Jazz Prospecting: September 2012

Joe Alterman: Give Me the Simple Life (2011 [2012], Miles High): Pianist, originally from Atlanta, moved to New York in 2007 to study at NYU. Second album, mostly piano trio with James Cammack on bass and Herlin Riley on drums, joined on four cuts by the redoubtable tenor saxophonist, Houston Person. Wrote 2 (of 12) tracks, with "Georgia on My Mind" the only cover I was sure of. Nice, spry piano, and of course the guest is superb. B+(**)

Angles 8: By Way of Deception: Live in Ljubljana (2011 [2012], Clean Feed): Swedish alto saxophonist Martin Küchen's big group, expanded from six to eight this time -- Eirik Hegdal (baritone sax, soprano sax) and Alexander Zethson (piano) are the adds, although he's also swapped trumpeters (Goran Kajfes replaces Magnus Broo). The piano pays dividends, and Mattias Ståhl's vibes glitter throughout, but the horns are rich, vibrant, triumphant. A-

Josh Berman & His Gang: There Now (2011 [2012], Delmark): Cornet player, based in Chicago, third album, His Gang an octet, with five horns -- Berman, Jeb Bishop (trombone), Guilhermo Gregorio (clarinet), Jason Stein (bass clarinet), and Keefe Jackson (tenor sax) -- vibes (Jason Adasiewicz), bass (Joshua Abrams), and drums (Frank Rosaly). The horns (even the clarinets) have a lot of firepower, often glorious, sometimes fracturing or skidding, while the vibes do a nice job of following the crowd. B+(***)

George Cables: My Muse (2012, High Note): Pianist, b. 1944, worked his way through Art Blakey's boot camp, recorded frequently (and magnificently) with Art Pepper (1979-82), has 30-some albums since 1975, a mainstream stylist of exceptional touch and taste, which makes it all the harder to pick among his many trios, like this one with Essiet Essiet and Victor Lewis. I'm especially touched by his "My Old Flame." B+(***)

Bill Cantrall & Axiom: Live at the Kitano (2010 [2012], Up Swing): Trombone player, from and based in New York, studied at Northwestern and Queen's College. One previous album, Axiom, named his band -- basically a hard bop quintet with trombone instead of trumpet -- after it: Stacy Dillard (tenor/soprano sax), Rick Germanson (piano), Gerald Cannon (bass), Darrell Green (drums), plus he picks up Mike DiRubbo (alto sax) and Freddie Hendrix (trumpet, comes as a surprise) for a 23:57 expansion of "Axiom." B+(***)

Tim Carey: Room 114 (2011 [2012], self-released): Bassist, teaches in Seattle. First album, mostly guitar, piano, bass, drums -- a second drummer is credited on five tracks. All originals, intricately woven together. B+(*)

Hugo Carvalhais: Particula (2011 [2012], Clean Feed): Portuguese bassist, second album -- I usually don't bother crediting headliners as composer, even though they often make a point of it on their websites, on the theory that virtually everyone makes that claim, but often with bassists the compositions are the main point. Describes Gabriel Pinto (piano, organ, synth) and Mário Costa (drums) as "regular band mates," adding Emile Parisien (soprano sax) and Dominique Pifarély (violin) for this date. Gives him a lot of options to play off against each other, or occasionally pile up. B+(***)

Ed Cherry: It's All Good (2012, Posi-Tone): Guitarist, b. 1954, played with Dizzy Gillespie 1978-92, also with Henry Threadgill's Very Very Circus group; cut three albums 1993-2001, with this his fourth. Organ trio, with Pat Bianchi and Byron Landham. Tasty, but rather light. B+(*)

Anat Cohen: Claroscuro (2011 [2012], Anzic): Israeli reed player, based in New York, leads with her clarinet here but also plays tenor and soprano sax. Mostly quartet, with Jason Lindner on piano, Joe Martin on bass, and Daniel Freedman on drums. About half Brazilian tunes, with Paquito D'Rivera guesting on four. Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon joins in on two, and sings "La Vie en Rose." Closes with Abdullah Ibrahim's "The Wedding." B+(***)

