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Complete Communion

Complete Communion: Jazz For March Reviewed By Peter Margasak
Peter Margasak , March 29th, 2022 08:55

Furious noise jazz from iconic Japanese guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi, soothing tones from vibraphonist Joel Ross, and language-leaking lyricism from pianist Kaja Draksler highlight Peter Margasak’s latest round-up of improvised sounds

Joel Ross by Lauren Desberg

I usually try to mix things up here, giving space to different artists and different labels. But sometimes there are things that can’t be ignored.

In my last column from January I opened things with a discussion of a previously unissued archival release featuring Peter Brötzmann, William Parker, and Milford Graves from the superb LA imprint Black Editions. Now the label, which has delivered a slew of crucial titles from Japan’s P.S.F. catalog is back a pair of mind-melting reissues from the same country.

Guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi created a sui generis strain of free jazz during the 1970s, using a concept he called “mass projection”, producing a crush of sound that went far beyond the discipline’s usual modus operandi. That ultra-saturated attack presaged noise music in fascinating ways, while exerting an ongoing influence on current experimentalists, particularly cornetist and composer Rob Mazurek.

Station ’70: Call In Question/Live Independence collects two manic live sessions from the titular year previously issued on CD by P.S.F. This new edition collects that music with one bonus track on three slabs of high-quality vinyl, packaged in a sturdy box. The furious din the guitarist kicks up with drummer Sabu Toyozumi and bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa — and, one track, saxophonist Mototeru Takagi — remains astonishing, unveiling not only unparalleled freedom, but a reserve energy that can match anything. This new iteration includes one scalding previously unreleased gem from the original sessions.

Five years later Takayanagi’s music had become even more dense and explosive. Eclipse, licensed from Jinyadisc, features a totally different band with reedist Kenji Mori, bassist Nobuyoshi Ino, and drummer Hiroshi Yamazaki, and while the line-up resembles a jazz group, this edition of the guitarist’s New Directions operates like a veritable wall of sound, especially on 'Second Session'.

There’s plenty of internal activity and interplay going on, but the quartet puts out physically-punishing sound like a fucking machine, albeit with one with a keen sense of dynamics. Decades later no one has matched this aural fury.

Koma Saxo With Sofia Jernberg – Saxo West
(We Jazz)

Bassist Petter Eldh seems intent to shake up the sound of his agile quintet Koma Saxo with every new album. After dropping a studio and a live album with this core line-up, nimbly demonstrating how the hot-blooded post-bop combo operates without electronic effects and another remaking the same material using post-production techniques of hip hop. Now he’s back building a set of tunes around the crystalline, agile singing of Sofia Jernberg, who delivers one of her greatest performances, stretching wordless vocals without resorting to a glib scat delivery. A number of guest musicians, including pianist Kit Downes and a string section with Lucy Railton and Maria Reich, and even the leader’s mom Kiki on accordion, soften the brawny three-horn frontline. In fact, reedist Jonas Kullhammar plays a lot of flute, recalling the Brazilian-kissed sound Eldh produced on the latest solo effort Otis Sandsjö, another Koma Saxo reedist. Eldh remains in lockstep with drummer Christian Lillinger, but their attack is less visceral, adeptly feeding the almost tropical vibe the arrangements deliver around Jernberg’s weightless voice, which seems to glide from bar to bar. In fact, if it wasn’t for the immediately recognisable thrust of the rhythm section, I don’t think I’d ever imagine it was the same Koma Saxo, which is high praise in this case. I’m buckled in to see where Eldh takes the band next.

Myra Melford – For The Love Of Fire And Water
(Rogue Art)

Prior to the pandemic pianist Myra Melford assembled the quintet heard on this remarkable album for a performance during a residency at John Zorn’s Stone, using only some loose compositional materials. That experience and her feeling for the other musicians, all bandleaders and composers in their own right, convinced her to keep the project alive. She used the intervening space created by various lockdowns to develop material, and the results certainly prove her instincts correct. The ten-part suite applies a variety of methods and settings — preventing any single sound or approach from dominating — and while her writing effectively shapes the performances here, it does nothing to stifle the fierce improvisational voices of her collaborators: cellist Tomeka Reid, guitarist Mary Halvorson, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, and percussionist Susie Ibarra. The title was taken from a collection of Cy Twombly drawings, and in Nathalie Weiner’s liner note essay, the pianist explains a connection she felt: “He was interested in what it felt like to make the line more than what it looked like, and that seemed like an apt metaphor for how I play the piano. For me, it's all about the gesture and the energy.” That sensation is born out in the performances, where Melford afford her the space to fill out the sonic images.

