Friday, September 29, 2017

May I Recommend (Part 1)

At its heart and soul, the new recording from tenor saxophonist Tim Armacost, "Time Being" (Whirlwind Recordings), is a saxophone trio album.  Recorded at drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts' home studio in Pennsylvania,  the session features the saxophonist in musical conversations with Watts and bassist Robert Hurst - pianist Dave Kikoski shows up on several tracks as well but it's the trio cuts that initially capture one's attention.

The program opens with "Alawain" (one of nine originals among the 11 tracks), an up-tempo piece that moves forward on the power of the bass, drums, and the saxophonist's powerful melody. One is immediately entranced by the interactions as well as the clean sound quality: it feels as if you are sitting alongside Watts as he dances around his kit.  The title track is next, a ballad that slowly picks up tempo thanks to the powerful bass lines and the often funky as well as swinging drums.

It's a surprise when Kikoski's piano nudges its way in on "Sculpture #1: Phase Shift", moreso that he does not stick around but immediately steps back. He's much more part of the lovely ballad "The Next 20", although he leaves plenty of space for Armacost to present the melody and for Hurst to offer fine counterpoint and for Watts to show how versatile he is with his brushwork.  The piano solo rises out of the sax spot, a pleasing melodic exploration with tines of the blues exposed in every phrase.

For this listener, it's the trio tracks that keep me coming back.  The brilliant up-tempo take of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" and how the piece grows from the initial bass and sax interaction, prodded by Watts' double-time drumming.  Armacost never rushes even as the rhythm section pushes alongside him.  The three musicians swing delightfully through Thelonious Monk's "Teo", urged on throughout by Watts' joyous playing.

The album closes with the anarchic "Sculpture #3: All the Things You Become in the Large Hadron Collider" - along with Kikoski, the trio really do sound as if they are various particles moving in and around each other, occasionally bumping into one or the other, getting into sync as the music reaches its conclusion.  It's a humorous idea that is also quite musical.

Tim Armacost, who may be best known for his work with the New York Standards Quartet, has  soaked up numerous influences over his career and come out his own man.  "Time Being" is filled with intense interactions yet rarely, if ever, feels frenzied or even rushed. It's easy to get "lost" in this music and so much fun to hear musicians really "play"; that playful quality is what stands out the most and is so satisfying.

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Here's the title track:

Under One Sun is the collective name for an octet formed by drummer/ percussionist Jamey Haddad (Paul Simon, Dave Liebman): its self-titled debut album was recorded at the Oberlin (College) Conservatory of Music (where Haddad teaches) and features the music of saxophonist Billy Drewes (tenor and soprano saxes plus clarinet, bass clarinet, C flute and alto flute) who the percussionist met in the rehearsal studios of Berklee College in 1972.  The ensemble features a fascinating array of musicians including Ali Paris (qanun - box zither, voice), Salar Nader (tabla), Luisito Quintero (congas, timbales, percussion), Leo Blanco (piano), Michael Ward-Bergeman (hyper accordion), and Roberto Occhipinti (acoustic bass).  The music they create is as fascinating as the different instruments, music that is melodic and rhythmic as well as emotionally strong.

Drewes, whose credits include the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchesta, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Bill Frisell, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, Paul Motian, Fred Hersch, and many others, has created a program of music that shows not only his studies in Brazilian and Indian music but the influence of blues and big band sounds.  While one is tempted to tout the virtues of every track, it's more fun to let the sounds soak through you, to make up your own mind, to enjoy how the disparate sounds of qanun and soprano sax intertwine and interact, how the voice of Paris evokes so many different memories, and how the percussion makes you want to turn up the volume and dance.