Denise Donatelli: Soul Shadows (2012, Savant): Singer, fourth album, not sure I'd call these standards except for "All or Nothing at All," but she's fine when the songs and arrangements are up to it. Geoffrey Keezer plays musical director and piano. He likes extra percussion, just a touch of horns and strings, the latter icky. "Another Day" is the odd song out, or in. B

Ricardo Fassi: Sitting in a Song (2009 [2012], Alice): Pianist, b. 1955 in Italy, has more than a dozen albums since 1986, mostly on Splasc(H). Calls this group New York Pocket Orchestra, and it's well stocked with stars: Alex Sipiagin (trumpet), Dave Binney (alto sax), Gary Smulyan (baritone sax), Essiet Essiet (bass), and Antonio Sanchez (drums). First cut ("Random Sequencer") delivers everything the band promises, but the postbop moves lose interest over the long haul. B+(*)

Michael Feinberg: The Elvin Jones Project (2012, Sunnyside): Bassist, b. 1987, second album, takes the Coltrane Quartet as his starting point, starting and ending with Elvin Jones compositions, covering Coltrane, Steve Grossman, Frank Foster, and Jimmy Van Heusen ("Nancy With the Laughing Face") in between, with one Feinberg original. Group is overloaded with talent: George Garzone, Tim Hagans, Leo Genovese, Billy Hart, plus guitar (Alex Wintz) on two tracks. Lots of superb runs, and the drummer has fun. B+(**)

Joe Fiedler's Big Sackbut (2011 [2012], YSL): Trombone player, b. 1965, sixth album since 1998, including a tribute to Albert Mangelsdorff, and an A-listed album last year (Sacred Chrome Orb). This is a trombone quartet, or close -- Ryan Keberle and Josh Roseman also play trombone, but Marcus Rojas plays tuba. Not the first to try something like this (cf. Ray Anderson's Slide Ride), but the tuba gives this some extra bounce, and the bones take the hint. B+(***)

The Fish: Moon Fish (2010 [2012], Clean Feed): French trio: Jean-Luc Guionnet (alto sax), Benjamin Duboc (bass), Edward Perraud (drums). They have at least one previous album together; Guionnet has maybe a dozen since 1998 but it's hard to sort them out (e.g., first two were duos with Eric Cordier, credits listed in different orders). Three long improv pieces, the sax grasping for traction and chewing up the room. B+(**)

Gato Libre: Forever (2011 [2012], Libra): Fifth album for this group led by Japanese trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, who writes all the pieces, with Satoko Fujii playing accordion, Kazuhiko Tsumura guitar, and Norikatsu Koreyasu bass. Not much action out of the accordion this time -- when they recorded live in Europe Fujii seemed to tap right in to the folk-dance tradition -- so interesting as this is it never really takes off. B+(*)

Uli Geissendoerfer: Colors (2011 [2012], Black Coffee Music): Pianist, b. Munich, Germany; two previous albums. This "world jazz quintet" is mostly a vehicle for singer Pascale Elia, who is engaging enough -- I even find myself enjoying her take on "Norwegian Wood," normally one of those kiss-of-death jazz album songs. B

Hairy Bones: Snakelust (to Kenji Nakagami) (2011 [2012], Clean Feed): Second group album, various typographic problems on the packaging -- they've decided they don't like to space out the group name, and prefer "e" to umlaut in the saxophonist's name, but for history's sake we'll straighten those quirks out. Of course, a mere moment's attention will satisfy you that the saxophonist is Peter Brötzmann, even when he's playing clarinet in what he may well think of as New Age mode. Toshinori Kondo, who worked with Brötzmann back in the Die Like a Dog quartet, adds mischief with trumpet and electronics. Zu electric bassist Massimo Pupillo smoothes things out, and Paal Nilssen-Love is the drummer. One 53-minute blast, but it moves up and down and around enough they could call it a suite if they had such pretensions. They don't. A-

