Saturday, July 19, 2014

CD Review: Kyle Bruckmann's WRACK - ...Awaits Silent Tristero's Empire

Kyle Bruckman's WRACK
...Awaits Silent Tristero's Empire
(Single Speed)

Full disclosure: I haven't read any of Thomas Pynchon's work. However, after listening to Kyle Bruckman's suite ...Awaits Silent Tristero's Empire, described as "a musical phantasmagoria" inspired by Pynchon's novels VThe Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity's Rainbow, maybe the time has come.

Bruckman plays oboe and English horn, two challenging double reed instruments rarely heard in jazz or improvisation. In the liner note he explains that Pynchon often has his characters burst into song, with show tunes, sea shanties, drinking songs and vaudeville providing the foundation for frequently racy lyrics that appear in the text. This explains why, two minutes into Part One, the rhythm section launches into a two-step of carnival music, with trumpeter Darren Johnston and trombonist Jeb Bishop sounding plucky over the bounce of the beat.

Before this movement concludes, it includes a few passages of group squonks, some noisy oboe exchanges with plucked viola (from Jen Clare Paulson) and a few more trombone solos, most notably one where Bishop uses a plunger mute and the group plays a bluesy shout behind him.

Bruckmann describes the music as a "cracked funhouse mirror Great American Songbook," and that does capture the essence of the whole piece. A great deal of ground is covered, in fits and starts. The third section starts out sounding more subdued than the aforementioned part, only to get faster, before Jason Stein unleashes a vocal bass clarinet solo. The final section begins with free blowing, including Bruckmann growling on the oboe, and later shifts into something that feels like soft shoe, with a chorus of "Red River Valley" inserted quickly.

This mash-up of adventurous jazz and Americana holds a lot of intriguing moments, but as a whole it sometimes feels a little too ambitious. It doesn't have the John Zorn brevity-for-brevity's-sake penchant for gear shifting. But sometimes it feels like Bruckmann tries to incorporate a little too much into the music. Of course, I might be at a disadvantage, not having read any of the novels.

The members of the group keep the energy on track when things get a little more involved. Although one can't really call it a "front line" since it's not straight jazz, the use of double reeds, bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone and viola creates a unique texture. Chicago regulars Anton Hatwich (bass) and Tim Daisy (drums) complete the lineup.

Bruckmann was able to complete the piece through support from Chamber Music America's 2012 New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble Development Program. With any hope, this won't be a one-off project for him. On top of that, his oboe and English horn work also brings an underutilized pair of sounds to the world of adventurous jazz.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Charlie Haden Remembered

The anticipation that I feel before doing an interview often has a debilitating effect on me. Bad connections, bad recording devices - both are possibilities, even when I test them beforehand. Then there's always the prospect that the subject will turn out to be less than friendly. I went into an interview with a certain punk rock icon, who I had casually meet on a few occasions and found sweet as pie, who was prickly and intimidating.

But there's always the hope of having a breakthrough with a subject. You ask a question, or more likely make an observation that will really open them up. That happened when I interviewed Charlie Haden in 2003. We talked about his music, the term "jazz," about teaching music, whether or not you can teach what he did with Ornette Coleman's quartet, and how to reach an audience with what you do.

Being so close to 9/11, and right around the time that W. declared "mission accomplished," I wondered if he was considering doing another Liberation Music Orchestra album. The first had been recorded in 1969, in the wake of the Democratic Convention in Chicago which had erupted in riots. The album's penultimate track attempted to recreate those particular events, by dividing the ensemble in two and letting them blow their brains out, following a jaunty Haden solo. Right at the height of the frenzy, Carla Bley began playing "We Shall Overcome" on the organ. The track juxtaposed chaos and hope of that era all at once. And while the track ends sounding bleak, it's followed by a one-chorus version of "We Shall Overcome," blown by Roswell Rudd's trombone. I took the message as one to be just what the song said: no matter how bleak, we will overcome.

When asked, Haden wasn't sure about another LMO album (the fourth, following Ballad of the Fallen, which came out in the '80s, and Dream Keeper in 1990). But sure enough, he released another one, Not In Our Name, in 2005. I was happy to see it and even happier when it drew piss and vinegar in the letters section of jazz magazines, due to its fearless comments about the country's politics.

But back to that interview...

I searched and found the article I wrote for Pulp back then, but I didn't include one key exchange Charlie and I had. He was telling me something that went kind of like this: he liked to tell his audiences how he'd like to multiple them by one million because with more people like that in existence, the world would be a better place.

Hm. That's cool, I thought. Now what do I say? "Well," I finally replied, you've given me a lot to think about." It felt like the most wishy-washy thing to say.


