The Two-Fer Series, featuring albums from any year, and any artist, and for any theme that strikes me at the moment.
Today’s column features: Jesse Van Ruller Chambertones TrioThe Ninth Planet and Patrick Dunst TripodEncounters…
… two chamber jazz recordings that I enjoy listening to first thing in the morning or late at night after a very long day.
Jesse Van Ruller Chambertones Trio – The Ninth Planet
Following some straight-ahead releases on the Criss Cross label, guitarist Jesse van Ruller created his Chambertones Trio. The sound derived from guitar, bass clarinet, and bass was an extreme departure of what came before. It’s also resulted in some very compelling music great for quiet moments watching the snow fall silently over the city.
It’s a sparse album, a quality further enhanced by the absence of a drummer. As such, group interplay becomes even more essential, both to bind the music in a cohesive entity and also to prevent it from becoming a snooze-fest. Interplay becomes key to it all. And it’s The Ninth Planet‘s strength.
On the up-tempo pieces, I can’t help but think of molecules spinning around one another when this music plays. The trio members gain a velocity that gives their individual parts an impression of a singular whole. The notes generate patterns and paths that stay within close orbit of one another to where it becomes difficult to differentiate one from the other, a sense of combustible energy catalyzed in a very tiny space. The title-track “Ninth Planet” has the trio members scooting and darting about yet expressing a solitary point of view.
And on the slower tunes (of which this album has far more of), the music gently rocks and sways in space, generating a serene atmosphere ripe for daydreams and lazy afternoons. Album opener “Ruimte” brings that aspect right to the front of the stage, as Roelofs bass clarinet establishes a languorous pace that Ruller and Roelofs are happy to match. The defacto lullaby “The Way the Whole Thing Ends” just barely hovers overhead, sounds like it might drift away at any moment, but remains.
Just a great example of how to do so much with so little. The Ninth Planet is also a great example of what musicians are doing as they explore the Chamber Jazz subgenre.
Patrick Dunst Tripod works a different aspect of the Chamber Jazz subgenre. Bringing in more of the folk and classical elements original to the earliest manifestations of Chamber Jazz, he’s created a richly textured set of compositions, though did so without sacrificing the necessary room to breathe that performers require to interact in this setting.
This is music that works the angles and schemes the melodies. A surging rhythm will give way to strings that melt post-bop ice into a warm ballad. Alt-classical passages are trail heads that lead up to world-jazz constructs. And all the colors and brushstrokes make the silences of empty canvass so much more powerful and evocative.
Your album personnel: Patrick Dunst (reeds), Igmar Jenner (violin), Christian Bakanic (accordion), Michael Lagger (piano), Reinhold Schmölzer (percussion), Valentin Czihak (bass), and guests: Tjasa Fabjancic (vocals), Fiston Mwanza (spoken poetry), and Berndt Luef (vibes).
Opening track “Prolog / Epilog” epitomizes much of what’s great about this album. It begins with quirky statements and a driving tempo, then transitions to warm strings and a soulful sax. Piano is graceful, and plays in the shadows with accordion. Rhythm section flips back and forth between the two camps. Jazz, folk, and classical pronouncements are made. Though moving at an easy pace and using inside voices, this song sounds Big. But the best moments are found buried in the details.
Interplay between reeds and strings are the album’s highlight, but accordion adds some nice harmonization and contrast to strings and piano to rate a close second (as evidenced on track “The Writer”). There are some vocals, mostly non-word variety. There is a loud spoken word section on “Ville De Chien,” the album’s only real weak spot. The tune in and of itself is fine, but it’s completely out of place from the rest of the album and kills the flow. The slower tunes are the stronger of the batch, but the up-tempo pieces have their appeal. Best is when the temperature rises within the span of a particular tune, like “Flucht,” in which a spacey drift becomes rocket fuel locomotion. Guest vibes on album closer “Momo,” arguably the prettiest track on the album. Paired with accordion, it’s just too beautiful to put into words.
Encounters is one of my happier finds in the closing weeks of 2012.
