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Complete Communion

Complete Communion: Jazz For July Reviewed By Peter Margasak
Peter Margasak , July 27th, 2021 09:44

While there are great 'pandemic albums' being released now, it’s hard not to gravitate toward records where the charged, spontaneous interplay of musicians feels palpable. Complete Communion has both polarities covered, says Peter Margasak, with some gripping stops in between

Brandee Younger by Erin Patrice O'Brien

Early last Autumn, during a several-month period in Berlin where live music happened, albeit with smaller audiences, I was vividly reminded how much more exciting jazz and improvised music tends to be when we’re watching and listening in person.

I’ve always adored recorded music where I can control so many parameters of the experience, but seeing it all transpire in the flesh, as musicians balance upon a metaphorical tightrope, remains nonpareil.

That feverish intensity virtually drips from Understanding, a searing 1970 live recording of a quintet led by Detroit drummer Roy Brooks issued for the first time by Reel To Real Recordings. The music was recorded in Baltimore at the Famous Ballroom, capturing a frontline — trumpeter Woody Shaw and tenor saxophonist Carlos Garnett — building on the volatile transformation of jazz during the 1960s, bringing a fiery intensity and generous freedom to modal forms.

The relentless rhythm section of Brooks, pianist Harold Mabern, and bassist Cecil McBee (the elder here, at 35) charges at high velocity and intensity, providing quicksilver commentary and fleet provocations. Shaw, is a force of nature, especially on his 'Zoltan'. In 1975 Brooks would leave New York and return to Detroit, where health issues eroded his visibility and activity, but this date reminds us of his protean power. An engagement a few months earlier in 1970 by trumpeter Lee Morgan in Hermosa Beach, California was immortalised on a searing Blue Note album, Live At The Lighthouse, also with pianist Mabern, late that same year. Now all 12 sets of the stand have been released on a massive 12-LP/8-CD set, capturing the killer band — saxophonist Bennie Maupin, bassist Jymmie Merritt, and drummer Mickey Roker. Morgan was on fire during the stint, crowning his late 60s comeback, and while it rivals the dizzying intensity of the Brooks set, the trumpeter cleaves to a hard-bop model, even if Maupin’s playing pushes toward the future.

Antonis Anissegos – Free Radicals
(Trouble In the East)

Greek pianist Antonis Anissegos, who’s been based in Berlin since 1998, is a musician of serious versatility. Any single recording by him can only provide an incomplete glimpse at his range and interests. He’s a crucial presence in saxophonist Silke Eberhard’s hard-swinging Potsa Lotsa Plus, while in 2019 he released a stunning interpretation of Morton Feldman’s Patterns In A Chromatic Field with cellist Mathis Mayr. This bracing new solo recording comes as close as any single title in his discography of capturing his aesthetic. He made Free Radicals in June of 2020 during the first lockdown in Berlin, creating 19 improvised vignettes, most of which unfold in the shadow of subtle electronics. His jagged, often gestural lines and fractal patterns are frequently processed through effects pedals and a ring modulator, accenting acoustic tones with needling, otherworldly responses that seem have to a mind of their own. Could these be the free radicals of the album title? Either way, his angular explorations, both unadorned and contorted within an electro-hall-of-mirrors, are detail-rich excursions riddled with heady surprises, as 20th century classical language is mutated by state-of-now improvisational gambits.

Hank Roberts Sextet - Science of Love

During the 1980s cellist Hank Roberts was an unusual figure in New York’s Downtown music scene, making his own genre-bending recordings in addition to providing invaluable, singular contributions to projects led by Bill Frisell and Tim Berne, among others. In 1989 he relocated upstate to Ithaca, where he started a family and largely vanished from the scene. This superb new album is a product of his return to the city in 2015, when he began composing the music and assembling an ensemble of players from a new generation. The bulk of the recording is comprised ofG, a densely composed 14-movement suite where the sextet wends through countless moods and attacks, toggling between chamber-like ensemble writing to spiky contrapuntal dialogues, like the duet between Roberts and pianist Jacob Sacks on 'Earth Sky Realms'. The writing feels like it only come from a seasoned musician, as it allows for generous group interplay and extended improvisation within tightly arranged tunes which deftly balance the strings of Roberts and violinist Dana Lynn with the agile frontline of trombonist Bryan Drye and reedist Mike McGinnis and the drumming of Vinnie Sperrazza. It all conveys the cellist’s well-established lyrical identity with an entirely new sonic palette.

