Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Improvisations in Waterbury, Kneebody Knows No Trouble + Duo Power on Sunnyside

Stephen Haynes (cornet) and Joe Morris (bass, guitar) are the hosts and curators of the monthly "Improvisations" series at Real Art Ways in Hartford.  The gentlemen are taking the "show on the road", down Route 84 to Waterbury on Thursday April 3 to the "Music at the Matt" series, held on the first Thursday of the month at the Mattatuck Museum/Historical Society, 144 West Main Street.  Joining them for this all-improvised concert will be drummer Tyshawn Sorey (pictured left), Wesleyan graduate currently working on his Ph.D at Columbia University in New York City (when he's not traveling the world performing.) The concert, billed as Stephen Haynes and The Button Trio, starts at 6 p.m.  For more information, call 203-753-0381, extension 130 or go to www.mattatuckmuseum.org/jazzthursday

The Firehouse 12 Spring 2014 Concert Series is in full boom (even if the season is late in arriving).  This Friday (April 4), the New Haven performance space/recording studio welcomes Kneebody, the lively quintet that happily crosses genres with abandon and has since its inception 13 years ago.  Composed of musicians who met at the Eastman School and at the California Institute of the Arts, the ensemble - keyboardist Adam Benjamin, trumpeter Shane Endsley, electric bassist Kaveh Rastegar, saxophonist Ben Wendel and drummer Nate Wood - has issued 9 albums (some only available on Bandcamp or at gigs), the latest being 2013's "The Line", their debut on Concord Records. Each musician brings his own influences to the music and the blend is often quite exciting.  

Kneebody plays 2 sets - 8:30 and 10 p.m. (separate admission to each) - and you can find out so much more by going to firehouse12.com or calling 203-785-0468.  Learn more about the group by going to kneebody.com


In this era of short attention spans, it takes a certain courage to release a CD with just 4 songs with the longest clocking in just under 28 minutes and the shortest at 11:20.  But, acoustic guitarist/composer Diego Barber trusts you'll sit and listen to "Tales" (Sunnyside).  It's his 4th recording as a leader and he's created a program for his guitar and the acoustic piano of Craig Taborn.  This is music for dreaming, music for contemplation, for meditation, and for questioning expectations.  There are moments throughout that have echoes of the music of Ralph Towner but with a playful edge, most noticeable on "Eternal 7" and "Cipres" (dedicated to DJ Hugo Cipres, a musical partner of the guitarist who also hails from the Canary Islands.) Barber creates pieces that push both musicians mentally and physically, with repetitive figures weaving in and out of the arrangements.  The interaction of piano and guitar at the onset of "Cipres" suggests the electronic "waves of sounds" the DJ creates (he and Barber collaborated on the 2013 Origin release "411") yet the piece also has a handsome, almost classical, melody line. The long track, "Killian's Mountains", opens the program - it's a multi-sectioned work that has numerous moments of striking melodies as well as sections where piano and guitar take on a more percussive role.  The music is a meditation on and dedicated to the Catalonian mountain runner Killian Jornet Burgada. And, like the runner, the piece moves at various speeds but always in a forward motion and closing on a triumphant, exhilarating, flourish. (Exuberant listeners may wish to go right back to the starting line.)

The final track on the CD, "IM Park (To Diego Barber)", is a piece composed by Spanish guitarist Ricardo Gallen (whose Sunnyside recording of "Bach: Complete Lute Works" is stunning) yet the first half is all piano.  Taborn, who seems to be able to play just about everything, gets to the heart in the music so, that when the guitar enters, Barber picks up the emotion and carries it through the splendid second half of the piece.

Is "Tales" jazz?  Is it classical? Yes, no, who cares?  This is music that transcends labels and technique;  Diego Barber, along with Craig Taborn, merge beauty, song, and emotion to create quite a listening experience - do listen.  For more information, go to www.sunnysiderecords.com/artist.php?id=356#news.

Guitarist/composer Brandon Ross is in the midst of a career that has seen him collaborate with artists such as Henry Threadgill, Cassandra Wilson, Bill Frisell, the late Lawrence "Butch" Morris, Wadada Leo Smith, Jewel and many others.  Ross is also the co-leader of the "power" trio Harriet Tubman.

His latest project, For Living Lovers, finds him in an acoustic setting with bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi.  Their debut recording, "Revealing Essence" (Sunnyside), first began to take shape in a series of sessions over 2 days in December 2009 in the Firehouse 12 recording space.  With the inclusion of 2 tracks recorded in New York City and Tokyo, Japan, the project was complete by September 2013.  The music Ross and Takeishi consists of ballads that are often stark, fairly quiet, angular, spacious, a blend of originals and smartly chosen interpretations of 2 of the 3 "Danse de Travers" by Erik Satie  and Ornette Coleman's "Night Plans" (first recorded in 1996 by Coleman in a duo setting with pianist Joachim Kuhn).

This music seems to exist on the edge of one's consciousness; the pieces insinuate themselves into your brain as if in a dream.  All of a sudden, one realizes Ross is playing banjo or creating feedback (as he does masterfully on "Lotus Blossom") or that the piece you think might be a Delta blues song is actually Satie's "Danse de Travers I" - Takeishi's simple yet effective bass lines (he's playing acoustic bass guitar) draw one in, pushing you deeper towards the core of the music. The unaccompanied banjo music of "Iago Whispered" is a wonderful and subtle blend of traditional African and modern European classical influences.   A Kabuki feel permeates the opening section of "Saturation", the terse, short, notes over the abrupt bass chords and notes paint an impressionistic landscape that slowly moves forward, never quite losing the solemnity of the earlier section.  "Thanks (for J-R)" closes the program with, perhaps, the prettiest melody on the disk and the one with the most dynamic variation.

It strikes one on multiple listens to this music by Brandon Ross and Stomu Takeishi that the duo has stripped away the unnecessary elements from these pieces and that the "Revealing Essence" is truly the heart of the creators.  That "heart" can not and should not be separated from the "heart" of the music.  For more information and to hear music from the CD, go to sunnysidezone.com/album/revealing-essence-ft-brandon-ross-stomu-takeishi.  The duo returns to Firehouse 12 for a concert on Friday May 30 - go to firehouse12.com for more information.

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