Jan 4 2016
Well, look what I found. As I was taking care of some badly overdue year-end clean-up, I found a bunch of first drafts and notes for albums that I never managed to fit into a column… and it looks like there’ll be a couple more after this one. Most of these albums were released during the second half of the year, and of today’s batch, most all come from tiny labels or are self-produced. So we’re talking the kind of stuff that’s typically gonna fly under most radars, which makes me even happier to get the opportunity to feature them today.
Every one of these This Is Jazz Today columns, I look over what’s been compiled and I can’t help but think what a cool collection of music it is. I typically don’t state that fact just because I’d be saying it every week… but it’s true, and this week’s batch of recommendations definitely stacks up. Some very cool music here. Enjoy.
Made to Break – Before the Code (Trost Records)
It’s really difficult to untangle the melody from the motion on Ken Vandermark’s latest Made to Break recording. The sense of perpetual forward propulsion never ceases to be a prominent driving factor of this music, and yet the melodic freedom expressed by each of the quartet members cements it as an integral piece for the show to go on. How that all shakes out is that the ear is living from moment to moment even though the music is already looking way down the road. That kind of tension between sonic expectation and creative intent is pretty damn compelling, and it’s why the album’s three extended pieces (one at 11 minutes, the other two each over 20 minutes in length) seem to fly right by without notice of the passing of time. Along with Vandermark on his reed instruments is Jasper Stadhouders on bass, Tim Daisy on drums and Christof Kurzmann with the electronics and effects. One of the enjoyable qualities of the electronics is that they often come off sounding like a violin on overdrive. That, and sometimes a percussive instrument not unlike vibraphone. It really is a nifty element used in a way that isn’t the standard way electronics seem to get utilized in many of today’s modern jazz recordings.
Matthieu Donarier – Papier Jungle (Yolk Records)
A real conversational tone taken by the trio of saxophonist Matthieu Donarier, guitarist Manu Codjia and drummer Joe Quitzke. Tempos pulse beneath melodies that take sharp angles and sometimes swerve wildly in unexpected directions. Things get plenty more interesting during the occasional passages when the trio slows things down, but mostly that’s a result of the inevitable compare and contrast with those up-tempo sections that surround it. With a number of different projects of his I’ve now encountered, I’m increasingly impressed with the way Donarier is able to generate volatility while containing it with a tight creative focus… like watching a tesla coil kick out tendrils of light inside a plasma globe… expressive like crazy and a little bit mesmerizing.
Julien Wilson Quartet – This Narrow Isthmus (Lionsharecords)
A nice live set from the quartet of tenor saxophonist Julien Wilson, pianist Barney McAll, bassist Jonathan Zwartz and drummer Allan Browne. They mix it up a bit in terms of tone and tempo, but the meat of the album is found in the ballads… those radiate a strong heat, some serious emotion and yet still come off light as a lover’s breath. Nothing fancy going on here, just a flag planted right at jazz central and making their stand with a straight-ahead statement.
Cicero Lee – Those Who Stay (Self-Produced)
Though at its core, a trio of Cícero Lee on upright bass, Carlos Garcia on piano and José Salgueiro on drums, it’s the addition of guests Desidério Lázaro (sax), Tiago Oliveira (guitar) and João Frade (accordion) that really allow this album to develop such a remarkably engaging personality. This especially applies to those tracks when Frade adds his accordion. The way it balances out with the sharp lyricism of Garicia and Lee on piano and bass is an effective device. Relatively straight-ahead on most album tracks, and Lee’s crew serves those tracks up just fine, but when the Portuguese influence emerges, the album really takes off. Good stuff.
Aron Ottignon – Waves EP (Loop Recordings)
A nifty trio session from Aron Ottignon on piano, Samuel Dubois on steel pan drums and Rodi Kirk on percussion and production effects. This get-up-and-dance recording has plenty of melodic depth to get its hooks into you, but the enjoyment is gonna come from how they get carried along on the rapidly flowing rhythmic currents. Just an EP, but it’s a promising sign if Ottignon is able to flesh this sound out and expand on it for a full-length recording. But for now, this catchy little set should keep you happy.
Emmanuel Baily – Night Stork (Igloo Records)
A real pleasant liveliness to this mix of contemporary jazz, folk and baroque classical. Guitarist Baily keeps the music light on its feet, even when it grows introspective. Joining Baily are Khaled Aljaramani (oud), Lambert Colson (cornet), Jean-François Foliez (clarinet) and Xavier Rogé (drums). The addition of oud is a real nice surprise, and the added textures it brings to the table are something special… especially in light of the clarinet’s dancing motions. When the quintet digs into a melody, it’s catchy as hell. A nice album that really grew on me the more I listened to it. Good soundtrack for a Sunday morning and Spring weather is pouring a cool breeze and warm sunlight in through the window.
3/4 Peace – Rainy Days on the Common Land (El Negocito)
An interesting personality to this one, switching between conversation techniques that employ straight-ahead jazz, Nordic folk jazz, classical and some free improv. And while the varied sounds do differentiate from one another, they all clearly come from the same flame. Sometimes that fire possesses a distant warmth, other times a comforting heat, but in each instance, it’s equally captivating. This trio of Ben Sluijs (alto sax, flute), Christian Mendoza (piano) and Brice Soniano (double bass) does a great job of mixing things up, and keeping the ear guessing what comes next, which, when you think about it, is a pretty nifty result considering how sparse and contemplative the music can get at times. When the trio adopts a solemn tone, it resonates with some serious emotional power.
Book of Air – Fieldtone (Sub Rosa)
This music is all about how a massive stillness can descend upon a particular spot on this planet and how sounds can emerge as if born from the quiet itself. Everything about this music is the patient, gentle breath of tranquility. Book of Air is the Belgian quintet of Nathan Wouters (double bass), Indré Jurgeleviciuté (kankles), Bert Cools (electric & acoustic guitars), Benjamin Sauzereau (electric guitar) and Stijn Cools (drums), and the four long pieces they offer on Fieldtone are about as focused an expression of peacefulness as anything not encountered on the ECM label. Speaking of which, if I had to draw some form of comparison, I’d probably reference a very laid-back version of a Steve Tibbetts recording. An appealing pattern to this music is how it begins with a thick silence, then gradually introduces ambient sounds, slowly at first, then increasing at a quicker pace in the second half of the piece… but never really growing into anything more than a comforting murmur.
Michel Bisceglia – Blue Bird (Prova Records)
Really beautiful piano trio recording, which also serves as the soundtrack for the movie of the same name. A trio of Michel Bisceglia (piano), Werner Lauscher (double bass) and Marc Léhan (drums) cast a moody glow over each of these tunes, serving up a bunch of melodies that are meant for ruminating and drifting off into daydreams. This is the kind of music you put on when the rain is coming down, the city lights attempt to beat back the gloom of grey skies and the sound of raindrops pelting the rooftop is just begging for some sound to mesh with.
Have a great time digging through the list!
And remember, it’s simple: You like what you like.