The Harris Group: Choices (2011 [2012], self-released): Lots of competing users for this name, but this looks to be a Chicago group led by guitarist Ric Harris, with bass, drums, and vibes, plus Chris Greene guesting on soprano sax (two cuts). As groove music -- or should we say soul jazz? -- bass/vibes offers a refreshing contrast to the usual Hammond, lighter and faster than the norm. B+(*)

Fred Hersch Trio: Alive at the Vanguard (2012, Palmetto, 2CD): Pianist, has more than three dozen records since 1984, went solo for last year's Alone at the Vanguard, returns with a trio (John Hébert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums) and stretches out. Half originals, half standards, half of those from jazz icons (Parker, Monk, Rollins, Coleman). The rhythm section fleshes out the music, but he doesn't push them very hard. B+(**)

Johnny Hodges: Yeah . . . About That (2012, Veritas): Trumpet player, originally from Oklahoma City, started playing cruise lines in 1991, lives in Kissimee, FL -- you expecting maybe someone else? Looks like his first album, also credited with rhythm programming, and aside for a couple of guest spots that's about it. Scrawny, but not without a certain charm. B

Keith Jarrett: Sleeper: Tokyo, April 16, 1979 (1979 [2012], ECM, 2CD): Live double, featuring Jarrett's European Quartet: Jan Garbarek (saxes, flute), Palle Danielsson (bass), Jon Christensen (drums) -- their surnames staggered on the front cover, but only the leader's on the spine. All Jarrett pieces, only the encore clocking in under 10 minutes, "Oasis" stretching to 28. Interesting to hear Garbarek struggling with Coltrane's ghost -- much more rugged than I recall even from his early work -- and, of course, the piano is dense and divisive. B+(***)

Lee Konitz/Bill Frisell/Gary Peacock/Joey Baron: Enfants Terribles (2011 [2012], Half Note): The drummer, at 56, is the youngest here, so "enfants" as much of a joke as "terribles." The eldest is the alto saxophonist, at 85 -- presumably he's the guy at the end who can't remember his bandmates names, although you'll recognize them. I kept listening for Konitz, and hearing Frisell, playing Konitz-like twists on the standards repertoire. Not that the alto sax isn't present. He just works a around the lines, letting the band for this "Live at the Blue Note" disc support him. B+(***)

Sam Kulik: Escape From Society (2012, Hot Cup): Trombonist, from western Massachusetts, studied at Oberlin, wound up in New York. Second album, "inspired by the song-poem phenomenon of the '70s and '80s, in which everyday people would respond to magazine ads seeking lyricists": twelve lyricists are credited here, Kulik the only repeater, David Greenberger the only other name I recognize. Band is quartet, crediting Kulik with vocals, brass, guitar; others with bass/keys, drums, and tenor sax. At first sounds almost like country music, matter-of-fact until the quotidinary gets too ordinary and the brass starts to peek through. Then Kulik switches horses on the last two cuts, one group moving toward free jazz, the other avant-industrial, or as the title puts it, "Infinite Shit." B+(*)

Fred Lonberg-Holm's Fast Citizens: Gather (2011 [2012], Delmark): Chicago group, sextet, with three horns -- Aram Shelton (alto sax, clarinet), Keefe Jackson (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Josh Berman (cornet) -- plus Lonberg-Holm on cello (and tenor guitar), Anton Hatwich (bass), and Frank Rosaly (drums), with everyone doubling up on trumpet or cornet somewhere. Third group album, but the leaders have rotated depending on who came in with the songs -- the other two are filed under Shelton and Jackson. The cellist has released some squelchy electronics albums, and appeared in the Vandermark 5, but he's never had this kind of front line, and he makes quite a lot out of it. A-

Igor Lumpert Trio: Innertextures Live (2011 [2012], Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1975 in the future Slovenia, studied in Austria, spent some time in Munich playing for a group that won a "Best Jazz Group of Germany" award, wound up in New York. With Chris Tordini on bass (presumably "Christhopher" is a typo) and Nasheet Waits on drums. All originals, smart free jazz, shies away from excessive drama and volume. B+(**)

Pat Martino: Alone Together With Bobby Rose (1977-78 [2012], High Note): Pre-aneurism, previously unreleased, Rose adds a second guitar but is more rhythm accompaniment than duet partner. B+(*)

