My Garden (Poems By Charles Bukowski) - Nicholas Urie (Red Piano Records) - Much has been made of composer/arranger Urie's age (he'll be 25 in July) and that's the last you'll read about it in this review. His debut recording, "Excerpts From An Online Dating Service", was brash in its lyrical content, with arrangements that emphasized the talents of the fine musicians in the large ensemble.
One could say the same about this recording, except the results are even more impressive. Urie takes the poetry of Charles Bukowski (1920 - 1994) and dresses the words with music that often rumbles, sparkles and moves in unexpected directions. The 12 musicians assembled for the recording includes the wonderful rhythm section of Frank Carlberg (piano, Rhodes), John Hebert (bass) and Michael Sarin (drums). Add to that impressive trio the reeds of Jeremy Udden (soprano sax), Douglas Yates (alto sax, clarinet), Kenny Pexton (tenor sax) and Brian Landrus (bass clarinet) plus the trumpet section of Albert Leusink, Ben Holmes and John Carlson with trombonists Alan Ferber and Max Siegel - this is one formidable band. Christine Correa, who has truly become one of the finest lyric interpreters in contemporary music handles the majority of the vocals.
Throughout the program, Urie's arrangements for the horns capture the ear. 2 short pieces, "Lioness" and "Lean", have funky beats underneath while Yates flies atop the ensemble on bass clarinet and alto sax respectively. The latter is quite fiery with typical Bukowski humor in the lyrics - "Drinking beer doesn't make you fat/ It makes you lean/ Against bars, tables, chairs and poles."
"Round and Round" moves outward from the words "You have my soul/And I have your money" with a circular melody line that opens into an exciting Carlberg solo on Rhodes over the driving accompaniment of Hebert and Sarin. When the horns reenter, they too play a circular riff that opens into Kenny Pexton's boisterous solo. Near the end, Correa's overdubbed vocals add to the clamorous effect. "My Garden" finds the vocalist in a quieter mode supported by the excellent work of trumpeter Carlson (muted for the beginning of the piece and open bore on his solo) and trombonist Ferber. Their solos expand upon the somber irony in the lyrics, the entirety of which is "In the sun and in the rain/ and in the day and in the night/ Pain is a flower/ Pain is flowers/ Blooming all the time." The horn arrangement under the vocal for the final verse utilizes various members of the ensemble shadowing Correa - you may miss it first time through but the Erik Satie-like feel of the section works quite well. In the midst of "For Crying Out Loud", there is a solo section for Carlson and Udden that is highly effective for the contrast in their lines and tone. Also effective is Yates' alto sax behind the vocal later in the piece as well as Sarin's martial drumming and Hebert's bowed bass lines that lead the piece out.
On my initial journey through this program, I thought I heard the influence of Charles Mingus in Nicholas Urie's music, especially in the way he moves the horn lines around behind the vocals. It's there on 1 or 2 tracks but not dominant throughout. What does remain after"Finality" rides out on the elongated chord played by the brass and reeds is that the fact that "My Garden" is overflowing with ideas, strong playing and singing, plus the feeling that Nicholas Urie is going to be a major voice in creative music for decades to come. For more information, go to www.nicholasurie.com or http://redpianorecords.com.
Art of the Improviser - Matthew Shipp (Thirsty Ear) - Here are 2 distinct sessions by pianist Shipp, both recorded live, the first from April 2010 recorded in Troy, New York, featuring bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey; the second a solo session from Le Poisson Rouge in New York City. One hears so many streams in Shipp's music. The Trio session, one continuous 52 minute set, has traces of Andrew Hill's music on the first 2 tracks. "The New Fact" moves from the full chords of the chorus to the thorny swing of the solo sections. Bisio matches the pianist's energy with insistent bass lines while Dickey colors with his excellent cymbal. The piece shifts about 1/2 way through its 12+ minute run for a long bass solo that leads directly into the next piece "3 In 1" with a melody line that sounds like variations of "Rock-a-Bye Baby." Shipp mines the melody and chord changes for all their worth while Dickey drives incessantly from below.
The remaining 3 tracks include a pair of older pieces, "Circular Temple #1" and "Virgin Complex" plus a rousing reading of Billy Strayhorn's "Take The A Train." The first track listed starts slowly with impressionistic piano lines over swirling cymbals and fine bowed bass. As the piece moves forward, the intuitive interplay of the trio captures the listener's attention. At the end, the music slows down as Shipp reaches into the piano to pluck the strings before diving headlong into the Strayhorn classic. There are moments where the thunderous chords resemble the sound of the train moving through the tunnel or a train idling in the station. Bisio's "walking" bass lines and Dickey's drive provide the propulsion for Shipp's musical travels. Disk 1 closes with "Virgin Complex", replete with the composer's rich two-handed piano phrases; when mixed with Bisio's bowed bass lines, the sound becomes a drone that rises and falls, coming to a close quietly and peacefully.
Disk 2 is Shipp solo and it is a 39 minute journey through his fertile imagination. Opening with the contemplative and thickly-chorded "4 D", the program moves on to explore the possibilities of "Fly Me to The Moon" (quite impressionistic) and beyond to the "bruising" chords and melodic explorations of "Whole Tone." The final 3 tracks of the CD all were featured on Shipp's 2005 solo CD, "One." "Module", at times, utilizes the sustain pedal to create a storm of sound that Shipp relieves with short burst of single-note lines. That leads into the bluesy/boppish riff of "Gamma Ray" which the pianist uses a touchstone as he moves away into explorations of the chord changes, rhythmic and dynamic variations, yet always returning to the insistent theme. "Patmos" closes the disk, seemingly serving as an epilogue, again displaying Shipp's style of evolving melody lines and dynamic shifts. As with his 2010 solo CD, "4 D", this is a set to enjoy over and over because there is so much to absorb.
Taken together, "The Art of the Improviser" shows Matthew Shipp at his best as a leader, as a composer, and as a member of an ensemble. He creates music that draws one in on the strength of his ideas and his ability to translate them onto the keyboard. For more information, go to www.matthewshipp.com.