For myself, there has always been a strong connection between music and reading. It’s very rare that I read anything without music accompaniment, and I often start a long day of music writing (and listening) by reading first. But the connection is far denser than that. There are books, dear to me, of which I would struggle to recall most of the basic plot points and players, and yet I can vividly recall the music playing as I read those stories. Novels by William Gibson, Thomas McGuane, Jerzy Kosinski, Clarence Cooper Jr. and Ursula Le Guin and comic series by Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Paul Jenkins, Mike Mignola, and Frank Miller.. the basic facts of those stories will fade from my memory over time, but I’ll always associate them with albums by Bill Frisell, Clifford Jordan, Mercury Rev, Benjamin Koppel, Marcin Wasilewski, Esbjorn Svensson Trio, Spiritualized, Brian Blade, and Men at Work (yes, Men at Work… I was just 12 years old, so don’t start; besides, their music paired amazingly well with Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan).
And though doubtlessly some stories pair better with some music more than others, I think that, ultimately, a bond between music and story will form if they’re the real deal, if they, as creative pieces, incite our imagination and inspire creativity within us as readers and listeners. Because, if so, then our imaginations will be the hand that intertwines story and music. Creativity is a highly flammable concept, and god bless all those who throw matches up in the air.
Anyways, when I saw the premise behind Scott Robinson Doctette‘s Bronze Nemesis, I was instantly hooked by the premise alone. Originally a set of compositions performed live in 2001, the music is based around Robinson’s love of the Doc Savage pulp fiction novels. Robinson has built compositions and song titles around the Doc Savage stories, including “storyline” notes associated with each album track, which come included with the booklet in the CD package. All of this makes for a nifty premise and an endearing effort.
Plus, the music is just plain fun.
I’m talking about the kind of fun that comes from a good story. Characters and plot and setting that pull you right into the words if you just allow yourself to be taken away. That’s what the music of Scott Robinson Doctette’s Bronze Nemesis asks of you. Enjoy the zeal with which Robinson pursued this music and the obvious love he has for its subject, both in the notes that float out of the speakers, but also in the care he took in how the CD booklet and art was presented. Allow yourself to get swept up in his enthusiasm. Why wouldn’t you? It’s fun.
Can a person enjoy this album without knowing the premise and composition attributes and references? Sure, of course. It’s sort of oddball music, in that mad scientist way… you’re not exactly sure what potion is in the vial or what the robot’s raison d’etre is, but there’s no denying the genius that went into their creation. Interesting, and maybe dangerous.
Your album personnel: Scott Robinson (composer, tenor, bass, mezzo-soprano and contra-bass saxophones, alto clarinet, flute, theremins, bird whistle, fish rattle, gong, euphonium, slap-stick, bells, chime tree, magic wand, various other percussion and instruments), Randy Sandke (trumpet), Ted Rosenthal (piano, harpsichord), Pat O’Leary (bass), Dennis Irwin (bass), and Dennis Mackrel (drums, metal tubes, treme tera).
The deep growl of menacing woodwinds commingles with theremin trills and bird whistles. Trumpets sometimes comfort, sometimes warn of dangerous times ahead. Often this music keeps its rhythmic intentions a secret, revealing itself to the listener suddenly and without warning, as if launching a hunting net. When the music does swing or bop, it evokes imagery of late night jazz clubs when the evening is young and the calendar has only barely left the 1950s behind.
Contra-bass saxophone stirs the pot on “Fortress of Solitude,” bringing its gruff, but lively energy. This album is an intricate tapestry of percussion, particularly on “The Metal Master.” The music weighs heavily toward the eccentric (and to grand effect), but the bass solo of “The Golden Man” is refreshingly succinct, and a nice plateau before the story returns to the complex. The “Land of Always-Night” opens and returns with alluring flute sections, a nifty piano reverie between the two. “The Living Fire” is an explosion of saxes and trumpet, a brief but intense conflagration. Deep voiced and resonant instruments set the tone on “The Man Who Shook the Earth.” The album ends with “The Mental Wizard,” the music providing a satisfying sense of finality to its revelry, that life goes on even after the last note has sounded.
Of course, with characters like Doc Savage, the story never ends. Fictional characters are borne from a solitary writer’s imagination, but eventually, they become part of a collective imagination, an amalgamation of the thoughts and dreams and hopes of anybody who comes in contact with that particular character. It’s a way that stories grow into something much bigger than what is encapsulated by words on a sheet of paper. Scott Robinson added his own chapter to the Doc Savage story, and it’s a richer tableau because of it.