Mark Masters Ensemble: Ellington Saxophone Encounters (2012, Capri): Big band arranger, b. 1957, started on trumpet, cut records for Sea Breeze in the 1980s, founded American Jazz Institute in 1997. This adds to his tribute projects (Jimmy Knepper, Clifford Brown, Porgy and Bess, Dewey Redman: five saxophonists -- Gary Smulyan, Pete Christlieb, Gene Cipriano, Gary Foster, and Don Shelton -- have a go at Ellington's sax legends, with no one quite reminiscent of Johnny Hodges or Ben Webster, not that that's a fair complaint. B+(**)

Donny McCaslin: Casting for Gravity (2012, Greenleaf Music): Tenor saxophonist, technically among his generation's greats, often known to explode and run away with other people's records, but his own records more often than not leave me cold -- exception, 2008's Recommended Tools, especially with the fancy postbop layering. The backing here is relatively straightforward, with Jason Lindner favoring electric keybs over piano, Tim Lefebvre on electric bass, and producer David Binney slipping in some further synth -- all of which mean the sax is constantly front and center. B+(***)

Michael McNeill Trio: Passageways (2010 [2012], self-released): Pianist, b. 1982, based in Buffalo, first album, a trio with Ken Filiano (bass) and Phil Haynes (drums). I often despair of my inability to sort out the vast wave of piano trios that come my way, but sometimes I'm caught by surprise -- just rarely by someone I've never heard of before. First clue here is the bassist, who never plays on uninteresting albums. Filiano kicks off the 20:34 opener -- that length another sign that something is up here -- but when the pianist takes over he darts in and out, never settling for something ordinary. The other four pieces range 5:48-9:58. A-

Hendrik Meurkens/Gabriel Espinosa: Celebrando (2012, Zoho): Meurkens was born in Germany, Dutch parents, gravitated to Brazilian music early (his 1989 album was called Samba Importado), initially playing vibes but switching to harmonica. Espinosa is from Mexico, has a similar fascination with Brazil (his first album was called From Yucatan to Rio), plays bass and sings (five songs), composed four songs here (as did Meurkens; piaist Misha Tsiganov contributed two more). Anat Cohen (clarinet, tenor sax) and Antonio Sanchez got their names on the front cover and pics on the back. It's a mess. C+

The Odd Trio: Birth of the Minotaur (2012, self-released): Brian Smith (guitar, vox), Marc Gilley (saxophones), Todd Mueller (drums), a lineup we've seen a few times lately, notably on last year's Inzinzac album: guitar can rival sax as a lead instrument, as well as add chordal harmony, especially when you're doing something rockish (or should I say punkish?), often the case here. B+(**)

Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. VII: Sankei Hall, Osaka, Japan (1980 [2012], Widow's Taste, 2CD): I've probably lost my credibility here, given that this makes six straight Pepper authorized bootlegs I've given this same grade to -- they cheaped out on Vol. VI and only sent a sampler, so that's the hole in the list, but even with excess talk, thin sound, and a set list I've heard several times before, I can't go lower. For one thing, he's got George Cables on board -- the pianist he used on most of his studio recordings, but has been absent thus far on the boots. But also he's at a personal peak, which for him means more or less midway between jail and death. Simplest way to describe him is that he refracted up every modernist impulse from Parker to Coltrane to Coleman, but (excepting Johnny Hodges, of course) he also maintained the sweetest alto sax tone of all. A-

Platform 1: Takes Off (2011 [2012], Clean Feed): New Ken Vandermark group, with Magnus Broo (trumpet), Steve Swell (trombone), Joe Williamson (bass), and Michael Vatcher (drums). All but the drummer contribute songs -- Vandermark's two dedicated to label head Pedro Costa and Roswell Rudd, good news for the trombonist, who has the hot hand here. When the horns are flaring, as impressive as any band working, including Vandermark's previous Five. Don't quite get the dead spaces, though. B+(***)

Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul: Reunion: Live in New York (2007 [2012], Pi, 2CD): Rivers died in 2011, so the only way to get more is to scrounge for it. This first effort uncovers two fully improvised sets with bass and drums, backing Rivers on tenor sax, soprano sax, flute, and piano. The tenor, of course, is his main instrument, and I'd be happy if that's all there was, but the flute is engaging, and the piano is a revelation. The bass is more of a reminder: we've listened to Holland as leader and composer so long one forgets just how vital he was during his avant-garde phase, but here it all comes back. A-

Josh Rosen/Stan Strickland: Instinct (2012, Ziggle Zaggle Music): Duets. Rosen plays piano, teaches at Berklee, has a previous album as 3 Play +. Strickland plays various flutes, bass clarinet, soprano sax, and sings -- he has a vocal jazz album from 2005, and also teaches at Berklee. A little thin on both sides. B-

Bobby Sanabria Big Band: Multiverse (2011 [2012], Jazzheads): Drummer, b. 1957 in the Bronx, folks Puerto Rican; studied at Berklee, and perhaps more importantly with Mario Bauza, who gets a toast here. Started with small groups, moving up to a big band with 2007's Big Band Urban Folktales, and he pretty much owns that niche now. Picks up momentum, ending with a La Bruja rap that starts with history and plunges into the future. B+(***)

Elliott Sharp's Terraplane: Sky Road Songs (2012, Enja): Guitarist, b. 1951, has a huge discography including 17 solo albums, a bunch of string quartets and orchestral pieces, and now seven albums with Terraplane, his blues group. He dedicates this one to the late Hubert Sumlin, including a sample. Songs are new, some written by Joe Mardin, who appears on nearly every song with one odd credit or another. Eric Mingus and Tracie Morris sing, Alex Harding and Curtis Fowlkes blow, Dave Hofstra and Don McKenzie keep the beat straight. B+(*)

Wadada Leo Smith & Louis Moholo-Moholo: Ancestors (2011 [2012], TUM): Duets, trumpet and drums, not that either should need introduction, Smith coming out of the AACM, Moholo (not sure why he expanded his name) from South Africa's legendary Blue Notes. Cut in Finland, a little spare but both players continually rise to the occasion, providing a lot to focus on. A-

Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii: Muku (2011 [2012], Libra): Married couple, longtime collaborators, reduce their focus to trumpet and piano duets; should be intimate, but their styles clash and the instruments tend to separate out, a thrill when Fujii breaks out knocking chords every which way. B+(**)

Leon Foster Thomas: Brand New Mischief (2012, self-released): Plays steel pan, b. 1981, has a previous record. Group here includes Allen C. Paul on piano, plus bass and drums. The steel pan is similar enough in tone to the piano that this starts off like an upbeat piano trio before the pan tones emerge clearly. Nice trick. B+(*)

Trespass Trio [Martin Küchen/Per Zanussi/Raymond Strid]: Bruder Beda (2011 [2012], Clean Feed): Like Angles, Exploding Customer, Sound of Mucus, another Martin Küchen group, a trio with Küchen on alto sax, Per Zanussi on double bass, and Raymond Strid on drums. Second group album. Slowly, cautiously navigates the free jazz shoals, at once daring and moderate. B+(***)

Ryan Truesdell: Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans (2012, ArtistShare): Of course, this is much more enticing as Gil Evans' unfinished work, on his 100th birthday no less, than it would be attributed to unknown arranger Truesdell, and I've seen reviews that go whole hog and file the record under Evans' name. It stands up nicely, if not all that consistently, on its own, the huge orchestra -- 32 instrumentalists plus three vocalists slotted with one song each -- is full of players who don't need to hide in a crowd. Aside from the solos, I found myself tracking the vibes (Joe Locke), a little sparkle on top of all the lushness. B+(***)

Florian Weber: Biosphere (2011 [2012], Enja): Pianist, b. 1977 in Germany, classical ed gives him a chamber jazz rep; released a trio in 2006 called Minsarah, used that group name for his 2010 follow-up. This is a quartet with Lionel Loueke (guitar), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums, tabla). A lot of flutter and shuffle, all tucked in, at least until the end when they slow down and consolidate, rather touchingly. B+(**)

 August, 2012 October, 2012