A few words about ten less recent chapters from the ongoing (hopefully for long) saga of Pedro Costa’s label. Other titles will be gathered in a future instalment.
FIGHT THE BIG BULL – Dying Will Be Easy
Under this name acts a reasonably bloodthirsty nonet led by guitarist Matt White, the composer of all the tunes. The instrumentation comprise two trombones (Reggie Pace, Bryan Hooten), clarinet (Adrian Sandi), tenor sax (J.C. Kuhl), trumpet (Bob Miller), percussion (Brian Jones), trap kit (Pinson Chanselle) and bass (Cameron Ralston). Given that the CD lasts slightly in excess of 31 minutes, the level of charged dynamics and overall energies that it transmits is noteworthy. Clearly stated themes get rapidly embittered in distorted fury, vapours of past influences gathered and shaken up into original recipes for a fresh kind of alternative dancing. Orchestrations that hint to big band enthusiasms and New Orleans-tinged business leave room for the instrumentalists to releases copious doses of vociferous rage, yet there’s also space for looking at atmospheres that are more reminiscent of a strip club than a jazz club. The mechanisms of lucidity don’t seem to be always in full control, but the somewhat disorderly conduct held by the ensemble is a plus, liberating the music from the sub-structural obviousness that this brand of projects frequently implies. The nervous sort of gaiety that characterizes substantial chunks of the compositions is exactly what defines their distinctiveness. Play loud and get slapped hard.
PAULO CURADO E O LUGAR DA DESORDEM – The Bird, The Breeze And Mr. Filiano
As the record’s name implies, the presence of double bassist Ken Filiano amidst leader Paulo Curado (alto sax, flute) and Bruno Pedroso (drums) is rather exemplary, classiness and sobriety always at the forefront either as accompanist or soloist, an extreme musicality symbolizing the cornerstone of his style, which is a pleasure to listen at any time. The Portuguese comrades are definitely not lesser musicians, though: this is a typical specimen of trio that might have risked to sound as a mellifluous disaster on CD and instead comes out of the speakers as a splendid kinship, the music walking at brisk paces without stumbling for a moment. Curado is a neat executor on both instruments, playing lines that result perfectly intelligible wherever he decides to go, perennial precision and clever sleights of hand never informed by excessive meticulousness. Pedroso’s wrists allow him excursions in several regions of drumming, including those which border with total freedom, yet he manages to emerge as the driving propitiator of impartially functional rhythmic designs at all times. Played with earnestness and elegance at once, these pieces appear like unprejudiced attempts to avoid that kind of pre-digested organization which gives jazz a glossy patina of unresponsive pointlessness.
JORGE LIMA BARRETO – Zul Zelub
The theory of “unrealized energy”, of which we find a meticulous description on the album’s sleeve notes, is at the basis of these 75 minutes of improvisations by pianist Jorge Lima Barreto. The length of the CD is, in truth, one of its limits but this notwithstanding some of the ideas that the sole protagonist performs are fascinating enough to release an overall sufficiently positive judgement. In “Zul”, which alternates not always lucid free forms to comparatively peaceful dissertations, the instrument is constantly intertwined with the emanations of a shortwave radio; this continuous presence defines the piece both positively and negatively, alternating moments of experimental intrigue to sections where there seems to be a little bit of confusion. The second half “Zelub” is much better, especially as Barreto’s more effective, less redundant playing is accompanied by four parallel recordings of natural and environmental sounds, including beautiful birds and other similarly engrossing presences. At times, for inexplicable reasons, I was reminded of Joachim Kühn in certain electro-acoustic partnerships on CMP. Still, despite a degree of heaviness mainly in the first part of the record, this is undoubtedly sincere music to appraise without acting as overly critical detractors.
TETTERAPADEQU – And The Missing R
A group formed by two Italians (tenor saxophonist Daniele Martini and pianist Giovanni Di Domenico) and a Portuguese rhythm section consisting of Gonçalo Almeida on double bass and João Lobo on drums, the name being an anagram – minus an “r”, hence the title – of a club named De Patter Quartet in The Hague, Holland, where the four conservatory students used to play together after the lessons. Where technical preparation of the musicians and instantaneous (and often ironic) creativity meet depends on the different circumstances that the music presents. Barely sketched ideas, adventurous sensitivity, a few grimaces and fully fledged compositions, the whole under a stylistic banner whose colours are mainly taken from jazz, but also from other kinds of immediate intuition, several moments characterized by intense silences and melancholic touches for good measure. Now tangentially intelligent, now more respectful of traditions, this record shows the artists’ will to do their best to maintain an optimistically untarnished approach to interplay; they sound dedicated, detached and having fun at once. The result is an extremely satisfying album, its moods and inclinations not in need to overwhelm the listener. Remarkable and, at the end of the day, successful in not giving us the chance of an accurate classification.
