Rasmus Nyvall Kvintett – “Bangård”

March 11, 2014


Rasmus Nyvall Kvintett - "Bangard"There’s a very personable quality to the quirkiness of Bangård, the new release by the Rasmus Nyvall Kvintett.  Consisting of two ensembles, a quintet and quartet, the music shifts between soulful music with spasmodic tendencies and a chamber music beauty that induces contemplative reveries.

The quintet features the vocals of Linda Bergström and straddles a peaceful Nordic folk-jazz approach, though with improvisatory bursts to shake the music free of any impending sleepiness.  Bergström sings in her native Swedish tongue, providing a sense of intimacy via the sense that these are the true words, the undiluted message of the lyricist, and the substance of that meaning outweighs the ability to understand the actual lyrics.  Nyvall sticks to tenor sax when with the quintet, a flighty presence that hops about at a moment’s notice.

With the quartet, however, Nyvall is on clarinet, and considering this formation is strictly wind instruments, it’s understandable that his demeanor has a more defined grace than when with the quintet, where he’s called upon to provide creative outbursts in wide open spaces.  The wind quartet is a moody soul, but from it shines a melodic light full of hope and happiness.

The four wind quartet contributions are spread throughout the album, constructing the album in a way that provides some of the reassuring certainty of artistic structure, while also allowing for plenty of space in between for improvisatory jumps and leaps of faith.

A likable album, one that hasn’t yet really gotten its claws in me, per se, yet I find myself compelled to return to it each day.  I’ve always taken that for a good sign, and it pretty much guarantees a write-up on this site.

Your album personnel:  The Quintet: Rasmus Nyvall (tenor sax), Linda Bergström (vocals), Fanny Gunnarsson (piano), Mattias Hjorth (double bass), and Kristoffer Rostedt (drums).

Your album personnel:  The Quartet: Rasmus Nyvall (clarinet), Ellen Pettersson (trumpet), Cecilia Sandgren (French horn), and Daniel Cederskär (bass clarinet).

Released on Havtorn Records.

Jazz from the Malmö, Sweden scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3

The Resonance Ensemble – “Head Above Water, Feet Out Of The Fire”

February 21, 2014


Resonance Ensemble - "Head Above Water"A thrilling large ensemble work that features the compositions of Ken Vandermark, and performed by an all-star cast of musicians.  Head Above Water, Feet Out of the Fire is comprised of a studio recording and a live performance.  The latter is a live recording from a 2012 performance in Hasselt, Belgium, and consisted of compositions that the ensemble had been working on during the tour and felt so successful, they wanted to get the music down on record.  The studio album was recorded in Chicago in 2012, and was to coincide with the Chicago Jazz Festival debut of new compositions.

This is music that’s got determination and drive, punctuates its solos with gusto, and casts out harmonic waves intended to sweep up listeners and take them away… and, thankfully, never forgets to deliver the goods with a conversational tone that is as intellectually gripping as the music is emotionally intense.

Your album personnel:  Ken Vandermark (baritone sax, Bb clarinet), Mikolaj Trzaska (alto sax, bass clarinet), Waclaw Zimpel (Bb & alto clarinets), Tim Daisy (drums), Mark Tokar (acoustic bass), Michael Zerang (drums), Steve Swell (trombone), Magnus Broo (trumpet), Dave Rempis (alto & tenor saxes), Per-Åke Holmlander (tuba), and Devin Hoff (bass VI).

“Creative Reconstruction Company (For Muhal Richard Abrams)” is a wild horse, alternating between an hypnotic cadence of hooves pounding earth at a gallop and the sudden rearing back and explosion of force upward, shouting up to the sky with all the fury gained from forward motion.

The uneasy drone of “Elegy for Two Rooms (For Fred Anderson and Von Freeman)” is both soothing and ominous, whereas “Type A (For Michael Orlove)” has a boisterous personality and a chipper attitude, ending sentences with wide beaming smiles.  Even, later, when the song breaks down into dissonance, that initial friendliness still comes through.

“Fsa Color (For Thomas Bernhard)” is a series of somersaults, a spinning motion that trumpet solos atop like walking a barrel.  Momentarily, the ensemble takes it down a gear, and settles into a pacified little stroll that builds up to a hike through the storm.

“Lipstick in Hi-Fi (For Jean-Luc Godard)” begins with a ramshackle swing, a motion that sways with a grim velocity.  Drums and tuba break from out of the crowd, run the table with a compelling point of contrast to the ensemble’s Big Sound.  The moans and howls of the middle section are an interlude to the slight reprise of the opening statement, but run down with the cadence of a stampede… furious, yet strangely ordered.