It appears that the album is only available for purchase as CD and Vinyl, from the label site HERE. And also from the Downtown Music Gallery site HERE. The album may become available at CDBaby and/or other outlets at some future date.
And now, for the director’s cut of this review:
As mentioned earlier, when I heard the premise of Bronze Nemesis, I was already hooked. For my own amusement (and, perhaps, yours too), I decided to jot down some stream-of-conscious notes as I listened to the album for the first time. I did this before reading the liner notes or even perusing the song titles. I decided to do a one-draft music-to-word association on my first album listen. I include those below as I initially wrote them, editing only for egregious crimes against grammar. I also include with them the actual song titles and a few of Robinson’s notes from the CD booklet.
Track One, Dave Sumner (me): Something evil, slithering through the darkness. A force rises up to challenge it.
Track One Song Title: “Man of Bronze”
Track One, Scott Robinson notes: “A musical portrait of the amazing Doc Savage, the ‘arch enemy of evil’… [the conclusion] serves as a transition which portends the looming dangers Doc will face.”
T2, DS: Exotic locales, mystery in the air, can you trust the helpful person? Perhaps they work for the bad guy. Be careful, an alien presence is near. A beautiful woman steps into the center of the room. She gestures to you to come dance. You dance for minutes that go on for a glorious eternity. You are about to kiss, when the an evil presence reveals itself.
T2 Song Title: “The Secret in the Sky”
T2, SR notes: “An amazing intelligence… streaks of fire and destruction…”
T3, DS: The bleak winter landscape is worsened by the incessant blizzard hampering your progress through the mountainous countryside. The dark castle awaits. Is she there, held captive? And what casts the shadow that is not far behind?
T3 Song Title: “He Could Stop the World”
T3, SR notes: “A crazed genius wields an unopposable force… which can halt all forms of communication, alter men’s minds and even affect the climate…”
T4, DS: Your sports car races through the early dusk night. The city lights are just ahead. You will be meeting the secret contact at Nellie’s bar on the west side. That is where you will be told the secret location. It’s a happy bar, and you are a bit sad to be there strictly for business. The pianist plays cheery tunes.
T4 Song Title: “Fortress of Solitude”
T4, SR notes: “…Doc’s secret laboratory retreat, hidden away… in the Arctic wastes… Here he can work, free of any distractions…”
T5, DS: What lies behind the glowing door? An inhuman sound issues forth. Bravely, you step through. Swirling mist, it seems to speak to you. For such an ominous presence, the words are soft and calming. Some monsters are really friends. It seeks revenge, and it asks you to help it.
T5 Song Title: “Mad Eyes”
T5, SR notes: “…suddenly the air is filled with hideous creatures, where seemingly nothing was before! …the approach of impending madness.”
T6, DS: [Editor's Note: This song begins with a voice announcing, "The Metal Master!"]. A futuristic iron creature with antique adornments creaks to life. Its joints ache, its gears shift unwillingly, and rust scratches and scrapes in metal veins. The metal man moves slowly, then picks up steam. He is almost lifelike. He approaches to within a foot of you. He looks you over grimly, matching your gaze, a grim look upon his metal face. He smiles. Hero and sidekick are re-united. You kick back with a beer and talk about old adventures and plans for new ones. Drunkenly, you walk off together, into the night and what it may bring.
T6 Song Title: “The Metal Master”
T6, SR notes: “A power hungry scientist develops a machine… the world is helpless before the Metal Master.”
T7, DS: Rain hits the shelter, accentuating the loneliness of the mission. Even heroes get the blues.
T7 Song Title: “The Golden Man”
T7, SR notes: “A golden man rises miraculously from the sea with the power to peer into the future…”
T8, DS: The moonlight calls out sweet notes of cold comfort. The breeze is gentle, brings comfort to an injured body and bruised soul. The light of the moon coalesces, and a bridge is cut from it. Moon creates, small and lithe, come down from the moon and help the hero along, carrying you to your destination. Even as you see all about you as it happens, you dream. And in dream, you find relief from the pain, and understanding of what’s at stake if you fail. Wisdom doesn’t always come easy or make sense, but you understand more now than you did then. When you wake, the moon creatures are gone, and the sun bares down on you mercilessly.
T8 Song Title: “The Land of Always-Night”
T8, SR notes: “A hidden underground world of perpetual darkness… a Land of the Lost where mushrooms grow as big as men.
