Monday, September 2, 2013

Four Bass Hits

After releasing the excellent "Noneto Iberico" (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records) in 2011, bassist/composer Alexis Cuadrado went to work on a project on which he wrote to selected poems that the Spanish writer/poet Federico Garcia Lorca created during the 9 months he was in the United States during the time before and after the Stock Market Crash in 1929.  "Poeta en Nueva York" was not published during Lorca's lifetime but 4 years after he was assassinated in a graveyard by soldiers of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.  Reading through the volume, one can see that the poet was shocked by what he saw and heard, a city in the thrall of racism, bootleg liquor and technology.

Cuadrado chose 8 pieces to record, resulting in the 7 tracks that comprise "A Lorca Soundscape" (Sunnyside Records).  He entrusted the words to Claudia Acuna and she is magnificent as she walks through Lorca's harsh city. The dramatic nature of the pieces blended with (often) surrealistic lyrics makes for music ripe with tension. Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon plays with great passion throughout, as if he were channeling the poet's emotional state - when he wraps his keening saxophone around the vocalist's cries on "Asesinato (Dos Voces de Madrugada en Riverside Drive)", it's a chilling and exciting moment.  The Afro-Cuban rhythms, supplied by drummer Mark Ferber and guest percussionist Gilmar Gomes of "Danzas de la Muerte" ("Dance of Death") support rippling piano lines from Dan Tepfer as well as the rapid-fire delivery of both Ms. Acuna and Zenon.  Ferber is also quite a presence in this music; his understanding and executions of the various rhythms is vital to the success.  He drives and pushes his fellow musicians on like the intimate then fiery ballad "La Aurora" (Dawn)"; he allows the composer to play the melody and also counterpoint. Tepfer's rumbling piano supports the voice on "New York", a piece that rallies against the conspicuous consumption of the city's inhabitants.  Creative overdubbing creates a musical "Tower of Babel" in the impassioned center of the song with numerous alto saxophones arguing with multiple pianos.  Tepfer's gentle lines lead the listener into "Vals en las Ramas"(Waltz of the Branches"), perhaps the sweetest melody in the program and also some of the most surrealistic lyrics in the program (many of which explode.  When Ms. Acuna sings the following verse "Llegará un torso de sombra coronado de laurel. Será el cielo para el viento duro como una paredy las ramas desgajadas se irán bailando con él" (which translates to "A shadow’s torso will arrive, wearing a laurel crown. For the wind, the sky will be as hard as a wall and all the drowned branches will leave as they dance"), she does so with the rhythm section gently beneath but as she reaches the lines that follow, Zenon enters and the music soars.  But, Ms. Acuna calms the saxophone's swirling lines but (vocally) bringing the swirling winds of music (Tepfer's lines, at times, resemble a dust devil) down to the earth ever-so-gently.

Federico Garcia Lorca saw the United States at its worst; it scared and sickened him.  8 decades later, Alexis Cuadrado, a native of Barcelona, Spain now an American citizen, watched the US economy suffer due to the excesses of greed, squandering of natural resources and vanity.  The music he creates on "A Lorca Soundscape" reflects Lorca's shock, imbuing the words with a panoply of emotions.  With the assistance and input of Claudia Acuna, Miguel Zenon, Dan Tepfer and Mark Ferber (plus Gilmar Gomes), the words and music come alive, a cautionary tale that also dances and sways to the rhythms of the composer's (and the poet's) Spanish heritage.  For more information, go to  

Bassist/composer Linda Oh, born in Malayasia, raised in Perth, Australia and now living in New York City, is a most intense musician.  She plays the acoustic bass with great skill yet never flaunts her technique.  Now a member of David Douglas's Quintet, she has worked with with pianists Pascal Le Beouf and Fabian Almazan.  As a composer, she writes pieces that have solid structures yet room for movement.

"Sun Pictures" is her 3rd CD as a leader and 2nd for the Greenleaf Music label.  Joining her on this session smartly recorded live in the studios of WKCR-FM New York (Columbia University) is Ben Wendel (alto saxophone), Ted Poor (drums) and fellow Australian James Muller (electric guitar).  The music ranges from the electronic collage of the opening track ("Shutterspeed Dreams") to the blues-inflected "Footfall", a tune on which the rhythm section locks into the groove and lets the music flow freely on top.  Muller, who has a successful career in his native land and has toured the world with drummer Chad Wackerman and worked with Maria Schneider, has a wonderful fluid style that matches well with Wendel's breathy abstractions.  The quartet can also fire on all cylinders, as is evident on the fiery funk of "Yoda" that builds off of the leader's percussive bass intro to a driving solo section.  The 'live" sound of Poor's drums shouts out of the speakers as the Muller and Wendel spar near the close of the song. "Terminal 3" is a sweet ballad; Poor's brush work and Muller's inventive chordal comping behind Ms. Oh's excellent solo while providing a good foundation for Wendel's melodic explorations.

