Tirtha - Vijay Iyer/Prasanna/Nitin Mitta (ACT Music) -Since signing with ACT Music, pianist Iyer has released the exciting "Historicity" (made many "best-of-2009" lists), the wonderfully melodic "Solo" (2010) and now this fascinating collaboration. Electric guitarist Prasanna is well-versed in Carnatic music as well as Jimi Hendrix and jazz. Tabla artist Mitta is also a master of Indian rhythms - he has played all over the world and is a fine teacher. So, one might have certain expectations for this CD and, trust me, they'll be pleasantly shattered by the strength and variety contained in these 9 tracks. There are certainly times when the tabla rhythms suggest a traditional approach but add Iyer's driving piano style and Prasanna's crisp, circular, guitar lines to the mix and labels are useless. The opening track, "Duality", rises on Mitta's active percussion, rapid guitar phrases and the forceful piano work while "Tribal Wisdom" blends Iyer's bluesy piano chords with traditional tabla rhythms. The interplay of the guitar and piano is both tense and cathartic (the guitarist's tone brings to mind the sound that John Abercrombie used in the 80s and 90s.) Prasanna's "Polytheism" opens like a variation of The Beatles' "In My Life" then goes off on a rhythmic adventure with rumbling piano lines and an exciting guitar improvisation Iyer can be such an appealing performer and composer. His playing is rich, his compositions and i.mprovisations wide-ranging plus his accompaniment is intelligent and involving. A shorter piece, such as "Gauntlet", is fiery while "Remembrance" has big piano chords, flowing lines and a fine introspective guitar part.
There may be some less adventurous listeners who pass on this CD because of the instrumentation. Don't - instead, allow yourself to be challenged, surprised, and mesmerized by the interplay, the variety of melodic and harmonic structures and the heady improvisations. For more information, go to www.tirthatheband.net and hope they do a live show near you.
Spirals - Nordic Connect (ArtistShare) -This is a quintet that blends the handsome brass of Ingrid Jensen with the alto and soprano saxophone sounds of her sister Christine. Add to that the expressive keyboard work of Maggi Olin, the fine percussion of Jon Wikan and the solid as well as melodic acoustic bass work of Mattias Welin - what you get is an hour of music that goes in many directions but never loses its way.
These are songs for listeners to get lost in, with moments that shimmer such as the blend of muted trumpet and and alto saxophone behind Ms. Olin's acoustic piano so on "M-Oving." Christine J's soprano rises gracefully over the incessant rhythmic drive on "Castle Mountain", pushed by the chiming Fender Rhodes chords. Wikan's solo in the middle of the piece raises the temperature without upsetting the mood. There is a stately beauty to the melody of "Song for Inga", led in by the flugelhorn and bass. The dynamic variation within the song allows for the soloists (flugelhorn and soprano sax) to raise the intensity on the solos. Christine J's soprano lines show the influence of Wayne Shorter during her short yet forceful break. Her composition, "Yew", is quite lovely, with a dramatic soprano sax solo, rich piano chords and trumpet that often has a bluesy, introspective, feel. Ingrid J throws electronic effects on the trumpet and duets with Wikan on the opening of "Brejk a Leg" - when the rest of the group comes, the infectious riff has the sound of a Check Corea/Return To Forever tune. Everyone jumps on it, giving the tune a fun ride.
"Spirals" is the quintet's 2nd release (2007's "Flurry" was also released on ArtistShare) - one is easily attracted to the chiming electric piano, the conversations of the horns and the active interplay of the rhythm section. Yet, the slower pieces also charm and seduce. To find out more, go to www.ingridjensen.com.
Endangered Blood - Jim Black/Trevor Dunn/Oscar Noriega/Chris Speed (Skirl Records) - This quartet, originally formed to play a benefit concert, conveys an intensity that burns through the speakers. 8 of the 10 tunes are Speed's pieces and he loves to weave his tenor sax around Noriega's bass clarinet and alto sax. Songs such as "Rare" rise on the powerful drums of Black and the thick bass tones of Dunn - the duo's work throughout the CD is vital, fiery and, often, clamorous. They punch hard beneath the unison sax lines on "Elvin Lisbon" yet the music is buoyant. Dunn's arco bass lines next to Black's clattering drums provide a foreboding feel for the group's take on Thelonious Monk's "Epistrophy". The drummer really pushes at the reeds while Dunn's muscular, booming, bass lines propel the work forward in a "steampunk funk" rush. "Iris" is a moody ballad that would not seem out of placed on a Tom Waits CD yet has the feel of early Duke Ellington ("Black & Tan Fantasy" comes to mind.) There is a sense of mystery that pervades pieces such as "Valya", the listener is not quite sure where the musicians are going. 2 and 1/2 minutes in, the quartet drops into a handsome melody line that then opens into a keening, wailing, alto solo. The saxophonists play a rapid, circular, melody line that leads in "Andrew's Ditty Variation One", the last tune on the disk and one that burns with a mighty fire. The saxes spar, Black pounds and slashes, as Dunn slams through the bass riff.
"Endangered Blood" is spiky, angular, thrilling music that draws the listener in and takes him or her for quite a ride. Play it loud and the walls will shake. For more information, go to www.skirlrecords.com.