Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review: Imagery Manifesto - Chad Lefkowitz-Brown

Personnel: Chad Lefkowitz-Brown: tenor saxophone; Travis Reuter: guitar; Sam Harris: piano; Linda Oh: bass; Kenneth Salters: drums; Adam O’Farrill: trumpet.

The recording’s first cut, “A Turbulent Drift,” has a slow, out-of-tempo beginning with some gentle improvising from Reuter and the other rhythm players.  Then Lefkowitz-Brown  and O’Farrill play a slow theme in harmony with Reuter playing a counter melody.  A mid-tempo groove kicks in with guitar, sax, and trumpet playing in unison on a fast, intricate line.  Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrill then play a dramatic melody in unison with Reuter adding some echoing guitar notes in accompaniment.  Lefkowitz-Brown begins some tentative improvising with accompaniment from Salters and Oh, with Harris eventually joining in.  Then Lefkowitz-Brown starts playing in earnest, spinning out some impressive lines, occasionally swooping into the altissimo.  Lefkowitz-Brown has a big, open sound that is distinctively vocal and emotion-tinged.  After a repeat of the intricate trumpet/sax line, Reuter contributes a slick solo, employing a slightly distorted tone.  Trumpet and sax provide a repetitive, dramatic background, and the cut ends abruptly.

“Still Here” starts out with Lefkowitz-Brown playing a light, pretty, lower mid-tempo theme.  O’Farrill joins in and he and Lefkowitz-Brown play the theme in unison.  Then the tenor and trumpet play a second, more dramatic theme in unison.  Lefkowitz-Brown then plays a solo starting with some delicate, intricate lines and evolving into gutsier stuff, getting some energetic accompaniment from Harris and especially Salters.  O’Farrill then patiently constructs a musical and imaginative solo, with a good use of space—less linear than Lefkowitz-Brown, but intelligent and varied.  Then Lefkowitz-Brown and Reuter play the first theme, with the guitarist eventually adding some echo effects.  The cut closes quietly on a Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrill repeated line.

“Manic Panic” has an upper mid-tempo, march-like theme played by trumpet and sax.  Reuter and Lefkowitz-Brown then trade improvised choruses, Reuter using a distorted tone, the saxophonist firing off lightning-fast phrases.  Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrrill repeat the theme and Lefkowitz-Brown  improvises to close out the cut.

“Where the Wild Things Are” begins with some quiet interplay between the rhythm players, and then piano and bass break into an ostinato.  Trumpet and sax begin playing in harmony and then they move into a pretty, mid-tempo theme, playing in unison, with Reuter joining in.  Lefkowitz-Brown then plays a well-controlled, melodic solo, Salters pushing hard behind him.  Reuter adds a solo with a very distorted guitar sound, sometimes sounding like a synthesizer.  Then he provides an echoing background and Harris plays a repeated piano figure as Salters plays a dynamic, high-speed solo.  The group stops and re-sets, and Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrill repeat the theme to close the cut.

“Tooth and Fang (Intro)” is a strumming bass solo from Oh, showing off her big, ringing tone.  For “Tooth and Fang” she plays a repeated figure and the rest of the rhythm players join in.  Then Lefkowitz-Brown and O’Farrill join on a dramatic, driving mid-tempo theme.  O’Farrill plays a reflective solo, taking his time with each phrase.  Then Reuter plays a solo with intricate, imaginative lines and plenty of distortion.  Trumpet and tenor repeat the theme, and the cut ends without any solo from Lefkowitz-Brown.  This cut has exceptional pacing and rhythm section accompaniment throughout.

“Eastern Flower” has a lower mid-tempo, vaguely oriental theme, played by Lefkowitz-Brown with a full, supple tone and gentle vibrato.  Harris then plays an airy, slightly jangly solo with each hand playing a different melody.  Lefkowitz-Brown then repeats the theme and ends the cut, again choosing not to solo.

