Recommended: Piero Delle Monache – “Aurum”

September 30, 2014


Piero Delle Monache - "Aurum"A curious recording that has been occupying my attention lately is Aurum, the new one from saxophonist Piero Delle Monache.   A modern fusion of sorts, it combines a contemporary style of both jazz and rock, while adding influences from Monache’s “Thunupa African Tour.”  It results in music with a pop music attractiveness that’s predisposed to occasional eccentric displays of a strange and uneven personality.  It’s the kind of album that is best measured one song at a time, because taking it as a whole doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense or result in a satisfactory answer.

“ABC” starts things out with music that is both moody and buoyant, like a sky of grey clouds and the dim sense of the sunlight beaming on their opposite side.  “Annie” follows it up with more of the same.  Monache’s sax glides lightly atop the gentle rhythms of bass and drums.  On piano, Ceccarelli shifts from a support role to that of a soloist, and his contribution carries the song forward with an equal grace.  Both songs rise up with a bit of intensity near their conclusion before dropping off into their original state.  Just a little bit of drama for a little bit of differentiation, and it sets things off for the remainder of the recording.

“Nairobi” is a hypnotically twirling play with rhythm, as piano, drums, bass and sax wind about one another, an endless loop gathered up in a net of electronics and effects.  “Fedex” finds a nifty balance between lite-jazz sweetness and space-jazz fuzziness.  “Un giorno come un altro” is a pretty folk-jazz tune that brings together a lilting tenor sax together with an acoustic guitar, mbira, and the soothing hush of brushes.  “La Festa” has a similar consistency, but is upbeat and chipper and shows its South African jazz influence proud.

Several songs are mere vignettes, too fully realized to be considered an interlude, too brief to be thought of as proper songs.  The alluring “Miramare” has the dancing atmospherics of a Nils Petter Molvaer soundscape, whereas “Blu 1″ is reminiscent of a Bill Frisell concoction of the ethereal and the rustic.  “Angeli e demoni,” on the other hand, is a solemn duet between sax and piano, a straight-forward performance of a song with nothing to hide.

The album’s curious nature sees it through to the end.  The finale of “Marts Dub” has a thick, but atmospheric dance beat juxtaposed with ambient flourishes from sax and piano.  Like most of the songs on this intriguing album, it seems to have something and yet nothing at all to do with that which preceded it… an unpredictability that reveals a cohesive element only when viewed in the rear view mirror, if even that.  And it’s that effect which keeps bringing me back to this personable recording.

Your album personnel:  Piero Delle Monache (tenor & soprano saxes), Mauro Campobasso (electric & acoustic guitars, samples, live electronics), Giovanni Ceccarelli (piano, keyboards), Tito Mangialajo Rantzer (double bass), Alessandro Marzi (drums, percussion) and guests:  Luca Aquino (trumpet), Bepi D’Amato (clarinet), Mark Bardoscia (bass), Tati Valle (vocals) and Othnell Mangoma (percussion, mbira).      .

Released on Parco della Musica Records.

Jazz from the Pescara, Italy scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3


Recommended: Hasier Oleaga – “Cantus Caterva II”

September 29, 2014


Hasier Oleaga - "Cantus Caterva II"Cantus Caterva II leads out with its heart.  Opening song “Lekitto eta kitto” immediately shows what this album is all about… songs with a vibrant head, rich with texture and liveliness that leads right into finely crafted melodies that were made to be remembered.  But it’s not just about great opening lines.  Shifts in tone and tempo string the melodies out, unravel them with one surprise after the next, yet develop in a way so natural that the surprises seem expected all along in the first place.  The way the opening bombast of wind instruments suddenly drops off for the light rainfall of keyboards, the saxophones modifying their behavior to fit in with the new leader.  The switch, then, over to a spirited piano solo as the instigator back to the opening bombast possesses an alluring fluidity that carries the ear effortlessly across the expanse of a song that flirts with something approaching the epic… if not for its composure and tasteful restraint.

And that is how Hasier Oleaga drives his newest album from first note to last.