“The Other Shore (For Robert Irwin)” begins as a dust devil of reeds, shifts into a whirlwind, and ends as a focused jet stream of rhythmic propulsion.

The album ends with the perpetual costume change of “Watch Repair (For Michael Haneke),” a tune that reveals new dimensions with passion, while nonchalantly discarding over its shoulder that which is no more.

Tuneful music, thrilling music, and so very fun.

Released on the NotTwo Records label.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3

However, if you want the CD, it’s cheaper at the Catalytic Sound site… which is a collective of like-minded musicians that joined together to sell their music.  Vandermark is a member of that collective, and it’s always best to buy directly from the artist whenever possible.


For the most part, this review is original to Bird is the Worm, but I sorta fell in love with a couple of the sentences that I originally used in my Jazz Picks weekly article for eMusic when I first talked about this album, and I wanted to use it here unaltered.  So, while I’m not even sure I need to do this, out of respect to eMusic, here’s some language protecting their rights to the reprinted material as the one to hire me to write about new jazz arrivals to their site…

New Arrivals Jazz Picks,“ reprints courtesy of eMusic.com, Inc.
© 2014  eMusic.com, Inc.

My sincere thanks to eMusic for the gig.

Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope – “Mirage”

December 22, 2013


Brian Landrus - "Mirage"Bird is the Worm has documented plenty examples of musicians attempting to blend influences, mesh approaches, and fuse together contrasting sounds.  If anything, this is both typical of the modern jazz scene, as well as its primary contributing factor to why Jazz has become so difficult to define and categorize.  The upside is that this approach leads to some exciting music, even if not all of it is entirely successful.  The creative spirit that drives Jazz leads to the most wonderful of surprises.

Key to bringing together disparate elements in the same recording is to render the individual ingredients into a new form and altered shape that still allows them to float to the surface with their identities intact, while simultaneously having a transformative effect on the other, contrasting elements.  The influences must be changed and not changed, recognizable and brand spanking new.

On Mirage, the gorgeous new recording by the Brian Landrus Kaleidoscope, the funk and groove of 70s soul jazz is meshed with the modern jazz utilization of strings, and the resultant sound is one that should serve as a vanguard example of how to fuse disparate elements into one on a modern jazz recording.

Your album personnel:  Brian Landrus (baritone & bass sax, bass & contra-alto clarinets, bass flute), Rudy Royston (drums), Nir Felder (guitar), Frank Carlberg (piano, Rhodes), Lonnie Plaxico (electric & acoustic bass), Mark Feldman (violin), Joyce Hammann (violin), Judith Insell (viola), Jody Redhage (cello), and Ryan Truesdell (conductor).

This wasn’t just a wild Hail Mary shot that just luckily found its mark.  On previous recordings, Landrus has shown an adept touch with the groove-focused sound, instilling an elegance into the bright electric fusion.  And conductor Ryan Truesdell displayed his talent at wielding a big sound and giving it a crystal clear focus on his Gil Evans Project.  Pianist Carlberg, perhaps more than anyone on this session, has been involved in a crazy display of crossover projects.  Veteran bassist Plaxico was the perfect choice for an album that is anchored to grooves, and drummer Royston’s pronounced drumming on Bill Frisell’s heavily melodic recordings is exactly what this project required.  Guitarist Felder has the rock ‘n roll thing going for him, as well as the Greg Osby reference, but it may be his contribution to Ben Wendel’s genre-bending Frame that is most illustrative of why Felder sounds right at home in the mix of influences that mark Mirage.

And then there’s the string quartet.  This is not a superfluous addition meant to boost the breadth of the album’s wingspan, nor is it a cheap grab at emotional soft spots.  The strings share the stage both as soloists and accompaniment, sometimes working together as a team, sometimes breaking off from one another and getting to individual tasks of melodic development, rhythmic support, and harmonic initiative.

The sequence of the songs is of no little interest, with the melodic elements emphasized more in the first half of the album, and the rhythm taking increasing control as the album approaches its conclusion.

The album opens with “Arrival,” an up-tempo piece with a sunny attitude, gliding along through a series of solos that features strings and clarinet.  Both melody and rhythm exemplify the song’s fluid motion, and both command equal attention, thus elevating this music’s seamless presentation to something quite as lovely as it is engaging.  “Sammy” continues along this line, leading out with some alluring harmonics with strings and low-end reeds, before breaking into a spry cant, accentuated by the guitar section, and driven by Royston’s frenetic delivery on drums.

“Don’t Close Your Eyes” slows things down a bit, keys and strings insinuating a bit of an R&B groove… an insinuation that grows stronger when Landrus emphasizes it.  Carlberg gets off a nice contribution here, dancing notes off the tips of the rhythm section’s needles.

