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Complete Communion

Complete Communion: Jazz For November Reviewed By Peter Margasak
Peter Margasak , November 22nd, 2021 09:18

As 2021 stumbles towards the finishing line, Peter Margasak is back with more jazz and improvised music, not the least of which is Jeff Parker's lockdown LP

Jeff Parker, by Lee Anne Schmitt

Earlier this year the discography of the mysterious Philadelphia pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali doubled with the unexpected release of Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album. The musician’s entire reputation was built upon single album, the 1964 recording The Max Roach Trio Featuring The Legendary Hasaan. The pianist, who died in 1981 in obscurity, delivered a singular performance, braiding ideas gleaned from Elmo Hope and Thelonious Monk into a puzzling conception all his own.

Atlantic Records was impressed enough with the Max Roach album that they invested in a second album, but when the pianist couldn’t attend the mixing session because we was in jail on a narcotics charge, the label shelved the record and his career ended, more or less. The masters were thought destroyed in a 1978 warehouse fire.

Jazz scholar Alan Sukoenig, who wrote the original liner notes for the Roach album, remained close to the pianist in the 1960s, making several home recordings of Hassan’s solo playing He was instrumental in the discovery of Metaphysics, a quartet album featuring the first recording by saxophonist Odean Pope. He’s the source of the 21 performances spread over two CDs on Retrospect In Retirement Of Delay: The Solo Recordings, which invaluably bolster the pianist’s output.

This package includes an informative booklet with rare photographs and a thoughtful essay by fellow pianist Matthew Shipp, but it’s ultimately the music that matters, and this stuff is killer. It’s fascinating to hear him be able to follow his harmonic and melodic instincts wherever they take him, free from the constraints imposed by a band. Jazz and pop standards fill up most of the repertoire, but there are some originals, including the great 'Off My Back Jack', which was featured on the trio album.

The homemade quality of the album certainly recalls the solitary nature of the growing number of pandemic recordings made since last year. It’s easy to understand why so many musicians engaged in the practice of recording music at home, alone, but that doesn’t mean it all needs to be released.

On the other hand, two albums in this month’s column — by guitarist Jeff Parker and harpist Jacqueline Kerrod — prove that there hasn’t been a dearth of creative responses in the private workspaces of creative musicians that thrive on collaboration.

Dave Easley – Byways Of The Moon
(Big Ego)

Based on his own singer-songwriter recordings pedal steel guitarist Dave Easley doesn’t seem to have a knack for bandleading or songwriting, favoring mushy post-Dead rambling. But for decades his technical mastery and melodic generosity have been kept busy in New Orleans, working in many different stylistic contexts. He’s achieved a well-deserved degree of fame for his gorgeous work as a member of Brian Blade’s Fellowship, and this recording proves the value a good producer can have. Chris Schlarb had previously used Easley on some of his own recordings as Psychic Temple, and the producer extracted something expertly focused in this 2016 session that has sadly sat in the can until now. Schlarb put a band together featuring drummer Chad Taylor, keyboardist Cathlene Pineda, and bassist Dave Tranchina and formulated a concise repertoire of standards, framing the brilliance of Easley in a perfect, woozy light. There’s a liquid take on Carla Bley’s solemn 'Jesus Maria' that brings out an eternal quality, a blitz through’s Coltrane’s harmonic juggernaut 'Giant Steps', a meltingly lyrical reading of 'My Foolish Heart', a skittery blues-rock 'Battle Of Evermore', a spiky yet humid 'Ruby My Dear', and a savvy denouement, melding 'In A Silent Way' and 'In My Room', spiking the ambient haze with a bracing psychedelia.

Adam O’Farrill – Visions Of Your Other

Over the last five years or so Adam O’Farrill has quietly emerged as one of the most incisive, scrappy, and satisfying trumpeters at work, pursuing a blue collar strain of freebop built with a limber working band. A scion of the great O’Farrill clan in Cuban jazz, Adam has gained notice for the full-bodied commentary he brings to the songs in Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl, there’s a more ripping energy revealed in his quartet Stranger Days, which has deftly enfolded the coolly measured playing of tenor saxophonist Xavier Del Castillo into the foundation laid out by drummer Zack O’Farrill and bassist Walter Stinson. I wasn’t expecting a cover of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s chilly 'Stakra' to open the album, amid a frosty electronic drone, but between the gorgeous room sound quality and the way the band’s flinty rapport scuffs things up, it’s a marvel. As is 'Kurosawa At Berghain', colliding a driving dance groove with loosey-goosey harmonies. They don’t rely on formal compositional devices like that, but when they employ them, they nail them — the rest of the time they just sound like one of the fieriest working bands in jazz.

