Live in Zürich is the twelfth album from Cuban avant-garde composer and pianist Aruán Ortiz. Of those recordings widely available in the US, Ortiz has worked with a variety of group formats. His quartet released Orbiting (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2013), was followed by a trio outing on Hidden Voices (Intakt Records, 2016) and two successive solo recordings, Cub(an)ism (Intakt Records, 2017) and the vinyl-only Cuban Nocturne (Newvelle Records, 2017).
Live in Zürich was recorded at Zürich's Unerhört!-Festival in late 2016, and the album consists of two extended tracks and a closing piece. "Part 1: Analytical Symmetry/Fractal Sketches" reimagines two Ortiz tracks from Hidden Voices. That trio featured Eric Revis on bass and drummer Gerald Cleaver and the new lineup has a fresh perspective on this one-half hour amalgam. Chad Taylor's mbira adds an intriguing African flavor to the opening; the notes manifest in distinctive tones that maintain a purity, then fade almost immediately after each is plucked. Jones bowed bass and Ortiz' percussive low end make for an eerily exotic brew that transitions multiple times from lyrical to thundering.
No stranger to the classics, Ortiz takes on Chopin following a three-minute, deeply involved bass solo. "Part 2: Bass Improvisation/Etude #6 Op 10/Open Or Close & The Sphinx" treats its classical components with energized enthusiasm before moving into a free arrangement of the Ornette Coleman closing portion of the piece. "Alone Together" is a song composed by Arthur Schwartz in 1932 and for the first half of its eight and one-half minutes, bears little resemblance to the standard. The intentionally slurred, yet comfortable open gives way to loping piano, truer to the original but with a distinct edge. The song closes with Ortiz dropping singular notes that seem to imitate the mbira of the opening.
Live in Zürich captures Ortiz in a way that studio recordings find difficult to mimic. Ortiz previous live recording was Banned in London with the Michael Janisch Quintet (Whirlwind, 2012) was more of a jam, and included a dominating Greg Osby saxophone rendering Ortiz' energy obscured in the mix at times. In these smaller formations, the pianist and his well-chosen bandmates shine. Here, the rhythm section is much more functional and entertaining than that, and their skillful balance between melody, tautness, and exploration is as good as it gets. Muhal Richard Abrams would be proud.
Track Listing: Part 1: Analytical Symmetry/Fractal Sketches; Part 2: Bass Improvisation/Etude #6 Op 10/Open Or Close & The Sphinx; Alone Together.
Personnel: Aruán Ortiz: piano; Brad Jones: bass; Chad Taylor: drums, mbira
Title: Live in Zürich | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Intakt Records
Yet another outstanding piano trio makes its debut with Orbits.
The Netherlands based group Sputnik3 owes its name to a philosophy of
musical exploration inspired by that famous Russian satellite. The
classically trained pianist Loran Witteveen, bassist Stefan Lievestro
and Belgian native Raf Vertessen on drums, deftly work their way through
Vertessen's complex compositions, each layering on their individual
ideas to create a program that is very fresh and different.
At the outset, "What About You" draws comparison to the more acoustic side of the Esbjorn Svensson
Trio, with their percussive, rock-fueled treatment. "Array" is a fine
example of Vertessen's through-composed writing as it moves from a slow,
pensive opening to a pop melody and on to a more rock-influenced
conclusion. "MRI" combines melody and abstraction as Witteveen's notes
rapidly cascading around the lyrical anchor of Lievestro's deep,
In "Brains," "Andromeda" and "Towell of Powell"
we have compositions that employ odd meters and changing tempos that
seem to effortlessly find their way back to common ground. Sputnik3—and
Witteveen, in particular—convey their classical affinity on "Skizz" as
the piece maneuvers through traditional and avant-garde passages. By
comparison, "Spleen" is a bop romp, and the closest Sputnik3 comes to a
fully structured composition. More typical of Orbits is the very loosely arranged "Hit & Run" and the darkly lyrical "Farewell of Siam" which closes the album.
and Lievestro have plenty of solo opportunities while Vertessen is more
focused on knitting together and balancing the many layers in each
composition. The individual contributions of the trio resonate with
hollow tones and gently lurching momentum. The music is challenging but
accessible and the rhythmic elucidations and idiosyncratic phrasing make
the transformation between a simply enjoyable set to a truly unique
Track Listing: What About You; Array; Brains; MRI; Skizz; Spleen; Andromeda; Towel of Powell; Hit & Run; Farewell of Siam.
The Balkans. Centuries of unrest, revolution and occupation have left
much of the region without a clear identity to the point where
historians are inconsistent on which countries accurately form its
constituency. Culturally, an organically developed assimilation took
precedence over national boundaries and a type of regional folk music
called sevdalinka, along with strong elements of Gypsy music,
became most prominent. If one were inclined toward this dark, somber
style, its integration with other genres was a long time in the offing.
