Tetraptych. Review: Senan O’Reilly

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It is life-affirming to hear four musicians so in tune with each other as they pursue, in the words of Bert Seager, “the higher intentions of our musical purpose”. Tetraptych – Seager (piano/compositions), Hery Paz (tenor saxophone), Max Salinger-Ridley (upright bass) and Dor Herskovits (drums) – may be the latest thing in a long line of modern jazz saxophone quartets but they very much forge their own path.

A tetraptych (pronounced “Te-trup-tick”) is “a four-panelled painting where each panel can stand on its own. Seen together, the panorama of panels gives greater meaning to the interaction of the parts.”

Composer and leader Seager uses the term “collective improvisation” to describe the modus operandi of  Tetraptych. While the quartet may have dispensed with road maps their unity of purpose and shared joie de vivre ensures that we are all happy to go along for the ride.

Under the Bostonian pianist’s light-touch leadership they take their time in laying out their wares. The music unfolds naturally and organically, never forced. They improvise because they can, and they do so in a way that is both seamless and sensuous. Listen to the sultry piano and sax foreplay of Distances and feel yourself slow-falling into the arms of a seductress!

The album opener, Welcoming The Water, is epic in both style and length. At 13.59 minutes it is the longest of the six tracks. It amply illustrates the cooperative and intuitive ethos which binds the four. The piano/sax conversation is one which invites eavesdropping. And what about Herskovits’ drum solo: every time I hear it I want to leap to my feet and punch the air. If this is improv bring it on!

Last Snow, with its tentative piano opening, coming on and falling away, resolves itself in successive layers of pastoral splendour.  The straight ahead bebop of Blues You Can Use and the Star Eyes-inspired Star Wise shows the boys letting loose and having some fun. The latter, with its introductory prelude, shows the quartet’s attention to detail and eschewing of musical cliches even when dealing in well established formats.

Bert Seager wrote all of the songs on this recording except for the free improvisation Equanimous Botch. The band used this one to warm up at the start of the session. It affords the listener an opportunity to peek into the engine room and witness, up close, the inner workings of this fabulous self-propelling apparatus. What the output lacks in focus it makes up for in originality. As Hieronymus Bosch said: “Poor is the mind that always uses the inventions of others and invents nothing itself.”

All told this is a quietly confident opus which insinuates itself with lyrical ease into the deeper recesses of your heart. It will surely inspire others to put aside map and compass and rely, instead, on one’s innate sense of being.

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Jason Yeager/Randal Despommier

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When New Orleans-born jazz alto saxophonist and classical composer Randal Despommier moved to New York City in the summer of 2013, he teamed up an with award-winning jazz pianist/composer from Boston, Jason Yeager, to explore improvisational arrangements of classical repertoire.

During the jam sessions, they would mess around with jazz standards, preludes by Scriabin, and folk songs and arrange, rearrange, and sometimes ‘de-range’ pieces, like two Rimbaud hipsters.

Some of these “derangements” include Despommier’s Cherokee-meets-Le Sacre du printemps (entitled “Rite of Cherokee”), described by the saxophonist as something of a primal Bop dance.

Yeager’s version of Danse de la fureur is a fiery, adventurous atonal saxophone and piano/rhodes duet that draws from the sixth movement of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. These high-octane fusion works on All At Onceness are counterbalanced by two original compositions: Despommier’s The First Flowers, an ethereal, lyrical setting of a poem by Hermann Hesse, and Yeager’s Telekinesis, a playful, Kafkaesque jazz vocalise interpolated with collective improvisation from the ensemble.

Critical to the standout originals are the contributions of vocalist Aubrey Johnson, whose exquisite tone and deep improvisational prowess are particularly strong on the closing track, Despommier’s arrangement of Bartók’s Bagatelle Op. 10 No. 4.

In this work, following a scintillating solo by Johnson, Despommier joins the fray as a vocalist, in the majestic choral section that closes out the album. Lighting a creative fire under the front line is the top-notch rhythm team of drummer Jay Sawyer (Freddy Cole, Itamar Borochov) and bassist Danny Weller (Jason Palmer, Radio City Music Hall Christmas Orchestra), who contribute imaginative musical commentary to Telekinesis, Bagatelle and Rite of Cherokee.

Martin Wind

 

Martin Wind’s Light Blue features old friends: Anat Cohen (clarinet), Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Matt Wilson (drums), Scott Robinson (multi-reeds), Bill Cunliffe (piano), Gary Versace (piano, organ), Duduka DaFonseca (drums) and Maucha Adnet (vocals).

There are milestones in a musician’s career, and life for that matter, which pass without acknowledgement. What with rehearsals, travel, and recording sessions, a busy professional rarely has the opportunity to note a watershed moment.

With Light Blue, Wind registers the significance of this moment in time. This recording comes some 25 years after recording his first release as a leader, Gone With The Wind, and Light Blue is being released shortly before he turns fifty. Since that initial outing, Wind has released another 18 albums as a leader or co-leader and he has become one of New York’s most in-demand bassists.

Wind recorded Light Blue with engineer Matt Balitsaris at Maggie’s Farm in April 2017 in between a myriad of gigs including backing singers Dena DeRose and Ann Hampton Callaway, Ted Rosenthal’s Monk Project, showcasing his quartet in Los Angeles, and performing with Pat Metheny and Matt Wilson at the Wichita Jazz Festival.

