Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Andrew Downing, Jim Lewis, David Occhipinti, Bristles (OM007, 60:13 ****) The average winter temperature in Toronto, Canada hovers breezily around the teens. It takes a hearty soul to lug around an instrument in that kind of weather rather than crawl into a cave and wait for the flowers to bloom. With just ten strings and three valves, Andrew Downing (double bass), Jim Lewis (trumpet) and David Occhipinti (guitar) attack seasonal affective disorder head on with a sparse landscape of brief meditations on painters like Cy Twombly and Wassily Kandinsky interspersed with a lengthier half a dozen standard ballads recorded in mid-January. Occhipinti possesses a growly Jim Hall sound that occasionally evokes a flute while Lewis embraces the spaces between. Downing is equally patient, urging the proceedings with gentle runs. This is the sound of winter, cool and mysterious, stark but beautiful. Ordering info: davidocchipinti.com
John Chin, Undercover (BJUR044, 52:48, ***) Pianist John Chin released his debut album in 2008 and finished his second in 2010. So it must be a frustrating experience to wait four years for that sophomore release to actually see the light of day. Chin’s style falls into the Jarrett/Mehldau lineage that eschews the hard-swinging past in exchange for a more malleable and impressionistic take on the traditional piano/bass/drums setting. His hands seem to always be in constant movement, not necessarily busy but floating at all times in as many different directions as the brain will allow. A delicate take on Chaplin’s “Smile” is juxtaposed with the swagger of one of three Chin originals, “If For No One” which is molded by drummer Dan Rieser’s up-front ride cymbal. Throughout the album, Chin has a confident vulnerability that is broken up by welcome bluesy bursts. Hopefully it won’t take as long to find out what he sounds like today. Ordering info: bjurecords.com
Organ Trio East, Chemistry (No catalog number or label, 67:41, **1/2) It has been said that the trombone is the most human-sounding of all instruments but that is only if the human likes to yell. The trombone often appears to be one of the hardest instruments to convey a lot of ideas, most of them pertaining to the softer side of the sonic palette and despite a tune called “Quietly,” trombonist Jay Vonada’s range prefers blasts over whispers. As the sole horn on the trio recording, Vonada has to carry a lot of weight (he also wrote five of the tunes) but organist Steve Adams has his hands full too. He composed four of the tunes including the brisk “Wandering” which highlights drummer Jim Schade’s lithe brushwork. Unfortunately, a muddy recording quality pushes the proceedings a bit too far into the mire. The addition of another horn could add considerable depth here. Ordering info: jayvonada.net
Matana Roberts, Sam Shalabi, Nicolas Caloia, Feldspar (TDB9008, 47:21, ***) Is there something going on in Canada that is creating bleak, percussion-less avant-garde trios? Or is it simply a winter trend? This disc recorded in Montreal in December of 2011 has the sharp edges of a sheet of ice and seven song titles named after equally jagged minerals. Roberts’ alto saxophone on “Spinel” evokes a deranged Paul Desmond as bassist Caloia and guitarist Shalabi generate simmering refractions of her soulful flutters. The title track builds into a wailing assault, heightened by Shalabi’s percussive shudder. The juxtaposition of Roberts’ more earthy humanistic tone with her Canadian compatriots’ spasming dissonance forms a complex and difficult puzzle that occasionally becomes too complicated to suss out. Despite those sounds, silence is the prevailing uniter. Each band member is unafraid to listen and wait, filling the gaps with the sound of falling snow. Ordering info: tourdebras.com
Michael Musillami Trio, Pride (PSR112613, 124:17, ****) Though this sturdily packaged two disc set is billed as a trio recording there are just as many guests brought on board. There are studio sessions that include tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene (a pair of bleating appearances including a masterful build on the optimistically titled “Bald Yet Hip”) and pianist Kris Davis who makes attentive contributions to the trembling “Old Tea” while Musillami digs in deep. The guitarist’s interpretation of a wild rumpus, part of four tunes intended for Where the Wild Things Are, is menacing and offers a brief glimpse of the shadowy shredder lurking just under his fingertips. The second disc features four live recordings with violinist Mark Feldman. The result is a harder swinging, see-sawing sound. The band doesn’t hesitate to stretch out with drummer George Schuller maintaining a tense pulse as bassist Joe Fonda grips tight for a swelling undertow. Ordering info: playscape-recordings.com
Recently, during his first West Coast tour, pianist Alon Nechushtan perched at the piano at Los Angeles' intimate nightclub Vitello's on a Friday night. The crowd was restless, but he quickly won them over. With unyielding assurance, he led his pick-up band through an extended set that touched upon blues, modal standards and closed with a swinging touch of klezmer propelled by drummer Chris Wabich's tambourine and Nechushtan's own percussive rattle. The Israeli-born musician consistently demonstrated his vast skill-set with confidence and humor.