The excitable rhythms of “Weyland Txirrindularia” lead from an opening bass solo, to stick work, to some punchy sax accompaniment.  The way languorous statements of melody are interspersed through the dynamic fields of percussion is just more evidence of the changes that reflect one of this album’s two strengths.  The other is the melody, and this song offers up a diamond as shiny as the opening track.  “Argitasunaren alde iluna” also lays out a carpet thick with rhythmic threads, but weaves intensity and moodiness into its pattern instead.

After what teases as a modern piece with an intro thick and lumbering, “Solvitur Ambulando” surprises with some swing, dancing light and lively across the dance floor.  “Niger Hole” also pulls a quick costume change, but this time shifts from a modern post-bop piece to something more free and volatile.  But even as the song enters states of agitation, the melody is still in the mix.

The ballad “Mayi” has a breezy appeal, as if its profession of love is sincere but totally off-the-cuff.  The album ends with the hot and cold blues of “Zure gaileta neure kafean bustitzen duzunean.”  There’s a tone of finality to the song, a melancholy weariness fitting of an album that put so much of its heart into the crafting of a set of beautiful melodies and a plan how to best present them.

This is one of those recordings that achieves a modicum of greatness by simply doing everything right and augmented by some well-times bursts of excellence.

Your album personnel:  Hasier Oleaga (drums), Mikel Andueza (alto sax), Julen Izarra (tenor sax), Iñaki Salvador (piano, keyboards), Jorge Abbeys (guitar), Jan Piris (bass), and Fernando Neira (electric bass).

Released on Errabal Jazz.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3


Recommended: Jason Steele’s Messenger Collective – “Vol.1: Wirewalker”

September 28, 2014


Jason Steele's Messenger Collective - "Vol.1 Wirewalker"With Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk across the expanse of New York City’s twin towers serving as both inspiration and lens, Jason Steele offers up Vol.1: Wirewalker… a mesmerizing series of vignettes that seek to give Steele’s interpretation of Petit’s feat.  Jason Steele’s Messenger Collective have crafted a soundtrack to the retelling of a live event from long ago.  These are songs of the present as accompaniment to images of the past, presented like chapters in a story, which play out with a cinematic series of transformations slowly revealed with the patience, precision and beauty of origami.

Most tracks are heavy with the cinematic atmosphere of a chamber jazz recording.  The heart of this album is the trio “First Walk: Notre Dame,” “Second Walk: Sydney,” and “North/South Tower.”  Their ominous tones and eccentric delivery are reminiscent of some of fellow guitarist Bill Frisell’s stranger periods, when oddball compositions of an exquisite beauty were informed by fearfulness and whimsy, both.  Most notable is the compare and contrast between the guitar and violin of Steele and Emi Tanabe.  Sometimes they cheerily romp about together and other times they adopt a solemn tone, but each time their emotional template is in synch.  It’s a quality that resonates strongly when juxtaposed with the contrast in deliveries… one that is punctuated with carefully enunciated notes and the other that hums evenly and suddenly breaks into lofty expressions of song.

“Spy vs. Spy” is fueled by a strong dose of Brit-rock exuberance, and its pop music flair continues to influence even when the song discards its form and slowly disperses.  “Prelude” applies a softer touch and displays more reserve, yet is no less compelling.  The sway of Johnson’s bass arco is the driving force of this song’s easy-going motion.

James Davis’s trumpet often strikes the middle ground between guitar and violin, incorporating a bit of the qualities of each into his contribution.  It’s best represented on “From the Rooftop of the World,” where he takes to soaring while also matching guitar’s rhythmic component.  Taking into account Davis’s participation on Matt Ulery’s large ensemble chamber jazz projects, his inclusion for this session was a natural choice.

Steele incorporates elements from Petit’s life into the song.  “Second Walk: Sydney” utilizes bass line notes from the Australian National Anthem, symbolizing Petit’s walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  Similarly, the songs “North Tower” and “South Tower” are formed around time markings from the Petit documentary, Man on Wire.  And “Through the Eyes of Annie Allix” adds spoken word to represent Petit’s girlfriend and her role in his adventures.