FREDRIK NORDSTRÖM QUINTET – Live In Coimbra
The leader behaves civilly on tenor sax while piloting an ensemble featuring Mats Äleklint (trombone), Mattias Ståhl (vibes), Torbjörn Zetterberg (double bass) and Fredrik Rundqvist (drums). Forgive me everybody, but this is probably the first time in which this writer clearly didn’t enjoy a Clean Feed release, or at least didn’t accept the liners’ hype: in fact, Nordström defines the playing as “dazzling and creative” while I found it formulaic, prescribed, overeducated, the music often bordering on tedium. The live atmosphere is practically absent (only polite applause at the end of the pieces), the musicians’ technical expertise is obviously visible at all times, yet there’s an excess of respect in there that makes us feel like listening to the same piece repeated throughout. Everything appears tightly controlled, perfectly hygienic, no dust, no rust, no emotion. If this is a homage to tradition or something similar, it’s too courteous for my taste: apart from a couple of pleasant enough themes, the compositions are forgotten after a minute and the large part of the solos belongs to the mail order catalogue of mainstream. A punch-the-clock item useful for lounge purposes only, definitely not on the habitual level of energy and ingenious involvement of this label’s average output. Writes again Nordström: “The concert was recorded but not planned to be released as an album”. Sometimes it’s better to follow the original plan, isn’t it?
THE FLATLANDS COLLECTIVE – Maatjes
A Dutch word that means “mates” also defines a typical local delicacy, of which the musicians who play in the CD grew fond during a stay in Amsterdam. The exchange of musical experiences – Chicago versus The Netherlands – is at the basis of this album featuring virtual leader Jorrit Dijkstra (alto sax, lyricon, analog synth), James Falzone (clarinet), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, analog electronics), Jason Roebke (bass) and Frank Rosaly (drums, percussion). The compositions, mostly credited to Boston-resident Dijkstra, are visibly distinguished by a rather synchronized approach, the artists following a basic compositional scheme comprising a number of places for individual expression but always in the name of an orchestral result that often sounds regimented, only at times slightly more audacious. In general, the players do not seem to be looking too hard for alternative routes: once a suggestion is delineated, they develop a few instant propositions without putting excessive quantities of juvenile delinquency in there, wearing an “everything-under-control” mask whatever the proposition may be (among the declared influences, minimalist mavericks Terry Riley and LaMonte Young; still, curb your enthusiasm if you think to find anything even remotely similar to that music). This somewhat scarcely flexible application of colours and codes limits the sparkle factor of the pieces, which remain flawlessly elegant examples of semi-improvised concepts partially subjugated to a collective format, the whole impeccably executed yet unquestionably cold to these ears.
RIDD QUARTET – Fiction Avalanche
Reuben Radding (double bass), Jon Irabagon (sax), Kris Davis (piano), Jeff Davis (drums), RIDD combine different types of situations and moods, ranging from the sober elegance of rarefied tunes where the piano dictates the behavioural rules of a jazz that follows – at least in part – the tradition without sounding démodé (the preferred facet of the group by this writer) to more oblique exemplifications of dissonant freedom, often interesting, at times a little tortuous, in general destined not to remain in the memory (this needs the opening of a discussion panel; how many records of contemporary jazz are in effect “destined to remain in the memory”, if not vaguely? Next time). The players, whose nimbleness is beyond debate, approach the material with the right balance of clever diplomacy and regulated sixth sense, rarely exalting the fuming aspects of improvisation in favour of a controlled attitude which sounds very welcome. Radding and Irabagon complement their reciprocal finesse splendidly, literate contrapuntal parallelisms calling attention also when the tune does not necessarily require it. Jeff Davis is the most discreet figure of the quartet, humility at the service of the collective yet extremely precise and reliable, a teaching for certain drummers who would have better served themselves by becoming wailing guitarists instead of banging our ears off the head. Still, the real pleasures frequently come courtesy of Kris Davis, improvisational intelligence on a par with her abilities as a refined interlocutor, chordal hues and sparkling arpeggios always noticeable at the forefront of the mix even in the less intelligible sections.
