fourth landscape is an album that strikes that perfect balance between composed and improvised materials. I believe it was Coltrane who first called improvisation “spontaneous composition” and the improvisations here are so well placed within the structures created that it becomes hard to tell where one stops and the other begins. In fact, it wasn’t until my second spin of landscape that I was sure it wasn’t an entirely free improv affair.
Inspection of the cover reveals that all the pieces are, in fact, composed, four by Delbecq, four by Blaser, and three by Hemingway. Marc Chenard’s illuminating notes state that ten of the eleven selections were communicated via traditional notation on score paper. The CD cover is my only nit concerning the project, for Nuscope has gone away from their signature look that features original art, and instead used a prosaic photograph of water.
Those who have heard Delbecq’s releases on Songlines such as Circles and Calligrams and The Sixth Jump, know that he has a very unique style that utilizes some prepared piano techniques for a percussive effect, particularly in the lower register. I think that he sometimes overuses this approach, but here again the word “balance” comes into play, as he syncs up with Hemingway to establish percussion-based phrases that sound inspired by African rhythms. Elsewhere, he contributes sparkling single-note runs and even a little synthesized bass, very sparingly and tastefully, to bolster the group sound.
And what remains to be said about Samuel Blaser? There is seemingly no end to his imagination or his ability to fit in perfectly in any situation. He has flawless technique, but that technique doesn’t get in the way of his expression. You can be sure that an album he is on is one worth exploring.
Hush Point is a new quartet featuring trumpeter John McNeil, saxophonist Jeremy Udden, bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. Their self-titled debut album came out last month on Sunnyside. (Buy it from Amazon.)
Hush Point (the album) is an extremely refreshing listen, within the context of contemporary New York jazz. It’s quite subdued music, on the surface; Sperrazza plays with brushes throughout, Kobrinsky’s bass sound is thick and soothing, reminiscent of Milt Hinton, and the tempos are medium to ballad. But McNeil and Udden are doing some pretty adventurous stuff on top of that steady rhythm bed.
The album begins with “Iranic,” a slightly Middle Eastern melody that quickly gives way to a lengthy, but mellow, solo from Udden; when McNeil re-enters at the two-minute mark, Kobrinsky and Sperrazza begin a series of mini-solos, in between short melodic phrases from both horns. Structurally and in its general mood, the piece is reminiscent of Ornette Coleman‘s “Focus on Sanity,” albeit even more subtle and gentle. “Peachful” starts off with a bluesy, almost New Orleans melody (though not nearly as corny as most New Orleans jazz) but gradually, patiently builds to some almost avant-garde interactions between the horns, before bringing it all back down to earth in a smooth resolution that feels perfectly timed and arranged. “Fathers and Sons” has the feel of Ornette in ballad mode, Udden wandering around melodically like he’s just singing a song to himself as he walks through an empty house, and when McNeil rejoins him, they play harmoniously in a way that recalls pieces like “Peace” or “Some Other” (from the too-little-heard To Whom Who Keeps a Record).
But to overemphasize the small touches that recall Ornette Coleman‘s work (or John Zorn‘s Masada quartet, in the case of “Finely Done”) is to mischaracterize the true nature of Hush Point (band, and album). What’s most exciting about this album is the way these four players blend avant/free approaches to melody and interplay with techniques that go back to jazz’s earliest days—there’s an almost Dixieland feel to “B. Remembered,” and “Cat Magnet” is a strutting, finger-snapping blues, something that feels shockingly rare in a time when many young, critically hailed jazz musicians seem wholly allergic to the blues, or to any melody that doesn’t shove exactly how long they spent practicing at college in your face. Half the time, the members of Hush Point don’t even seem like they’re playing for a listener; with its gentle, unobtrusive drums, throbbingly human bass, and whispering, breathy horn lines, the album can make you feel like you’re eavesdropping on a private conversation.