Linda Oh builds most of these pieces off of strong melodies, allowing for the creative interaction throughout the program. This is music that not only displays the leader's continuing growth as a musician but her innate abilities in the rhythm section. "Sun Pictures" is indeed a collection of bright moments.  For more information, go to

Dave Holland came to the United States at the end in 1968 to join Miles Davis as the trumpeter/visionary began to move away from acoustic music (the native of Wolverhampton, England, replaced Ron Carter). After leaving Davis, he hooked with Chick Corea, Barry Altschul and Anthony Braxton to form the "free jazz" quartet Circle.  In 1972, Sam Rivers joined Holland, Altschul and Braxton to record "Conference of the Birds", considered by many as one of the best albums released by Manfred Eicher on ECM.  The bassist appeared on a number of Anthony Braxton's Lps in the mid-1970s. Anyone who has followed the bassist's career knows he has been prolific as a sideman and has lead a number of excellent ensembles.

His latest project is a quartet he calls Prism featuring Craig Taborn (piano, electric piano), Eric Harland (drums) and is a reunion with guitarist Kevin Eubanks (brother Robin played trombone with Holland's quintet, sextet and big band throughout the 1st decade of the 2000s.)   On the quartet's self-titled debut (released on Holland's Dare2 Records), the guitarist howls, wails, cries, shreds and basically obliterates his sidekick image.  He composed 3 of the 9 tunes, including the rip-snorting opener "The Watcher" (is Harland playing the intro to "Shaft" as Taborn's electric piano brings the piece in?)  Anyone who has seen and heard Eric Harland in Charles Lloyd's New Quartet or the SFJazz Collective knows how imaginative and forceful he can be on his kit. He can handle tricky rhythm changes or time signatures without blinking, caress his cymbals and kick the daylights out of his bass drum.  He's also a fine composer, with 2 of his pieces here, including the incendiary "Choir" that opens with the drums and electric guitar (sounding like a organ) pushing like mad.  When Taborn and Holland, the quartet "swing" mightily beneath Taborn's piano solo. The drummer's other contribution, "Breathe", is a stunning ballad, cymbals washing behind the rich piano lines, Eubank's long notes and the leader's handsome counterpoint.

Holland contributes 2 new pieces as well including the dynamic "A New Day" with its finely-constructed melody and chord structure plus a pulsating rhythm track that Harland shines on.  "The Empty Chair (For Clare)" is dedicated to the bassist's wife (who passed in 2011) - it is a blues built upon a simple bass line also played by Taborn on electric piano.  Holland takes a long solo, filled with blues figures but neither sorrowful or raging but emotionally strong.  Eubanks is the one who "burns", showing a touch of Jimi Hendrix and Larry Carlton in his fierce solo.  Holland's thick tones open "The True Meaning of Determination" (one of Taborn's 2 pieces) that soon moves into a jack-hammer rhythm that may remind some of pieces that Chick Corea wrote for Return To Forever.  The interaction of the acoustic piano and electric guitar over the forceful rhythm section is joyous, raucous, and, when Taborn switches to electric piano during the guitar solo, the piece gets even more intense.

Intense is a good word to describe this music.  There are quieter moments as well as a strong feel of "funk" on others. Within the space of 10 seconds on Eubanks' "Evolution", the song moves from flat-out flying over the guitar solo to a funky drive as a backdrop for the electric piano solo.  Then, there's the drum solo - let's just say it took the house a while to settle back on its foundation only to be rattling again for another guitar solo.  Prism has given fusion music an updated sound for the 2000-teens - After 4+ decades playing creative music, Dave Holland continues to enthrall listeners by taking chances and making honest music.  This music truly rocks! For more information, go to

Mario Pavone latest venture, dubbed Arc Trio, featuring pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver, have a new album on Playscape Recordings and it is the exemplar of what creative music should.  The 3-way conversation never flags, the interactions are exciting and the music challenging.  Right from the opening notes of "Andrew", bassist Pavone (who composed all the tunes) sets the tone with his furious strumming. Taborn plays the short melody and moves right into his solo while Cleaver, who has worked on-and-off with the bassist for over a decade, kicks and pushes the rhythm.  "Not Five Kimono" is slower but no less intense, impressive in how the bass and drums fit together to not only support Taborn but continually move the piece forward. Pavone's chunky chords and Cleaver's splashing cymbals and active high-hat generate great tension that pianist pushes against and rises over. "Hotep", dedicated to the late South African pianist/composer Hotep Idris Galeta (1941-2010) who spent 6 years as a lecturer at the Hartt School of Music/University of Hartford in the 1980s, opens with a purposeful swing in the bass line then moves into a melody that displays the influence of Thelonious Monk but also has quite a percussive feel. "Alban Berg" swings lustily yet shifts tempo at ease, the bassist keeping the tempo while Cleaver alternately "swings" and "plays around" the tempo interacting with Taborn.

Mario Pavone, The bassist, who produced this live session (recorded February 1, 2013 at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City, chooses to fade out several of the tracks, leading one to believe that the Trio played these pieces as part of a suite.  Other pieces end without applause.  

Mario Pavone explains in the liner notes that these pieces and his approach to their performances has its roots in the music of Andrew Hill (specifically the 2-bass approach on "Smokestack"), Steve Kuhn, Dick Twardzik, Keith Jarrett (early Trio music) and Muhal Richard Abrams with Malachi Favors ("Sight Song").  Yet, "Arc Trio" is neither imitative nor dated - instead, the music stands right alongside its influences as consummate creative music.  For more information, go to  (Official release date is 9/17/13.)

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