Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"Young People Speaking Their Minds"

Carl Testa is a composer, bassist, electronic effects manipulator and conceptualist.  Simply put, he loves to play with sound.  "IRIS" (Lock Step Records) is his latest recording as a leader (he has a number of physical and "digital only" releases available through his website - carltesta.net).  He came east from Chicago to study with Professor Anthony Braxton at Wesleyan University and has been and continues to be a member of several of the newly-minted NEA Jazz Master's ensembles. Creative music fans know Carl Testa as the curator (and sometime participant) of the Uncertainty Music series that presents programs in various venues throughout New Haven CT. He also serves as Production Manager for the Firehouse 12 concert series.

His new CD features 4 pieces, 2 "composed" and 2 improvised.  Testa uses a digital effect pad at his feet to records and manipulate the notes he plucks or bows on his acoustic, creating what is called "granular synthesis" (and you can read about this by going to www.granularsynthesis.com/.) The results are fascinating on many levels e.g. as "trance music", drones, as pieces that can and do change each time they are played.  The work Testa produces on his instrument is a "blueprint" for this recording and performances.  And, it's music that is absorbing - to really enjoy these pieces, you must close your eyes and let the sound move in, around and through you.  There's no percussion nor tempo but, in several instances ("At Early Bright" and "and Engulfed"), the music has a real sense of "forward motion."  There are moments of beauty as well as disquieting sounds yet the overall feeling is one of emotional release, as if tumbling through space.

Carl Testa wants you to listen, judge for yourself but leave expectations elsewhere.  Pay attention but allow yourself to get lost in "IRIS."

Here's a link to an interview with Testa where he demonstrates how he created the music for this project - go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDEmXou5j8k.

The second of 2 "CD Release Concerts" takes this Friday July 19 at 8:30 p.m. in the performance venue space at Firehouse 12, 45 Crown Street in New Haven.  For more information, go to firehouse12.com.

The next 2 recordings feature the same rhythm section (bassist Linda Oh and drummer Kenneth Salters) - in the case of the first, they appear throughout while, on the second, they work together on over half the tracks (with Salters appearing on all 8).

I first met saxophonist (tenor and soprano) Chad Lefkowitz-Brown at The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown CT that featured a quartet of young musicians that included pianist Steven Feifke and Jimmy MacBride (a graduate of West Hartford CT's Hall High School.) I've heard his work with trombonist Natalie Cressman and pianist Joe  Gilman.

"Imagery Manifesto" (self-released) is his debut as a CD and one of the more forceful recordings of the year.  Powered by Ms. Oh and Salters (both prominent in the mix), the saxophonist/composer chose a like-minded group of cohorts including trumpeter Adam O'Farill, guitarist Travis Reuter and pianist Sam Harris.  One of the better qualities of this recording is the interaction of the sextet, whether it's Reuter's "noise" guitar clacking over the rhythm section on "Manic Panic"or the handsome melody of "Still Here" (reminiscent of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints") or Ms. Oh moving against the melody line on "Time and Space", this sounds like a recording of a "working" band. O'Farill, son of pianist/bandleader Arturo O'Farill and co-leader (with drummer brother Zack) of his own group, shines throughout.  He displays a round tone at the onset on the opening track, "A Turbulent Drift" as well as on the opening moments of his solo on "Still Here" but also can let loose as he does on the latter tune as he moves forward (at times, his sound and attack reminds me of Avishai Cohen.)  Pianist Harris, who is readying his own debut disk and is a member of drummer Rudy Royston's 303 sextet, is solid in support throughout, whether it is his fine counterpoint under the saxophone solo on "Where The Wild Things Are" (playing in counterpoint to both Lefkowitz-Brown and Ms. Oh) or his chordal attack beneath O'Farill on "Tooth and Fang." His "waterfall" lines on "Eastern Flower" are emotionally rich, with just a touch of blues Reuter, whose 2011 debut CD captured my fancy (read the review here) is a great partner on the front line and as a rhythm player - his solos all stand out, especially his work on "A Turbulent Drift" and his effects-laden turn on "The End."  He is the "wild card" because the guitarist, on first listen, rarely goes where you expect.  Even in accompaniment, Reuter stands out, like his quiet work on "Eastern Flower" - he is an important "color" in the piece, especially in his interactions with Harris.