Drewes (pictured left) has composed several stunning ballads on the album. "Tinker" moves gently atop a cushion provided by tabla, bass and trap drums with the saxophonist, accordion, and voice sharing the melody.  "For Those We've Known" opens with a sweet melodic tenor saxophone melody over piano, bass, and drums and stays with that formation, each musician with the exception of Haddad contributing a fine, heartfelt, solo. The influence of Maria Schneider is heard clearly on the final two tracks.  "High Above" features the octet and is built off a gentle melody, each voice moving in and out of the spotlight. That melody and subsequent interactions are reminiscent of several of Ms, Schneider's pieces that are informed by her interest in the songs of birds.  With the addition of a brass quartet (trombonist Lee Allen, tuba player Miguel Santos, trumpeters Olivia Pidl and Wyeth Aleksel), the final track "Ode to Brigadoon - A Path to All" is a lovely coda, wistful, poetic, and soothing.  Drewes' gentle clarinet over Ward-Bergeman's accordion brings the melody to the forefront, a melody that is then amplified by the piano, voice and brass.  Stunning, life-affirming, this music resonates long after you put the CD back into its case.

At nearly 72 minutes, "Under One Sun" offers so much music and shows listeners how sounds of different cultures plus intelligent melodies can come together to make a unified statement. If these voices can rise as one, can there not be hope for peace in a fractured world?  I do not know about that but this album, this music, these performances, certainly made my day so much better.

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If you are old enough to remember 1968, you know how terrible a year that was.  The assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, the continuing escalation of the war in Vietnam, the horrific events in Chicago during the Democratic Convention, and more threw the United States into turmoil.  Some pundits believe that 2017 is the equal but we need time to pass and time to reflect before making that statement.

For six months of that year, Jack DeJohnette sat in the drum chair for the Bill Evans Trio.  He had spent several busy years touring with saxophonist Charles Lloyd as well as Betty Carter but jumped at the chance to play with the pianist.  Up until several months ago, there was but one recorded document of that trio: "Bill Evans at The Montreux Jazz Festival" was issued in the fall of that year on Verve Records and even won a GRAMMY in 1969.  Turns out that the Trio twice more in the next week.  Earlier this month (September 2017), Resonance Records issued "Some Other Time: The Lost Session from the Black Forest" recorded in Germany five days after the Verve recording.  Now, the label presents "Another Time: The Hilversum Concert" recorded in front of a live audience on June 22 1968 in the studios of Netherlands Radio Union.

photo by Giuseppe Pino
Of the 20 tracks on the "..Black Forest" CDs, only two are repeated here (same with the "...Montreux" album) which, to these eyes, shows how big a repertoire Evans had in those days.  Bassist Eddie Gomez stands out on all three albums but especially on the "...Hilversum" set as his big tone, melodic lines, and unerring swing enliven the faster pieces and give just the right punch to the ballads as well. One can hear how much Stanley Clarke's acoustic bass work is informed by Gomez.  He works well with DeJohnette (they would work together again in the 1980s); you can tell they trust each other as does Evans and these piece never are staid or rote.  Evans is in good voice throughout as well and these tracks seems to have a liveliness that the album recorded two days before had in fits and starts (that written, "The Black Forest" sessions allow the pianist to be more expansive at times).  Check out piece such as the CD opener 'You're Gonna Hear From Me", "Embraceable You", and the rapid-fire "Five" that closes the concert: all have such a playful quality, a buoyancy and lightness that is so appealing.

By the end of the summer, Jack DeJohnette was invited to play with Miles Davis and Marty Morell took his place, staying with the Trio through 1974.  Eddie Gomez ended up spending 11 years (1966-77) alongside Bill Evans recording numerous Lps in trio, duo, quintet, and even orchestral settings.  The pianist's addictions finally caught up to him in September 1980 and he died at the age of 51.  He played and recorded up until a week before his passing; in fact, many critics and fans felt that his final recordings with the rhythm section of Marc Johnson (bass) and Joe LaBarbera (drums) rank up there with some of his early successes.  No matter which side you fall on in there arguments about the best recordings by Bill Evans, "Another Time: The Hilversum Concert" is a delightful, musical journey. While the songs might not reflect the insanity of the times, the interaction and musicianship of Bill Evans, Eddie Gomez, and Jack DeJohnette shows us all how much good it is and how much fun it can be to work together.

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