The album has a couple of interludes.  “A New Day” is all strings, serving as transition from the R&B groove of “Don’t Close Your Eyes” and the determined gait of “The Thousands,” a piece that opens with a Plaxico bass solo, then slides into a modern jazz piece that gets off quick shots, and then bobs and moves before returning for more.  As the song reaches its conclusion, it echoes the melody of second track “Sammy,” and tightens up the album cohesion even more satisfyingly.  “Reach” is a Landrus solo, deep voiced yet restrained, and bridges the gap between the languidly swaying “Someday” and the patiently building tide of title-track “Mirage.”

“I’ve Been Told” comes right out of the gates with a thick groove, and yet the buoyant melodic delivery by clarinet, bolstered by strings, gives the song an airy presence that belies its rhythmic quality.  “Three Words” and “Jade” both maintain a similar vibe, though ramping up the contemporary fusion aspect a couple notches.  But even here, the album’s cohesion in maintained with the contributions from the string quartet… on the former, via a nifty break in the action with a string solo, altering the course of the rhythm section, and in the latter, with a furious violin solo atop the groove and well-placed harmonic glides across the rhythm’s surface.

The album ends with “Kismet,” a Landrus solo with a storyteller’s heart and the economical delivery of an introverted thinker.  It is both evocative and cerebral, and it’s a nice send-off to this excellent recording.

Released on BlueLand Records.

Jazz from the Brooklyn scene.

Available at:  eMusic | CDBaby CD | Amazon CD & MP3

Colorlist – “Sky Song”

November 23, 2013


Colorlist - "Sky Song"When it comes to genre classifications and Jazz, the duo of Charles Gorczynski and Charles Rumback tend to stray far out on the fringes.  What’s most impressive about their approach is that, both in collaboration and on individual projects, they show just how vast is the territory that comprises the fringes of Jazz.

On their duo project Colorlist, they situate themselves in that area where Jazz improvisation overlaps with the ambient drone of post-rock.  The result is music with a dreamy quality, the kind one could drift off peaceably to, except for the fact there is so much life teeming in the notes that accompany the thick ambient tones, that the music is more likely to keep the listener wide awake and engaged than it is to elicit sleep.  In that regard, their new release Sky Song falls right into place.

Your album personnel:  Charles Gorczynski (woodwinds, synths), Charles Rumback (drums, bells), and guests:  Josh Eustis (modular synthesizer), John Hughes (modular synthesizer), and Jeff Parker (guitar).

Their Colorlist recordings each have their own personality.  2008′s Lists led the conversation with talkative percussion, more of a light chatter than heavy verbosity, adding a greater sense of lightness to music that let ambient drones settle in like a thick fog.  On the other hand, their previous release, 2011′s The Fastest Way To Become The Ocean, the musicians gave the peaceful music a greater sense of urgency by tinkering with both tone and tempo… a sort of high-strung ambient disposition not unlike those strangely contemplative moments had while sitting still in rush-hour traffic.  The 2010 release A Square White Lie comes closest to Colorlist’s newest recording, with drones laid on thick, and a rhythmic element exploiting its seams to provide some contrasting aesthetics.

On Sky Song, the atmospherics are denser, and the percussion swims within its waters, darting about, endowing the music with the personality of a song within a song.

Opening track “Sun Song” goes a long way to illustrating what is to come.  The fluttering of saxophone develops into harmonic waves of sax and synths that lap against the shores of the tune, as cross-currents of percussion cause tides to change direction with a suddenness that seems only natural.  “Montreal” takes on a similar shape, but with a touch of melancholia adding a darker tone.

“Current” features guests Jeff Parker on guitar, and Josh Eustis and John Hughes on synths.  It begins with a seeming absence of structure, throwing out fragments of melodies, rhythms that elude pattern recognition, and harmonies that lack a subject… like a shadow with no source object.  But eventually the song coalesces, and all those fragments and pieces reveal themselves to be merely facets of a larger picture.  It’s a nifty transformation, and makes for a terrifically engaging song.

“Through the Fires” is, by far, the biggest display of intensity on this recording.  What begins as saxophone musings accompanied by a cadence of a pulsing insistence and a loose structure develops into an expansive chant, with saxophone wails and torrents of percussion vaulting this tune up to a sonic plateau that the other album tracks only hint at.

After that, “Where Will We Go” and “Waiting” is about as frenetic as it gets on this recording.  On the former, Rumback ups the tempo and Gorczynski builds a sense of urgency via synths and harmonic accompaniment on sax.  On the latter, Rumback sits out front and sends out flurries of rhythms that scatter across the surface of the song, while Gorczynski’s sax slowly rises over the song’s horizon.