I don't think I am going out on a limb when I say that Rodrigo Amado is without a doubt one of the most exciting and innovative tenor saxophonists on the avant jazz scene in Europe today. It is so, to my mind. He's been racking up a discography of gem-after-gem (many covered here) and stands out as someone who has a clear direction and the facility and sound to make it all so.
He has a couple of new ones out that I'll cover on this page over the next several weeks. The first up is a foursome gathering named the Wire Quartet (Clean Feed 297).
It's a scorcher of a studio date, with Amado and his colleagues in full-forward mode. Joining Rodrigo are Manuel Mota on electric guitar, Hernani Faustino on double bass, and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. If you follow the Portuguese scene you will recognize some or all of these names. They are players at or near the very top of their craft/art and they work together to give a dramatically free jazz dynamic throughout.
Everybody sounds great but it's Rodrigo that masters through the three segments, a master phraser-inventor with a rich tenor tone and poise. He sounds like a new "classic", though that may be a contradiction in terms. But no, the new can be the classic of now. It has to be because otherwise we are saying there is nothing being made of classic status today. And that just is not true.
So this is Rodrigo Amado right now--with three of the best on the Portuguese scene, all coming through with music that is meant to be a part of where we are. Right now. It is! Check this one out or miss out....
We’ve all heard the advice “Just be yourself.” Whether it’s in preparation for a job interview, a first date, or any kind of “performance.” And yet, the advice itself is often part of the problem. Like the command “Relax!”
The 54-year-old Japanese pianist and composer Satoko Fujii has heard this advice several times in her life, but her trip to being “herself” was hard won. At this point, no one would deny her individuality. As a pianist and composer with more than 60 albums to her credit, she has forged a unique amalgam of influences — jazz, classical, Japanese folk. A solo piece might start with a discordant clash of harp-like plucked piano strings that gives way to a series of sweetly meditative chords and then an elaborate improvised melody. With the collective quartet Kaze, Fujii arranges free-jazz explosions of trumpet and drums that can clear for a Morton Feldman-like reverie of meditative chords. Likewise with her celebrated big band recordings, which mix free-jazz ferocity with detailed ensemble writing. Fujii’s coloristic range at the piano, her note choices and marksmanship, distinguish her as a singular virtuoso — player and composer at once.
It wasn’t easy getting there. Fujii — who has degrees from both Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory and comes to the Lily Pad on Sept. 2 with her husband, the trumpeter Natsuki Tamura — studied for years as a classical pianist in the Tokyo suburb where she grew up. She remembers her first lesson with a jazz pianist. “He said, ‘Just improvise!’ Well, you know, I was there because I couldn’t do it!”
Fujii had first been bitten by the jazz bug when she was studying with the esteemed composer and pianist Koji Taku, who had quit a prestigious conservatory position in order to play jazz. Fujii, having grown up in a middle-class Japanese household, was stunned. “This was shocking to me.” And so she began to listen to jazz on the radio. Nothing grabbed her until she heard John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” “It was something I had never heard before. I couldn’t understand anything, but I could feel something. Behind this music was a big energy. That was the start for me.”
Fujii tried to teach herself to improvise, but got nowhere. “If I didn’t have music paper in front of me, I couldn’t play anything. I felt like a well-trained dog.”
She decided to quit piano altogether. She formed an experimental band with some friends — using only their voices, hands, and feet, they made a racket together, singing, shouting, beating on the floor. “I wanted to see where music came from. The music our ancestors made, when music was born.”
But she was also going to jazz clubs and discovered that she still loved piano. She took lessons, studied theory, and was soon playing every night in one of the many swing bands populating the Tokyo cabarets. Still, she wasn’t happy. “I thought, Maybe I don’t have the talent. Maybe I’m not gifted.” The best way to find out, she decided, was to commit herself completely. So she enrolled at Berklee.
She auditioned for an arranging class taught by the late Herb Pomeroy. “I don’t remember what I arranged, but it was something based on very basic theory. So I didn’t do anything wrong. But I failed. Herb said, ‘This doesn’t have your voice.’ ” The next semester she tried again, arranging Coltrane’s “Naima” to a funk beat. “I forgot about theory. I just used sounds that I liked,” using “violations” of standard theory. “And Herb really liked it!,” she said.
