The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Complete Communion

Complete Communion: Jazz For September Reviewed By Peter Margasak
Peter Margasak , September 20th, 2021 09:02

Peter Margasak reviews this month's most notable jazz releases while noting that many of this music's finest practitioners are increasingly rejecting this genre tag as a racist mechanism designed to keep them in a fixed place

Jessica Ackerley and Daniel Carter, by No Land

When I was younger and dumber I thought of alto saxophonist Joe Harriott as the British Ornette Coleman, but time has disabused me of that faulty assumption. But that doesn’t mean Harriott’s more earnest embrace of jazz tradition diminishes his art.

The ezz-thetics label continues offering valuable reassessments of 60s jazz, and now two of Harriott’s best quintet outings have been collected on Free Form & Abstract Revisited, where the leader’s tart alto thrived in the company of trumpeter Shake Keane, pianist Pat Smythe, drummer Phil Seaman, and bassist Coleridge Goode.

Still, Harriott was a crucial explorer, subtly tweaking different elements within the tradition, and delivering a serious emotional impact. These dates aren’t radical, but they are indelible, and represent some of finest, most original recordings in early British jazz history.

There’s little question that the Danish pianist Tom Prehn engaged in some of the earliest and fiercest free jazz produced in Europe. He only made a handful of recordings, all of which hare hard-to-find, but none are as scarce as Centrifuga and Sohlverv, made in 1964 and 1965, respectively, and released private on reel-to-reel tape. Only a couple of each have been known to exist, but now the rest of us can finally hear them.

They’ve been issued together by the good folks at Corbett vs. Dempsey, with liner notes from avowed fan Mats Gustafsson. The recordings capture every nuance of tenor saxophonist Fritz Krogh, bassist Poul Ehlers, and drummer Finn Slumstrup, an attack rooted in jazz tradition while simultaneously determined to kneecap it.

Travis Laplante & Jason Nazary – Tunnel To Light
(Tripticks Tapes)

Saxophonist Travis Laplante and drummer Jason Nazary share a deep history dating back more than 15 years, when they worked together in the rock-driven free jazz group Little Women. In the years since both musicians have dramatically widened their scope, the former thriving with his tenor sax quartet Battle Trance and writing music for new music ensembles like JACK Quartet and Yarn/Wire, while the latter has embraced electronics in Anteloper, his duo with Jaimie Branch, and on his recent solo album Spring Collection. This terrific tape reflects those developments without surrendering shared roots. There are three bracing tenor sax/drum improvisations that meld spontaneous ferocity and tenderness with a genuine and inexorable quest for spiritual release that transcends the usual noise we hear about that kind of seeking. There’s a razor-sharp focus and intensity in these tightly-wound excursions. The lengthy 'Bell High Locust' was created remotely and wades into the territory they’ve been immersed in individually, with Laplante patiently and lyrically embroidering Nazary’s elaborate blend of stuttery electronic beats, cycling synthetic patterns and frictive, close-mic'd textures.

Flukten – Velkommen håp

We know that the pandemic has led to an extraordinary number of recordings by musicians robbed of performance opportunities, but this Norwegian quartet actually became a working band due to the lockdown. Flukten, which played its first gig in Oslo in 2020, includes some of Norway’s most interesting young players and the group’s debut album feels like a release of some seriously pent-up energy. The music, written by various members of the band, conveys a feeling of simple joy, as if the musicians — saxophonist Hanna Paulsburg, guitarist Marius Hirth Kovning, bassist Bárður Reinert Poulsen, and drummer Hans Hulbækmo (Atomic, Moskus) — have found a new appreciation for the elements that led them to jazz in the first place. One can hear contemporary antecedents in their music, from the striated tone of John Scofield in Poulsen’s spindly guitar, the breathy texture of Joe Lovano in Paulsburg’s lyric blowing, and the singular drag of Paul Motian in Hulbækmo’s time-keeping. But there’s a big-bottomed energy and a post-Ornette Coleman melodicism to the music, with an air of excitement that’s bursting to escape. Flukten hold the reins tightly, revealing a discipline despite the jacked-up atmosphere.

Jessica Ackerley and Daniel Carter – Friendship: Lucid Shared Dreams and Time Travel

The pandemic also brought veteran New York free jazz reedist multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter together with the young guitarist Jessica Ackerley for a number of intimate, low-key outdoor gigs during the bleak summer of 2020. Based on the results of this lovely all-acoustic duo session they found a genuine connection. While both musicians are immersed in the city’s improvised music scene and can both raise a serious ruckus, here they create something decidedly delicate and even pretty. They start with nothing, but most of their careful, meticulously etched exchanges and dialogues are surprisingly tender, illuminating heightened listening and camaraderie. The shapes of these eight pieces are abstract, created with a goal of interplay, but they both draw upon an unexpected lyricism, with Ackerley offering melodic tendrils, fluid arpeggios, and dusky tangles of single-note runs, while Carter weaves his sound—whether on flute, clarinet, saxophone, or even trumpet—through those airy constellations. There’s nothing slight about these dialogues, but they prove that spontaneous exploration needn’t be boisterous or austere. Indeed, there’s a spirit of triumph in their interactions, turning to sound to blot out the silence imposed by COVID.

