Marco von Orelli 6 (CD Review)

Marco Von Orelli
Close Ties on Hidden Lanes
Hat Hut CD hatOLOGY 709

Swiss trumpeter and composer Marco von Orelli is equally at home in both traditional and “out” settings. Close Ties on Hidden Lanes, a recording of his sextet for Hat Hut, is a snapshot of a band versatile enough to encompass both ends of the jazz spectrum – as well as a healthy dose of contemporary classical reference points – Messiaen, Ives, Scelsi, etc. – to boot. The recording consists of eight originals by von Orelli , which are fleshed out with arranging help from band member and pianist/synth player Michel Wintsch, a performer who isn’t averse to adding electronic rocket fire periodically to the proceedings (listen to the varied and extended cut “Marsala’s Strandgut” for examples). These two are joined by trombonist Lukas Briggen, bass clarinetist Lukas Roos, bassist Kaspar von Grünigen, and drummer Samuel Dühsler.

Make no mistake however, even when the group is moving towards post-tonal terrain, they seldom lose track of strong sense of pulsation. On “Urban Ways,” wah-wah trumpets and long drawn out pitch bends are undergirded by a post-bop groove. The rhythm section eventually coalesces in a series of pounding repeated dissonant verticals that recall Stravinsky doing the “Rite thing.” Even in the more free play environment of “Poetry,” in which talking muted brass overtake the rhythm section for an extended period, there is still a sense of urgency and forward drive in the solos. When drums, bass, and keys forcefully reenter, one doesn’t feel as if gears shift, but that the underlying groove has been maintained during their relative absence.

A particularly fetching tune which shows off all of the players, as well as von Orelli’s composing chops and imaginative sense of form, is “Narragonia,” a fifteen minute long opus that forms the album’s centerpiece. It embraces long lyrical neo noir  solo trumpet and trombone duets, chorale-like tutti passages, and impressively well controlled upper register interjections from Roos. A bracing middle section filled with chromatic coruscation from the piano and terse angular blatting responses from the winds gives way to some avant mayhem from Roos in an extended howling cadenza. Wintsch, von Orelli, and Briggen follow suit, each soloing in equally questing fashion.

After the inevitable explosive tutti, we are shifted into a more mysterious soundscape, filled with repeated note filigrees, whole tone piano riffs, and low register glissandi. Another cadenza, this time from trombone, is accompanied by synth, a  bit of prepared piano, and alternately shimmering and terse percussion textures. Gradually, von Orelli and Roos reassert themselves, and the opening chorale, deconstructed, lined out, and elaborately ornamented, brings us full circle. The interwoven chromatic lines from the piano and brass interjections reintroduce an even more ecstatic version of the opening chorale, which brings the composition to a tense and dissonant conclusion. Close Ties on Hidden Lanes brings together notation and improvisation, freedom and structure, chamber music and jazz in an amalgamation that suggests vibrant ways forward on each of these musical thoroughfares.


Highly defined low end

Joe Morris Bass Quartet
High Definition
Hat Hut hatOLOGY 670

Listeners may be more familiar with Joe Morris as an ace free jazz guitarist; but since circa 2000 he’s also regularly performed and recorded as an upright bassist. Joining him on his latest CD for Hat Hut, High Definition, are trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, saxophonist Allan Chase, and drummer Luther Gray.

The quartet is capable of fulsome free jazz full frontal assaults; their collective might on “Morning Group” creates a massed swath of atonal counterpoint that is truly something to behold. Conversely, they’re an egalitarian collective; each player gets a chance to shine in extended solos; the rhythm section on equal footing with the horn players. Gray’s powerful drumming on “Topics” is a standout for the percussionist. Morris’ walking lines create melodic pathways and a propulsive, dancing groove on “Skeleton.” Later in the tune, Bynum creates a self-contained, angular dialogue between the upper and lower registers of his trumpet; two solos for the price of one! Chase adds an extra bass voice by playing baritone here; his blurting interjections are a nice contrast to Morris’ fluid, walking lines.

High Definition references more traditional jazz elements as well. “Land Mass” contains a swinging, almost West Coast style, tune, which is presented as a conventional head. Still, the players chaff at staying entirely in the pocket; Chase and Bynum distresses the tune with skronky angularity and breathy sound effects during the solo sections. Eventually, these roles take on a juxtaposed relationship; the saxophonist breaks into a Parker-esque alto solo, while the trumpeter continues to tread avant terrain. In lesser hands, this might seem like a schizophrenic duality; but the duo here play these signatures against each other with wit and musicality. “All-in-One” features a memorable head, played tutti, which could have drifted off the bandstand during the 1950s, were it not subjected to present-day permutations during the solos.

The recording ends with “The Air has Color.” Free in form and further out in style, it features adept duo interplay from the horns that’s occasionally reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s early, post-tonal melodies. Morris grounds the proceedings with emphatic underpinning down low; while Gray alternates between more assertive percussive interjections and tastefully articulating a reminder of the pulse with textural flurries around the edges of the phrase.

 Thus, containing a panoply of avant-jazz playing styles without abandoning swing or bebop as touchstones, High Definition is a stirring example of contemporary players successfully integrating tradition and innovation.

 Joe Morris Bass Quartet