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Complete Communion

Complete Communion: Jazz For November Reviewed By Peter Margasak
Peter Margasak , November 29th, 2022 11:24

Newly unearthed archival recordings of live dates from the 1960s, a profound homage to the swing-and-drag aesthetic of drummer Paul Motian from former collaborators, a new quintet from the veteran Swedish drummer Sven-Åke Johansson, and a thrumming quintet session from drummer Tom Skinner of The Smile are featured in Peter Margasak’s latest round up of jazz and improvised music

Joanna Mattrey & gabby fluke-mogul

Zev Feldman has to be the most prolific sleuth in archival jazz, a producer that seems to be a human divining rod when it comes to unearthing live recordings. In recent years he’s been involved in shepherding some of the most interesting and revealing sessions from private collections and radio stations into the hands of jazz fans.

Revival: Live At Pookie’s Pub (Blue Note) is one such item, culled from a scorching three-night engagement by the Elvin Jones Quartet at the titular club just two weeks after the death of John Coltrane. The group includes reedist Joe Farrell, pianist Billy Greene, and bassist Wilbur Little embarking on a series of epic readings of the drummer’s evolving repertoire, with more than two hours of music spread across either two CDs or three LPs. This is hardly the greatest band Jones ever led, but it’s nonetheless astonishing to hear him stretch out, his jackhammer kick drum attack elevating his bandmates to consistently punch above their weight.

Feldman recently launched the aptly named imprint Jazz Detective, debuting with a pair of double live albums by the Ahmad Jamal Trio: Emerald City Nights: Live at the Penthouse. The first set was recorded at the Seattle nightclub during stints in 1963 to 1964, while the second features music played there between 1965 and 1966.

Jamal, of course, achieved rare mainstream fame when his classic 1958 live album Ahmad Jamal Trio At The Pershing: But Not For Me climbed the charts, and his lithe, dynamic aesthetic was still pulsing with life and creativity in the following decade, even with shifting personnel including the great Vernel Fournier on drums and Richard Davis on bass.

The Swiss Ezz-thetics imprint continues its reevaluation of essential work from the 1960s. Paul Bley Trios Play Annette Peacock Revisited collects recordings made between 1966 and 68 in Rome, Baarn in the Netherlands, and Seattle with two different groups (the first with bassist Mark Levinson and drummer Barry Altschul, the second with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Billy Elgart). The 14 tracks, all beautifully restored by engineer Michael Brändli, had been previously issued on several different albums, but this CD brings together the pianist’s treatments of tunes by the great Annette Peacock, who’s slo-mo style suited Bley’s space-spreading aesthetic masterfully. The performances seem more prescient than ever.

As 2022 draws to a close the flow of new music continues unabated. Below are ten new releases to dig into.

Jakob Bro & Joe Lovano – Once Around the Room: A Tribute to Paul Motian

It feels as if the importance and influence of drummer-composer Paul Motian has only grown since his passing in 2011 at age 80, his singular style of swing-and-drag growing more prophetic and his mysterious melodic sensibility only more meaningful. Saxophonist Joe Lovano was one of his greatest late career collaborators, one-third of the trio with guitarist Bill Frisell. Danish guitarist Jakob Bro, who also worked a bit with the drummer, put together this moving homage, and it seems fitting that the project features two drummers (Joey Baron and Jorge Rossy), two double bassists (Thomas Morgan and Larry Grenadier), and a bass guitarist (Anders Christensen) in conjuring the kind of humid bottom and rubato propulsion that Motian routinely delivered. The band tackles Motian’s characteristically dark, slippery ‘Drum Music’ with searing intensity, but with the exception of the spaciously and fully improvised lyric rumble of ‘Sound Creation’, the tunes were written by the co-leaders for a setting that duly invokes the music of its subject. Bro can’t help but summon the spirit of Frisell, but it’s more about presence that sonic identity and his rapport with Lovano, whether playing unison passages or offering spiky counterpoint to the saxophonist’s finely etched, richly grained improvisations. It’s the best kind of musical salute, one that elevates the honoree while opening up fresh new paths for today.