An absolutely gorgeous album.

Your album personnel:  Jason Steele (guitar), Emi Tanabe (violin), James Davis (trumpet), and Douglas Johnson (bass).

Released on Altered Records.

Music from the Chicago scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3


Philippe Petit

As an aside, I highly recommend the documentary, Man on Wire.  It’s absolutely fascinating.  A great example of a documentarian taking an obscure event and revealing its significance in a way that’s both thoughtful and entertaining.  Here’s a LINK to the movie site.  It may or may not still be streaming on Netflix Instant.

Recommended: Espen Eriksen & Gunnar Halle – “Psalm”

September 27, 2014


Espen Eriksen, Gunnar Halle - "Psalm"A lovely new recording is from the duo of pianist Espen Eriksen and trumpeter Gunnar Halle.  On Psalm, the duo reinterpret church songs, focusing them through a lens of Nordic Jazz and then dispersing the identity of the songs through improvisation.

A challenge to reinterpreting old, beloved songs is resisting the pull of nostalgia and the urge to express the song as pictured by memory.  The duo accomplishes this by hanging their hat on the melody and only the melody, using that as their tether to the original material while simultaneously utilizing it as an escape hatch to follow their own creative vision.

This isn’t the first time these two have teamed up and delved into the theme of church music.  2010’s Meditations on Christmas kept to the holiday songbook, and of most relevance, Eriksen and Halle were more direct in their interpretations of the originals, playing them closer to the vest.  It’s a nice change of pace on 2014’s Psalm to hear the duo allowing themselves the license to follow their own creative vision when shaping the psalms into something more expansive.

The solemn notes of “Se, vi går opp til Jerusalem” set the mood, creating a baseline from which to modulate both temperature and tone upward.

For instance, the incremental optimism of “Velt alle dine veie” is the hopefulness of a sun patiently rising above the horizon, signalling a new day and a new opportunity.  On the other hand, “Kirken den er et gammelt hus” is steeped in contemplation, a mere ripple on the surface of the serenity.  Working the middle ground is “Å, for djup i Jesu kjærleik,” for which the instruments sing more than express, focusing on the tangibility of melodic fragments and reducing the reliance on elusive atmospherics.

Of all the tracks, “Noen må våke i verdens natt” is the most effusive, putting itself out there and discarding the distant presence of other album tracks.  Eriksen’s piano broods in its way, but it works to develop a big voice.  A quavering trumpet enters and leaves its flight pattern, Halle weighting the effect of his appearance heavier than the frequency.  The song is a winding path that leads far and away from its opening melody, but just when it seems disappeared forever, the melody pops back into sight as the song reaches its conclusion.

Other songs that lend bits of differentiation to the album are “Vend bort din vreide,” which swells up with an abiding cheerfulness and “Jesus, det eneste,” which sees trumpet stretching out a bit, highlighted by sudden rises and descents.

“O bli hos meg!” ends the album on the same solemn note with which it began.  It’s a closing of the circle that ties the album up with a satisfying sense of cohesion and finality.

Just plain beautiful.

Your album personnel:  Espen Eriksen (piano) and Gunnar Halle (trumpet).

Released on the Grappa label.

In addition to the two artist sites linked to above, the duo has a Facebook page dedicated to the project.

Jazz from the Oslo, Norway scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3


These are videos that I like: Thomas Savy – “Stones,” live at Les Victoires du Jazz

September 26, 2014


Today’s featured video is from a concert by bass clarinetist Thomas Savy, performing the song “Stones” live at Les Victoires du Jazz.

“Stones” is a tune from Savy’s 2014 release Bleu Archipel 2, recently recommended here, on Bird is the Worm.

Your video personnel:  Thomas Savy (bass clarinet), Michael Felberbaum (guitar), Pierre de Bethmann (piano, Fender Rhodes), Stéphane Kerecki (contrabass), and Karl Jannuska (drums).


Have a great start to your weekend!