Jul 12 2014
Chris Morrissey – “North Hero”
There was nothing wrong with Chris Morrissey‘s 2009 debut, The Morning World. There was plenty to like about his nice mix of catchy tunes and rambling thought-provokers, but it left the impression that Morrissey was certain what he wanted to talk about, but unsure how to get the conversation started. The experience, and time, clearly has seen a shift in that matter. Morrissey’s 2013 release North Hero has a concision that his debut lacked, a presentation of a thesis statement for each song, so that no matter how tangential the music became in the course of the performance, there was never any doubt about where the subject began and where it would eventually end up.
The sole reason for this change is the melody.
North Hero gives the sense that the starting point for each song’s creation began with crafting the melody, and that only when it was perfect would it be okay to begin charting the outward bound routes. And with any truly great melody, it possesses an irresistible gravitational pull to return to it throughout the song’s duration. Thankfully, on North Hero, Chris Morrissey’s quartet obeys that particular law of physics, because it’s a series of one memorable melody after the other.
A great melody has a certain mutability. Within each great pop music melody lays dormant the potential for a great jazz melody. There are far more current examples of this, but the general acceptance and knowledge of John Coltrane’s classic take on “My Favorite Things” resonates even to this day. That mutability of a great melody holds for more than one direction. The use of Jazz melodies in modern hip hop, jazz musicians covering indie-rock artists and electronica acts incorporating jazz into their sets… the melody is the passport between genres.
Add to this the trend of a new generation of jazz musicians, raised on all kinds of music that often bleed into their own visualization of jazz music, and the genre cross-pollination evinces an even stronger effect on the Jazz of Today. And like many of Jazz’s newer generations, Chris Morrissey is just as likely to gig with non-jazz groups. So it shouldn’t be surprising that North Hero has elements of indie-rock as strong as those of Jazz. Jazz projects aside, Morrissey has also gigged with a diverse set of non-jazz acts like Dosh, Andrew Bird, Ben Kweller and Sara Bareilles.
Crossing music borders is going to reveal the parallels and commonalities between music influences and expressions. This clarity allows the musician to better honor the rules of any one particular genre while simultaneously arming them with methods to remain unbound by them. That is North Hero is a nutshell.
The urgent tempo and bubbly cheerfulness of a track like “The Spirit Of Chanhassen” and the melancholic lullaby sighs of “Minor Silverstein” recall the hard bop one-two combo of McCoy Tyner’s opening salvo on The Real McCoy (“Passion Dance” and “Contemplation“). The former, however, breaks into interludes of curling melodic fragments and snappy drum bursts more reminiscent of alt-country act Richmond Fontaine. The latter, on the other hand, has a weary sadness more beholden to indie star Bonnie Prince Billy than the hard bop legend.
Clifford Jordan’s name should be in play here, too. Both “Roman Subway” and “Electric Blanket” share Jordan’s predilection for melodies and tones with a strong cinematic presence that would often build up into dramatic, focused outbursts of intensity, but both hint at pop music and rock influences where Jordan was developing his own style of spiritual jazz. The comparisons are to be found in the melodic seeds, not the way in which the songs eventually bloomed.
Some songs weight the jazz-non-jazz ratio to one extreme or the other. “Midland, Texas Picnic Area” brings the heat and raw exuberance of modern post-bop, whereas “Hands Crystals Anderson” sets off with a rock tempo and pop music melody and never really looks back. On the other hand, “One Worn Mile” drawls out a thick blues, keeping things to a nice, cool stroll, and adds some diversity to the affair without detracting from the album’s identity. Same to be said for “Lullaby For Twins,” which accentuates the album’s contemplative nature… a quality that reveals itself in glimpses and insinuations when it’s not front and center.
The personnel in Morrissey’s quartet are well suited for crossing genre borders. Drummer Mark Guiliana’s career epitomizes it, in fact, whether it’s his electronica jam out with pianist Brad Mehldau (“Mehliana”), the inventive “world” jazz sessions from Brad Shepik and Lionel Loueke, or the modern jazz-funk collaboration with pianist Jason Lindner (“Now vs. Now”)… Guiliana is a chameleon-for-hire. Pianist Aaron Parks has been a go-to guy for an all-pro line-up of modern jazz stars, with names like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Terence Blanchard, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Lage Lund calling for his services, and then there’s his forward-thinking modern recording Invisible Cinema, the modern masterpiece of James Farm, and his recent solo release, the introspective Arborescence. In addition to collaborating with Dosh, Andrew Bird and Bon Iver, saxophonist Michael Lewis is a member of progressive jazz trio Happy Apple, who counts Dave King of the Bad Plus among its members. It also seems relevant to mention that Morrissey, Guiliana, and Parks all have worked with jazz vocalist Gretchen Parlato… who, as a vocalist, is keenly aware of the latent power of a well-crafted melody.