Patricia Brennan – More Touch

With her second album vibraphonist Patricia Brennan continues to till fresh soil for her instrument, following up a solo recording with this unusual quartet endeavor. While studying music in Philadelphia the Mexican native worked in classical percussion ensembles, and in the press materials she says she viewed this band in a similar way. She’s joined by the superb drummer Marcus Gilmore – known well for his work in Vijay Iyer’s trio – Cuban conguero Mauricio Herrera, and bassist Kim Cass, whom the leader mines for his complex rhythmic agility and propulsion. Additionally, Brennan tapped into the traditional music of her native Veracruz, a kind of sound that shares concepts with Herrera’s Afro-Cuban grounding. Compared with the aerated explorations of her 2021 album Maquishti, this new one is dense, distinguished by a compressed polyrhythmic matrix. Her improvisations are tightly woven into those taut grooves, but she consistently uses electronics to stretch and abstract her lines, which routinely dissipate into beautifully foggy pools of sound, only to regain clarity and continue driving forward. There are times when I wish she would lay off the effects, and allow the gorgeous resonance of her unmediated instrument to float over the tricky patterns sculpted by her band, but there’s no question she’s forging a genuinely new language for the vibraphone.

Joanna Mattrey & gabby fluke-mogul – Oracle
(Relative Pitch)

Violist Joanna Mattrey and violinist gabby fluke-mogul are part of a new generation of New York improvisers who seem equally at home with the cadences of contemporary classical music and the radical extended techniques of free music. On previous recordings I’ve heard the former tends to be more measured and interested in slow-build movement while the latter has been intensely visceral and feverish. Working together those polarities achieve an impressive balance: this pair has a clear connection. Straight out of the gate with “The Vision” the duo conjure effective contrasts, with pizzicato patterns supporting astringent long tones, but it seems like every thirty seconds or so Mattrey and fluke-mogul are pivoting, moving around one another in an unpredictable dance as suspenseful as it is tonally sumptuous. As the collection progresses the duo perpetually find new areas for exploration, creating highly tactile –sometimes breathy, sometimes visceral – interactions that incorporate space, counterpoint, vivid dynamics, and harmonically spiked collisions. The album conveys a shape-shifting, unbound exploration of sound that finds no incongruity between serenity and ferocity.

Tyshawn Sorey Trio + 1 – The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism

Earlier this year drummer, composer, and bandleader Tyshawn Sorey dropped a trio recording called Mesmerism, an endeavor designed to silence the nattering of those who expect him to be defined by a single practice or sound. Sorey, of course, thrives on what he calls artistic “mobility,” the ability and freedom to explore any particular path he chooses. So it’s a tad surprising that he’s followed up that date with this sprawling three CD set culled from a five night stint at the Jazz Gallery in March of this year (with a few repeated tunes presented in radically different ways), with the same pianist – Aaron Diehl – along with bassist Russell Hall (a Wynton Marsalis sideman) and guest soloist Greg Osby on alto saxophone, surveying a repertoire dominated by standards. Osby, who hasn’t released a recording as a leader since 2008, is nominally the focus, and his extended improvisations here show that his mastery of bebop language and inside-out exploration remains undiminished. But the entire band sounds locked-in and free, gamely abstracting and extending the forms of ballads like ‘Chelsea Bridge’ and ‘What’s New’ to engage in the most fundamental strain of jazz improvisation, while sprinkling in a few original and modern classics like Ornette Coleman’s ‘Mob Job’. They toy with rhythm and harmony like magicians, perpetually disguising and stretching familiar melodies into something new, and operating on a sublimely assured level as an ensemble, serving up nearly four hours of state-of-the-art post-bop.