Ayumi Tanaka – Subaqueous Silence

Japanese pianist Ayumi Tanaka moved to Norway in 2011 and she’s hardly unique in her adopted home in practicing an austere, gentle sound on the instrument. Playing in groups led by percussionist Thomas Strønen she provides an amorphous haze that paradoxically gives the music an odd centre, but her work with the collective Nakama could get darkly abstract. Somehow, she conveys intensity without brute force, and tenderness without becoming saccharine, a quality reinforced on the second album by her trio. The opening piece 'Ruins' is exceedingly spare, unfolding in slow motion with dissolute chords hanging in the air as veteran drummer Per Oddvar Johansen uses his brushes to summon a phalanx of fluttering, fricative sounds. A lot of the heavy lifting is done by bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen, who also plays in Nakama. Tanaka’s 'Black Rain' was surely designed as a vehicle to feature his tactile, woody sound and muscular, physical attack — this is a guy who sometimes uses his feet to play in addition to his hands — building a ghostly arco drone from something distant into a final, desperate siren call amid solemn piano chords and muted sizzle of cymbals. Subsequent pieces are more lyrical, but the pace remains languorous.

Jeff Parker - Forfolks
(International Anthem)

Guitarist Jeff Parker moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in 2013 and before he had time to build a new musical community, he retreated to the practice space. He’d long been a sonic tinkerer, making sample-based tracks for his own edification for years, but he produced an atmosphere-rich set of tracks using just his guitar that would end up on his stark 2016 album Slight Freedom. In a way he had already made something of a pandemic record when our current mess descended, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Forfolks is so beautiful, resonant, and focused. The Tortoise guitarist uses efficient looping to create mesmerising environments, humid and warm, to unleash his masterful improvisations, revisiting pieces that he wrote decades ago like 'La Jetée', giving them a new context that allows the listener to appreciate its brilliance in a new light. On the other hand, his straight-ahead reading of the standard 'My Ideal' is so tonally sumptuous and tunefully generous that it provides a potent reminder of what a great jazz soloist he is. His music often works like a balm — something still much needed — so maybe that’s why I’ve embraced this album so fervently, but regardless of the context, Parker has been one of my favourite musicians for decades. This matches anything he’s produced during his career so far.

Ståhls Trio -Kålltorp Sessions Vol. 2

As the title suggests, this is the second collection of material recorded by Ståhls Trio, a Swedish group led by the terrific vibraphonist Mattias Ståhl with bassist Joe Williamson and drummer Christopher Cantillo. A few years have passed since these sessions took place in 2017 and 2018, but the immediacy, grit, and churn of the music is undiminished, both on written material and group improv. Ståhl has long reconciled a strong connection and respect for the history of his instrument, between tonal precision and healthy embrace of vibrato. There’s a haunting tunefulness in his patient lines on 'Guldkort', with Cantillo crashing the serenity, while on 'I-Land du Välsignade' he unleashes a needling grind beneath a thrumming Williamson solo. The excellence of these performances come as no surprise, but what did throw me for a loop is that the leader also plays some convincing soprano saxophone with the tonal bite of Steve Lacy. I prefer hearing him on his main instrument, but he acquits himself, especially when guest trombonist Mats Åleklint, who also produced, plays his Roswell Rudd on 'Vi Gär Till Skolan'. Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Johan Lindvall – Om Du Reser Mycket

In many ways the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, a collective affiliated with the Mid-Norway Jazz Center, reflects the ever expanding, undefinable nature of jazz and improvised music in the 21st century. The group’s elastic pool of musicians can interpret any conceivable approach, whether it’s swing-based writing or heavy abstraction. This terrific project is built around the playing and composing of Swedish pianist Johan Lindvall, who’s part of an 11-member line-up that’s charged mostly with shifting ensemble-oriented arrangements. Lindvall, who both writes Wandelweiser-style minimalist works and leads a terrific piano trio in a classic Nordic jazz mode, drew upon both when he wrote this varied set in conjunction to accompany a film he made with Jenny Berger Myhre, which explains a certain cinematic sweep. Free improv extended techniques abound on 'Introduktion', a kind of floating post-exotica dreamscape where airy piano and undulating vibes (played by Kyrre Laastad) are countered by unpitched breaths, saxophone tongue slaps and other sonic abstraction, establishing a delicate, shifting balance between mesmerising beauty and texture-rich dissonance. A piece like 'Dröm', which is lifted by the wordless cooing of Propan (the duo of Natali Abrahamsen Garner and Ina Sagstuen), conveys only shimmering beauty and intoxicating melody, while the ambling, electro-kissed Brian Wilson-esque splendour of 'Att Säga Nej' is mostly eaten up by a lengthy coda that steadily builds in intensity. It’s a lovely experience, with experimental impulses softened by the gorgeous tone colours.

