Friday, April 30, 2004

Pretty bad

I like The Bad Plus. Here is their blog.

Ironically, the article I got the link from asks

And while it is refreshing that the Bad Plus are willing and able to adapt pop and rock tunes, couldn't, just once, the admittedly rock-ignorant Iverson introduce his bandmates to, say, a good Monk tune or two, rather than the influence going mainly in the reverse?

just as the most recent blog post states:

As for the covers, many ideas have been discarded. Maybe a real jazz classic like "Monk's Mood" would work

But I doubt King and Anderson need Iverson to introduce them to Monk...

Thursday, April 29, 2004

People be talking, I feed dolphins/My defense'll fly the coop off your mean office


He ain't heavy, he's Steve Coleman

Odd Steve Coleman comment on favorite things:

In a way he reminds me of a 'middle weight champion' like Hank Mobley - good, solid and unique, but never quite going for that knockout blow, that over the top thing that demands your attention.

I don't see how the two can be placed in the same category. No disrespect to Mobley, he was a petit maître and wrote a number of excellent tunes, but Coleman is something else.

He's no slouch on his instrument, but one always gets the impression that Coleman is more of a thinker than a player. From the "humble" post-bop beginnings of Motherland Pulse, he went on to develop his M-Base, 80s funk-tinged thing (to uneven results) and has spent the last 10 or so years turning out good-to-great albums for French labels BMG and Label Bleu. I feel that those are the albums where he is heard at his best: his concept is both strong and flexible, allowing him to go from more laid back sessions like The Tao of Mad Phat and On the Rising of the 64 Paths to major works like Genesis (I was listening to this not too long ago and some of the constructions in there are literally breath-taking) and The Sonic Language of Myth, while taking detours through hip-hop (The Way of the Cipher and the much less satisfying The Tale of Three Cities) and Cuban roots music (The Sign and the Seal).

His latest album, Lucidarium, is not quite a major work (by number of participants on any given track), but is infused with an ambition that makes it more involved than just another blowing session (as oddly-metered as it may be). Maybe its something like The Sign and the Seal, but closer to Coleman's core concerns. In any case, it's a huge addition to his existing body of work, one that opens the vistas of micro-tonality. It's really surprising and not at all indicative of someone in a rut, as could easily be the case after 20 years and almost as many albums. Micro-tonality really seems to be a new interest, as even on his previous album, layered voices (to take an obvious example) are treated the same as they were back on, say, Black Science, whereas on Lucidarium they are given this new harmonic/intervallic twist.

I often wonder if his work on BMG and Label Bleu is being heard in the USA at all. Again, in my opinion, it's what he's done since then that shows Coleman at his mature best and will prove most lasting. I know a lot of European musicians have been influenced by his work, but I rarely hear American musicians cite him, or listeners discuss him on forums (and if they do, they're generally ignorant of his 90s/00s stuff). Best of all, you don't even have to take my word for it: go to his site and download many of his albums as mp3s.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Paranoid Percussion

Paranoid Android by percussion ensemble. Some sections could be a little sharper, but it's very cool nonetheless. Timpani! What more could you ask for?

More here. There's some wonderfully cheesy stuff, that I'll let you find out about in your own time.

Rap about me! Rap about me!

I tend to reserve my comments on other people's blogging for their comments boxes and the last time I engaged in inter-blog commenting it wasn't very well received... However, Simon Reynolds doesn't have a comments box and I found this really odd:

Mean to say, I must have written many thousands of words on Dizzee by this point, you'd think he might at least devote 16 bars to the subject of me! Luka, there should be a fucking MICRO-GENRE of grime lyrics about him.

At first I thought he must be joking (especially as above he talks of the reality check of the weekly sitemaster [sic] report), but what follows reveals that he was straight-faced. I think. Maybe the joke is more elaborate than my puny mind can wrap itself around?

Sure, Count Basie wrote "Panassié Stomp" way back in the day and it's cool to be able to hobnob and whatnot with the musicians we slobber over, but for the journalist to actively seek to be recognised in music by the people written about strikes me as really unhealthy. Not to mention embarassing (well, I would feel embarassed). Again, maybe Simon was joking.

