Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This Just in at AccuJazz

I receive a lot of music here in the AccuRadio office. Some is good, some isn't so good, and some is spectacular. With absolutely zero influence from the record labels and radio promo firms that provide me with this music, I'm going to start an occasional series highlighting my favorite new releases. I'll also let you listeners know where you're most likely to hear them on the AccuJazz programming. I'll try to keep it to five releases in each entry.

For the inaugural "This Just in at AccuJazz," I'll let a unifying theme guide my picks: Five recent releases by bandleaders who play a decidedly non-bandleader-like instrument: the bass.

1) Dave Holland - Pass it On (Dare2/Emarcy)

Dave Holland's newest disc marks a departure from the notably stable unit he held together for a decade or so, the Dave Holland Quintet. Comprised of trombone, saxophone, vibes, bass, and drums, the quintet forged an instantly recognizable group sound unparalleled in the late 90's and early 2000's. On Pass it On, he introduces a sextet with a new, if slightly more traditional, instrumentation, and almost completely new personnel.

While Holland has worked with all the members of his new group in the past, the only Quintet veteran is trombonist par excellence Robin Eubanks. Rounding out the front line with Eubanks is Russian-born trumpet phenom Alex "Sasha" Sipiagin and young lion-turned-young veteran alto saxophonist Antonio Hart. I had the pleasure of seeing Sipiagin and Hart subbing for the Quintet's usual frontline in a 2005 concert, and was just as blown away by their contributions to the group as when I had seen the Quintet with its usual members the previous year. Completing Holland's rhythm section is A-list pianist Mulgrew Miller and rising star drummer Eric Harland.

The album opens with the lone non-Holland composition, "The Sum of All Parts," a mildly epic groover that stays true to its name, beginning with Harland alone, tinkering with the many parts of his drum set, and reaching its peak in a high-energy group improvisation. The rest of the disc reveals impressively diverse programming on Holland's part, from the contemplative and spiritual free-jazz piece "Rivers Run" to the funky and soulful title track. In between is the beautiful "Processional" and the standard post-bop fare "Fast Track."

"Pass it On" has already made it on at least one '08 Top Ten List, and I expect it to show up on many more. Find it on these AccuJazz channels:

Main Channel
Covering all the Bassists
New School

2) Mario Pavone - Ancestors (Playscape Recordings)

Mario Pavone's name may not be well-known among the mainstream jazz community, but he is a revered veteran in New York's vital Avant-Garde jazz scene. Pavone's last recording, Trio Arc, was a completely improvised session with pianist Paul Bley and drummer Matt Wilson. For Ancestors, he returns to his forte: intellectual modern jazz composition infused with freewheeling improvisation.

The musicians assembled on this album, collectively called the "Mario Pavone Double Tenor Quintet", features Tony Malaby and Jimmy Greene on saxophones, Peter Madsen on piano, and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Pavone took an unusual step in commissioning guest arrangers to set his original compositions for the group. We don't know what Pavone's own arrangements might have sounded like, but the finished products from his buddies Stephen Bernstein, Michael Musillami and Dave Ballou are intriguing and complex yet fairly accessible. I had no qualms about playing a few of the tracks on the AccuJazz main channel.

Pavone dedicates the record to two of his heroes: Dewey Redman and Andrew Hill, and their influence is heard in the inside/outside aesthetic of the proceedings. Tight ensemble sections give way to free improv, atonal bass solos lead into robust melodic statements by the two-tenor front line. The result is some really engaging, masterfully performed modern jazz that reveals more with each listen.

Ancestors is spinning on these AccuJazz channels:

Main Channel
New School
Covering All the Bassists

3) blink. - The Epidemic of Ideas (Thirsty Ear)

blink. (punctuation and capitalization theirs) is a group of young creative musicians living and working in Chicago. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll let you know that I know each of the members of the group personally, but that's not why I'm giving them this special mention. The group, led by bassist Jeff Greene, is making some wonderfully creative and innovative music.