It was the pen that brought him to the United States as a classical composition major at Boston's New England Conservatory. Today, more than a decade later, Nechushtan is part of a growing circle of jazz musicians bridging the musical realities of New York and Israel.
Nechushtan credits saxophonist Arnie Lawrence (1938 - 2005), a former Tonight Show band contributor and the founder of the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York, with expanding his and many other Israeli kids' horizons. In 1997, the saxophonist moved to Jerusalem and founded the International Center for Creative Music, where an impressionable young Nechushtan took in the sounds of swing. "He played a large role," Nechushtan said. "He's kind of a crusader in that manner. I remember hanging out with him and learning about jazz. He was very patient."
Jazz's presence in Israel, relative to the history of the genre, is a fairly new phenomenon. The rise of internationally acclaimed artists like guitarist Roni Ben-Hur, violinist Miri Ben-Ari and the Cohen siblings (Anata, Avishai, Yuval) has helped broaden the appeal of swing in Israel, where jazz is now part of the sonic landscape.
The pianist is levelheaded when discussing the current state of the Middle East. He diplomatically avoids any comment on the summer's unrest, focusing solely on the sounds coming form the stage and his unrelenting desire to return. Prior to his gig at Vitello's, he shared a bill with the mighty Los Angeles-based Palestinian saxophonist Zane Musa. The two got along so well that Musa joined in the following night to blast through Nechushtan's newest material. Nechushtan is happy to welcome as many voices to his compositions as he can.
"From a very early age, I wrote for classical ensembles but I always wanted to write a big band chart," Nechushtan said. "Sometimes I keep the worlds separate. Sometimes I combine them. I went to school fascinated by Third Stream, classical and jazz. You have to go from lead sheets to incredibly descriptive music. When you work with a small combo, they are an integral part of making that music come alive. You don't have to have every gesture written down. My music is descriptive when it is a combo - not as much as when it is written down - but my creative process is the same."
As an undergraduate, Nechushtan began his jazz studies in earnest, taking up with pianists Danilo Perez and Fred Hersch. "They were great teachers, but I wanted to study with New Yorkers like Uri Caine and Henry Threadgill. My idea was to come to New York and try. I didn't know that I would love it and stay."
His new album, Venture Bound, is an upbeat homage to that decision to stay. (He has lived in New York City for the last 10 years.) A small ensemble of New York-based heavy hitters help deliver his message. The dual tenor saxophone onslaught of of Donny McCaslin and John Ellis ensures a breathless display of honking soul, while drummer Adam Cruz can dance like raindrops or smash like polyrhythmic thunder. The entirely original set includes "The Gratitude Suite," which splashes Eastern European modes over tight harmonies aided by trumpeter Duane Eubanks, while "Haunted Blues" features the pianist's hard-bop swagger encircling the upper register. The engaging, accessbile album is squarely focused in the pocket with the occasional sprinkle of ancient modes to reflect the pianist's diverse background.
Undettered by the turmoil in his homeland, Nechushtan will continue to tour there. While he and his family have settled in New York, the lure of his roots is irresistible. "it's a matter of playing to people who want to go out and hear music," Nechushtan said. "If they are depressed and bombs are falling overhead, it's a challenge of a different kind. It's not a musical challenge. It starts to be a safety challenge. But I will be there no matter what."
Alon Nechushtan @ DownBeat