sixties, it was obvious the tenor saxophonist had a style that fused post bop jazz with elements of free jazz and a whole lot of soul. His group was one of the first jazz groups to play the Fillmore in San Francisco during the late sixties, demonstrating his crossover appeal to rock weaned audiences.

Forest Flower & Soundtrack 
His “live” album “Forest Flower”, recorded at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival, with Keith Jarrett, Jack De Johnette and Cecil Mc Bee is a classic and achieved moderate commercial success.

Now at age 72 Mr. Lloyd is joined by another group of young, talented and fiercely aggressive musicians and the results are exemplary. From the first fluttering notes of Mr. Lloyd’s saxophone on the opening number “I Fall in Love Too Easily” he is brilliantly accompanied by the warm, probing tone of bassist Reuben Rodgers and the contrastingly hammered sounds of Jason Moran on piano.

On “Go Down Moses” drummer Eric Harland’s syncopated rhythmic beat with Mr. Rodger’s bowed bass provide Mr. Lloyd the appropriate background for his subdued but resolute saxophone exploration. The trio has admirable empathetic interplay, with Mr. Rodgers showing some fine soloing on the double bass, as Mr. Harland provides fluid fills and rolls, with Mr. Moran deftly comping.

The self-penned “Desolation Sound” is my favorite cut on the album. Beautifully played with a confident, relaxed tone that is deeply expressive, it has a certain signature plasticity to it that is all Charles Lloyd.  Mr. Moran demonstrates his own idea of lyricism on this song, as he plays a section of cascading notes that is perfectly complimentary to the mood set by Mr. Lloyd’s saxophone.

The traditional “La Llorona” has a sleepy, cantina-like sound that recalls spaghetti westerns, senoritas and cheap tequila. Mr. Moran adapts to the sombrero style admirably while retaining his own unique approach.

Having worked and toured with the Beach Boys in the seventies, it is not surprising to find Mr. Lloyd choosing  a Brian Wilson song to record from this composers many under appreciated works. On Wilson’s “Caroline, No” Mr. Lloyd fluidity is on display as he probes the nuances of the song’s tenderness. Mr. Rodgers bass lines are particularly buoyant as he effectively lifts the feel of the song.

Mr. Lloyd chooses to play two compositions by Thelonious Monk. The first “Monk’s Mood”,  he plays with a deliberate delicacy that is simple and unadorned. It is Mr. Moran’s solo that is appropriately “Monkish” cleverly taking unexpected turns.

The second Monk tune, the beautiful “Ruby, My Dear”, I find  a little disappointing.. Respectfully, I think Mr. Lloyd’s fluttering embellishments detract from the beauty this song inherently possesses. Mr. Moran surprisingly resurrects the song’s poignancy with his own unique take around the melody. Mr. Harland and Mr. Rodgers once again show sheer deftness in their subtle pacing behind the soloists.

Sandwiched between the two Monk tunes, is the Charles Lloyd composition and the title song on the album “Mirror”. The lightly swinging feel of this song is played perfectly by this silky smooth rhythm section. Mr. Lloyd is at his most feathery here, playing with a loose, limber feel to his horn that suggests years of familiarity and a resolute direction.

Starting with a soulful bass line by Mr. Rodgers and piano accompaniment by Mr. Moran the traditional “The Water is Wide” has a down home feel that is fun and infectious. Here Mr. Lloyd’s fluttering saxophone is a nice compliment to the steady Rodgers bass line. Mr. Moran, for the most part, keeps his soulful side at bay with his angular approach to the keyboards, but here he manages to appropriately air  it out a bit. Rodgers has the most fun on this one with his playful pizzicato.

The album contains three more songs the gospel hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is the least satisfying cut  on the album.  
“Being and Becoming”,is  a free flowing, semi-formless composition that has Moran, Harland and Rodgers laying the groundwork for Mr. Lloyd to searchingly explore ideas on his horn.

The last song is a Bhagavida Gita inspired, spoken word Lloyd composition “Tagi” where he softly speaks in a meditative chant-like mantra on top of the arco bass of Rodgers, the delicate piano musings of Mr. Moran and the “Om-like” baritone chants of Mr. Harland. This is a deeply meditative piece comparable to Jack DeJohnette's " Music in the Key of Om" and perfect for all those who practice yoga.

At seventy-two Mr. Lloyd demonstrates his ability to bring together talented young musicians and inspire them to create some challenging and enjoyable music.

Recorded December 9 & 10, 2009 at Santa Barbara Sound Design, California

Musicians: Charles Lloyd, (tenor and alto saxophones); Jason Moran (piano); Reuben Rodgers (double bass); Eric Harland (drums & voice).