“With Bated Breath” has a suspenseful, upper mid-tempo theme with trumpet and tenor in unison.  Then Harris plays a cagey, exploratory piano solo, like he’s working out a complex mathematical problem on the keyboard.  O’Farrill plays a well-developed solo with a little more fire than usual, and Lefkowitz-Brown contributes his own well-constructed solo with clean, slippery lines.

“Time & Space” starts with Lefkowitz-Brown slowly playing a melody, his tone lush and gentle.  O’Farrill joins him on the ballad-like theme (though with Lefkowitz-Brown sounding so good on his own, I wish the trumpet had laid out on this one) with a repeated guitar phrase in the background.  Lefkowitz-Brown then plays a graceful solo with patterns and runs reminiscent of Chris Potter.  O’Farrill then plays a solo, though Reuter’s echo effects in the background are distracting; even O’Farrill sounds distracted.  The sax and trumpet play the theme again, and Salters plays another dynamic solo, with a bass and piano pattern behind him, and the cut fades out.

“The End” has a plaintive, lower mid-tempo theme with sax and trumpet in harmony and more echo effects from Reuter.  O’Farrill then plays a thoughtful and soulful solo, a good combination of head and heart.  Reuter then plays a distorted solo of complex, interesting patterns.  Surprisingly, Lefkowitz-Brown chooses not to solo on the final cut.

Imagery Manifesto is an impressive debut, with lyrical, complex compositions and excellent musicianship all the way around.  Lefkowitz-Brown has a sumptuous, powerful sound on the tenor sax and a melodic, virtuosic style similar to Chris Potter’s, though not quite as flashy and a bit more “romantic.”  As good as his composing is, though, he makes some peculiar choices on this recording, like not soloing on three of the recording’s nine cuts and Reuter’s obtrusive background echo effects.  And sometimes the compositions seem overly complex; I wish Lefkowitz-Brown had included a couple of cuts with just him and a trio.  But as a declaration that an excellent new tenor sax player and jazz composer is on the scene, Imagery Manifesto works very well, and it strongly suggests a promising musical future for Lefkowitz-Brown. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review: Haymaker - Noah Preminger

Personnel: Noah Preminger: tenor saxophone; Ben Monder: guitar; Matt Pavolka: bass; Colin Stranahan: drums.

Haymaker begins with “Morgantown” (6:26), whose theme is built out of drawn-out notes, with Stranahan spicing things up with simmering background drumming.  After playing the theme, the group moves into a mid-tempo groove, and Preminger plays a solo that demonstrates his wide-ranging, unpredictable style, alternating fast, wild runs up and down the horn with wide interval jumps and leaps into the altissimo.  Preminger’s tone is distinctive: strong but paper dry and woody (a bit like Joe Lovano in this regard).  He gets pretty, sensitive accompaniment from Monder.  After the tenor solo, Stranahan gets the spotlight, but his solo is fairly reserved compared to his effervescent background playing. 

“My Blues for You” (6:03) is a slow, simple song with a vague waltz feel.  Preminger plays a relaxed, bluesy solo, again mixing in some wild runs.  Monder then plays a smart solo, employing slight, pungent reverb in his tone, playing variations on his phrases and adding in some humorous plucking.  (It’s nice to be reminded that contemporary jazz improvisers are capable of displaying a sense of humor in their improvising.) 

“Haymaker” (6:01) is a straightforward, mid-tempo tune, again featuring energetic background playing from Stranahan and another smart, capricious solo from Preminger.

“Animal Planet” (8:24) has a gentle, folk-ish theme with an elusive meter, which Preminger plays while Monder picks an attractive background.  Monder then plays a lyrical, Metheny-ish solo without reverb.  Preminger then adds his own lyrical solo, including some impressive, intricate lines, with fine accompaniment from the trio of rhythm players.

Preminger then offers a pleasant change of pace with “Tomorrow” (3:10), from the musical “Annie”--a slow, pretty reading free of improvisation (except for a few flashy runs from Preminger).  We get to focus on Preminger’s idiosyncratic tone; his sub-tone is especially interesting, buzzy like a cicada.