Hedvig Mollestad – Tempest Revisited
(Rune Grammofon)

Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad has released three different albums during the last 18 months. Tempest Revisited shapes her most ambitious endeavor, a 2018 commission by Parken, a cultural centre in her hometown of Ålesund, in celebration of its 20th anniversary. In 1998 the space was inaugurated with the premier of Tempest, a commission by composer Arne Nordheim based on the Shakespeare play. While Mollestad’s does claim inspiration from the chunk of the score displayed in the theatre, the piece doesn’t otherwise reference any of these antecedents. Still, the guitarist clearly took the assignment seriously, carving out a sound closer to classic 70s jazz fusion than the metallic-tinge she deploys in her long-running trio. The grooves are looser, the melodies more pliant, and the interplay more spirited thanks to the three-reed frontline (Martin Myhre Olsen, Karl Nyberg, and Peter Erik Vergeni) which toggles between tight charts, multi-linear improvisation, and scorching solo turns. The rhythms hammered out by drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad, bassist Trond Frønes, and keyboardist Marte Eberson also move easily between limber swing and a gut-punching rock attack, all of it allowing the leader to share the full diapason of her sound, whether funk-spiked excursions taken on 'Kiwakes In Gusts' or the lyric pleading unleashed on the album’s strongest piece, '418 (Stairs in Storms)', which summons both peak Maggot Brain Eddie Hazel and Ask The Ages Sonny Sharrock.

Jacqueline Kerrod – 17 Days In December

Harpist Jacqueline Kerrod has deep roots in contemporary classical music, and she’s worked in pop settings with Anohni and Rufus Wainwright, among others, but she’s reached new listeners through ongoing work with reedist and composer Anthony Braxton, where her sterling technique has complemented a convincing improvisational practice. Her first solo recording is this pandemic effort made at home during the month of December, 2020. She devoted herself to recording an improvised piece every day, with no overdubbing or looping, which she then posted via social media “to keep myself accountable”. She shifts between acoustic and electric harp, and rather than conveying a single aesthetic tendency, the album arrives as a statement of her range. There are super spiky excursions that recall the playing of Zeena Parkins, while other improvisations embrace the cascading arpeggios we expect from the instrument, demonstrating Kerrod’s melodic gifts. There are some electric pieces that convey a guitar-like sound, either as an orphaned part of a rock song or an ambient vignette, but my favourite moments are thorny, like toggling between sweet and clanking tones in 'December 2: Fluttering Alberti'. By its nature the album ping pongs all over the place, but it offers a potent testimonial to Kerrod’s versatility.

Sylvie Courvoisier & Mary Halvorson – Searching for the Disappeared Hour

On their first duo album pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and guitarist Mary Halvorson revealed an ineffable connection. After just one live performance they entered the studio and interpreted several tunes they’d each written for other contexts, transforming them with lyrical alacrity and stunning interplay. Four years later they’re back with this magnificent follow-up, on which they both composed specifically for the project. As with the best improvised music it’s often hard to tell what’s composed and what’s spontaneous, a quality that’s heightened by the intense interactivity on display, with line upon intricately woven line emitting tangy harmony and charged melodic counterpoint. I might ordinarily flinch when an opening track references 'Moonlight Sonata', which the pianist injects on Halvorson’s 'Golden Proportion', but it creeps up so naturally, as every give-and-take gesture does here, that it feels inexorably spot-on. There are a few improvisations among the album’s dozen tracks, but they benefit from the duo’s astonishing rapport, which transmits a chamber-like precision even in the most seat-of-the-pants exchanges. It’s a detail-rich knockout, from start to finish.

Forkelid, Carlsson & Hielm – Can’t Hide

The first release on a new imprint from the venerable Swedish organisation FRIM (Association For Free Improvised Music, extant since 1976) is a gnarly performance taped at Fylkingen right before the pandemic in March of 2020. It’s a free-blowing session marked by visceral friction and tension, a la Mats Gustafsson working with Zu. Saxophonist Elin Forkelid has emerged as a genuine force in Swedish free music, especially through her work in Anna Högberg Attack!, and here she’s met head-on by electric bassist Gustaf Hielm, a veteran figure in prog-rock and metal (Mats/Morgan Band, Meshuggah) who toggles between guitar-like leads and detuned rumbles. The secret weapon ends up being drummer Erik Carlsson — known for his new music work with Magnus Granberg as well as post-bop playing in Festen — who deftly bridges those extremes, stoking fury here, cooling things down there.