The remainder of the year found him touring with Matt Wilson’s Big Happy Family (performing Honey And Salt, the poetry of Carl Sandburg), presenting Schubert’s Trout Quintet and the premiere of his composition Looking Back with the American Chamber Ensemble, and performing George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with Ted Rosenthal and Phoenix Symphony.

Besides being a master musician, Wind penned the ten compositions heard on Light Blue. There are seven new pieces and three that are new versions of some of his classic compositions, such as 10 Minute Song and Cruise Blues, both from his quartet recording Salt ‘N Pepper (2008), and A Sad Story from Gone With the Wind (1993). His skills as an arranger are evident here, as they were on the critically acclaimed Turn Out The Stars, on which Wind performed music written or inspired by pianist Bill Evans with his quartet, plus the Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana

Mayu Saeki

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Hope

Flautist/composer Mayu Saeki’s debut recording, Hope, breathes and resonates with beauty and optimism. Hope tells the story of Saeki’s journey to NYC from her native Tokyo. There she left a complete life for an uncertain future in New York City.

Shortly after arriving, armed only with extensive classical training and mentorship, determination and hope, not to mention an abundance of talent, the opportunity presented itself to be a part of Chico Hamilton’s group.

She toured and recorded with Hamilton, appearing on several albums, including Revelation and Euphoric (both were released in 2011 from Joyous Shout! records), until his passing in 2013.

Hope from Brroklyn Jazz Underground Records feels like the fifth or sixth offering from a veteran on the scene. Saeki certainly had an advantage, recording with Aaron Goldberg, Joe Sanders, John Davis and Nori Ochiai (a former student of Goldberg’s and a fine modern jazz pianist in his own right), but her self-assurance comes across without dubiety.

Her solo on the title track bears a joyful swagger (immediately following a gem of a solo from Mr. Goldberg). Her playing, specifically the intro, solo and outro, on Soshu-Yakyoku are also moments to behold, as they encapsulate the sincerity and soul of this album.

And, her band mates are on board completely, and given ample space to express their brilliance. Check out Joe Sanders’ breathtaking playing on Do You Know, and behold drummer John Davis’ brilliant, flowing solo over the vamp of the same tune.

Goldberg is flawless throughout, but a highlight is his accompaniment and solo on the opening track, Dilemma. Libertango and Oblivion showcase Mayu’s classical training and her love for the music of Astor Piazzolla (with Oblivion displaying Mayu’s expertise on piccolo flute).

Gaia Wilmer

Migrations  introduces the music of Brazilian composer and saxophonist Gaia Wilmer, an emerging voice in the contemporary jazz communityDrawing inspiration from Brazilian music, its harmonies, rhythms and melodies, and from contemporary jazz, Gaia creates a unique and colourful world of music that is both cerebral and emotional.
She draws inspiration from composers such as Hermeto Pascoal, Guillermo Klein, Kenny Wheeler, Vijay Iyer and Maria Schneider, and the pieces generate their shapes and feelings from the idea of home.
The opener, After Them, was the first piece written for this octet between Gaia attending concerts and master classes by Vijay Iyer, Maria Schneider and Geri Allen, and draws its inspiration from those experiences. It alternates between one main bass line and a rhythmic idea in the piano inspired by Iyer’s music.
The shapes and textures of the lines, both in the bass and in the top melodies come from impressions of Schneider’s melodies and orchestrations. The melody evolves into a flute solo by Yulia Musayelyan which leads back to the opening bass line, and the return of the main melody.
Criancada started as an exercise, playing with constant structures and developed in to an energetic tune with a joyful melody that plays with the relationships between 3/4, 6/8 and 6/4 and the different ways of feeling those meters. The title of the tune means, “a bunch of kids”. The solo section follows the same idea with Leandro Pellegrino on guitar and Gustavo D’Amico on tenor saxophone interacting with each other.
The title piece,  Migrations, was written after a Guillermo Klein concert in Boston and features Raphael Lehnen on bombo legüero and Song Yi Jeon on voice. Written specifically for these artists and inspired by Klein’s music, this piece was the first one written after the group was settled.
Centered around the interval of a third, the piece starts with an acappella introduction, developing this intervallic motif. The composition was also inspired by the Kenny Wheeler album, Music for Large and Small Ensembles.
Helen came from exploring modes found in scales other than the common major. The ostinato, the chords and the melody are based on the mixolydian b6 mode from the melodic minor scale. It is the only composition on the album (with the exception of Hermeto Pascoal’s “Acuri”) that was written for a smaller ensemble and not specifically for the octet. It is dedicated to Helen de la Rosa, the drummer who first played the tune.
Cha is a ballad written for love and friendship, and explores free improvisation between the wind players. It starts with a free duet with Gustavo D’Amico on soprano saxophone and Gaia on alto that leads to the main theme. It also features solos by Mayo Pamplona on bass and Vitor Gonçalves on accordion.
The harmonic ideas of the energetic  No Talking arose from the constant structure and geometric atmosphere of “Giant Steps”. In the first section, the main motif is transposed and developed in myriad harmonic ways, while separated by a minor third. The second section presents a contrasting idea that is also transposed and developed but this time by major thirds.

Tomas Fujiwara

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Triple Double

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.

 

Francois Bourassa Quartet Number 9

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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.

Anat Cohen

 

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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.

Matt Mitchell

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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.

Denys Baptiste

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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.