“15,000” (7:54) is another cut with a theme composed of longish tones and enlivened with Stranahan’s peppy background playing.  The cut moves into a brisk 6/8, and Preminger plays a slightly off-center solo.  Monder shows off his skill and wit again by picking up the last phrase of Preminger’s solo and imaginatively toying with it, employing a slightly distorted tone.  Stranahan lets loose for a while before Preminger repeats the theme and the cut ends. 

“Stir My Soul” (4:54) has a gentle and lyrical mid-tempo theme.  Pavolka plays a folksy, understated solo, and Preminger briefly solos, again in his slightly wild style, after which he repeats the theme and Monder ends the cut with a shimmering chord.

The first part of “Rhona’s Suite” (7:27) is an out-of-tempo tone poem played in unison by Preminger and Monder.  After some mid-tempo, loose improvising by Preminger, the first part of the suite ends.  The second part begins with some casual playing by Monder, and then Preminger and the guitarist play a slow, out-of-tempo melody in unison, again with energetic, against-the-grain accompaniment from Stranahan, after which the cut ends quietly.  Lacking a unifying theme, groove, or harmonic structure, this cut comes off as a bit aimless.

“Don’t Drink the Water” (5:24) has a quiet, slow, out-of-tempo beginning that develops into a mid-tempo rock beat with a pretty theme.  Monder then plays some muscular, distorted rock guitar in tandem with some lower-key improvising from Preminger.  The saxophonist then repeats the theme for a straightforward close to the cut. 

The recording ends with a brief coda, “Motif Attractif” (1:50), a quiet duet between Preminger and Monder.  The two play a simple, slow melody in unison, with Monder adding dreamy chords for accompaniment.

On Haymaker, Preminger shows himself to be a self-assured and skillful improviser on the tenor sax with an unusual but effective tone and a distinctive improvisational style, something like a jazz analogue of a “drunken” martial arts style, with surprising twists and turns and an apparent lack of structure that still manages to be melodic and accessible.  Monder consistently acquits himself as a brilliant accompanist and improviser.  Overall, Haymaker is a serious, straightforward addition to the jazz corpus, livelier than Preminger’s darker, previous recording, Before the Rain, and it leaves one looking forward to what he conjures up next. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Review: Lifted Land - David Binney

Personnel: David Binney: alto saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.

Lifted Land begins with “Fanfare for Basu” (2:24), an upper mid-tempo tune that starts with a bright, fast line played in unison by Binney and Taborn.  Then there is a lengthy interlude with overdubbed saxes playing in counterpoint, then the original theme is repeated.  This first cut has no improvisation.

“The Road to Your House” (7:01) has a wistful, angular theme taken at mid-tempo, Binney employing a soft, buzzy tone.  Binney takes a long, deeply lyrical solo, spinning out one interesting phrase after another, gliding over the full range of the horn.  After Binney’s solo, Taborn, Opsvik, and Sorey display a hand-in-glove rapport, reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s European Quartet.  Taborn’s excellent solo displays elements of Jarrett’s style as well.  This is a really great cut.

The lengthiest piece of the recording by far is “As Snow Before a Summer Sun” (18:34).  This piece is a series of improvised sections separated by a different simple melodic phrase.  After the slow, out-of tempo start, Opsvik plays a slow arco bass solo, a series of drawn-out, bent notes.  The next punctuating melodic phrase is followed by some gong-like sounds, contributing to the piece’s overall oriental, minimalist feel, as well as a sound like crinkling paper (which I assume is Sorey using brushes on drums).  After the next punctuating phrase, Binney plays a fairly free a cappella solo, with alternating fast and slow passages, occasionally bending his notes.  Taborn’s solo passage is a sequence of ominous, somewhat dissonant chord phrases.  (Up to this point, it’s almost like Binney asked his group members to explore the sonic possibilities of their instruments.)  The next solo section has Taborn and Binney delicately improvising together.  After the next, longer melodic interlude, Binney improvises at length over Taborn repeating a three-chord phrase—a virtuoso performance, fairly free but still controlled and lyrical.  Binney joins Taborn on the repeated phrase to close out the cut.

