Complete Communion: Jazz Reviews For August By Stewart Smith
, August 5th, 2015 07:34
Stewart Smith is back with all the jazz that's fit to review from Matana Roberts, William Parker and Marshall Allen
Photo by Michael Wilderman
Do everything you can to get to the first Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival, held at The Old Market on September 11-12. It’s exactly the kind of forward-looking small festival the UK jazz scene needs: a Jools Holland free zone, with an admirable commitment to addressing the gender imbalance of many such events. Danish saxophonist Mette Ramusen and London drum hero Steve Noble, who appear separately on projects I review below, are among the highlights of a festival which presents big American and European names alongside local homegrown talent.
In a special festival commission, spiritual jazzer Nat Birchall embarks on a new transatlantic partnership with Canadian drummer Franklin Kiermeyer. Sarah Gail Brand has put together a top-notch sextet of UK players, including the excellent drummer Mark Sanders, while the terrific Woven Entity invite Danish saxophonist and flautist Julie Kjaer to help them cook up a gumbo of afro-jazz, dub, lo-fi electronics and free improv. The graceful, highly inventive vibraphone player Corey Mwamba appears in his Yana trio with bassist Dave Kane and drummer Joshua Blackmore, and in a quartet with saxophonist Rachel Musson, bassist Neil Charles and Mark Sanders. Brighton’s own West Hill Blast Quartet, as featured in January’s Complete Communion, complete the bill, with noise-poet Verity Spott guesting on cello.
As for the small matter of the headliners… ach, it’s only the greatest rhythm section in contemporary jazz, William Parker and Hamid Drake, joined by American-Dutch saxophonist John Dikeman. This trio is also out on tour in September, taking in London’s Café Oto on the 6th and Glasgow’s Poetry Club on the 7th. A digital release of the trio’s 2014 Oto show, Cleaning The Mirror, has just been made available. Check it out here.
On tour in August are Turkish free jazzers Konstrukt, whose latest album Kaishi is a heady trip into the psychedelic multi-sphere with Japanese maverick Akira Sakata. TQ’s John Doran has already written about them here. For information about their London, Bristol and Manchester shows visit the band's website.
William Parker – For Those Who Are, Still
William Parker can do little wrong and this latest box set from Aum Fidelity (following 2013’s massive and utterly essential Wood Flute Song, the individual discs of which are still available to download) gathers three of the great bassist and composer’s recent commissions.
Dedicated to the great civil rights activist, For Fannie Lou Hamer doesn’t actually feature Parker or his band, the instruments being handled by New York’s Kitchen House Blend Band. The piece has Parker’s fingerprints all over it, however, from the wailing double reeds that open the piece to the clear trumpet lines and roiling percussion. Parker’s regular vocal foil Leena Conquest pulls it all together, reciting his poetry and leading the band in a rousing gospel march. The first disc also includes the song sequence ‘Vermeer’, a vivid blend of modernist art song, Japanese folk and the blues, featuring Parker on bass and hocckichu, Conquest on vocals, Darryl Foster on reeds and Eri Yamamoto on piano.
The second disc, Red Giraffe With Dreadlocks, pairs Indian classical singer Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay – who sang on one of Parker’s greatest albums, 2007’s Double Sunrise Over Neptune – with Senegalese-born/Amsterdam-based griot Mola Sylla, a regular collaborator with Werner Herzog’s favoured cellist Ernst Reijseger. The first piece, ‘Villages, Greetings And Prayer’, unfolds slowly, with Bandyopadhyay and Sylla duetting over the phased drone of an electronic shruti box. It’s a stark, plaintive sound, devised to explore the connections between Indian classical music and Senegalese griot.
Parker’s regular quartet of pianist Cooper-Moore, alto saxophonist Rob Brown and drummer Hamid Drake set up a warm groove on the second track, ‘Souls Have Fallen Like Rain’, augmented by Bill Cole’s double reeds and Klaas Hekman’s bass saxophone. They pull back to showcase the vocal exchanges, with Cooper-Moore and Parker adding subtle colouring in the spaces. ‘The Giraffe Dances’ begins as a feature for Hekman’s playful bass sax and Drake’s fluid drumming, before some balletic moves from Cooper-Moore bring the whole band in. Cole’s double-reed buzzes at the edges of their group improvisation like an angry fly. Two short song/poem pieces provide reflective interludes before the finale of ‘Where Do You Send The Poem’ lets Sylla, Bandyopadhyay and Cole loose over a classic Parker/Drake groove.
The final disc, Ceremonies For Those Who Are Still is a piece for orchestra, choir and jazz trio, performed at the 2013 Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland. It’s Parker’s first work for symphony orchestra, and while it’s perhaps not particularly revolutionary, it does contain some impressive writing, with the arrangements being open enough for Parker, saxophonist Charles Gayle and drummer Mike Reed to embark on some thrilling improvisatory runs.
Mette Rasmussen & Chris Corsano – All The Ghosts At Once
Baby-faced drum demon Chris Corsano has dropped some scorching duets with fire-breathing saxophonists like Paul Flaherty and Wally Shoup, but this team up with the young Danish altoist Mette Rasmussen inhabits more liminal territory. It’s certainly not short of abrasive tones and pulsing kick drum action, but both Rasmussen and Corsano temper their attack with a strong sense of dynamics and texture. You may have heard Rasmussen with Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra. Her playing taps into the European free music continuum, with strong echoes of the American post-bop tradition. She moves from searing arcs of pinched tone and puckering reed effects to lyrical melodic flourishes, all the while maintaining a strong individual identity. Corsano is famed for his use of objects and extended techniques, but here he limits himself to sticks and drums, moving freely around the kit as Rasmussen provides the centrifugal force. A great duo set, with bonus points for such absurdist track titles as the cosmo-domestic Whitmanism of ‘Oh Space Heater! My Space Heater’.
