Bandleader, composer, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara possesses a musical dexterity that might go unnoticed if not for its ripple effect. He has brought his rhythmic and compositional imprint to a wide variety of settings: as a member of the collective trio Thumbscrew and in a long-standing duo with Taylor Ho Bynum. While these collaborative efforts could define and sustain him, a more ambitious musical intelligence emerges on closer inspection.
Tomas’s instincts as a bandleader for assembling combinations of players have enlivened not just his own bands but have generated new collaborative relationships throughout the creative music scene.
For instance, Michael Formanek’s renowned ensemble includes the entirety of The Hook Up. This understanding of how to assemble a band – the different approaches and timbres a group of players bring to a given context – is, in its way, akin to writing conventional melody and harmony, or to understanding how to combine silence and sound in an improvisation. Tomas’s new recording, Triple Double, showcases this gift: viewed as a double trio or a triple duo, its heart lies in the contrasting, shifting and regrouping of the players’ instrumental voices.
Triple Double debuts two encounters on paired instruments: trumpeter Ralph Alessi and cornetist Bynum; and on drums, Tomas and Ger Cleaver. Additionally, it features Brandon Seabrook and Halvorson, two avatars of contemporary electric guitar.
Seen another way, the sextet brings together two longstanding trios: Tomas’s own group with Alessi and Seabrook, and another with his long-time collaborators Halvorson and Bynum. The album features all the possible permutations in a churning group music, highlighting both Tomas’s compositional strengths and the distinct musical personalities of each performer.
Through a variety of approaches, including grid patterns, mirrored ensemble play, and a subtle interplay of structure and freedom, Tomas’s compositions offer each musician the chance to display their own formidable technique and vocabulary. The variety of groupings, instrumental shading, and formal contours present a mutable orchestra conforming itself to the composition’s needs.
The opening cut, Diving for Quarters, offers a succinct illustration of this vision. Based around a fifteen-beat cycle, the music draws the listener in with Halvorson and Seabrook’s exotic opening improvisation. Brass is featured next, with Bynum coercing a statement of the melody from his cornet before Alessi weaves his way to the foreground. The piece closes with a drum duo and Tomas and Cleaver demonstrate why they are two of the most in-demand percussionists in creative music.
The album’s philosophical center piece, For Alan, is another drum duo and features a recording of ten-year-old Tomas in a lesson with his mentor Alan Dawson.
The album shifts from the more freewheeling feel of the first half to something more evocative: in the second half of the album, melody comes to the forefront, anchored by more grounded rhythmic forms. The change in mood may also reflect a deeper message – as with previous albums, Triple Double has Tomas’s family history in mind.
Featuring Francois Bourassa (piano, compositions), André Leroux(saxophones), Guy Boisvert (bass) & Greg Ritchie (drums)
Award-winning, critically-acclaimed pianist/composer Francois Bourassa’s new album – Number 9, his ninth album of all original music, features his quartet of longtime collaborators: saxophonist/clarinetist/flutist André Leroux, bassist Guy Boisvert and drummer Greg Ritchie.
This elite squad of musicians, and their singular telepathy and esprit de corps, was first revealed to the world on their album, Indefinite Time (2002). Since, the Francois Bourassa Quartet has staked a claim as one of the most compelling groups active on the global jazz/improvised music scene.
The compositions crafted by the Montreal-born Bourassa, empower the members of his Quartet to express themselves to the fullest extent on this collective journey.
Together they explore pure lyricism, open sonic landscapes, swing, free improvisation, and more – all played with empathy, and big ears! The members of this ensemble are so immersed in each other’s instincts and mannerisms that they offer the listener a plethora of moods, settings and styles that are indispensable elements of Number 9.
More on the music on Number 9 with Francois Bourassa (excerpted in part from the album’s liner notes by Howard Mandel): Given the album’s title, we of a certain age must wonder if it’s a nod to another four-man band that celebrated variety while maintaining its singular identity. Does Number 9 refer to the haunting musique concrete collage on the Beatles’ White Album?
The songs on Number 9 speak for themselves: the quartet covers a lot of ground from a complex of perspectives, new details unveiled with each turn of the ear.