The album ends with “The Safe Years,” a song representative of the entirety of Colorlist’s body of work… harmonic warmth, rhythmic chatter, and melodies that slowly reveal themselves and never in their totality, leaving some space for the listener’s imagination to fill in the rest of the picture.

A gorgeous, mesmerizing album.

Released on the Serein label.

Available at:  Bandcamp Digital & Vinyl | eMusic MP3 | Amazon MP3



Other Things You Should Know:

Lots of stuff.  I don’t even know where to begin.  I became familiar with both of these artists via individual projects before discovering their duo collaboration with The Fastest Way To Become the Ocean.

Coincidentally, on the same day I began writing this review, I found an old draft I had begun, right around when I first started this site up, which gives an overview of the varied projects that Gorczynski is involved with.  I’m thinking I might finish that draft off, and include an overview of Rumback’s varied works, too.  Lemme see if I can’t knock that article off soon, get it posted up.  There’s a lot of great music to be found using both artist’s name as trails of breadcrumbs.


Steven Lugerner – “For We Have Heard”

August 2, 2013


Steven Lugerner - "For We Have Heard"Steven Lugerner made a hell of a splash by releasing co-debut albums to lead out the 2011 year, utilizing two different ensembles and presenting two divergent sounds.  One of those recordings, Narratives, was a lesson in potent melodies and story-like song construction.  The second of those two simultaneous debuts was These Are the Words, an album of sharp angles and clipped conversations… a perfect counterbalance to its partner album.

With his new release For We Have Heard, Lugerner returns with the same quartet from These Are the Words, and builds on that album’s pricklier nature.  Basing this album’s compositions on a numeric approach to biblical text, Lugerner presents music that challenges the ear, just as it must have challenged the composer as he went about the task of crafting the songs.  And as it is with any challenge, the effort to engage comes with its rewards.

Your album personnel: Steven Lugerner (Bb clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, English horn, soprano & alto Saxophones, flute & alto flute), Darren Johnston (trumpet), Myra Melford (piano), and Matt Wilson (drums).

The album opens with “Us and Our Fathers,” a contemplative piano-led piece with some saxophone accompaniment.  It channels the stillness of the morning.

“When a Long Blast Is Sounded” begins with a strong martial cadence.  This holds fast, so that when the ensemble strays from a tight formation, there remains a sense of marching straight ahead.  Drummer Matt Wilson, who brings a joyful swing to many of his own projects, displays yet again the breadth of his talent by contributing essential parts to an album with an acerbic disposition and one that employs an unconventional geometry in shaping songs.  On subsequent track “Drove Out Before Us,” Wilson picks up right where he left off on the previous track, driving the tune with a cadence that crackles and pops with electricity, and partners with Lugerner’s sax in raising up and calling out into space.

There are several themes that act as threads throughout this recording, but it may be Wilson’s drums that serves as the unifying force.

On “Be Strong and Resolute,” the quartet’s development of an edgy groove breaks suddenly into a mesmerizing piano solo, which marks one of several occurrences of Myra Melford infusing a song with an austere beauty, providing a lightness to counteract the music’s tendency to go heavy and hard.  Later, on the title-track, Melford adds some gentle accompaniment, partnering with the whisper of Wilson’s drums as Lugerner and Johnston work a melodic line that is about as fluid as any on this album of unpredictable motion.  A musing ballad, the title-track is a bit of a throwback to Lugerner’s previous albums.

Trumpeter Darren Johnston fits in with this project easy-peasy.  Whether it be with his quintet on a recording like the Clean Feed Records release The Edge of the Forest or a collaboration with top-tier players from the Chicago free-improv scene on an album like The Big Lift, Johnston is right at home with compositions that demand an aggressive expressiveness within an atypical framework of genially displayed ferocity.  On “All Those Kings,” Johnston punches woozy notes through the spaces in between Lugerner’s flailing sax lines, giving illusory form to a song that presents an illusory dispersion.

Half of the album’s ten tracks clock in around two minutes in length each.  They behave as vignettes, rather than simple interludes between songs, and as a result, express themselves as flash fiction… glimpses of imagination, with a brief life and an evocative punch.  They have the added feature of being the most effective doorways into connecting with this album.

Of all of Lugerner’s work to date, this is easily the most challenging.  But patience brings familiarity, and that leads to changes in how the album is perceived.  It’s one of those albums that rewards effort.  And considering Lugerner’s relative newness to the recording scene, it marks an intriguing chapter in his development.

Released on the Primary Records label.

Jazz from the Brooklyn scene.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Bandcamp.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3