Saturday, September 26, 2020

Bassist Eric Revis: "Slipknots Through A Looking Glass'"


Eric Revis Slipknots Through a Looking Glass Pyroclastic Records PR09

The bassist Eric Revis has been known as an integral part of Brandford Marsalis’ Quartet since 1997. He has also worked with musically diverse musicians spanning from the progressive pianist Jason Moran, to the avant-garde drummer Andrew Cyrille, the unique vocalist Betty Carter and the iconoclastic guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. In 2017 Revis received a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation where he spent some time in the Kykuit estate writing. The contemplative time this grant allowed Revis, produced these eleven compositions on his latest release Slipknots Through a Looking Glasswhere he utilizes an unusual approach to composition. 

Revis develops a collection of what he calls "sparse" musical possibilities, as he likens them to an archipelago of "islands,"  that he then presents to his band as a range of ideas that have to be navigated through. He hard scripts some of the music, but he also allows impressionistic, free collaborating by his bandmates. He encourages extemporaneous developments that emerge from his unwritten concepts emphasizing textures, colors and rhythmic variation. The band includes Revis on Bass, Kris Davis on piano, Bill McHenry on tenor saxophone, Darius Jones on alto saxophone and Chad Taylor on drums and Mbira (African thumb piano) and Justin Faulkner on drums (tracks 1 and 3.)

Revis is approaching this music as a journey into unexplored territory. There are almost no traditional melodies per se. The album is dedicated to recently fallen jazz artists Ellis Marsalis, Henry Grimes, Lee Konitz and Wallace Roney, and to Junius Taylor the late Professor Emeritus of Physics at Morgan State University.

The album includes a three-part take on his lead composition, “Slipknots Through A Looking Glass,” where he is predominantly playing solo pizzicato bass utilizing textures ( I hear what seems to be overdubbing of low volume higher-pitched arco lines in the background) and deeply burnished tones that follow a rhythmic path. There is some purposeful magic in Revis’ choice of his title's reference to slipknots. The album’s art cover features a series of duotone photos by Sam Ekwurtzel that depict various wood knots leading you to consider the relationship of the wood knots with Revis’ music. But a slipknot is generally referring to a tied rope knot similar but distinct to a noose knot. It is used to allow the rope to slip through the knot itself and in sailing it is sometimes used as a stop knot. The dichotomy between wood and rope knots is confusing. But Revis makes the incongruity more mind-bending by the title's addition of the idea of seeing a slipknot in a looking glass or mirror. Is the slipknot there or is it a figment of your imagination?  Revis is not telling his listener. He cleverly sets up this music as a mystery that doesn’t follow traditional paths or conventional forms for that matter. No matter how attentive, your musical attention is sometimes slipping through the knot he creates.

Many of the songs have their own characteristics. Opener “Baby Renfro” has a jagged feel and features the full band with Faulkner on punchy drums and a unified front line.

“SpÆ” is a mystical sounding, spontaneously driven piece with Davis’ dreamy piano, Taylor’s rhythmic Mbira and some arco bows on bass. The music is like an excursion through an impressionistic jungle of the future.

“Ear & Three Fifths Compromise” has a moody, thriller-like sound with Faulkner and Revis keeping the drone-like rhythm. The two saxophones meander with McHenry and Jones playing in counterpoint to each other as Davis’ piano adds delicate pianistic accents.  

“Shutter” has an angularly disturbing feel that features harshly blown, schizophrenia saxophone lines and frantic piano lines as Taylor and Revis maintain a jagged rhythmic pulse. 

“ProByte” is one of the more classically inspired, melodic pieces on the album. The music features Davis playing the piano strings harp-like at the opening. The saxophones play harmonically together as Taylor offers a syncopated drum backdrop and Revis adds a plump, firm bass line.  Davis skillfully accentuates with shimmering lines that flow over the music. The music ends with a repeated melodic line that fades to a memory at the coda.

“House of Leaves,” a free-formed piece of spontaneous concepts, is opened by a conversation between Taylor’s drums and Revis’ bass.  Davis and the saxophonists add textural interest to the music as the two build upon their communication.

“When I Become Nothing” is a short ballad with some of the friendliest qualities to the casual listener. A simple relatable melody that finds each player meshing their arts beautifully and playing with delicate sensitivity, establishing a peaceful, almost hymnlike sense of presence.

“Vimen” opens with Revis rapidly manipulating his strings to create an unsettling rasp of sound. He and Taylor join in an energetic transfer of ideas that seem to have no defined direction. Davis joins the fray with her own off-kilter pianistic energy and dissonant accents. The three create a whirlwind of tumult and furry that is then joined by the two saxophonists in a boiling brew of unsettling freneticism.  Not for the lighthearted.

The bassist has proven he has all the skills he needs to play some of the best of music and some of the most challenging as well. With Slipknots Through a Looking Glass bassist Eric Revis has explored the outer edges of impressionistic music that surely challenges and for the open-minded delight the listener.

Here is a link to some of his music on Bandcamp.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Invitation (Live)

The Joy of Live Music : Marvin Stamm and Mike Holober Quartet "Live at Maureen's Jazz Cellar"


                                       Live @ Maureen's Jazz Cellar Marvin Stamm, Mike Holober, Mike McGuirk and Dennis Mackrel 

It is always a pleasure when a group of musicians possesses that “special sauce," that complementary talent, awareness, and ability to align their individual efforts and perform as one beautifully purposeful unit. It is even more conducive to success when you get a chance to play/record in a welcoming, intimate setting in front of a knowledgeable and appreciative audience. This happened this past December, pre-Covid, in the unassuming jazz venue Maureen’s Jazz Cellar, located on the west side bank of the Hudson River, in the town of Nyack, NY.