The opening track’s jaunty yet oblique line (try humming it!), as improbable yet inevitable as Eric Dolphy’s angular melodies, or Ornette Coleman’s, achieves its affect purposefully, linking two 20th-21st Century innovators, never mind the gulfs between their worlds or styles.
They may even conflict – the parts of Carla and Karlheinz fit together unpredictably yet organically. Bourassa’s deft, initially dry touch may imply that of Paul Bley (another Montreal native), but he claims many other piano modernists, bluesmen and prog rockers, too, as inspirations, and clearly is steeped in Western European classicism.
Consequently, the composer-pianist’s position is not bound or limited, and this quartet achieves something beyond genre: collaborate as only its four members can. No justification necessary for such an approach – we listen, accept, enjoy and are deepened.
The pleasures provided by this group make it easy. Applying himself to Bourassa’s themes and concepts, Leroux wields his tenor saxophone masterfully; he’s especially sensitive to attack and dynamics, floating the theme of 5 and Less gently, but builds to blasting on the darkly epic Frozen.
On “C & K,” Leroux’s flute has the urgency of a jungle bird, and he uses the clarinet on 11 Beigne as an instrument of deliberation. He isn’t troubled by the odd time signatures, nor need you be, because Boisvert phrases firmly and gracefully on his bass, and in flowing concert with drummer Ritchie, who never lets on there’s anything to count, merely rhythms to discern and enhance.
The prolific Anat Cohen – celebrated the world over for her expressive virtuosity and infectious charisma – has never been more inspired, onstage and on record. Since 2005, Anat’s series of releases via her Anzic Records label have seen the clarinetist/saxophonist range from hard-swinging to lilting balladry, from small groups to larger ensembles and back again, exploring a universe of music along the way.
Anat’s latest release and third this year, Happy Song, sees her drawing on diverse musical loves, from Brazilian music to African grooves, from vintage swing to touching ballads. She also explores Klezmer for the first time on record, perhaps surprising for a musician raised in Tel Aviv and long resident in Brooklyn.
The new vehicle for these explorations is the Anat Cohen Tentet, a group of ace New York musicians that made its debut at the Jazz Standard in Manhattan and the famed Newport Jazz Festival.
Above all, Happy Song is another synergistic collaboration between Anat and co-producer/co-arranger Oded Lev-Ari, who is also her partner in Anzic as well as a kindred spirit since their high-school days in Israel.
Anat has been declared Clarinetist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association every year since 2007, and she has also been named the top clarinetist in both the readers and critics polls in DownBeat Magazine, the jazz bible, for multiple years running.
A Pouting Grimace is the audacious new release from pianist/composer Matt Mitchel who has established himself as a composer of bold distinction.
Substantial in scope, the album, which features twelve musicians: five woodwinds, four percussionists, harp, bass, and the leader on piano, Prophet 6, and electronics, weaves an intricate web of off-kilter rhythms and logical frenzy.
Produced by the acclaimed guitarist/composer David Torn, the work is completely beyond genre, a daring tour de force that headily mines the interstice between precision-plotted compositions and the thrill of improvisation.
Highly regarded among the jazz cognoscenti, Mitchell is a first-call for musicians seeking a pianist able to deal with the most demanding complex material. He is a charter member of saxophonist Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, who just released their fourth album, Incidentals, and Mitchell also interpreted Berne’s compositions on Forage, released earlier in 2017.
He’s a great example of the 21st-Century musician: versed in the musical lessons of the past, present, and poised to help move the development of jazz music forward.A Pouting Grimace takes Mitchell’s music to a whole other level, featuring ensemble pieces bursting with intricate detail interwoven with solo electronic interludes.
The idea was borne out of his desire to try composing music with a fresh instrumental palette, one heavy on the convoluted interlocution between the various woodwinds and percussion.
Each of the group compositions is derived from a kernel of an idea – listen carefully and you can probably figure it out. While entirely plotted out, the compositions leaves room for frequent and varied layers of improvisation, all in service of the overall arrangements.
Five decades after his early death, we don’t need a specific anniversary to appraise the legacy of John Trane, and there are any mount of recordings – live and studio – that continue to surface on an annual basis. Some good and some bad, a combination of inferior live recordings and Trane over soloing and pushing boundaries, already exhausted.
But Trane is Trane, and more so than many of his collaborators – Miles, for example – his work continues to inspire exploration and interpretation across the entire fulcrum of jazz.
