Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reviews Column - DownBeat

Yes, the column was titled "Saxual Healing." I'm taking a little distance from that.

Tom Tallitsch, Ride *** ½
Aside from a brief, cruise-ship rendition of David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” and a more enthusiastic version of Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone,” tenor saxophonist Tallitsch penned every tune on this album. His writing style hides nowhere between those two aforementioned British pillars of tight jeans. Instead, he goes another decade further back to a straight-ahead sound reminiscent of Blue Note tenormen like Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson. Under Tallitsch’s direction, the band plays loose and springy with democratic soloing opportunities. When trombonist Michael Dease makes the occasional appearance, he does so with conviction. He lends his froggy yelps to the brisk “El Luchador” and “Kunckle Dragger,” the latter also serving as a springboard for an invigorating solo from drummer Rudy Royston. Tallitsch’s impassioned strikes peak on “The Myth,” showcasing a robust display of conviction. Pianist Art Hirahara follows with an equally assured, McCoy Tyner-influenced solo that never lightens the high-wire intensity.

The Ambush Party, Circus ***1/2
Recorded live at the Moers Festival in Germany, Circus is an uninterrupted set by this avant-garde Dutch quartet that is awash in ambient hums and taut suspense. While the big top is the theme, the mood feels more like a zoo after closing. Saxophonist Natalio Sued playfully leaps about on the slow-burn opener, “The Invisible Acrobats,” but threads raunchy bursts amid pianist Oscar Jan Hoogland’s chaotic pounding on “The Tiger Is Loose.” Finale “Trapez Gesang” is a fountain of nervous energy, pushed over the edge by a creeping, uncredited female opera singer. The band’s biggest talent is its bottomless well of percussion. Saxophone keys clop, cello strings slap and incidental creaks emerge from the piano while drummer Marcos Baggiani builds upon it further with his traditional arsenal of clattering drums and cymbals.

Lena Bloch, Feathery ****
There is a chamber-like quality to tenor saxophonist Bloch’s debut album. She evokes altoist Lee Konitz often, going so far as to name her first track “Hi-Lee,” but the strongest vibe seems to originate in the simmering Chico Hamilton Quintet of the 1950s, which featured saxophonist Buddy Collette. Like those recordings, Bloch and her band’s sound here is spacious. The four members contribute tunes to the affair, but they all coalesce into a single vision. Guitarist Dave Miller plays with minimalism and clarity, offering nimble support when needed but he is otherwise reserved. When Miller works in harmony with Bloch, they effortlessly grasp an intuitive understanding. Bassist Cameron Brown bows and plucks with symphonic precision. Drummer Billy Mintz is sparse, peppering steady swing with the occasional splash of color. All of this is in service to Bloch’s breathy horn. She is deliberate in the extreme, waiting for the right moments to drop flowing line, and rewards the patient listener when those opportunities arise.

Russ Nolan, Relelentless ***
“Relentless” is a word that is rarely used to describe something positively. Saxophonist Russ Nolan and pianist Manuel Valera seem particularly interested in fulfilling the title, offering a “buy one, get one free” discount on notes. The two, technically devastating and creative in their phrases, gun through nearly the entire proceedings at top speed, from the breathless first notes of the title track to the very last staccato note of the pulsating “Abakua.” Nolan composed all but one of the tunes and shines brightest on soprano.

BJ Jansen, Ronin ** ½

Baritone saxophonist Jansen leads a traditional rhythm section through nine self-penned tunes. Throughout most of the recording the band hovers in a tasteful, straightahead swing. Pianist Mamiko Watanabe supplies some Prestige-era lines, while Jansen works a range of masterfully rounded tones. Midway through “The Cost,” Jansen bellows a high, enthusiastic brown note for more than five seconds, long enough to upset most house pets and extinguish nearby candles. It’s a refreshing jolt of danger in an otherwise low-risk set.

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