“The Blue Whale” (11:54) starts with some funky bass plucking and strumming.  Then Binney and Taborn play a theme with a slightly mysterious, Middle Eastern tinge.  Then Binney plays a visceral, kinetic, fleet solo over a simple harmonic background, firing off phrases like jabs, reminiscent of Dave Liebman’s more driving tenor sax playing.  Taborn amplifies this feeling in his solo, playing heavy, jarring phrases, eventually becoming quieter but still jarring.  Binney, Opsvik, and Taborn then provide a repetitious background while Sorey plays a fine solo of controlled mayhem.  The cut quietly winds down, some calm after the storm.  This cut has the intensity and rawness of a live performance.

Most of “Curious About Texas” (5:17) is an exercise in loose group improvisation.  The cut starts with just the suggestion of a theme, and then the quartet improvises quietly and tentatively.  Then Binney plays a wild solo, with raucous accompaniment from the rhythm section.  There is another section of quiet group interplay, and the cut finishes with an energetic theme, with stops and starts, Binney and Opsvik playing in unison, and finally an abrupt ending. 

“Lifted Land” (6:23) has Binney and Taborn playing a mid-tempo, stately theme of insistent quarter notes in an elusive meter with light, almost march-like accompaniment.  Taborn plays an elegant but robust solo.  Then Binney repeats part of the theme while Sorey deftly improvises.  The cut ends with Binney and Taborn playing a clever, complex line.

“Losing the Central Valley” (3:26) is a brief, meditative piece with a lot of open spaces between brief phrases played by the group.  There’s no clear soloing in this one.

The recording closes with “Red Cloud” (3:31), another meditative piece, bordering on gloominess, which features Taborn all alone playing a series of insistent chords.  It appears to be entirely composed. 

Binney is one of those jazz musicians who are just as strong in their composing and group-leading as they are in their playing.  (This was noted recently about Marius Neset as well.)  On Lifted Land, Binney appears to have chosen to focus on composing and group conception more than improvising; he doesn’t solo on half of the cuts, though whenever he solos, he is outstanding.  Because of this, those who are particularly interested in saxophone improvising might feel a bit shortchanged with this recording.  But all of the cuts are serious and interesting, though somewhat somber, and the musicians are all firmly on the same page.  Some might find Binney’s approach here a nice change from the usual theme, solos, theme jazz format.  Perhaps that is what Binney was shooting for.  Personally, I would have preferred more cuts like “The Road to Your House,” but that might simply indicate my more conventional listening tastes.  I don’t think Lifted Land is a good introduction to Binney’s work, but anyone who has enjoyed his work previously will probably not want to miss this one.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

61st Annual Downbeat Critics Poll Winners

For you poll watchers out there, here are the woodwind winners of the 61st Annual Downbeat Critics Poll.  The full list of winners is on the Downbeat website, though I haven’t seen the list of other vote-getters since I don’t have the August print issue yet.  I might have some thoughts on the poll after I see the full results.  Wayne Shorter is getting a lot of attention with the release of his acclaimed recording Without a Net; besides winning the soprano saxophone category, Shorter also won Jazz Artist of the year, Without a Net won for best jazz album, and his quartet won for best jazz group. 

If anyone has any thoughts about these winners, send them here to AJS. 

Soprano Saxophone: Wayne Shorter
Alto Saxophone: Rudresh Mahanthappa
Tenor Saxophone: Joe Lovano
Baritone Saxophone: Gary Smulyan
Clarinet: Anat Cohen
Flute: Nicole Mitchell

Rising Star Soprano Saxophone: Anat Cohen
Rising Star Alto Saxophone: Tia Fuller
Rising Star Tenor Saxophone: Jon Irabagon
Rising Star Baritone Saxophone: Vinny Golia
Rising Star Clarinet: Ben Goldberg
Rising Star Flute: Tia Fuller