Several years passed, in which she married Tamura (whom she had met at Berklee) and the couple moved back to Japan. She played in clubs and wrote for music magazines. Still she was dissatisfied. Then she met the percussionist Taki Masuko, who had studied and taught at New England Conservatory, her next stop.
There, she took piano lessons with one of her heroes, Paul Bley. “Right now,” says Fujii, “I’m making music because I want to make music that no one has heard before. I would like to make something unique. Back then, I wasn’t so sure.” She wanted to play like McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea. “I knew it wasn’t right, but it sounded so good!” In the first lesson, Bley said, “Just play yourself. McCoy Tyner is already here.” Fujii felt liberated. “Everything was like that with him” she says of Bley’s pedagogical technique, which is famously part music-business tutorial and part talk therapy.
Though I only saw Charlie a couple of times in my lifetime-the last being at the Iridium club near Columbus Circle with Kenny Barron. They were actually recording the evening for a record. Supposedly Charlie had been ill the previous weeks and i remeber thinking that though his playing was alert and soulful there was a langour that I couldn't totaly identify. For me Charlie's bass playing and composition always ranked somewhere else-able to play in or out-his sensibilities were always on mark whether it was cultural or political. And he was there at so many important times of what we like to characterize as contemporrary jazz music. A very good soul, no doubt. May his spirit live on.
Bassist and composer Charlie Haden, whose resonant playing and penetrating melodic craft influenced generations of jazz musicians, died this morning in Los Angeles. He was 76.
Haden's death was announced by his record label, ECM Records, which noted that Ruth Cameron, his wife of 30 years, and his children Josh, Tanya, Rachel and Petra were all by his side at the time of his death, which the label attributed to a "prolonged illness."
Born August 6, 1937 in Shenandoah, Iowa, and raised largely in Springfield, Missouri, Haden grew up in a family that its own country-western music radio program. He sang on air in the family band from before the age of two. At age 15, however, he contracted polio; the disease paralyzed his vocal cords, and he turned to learning bass.
In 1957, Haden moved to Los Angeles, where he integrated himself quickly into the West Coast jazz community — including working with saxophonist and composer . Their collaboration over decades, onstage and on record, not only anchored Coleman's innovations in harmony and melody, but also generated new possibilities for his own instrument in group improvisation.
His work with Coleman made him an icon of avant-garde jazz, but in a career that spanned over 50 years, Haden wrote and played in many varied contexts. His Liberation Music Orchestra, a large-ensemble collaboration with composer-arranger , performed and recorded political protest songs for over 30 years. His Quartet West ensemble, featuring pianist Alan Broadbent and saxophonist Ernie Watts, provided avenues for more traditional hard bop and backing vocalists. And in 2008, he revisited his country roots with an album called Rambling Boy that gathered his wife, son and triplet daughters in a new family band.
The case can be made that Charlie Haden was the ultimate American musician. Certainly few musicians so effortlessly spanned so many different styles.
Haden’s reputation rests most centrally on his work with the Ornette Coleman quartets that introduced the concept loosely—and lazily—known as free jazz in the ’60s. Those frenetic, edgy bands have lost almost none of their power to shock and unsettle a listener, but one thing has become clear with the passage of time: Beneath the wild and often mystifying leads laid down by Coleman’s sax, the music found an implacable anchor in Haden’s bass playing. This was music without a road map, but if you listened to what Haden was doing, you never got lost. He always took you home.
With his death on Friday at the age of 76 (after a prolonged struggle with post-polio syndrome), America has lost one of its most seminal musicians.
Haden’s avant-garde credentials are indisputable. But the fact is, he could play well in almost any style. His duet albums with the pianist Hank Jones beautifully explore the gospel tradition. Other pairings, with musicians as different as Keith Jarrett, Beck, and Pat Metheny, are master classes in jazz and even folk-based idioms (one of the albums he made with Metheny includes songs by musicians as disparate as Henry Mancini, Ennio Morricone, and Roy Acuff, and the amazing thing is how coherent that album sounds).