Aakash Mittal – Nocturne

Indian-American alto saxophonist Aakash Mittal has been immersed in developing a hybrid of Indian classical sounds and jazz improvisation for more than a decade, and this new trio recording is his most cogent and deep product of that ongoing research. He spent much of his time between 2013 and 2015 living and studying in Kolkata and Nocturne deftly combines the sounds he absorbed in the bustling city — including field recordings he made of local celebrations that he collages in a trio of audio verite pieces called 'Street Music', as well as his memories of the crush of humanity he routinely encountered. “The human density, music, and noise of my might adventures in Kolkata greatly influences the album,” he writes in his liner note essay. He gets excellent support from guitarist Miles Okazaki and percussionist Rajna Swaminathan (on mrudangam and kanjira), both of whom stretch out his snaking themes, extend their possibilities, and engage in a sophisticated three-way dialogue. The title of the album enfolds several strains of night music, from classical meditations, all-night jam sessions, to evening ragas he studied in India with sarod master Prattyush Banerjee. In fact, most of these pieces are based on traditional evening ragas, which Mittal abstracted from their classical forms and intervals.

Rivers Of Sound – The Other Shore
(Out Note)

Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar charted new territory in 2007 with his striking debut album Two Rivers, a rigorous and deeply convincing hybrid of Iraqi maqam and post-bop. In all of his subsequent projects he’s pursued different ways of combining disparate traditions, locating threads that belie a seeming incongruity. Rivers Of Sound is an orchestra he put together to achieve those goals, but he makes an important point in his liner note essay: “When we begin with an inherent sense of unity and interconnectedness, and musicians as individuals, not representatives of a culture, there is no longer a need to ‘build bridges.’” Indeed, this stellar cast helps ElSaffar achieve a single sound constructed from many sources. They each bring their own traditional modes from around the globe, but the novelty is gone. They make music together. The leader’s extended suite blends a dynamic palette of sounds from different regions with beguiling harmonies and timbres. The slinking polyrhythmic groove of “Transformations” is laced with an elegant post-bop horn line, shimmering vibraphone, and twangy strings, with ElSaffar delivering a haunting vocal incantation. In fact, each piece on the album swerves gently and organically between sections, as the multi-partite writing is ordered by a grand structure that I’m still wrapping my head around. In a less hierarchical culture the profound The Other Shore would be treated like a new symphonic endeavour without the upper crust baggage.

Petter Eldh – Projekt Drums Vol. 1

The Berlin-based Swedish bassist Petter Eldh long ago established his instrumental chops, playing behind Django Bates and alongside Christian Lillinger and Kaja Draksler in Punkt.Vrt.Plastik, but his skills as a producer have been rapidly emerging, first through his work in jacking-up the sweaty post-bop of Koma Saxo and bringing an airy velocity to Y-Otis. But he goes full on as a beat maven on his first solo record, building tracks around the drumming of six disparate, monster drummers. A bunch of the tracks follow in the flute-heavy wake of last year’s Y-Otis album — inspired by Brazilian records by the likes of Hermeto Pascoal and Mauricio Maestro — creating airy top notes for some bumping grooves meted out by Savannah Harris, Nate Wood, and Richard Spaven. Here and there some excellent soloists weave compelling narratives through the winding, hard-hitting grooves, but this album is more concerned with architecture than specific lines. Eldh is constantly toying with each track — adding, subtracting, and reshaping every bar with shifting details, some electronic, some acoustic — functioning more like a sound sculptor than a bandleader. The French horn of David Marrow-Bird slaloms unexpectedly through the busy rhythms of Eric Harland on 'Hawk Mountain', setting up a slashing alto sax solo by Wanja Slavin, while Amsterdam guitarist evokes the gnarled lines of Jeff Parker on 'East Croydon'. Eldh’s big ears can’t be contained by any single genre, so this is as much a post-hip hop record as it is a jazz album.

