Wednesday, October 10, 2012

So Much New Music!

Tons of good stuff in the last couple of months that I have not written about. Some big CDs from big names -- Brad Mehldau, Houston Person, Lee Konitz and friends, Anat Cohen, The Bad Plus just to name a few-- that I would recommend any time, but also a lot of CDs from some noteworthy but lesser known, or even in many cases unknown and new players. So without further ado, I have selected a few CDs from players you may have heard of to report on in this post, to be followed with others in succeeding days or weeks.

Product DetailsI'll start with two veterans, Marc Johnson and Eliane Elias, who have released an absolutely exquisite disc, "Swept Away" (ECM 2012). Johnson on bass and Elias on piano are accompanied by Joey Baron on drums and a very lyrical and somewhat subdued Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone. Eleven pieces of which ten are by Johnson and/or Elias, everyone lyrical and deeply moving, with stronger melodies and standard rhythms, and more richness than many might associate with ECM recordings. It kicks off right away with the title piece and, after the piano interoduces the song, a long and lovely solo passage by Johnson. the piece sets the mood of the disc -- romantic but not cloying, rich textures, and elegant. As a trio the group is great, and when Lovano joins in sublime. Lovano melds beautifully into the group sound, with a restrained, smooth tone. This is an elegant, must listen CD that will please anyone who likes the classic form and sound of a piano trio playing originals.  

click to enlargeNext, not new but new to me, and still pretty much down the middle with more well-known tunes, a European master of the bass, Mads Vinding, joins with two other masters of whom I recently wrote, Enrico Pieranunzi on piano and Alex Riel on drums for the CD "The Kingdom (Where Nobody Dies)" (Stunt 1997) and the trio delivers a bravura performance. This is not a CD with a lot of surprises or unusual touches, just one with three masters of their instruments playing some standards -- "Someday My Prince Will Come", "My Foolish Heart", "I Remember Clifford" -- and some Pieranunzi compositions with all of the class and grace one would expect from them. The three blend seemlessly and while Pieranunzi leads the compositions from his bench, watch for some nice soloing byVinding, particualry on "My Foolish Heart." Riel is subtle but always maintains firm control over the tempo from the back. Really wonderfully relaxing music, first rate.

Product DetailsRoberta Piket is a name well known in New York jazz circles, a veteran player and teacher and marvelous pianist with several recordings to her name. On her latest, "Solo" (Thirteenth Note Records 2012) she does just that, playing eleven pieces from a number of sources, including two she penned herself. Other compositions are by such luminaries as Thelonious Monk, Billy Strayhorn, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Marian McPartland, and Sam Rivers, and by the names alone it is clear that these solo explorations are wide ranging, from standards to free jazz. Piket makes the most of the compositions and opportunities, beginning first with a very subdued and beautiful playing of "I See Your Face Before Me," but not before she interduces it with the opening left-hand bass notes from Eric Satie's Gymnopedies. Monk affords her great flexibility for the next two pieces, one her own composition modelled upon the freedom he displayed in his work which allows her some free rein across the keyboard, some unusual harmonies and a range of dynamics; and one interpreting the classic "Monk's Dream" in a very gentle fashion. Assured, relaxed, and creative, Piket demonstrates a sense of restraint on some of the most beautiful compositions, like "Something to Live For" (Strayhorn) to allow the song to speak for itself; and a fertile mind for improvisation on others as she takes tunes such as "Nefertiti" (Shorter)  and "Litha" (Corea) to new places through her explorations. I have many of her earlier CDs, but this one stands out as she expands her vocabulary with this solo outing. Piket's explorations are marvelous and easy on the ears, never too much "in your face", making this a CD that can be appreciated by traditionalists as well as moernists alike.
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The next disc worth listening to definitely takes listeners out of the box and into the area of modern creative jazz. The duo of Michael Bisio (bass) and Matthew Shipp (pianist) jointly composed, or in some cases freely improvised, the seven pieces on this recording, "Floating Ice" (Relative Pitch Records 2012). Shipp is the better known of the two players and throughout his body of work has demonstrated his interest in exploration of sounds, both of his instrument as well as of duos, trios, and beyond. Melodies are more angular and shifting, rhythms varied, and the two freely combine soothing harmonies with dissonance within the same pieces. But both also demonstrate a keen ability to play together, to supporting one another, and to trading off solos effortlessly in search of their perfect sound. Interestingly, the liner notes do not distinguish written forms and improvisations, and simply describes the music as magic. Shipp jumps right in with "Floating Ice" a two handed exploration of the lower octaves of the piano with a lot of clustered chords under a running right hand melody line. There is no real tune here, just fantastically interesting blends, sometimes dissonant, sometimes harmonious, sometimes legato and gentle, and at other times heavily played and forte. Bisio takes over midway thorugh the piece and his bass solo is far from traditional but interesting as well. The music is really hard to describe accurately as it moves quickly from passage to passage, heavy hands to light touches, strong melodies to impressions, etc. Sometimes Shipp is too far out there for me --- his duet "Cosmic Lieder" (AUM Fidelity 2011) with Darius Jones is just one example that is too modern for my taste -- and sometimes his experimentation hits me right, like the recent "Elastic Aspects" (Thirsty Ear 2012) or "Art of the Improviser" (Thirsty Ear 2011), both trio CDs with  Bisio.  Here is one that hits the sweet spot for me -- experiemental, different, and yet structured enough to appeal to my sensibilities.

Finally, moving back towards the middle once more, we have Scott McLemore, an American ex-pat drummer living in Iceland, whose new CD is  "Remote Location" (Sunny Sky Records 2012) is a tribute to his various homes -- Virginia, New York, and Iceland. McLemore is accompanied by an all-star group of Icelanders, the best known of whom is Sunna Gunnlaugs on piano. The others are Oskar Gudjansson on tenor sax, Andres Thor on guitars, and Robert Porhallsson on bass. McLemore wrote all 11 pieces, which are very lovely, subdued impressionistic gems. I feel a great kinship to the music, not only because it is lovely, appealling music, but also becaause I feel a kinship to Charlottesville where my kids went to college ("Charlottesville" is the fifth track), to nearby New York City, and to Iceland, where we visited last year and expect to visit again soon. Just an unbelievable place of natural beauty, wonderful people, and amazing open space. McLemore captures all of our emotions about all of the places he cites with lovely melodies and great soloists. His own play is subdued but omnipresent as color, setting tempos, or creating accent points along the way. This is recomended to you as modern creative in-the-pocket jazz by a seamless quintet. And by the way, Iceland truly has an amazing jazz scene for such a tiny place, has an annual jazz festival that draws from Northern Europe in particular, and has a new concert hall that is magnificent.

So there we have it, five CDs of note, from the inside music of Vinding/Pieranunzi/Riel and of Johnson/Elias to the outside sounds of Bisio/Shipp. All very good, I hope you will try some and that you enjoy.

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