Then there was the Liberation Music Orchestra, a loose big band conglomeration that Haden organized with the composer and bandleader Carla Bley. Most of the time when people mix their politics with their music, the results are less than thrilling. But when this old unreconstructed leftie refashioned anthems of social justice that ranged from Spanish Civil War songs to “We Shall Overcome,” you often found yourself more than ready to storm the barricades.
And then there was Quartet West, a Haden group that made music resembling a soundtrack for a ’40s film noir movie that only played in your head. On these ventures, Haden and his collaborators bravely interpolated their music with songs by the likes of Jo Stafford and Chet Baker, and the Quartet’s work suffers not one bit from the comparisons. Indeed, it’s often hard to tell where one artist ends and the others pick up the thread.
ABOUT 20 YEARS AGO in the midst of an interview, the novelist and screenwriter John Kaye started telling me about a young guy he’d seen while browsing in Book Soup one night. As Kaye described him, the kid could have been a hayseed straight off the bus, decked out in a Western shirt and jeans, lured to Los Angeles by who knows what private fantasy, one of the children of Joe Buck and Lana Turner. “Or,” Kaye said, “he could have been James Dean.”
The uncertainty, the unsettling inability to know whether you’re on to a con man or whether you’re his mark, is the feeling that creeps into your head while listening to the 1983 album L’Amour. Recently out on the reissue label Light In The Attic, L’Amour is the work of one Lewis, a.k.a. Randall Wulff. Vinyl collectors came upon the album in 2007 on the last day of an Edmonton, Canada, flea market and began circulating copies through the collectors’ communities. L’Amour was recorded by Wulff in Los Angeles, and in addition to contributing the whispery and gruff and almost totally indecipherable lyrics, he plays acoustic guitar and piano. The rest of the instrumentation, the synthesizers that wash over every song, is credited to Philip Lees, whom the author of the album’s liner notes, Jack D. Fleischer, has not been able to trace. Fleischer did track down the album’s engineer, who doesn’t remember the sessions. He also tracked down Wulff’s father and uncle, who lost touch with Wulff some years ago, and Wulff’s brothers, who aren’t talking.
Wulff’s nephew Jeremy did talk. He remembers summer visits to Calgary, Canada, where his Uncle Randy was said to be scoring big deals in the stock market, which seemed likely to young Jeremy given his uncle’s lifestyle: white-leather furniture in his apartment, always in possession of a hot car and a hot girlfriend. Jeremy led Fleischer to Len Osanic, a Vancouver, Canada, sound engineer who says Wulff has, under yet another pseudonym, done three or four albums of “soft religious music” since L’Amour. During his time in the studio, Osanic recalls, Wulff regaled him with tales of growing up in Hawaii near the woman Wulff claims to be his aunt, Doris Duke.
Another person willing to talk is the Los Angeles photographer Edward Colver, who made his name documenting the city’s punk scene in the 1970s and ‘80s, and who shot the photos for the cover of L’Amour. Colver remembers Wulff blowing into town in a white Mercedes convertible, with a blond girlfriend (who shows up, looking dazed and out of place, in some of the photos) and staying at The Beverly Hills Hotel. For shooting the session, Colver got a check for $250, which was written on an already-closed account from a Malibu, California, bank.
You could describe the “Lewis” who looks out from the cover of L’Amour as conventionally handsome — lantern-jawed, the kind of immaculate blond locks that drove Warren Zevon to howl “and his hair was PERRFFFECCTTTT!!!!!!” on “Werewolves of London” — if it weren’t for the nose. Big and meaty, though hardly disfiguring, it sits in the middle of Wulff’s face with a suggestion of cruelty only magnified in the narrow, unreadable eyes. Wulff is shirtless in the photos, but the effect is less seductive than appraising. We seem to have caught him in the midst of trying on the role of blond, sun-kissed god, and determined to convince us it isn’t just a role.