"THAT'S COOL, MAN" he exclaimed. It seemed like he felt like I got where he was coming from. A minute later, he was telling me that we ought to get together when he came into town. Charlie Haden wanted to hand out with me, an indie rock geek who was just starting to think he was a jazz writer. How could that be? (My first JazzTimes article had just been published two months prior.) I gave him my phone number and he wrapped up the interview with the word that I will forever associate with him: "Solid!"

Haden was supposed to get into town on a Wednesday for a weekend stand at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild. I had given up on hearing from him when I finally got a voicemail either Friday or Saturday afternoon. Yes, he was still interested in hanging out. Maybe we could check out the Crawford Grill (still open at that point) where he played with Ornette several decades prior. We made plans to meet up after the Sunday matinee show at the Guild.

Pittsburgh was hit with a pretty heavy snowstorm that day, but my partner in crime Shawn Brackbill had grown up in eastern PA and knew how to maneuver the roads. After checking out the subdued but really enthralling set by Haden's quartet (which included pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and pianist David Sanchez), Haden, Shawn and I made plans to meet at his hotel downtown and find a place to eat.

Things started off rather bleakly. The snow was getting bad. Charlie seems hungry and a little prickly. The mix tape that Shawn made for the trip wasn't having the desired effect. "Could you turn that off," Charlie asked, just about a minute into it.

But once we got to Palomino, the only place that seemed both open and accessible, he warmed up. We heard some great stories. A Pat Metheny song was playing in the restaurant. "I think I'm on this," he said, casually.

Yes, I did feel star struck, but I also felt like I was hanging out with a regular guy who just happened to be one of the most groundbreaking bassists in jazz music. I loved it for both reasons. And when I look back on the, uh, charmed life I briefly lead as an alt-weekly editor, making that connection with Charlie Haden is always the first thing I think of. And when I hear one of those early Ornette Coleman albums on Atlantic, I always think of how genuine a guy Charlie Haden is, and how I would to multiply him by one million. The world would be a better place.

Thanks, Charlie. I hope that you, Don Cherry, Eddie Blackwell and Scott LaFaro are hanging out together, laying down some drum and bass grooves.


Sunday, July 06, 2014

Pest 5000 - Whatever became of...

Here's another one for the "What Ever Happened To" files: Pest Five Thousand (or Pest 5000).

I bought this single (Harriet Records, #043) when the band played at the 31st Street Pub here in Pittsburgh in the late '90s. The record is dated 1997, so the show would've happened either that year or a year later. The selling point for me was the B-side, "Astromental," a keyboard-driven instrumental with a bounce and lines traded between a blooping synth and some kind of analog organ. When they played it live, there was a really great chord change in the "chorus" part, which doesn't exactly come across on the single. Still it's pretty fun. The a-side "Page 43" is pretty good, but my money is on the flip, which still runs through my head occasionally when I'm running around at work.

The band hailed from Montreal. On the inside of the cover, one of them wrote down their contact info, either because I was hoping they might be able to set me up with some Canadian distribution for records I was releasing, or perhaps because I was under the naive assumption that maybe, just maybe I might try to embark on a tour that took me to Canada.

None of that happened, and I never heard a peep from the band again. They're probably easy to find out about online, unlike Thank You Super, another band who played the Pub, sold me a killer single and disappeared.

Dear ex-Pest 5000 members, if you read this, stop and say hi.

Saturday, July 05, 2014


Last week the total number of visits to this page was 1. And it was probably by me.

Since it's been several weeks since the last post, maybe it's a good idea for me to get back up here. I had all intentions of posting during the weekend of the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival. Even thought about doing it the night of the jam session that I saw. Sonoma Grille was so crowded that I decided not to fight my way to the bar for a drink. The less I had to drink, the more stamina I would have throughout the evening.

It was a good move because I was able to stand and watch the band play for about two straight hours, and there were no breaks. In fact it got to the point where instruments were getting new musicians mid-song. The perfect example of that came when none other than Reggie Workman came up mid-song and had the bass handed to him by Paul Thompson. Both are extremely good bass players, but when Reggie took over, things shot into the stratosphere. He played in a way that made you think, Okay we are now in the presence of a heavy dude.

That week I was assigned to write a piece for JazzTimes on Sean Jones, and luckily I got his number from him between solos. That was the only way I was going to do it because he was running the whole thing. We sat down for an interview this past week.

This is my first big profile for JT in about 10 years. I've done a couple articles for the college issue, but it's been a looooooooooooong time since there's been a long story on one person. Of course I'm feeling apprehensive, even though things are clicking into place.

In other news, more mixing is being done by the Love Letters. We got another mix of "Semi Dark Crush Museum" back from John Collins. Then Buck, Aimee and I went into Machine Age to start a mix on "Champagne Lady." That still needs some tweaking but it's on the way. Just have to find the time to book another session.