Jazz groups like pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and bassist Joe Fonda's led Eastern Boundary Quartet have infused elements of Balkan folk music into their compositions as has guitarist Brad Shepik
and a handful of others. Those examples are a far cry from the
traditional (and regionally more popular) Balkan brass band format that
dates back to the early 1800s and—for the most part—whose
instrumentation has changed little. The accordion, a traditional
instrument front-line instrument in sevdalinka, was a natural cross-over
to the brass bands.
Over the past seven years, the Raya Brass
Band has been winning hearts, minds and ears playing everywhere from NYC
Subway stations to Lincoln Center to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge;
the latter location being the approximate home-base of the group. This
wildly eclectic band's previous album Dancing On Roses, Dancing On Cinders established their personal twist on the genre with contagious grooves. With their new CD, Raya, the group moves to another level.
Nezih Antakli replaces EJ Fry; Rich Stein—on snare drum and
percussion—has been added to a lineup that includes the two main
composers Greg Squared on saxophone and trumpeter Ben Syversen. The
sextet is completed by the excellent accordionist Matthew Fass and Don
Godwin on tuba. Godwin also penned "Dren Gajda" and "Club Mono." The
influences are many and far reaching with the opening "Unify" boasting
of a strong salsa flavor while "Sugar and Salt" clearly owes some of its
tone to the Celtic style. The highlight of Raya is "Sunken Angels," a cinematic and sweeping piece with great leads from Syversen and Fass.
compositions throughout are high energy with only "With Every Drop That
Falls" slowing the tempo a bit at an appropriate mid-point of the
album. Despite the multicultural inputs on of Raya the music
rarely moves to obviously defined styles but opts for a more understated
blend. The musicianship and writing here are brilliant and Raya has clout and is full of revelations.
Track Listing: Unify; Dren Gajda; Sugar and Salt; Sunken
Angels; With Every Drop That Falls; Ivan's Tune; Bag Of Nails; Mirage;
Personnel: Greg Squared: saxophone/composer; Ben Syversen:
trumpet/composer; Matthew Fass: accordion; Don Godwin: tuba; Nezih
Antakli: percussion; Rich Stein: snare drum, percussion.
Year Released: 2015
| Record Label: Self Produced
| Style: Modern Jazz
Despite appearing on at least fifty recordings since 2001, Ches Smith
remains the more under-recognized, yet highly in-demand, member of this
newly formed trio. The drummer/percussionist and vibraphonist for Tim Berne's Snakeoil, Smith has played with John Zorn on Voices in the Wilderness (Tzadik, 2003), as well as Wadada Leo Smith, and guitarists Fred Frith and Marc Ribot. The Bell is his fifth outing as a leader, three being solo efforts and one with his recent group, These Arches, which included Mary Halvorson, Tony Malaby and accordionist/organist Andrea Parkins.
Here, Smith teams with pianist Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri on viola.
Taborn and Maneri had previously worked together more than ten years ago
on Taborn's Junk Magic (Thirsty Ear, 2004).
track is a meditative piece for eight of its nine and one-half minutes.
At that point Smith introduces some tension as the drums begin to
thunder against Maneri's haunting drone and repetitive phrasing from
Taborn. "Barely Intervallic" and "Isn't It Over?" are more avant-garde
and experimental in nature giving improvisational masters like Taborn
and Maneri plenty of freedom to create innovations that sound both spare
and lavish within Smith's minimal structures. It isn't until the second
half of "I'll See You On The Dark Side Of The Earth" that Smith injects
more heated intensity with a rock beat over a discordant swirl of
sounds from Taborn and Maneri.
The second half of the program
remains in the chamber music approach with Maneri adding flashes of his
uniquely exotic playing especially evident on "I Think." Taborn's
playing ranges from snippets of melodicism to rapid-fire cascades of
notes and Smith's drumming sounds impressively musical. The leader uses
the vibraphone sparingly but its presence—especially in the midst of
freer group improvisations—adds a delicate balance to the sometimes more
For Smith, The Bell was not meant
to be the stepping off point for a new group but rather a one-time
impromptu session. However, after he, Maneri and Taborn played live in
New York, Smith realized he an opportunity to create something more
lasting with this exceptional group. His written compositions are
intentionally kept minimal so as to let the improvisations take center
stage. The trio responds to this approach with an appealingly patient
mix of empty spaces, complex phrasing and textures that play in the
moment and with an organic feeling. Smith/Taborn/Maneri will perform on
the opening night of the New York City ECM Jazzfest on January 15, 2016.
