Still, but still lively (CD Review)

Aidan Baker

Still Life

Prima CD 002

Aidan Baker is probably best known for his soundscapes that involve droning guitars and ample distortion. But this time out, on his Prima full length Still Life, the Toronto native left the guitars at home altogether. Instead, he performs all of the instruments himself, focusing on piano, electronic manipulations, upright bass, and drums.

Still Life contains four compositions, each exceeding ten minutes in duration, that combine the gradual, inexorable drive of slowcore with inflections of a modern jazz rhythm section and flourishes of avant-classical. Baker doesn’t shy away from crunching dissonance where required. A signature example is the opening of “Refuge from Oblivion,” where cascades of punctilious piano disrupt the calm surface that pervaded the previous track.

Often, multiple layers of rhythm compete for supremacy, creating a multifaceted, but never cluttered, interplay. All the while, there is a slow-brewing underlying pulse that undergirds the whole with a supply architectural sensibility.

Artists seeking to combine experimental music and jazz should take note of Aidan’s fluent amalgamations.

Travis Reuter’s Rotational Templates (CD Review)

Rotational Templates
Travis Reuter Quintet (Travis Reuter, guitar; Jeremy Viner, tenor saxophone; Bobby Avey, Fender Rhodes; Chris Tordini, bass; Jason Nazary, drums)

New Focus Recordings

After its commodification and some excess smooth jazz hybridization in the eighties and nineties, jazz fusion became a somewhat maligned genre. But if you’re fusing jazz signatures and rock instrumentation with the “right stuff,” its flexible profile can be a vehicle for heady music-making and imaginative improvisations. Guitarist Travis Reuter is not only a fine jazz-rock exponent and bandleader; as a composer, he references contemporary classical music, naming modernists such as Elliott Carter as well as the New Complexity composers as interests. On his debut album as leader, Rotational Templates, titles such as “Singular Arrays” and “Flux Derivatives,” as well as the intricately constructed pieces to which they are appended, demonstrate this connection.

Of course, Reuter isn’t the only musician exploring this particular amalgam. Tyshawn Sorey and Matthew Shipp have long been interested in similar integrations of avant-classical into jazz. But Reuter adds a layer of fusion to the mix, giving us an ample dose of structured yet nimble riffing, reminiscent in places of Alan Holdsworth, that suits the ornate constructions of his hybrid compositions.

His collaborators make strong contributions as well. Avey’s linear solos dovetail with Reuter’s melodies in a savory duet on “Singular Arrays.” Meanwhile, Viner and Reuter join to play a unison head on “Flux Derivatives,” but then diverge for their own solo turns. Viner’s is filled with ecstatic, free jazz inflected, angularities and the occasional stratospheric wail. He’s also exemplary on “Residency at 20 (Part 2)” adding exultant altissimo passages and post-blues flourishes to its avant jazz template. Tordini and Nazary create fulsome grooves that propel the action but are never obtrusive. Joined by Avey, they create piquant post-tonal changes and flexible phrases that undergird the soloists with fascinating harmonic contours.

All of this is accomplished without losing a sense of jazz’s swinging vitality: quite a feat for a debut!

Sanda Weigl at 92YT tonight

Bucharest born singer Sanda Weigl will be performing at the 92nd Street Y Tribeca tonight. She’s celebrating the release of Gypsy in a Tree, her new album of Romanian folk music inflected with jazz, rock, and out there sounds.

She joined by a diverse group of collaborators: Stomu and Satoshi Takeishi, Shoko Nagai, Doug Wieselman, and Ben Stapp; a rock band, a gypsy band led by Emil Bizga, and appearances by Anthony Coleman, Ned Rothenberg and Ljova Zurbin.

You can check out a stream of Gypsy in a Tree, as well as show details, below.

Friday, April 22 at the 92Y Tribeca,
200 Hudson Street, NYC.
Doors open at 8 p.m. for the 9 p.m. show.
$15 in advance, $18 at the door.

Princeton Record Exchange prices a rare jazz LP

Princeton Record Exchange has posted this video clip showing their process for evaluating a pricing a rare Hank Mobley jazz LP. True, $1800 is out of the price range of most – even enthusiasts – but it’s fun to see how rarities are assessed. Consider it an “Antiques Road Show” episode for record geeks!

Oh, and here’s what it sounds like:

Hudson leads Genre benders/blenders in debut CD

Galactic Diamonds
Steve Hudson Chamber Ensemble
Groovaholic Music CD

New York based composer and pianist Steve Hudson performs his compositions with several groups. He’s currently working in a quartet setting with violinist Zack Brock, singing cellist Jody Redhage, and percussionist Martin Urbach. The group just released their debut CD and will be touring in Europe in March 2011.

All of the members of the Steve Hudson Chamber Ensemble are skilled genre benders and genre blenders, able to adroitly move between styles such as jazz, tango, and avant classical – and many points in between. “Tune with Tango” (video below) is a signature example of their simpatico sense of ensemble and deftly phrased, gently articulated, yet still zesty sense of rhythm.

A more eclectic offering is the title tune, which moves from fusion tinged modern jazz to a lushly harmonized neoromantic coda. There are tender stretches too, like the ballad “Song for John Lennon.” It’s one of Hudson’s most affecting solo turns; he combines impressionist post-bop chord voicings with wistful waltzing.

Galactic Diamonds is indeed a versatile outing; and by no means does it only showcase its leader. Brock lends a bluegrass fiddle’s inflections and gentle swing to “Keep it Simple.” Redhage crafts a cantabile, double-stop laden solo on “Moving On” and doubles her cello line with supple vocalise on “PG.” Urbach never swamps the acoustic instruments, but still makes his presence felt in fulsome grooves, as on the effusively syncopated “Speak Out.”

Meanwhile, Hudson doesn’t restrict himself to just playing piano. He plays cafe jazz solos on melodica on the lilting “Para.” On “Funky Hobbit,” he tears it up on a Fender Rhodes electric piano, moving the ensemble closer to ‘out improv.’ Both Brock and Redhage are encouraged to shred a bit in response to Hudson’s enthusiastic acid jazz riffing.

Whether pushing the envelope with energetic improvisatory exertions or crafting more gradually developing essays, the Steve Hudson Ensemble is consistently engaging. Galactic Diamonds is a thoroughly enjoyable recording.

RIP Billy Taylor (1921-2010)

We’re saddened to learn of the passing yesterday of Dr. Billy Taylor. He was one of the towering forefathers of jazz education and a fine pianist. An articulate spokesman for jazz, in later years he became well known for raising awareness of the genre as a television personality, notably as a regular contributor to CBS Sunday Morning.

Here is Taylor in a duo setting with John Lewis.