And then we might have a worthy candidate to join the band and fill the spot vacated by Aimee. The new person isn't a keyboard player. Or a dame.

Monday, June 16, 2014

CD Reviews: Three by Ivo Perelman

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Michael Bisio/Whit Dickey
The Other Edge

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/William Parker
Book of Sound

Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri
Two Men Walking 

Maybe we could call Ivo Perelman "Lightning," since he never strikes twice in the same place. Although he has composed pieces for his albums in the past, the Brazil-born tenor saxophonist is now fully devoted to spontaneous creation each time he picks up his horn. 

As of late, his recorded output has been pretty prolific. (He's released 20 albums in the last four years.) These three discs come in the wake of two others that Leo released last fall. But they follow another criteria that Perelman adopted: none of them feature the exact same lineup. Perelman has played with a certain musicians on several occasions, but he typically prefers to switch out a player or two, so things are never quite the same. Not only does the music change each time, the process taken to create it always takes on a new wrinkle when different personalities come and go.   

Having said that, The Other Edge sort of acts an exception. It features Matthew Shipp's trio (pianist Shipp, bassist Michael Bisio, drummer Whit Dickey) returning to the studio with Perelman for the second time, 18 months after a session for the album The Edge. "I broke the rule because we felt this had so much potential," he explains. He's right. The backing trio is a cohesive unit on its own but together with the saxophonist, they form something bigger. There are layers of group interaction, so it sounds like much more than a guest rhythm section with a leader. Everyone takes the "lead" on the album at some point.

It's tempting to think of David S. Ware's quartet during the opening "Desert Flower." Perelman opens with an unaccompanied tenor solo full of fire and wails before the trio comes rolling in. (While Shipp's wave of chords and lines were a part of Ware's group, Dickey was also a member of the group for a while too.) The title track also recalls the Ware a bit too, as Perelman plays at a feverish level of intensity and without backing down until the end.

In between these bookends, the group explores their own ideas. "Panem Et Circenses" Parts 1 and 2 are marked rhythms that could almost be called grooves. It comes as a surprise after Part 1's pensive opening, which comes closer to a ballad. The second part almost falls into a march, with Perelman delivering a series of honks on the beat. "Petals or Thorns?" - a great set of options to describe music like this - begins as a quiet free ballad, before the tenor shatters the mood with a high, long wail. Later Bisio joins the altissimo squeaks with some high harmonic bowing, sounding like an additional horn.

The Other Side has some of the wildest playing of the three albums, but it never sounds like Perelman is trying to seer listeners with his upper register squeals or lower squalls. While it sounds intense, it also feels engaging.

If anything Book of Sound might seem like the album that would draw comparisons to Ware's group, since the session brings back Shipp as well as bassist William Parker, another anchor in that group. But the meeting of the minds comes up with the strongest set of music out of the three. In fact it sounds closest to composed music due to the way these three play together.

While the high end sax squeals seems more like punctuation on the previous disc, their appearances on Book of Sound come across more as extension of his lines in the lower registers, and a completion of thought. "Candor Dat Viribus Alas" with its dark but balladlike setting, has just the right blend of lyrical and gruff elements. "Adsummum" cuts loose with strong sense of direction, in which Perelman seems to play continually for several minutes without pausing during an extended idea. When Shipp and Parker hit on a two-chord vamp, with slight variations along the way, things feel a little sanctified.

Perelman's 2013 releases included the soundtrack to a film A Violent Dose of Anything, which he made with Shipp and violist Mat Maneri. The convergence of free improvisation and soundtrack might seem incompatible, but the trio excels at creating moods, and some of the results felt a little noirish.

Two Men Walking reunites Perelman and Maneri for a series of duets. Of the three albums, this is the most challenging listen. Without any harmonic or rhythmic instruments to hold or catapult them, both players produce a set of tracks (divided into unnamed "parts") where they echo each other (approximately), hold conversations or go at it on parallel musical lines. A strong rapport exists between the two, but the close range of their instruments and a similar, loose feeling doesn't differentiate between some of the tracks, when a little more variety could be used.

Perelman's of-the-moment approach to playing makes it a little easier to understand why he has become so prolific. Committing the music to tape is the easy part when like-minded friends are with you. It's not quite the same as Guided by Voices leader Robert Pollard's knack for sneezing out a handful of albums a year.