Michael Bisio Quartet – MBefore
(Tao Forms)

Veteran bassist Michael Bisio, perhaps best known for his long association with pianist Matthew Shipp, did some heavy lifting when he conceived and assembled this band, envisioning a delicious sound world and drawing out a serious rapport between the individuals he enlisted. The music feels like it simply fell into place, but that discounts the decades of experience on the table, especially with the presence of vibraphonist Karl Berger, who’s been a singular force in improvised music dating back to the 1960s. Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey mete out rhythms that crawl, rumble, and swing, producing a muscular fluidity for Berger and violist Mat Maneri. That’s not to say the latter pair are frontline figures chewing up the scenery over a standard issue rhythm section. 'Um', the final track on the album, is a group improvisation, but elsewhere the combo is inhabiting compositions written by the leader, along with a couple from Berger — including the Ornette-ish 'Crystal Fire', where Maneri suggests Coleman’s joyful bounce — and the standard 'I Fall In Love Too Easily', where the familiar melody emerges from a fluttery haze and later evaporates into a matrix of four-way spontaneity. The appealingly simple tunes impart some structure on what remains wonderfully rangy free jazz.

Mark Turner Quartet – Return From The Stars

It’s been eight years since the tenor saxophonist dropped an album as a leader, but he hasn’t been idle during this period. In fact, the situation illuminates his embrace of ensemble-oriented music-making, whether functioning as a foil to pianist Ethan Iverson or working in the collective trio Fly. Flanked here by bassist Joe Martin and drummer Jonathan Pinson, Turner and trumpeter Jason Palmer are part of unified, reverb-drenched sound that undergirds the frontline grace — with its deep west coast verities, and the ongoing influence Warne Marsh exerted upon the leader’s astonishing improvisations — with a subtle rhythmic turbulence and unerring propulsion. That’s not to say Martin and Pinson undercut the remarkable interplay of the horn players, but they meticulously inject hiccups and weightless feints to spark the horns. The dreamy equanimity of Turner and Palmer belies the friction in their deft, contrapuntal sallies. The pair offer plenty of solo passages, but they’re extraordinary when they improvise together, spinning elegant lines that might nudge the other, but without every upsetting an easy flow.

Tania Gill Quartet – Disappearing Curiosities
(no label)

Keyboardist Tania Gill has been a fixture on the Toronto jazz scene for more than a decade, but Disappearing Curiosities, her second album as a leader, is the first time I’ve come across her playing. Her writing for this quartet is pithy and elegant, blending sophisticated, measured arrangements with highly tuneful pieces vividly brought to life with trumpeter Lina Allemano, bassist Rob Clutton, and drummer Nico Dann. Her melodies take wonderfully circuitous paths, and the unison lines she uncorks with Allemano are stunning in their deceptive ease and grace. There’s a virtuosic, almost proggy movement on a tune like 'To Montreal', where the head is packed with cascading intervals played with jaw-dropping precision, but that difficulty is countered by a playfulness that pervades the whole album, sometimes to a fault. When Gill twines piano with Moog synthesizer lines on 'Jaunty Woo' the result is downright corny, suggesting some kind of early 70s adaptation of post-bop on a stereo demonstration record. Amazingly, Allemano cuts through the schmaltz with a solo of sharp rhythmic shifts and generous melodicism, while the rhythm section swings ferociously.

Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double – March
(Firehouse 12)

Percussionist Tomas Fujiwara reveals a heightened command and imagination on the second album with his flinty double trio, discovering a load of new possibilities from this high-octane combo. It takes some cojones to assemble pairs of instrumentalists as individualists as Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook (electric guitars), Taylor Ho Bynum and Ralph Alessi (cornet and trumpet, respectively), and Gerald Cleaver and himself (drums), but the collective enterprise—whose members have worked in many different smaller configurations over the years—indicates the cast has bought into his ensemble-driven conception. It may be a double trio, but each component couldn’t be more disparate. On the opener “Pack Up, Coming for You,” two different trios take turns tackling the theme in radically different fashion, giving new perspectives on Fujiwara’s jagged melodies, before joining forces to offer both additional ways of experiencing them while shepherding some thrilling interactivity. Some of the pieces, such as the haunting mid-tempo marvel “The March of the Storm Before the Quiet of the Dance,” reveal a meditative lyric beauty at the outset, before momentum introduces neatly contained chaos, but more compelling than such arcs is the way the players push-and-pull within that group sound. The album breaks down that ethos in a clear-cut way on the closer, “For Alan, Part II,” a drum duo that pays homage to the leader’s mentor Alan Dawson, where Fujiwara and Cleaver shape melodic exchanges for 17 glorious minutes.

