Monday, August 15, 2016

Catching Up for August (PT 1)

Sometimes it's amazing how quickly time flies by.  I received the US debut of drummer and composer Guilhem Flouzat last summer and put it on the pile of "stuff to review" - school started, the pile got higher, and the recording got overlooked.  My mistake.  "Portraits" (Sunnyside Communications) features nine original compositions performed by an ensemble that includes Ben Wendel (tenor saxophone), Desmond White (bass), Anna Webber (tenor sax, flute on 3 tracks), Jay Rattman (alto sax on 3 tracks), Laurent Coq (piano on 4 tracks), Can Olgun (piano on 5 tracks), and Becca Stevens (voice on 2 tracks).  The music is pleasantly beyond genré - yes, this is instrumentation for a jazz band and yes, there are solos but the melodies and rhythms come from so many different influences. Flouzat, a native of Paris, France, and graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, grew up surrounded by classical music which often shows itself in the richness of his melodies. But, also pay attention to how "melodic" his drumming can be. Listen to "Underachiever" (featuring just Olgun and White) and the conversation the three musicians are having. The playful "Truce" rides in on a simple piano line (Coq), echoed by Wendel, and then the solos are parsed around that melody; first, the piano, with White and Flouzat playing with the rhythm and then the tenor sax, with Wendel being pushed by the active rhythm section, responding with a forceful spot.

Ms. Stevens appears on "Where We Should Go", her plaintive voice gently through the piano counter-melody and the subdued rhythm section.  Wendel's tenor solo ups the heat but it's back to just piano and voice for several choruses before the band returns.  Pay attention to how the song moves, how the dream-like quality of the music envelops the vocals.  She also appears on the final track, "A Dream" - the African rhythm of the opening is set against the flowing melody. When White, Coq, and Wendel enter, they each add a distinctive voice, with the bassist shadowing the drums, the tenor sax and piano working with and moving away from the voice.   Listen to how the words move into, with, and away from the rhythm.

The program concludes three tracks with the three saxophonists. They range from the powerful drive of "At This Juncture in Time" to the slow motion of "Sleepwalk" (good blend of flute with alto and tenor saxes) to the circular melodies of "What's Up Yourself."  Each track deserves a close listen to enjoy the voices interact and how the arrangements play with time, colors, and, of course, melody.

Unlike "pop" music, most other styles and recordings have no expiration date. I may have come late to "Portraits" but, once rediscovered, this music has staying power.  It speaks to those who love melody, conversational interactions, adventurous rhythms, and more. Guilhem Flouzat, who has recorded and toured with vocalist Kevita Shah, saxophonist Adam Larson, and Jay Rattman, is a wonderfully sensitive drummer and proving that he's an excellent composer as well.

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Many people like to be blown away or bowled over by the music they listen to or attend.  Some of those people feel that quieter music is not exciting or involving. "Moments in Time" (SteepleChase/LookOut) is an excellent example of music that is both subtle and approachable, played by a sextet challenged by the compositions to create music that has emotional power not usually measured in decibels.

Bassist David Ambrosio (Grupo Los Santos, George Schuller) and drummer Russ Meissner (Sean Smith Quartet, Jim Campilongo & Honeyfingers) have worked together on numerous occasions, most recently on the bassist's 2014 "Gone" album.  Joining them on the musical journey are Nate Radley (guitar), Leonard Thompson (piano), Matt Renzi (tenor saxophone, English horn), and Loren Stillman (alto saxophone).  The music goes in different directions, from the Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk-inspired "Quartet Note" (the interaction of the leaders is quite impressive) to the sharper edges of "No V" (great interplay between Radley and Stillman on the opening) to the attractive forward motion of "Far West."  The listener can enjoy the work of the rhythm section throughout yet do not forget to pay attention how the guitar and piano are utilized join on most of the tracks plus the strong work of both saxophonists.
Meissner (pictured left) and Ambrosio each contributed four songs to the session with one from pianist Thompson.  That tune, "First Time on the Moon", has a fine melody shared by both saxophonists while the composer adds smart chordal voices.  The rhythm section literally whispers throughout the piece.  The drummer's "Hourglass", has a hummable melody that, at times, sounds as bit like a tune by Burt Bacharach. Opening up into sparkling solos from both Stillman and Renzi, the song lopes along atop the active piano, bass, and drums (Radley sits this track out).There's an Eastern feel to the trance-like "Vibey Seven" - written by the drummer, Renzi's oboe-like English horn lines to the album's weave quite a spell behind the lovely alto saxophone while Radley's guitar work is reminiscent of John McLaughlin on "A Silent Way"

It's certainly possible to play "Moments in Time" in the background, enjoying the music for its melodic integrity. Yet, once you really sit and listen to the program, the fine details of the music come shining through. The ensemble does not overplay or overstay its welcome on any song (not always easy to say on a program that lasts over 66 minutes) and many of the solos are memorable. Also memorable is the work of the leaders, Russ Meissner and Dave Ambrosio (pictured left), not only for the support they supply as the rhythm section (Leonard Thompson also contributes there as well) but also for the variety in the compositions.  This album is well worth getting lost in.

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