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Complete Communion

Complete Communion: Stewart Smith Reviews Jazz For June
Stewart Smith , June 21st, 2017 09:22

Stewart Smith brings you reviews of all of this month's best jazz releases including LPs by William Parker Quartets, Lol Coxhill, Tomeka Reid and Here In Now

Here In Now portrait by Elliot Bergman

For the first Complete Communion of the summer, we bring you American free jazz heavyweights, an Italian bass virtuoso, some Anglo-Swiss oddballs, several generations of British eccentrics, and Franco-Portuguese chamber groups. The new double album from William Parker’s Quartets is the big news, but I’m also bowled over by the second studio album from Hear In Now, the US-Italian string trio of Mazz Swift, Tomeka Reid, and Silvia Bolognesi. Also in the mix are Chamber 4, The Selva, Gregor Vidic & Nicolas Field, Sam Andreae/David Birchall/Otto Willberg, and Lol Coxhill & Raymond MacDonald. Onwards faithful jazzers!

William Parker Quartets – Meditation/ Resurrection
(Aum Fidelity)

A new William Parker album on Aum Fidelity is always a major event, and Meditation/ Resurrection is the motherlode, boasting two hours of stunning new music from two of the master bassist’s greatest bands. The first disc features his regular quartet of Hamid Drake on drums and Rob Brown on saxophone, with Swiss-based trumpeter Jalalu Kalvert-Nelson stepping in for Lewis Barnes. The second is from the piano quartet In Order To Survive, featuring Drake, Brown and the incomparable Cooper-Moore, Lifetime Achievement Honouree at the recent Vision festival in New York. This is the first new material from these bands since the essential Wood Flute Songs box set in 2013, and although Parker has released some great music since then, there’s something particularly magical about these quartets. Steeped in melody and groove, this is some of Parker’s most accessible music, with the musicians improvising around open structures with telepathic acuity.

The first disc kicks off with ‘Criminals In The White House’. It’s perhaps not as demonstratively angry as the title suggests, but there’s a strong sense of defiance to its hard rolling funk, with Brown and Kalvert-Nelson channelling their rage into supremely focussed and inventive solos. These masters bring an avant-garde sensibility to even the most swinging of tunes, with the more out elements emerging organically. On ‘Handsome Lake’ Parker’s bass doesn’t so much walk as strut, setting up a street smart mood that he darkens with dissonant harmonics and chordal bowed bass on the second verse. ‘Horace Silver Part. 2’ pays tribute to the late piano legend with an excursion into North African sonorities. Parker jams a bow between the strings of his bass to create a high, mbira like tone, while Drake adds subtle colouration with gongs, cymbals and finger drumming. A double-reed instrument, presumably played by Parker, snakes around a tight, contrapuntal sax and trumpet figure, Morocco and Greenwich Village. It’s the otherworldly highlight of an impeccable set.

Cooper-Moore opens disc two with the gorgeously reflective two-chord piano vamp of ‘Sunrise In East Harlem’, supporting a brilliant bowed bass solo that comes at the suggested melody a half-step flat. Drake keeps time in the most imaginative way, continually working subtle variations and subdivisions into his ride cymbal pulse, and ramping up the energy with perfectly judged snare accents and tom rolls. Brown doesn’t enter until a few minutes in, but he carries the melodic ideas beautifully, opening them out before returning to the theme. ‘Some Lake Oliver’, dedicated to the World Saxophone Quartet maestro and Björk collaborator Oliver Lake, takes the group further out, with Cooper-Moore gracefully navigating his way through dizzying polytonal runs, accented chordal vamps and lapping impressionist waves. ‘Urban Disruption’ is a great showcase for the controlled fire of Brown’s alto sax, while ‘Orange Winter 1’ frames some of the group’s most adventurous playing in elegant Japanese cadences. It’s no stretch to call Parker the greatest bassist-composer since Mingus, and Meditation/ Resurrection finds him on inspired form, aided and abetted by his supreme collaborators.

