Jan 23 2012
Recapping the Best of 2011: Adam Cruz “Milestone”
Those first notes can have such a profound effect on how an album is received. Take, for instance, Adam Cruz’s Milestone. Cruz opens with soft but indelible drum bursts, joined soon after by the succinct yet evocative piano notes from Edward Simon. Then Miguel Zenon and Chris Potter weave sax notes up and over the composition, building a sense of breathless over the grounding comfort of piano, drums, and bass. From there, it just builds, but no matter how thrilling the sound becomes, I’m still thinking about those resonant opening notes. This is the case, even after the album is over and the next begins.
Your album personnel: Adam Cruz (drums), Miguel Zenón (alto sax), Steve Wilson (soprano sax), Chris Potter (tenor sax), Steve Cardenas (guitar), Edward Simon (piano, Fender Rhodes), and Ben Street (bass). Zenon and Wilson don’t play on every tune.
Milestone is Cruz’s debut album under his own name, but he’s been around the scene for awhile, and like any talented professional, he gets right down to business and doesn’t stop until it’s all over.
That first track “Secret Life” is absolutely brilliant, one of the tunes of the year. It begins so alluringly, then builds in intensity with saxophones. Then Cardenas slips in on guitar and guides the composition from its peak into a speedy glide and soar, a sensation that continues even after the ensemble joins all back in together.
That thrilling sound continues on right into the second track “Emje.” Even Cruz’s nifty odd meters halfway through the tune do more to enhance it than alter the emotional direction.
Another outstanding album track is “The Gadfly”, which begins like a game of hopscotch… quick rhythmic patterns with sudden directional changes.
About a third of the way through, guitar brings some fire to the tune and tempo increases like its feeling the heat. Drums and piano get into a fight and relentlessly throw combinations of punches at one another. When saxophones step in to break it up, the tune loses none of its fight, getting stronger in fact, building up to a huge finish.
There’s a nice mix of tempos on the album, though the ensemble runs more than it walks. The third track “Crepuscular” gives a sense of both without quite doing either. Most tracks are nice modern hard bop, though some have free(r) jazz elements to them. But mostly, it’s just great straight-ahead fare.
The final album track begins much as the first did… drums and piano with enchanting notes that hint at a quiet intensity that could explode at any moment.
It’s that same quiet intensity displayed throughout Milestone that has me so damn hooked on this recording. I like it when a musician reflects power through emotion rather than volume. Also, there is the suspense building that occurs with quiet intensity, an anxious waiting for when the top does finally blow (if at all) that doesn’t necessarily end just because the album does. In fact, it’s that element that keeps bringing me back to a particular recording… maybe this album will explode this time around.
Adam Cruz assembled an all-star lineup for this album. Keeping those disparate voices cohesive and getting them to all buy in to the album leader’s vision can be a daunting task for anybody. That Cruz has pulled this off for his debut album is an impressive accomplishment. Cruz ain’t no rookie on the scene, and his rep stands side by side with all of the album personnel, but still, when it’s your name that appears front and center on the album cover, that adds an additional pressure that can’t be blithely dismissed. Cruz really pulls it off here, and Milestone is more than deserving of recognition as one of the top albums of 2011.
Released on the Sunnyside Records label. Jazz from NYC.
Stream the entire album on his bandcamp page, as well as purchase it in a number of different file formats.
Jan 25 2012
Recapping the Best of 2011: Markus Pesonen Hendectet – “Hum”
The Markus Pesonen Hendectet doesn’t waste time with small talk. Right from the start, Hum slams the listener with a barrage of instruments and batters the ears with waves of free jazz dissonance. Skronking and barking saxes indelibly mark their territory, and everyone else flexes their muscles as a sign that they have the woodwinds’s backs. It’s an intimidating start to an album that is far more substantive and complex than first impressions would indicate.
Your album personnel: Markus Pesonen (guitar, lapsteel and compositions), Elena Setién (voice, violin), Adam Pultz Melbye (bass), Camilla Barrat-Due (accordion), Marc Lohr (drums, electronics), Otis Sandsjö (alto & tenor sax, clarinet), Martin Stender (tenor & soprano sax, flute), Lars Greve (tenor & soprano & baritone sax, bass clarinet), Tobias Wiklund (trumpet, flugelhorn), Petter Hängsel (trombone), and Jonatan Ahlbom (tuba).
Second track “Hullun Paperit” isn’t anything that will make the neighbors to call the cops, but it’s not exactly white tablecloth fine dining either. Low steady drone of instruments, an indication of a melody, but not one from this planet. Violin peeks out from between warped notes and makes things pretty here and there, but then darts back behind the curtains, leaving the ears waiting for more.
Third track “Sugar Rush” is an interesting detour, a composition that would be at home as a soundtrack to a 007 flick… a scene of undercover spies chasing each other across a packed casino hall, bullets flying, identities changed, a brief pause to the flurry of conflict just long enough to order a martini and light the leggy blondes cigarette.
The title track “Hum” makes sure you didn’t start thinking it was all fun and games. If the opening track was a wave of dissonance, then for this track, it’s a cement block… lots of ’em. This isn’t a song one listens to so much as withstands.
And then “Reliever”, which holds up to its name with a peaceful respite of soft persuasion to continue on.
Pitch and volume increase as the song reaches its conclusion, but not sufficiently to erase the sense of having entered an eye of the storm.
And then the album really goes through the changes. It begins with a ridiculous awesome cover of the classic Charles Mingus tune “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”. Flute winds tight circle around languid violin lines. It’s faintly reminiscent of the Mingus version (he recorded the tune on several occasions) that he recorded for his album Four or Five Shades of Blue. When the saxes and rhythm section enter the picture, they do it swinging. The soul of Mingus is here and is his compositional lunacy, and Pesonen doesn’t give any impression other than his love and respect for both.
The song “Space Race” begins as a bit of avant-garde replete with electronic effects, but then transmutes into a pretty ballad, though without shedding the odd effects and electronic flourishes. Even when saxes start to show signs of roughhousing, the tune doesn’t lose that essential softness. It’s quite a pretty tune, even if it’s an unconventional type of pretty.
The album ends with a brilliant cover of the Beatles’ “Day in the Life”. Elena Setien turns a nifty phrase and, thankfully, does try to oversell the lyrics. Most people that cover the Beatles (in any genre) almost inevitably leave me missing the original badly…. not here, though. This was, in retrospect, a natural cover song for this ensemble to record; a great excuse for them to blast a few more waves of sound, though not without flirting with a mash-up of some New Orleans jazz along the way. Honestly, they just sound like they’re having a blast playing this song, and this, on an album that gives the impression they had fun recording the entire damn thing.
Finnish guitarist and composer Markus Pesonen has assembled eleven musicians from the Copenhagen and Berlin scenes, and together they created this tiny little masterpiece. Hum is an album that challenges the ears as often as it gives comfort, if not more. It’s a very exciting development anytime a new voice on the jazz scene puts forth an uncompromising recording of his or her vision, with a display of confidence and high musicianship. Just outstanding.
Released on the Unit Records label. Jazz from the Copenhagen and Berlin scenes.
Available on Emusic.
Also, available on Amazon:
By davesumner • Jazz Recommendations, Jazz Recommendations - 2011 Releases, Recap: Best of 2011 • 0 • Tags: Recap: Best of 2011