Monday, September 6, 2010

Jazz on the Green :Review of New Haven Jazz Festival August 21, 2010

The end of summer is always hectic and I find myself knee deep in things that I should have already written about. The free jazz concerts that are offered almost every summer in New Haven, on the beautiful New Haven Green, are amongst the most enjoyable jazz events of the year in the Connecticut area. So if its not too late, here is a brief summary of the last concert in that series that took place on Saturday August 21, 2010.
This year, the 2010 New Haven Jazz Festival was presented by Jazz Haven in collaboration with Casey Family Services and the Department of Cultural Affairs. It was run on two consecutive Saturdays with the August 14th line up including Neighborhood Youth Jazz Orchestra; Noah Baerman's Jazz Suite “Know Thyself” Septet featuring Wayne Escoffrey; Afro-Peruvian Jazz Showcase; drummer Winard Harper’s Sextet and alto saxophonist Bobby Watson's Quartet.

I was fortunate enough to attend the August 21st concert which featured Jackie McLean Youth Jazz Orchestra ,The Joe Morris Quartet with Joe Morris (on bass) , Matthew Shipp (piano), Jim Hobbs (tenor), Gerald Cleaver( drums); The trombonist Steve Davis’ Quintet, Chilean songbird Claudia Acunas Latin Jazz Group and New Haven’s own Robby Ameen Latin Jazz Sextet.

This particular show was a homecoming of sorts, featuring some sons of Connecticut playing for the local crowd. The Jackie McClean Youth Jazz Orchestra led off the evening's performance and  although I didn't catch them, by all reports the group was impressive and started the audience off swinging.

Guitarist turned Bassist Joe Morris hails from the area and his fine quartet featured his quick walking bass lines accented by the percussive piano of Mathew Shipp the meandering alto of Jim Harris and the pulsating drums of Gerald Cleaver. I only caught the last two songs of the Morris set, but both were tight, high energy,  free jazz improvisations that were quick paced and rhythmically driven. The music is clearly influenced by the free improvisational style and spirit of Ornette Coleman.

The trombonist Steve Davis brought his quintet to the green that included the venerable Larry Willis on piano, Steve’s sonorous trombone, Mike DeRubio’s alto, local educator Nat Reeves on bass and the buoyant drummer Willie Jones III. In contrast to the more free style of Joe Morris's group, Davis played in a straight ahead manner. They started the set with a stirring rendition of “Surrey with the Fringe on Top”. Larry Willis opened off the next song with a beautiful interlude from “Nature Boy” leading into his own tender ballad “To Wisdom The Prize”. Willis is one of those veteran pianists whose mere presence  gives any performance instant credibility. He adds a touch of warm lyricism to whatever he does. Davis’s trombone has a buttery tone that was complimented nicely by DeRubio’s alto. The group did a particularly moving take on the classic “Milestones” toward the end of their set.

The Chilean songstress Claudia Acuna brought her Andean inspired vocals to the New Haven Green in a particularly moving performance. She was joined by a group of young, energetic Latin musicians on electric guitar, bass and drums. They played with a rock music like sensibility at times, interspersing slide guitar awkwardly into the mix. Her music spoke of things worldly and things spiritual, as her clarion voice evoked bird-like sounds of lush forests from South America. She touched on themes of class oppression in her country. On one song she brought us into her Andean Indian ancestry, lamenting on the spirituality of tobacco in Indian culture. Acuna is one of those rare performers who can transport you into her world. She has a beautiful voice-it is a gift and she uses it well.

The final act of this evening featured the Robby Ameen Latin Septet. Local drummer Ameen brought a powerhouse group that included trombonist Conrad Herwig, Saxophone and flutist Bobby Franceschini. . Bassist Lincoln Goines and pianist John Beasley.

This group cooked, playing tight post bop jazz in a direct and exciting way. They started the set with Ameen’s “Swift Boating” a tune that recalled the John Kerry smear campaign. The second song was Joe Farrell’s “Sound Dance’' and featured some brilliant interplay between Herwig on trombone and Franceschini. on flute, with Ameen ridding his cowbell hard. Herwig was impressive with his fluidity and tone and Beasley showed why he is an in demand session player on the west coast. The front line of Franceschini.and Herwig was tight and agile as it went through its serpentine paces flawlessly, with Amin and Goines keeping them all on track.

This year’s New Haven Jazz festival was indeed a homecoming of sorts that proved that Connecticut has spawned some great jazz musicians of its own and that it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. This wonderful free event is a representation of the expansive and inclusive nature of jazz music. In stark contrast to some audiences that I have witnessed, this event brought together a diversified group of fans from all walks of life. They peacefully and respectfully enjoyed America’s indigenous art form- jazz in a beautiful open air setting and all for free! What could be better? Hats off to the City of New Haven and the Casey Foundation for continuing to foster such a great event.