Track Listing: The Bell; Barely Intervallic; Isn't It Over?;
I'll See You On The Dark Side Of The Earth; I Think; Wacken; Open Air;
It's Always Winter Somewhere; For Days.
The Amsterdam-based Keep an Eye Foundation, is a Dutch
government sponsored program for developing artists across many creative
disciplines. Their jazz program culminates in an annual award
competition for new talent and in 2014, bassist Alessandro Fongaro was
awarded sponsorship that has now resulted in the quintet release of Neither More Nor Less.
native of Valdagno, Italy, now living in the Netherlands (following a
student exchange program in which he participated), Fongaro has been
pursuing jazz since the age of sixteen. With a strong business sense to
go with his musical aptitude, Fongaro attended the Rotterdam-based
international university, Codarts, an institution that stresses a more
rounded business management approach for musicians and other artists.
Fongaro, though an expatriate at the moment, has not turned his back on
Italy and hopes to return and work with that country's own fine jazz
It was at Codarts that Fongaro assembled an
international band of very talented musicians that allowed him to share
the musical decision making process, often in the old-world setting of
the dinner table. It adds a kind of charm to music that is often
progressive but with mainstream grounding and a strong sense of
melodicism. Joining him are Dutch saxophonist Donald Simoen, Italian
guitarist Federico Castelli, Belgium native Thomas Maasz on piano and
Hungarian drummer Attila Gyarfas. All in their twenties, the group
benefits from Fongaro's original compositions which play to the
strengths of the individuals while observing the best practices in group
"Five Months" takes its time building, eventually
providing a high-energy improvisational setting for Maasz before
returning to the main theme. Castelli's fluid guitar takes center stage
on the title track and "KG" is a charismatic ballad that showcases
Simoen and Maasz at their most lyrical. It's not until "The
Traveller"—which may well be a Fongaro autobiographical composition—that
we hear an extended demonstration of the leader's own superb skills on
the double base followed by another exhilarating solo from Maasz.
Gyarfas' subltle—and not so subtle—manipulations keeps these pieces
coherent while constantly in motion. The outlier on Neither More Nor Less is the closing piece, a harder edged "Blues Not," that gives all the players a chance to cut loose.
Neither More Nor Less
is a fine debut from some very talented artists that are just barely
out of the gate in their musical careers. There are no wasted spaces on
this album and it engages from the outset, wisely taking time to breath
when the pace requires a bit of a sensory cool-down. While Fongaro is a
talent to watch, all the players here deserve equal attention.
Track Listing: Five Months; Neither More Nor Less; KG; The Traveller; Prelude to a Loss; Waterfall; Home; Blues Not.
Personnel: Donald Simoen: alto saxophone; Federico Castelli:
Guitar; Thomas Maasz: piano; Alessandro Fongaro: double bass; Attila
Trained early in his career as a pianist, the French artist Fabrice
Mourlon later joined a vocal jazz class at the Paris suburb Pantin
School of Music. In 1994 he trained as a vocalist with Italian singer
Valentina Casula and was a member of her workshop for the next
half-decade. He met pianist Richard Razafindrakoto, bassist Emmanuel
Brunet and drummer Thierry Tardieu in 2001 and the four would eventually
solidify as a quartet playing various jazz clubs in Paris and now on Facing the Lough.
studied at the Conservatoire National de Region—has been the
beneficiary of training from France's prolific world-class saxophonist
and conductor François Jeanneau. Tardieu trained in the workshop of Enrico Rava and worked with Paolo Fresu
among other international artists from Europe and Asia. Brunet has
played many of the western European jazz clubs and worked with one of
the better known French trombonists, Sébastien Llado, in his quartet.
Facing the Lough
takes its name from the view at a home in Belfast, Ireland where
Mourlon had visited; lough being the Anglo-Irish interpretation of a
loch, a type of bay or inlet. More to the point, it seems to represent a
far reaching view of the modern, traditional and folkloric tunes that
Mourlan reads in French, English and Swedish on the CD. The album—quite
brief, at under thirty minutes—consists on seven Mourlon originals and
one traditional piece, "Mannelig," based on a medieval Swedish ballad.
take on his own compositions covers a wide range from traditional
balladry, to swing, to more improvisational treatments. Razafindrakoto,
Tardieu and Brunet make for an excellent and substantial trio, their
playing seemingly unprompted and in the moment, full of energy yet
yielding to the vocalist's needs when that is the applicable approach. Facing the Lough
is a versatile collection made gratifying by musicians whose proficient
skills allow easy passage from straight-ahead jazz to more modern
approaches. For those who like vocal jazz, this is an album to check
Track Listing: Brooklyn Bridge; Mannelig; Nonna Ines; Pat's In
Paris Take 1; Blissful Time; Wish You Were Here; Back From Belfast;
Pat's In Paris Take 2.