Greene is an ambitious young bassist who has already proven himself in some sectors of the jazz world. A graduate from the presigious Indiana University jazz department and alumnus of such all-star jazz education programs as Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead and the Ravinia Steans Institute, Greene's talent has not gone unrecognized.

Musically, blink.'s debut sounds just like a group of Generation Y musicians filtering their love of modern creative jazz through deep-seated indie rock influences. Dave Miller's guitar takes on an array of different sounds, often hitting the distortion pedal, explicitly summoning the rock influence. Quin Kirchner's heavy-hitting drumming is a remarkable blend of rock and jazz styles, and Greg Ward's saxophone deftly weaves its way through free improvisations and minimalist vamps alike. His control of the horn is remarkable, and is rightly gaining attention by more and more jazz fans via his inclusion in a staggering array of groups in Chicago and elsewhere.

Despite its singular avant-jazz-meets-indie-rock aesthetic, the programming on The Epidemic of Ideas is surprisingly diverse. "Secret Weapon: Part I" is a brief but powerful statement with rich counterpoint and an aggressive, take-no-prisoners groove. "We Disappear" is a surprisingly beautiful composition, a simple chord progression thoughtfully built upon through six minutes of improvisation. "Glass" is the black sheep of the album, an atonal slow-burner ushered in by almost two minutes of sampled gamelan percussion. This is thoughtful stuff that needs to be heard.

The Epidemic of Ideas is playing on these AccuJazz channels:

New School
*Slated to be played on a number of new channels to be released in coming months*

4) William Parker - Petit Oiseau (AUM Fidelity)

William Parker is an elder statesman of free jazz, appearing on records everywhere you look and releasing a staggering amount of albums every year. One of his core units is the William Parker quartet, which counts Petit Oiseau as its second studio album and third overall. The group's sound is less "free jazz" than simply "creative jazz." Parker lets his bandmates take plenty of improvisational risks, but harmonic and rhythmic foundations usually stay firmly in place. Petit Oiseau keeps the group's personnel intact with a frontline of trumpet player Lewis Barnes and alto saxophonist Rob Brown and rhythm section of Parker along with his longtime foil Hamid Drake on drums and percussion.

Parker's modus operandi in the quartet is a catchy modal bass vamp with quirky, polytonal horn lines layered on top, all brought to life by Drake's inimitable drumming. Parker continues in this vein for much of the album, presenting a sort of dissertation on this method in the aptly-titled lead-off track "Groove Suite," and carrying on in the style with "Talaps Theme" and "The Golden Bell." The title track and "Four for Tommy," dedicated to three different Tommys of bebop, are more in the post-bop vein, with ensemble writing carrying along the music rather than the disparate, interlocking parts of other pieces. The exotic "Dust From a Mountain" shows Parker and Drake's world music influences (as documented on their two duo CDs, found here and here), with Parker picking up a Native American cedar flute and Drake switching between an African xylophone (balafon) and frame drum.

Petit Oiseau is playing on these AccuJazz channels:

Main Channel
New School

Covering All the Bassists

5) Todd Sickafoose - Tiny Resistors (Cryptogramophone)

Bassist Todd Sickafoose is a musician with wide-varying tastes. The biography on his website describes Sickafoose's collaborators as "innovative folks and genre benders." With Tiny Resistors, his third album, Sickafoose makes his own innovative, genre-bending statement.

Not since The Bad Plus came on the scene has a jazz album made such a strong case of jazz's relevance to modern-day indie rockers. As first-call bassist for popular rock singer Ani DiFranco, Sickafoose already has an in with the rock world, and shows off his skills at fusing that aspect of his musical personality with his jazz training (he studied under Charlie Haden, among others).

Tiny Resistors playfully utilizes effects and processing to create a sound world not often heard on jazz albums. The compositions are full of complex grooves that can still get your booty shaking. The harmonies are by turns adventurous and modern ("Future Flora") and simple and folky ("Barnacle"). The music on Tiny Resistors can't really be described in words. It's gotta be heard to be believed.

To chance hearing it, check out these AccuJazz channels:

Main Channel
New School
Covering All the Bassists

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