David Leon – Aire de Agua
(Out of Your Head)

Many young jazz artists tend to use debut recordings as platforms to show off every facet and interest they possess, and too often they come off as unfocused and overstuffed. Cuban-American alto saxophonist David Leon not only arrives fully-formed on his first record, but his extroversion feels like a natural part of his musical personality, spiking his agile post-bop with nifty conceptual brio that never gets in the way of his desire to communicate. 'Pina', which is named for the famed choreographer Pina Bausch, plays with timbre, deliberately swapping some of the traditional sounds of each instrument through extended techniques, but as cool as the experiment sounds, it’s couched within a meticulously constructed tune that doesn’t require such extracurricular concepts. I’d never heard of the musicians in his band — pianist Sonya Belaya, bassist Florian Herzog, and drummer Stephen Boegehold — but they articulate the leader’s idea brilliantly, reinforcing his stop-on-a-dime precision rhythmically and harmonically. It’s seems clear that they’ve developed the leader’s ideas together. It seems certain we’ll be hearing a lot more from Leon.

XT – Deorlaf-X

The bruising fury of XT — the duo of saxophonist Seymour Wright and percussionist Paul Abbott — achieves a new apotheosis, with a kind of radical remix endeavour that celebrates the confluence of musicians, audience, and the environment at Dalston’s Café Oto. The pair deconstructed ten previous performances at the space — some in their duo guise, and others with guests like RP Boo and Pat Thomas — blending those recordings with new material, a process overseen with engineer Shaun Crook. The collision of Wright’s slashing, upper register lines, shot through with jazz history, and Abbott’s air-sucking barrage somehow gets amplified and intensified, with wild stop-start jags, crushing pile-ups featuring different iterations of the same structural gambits, and chopped-up assemblages that confound any clear logical flow. While chaos may seem to abound, there’s an incredible, visceral focus at work as the two side-long pieces writhe between free jazz, noise, and bebop, moving between interior and exterior worlds in breathless, exhilarating fashion.

JD Allen - Queen City

Tenor saxophonist JD Allen channeled the introspection brought on by the pandemic by thinking about what inspired him to play music in the first place. “Playing the saxophone started out for me as a way to release feelings that I couldn't express verbally, even in the beginning when all I could make were sounds,” he writes in the liner notes to Queen City, his first ever solo recording. The Detroit native approaches each new album as a kind of musical-intellectual exercise, carving out a concept and building repertoire to fit it. Four standards sandwich nine originals, but regardless of the material there’s a consistent mix of earthy grit and deep reflection in his playing. 'Maude' is dotted with silence and gut-punching blurts, while his take on the American folk tune 'Wildwood Flower' is plaintive, extracting a withering lyric beauty that’s seriously moving. Hearing Allen without his usual trio allows the listener to really understand the brilliance of his constructions, as melodies, both terse and elaborate, are worked over, reconsidered, and reshaped in endless permutations. Few working musicians can find new wrinkles in familiar settings like Allen, but this one is extra special.

Andrew Cyrille – The News

The late-career renaissance of drummer Andrew Cyrille continues apace with yet another date featuring guitarist Bill Frisell. This fantastic quartet album is more tune-focused than the drummer’s other ECM titles, and the presence of bassist Ben Street — who’s worked closely with Cyrille in a trio led by Danish pianist Søren Kjærgaard — and Cuban pianist David Virelles, who was a last-minute substitution for Richard Teitelbaum who was slated to appear before illness prevented him from making the August, 2019 session, only adds depth and resonance. There are some wonderfully delicate swingers like Frisell’s elegant 'Go Happy Lucky', which echoes Duke Ellington’s 'Happy Go Lucky Local', while for the title track the drummer revisits a 1978 solo piece newly arranged for quartet, where newspaper is used as a sonic device not only by him, but the whole band, blending lyrical improvisation, tactile textures, and foreboding ambience. Virelles is an especially effective participant, adding some subtle electronic sounds which help place a welcome focus on Cyrille’s exquisite brushwork and his unsinkable ability to balance swing and abstraction.

