woensdag 16 maart 2011

Verneri Pohjola - Aurora ****

American jazz journalists seldom show any intrest in European jazz. EST is the only European band that ever got on the cover of Downbeat, which says a lot. However: the European scene has a lot to offer. In Scandinavia alone there seems to be plenty of intresting jazz musicians.
One I got to know thanks to the German Act-label is trumpet player Verneri Pohjola. Upon hearing the first notes, you think: this must be Norway, someone like Nils Petter Molvaer or Arve Henriksen. Wrong! Pohjola is from Finland, and this cd (his debut) was released there in 2009. It was quite a success, and now Act reissues it to give it the international audience it deserves.
 The cd starts very solemnly and slowly. The second piece is more uptempo, very well constructed, clocking in at about 12 minutes, with a bass clarinet and a string quartet adding classical and folky colours, with some heavy drumming, a beautiful piano solo, and so on.
The mood will shift a lot on this cd: Pohjola differs the instrumentation from piece to piece, creating a rich palette of musical colours.
Pohjola must be a fan of Miles Davis, since he tackles Rodrigo's Concerto De Aranjuez, but he does it in an entirely different manner, reworking it as a trumpet/bass duo for the biggest part.
Great playing througout, not only of Pohjola himself. He seems to stem from a musical family. His father, bassist Pekka Pohjola, plays on a couple of tracks on this recording but died soon afterwards. This cd is dedicated to him.

vrijdag 11 maart 2011

Kip Hanrahan - Desire Develops an Edge ****

Even 27 years later I still have deep memories of the excitement I felt when opening the hard cardboard cover of this double LP. The strange black and white photography was very artful and tasty, with a mysterious touch to it. It was upon reading a 4 1/2 star review in Downbeat that I went to the local record shop, and to my enormous surprise found a copy of Desire Develops and Edge (still a mysterious title to me).
Not only the DB-review aroused my intrest. But it fascinated me how one man whose name was 'Kip' (which means chicken in my language) and who was hardly a musician himself  (he only touches some percussion once in a while)  could convince so many interesting musicans from totally different backgrounds - such as Jamaladeen Tacuma, Arto Lindsay, Ricky Ford, John Scofield, Milton Cardona, Jerry Gonzalez, John Stubblefield and hordes of percussionists  - to create his very imaginative music. Hanrahan acts like a film director here: he assembles a cast of musicians who play different scenes of his scenario following his directions.
And it is Steve Swallow and (especially) Jack Bruce who are the stars on the set. Bruce only plays bass sparingly here (the bass chair is mostly filled by Swallow, brilliant as always), but his singing is awesome. Jacks voice has never sounded warmer than on this recording, and for a man with his recorded output, this really means something.
This record focuses on percussion, changing from South American to African flavours. Some pieces are merely rough sketches, while others are really beautifully wrought songs. The closing track Nancy (with Steve Swallow playing bass and piano) is simple and nice, and still sounds very fresh to my ears. It was a pleasure to hear it again after more than two decades. Desire Develops an Edge was the second in a long series of a (mostly) very captivating string of records by one of the most enigmatic figures on the jazz scene.
I admit some pieces on this record tend to be a bit dull, but I still consider this cd as a piece of art by a strong personality. A most welcome reissue.

woensdag 9 maart 2011

Donny McCaslin - Perpetual Motion ****

Ok, this is some kind of electric cd, since there is an electric bassplayer (Tim Lefebvre) and a Fender Rhodes, played on most tracks by Adam Benjamin (who doubles on piano once in a while), and on one track by Uri Caine. But don't be afraid: this is excellent jazz, as you quite rightfully expect from Donny Mc Caslin.
The saxophonist hasn't stopped surprising me since his debut Exile and discovery (1998) on the now defunct Naxos Jazz label. Dave Douglas and Maria Schneider were equally impressed, since they used McCaslin in their groups and on their recordings. I was particularly in awe of his trio cd Recommmended Tools of 2008, which is one of thé most astonishing saxophone trio-cd's of recent years.
This one is very different, because of the (modest) use of electric instruments, be it a Fender Rhodes, with some strong but quite dry basslines by Tim Lefebvre (he never slaps) and some sparingly used electronics added by David Binney (who also plays alto saxophone on one track).
Donny McCaslin is a real powerhouse on his tenorsaxophone,  his virtuosity is really amazing. But it serves the music right (he wrote most of the compositions himself). The music sounds like a 21st century version of jazzrock, in the best meaning of the word. Enjoy it!

maandag 7 maart 2011

Danilo Perez - Providencia ***1/2

What strikes the most on first hearing is that some pieces on this cd are heavily influenced by European classical music. The opening notes on piano could be the start of a Bach piece. And in other pieces, most obviously in the two parts of Bridge of life (starring a woodwind quintet), Perez brings music that has plenty of classical references.
Indeed, Danilo Perez - who you probably know best as the piano player of the Wayne Shorter Quartet - had a classical training when he was very young. But Perez is from Panama. No wonder then, that you hear Latin American sounds on this cd. There's plenty of percussion, for instance. But Perez has an open mind, and his musical world spans more than jazzy, classical or Latin American flavours. The highligts on this cd are his dialogues with Indian American Rudresh Mahanthappa, whose altosaxophone has an astonishingly Indian sound. Galactic Panama is a fantastic track by two musicians with two completely different backgrounds who  provoke each other to bring out the best in themselves. The same is true of The Maze, a duet in two parts.
For those who only know Perez of his work with Wayne Shorter, this cd will be a a pleasant surprise.

zaterdag 5 maart 2011

Vijay Iyer - Tirtha ***

Pianist Vijay Iyer is one of the most fascinating young jazz musicians of recent years. He is the son of Indian immigrants but is a real American, since he was raised in the US from early childhood. In his recorded work, his Indian roots were not really obvious, until now. As Iyer himself stated in his liner notes to previous cd's, he was very much influenced by his tutor Andrew Hill, and by the likes of Alice Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and even Sun Ra. Their musical traces can be heard especially in his solo piano cd of last year, a brilliant one as you hopefully know by now.
But here, on this third outing on the superb German Act-label, Iyer gives an insight in what his Indian parentage means to him. More than in his own pianoplaying, the sound of India is very prominent by his choice of partners on this cd: Prasanna (born in Chennai/Madras) on guitar and Nittin Mitta (of Hyderabad) on tabla.
The tabla is of course an Indian percussion instrument, so the Asian flavour it delivers is inevitable. But Prasanna's electric guitar, with those very eastern sounding bended notes, is even more Indian. It is Iyer who makes this music a crossing between Indian music and jazz. Tirtha hence combines the best of these worlds. This is a strange combination of hardbop and raga. Let's call it world jazzfusion or something.
The result probably isn't as strong as Iyer's Historicity and Solo albums, but it's surely the work of three great artists.