Sven-Åke Johansson – Stumps
(Ni Vu Ni Connu)

This set of six related compositions – austere, pointillistic themes voiced in round robin fashion within a back-and-forth repetition before yielding to wide-open improvisation –is the latest small group project of the visionary Berlin-based Swedish percussionist and visual artist Sven-Åke Johansson. The members of the quintet – trumpeter Axel Dörner, alto saxophonist Pierre Borel, double bassist Joel Grip, and pianist Simon Sieger¬¬ – have worked with Johansson to different degrees, and there’s no question they’ve bought into his conception. The compositions almost feel schematic in their deceptive simplicity, but each of the six ‘Stumps’ as they’re titled require sharp attention from the musicians to keep them straight. The drummer retains the basic post-swing pulse of the thematic sections in the open parts, but otherwise the group eschews any formal structure once the theme statement has completed. Of course, they need to transition into freely improvised terrain seamlessly, which Grip and Sieger deftly manage throughout. Borel and Dörner deliver their extended solos alone, pushed by the breath-like machinations of the rhythm section, and both thriving within inventive inside-out gambits that enfold jazz language and abstract extended techniques under a single umbrella. Johansson has located a very effective setting for the project. The album, recorded live at Berlin’s defunct Au Topsi Pohl in December of 2021, is primarily a digital release, but a physical art-object edition of comes as a 10” rubber slab (hefty, with a tire-like odor) with a spindle hole, with a QR code and Bandcamp download code burned onto it.

Tom Skinner – Voices of Bishara
(Brownswood/International Anthem/Nonesuch)

Well before his membership in Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood’s The Smile elevated his visibility, drummer Tom Skinner had been a key part of London’s jazz community through his work with pianist Alexander Hawkins and Sons of Kemet. The album was recorded in 2018, soon after Skinner performed the music on the 1964 Tony Williams album Lifetime as part of the Played Twice series. He then took the same band—bassist Tom Herbert, reedists Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia, and cellist Kareem Dayes into the studio to recording these six original pieces. During the pandemic he titled the project after the label cellist Abdul Wadud started to release his 1978 solo album By Myself, Bishara, which he turned to during the lockdown. Skinner did some unspecified post-production work on the recordings, subtly adding in some samples and chopping up other bits, but ultimately that session produced the music’s heart. Hutchings and Garcia sound especially good, unleashing a fiery soul that’s usually missing in their increasingly calculated work as bandleaders. Here they simply lean into the music and play off each other with natural feeling. The tunes are simple, graceful melodic shapes that allow the quintet, with its heightened low-end, but that allows the instruments to play of one another with conversational ease. Considering the schedules of the players I imagine it’s unlikely this project has legs, but it certainly portends plenty of heavy potential.

Dennis Egberth/Oskar Carls/Joe Williamson/Niklas Fite – The Internet

This beguiling Swedish quartet led by drummer Dennis Egberth clears an unexpected space between hypnotic grooves, free improv, and Tristano-school jazz, with delicious dips into Jazz Manouche thanks to the post-Django snap-and-stab of guitarist Niklas Fite. The nonchalant pivots between these different approaches generates no cognitive dissonance, and, in fact, Egberth locates interesting, unexpected connections. A piece like the thrumming ‘Gurli’ balances an insistent pizz ostinato on bass played by Joe Williamson, percolating percussion featuring what sounds like bongos, and the unison patterns of Fite’s hollow-body guitar and the scratchy grace of Oskar Carls’ tenor saxophone. He also plays shakuhachi and flute, all in a much different mode than his work in the band Viagra Boys. The session retains a certain calm, whether veering into gnarled abstraction of ‘Madame B’ or the brisk stop-start swing of ‘Skarvarna’. Even when the quartet swings with lithe grace it doesn’t stop them from injecting tangled bits of phrasing and meticulously appointed dissonance. There’s even a touch of exotica floating through the mid-tempo gem ‘En Dag’, where Fite’s habit of singing his lines simultaneously mirrors the practice of Slim Gaillard. The Internet is one of the more peculiar albums I’ve heard in 2022, and its layers of confusion have brought me unalloyed pleasure with each additional spin.