Matana Roberts – Always
Readers of this column and tQ in general will know that we are great fans of Matana Roberts. As I said back in January, she is quite simply one of the most important living artists in any field. Always sees her taking time out from her epic Coin Coin project to record a set of extended solo alto saxophone improvisations. Solo saxophone albums can be a hard sell, but this seemingly modest effort is a beautiful thing, a 33 minute alto meditation followed by a 9 minute encore. Roberts’ notes to the album read, ‘lovingly dedicated to those bard(s) of summer... the ideas herein of which gleaned/ interrogated/ investigated/ celebrated with you…’ and clichéd as it may sound, her playing really is poetic, as she calmly moves from long lyrical lines to tight runs of complex harmony. The final minutes of the album are deeply affecting, a folk fragment played with ineffable tenderness and grace.
Stefan Keune, Dominic Lash, Steve Noble – Fractions
German saxophonist Stefan Keune has a strong affinity for British improvisers, having worked with the likes of Roger Turner, John Russell and John Butcher. This set, recorded at London’s Vortex Jazz Club in November 2013, teams him up with two of Britain’s finest rhythm players, drummer Steve Noble and the young bassist Dominic Lash. With as energetic a player as Noble behind the kit, it doesn’t take long for opening track ‘Two Far’ to get going. Keune writhes around the upper register of his tenor, like a bird thrashing its way out of an oil slick, while Noble plants whipcrack snare rolls and tom detonations under Lash’s creaking bass. Noble’s drumming is robust, but textural, leaving plenty of space for Keune and Lash to roam freely. There’s some righteous fiery multiphonics, but some of the most effective passages are where Keune explores the altissimo range of his tenor and sopranino horns, conjuring a swarm of twittering blackbirds and demented starlings, while Lash’s bass lurches between grainy harmonics and dolorous plucks. Fractions is among the best of No Business’s summer batch, which also includes fine albums from Lash and Alexander Hawkins’ Covergence Quartet, the vibraphone and cornet duo of Karl Berger and Kirk Knuffke, and the high-level European improv summit Intricacies.
Tim Berne’s Snakeoil – You’ve Been Watching Me
You’ve Been Watching Me, the latest album from altoist Tim Berne’s Snakeoil project, does that downtown New York thing of mixing contemporary composition and art rock with jazz-based improvisation. The stacking of angular riffs ‘Lost In Redding’ will inevitably put many listeners in mind of math-rock, an unlovely genre I’ve never had much time for. But where so much math-rock can sound strained, Berne’s pieces wear their complexity with ease. His music avoids macho posturing and is never clever for the sake of it. Snakeoil’s oblique scaffolding is grounded by passages of austere, pensive beauty, such as on ‘Embraceable Me’, where Oscar Noriega’s bass clarinet snuffles around and burrows under Berne’s reflective alto. A distant rumble of drums looms over the horizon, leading into a more pensive section built around Mitchell’s left-hand piano figure. Brittle cymbal tones and corrosive smears of guitar add to a tense atmosphere which is deliberately left unresolved. Mitchell’s restrained piano anchors the more compact ‘Angles’, his metallic riff stalking a post-apocalyptic landscape. Ferreira’s guitar crawls seething behind it, but instead of building to a satisfyingly doomy climax, the piece takes a sharp turn into intricate Zorn-like wonk. The title track is the undoubted highlight, with Smith laying bowed cymbal and vibraphone atmospheres under a drone-based textural exploration. The expressive solo that Berne eventually unleashes is all the more effective for coming out of a space of doubt.
Drummer Ches Smith and pianist Matt Mitchell also play on Darius Jones Quartet’s brilliant new album with singer Emilie Lesbros, where they bring a similar combination of delicacy, invention and restraint. I’ve reviewed Le Bébé De Brigitte elsewhere, but if you like the idea of a contemporary jazz album which taps into the spirit of Brigitte Fontaine’s 1969 masterpiece Comme à la Radio, then get in aboot it, as we say here in Glasgow.
Sun Ra Arkestra Under The Direction Of Marshall Allen – Babylon Live
(In and Out Records)
This month sees the Sun Ra Arkestra, led by 91-year-old wonder of the universe Marshall Allen, beam down from Saturn to tour the UK, taking in dates at Café Oto, Edinburgh’s Summerhall and the Green Man festival in Wales. Babylon Live is a lavish CD and DVD set documenting the Istanbul leg of their 2014 Sun Ra centennial tour. It finds the Arkestra on fine form, bringing their cosmic swing to Ra classics like ‘Saturn’, ‘Discipline’ and 'Satellites Are Spinning’ and taking Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Stardust’ and the Batman theme for a trip along the spaceways. Allen’s alto sax can still spit xenomorph blood, while his playing of the Electric Wind Instrument remains pan-dimensional. A relatively recent addition to the band, pianist Farid Barron is particularly impressive, guiding the music forward with rippling right hand runs and widely voiced chords. Special mention to baritone saxophonist Danny Ray Thompson, whose Ellingtonian honks underline the music’s connection to the big band tradition. Babylon Live might not be an essential addition to a Sun Ra collection, but it’s tremendously good fun. It’s also great to have a professionally filmed document of the current Arkestra in action, resplendent in their sparkling space robes.