It’s those melodies that make North Hero something special.
Your album personnel: Chris Morrissey (bass), Aaron Parks (piano), Mike Lewis (saxophone), and Mark Guiliana (drums).
Released on Sunnyside Records.
Jazz from Minneapolis, MN, via the NYC scene.
Sep 9 2014
Recommended: Callum G’Froerer – “City Speaks”
It’s how City Speaks doesn’t seem quite finished that registers as its most appealing quality… that the grand idea visualized in its conception came so very close to materializing, but fell just short. This could be considered a flaw. But the thing about flaws is that, often, they are responsible for some of the more intriguing outcomes. That happens, here, on the debut album by trumpeter Callum G’Froerer. There are times when City Speaks gives the impression of moving off in an entirely different direction, one which transcends genre and hints at something quite new, something quite different.
Songs like “Virginia” and the title-track “City Speaks” present the most lovely shimmering guitar accompaniment to gentle surges of skittering rhythm as the low moans and high sighs of trumpet and sax coexist in a tenuous state of harmony. These tracks have a striking allure, and they give the sense that they could undergo a metamorphosis at any moment, becoming something comfortingly familiar or something wondrously alien.
And then there are tracks that are more conventional. “Silver Platter” is a mid-tempo post-bop tune, a vehicle for trumpet to do its thing. Guitar switches to a more traditional role, and like trumpet before it, solos in the range from sedate missives to fiery proclamations. There are a few bass solos of note, too, but mostly it, along with drums, keeps the soloists tethered to the group dynamic. “The Thinker” is a bit more punchy than its counterparts, which let thoughts linger in the air, whereas “Sweetness x3” sits at the edge of combustion. A slow tune with a slow burn, yet this ballad suggests that it could ignite into a firestorm with a snap of the fingers.
There’s nothing wrong with the conventional tracks. In fact, they deliver plenty of wonderful passages. But after that very different, very attractive opening track, the subsequent conventional tracks don’t seem quite to pick up where it left off. But they also don’t stray too far away, so that when the gripping interlude “Trio” arrives, with its fluttering of sax and trumpet and its high pitched atmospherics, it doesn’t at all sound out of place or jarring in the flow of one song to the next.
The glue that binds the album together is “Gemmani.” A trumpet ballad that bends like moonlight, it bridges the divide between the traditional and unconventional album tracks. When the song bubbles to life with a flurry of activity, there’s no doubt that it will return to a peaceful state. And it does. The trumpet section sounds like it would be right at home in your everyday modern jazz piece, but the way in which the group swells up and coalesces around the trumpet solo provides it a context that is most certainly not an everyday modern jazz piece.
And it’s that push and pull between what-could-be and what-almost-was that makes City Speaks a compelling listen. It’s what keeps bringing me back to this album over and over and has me interested to hear what comes next. That this was a debut recording is all kinds of promising
Your album personnel: Callum G’Froerer (trumpet), Andrew Brookes (alto sax), Brett Thompson (guitar), Alex Boneham (bass), and Hugh Harvey (drums).
Released in 2013 on the Listen/Hear Collective.
Jazz from the Melbourne, Australia scene.
Available at: Bandcamp | eMusic | Amazon MP3
A few other notes:
There are two bonus tracks. Kynan Tan re-mixes the title-track, and it works pretty well as the album’s “final” track. While I’m as interested as the next person to hear other people re-mix cool songs, I really hate when they get tacked onto the end of a proper recording. Re-mixes are the kind of thing that Soundcloud was made for. That said, Tan’s remix of “City Speaks” is a rare exception and works remarkably well in tandem with the rest of the album.
There’s an additional bonus track “Rocky Mountain” that is provided in download form if you buy the CD through the label’s Bandcamp page. As of the time of this writing, I haven’t yet heard it, so, obviously, no opinion provided. If that changes at some point, I’ll update this review.
By davesumner • Jazz Recommendations, Jazz Recommendations - 2013 Releases • 0