Henry Threadgill Zooid – Poof

On the first new album in seven years from his agile ensemble Zooid — which at this point is his longest-running band in an impressive line of combos including Air, Sextett, and Very Very Circus — Henry Threadgill sounds more nimble and versatile than ever. When he started the band — which now includes guitarist Liberty Ellman, drummer Elliot Kavee, cellist Christopher Hoffman, and trombonist/tubist Jose Davila — Threadgill aimed to force each musician out of their comfort zones, requiring them to work with assigned clusters of intervals within which they could range freely. From the start the musicians transcended the seemingly rigid rules by mining a fruitful group rapport, and over two decades together they’ve internalised Threadgill’s compositional framework, as if forgetting that their bicycles had training wheels on them. Each of these five pieces was designed as a mini-concerto for different instrument combinations, although the interplay is always embedded in plenty of other activity. As usual, the rhythms percolate across the board, with each musicians carving out their own groove and harmonic turf, so even if a particular piece highlights a specific duo, such as the leader’s cutting alto sax and Hoffman’s viscous cello on the opener 'Come And Go', each member is constantly interacting, reacting, and prodding everyone else in the band. Density rarely sounds so appealing.

Paula Shocron/William Parker/Pablo Díaz – El Templo
(Astral Spirits)

Argentine pianist Paula Shocron and her steady drummer Pablo Díaz have built steady ties to the New York free jazz scene, working with reedist Daniel Carter as well as Guillermo Gregorio, an expat who left Argentina decades ago. But it feels like veteran bassist William Parker might be their deepest collaborator in the city, and their second album together seems to cement their bond, which began with the 2017 album Emptying The Shelf. This new salvo was cut in the fall of 2019 in New York, and over four pieces it’s impossible to miss how the trio operates as a single organism, while each player produces dense lines that could stand on their own. Shocron unleashes dense skeins of sound, sometimes hushed, sometimes thunderous yet always forceful, and that aesthetic fits neatly alongside Parker’s nubby, perpetually frenetic attack. They often seem to lift one another up whether riding one of the sudden grooves that Díaz inserts into the maelstrom or digging in and building a four-fisted wall of highly detailed motion. While unity is a regular goal for group improvisation, it’s rare to encounter something as thoroughly interwoven as the sounds on El Templo.

Thomas Heberer – The Day That Is

Expat German trumpeter Thomas Heberer is known best for his long-term membership in the Amsterdam juggernaut ICP Orchestra (that’s Instant Composers Pool, not Insane Clown Posse), although he’s lived in New York for 15 years. During that time he’s released a handful of recordings as a leader with stateside groups, but this new quartet effort feels different. The music is sleek while embracing a more conventional twin-horn frontline and post-bop vocabulary, and focusing on his pithy writing as much as group interplay and improvisation. As with so many other jazz musicians, the lockdown forced him to conceive of new outlets so he put together this superb combo with fellow German expat Ingrid Laubrock on saxophone, John Hébert on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums. They entered a New York recording studio on January 6, 2021, largely unaware of what was transpiring in Washington, D.C. that day. Each of his eleven well-proportioned tunes possess clear-eyed ideas and inspirations, whether 'Erg Chebbi', which reflects on a camel ride he took on a visit to Morocco and vaguely recalls the cantering rhythm of the Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol classic 'Caravan', or 'One For Roy', composed for the great trumpeter Roy Campbell, whom Heberer replaced in the Nu Band. The tune breaks the quartet into halves, with trumpet/saxophone and drums/bass each following a separate score designed to overlap at different tempos.

Umlaut Big Band – Mary’s Idea

This Parisian jazz orchestra is a repertory band, surveying and reconstructing lost bits of jazz history from both sides of the Atlantic. This new project featuring the work of the brilliant pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams, spread across two CDs, was the result of alto saxophonist and band director Pierre-Antoine Badaroux and fellow reedist Benjamin Dousteyssier visiting her archives at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University and collecting rare material and piecing together tunes and arrangements reflected in fragments of sheet music. In a racist county and a sexist musical community, Williams was routinely overlooked, and while reissues of some her recordings like the indelible set of tunes in her Zodiac Suite have subsequently received their due praise, this collection goes further in demanding redress. Niftily sequenced according to different areas of interest, Umlaut Big Band, augmented here and there with chamber instrumentation, bring precision and zest in 42 disparate works — including arrangements of compositions written by others — while focusing primarily on her own innovative writing, all of it rooted deeply in the blues regardless of disparate modes of application. 'Aries', which is a different tune than the one opening Zodiac Suite, does indeed contain elements that wouldn’t be out of place on Anthony Braxton’s Creative Music Orchestra as Badaroux points out in his superb liner note essay, while the tenor solo by Pierre Borel on 'New Musical Express' contains a nice bit of stylistic disorientation. While the band generally brings a period sound, as on the crisp swing of the title theme, it’s not afraid to cast its subject as the modernist she was.