Great musicians shouldn't have to think in terms of dollar and cents but it can be hard to keep up with someone who releases so much, while droves of other musicians like him are vying for listening time. This music is not disposable. But do you listen to it once and shelf it to make way for the next album? Do you pass up one disc in favor of another, or wait until the next one comes along? Presumably, we should leave that to the folks at Leo to worry about, and just listen. For now, Perelman has given us plenty to absorb.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

CD Review : Marc Ribot Trio - Live at the Village Vanguard

Marc Ribot Trio
Live at the Village Vanguard
(Pi Recordings)

There simply aren't enough musicians sharp enough to sequence an album to have "Old Man River" get sandwiched between two Albert Ayler compositions, with the second one to be followed by a drop-dead sincere reading of "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)." Marc Ribot does that on this set of recordings, taken from a January 2012 stay at the legendary Village Vanguard. It's quite possible that the order of tunes is not only the result of savvy sequencing, but that it happened that way in the New York club. Either way, it speaks volumes about the diversity of guitarist Ribot's huge palette of musical perspectives, in addition to the weight of music on this album.

Ribot's bandmates for this set are bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor. The three of them have played together for over a decade, first coming together in Spiritual Unity, a group devoted to Ayler's music, which also featured the late trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr. Their interactions live up to the name of the previous group. Ribot's spiky tone stands out and can combine romantic with sarcastic on "Old Man River." Taylor adds to this track by throwing in a bossa nova beat on the middle eight of one chorus, and tom rolls on another which stoke the fires.

Together they turn Ayler's "The Wizard" into boogie-rock with a 2/2 groove from Grimes and Taylor which works because of the way Ribot colors it. By the closing chorus, things have taken on a freer direction, with Taylor evoking a calmer version of Sunny Murray or either of the Ali brothers, Rashied and Muhammed.

"Bells" lasts about as long as Ayler's original version, but starts in one place, revists the marching theme that held the original together and moves in a different direction. Grimes produces a flowing arco solo after an almost pastoral free guitar intro. Things get loud but never excessive. After the group brings it down for "I'm Confessin'," they go back for the final kill with a tight version Coltrane's "Sun Ship." (The saxophonist's "Dearly Beloved" opens the album.)

The appearance of Ribot, whose jazz work swings far to the left, at a institution like the Vanguard, known for presenting more grounded jazz artists, is not exactly a combination to be taken lightly. With that in mind, the trio doesn't take the scene in stride either. They pour themselves into the music playing with passion and conviction that even the straight ahead fans should appreciate on an emotional level. Also of note: Grimes hadn't performed at the famed club since 1966, when he appeared with Ayler, for what would be the saxophonist's Albert Ayler in Greenwich Village album.

Finally, Pi Recordings says on their website that Live at the Village Vanguard is available on vinyl, although "Bells" does not appear, due to length. However, the record comes with a download card for "Bells," as well another Ayler tune and a Ribot original. Now that's smart marketing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tom Rainey & Ingrid Laubrock Hit Pittsburgh

Last Thursday, Tom Rainey and Ingrid Laubrock played at the Thunderbird Cafe. Tom has been a drummer around New York for years, playing with Mark Helias, Drew Gress and Tim Berne. Ingrid hails from Germany but has been living in the states for a few years, playing with Mary Halvorson in addition to leading her own groups. They're also husband and wife.

Although Tom just released an album called Obbligato which reexamines some jazz standards, the duo also put out an album called ...and other desert towns, 10 tracks of complete improvisation. At the Thunderbird that was their approach too. Attribute it to the end of the tour tightness (they were heading back home after this tour) or a generally strong rapport between the two of them, but the music was propulsive and engaging.

Rainey didn't look at his drums while he was playing, or if he did, his eyes looked down as he faced forward. At first he was sticking to ideas on the rack and floor toms. He frequently shifted from brushes to sticks and back without taking a break in the sound. At one point, he only used one brush, while his other bare hand served as a good way to get accents off the heads. There was also a moment where he got a low rumble off the floor tom with his hand. 

Laubrock can get wild and noisy if she likes, but in the beginning of the set, she was playing a series of short phrases that strung together as a full, extended thought. When she switched to soprano, she delivered a moody sound that could have passed for a written-out idea. During the second of the extended "pieces" that they played, she started to growl a little more, getting a fluttering sound by playing with the side keys of the tenor. Rainey responded by getting a whole back of sticks and placing them on the floor tom and whacking them for accents. 

Their whole set lasted about 45 minutes. A little more would have been cool, but it was still a good length for the set. Many times when there's an avant jazz show at the Thunderbird, there audience numbers somewhere around the teens. While it wasn't jam packed during Rainey & Laubrock's set, there was a throng of people standing up front and paying attention. Part of that could be attributed to the headliner, Cory Henry of Snarky Puppy who played next. But either way, the duo got a warm welcome. Henry's audience did pack the area in front of the stage for an electric, groovy set that added some tricky time turnarounds. I stuck around for a little of that, but the next day was a long, rigorous so I bowed out.

Go hear to read a quick Q&A that I had with Rainey prior to the show.