If I had to recommend a recent release which balances the vision of the interpreter and the visceral and cosmic references of the original, Denys Baptiste is your only man. The Late Trane sounds fresh, as if it was recorded yesterday, and that’s because Baptise doesn’t cut corners and has a stellar band that is firing on all cylinders – Nikki Yeoh, Neil Charles and Rod Youngs.
The Late Trane has ten tracks, all bar two by Coltrane, with Neptune and Astral Trane by Baptiste, and they are at home here because Baptiste has maintained the Coltrane template, while adding his own garnishes and, thankfully, he feels the music.
What is special is that Baptiste has assemble an extraordinary band that illustrates how musicians from London’s multi-cultural music scene have undergone a similar journey to Trane, though not as cosmic, and on The Late Trane, with well know compositions like Ascent and After The Rain, we have Coltrane filtered by the global sound of London, so expect folk, reggae and funk.
Sleight of Hand
It’s now approaching twelve years since the New York Standards Quartet came into being, its core personnel taking time out from their multifarious individual projects to revel in the shared brief of refashioning familiar and lesser- known jazz standards.
Their new release Sleight of Hand builds on their catalogue of five previous albums (most recently, The New Straight Ahead and Power of 10, on Whirlwind) as saxophonist Tim Armacost, pianist David Berkman and drummer Gene Jackson welcome double bassist Daiki Yasukagawa back into the fold.
This is a band that regularly plays and performs together, so there’s a common bond, which brings out the best in the arrangements they conjure.
Recorded at the end of an international tour – in the beautiful, mountainous location of Lake Yamanaka, close to Mount Fuji (the quartet enjoys a special affinity with Japan) – Sleight of Hand’s eight numbers reflect the band’s spontaneous, transformational approach, with the title track (based on Gershwin’s ‘But Not For Me’) irresistibly playful.
The various key modulations in Lover Man are a world away from Billie Holiday’s lingering vocal lines as Armacost’s spritely soprano responds swiftly to Jackson’s syncopated drum accents.
1940s song Detour Ahead – perhaps mostly familiar in composer Herb Ellis’s guitar setting – translates into a luscious tenor and piano-led ballad, sensitively buoyed by Yasukagawa’s bass shaping; Jules Styne/Sammy Cahn favourite I Fall In Love Too Easily is treated to sparkling, percussion-led animation; and Armacost’s rich tenor lyricism in Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood is ravishingly restrained.
Mal Waldron’s Soul Eyes and Thelonious Monk’s Ask Me Now swing with respective vibrancy and jauntiness, while the metrical changes and perky rhythms of ‘This I Dig of You’ pick up on Hank Mobley’s classic Blue Note album origins.
And though the quartet likes to pull out obscure tunes, it’s also important to include touchstones for you can relate to them emotionally and there’s still a lot of awareness there. These are such great melodies, you can do almost anything with them – and, as always with improvisation, that sense of ‘what’s happening today?’ remains exciting. It’s all about a moment with Sleight of Hand.
Tied Together, Not to the Ground
Tied Together, Not to the Ground is the debut album from bassist/composer/bandleader Andrew Schiller, who unveils his unique writing style in this evocative 10-song collection, showcasing a group of adventurous and like-minded musicians. The Andrew Schiller Quintet is: Hery Paz (tenor saxophone), Alec Harper (tenor saxophone), Frank Carlberg (piano), Robin Baytas (drums), and Schiller (bass).
The compositions cover a broad spectrum but maintain a strong underlying theme through Schiller’s unifying compositional aesthetic. The album’s title refers to Schiller’s own attempt to hold on to his identity, his memories, and his beliefs without letting the weight of nostalgia cause stagnation.
Tracks summon array of remembrances and imagery-pivotal places, experiences and encounters, not just as a scrapbook of journeys, but as a gentle reminder to take the occasional leap forward into the unknown.
Little Shoes, begins with a sparse mantra-like statement between saxophone and drums. The introduction of an intervallic counter-melody signals the gradual transformation of the theme and the piece takes on a lush yearning quality.
Ho Get Em Tiger! comes out with all guns blazing, a dynamic contrapuntal duel between the horns and rhythm section. The fragmented waltz emulates the gyrating of a fan with a broken blade rather than the glide of a ballroom dance.