Lisa Ullén, Elsa Berman and Anna Lund – Space
(Relative Pitch)

This sublime improvising trio features some of Stockholm’s most exciting musicians, all of whom have worked together in various constellations over the years, most prominently joining forces as part of Anna Högberg’s Attack! Pianist Lisa Ullén is the veteran presence here, a persistently overlooked figure who dazzles throughout this session recorded in the famed Fylkingen. There’s no grand scheme or overarching concept to the music on Space. Instead, Ullén and her partners, bassist Elsa Bergmann and drummer Anna Lund meld several related traditions; there’s the space-spreading impulse of pianist Paul Bley and the knotty swing of Paul Motian; a touch of contemplative contemporary music in the drifting excursions the pianist takes as she pushes outside of the flow constructed by her partners. The trio understands that intensity doesn’t require speed or volume. Instead, within neatly restrained parameters, the group carves out a distinctive, utterly satisfying approach marked by rare concision and an authoritative sense of dynamics. The pianist has internalised the free jazz piano vocabulary, but she puts these tools together with the rigour and pacing of a serious composer, even if she’s creating it all on the fly. A knockout.

Joel Ross – The Parable Of The Poet
(Blue Note)

Vibraphonist and Chicago native Joel Ross drops his third album for Blue Note since 2019, leading a luxurious, luminous octet with four excellent horn players: trumpeter Marquis Hill, alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, trombonist Kalia Vandever, and tenor saxophonist Maria Grand. Despite the expanded lineup it rates as the bandleader’s most measured, restrained album, but the mood is more about a spiritual transmission more than an indication of reticence. The tender opening track 'Prayer' lays it bare, with the horns and Ross essaying the lovely melody over the course of nearly eight minutes without any sustained soloing. Instead, the band — which also includes drummer Craig Weinrib, pianist Sean Mason, and bassist Rick Rosato — changes complexion and emphasis with every cycle of the elegant, introspective theme in a way that feels no less powerful than any sort of extended solo line. In fact, hearing the ensemble endlessly adjust and rephrase the tune feels more profound, as the seven musicians navigate the composition together. Although Wilkins unleashes a searing statement throughout the levitating 'Wail', most of the album retains that meditative vibe, with the improvisation coming in measured, graceful tangles that ultimately feels no less passionate or intense than the fieriest free jazz.

Emmeluth/ Knedal Andersen/ Skavhaug Nergaard – The A-Z Of Microwave Cookery
(Astral Spirits)

I’m waiting for the moment when the Norway-based Danish saxophonist Signe Emmeluth transcends the promising tag she’s been wearing in recent years. To my ears, she’s already arrived, carving out a powerful approach that’s just as recognisable as part of a giant ensemble like Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra as it is in the solo context demonstrated by last year’s excellent Hi Hello I’m Signe (Relative Pitch). On this fiery new outing she leads a trio with bassist Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard and drummer Dag Erik Knedal Andersen, a rhythm section with great reserves of energy but also one possessing a swinging buoyancy that allows to hear the leader in additional contexts. She can blow pure fire or uncork pops and tongue slaps on par with the most extreme saxophone searchers, but she can also double down on motific development and phrases that lilt and hang in the air rather than bludgeon. She’s got the full tool kit, but also a distinct personality that thrives on a holistic embrace of improvisational practice. She demonstrates a palpable bond with her collaborators; they stop on a dime as one, exploding into the ether without losing the thread. Watch out.

Kaja Draksler – In Otherness Oneself

Kaja Draksler, a Slovenian pianist and composer now based in Copenhagen, never sits still for too long, forever exploring new horizons. This new contemplative solo recording seeks to apply the way languages can bleed into one another for multi-lingual speakers, accidentally building new possibilities. That sonic infection exists in several different ways here. It thrives in the phrases of embedded spoken word, sampled from writers like Robert Frost and Witold Gombrowicz, which in turn influence the pianist’s melodic shapes. Another symptom can be detected in the gorgeous opening track 'Away' – which previously appeared on an octet album led by Draksler – which opens up impressive new vistas when performed solo; although singers  Laura Polence and Björk Níelsdóttir, who appear on both recordings, offer a magical refrain to explicitly connect the two versions. Most of these pieces focus on Draksler's compositional practice, although there are generous servings of improvisation to be savoured. 'Prst, roka, laket' and 'Pika' adapt the microtonal piano system developed by Cory Smythe to deliver an electronically-tweaked house of sonic mirrors, while 'Toward' packs pregnant pauses between stern, left-handed patterns and brittle melodic shards from the piano’s upper register. It all offers further proof that Draksler is one of the most potent musical minds of our time.