Chamber 4 – City of Light
The Selva – The Selva
(Clean Feed)

Regular readers of this column will have noticed that I am quite enamoured of Portugal’s avant-jazz scene. The Lisbon-Coimbra-Porto axis is producing some of the freshest improvised music around, thanks to musicians who have developed their own approaches, while reaching out to the rest of the world. Whether through necessity or design (or indeed a bit of both) Portuguese artists have a notable interest in unconventional instrumental formats. The following two releases are testament to that, with each offering highly original takes on the chamber group and string trio.

City Of Light is the second album from Chamber 4, which teams regular Portuguese co-conspirators Luís Vicente (trumpet) and Marcelo dos Reis (guitar) with French brothers Théo (viola) and Valentin Ceccaldi (cello). Recorded live in Paris, the set begins with the quartet slowly feeling out the space, as long string tones glide in dissonant harmony over the metronomic plunk of Reis’s prepared guitar. As momentum builds, Vicente’s playing here recalls Mongezi Feza’s runaway trumpet at the climax of Robert Wyatt’s ‘Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road’, as he leaps skyward over shimmering strings. The strings break out of their repetitive patterns to explore more percussive and abstract textures, leaving Vicente free to sputter and rasp. The mood becomes increasingly dark, with the Ceccalidis engaging in jagged bow work and flint-like shards of melody over the percussive rattle and scrape of Reis’s guitar. There’s a remarkable sense of physicality to this music – not in terms of it being muscular or athletic, but in the way the musicians foreground the materiality of their instruments. You hear the grain of bows dragged over strings, guitars struck with metallic implements, breath and saliva moving through the trumpet’s valves. Vocalised trumpet tones meet actual voices, as the Ceccaldi’s move from sweet harmonies to disturbed cackles and corvid shrieks over looming cello dread. There are numerous artists today who blur the lines between free improvisation and contemporary classical, but Chamber 4 are striking out into territory of their own, detourning their stately romanticism with uneasy tonalities, torrid rhythms and flamenco flourishes.

The Selva is a new trio featuring cellist Ricardo Jacinto, bassist Gonçalo Almeida, and drummer Nuno Murão. The Rotterdam-based Almeida has already appeared on one of the year’s finest albums - The Attic with saxophonist Rodrigo Amado and drummer Marco Franco – and The Selva’s self-titled debut is another contender, sounding strikingly new. Its sees all three players deploying a range of extended and conventional techniques to explore unusual textures and shapes. The shorter tracks, which range from under two minutes to five, zoom in on particular idea: sighing whale song cello over tentative bass steps, brooding post-rock in a Spanish key, whistling harmonics over ritualistic hand drumming, revving motorbikes and slumbering dragons. The two extended tracks extend the language of free improvisation with Japanese and African influences, all atmospheric gagaku and abstracted pygmy dances. There’s a beautiful clarity and light to this music, with Murão’s drumming providing a subtle rhythmic pull. A fascinating and highly affecting listen.

Hear In Now – Not Living In Fear
(International Anthem)

More strings, this time from the Hear In Now trio of violinist Mazz Swift, cellist Tomeka Reid and double bassist Silvia Bolognesi. Of the three, Reid is the musician I’m most familiar with, having greatly admired her Quartet album, and her contributions to projects by Nicole Mitchell and Roscoe Mitchell. Swift has played with everyone from Greg Tate’s Burnt Sugar Arkestra, to Kanye, Common and Jay-Z, while Bolognesi is a stalwart of the Italian scene. Not Living In Fear shows their versatility and focus, as it ranges from folk and blues tinged jazz, baroque and contemporary classical music, to avant-garde. ‘Requiem For Charlie Haden’ is a beautiful tribute, tipping its hat to the great bassist’s love of Spanish modes bassist and sinuous tone, without ever feeling like pastiche. ‘Terrortoma’ has a muscular folk-blues feel, with Swift flying over a triplet cello riff that recalls Abdul Wadud’s work on Julius Hemphill’s classic Dogon A.D. The reference is perhaps no accident, given that the following track is called ‘Prayer For Wadud’. Beginning as a mournful chamber blues, the piece takes on a more strident feel with Swift’s expressive violin riding Bolognesi’s syncopated bass riff. ‘Cantiere Orlando’ transports us to an Italian Renaissance court, with Reid tapping out a stately rhythm on her cello’s body, while Swift waltzes, glides and tip-toes across the floor. As the piece progresses, the playing becomes freer and funkier, encouraging those Florentine aristos to get on the good foot. As its title suggests, Not Living In Fear is testament to the power of the creative spirit in the face of adversity. A superb album.