Through it all, Lefkowitz-Brown makes his presence felt as composer, arranger and soloist.  His solos can move from a "whisper to a shout" in a nano-second but always in context. He seems energized by Salters (and vice-versa), becoming more intense as he moves forward on "Still Here" and in his hard-edged solo on "Time And Space" - yet, he is always melodic, always in control, willing to interact with the rhythm section or create smart melodic interplay with O'Farill and Reuter.

"Imagery Manifesto" is a musical declaration of intent, one that meshes well-drawn melodies with rhythmical drive, intelligent arrangements with forceful solos and the avid listener becomes a happy citizen of this new world order of Chad Lefkowitz-Brown.  Come join the party!  For more information, go to www.chadlefkowitz-brown.com.

Guitarist/composer/arranger Quentin Angus, a native of Adelaide, South Australia, came to the United States to study at Purchase College Conservatory of Music/State University of New York after a  distinguished college career in his native land.  Angus, who turns 26 in August, has already toured throughout the world, authored 3 books of transcriptions of the guitar work of Gilad Hekelsman, and self-produced his debut CD (2012).

For his 2nd release, "Perception" (Aurora Sounds), he turned to Purchase Professor Jon Gordon (saxophonist/composer) for production help, conducting and advice. The resulting recording is unequivocally a success.  The 8 tracks feature 2 ensembles both anchored by drummer Kenneth Salters;  5 cuts find the guitarist and drummer with bassist Linda Oh, pianist Shai Maestro, and alto saxophonist Will Vinson while the remaining 3 feature bassist Or Bareket and pianist Matthew Sheens. Jo Lawry (also a native of Adelaide) contributes a wordless vocal to "Red and Yellow", with Vinson's alto sax as her shadow.  Ms. Oh's thoughtful and supportive counterpoint plus Salters' active cymbal work underscore the solos on the track.  Bassist Yanni Burton (a member of the Salome Chamber Orchestra) leads a string quintet on 2 tracks; the 5 string players (violinists Sarah Koenig-Plonskier and Lavinia Pavlish, violist Jack Stulz, cellist Leanna Rutt plus Burton) add depth to "Chernobyl" (composed and arranged by pianist Sheens) that also features a sparkling soprano sax solo from Chad Lefkowitz-Brown (his lone appearance) while their handsome sounds lead the group into "Den Haag" then swirl around beneath the guitarist as he plays the theme.

Elsewhere, "Restoration" has an irresistible groove supporting a rapid-fire theme and solos.  Ms. Oh and the drummer really drive this track, goosing Vinson (the only soloist) to deliver a striking statement that initially rides the waves of the rhythm section then soars above it.  The title track features a long, impressionistic, introduction from Maestro, a slow reading of the theme that picks up speed with Salters pushing the group into the second theme that has a resemblance to and rhythmic excitement of Chick Corea's "Spain."  Ms. Oh takes the only solo, spurred on by Salters and the persistent yet quiet guitar.

As for the leader, Angus lets loose on the sprightly reading of Miles Davis's "Nardis", displaying a touch of John Abercrombie and Kurt Rosenwinkel in his tone and attack.  He takes a subtler approach on "Bounce" where he begins his solo in a melodic mood and gradually succumbs to the fires stoked beneath him by the bass and drums, his lines becoming more angular and intense.  Angus also can "swing" as he shows in his sweet solo on the opening track, "Particular, Peculiar."

"Perception" repeatedly his its musical "sweet spot" and does so with a variety of approaches.  The music is exuberant, richly melodic, smartly arranged with solos that truly resonate in one's mind.  Quentin Angus has worked with most of these musicians on club dates and in concert halls, having just completed a tour of Australia in June with Lefkowitz-Brown, Salters, Sheens and bassist Lyndon Gray (yet another "son" of Adelaide.) This recording is quite impressive and leaves one wanting more of Angus's guitar and songs.  For more information, go to www.quentinangus.com.

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