Monday, July 22, 2013

Catch-All to Catch Up

Catching up after putting the blog on hiatus for a while, here are some more or less recent albums, books, and live performances I've enjoyed:

Eric Revis' 11:11 - Parallax
Revis doesn't have too many recordings as a leader, but he seems to be picking up the pace. He's already followed up this late 2012 release with a trio album (feat. Kris Davis and Andrew Cyrille). I haven't heard it yet but did see the group at the Vision Festival. I was impressed, but not as overwhelmed as I'd been by the group on Parallax (Nasheet Waits on drums, Jason Moran on piano, and Ken Vandermark on reeds) when I saw them a few years ago at Jazz Gallery. Tarbaby (Revis, Orrin Evans and Nasheet Waits) also has a new record out - not the Frantz Fanon-inspired project I heard them preview at Le Poisson Rouge with Lake and guitarist Marc Ducret, but Ballad of Sam Langford, dedicated to the early 20th-century boxer (a native of Canada later known as the "Boston Tar Baby") and featuring Oliver Lake and Ambrose Akinmusire (after Miles made the connection, it's hard to imagine a boxing-themed album without trumpet). I just got it but haven't heard enough to record any impressions yet. I've spent more time with Lake's most recent big band record, Wheels, and it's a definite winner. The saxophonist (and painter and poet) seems to be more prolific than ever at age 70.

Some of my favorite moments on Parallax occur when at least one member of the quartet is playing the melody or keeping a straight rhythmic pattern going while the others go off/out, a sound that I've heard in other Revis-Waits projects and in the Bandwagon's music. I've discussed my love of Waits' drumming before, and this is a good album to hear the range of what he can do. There's a good mix of tunes here - some that feel more composed, some more freely improvised, and a couple of really strong, spirited interpretations of early jazz pieces by Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton - sequenced with a good flow that avoids fatigue and invites repeat spins.

Volumes have been written elsewhere and everywhere about Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires of the City, so I'll just say that it's the best thing they've done (and I enjoyed their first two quite a bit) and one of the best things I've heard all year.

Two of my favorite recent discoveries in 20th-century music are closely related: Lou Harrison's Piano Concerto (I've mentioned the recording with Keith Jarrett, for whom the piece was written, before but I can't recommend it enough) and John Luther Adams' For Lou Harrison. The Callithumpian Consort recording of the Adams piece has some helpful liner notes - just understanding the concept of tempo layering in one of the two alternating sections of the piece gave me something to listen for and latch onto. As I understand it - imperfectly I'm sure - different instruments play groupings of 4, 5, 6, or 7 notes to the measure against a steady, slow 4/4 beat. There's a clear "one" to orient the ear, so that the different groupings are always audible even as the overall texture becomes more dense and complex. The other section is quite beautiful, with rising glissandos that sound like the whole ensemble is being played like a harp by a giant hand. (A much more detailed discussion can be found here.) The piece works as something to immerse yourself in and lose track of time, but the complexity and slight but constant variations certainly reward more attentive listening. It was reported that For Lou Harrison received a negative audience reaction when it was performed at the recent Ojai Festival, but in my experience even a slight effort to understand what Adams is doing will be repaid many times over.

I just finished reading two music memoirs back-to-back: White Bicycles, producer Joe Boyd's book about the '60s, and Apathy for the Devil, NME writer/notorious London scenester Nick Kent's year-by-year account of the '70s.  Surprisingly, Boyd, who made his name working with sound, not words, comes across as the better writer, but Kent certainly has a way with an anecdote and tells his sometimes squalid tale with verve.

Eyebone, a trio of Nels Cline, Jim Black and Teddy Klausner at Shapeshifter Lab reminded me how much I enjoy a loud, overdriven electric piano sound (something that was also in full effect at The Lilys' blazing Chickfactor set at The Bell House). All three played with great intensity, and there was a nice moment when Cline stopped playing, put down his guitar, and walked over to turn up Klausner's amp - a bit of on-the-fly, onstage mixing to bring the keyboard to the fore, from which point the music took flight.

The big guitar event of the year so far was the trio of Cline, Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot at Le Poisson Rouge. As a fan of all three, I was fascinated by every nuance of their interactions. They played as a trio, a quartet (with Shahzad Ismaily on drums), and as three different duos. Much of the set seemed improvised, as the three created spontaneous, interlocking parts and each in turn nudged the music in different directions. They covered a lot of sonic territory, including '60s-ish jangle and Hank Williams - the Frisell-Ribot duo played "Cold, Cold Heart", including a verse of vocals from Ribot. Frisell and Cline were on solid-body electrics for most of the set (though Cline played some lap steel), while Ribot did some tunes on acoustic and hollow body electric and generally contributed the most bluesy and angular elements to the mix.

Tim Berne 7 @ The Stone
The high point of my second time seeing this beast of a group (video of some of their performances can be found online) was an almost literally unbelievable half-hour-plus performance of Berne's super-intricate/complex "Forever Hammered". I couldn't fully grasp the structure of the piece, but it seemed to fully exploit the sonic possibilities of the group (an important part of their sound is the combo of Dan Weiss on drums and Ches Smith on vibes and other percussion). I don't know his catalog front-to-back, but this piece seems like some kind of milestone for Berne as a composer - pianist Matt Mitchell, on Twitter, called the TB7 gig "possibly the craziest music I've played with other people" - and I hope it has been or will be recorded in a studio soon.

I saw a couple different iterations of Steve Coleman and Five Elements at The Stone and Shapeshifter Lab. Both were excellent sets. The larger group at the Stone demonstrated Coleman's mastery of densely complex, layered rhythms. Coleman and other band members switched between their main instruments and hand cowbells, setting up new (clave-derived?) rhythmic patterns on top of funky bass-and-drum grooves. There was a lot going on, but the set was engaging on multiple levels, from the physical to the intellectual. The quartet version (w/ trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson) at Shapeshifter put the focus more on Coleman's prodigious improvisational imagination as a soloist. The quartet closed the set I saw with a flourish, taking the final tune at a daredevil tempo.

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