Gregor Vidic & Nicolas Field – Do You Have A Room?
(No label)

Given its garish Ed Roth-meets-2000 AD album art, all mangled snot-green body parts and splattered paint, one might expect Do You Have A Room? to be a gristly slab of skronk. Swiss saxophonist Gregor Vidic and English-Swiss drummer Nicolas Field can certainly whip up a febrile racket, but the duo format leaves plenty of space in their music, even at its most intense. Nicholas is an energetic drummer, scrambling around his kit with glee, but he has a keen sense of swing and dynamics, allowing Vidic to blow his tenor in a tone that is often closer to the lyricism of Sonny Rollins, say, than the jet-engine roar of Peter Brötzmann. There’s no shortage of strangulated whelps and grainy multiphonics here, but Vidic tends to not to play them at ass-blasting volume, and mixes them up with hard bop licks. A tasty slice of underground free jazz.

Sam Andrae/David Birchall/Otto Willberg – Hair In The Chimney
(Heavy Petting/Vernacular Records)

Top-notch weirdo jams from the north of England. Featuring Sloth Racket’s Sam Andrae on saxophone, David Birchall on guitar, and Otto Willberg on double bass, Hair In The Chimney brings an underground sensibility to free improvisation, with the musicians using unconventional techniques to defamiliarise their instruments. On ‘Endless Blue Meander’ (nice Eno reference!) Birchall’s guitar is effectively a percussion instrument, as he taps the amplified body with drumsticks, strikes the strings behind the neck, and rubs objects into the pick-ups. Tap, ping, crackle. Andrae emits a few mouthpiece sputters, but much of his playing is textural or percussive, as he taps the bell with a coin, and removes the neck altogether, treating it as a high-end tin whistle. Willberg occasionally frames these abstractions with free jazz bass runs, but he’s by no means the straight man, as his outré vocabulary of snapped strings and growling arco effects attests. ‘Sockets Filled Up With Eyes’ offers Whammy pedal pitch wobbles and all manner of Cage-ian bass preparations, concluding with an insect ballet set to ghostly drones.

Lol Coxhill & Raymond MacDonald - Morphometry

Asked in 2014 what he would like for his birthday, the Scottish producer and broadcaster John Cavanagh suggested that a crowd-funder be set up to release an album he had recorded by the saxophonists Lol Coxhill and Raymond MacDonald in July 2008. Now that present is here, resplendent on custard-coloured vinyl, with a delightful front cover woodcut by Ian Barrett. Coxhill, who died in 2012, was a regular visitor to Scotland, and struck up a warm relationship in his later years with Cavanagh, Bill Wells and Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, of whom MacDonald is a key member. That quality comes through in these duets, recorded over an evening with a single malt to hand. Coxhill is on typically inquisitive and generous form, offering finely spun threads of soprano sax for MacDonald to elaborate on with his alto. Together they conjure a gently surreal world of chirruping blackbirds, Bashovian frogs, and skylarks improvising freely on Rodgers & Hart. No sound files are available, so you’ll just have to take a punt. In the meantime, enjoy a track from Coxhill’s lovely 2001 album with the Bill Wells Octet.