STEVE ADAMS TRIO – Surface Tension
Adams is a member of ROVA, in front of which a knowledgeable listener could even think of genuflecting – enough said. In this record he plays sopranino, alto, tenor and baritone plus bass flute, flanked by Ken Filiano on bass and Scott Amendola on drums. I’m usually kind-hearted towards instrumentalists belonging to the same rank of these three men, provided that clichés and formulas are left out of the equation which, we’re happy to report, is exactly what happens here. This is as fresh a jazz as a herbal antiperspirant: the music, entirely written by Adams, literally breathes, whatever the sort of proposition he presents. Inspired improvisations sounding like well-rehearsed charts, clever swinging, intense soliloquies and considerate interplay with just a pinch of disenchantment: everything is executed with congruence, the musicians’ intents perfectly aligned in a punctilious search for different solutions. While Filiano performs according to his customary instrumental stature, alternating dissonant bopping and arco-tinged sensitive shrewdness, and Amendola acts as a clear-headed rhythmic propeller gifted with remarkable clarity of vision, the leader is obviously a master of the game, the relationship with the mechanics of blowing air into tubes fuelled by a refined sense of suggestiveness and proportional technical monstrosity which makes us appreciate the sheer sound of any note that he emits, with a personal preference for the splendidly evocative considerations on the flute in tracks such as the gorgeous “ninth” (thus called by yours truly because the CD contains ten chapters, but the cover and the press release indicate only eight titles). A flawless example of creative interaction in a trio, a veritable clinic for many aspiring leaders who don’t have a clue about where they want to go.
JOHN O’GALLAGHER TRIO – Dirty Hands
The spectacular audio quality of the recording is extremely helpful in highlighting the instrumental adroitness of alto saxophonist O’Gallagher and his comrades, bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Jeff Williams. People who sound like they’ve been playing together forever, recorded in studio during a pause in a series of concerts and clinics in Braga, Portugal in 2007 which made their spiritual and technical fusion complete. It’s great when, while listening to an album, one can literally penetrate the essence of each instrument (which comes naturally easier when the sources are not too numerous). This happens time and again while we “concentrate on the concentration” demonstrated by the artists all over the course of this disc, which alternates mathematic precision, committed ardour and permanent imaginativeness in a noteworthy recipe, the sounds typical of this format in a way separated, clarified and amplified to express a unique mental picture. This perfect intelligibility is what attributes to the whole a positive mark: without sounding by any means conciliatory – quite the contrary, it is full of acute corners and razor-blade sharpness – this music is also capable of touching the soul at least in part, leaving ample room for reflection and air to breathe for the brain, never overwhelmed by what ignorant analysts often define “urgency” and instead is just inability to listen, which in my book determines a loss of the right to be called “musicians”. O’Gallagher, Kamaguchi and Williams are excellent listeners and the record is, accordingly, brilliant.
DARREN JOHNSTON – The Edge Of The Forest
Remarkable compositions and skilled arrangements designed to create the perfect setting for solos played with zest and exhuding joy to perform. This pretty much sums up the near-perfection of this CD, among my overall favourites in this batch, which gives back copious doses of almost physical pleasure spin after spin – a rare characteristic even in technically superior, high-level releases. Trumpeter and composer Johnston, who has worked among others with Fred Frith and Myra Melford, is aided by Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Sheldon Brown (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Devin Hoff (upright bass), Smith Dobson V (drums) and, exclusively in “Foggy”, by accordionist Rob Reich. A response to the pedestrian attitude of those combos based upon the “nonexistent-theme-thrown-away-before-inconclusive-blowouts” modus operandi, the pieces are constructed with architectural extensiveness, a plurality of diverse keys to open the doors of never-invasive, ever-articulate ramifications leading the group into territories explored with Zappa-esque tightness in uncompromising perseverance, at the same time lightening up the connotations of otherwise unsurprising redundancies. Not for a minute we experience that feel of imminent catastrophe which often underscores excessive freedom, destroying the good intentions that a tune might show: the music flows with the head on its shoulders, the players walking surefooted amidst potential turmoil maintaining rationality and brilliance, and ends exactly where it had to, its latent coldness replaced by a formidable musicality which makes us completely forget about the meaning of “lackadaisical”. A disciplined yet spirited album: if you have to pick just a few in this tentet, this is one of them.