Paal Nilssen-Love Circus – Pairs of Three

Pandemic lockdowns seemed like the first thing to ever slow down the activity of Norwegian drummer and bandleader Paal Nilssen-Love, a road warrior who thrives on his high-energy free improvisation. He’s back at it, but this new project suggests that he underwent some musical changes. His new septet, Circus, conveys the usual raucous intensity, but it feels much different than his usual modus operandi, both in the prevalence of composed material – much of it borrowed from and/or inspired by Brazilian music ¬– the presence of vocalist Juliana Venter, an actor who brings plenty of drama to her mix of written and improvised melodies and texts. While Nilssen-Love has drawn on his deep ardor for Brazilian sounds before ¬– namely in his furious New Brazilian Funk project, which includes musicians from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo –this combo makes the connections more explicit, although the band filters those ideas through its own idiosyncratic lens. The arrangements are full of shifts, toggling between radically different, jacked-up folk styles, but the timbre, visceral rapport, and presence of Ventner carve out unique territory. It’s simultaneously playful and furious, with more concise improvised passages cutting through the arrangements with a furious sense of purpose. Bassist Christian Meass Svendsen helps build the massive, fiery grooves while a frontline of trumpeter Thomas Johansson, alto saxophonist Signe Emmeluth, guitarist Oddrun Lilja, and accordionist Kalle Moberg frequently juggle roles, playing solos, laying down harmonic forms, or reinforcing the sense of propulsion in peripatetic, conversational combos. A fantastic surprise.

Jeong Lim Yang – Zodiac Suite: Reassured
(Fresh Sound New Talent)

Time seems to catching up with the breathless vitality and originality of pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams, a brilliant swing era arranger who recorded her classic trio suite based on the twelve astrological signs on her sui generis concept album The Zodiac Suite in 1945. The recording not only captures the pianist’s inventive solos, but it brings the clarity of her compositional genius. It’s unquestionably one of the most unique recordings of the bebop era. The music has inspired numerous musicians including Geri Allen, Dave Douglas, and last year pianist Chris Patishall made one of my favorite albums reinventing the material with crisp concision – to say nothing of the Umlaut Big Band’s career-wide investigation. Bassist Jeong Lim Yang puts her thumbprints on the music with this excellent new account of the suite with drummer Gerald Cleaver and the Argentine pianist Santiago Leibson, who’s name seems to be popping up of late. The bassist opens up the tunes, often playing around with harmonic and melodic material to only hint at the themes as she kicks off some of the readings, but the indelible shapes of Williams can’t be disguised for long. Her instrument is upfront in the mix, her lines leading the way with their weighty, wooden presence, allowing Leibson greater latitude in reworking the material. A hidden gem.

Per Zanussi & Vestnorsk Jazzensemble – Li (and the Infinite Game)
(Clean Feed)

Bassist Per Zanussi has been one of the most reliable figures in Scandinavian jazz for nearly two decades, working in the collective Trespass Trio and pianist Eyolf Dale in addition to leading his own quintet and 13 piece groups, pushing post-bop concerns in new directions. He’s also written for theater and new music ensembles, and this ambitious recording, joined by eleven members of Vestnorsk Jazzensembe, offers the most expansive look at his musical imagination. The opening piece ‘The Dunes’ is a rapturous collection of floating long tones, with Zanussi directing the group to produce a kind of meditative entrance for more raucous, driving excursions starting with ‘Uragano’, a slithering funk-inspired workout that recalls some of Ken Vandermark’s most extroverted music, but within the rhythmic ferocity are elusive synth splatters from Jørgen Træen, tightrope-walking violin from Gro Austgulen, and gauzy reeds blowing and shimmering, with especially strong contributions from Kjetil Møster and Kristoffer Alberts. The leader extracts a thrilling variety of timbres within the often stomping grooves meted out by drummers Børge Fjordheim and Øyvind Skarbø. Zanussi’s wide-ranging compositions almost all set the table for fiery improvisations, and the entire combo delivers, complementing the varied pieces with equally disparate solos.