T9, DS: Alien sounds in a graveyard. Is the final conflict near? Weapons are raised. Shouts heard around the world. The clash ensues. Heroes rise, heroes fall, it is the endless war.
T9 Song Title: “The Living Fire”
T9 SR notes: “A terrified man must get to Doc Savage with an awful secret…”
T10, DS: The windstorm lashes at your brow, steals the water from your mouth, and blinds you from your path. Demons afoot.
T10 Song Title: “The Man Who Shook the Earth”
T10, SR notes: “The title says it all.”
T11, DS: The battle is won. Wounds bandaged, scars sealed. He sits at a bar, keeping to his thoughts, and thinking of her. Furtive glances from his drink to the door across the room. The bartender pours you another. You tell him to make it a double. The door across the room never moves.
T11 Song Title: “Weird Valley”
T11, SR notes: “Is the secret to eternal life hidden away in the remote Weird Valley?”
T12, DS: Back at HQ, the gang is all there. It’s a celebration, though muted. The Professor has rigged up a new distillation machine which makes 100 proof gin fizzies. The hero has a smile, but is sullen. But wait, who is that slender figure in silhouette? It’s her! She’s here! And so is the band. They dance. And when the dance is over, they finally get that kiss.
T12 Song Title: “The Mental Wizard”
T12, SR notes: “Doc encounters a golden-haired beauty from a hidden civilization…”
Stream-of-conscious analysis of my stream-of-conscious notes: Robinson got his thoughts and themes across pretty damn well. I nailed it a few times, especially in recognizing allusions to weather or evil creatures revealing themselves. However, I believe I misinterpreted the evil robot as a drinking buddy, and now as I write this out, I probably had Doc Savage around alcohol more in this review than in the entire fiction series. Of course, all of that pales in comparison to my astute observation of the appearance of the mysterious lady in the final chapter/song. In fact, I think I’ll stop right there, on that note.
A strangely compelling album by guitarist Mark Solborg. At first blush, it sounds like large ensemble avant-garde… the clash of thunder, streaks of dissonance, honking and squealing. And those elements are there, except it’s so much more than that. Solborg weaves in sweet melodic lines, subtly at first, but becoming insidious and unmistakable for the thrashing beauty that they are. Want an example? Check out opening track “Mrs. Pedersen Takes the Tram.” And then there are tunes like “2620,” of gently nudging serenity, of monstrous notes spoken in a soft voice and with good intentions. It’s an album of contrasts and incongruities which all fit together with a surprising tunefulness and dynamic interaction.
Your album personnel: Mark Solborg (guitar), Anders Banke (tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), Jeppe Skovbakke (bass), Bjørn Heebøl (drums), Gunnar Halle (trumpet), Laura Toxværd (alto sax), Torben Snekkestad (tenor & soprano saxes, clarinet), Jakob Munch (tuba, trombone), and Chris Speed (tenor saxophone, clarinet).
If one were to take a cross-section of this album, there would be visible strata of avant-garde music, of free improv jazz, of post-bop and some drone. In this, the album isn’t original; it’s in the way that those strata converge and separate and converge yet again that make this album so special. The interplay between the artists, coming from different places and merging together in a way that creates new exciting sounds, it makes for an album that finds new ways to delight and surprise.
“Almost” is a drunken stagger, with horn burps, woodwind moans, and guitar twittering absently to itself. The tune has a steadily growing intensity, and what began as a drone builds up to a satisfying roar.
“The Whispers” begins with sheepish blips and gurgles, but the instruments gradually forget to use their inside-voices, the volume increases, tempo builds, and then, suddenly, it just drops off into silence. When the voices start again, it’s back to church mouse status, except that the ambiguous sounds have a coherency lacking at the start of the tune, a passage of smoldering airiness, like a plume of smoke drifting up from a small campfire.
The album ends with the punchy “Open Parenthesis (With Bob).” Lines aren’t competing with one another so much as perpetually finishing one another’s sentences. There is a brief eye of the storm for an alto sax solo, but this quickly cedes way to a torrent of tangled improvisation, one that ends as a concentrated mass surging inexorably onward to the album’s final note.
And when it gets there, it would be an understandable impulse to hit the play button and start it again from the top. I’m pretty taken by this recording.