Dancing to Tink Tink would require some well-timed and La La Land choreography, but the song does have an infectious quality that makes one want to move. The bubbly melody, played in harmony by the saxophonists, makes frequents steps away from a home key but remains memorable nonetheless.
Soloists Schiller (bass), Paz (tenor sax), and Robin Baytas (drums) not only navigate the form with deftness, but build upon the sing-song, frolicking nature of the tune. Gluckschmerz is a five-and-a-half minute roller coaster ride. The break-neck, intervallic melody is matched by an equally turbulent counter-line from the rhythm section. The improvisation begins with the two tenor saxophonists, Harper and Paz, trading phrases. This quickly turns into a full-band rollicking collective improvisation. A drum solo from Baytas emerges from all of this, catapulting the piece towards a restatement of the melody.
The title track is introduced by a brief meditation. This ballad drifts patiently forward without a strongly defined beat and the melody is divided between the saxophonists (first Harper, then Paz). A piano solo from Frank Carlberg emphasizes the nostalgic and playful character of the piece. The return of the melody builds momentarily in intensity but dissipates gradually, finally reaching the finish line at a crawl.
Life changing moments are often the seed that produces the oak, and for tenor/baritone saxophonist Dayna Stephens it was his recovery from Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, a rare kidney disorder.
The sound is distinctly American – fluent harmonies and an all encompassing wall of sound feel – but more Pat Metheny, who contributes one of the tracks, We Had A Sister, than Phil Spector.
In recovery Stephens had ample time to assemble songs infused with the light of the sun rather than the dark side of the moon, songs that would edify and irradiate, from Aaron Parks’ In A Garden to Massimo Biolcati’s Clouds, with star turns from exceptional musicians throughout, including Brad Mehldau.
Naturally, Stephens’ lyrical sax takes centre stage, cogitative and reflective, pushing the melodies towards a conceptual end, a depth of gratitude which leap frogs the inescapable uncertainty of their provenance.
Some of the tracks are new and some are old, but they each have had a walk on role in Stephens’ career: Stephens has long appreciated the visual quality of Aaron Parks’ In A Garden, and he grew up with Metheny’s haunting We Had A Sister.
Clouds has its roots in the magical sonic world of producer Louis Cole, whereas the only Stephens-penned track, The Timbre of Gratitude, is a homage to compassion and inspiration, two wells Stephens returned to time and again during his illness.
His band tuned down their instruments to incorporate a tack piano they discovered while recording Woodside Waltz, while Amber is Falling, coming in at over eight minutes, encapsulates the essence of this breezy jazz outing.
Tracks one to five on this taut recording become increasingly longer, from the 37 second Toccatina to Biangular and Sacrement, both breaking the four minute sound barrier.
The brevity creates the impression of seamless transitions, but don’t be fooled: each track is an entity of its own, with an independent orbit.
It happens that you are not gifted with the sense of an ending, for this quartet is ruthless when it decides to bring to a close what is an experimental filtering of sounds.
Like cutting a short story in mid-flow. Perhaps cutting is too serrated. Maybe editing. The experimenting which suffuses the early numbers, can be seen as a kind of foreplay, an illuminative prelude to this recording’s spine, Trinity, which comes in at almost a quarter of an hour.
Rather than speculate on what Ikonostasis is, it makes more sense to understand the approach by Kari Ikonen, and how an introvert expansion – imagine amorphous cycles where emotional introspection and stylistic expansion are complimentary – is a fluid foundation for collaborators Ra-Kalam Bob Moses (drums), Mathias Eick (trumpet) and Louis Sclavis (bass clarinet) to do their thing. And they do it very well.
With Trinity, the delicate trumpet melodies and dreamy piano chords are sucked under by currents in slow motion: imagine a profusion of notes cantering like a mare against a head wind, and then suddenly set loose.
This is music of the unexpected, a series of independent essences which have their own thermals and, occasionally, there is a coming together of harmony. The album’s gestation (recorded here and there, according to Ikonen) between June 2014 and October 2016, suggests an enforced hiatus.
Not so. Ikonen is a busy chap and his polymathic knowledge of contemporary music, including p-funk and the avant garde on this outing, gifts the listener a voyage from one landscape to another, such as the Persian delights of Catubada de Teheran.