Brandee Younger – Somewhere Different

Over the last few years Brandee Younger has not only revisited the achievements of fellow jazz harpists Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane, but she’s explored less obvious pathways, whether performing with life-long experimentalist Anthony Braxton or doing session work with R&B singer John Legend. Her own records have routinely melded post-bop with soul, pop, and funk modes, and late last year she and her bass-playing husband Dezron Douglas released a lovely series of duos originally made for a streaming series during the lockdown. Now she’s dropped her first album for Impulse — former label of Coltrane — and it deliberately aims for a wide listenership, sanding away her most exploratory instincts for something familiar and accessible. There’s a pop snap to the production by Douglas, which presents the harpist’s improvisations atop grooves that roll, stutter, and glide. For most of the album Younger is supported only by bassist Rashaan Carter and drummer Allan Mednard. Horns turn up as on the slinky opener 'Reclamation', but they’re mostly deployed as shading, although trumpeter Maurice Brown unspools a lengthy, electronics-kissed solo 'Spirit U Will'. Veteran Ron Carter joins for a couple of tunes, but from the start it’s Younger in the spotlight, and the album seems well-positioned to pull in new listeners.

Matt Mitchell & Kate Gentile – Snark Horse

Keyboardist Matt Mitchell and drummer Kate Gentile have become ubiquitous figures in New York when it comes music requiring a mix of rigorous technique and unbound imagination. They’re also both prodigious composers who’ve wedded post-bop to dizzying progressive impulses, penning pieces of hefty density and endless thematic twists that require interpreters to be both killer ensemble players and fearless improvisers. As an exercise to eschew the sort of epic writing they both favour, the pair created a book of one-bar compositions, although within each piece is the possibility to repeat, invert, and reorder each component in modular fashion. Ultimately these works can sound just as complex and stimulating as their long-form brethren. They enlisted eight New York heavies — including guitarists Brandon Seabrook and Ava Mendoza, bassist Kim Cass, and trombonist Ben Gerstein — to assist in three marathon sessions. Audaciously, the duo decided to release all of the sessions in addition to a clutch of electronic pieces Mitchell abstracted from bits of the one-bar pieces, spreading 49 tracks out over six CDs and spanning more than six hours. Naturally, it’s unwieldy, but Snark Horse feels like a gift that can keep the mind absorbed for years to come. It’s a tall order, but every minute I’ve listened has opened the work up, making deeper investigation not only necessary, but a hell of a good time, too.

Lisa Ullen & Anna Högberg - Step Up a Second

Pianist Lisa Ullen is a bedrock presence in saxophonist Anna Högberg’s Attack!, one of Sweden’s most exciting bands. While that sextet favours high-octane over concise folkloric and post-bop themes, this new project arranges shifting improvisational settings within a single concert-length work built from simple thematic forms. The piece opens with the co-leaders in restrained yet tense dialogue, over which other members of 11-member ensemble chatter, snort, and whisper gesturally until a full-boil riff begins to slowly emerge seven-minutes in, gaining volume, motion, and depth, climaxing with the slashing guitar of Finn Loxbo. But most of the 33-minute piece flirts with quietude, as the garrulous tuba of Anton Svanberg provides a gently rumbling foundation for the brass of trombonist Mats Äleklint and Niklas Barnö, the reeds of Högber and Per “Texas” Johansson, the violin of Eva Lindal, the second piano (and throat singing and harmonium) of Sten Sandel, and the cymbal patter of Anna Lund. The dynamic range is huge, but it’s the murmuring exploration of texture that occupies the bulk of the piece. The rise-and-fall improvisation privileges massed sound rather than individual voices, and by the time the utterances fade away it’s clear how locked in this group feels with one another.

Jane In Ether – Spoken/Unspoken

This new trio of Berlin improvisers delivers a gorgeously tactile, meditative series of restrained excursions that turns the traditional expectations of each instrument upside down. Pianist Magda Mayas, of course, long ago built a soundworld all her own with rigorous preparations, working under the hood of her keyboard like a scientist, while the astringent pizz and striated arco of violinist Biliana Voutchkova and percussive tonguing techniques and breathy sibilance of recorder player Miako Klein provide worthy, fascinating counterpoint. The five pieces reveal how locked-in the musicians are, deftly complementing and building on ever-changing gestures and textures without ever following or mimicking one another. The opening piece 'Yungen' serves as a stylistic model for what follows, as the collective improvisation glides through a variety of discreet yet seamless episodes marked by sound that spikes, whispers, shimmies, and floats, with each component carefully considering what surrounds it. The quicksilver adjustments and shifts are beguiling, but ultimately this session is special because they carve out a sound world that transports the listener into some elusive environment, whether deep in a forest or blindfolded within a windswept, abandoned factory.