The group is comprised of the trumpeter/flugelhornist Marvin Stamm, the pianist Mike Holober, upright bassist Mike McGuirk and the drummer Dennis Mackrel. They brought their alchemy and recorded this new album simply titled Live @ Maureen’s Jazz Cellar. The music recorded, is a collection of five thoughtful and modernly navigated jazz gems from composers like  Horace Silver, Bill Evans, Bronislau Kaper and Jerome Kern, and includes two gorgeous originals written by the pianist, Mike Holober.

Dennis Mackrel, Mike McGuirk, Mike Holober, and Marvin Stamm

My exposure to the trumpeter/flugelhornist Marvin Stamm goes back to the early eighties when I first saw him playing as a guest artist with the house band- drummer Billy LaVorgna and the English pianist Derek Smith- at a little now-defunct club called the Foxes Liar in Hackensack, N.J. Stamm always impressed me with his fluid facility, his sensuous tone, especially on the flugelhorn, and his unerring melodic and harmonic sense. Years later I heard him with pianist Billy Mays’ The Inventions Trio, which included cellist Alisa Horn on a marvelous album titled Fantasy from 2007. This was a musical hybrid, a chamber/jazz crossover, that brought out Stamm’s facile expressiveness, utilizing a classically inspired approach that meshed beautifully with the Mays' piano and Horn's cello.

I discovered the pianist/composer/arranger Mike Holober in 2010, when I attended some big band performances that he conducted with the Westchester Jazz Orchestra. Besides iconic guest artists, the dynamic big band included Marvin Stamm in the trumpet section among a group of NYC's notable section musicians. Apparently, Stamm and Holober’s work together on the WJO sparked a friendship and the two became close collaborators. Holober’s growing stature as a big band composer/big band arranger was recently acknowledged when his Gotham Jazz Orchestra’s release Hiding Out, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2019.

When similar minds, like Stamm and Holober, collaborate over a sustained period and the chemistry is right, a musical empathy develops and a complimentary creative approach to music becomes almost second nature. The two went about enlisting solid and intuitively responsive rhythm section partners to form a working quartet. The drummer Dennis Mackrel and the bassist Mike McGuirk are under the radar journeymen musicians that fit superbly, expanding the conversational possibilities of this potent group.

In the opening cut, listen to how Holober’s smart intro to Horace Silver’s “Out of the Night Came You,” sets the table beautifully before the group slips into the swinging melody. Stamm’s flugelhorn has a warm, welcoming tone and he plays with a fluid inventiveness that surprises and holds your attention. The group never loses the drive carried by McGuirk’s plump bass lines and Mackrel’s sure rhythmic propulsion.

Bassist McGuirk opens with an intriguing pizzicato solo bass lead-in to Bronislau Kaper’s exotic-sounding “Invitation.”  Stamm takes this haunting melody to a new level of sensitivity. It is simply magical to listen to this master horn player take you down the rabbit hole of harmonic possibilities. Holober is similarly engaging with his own explorations of the composition’s captivating moods. McGuirk offers a fleet journey on a poignant bass solo and the music is advanced by a swirling, rhythmic drive by the trap master Mackrel. Almost fifteen minutes of marvelously played music that by itself is worth the price of admission.

On Holober original “Dear Virginia,” a pensive, touching ballad that features some of the pianist’s most expressive work, the interaction between the pianist and both Stamm and McGuirk’s artful contributions, raise cooperative playing to a new level.

“Morning Hope,” another Holober original, musically builds from tranquility to expectation. Mackrel’s subtle drum work is like a symphony of rhythms, perfectly suited to accompany whoever is soloing, while always steadfastly propelling the music forward. Holober raises the level with a rewarding and touching solo. 

A rousing rhythmic treatment on Jerome Kern’s jewel “All the Things You Are” keeps this well-worn song fresh and interesting. Solos by Holober, Stamm, and McGuirk are all top-notch and raised again by an impressive drum solo featuring Mackrel’s graceful skills.

Holober’s opening to Horace Silver’s tranquil “Peace” is masterful and moving. His piano work is elegant in songs like this, songs with a message that deserves a player who can be creative and still maintain the composer’s intention. Stamm’s impressionistic flugelhorn lines follow exploring the genuine pathos that flows through this music. His horn also offers a yearning hopefulness to the message that peace can in fact be attained, which in today’s day is a powerful aspiration. 

The set ends with the more rambunctious Bill Evans’ funky “Funkallero,” one of the few times Evans took up the electric piano.  Mackrel’s drums set the pace with a boisterous drum entrance. The members robustly trade ideas with an overall feel of gusto. Maintaining the song's drive, Holober plays with an aggressive attack, Stamm’s horn is at his most excitable and jubilant, McGuirk gives a plucky bass solo and Mackrel lets loose with his own punctuated drum highlight. The crowd at Maureen’s are left with unfettered appreciation, offering enthusiastic applause.

If you, like me, miss that “live” experience then get Live @ Maureen's Jazz Cellar and play it till your heart's delight, its the next best thing to being there.

 Follow this link to hear the group play "invitation"