Originally performed at the 2010 Copenhagen Jazz Festival, where the album was recorded.
Tiny Reviews, featuring: Rino Arbore QuartetSuggestions From Space, Simcock, Garland & Sirkis Lighthouse, Tomer Bar TrioLocal Groove, Trio SuedSpace, and Benjamin Faugloire Project Diving.
Rino Arbore Quartet – Suggestions From Space
Fascinating quartet that evokes images of early-period Bill Frisell and later-period ECM chamber jazz. Quite beautiful when it drifts on a melody, engaging when it gets more of a mind to deconstruct. Guitar adds a sense of mystery, trumpet a weightlessness of being. Drums work best when a soft hush. Arco action by the bass substantially elevates the quality of the music, though, admittedly, I’m an easy sucker for anytime the bassist gets the bow out. While those tunes which tackle dissonance and cut weird angles add needed diversity to the album’s overall sound, it’s the quiet late-night tunes that are the album’s points of strength. Good stuff, and the kind of album that might’ve (undeservedly) slipped under the radar.
Your album personnel: Rino Arbore (guitar), Roy Nikolaisen (trumpet & flugelhorn), Giorgio Vendola (double bass), and Gianlivio Liberti (drums).
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The Lighthouse Trio reunite for a set of lyricism and bounce. Performing of a balancing act between jazz complexity and pop simplicity, the trio creates an album that is very listenable while remaining quite at home on the ACT Music label, which typically doesn’t release music that puts one foot in front of the other.
Nice straight-forward piano trio album. Light on its feet, with a pleasant bounce. Pianist Tomer Bar has a light touch on keys, matched well against some animated drumming. Some tracks come of as a bit scattered, though that’s not always a bad thing when it transitions to a subsequent, softer tune. Some vocals, which have a pleasant ease to them.
Your album personnel: Tomer Bar (piano), Uri Kutner (bass), and Ofri Nehemya (drums).
Intriguing album. Flurries of notes, interspersing moments of silence infrequently, but in just the right spots. For everything going on here, this still comes off as an introspective recording. It’s like a fairy tale about a lonely math equation.
Your album personnel: Heinrich Werkl (bass), Primus Sitter (guitar), and Michael Erian (sax).
Moody piano trio that gets pretty evocative when it broods. Two feet full in the modern piano trio school. Nice follow-up to their 2008 release Premiere Nouvelle, which I still listen to from time to time. One of those artists who doesn’t get named in the same breath as an E.S.T. or Jacob Karlzon (and that may be appropriate), but Faugloire’s outfit should definitely be part of the discussion when talking about the better modern piano trio jazz recordings.
Your album personnel: Benjamin Faugloire (piano), Jerome Mouriez (drums), and Denis Frangulian (bass).
Portions of these reviews were originally used in my Jazz Picks weekly article for eMusic, so here’s some language protecting their rights to that reprinted material as the one to hire me to write about new jazz arrivals to their site…
These are squirrely tunes. Just when it seems like you’ve got a melody in your grasp, it wriggles out and runs off in an unexpected direction, and just when it seems like the ear has caught up to the trio, they take off at some uneven and bewildering pace. These are compositions that shade toward catchy, but improvise their way out of that room. These are songs that can’t sit still. Even when they edge cautiously along, an abounding energy emanates from the music.
This is the music of the Chives. Their latest album is titled Dads.
Your album personnel: Steven Lugerner (reeds), Matthew Wohl (bass), and Max Jaffe (drums).
A trio consisting of childhood friends, they clearly have a creative symbiosis earned through time. Multi-reedist Steven Lugerner first made his mark by debuting with a double-album release, Narratives and These Are The Words, both getting a mention in the Bird is the Worm’s Best of 2011 wrap-up series. Notable was Lugerner’s thematic approach of using the Torah both as inspiration and as a mathematical tool for composition. Drummer Max Jaffe has branched out into projects that range from experimental folk to chamber rock and theater. And bassist Matthew Wohl has situated himself behind a vocal jazz quartet as well as a collaborative project focusing on the music of John Cage. They each have their influences and their own personal music directions, and, at times, those influences peek out from this trio’s sound. But ultimately, their familiarity is stronger than that which informs their personal music paths, and it’s why Dads is preeminently cohesive and of one voice.
It’s a voice that keeps up a hell of a chatter, but it positively has something worth hearing.