Personnel: Fabrice Mourlon: vocals. Compositions; Richard Razafindrakoto: piano; Emmanuel Brunet: bass; Thierry Tardieu: drums.
Year Released: 2015
| Record Label: Self Produced
| Style: Vocal
New York City resident Will Mason, while pursuing a Ph.D. in music at
Columbia University, took the time to submerge himself in the most
Spartan and remote conditions of his native Maine for the inspirations
of nature that become manifest in Beams of the Huge Night. The
drummer and composer assembled an unusually populated septet to give
life to a generous sixty-six minutes of sound and music, capturing the
volatility and tranquility of true seclusion.
Mason, who also
fronts a noise-metal band, has an acute talent for composing very
complex, extended pieces, creating an absorbing synthesis of jazz,
technology, classicalism and an organic construction that includes any
or all of those components. The ensemble includes oboist Stuart
Breczinski who fits in well with the idiosyncratic program despite
playing an instrument that rarely appears in jazz. Nina Moffitt supplies
mostly wordless vocals that often simulate the effect of an additional
woodwind instrument. Moffitt has recorded with her own quintet lending
her unique vocalizations to a diverse range of compositions from Ravi Coltrane to Billy Strayhorn.
other reed instrument on hand is Danny Fisher-Lochhead's alto
saxophone. A multi-instrumentalist having also recorded a solo Wurlitzer
album Piano Songs (Fishkill Records, 2015), Lochhead is particularly at home with the type of material on Beams of the Huge Night. His own namesake large ensemble outing, the engrossing Tools Of The Abstract
(Fishkill Records, 2015), while more directly jazz oriented, features
similar components of complex multi-layered improvisation in the
The string contingent consist of two
guitarists, Travis Reuter and Andrew Smiley, and bassist Dan Stein.
Reuter leads his own quintet and has a long-term performance commitment
with Arturo O'Farrill's sextet. Smiley has recorded two albums as part of the eclectic quartet Little Women, a group that includes alto saxophonist Darius Jones. Stein (another multi-instrumentalist) has played in trumpeter Kenny Rampton's ensemble along with saxophonist Donny McCaslin. Stein has also performed at Jazz at Lincoln Center and as part of the Juilliard Jazz Ensembles tour.
Beams of the Huge Night
opens with the sixteen-plus minute "Finn" and the composition serves as
the showpiece of the album, bringing together Mason's ideas on the
conflicting characteristics of untainted nature. Slowly washing in and
patiently building on drums, reeds and voice, the full ensemble soon
becomes apparent as the tone shifts to a frenetic pace. Mason, Reuter
and Smiley imperceptibly move to a rock rhythm that the reeds seem to
resist before falling into lockstep, then breaking out in free style. By
the half-way point, another shift has taken place; one that conveys the
dark trepidation of being lost deep in the night wood. Passages vanish
without a trace as "Finn" goes through more stylistic fluctuations as it
"Door 6" has a rock drive to it but with Moffitt's
ethereal prescience floating above the surface, it's never predictable
as to where the piece will settle. In contrast, "Door 7" has a decidedly
more delicate quality before the pace ratchets up near the conclusion.
"Dixfield, ME.," another extended piece at almost sixteen minutes, opens
in a lyrical, almost fragile manner then shatters in a high-energy
improvisation dominated by Fisher-Lochhead, Reuter and Smiley. It is
again Moffitt's voice that seems to bring free-for-all back to a
centered place only to lose it to a tense, spikey configuration of
guitars and saxophone. Named for a small town in northern Maine "Strong,
ME." is a dream-like melody where the contrasting guitar harmonies add a
disconcerting instability to the atmosphere.
Another long composition, "Brille," concludes Beams of the Huge Night.
Mason's booming drums and Stein's deep bass belie the coming free
improvisation that overtakes the piece. But like all the compositions on
the album, everything changes and we find ourselves in a tranquil,
pastoral setting at about six minutes in. The piece closes with mix of
regality and rebellion, all somehow staying on point.
Beams of the Huge Night
is a sprawling, ambitious project and Mason has a unique musical vision
in the midst of a highly intricate creative process. He successfully
seizes on the ambiances of positive and negative natural environments
and conveys them with help of this empathetic and very talented group of
musicians. This is an unusual album; one where it would be as easy to
become as lost as it would be in the woods of northern Maine were it not
for an expert guide like Mason.
Track Listing: Finn; Door 6; Door 7; Dixfield, ME.; Strong, ME.; Brille.
Personnel: Stuart Breczinski: oboe; Daniel Fisher-Lochhead: alto
saxophone; Nina Moffitt: voice; Travis Reuter: guitar; Andrew Smiley:
guitar; Dan Stein: bass; Will Mason: drums.