It's a bit unfortunate that the first time I mention the venerable blissblog is to put it down, as its a blog I read and enjoy regularly.

Note: "glocal" isn't that new. I don't know its exact birthdate, but I'd guess early '90s. It does sound and look horrible, though.

blip bloop

I've been engaged in a long-running debate on hip-hop with the fantastic trombonist Robin Eubanks (of Dave Holland Quintet and Steve Coleman fame, among countless others, including early Sugar Hill Records sessions!). As iTunes played Wiley's "Got Somebody" for me, his musicianly point of view suddenly seemed to run aground of a very different reality.

When "Got Somebody"'s full beat kicks in 25 seconds in, the traditional elements (drums, tuned instruments) get overridden by parasitic "extra-musical" noises (a frog's croak being among the more readily identifiable*). Even though there's a clear melody that carries over from the intro, the sounds that swamp it modify the very way the pitched sounds are heard. At best, they are stripped of their "pitched-ness" and recast as being no more important than an electronic blip or that frog. The confused, joyous mass of pitches, riffs and parasites becomes something like a percussion piece, as pitches and harmony exist haphazardly, as a by-product of collective layers of sound. A totally different bunch of UK musicians Wiley could be likened to at moments (and yes, this is a stretch) are the "post-AMM nebula," who embrace a non-hierarchical approach to sound and "egoless" group ethic (represented in "Got Somebody" by the submerging of melody into noise). Of course, Wiley would have to change a lot (not that I particularly want him to) to really get close to the improvised music crowd, but I'm not the first to make the connection.

When the high A comes at the 1:11 mark (interestingly, just as Wiley makes the transition from "it was so cold, I could have took my lover's life" to "I've got somebody now:" a less obvious and cloying negative to the guitar entering the Black Eyed Peas' "Shut Up" just as the relationship starts to sour), it's so weird: the note itself is clear, high in the mix and notable because it hasn't been heard before, but in the context, and despite the first note of the main melody being an A (I think) an octave lower, it sounds completely alien and just as extra-musical as that frog. That's just the first time you hear it, though, as it repeats and falls easily into place as part of the chorus. Still, that first time it comes in is absolutely thrilling.

Wiley also does some more minimal stuff. "Goin Mad" is at its most provocative at the end: after a breakdown consisting of an inner motivational "get yourself together" monologue and a nicely random and wilfully aimless keyboard line, the main beat, a 1-2-3 thump, returns completely unadorned, opening up fantastic space for Wiley to rap in.

What makes "Got Somebody" (the confused mass of pitched and non-pitched sounds) and "Goin Mad" (the tongue-in-cheek naked metronomic beat) good are precisely those elements that seem the least musical, which may be why, as a musician of a pre-hip-hop generation, Robin has a bit of difficulty intuitively grasping the essence of hip-hop.**

* It might not actually be a frog (it could be one of those stick over corrugated surface wooden percussion instruments), but it sounds like one to me.
** I know some people don't like "grime" being called "hip-hop," but I don't hear it as being musically that far away from hip-hop.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Roy Ayers - Virgin Ubiquity

Virgin UbiquityThe masses of faithful be.jazz readers may have noticed that I don't post album reviews here much. I thought I'd make an exception for Virgin Ubiquity, because it's just that special (for me) and because I can't really see myself talking about it anywhere else.

I'm really the last person that should be talking about this album, as I've never listened to any of Roy Ayers Ubiquity's original albums. Virgin Ubiquity is, as the name implies, unreleased material from 1976 to 1981. For those as unenlightened as I am, All Music informs us that Ubiquity led a popular fusion of jazz, funk, soul and r'n'b and became the template for the early-90s acid jazz boom.

All Music's Thom Jurek gives it four stars (he even calls it the "Holy Grail," a term lifted directly from... the press release), which is where the fun starts. Sure, the first track, "Boogie Down," does precisely that, but it lasts 6 minutes and overstays its welcome in about half that time. By the time you reach the fourth track "Oh What a Lonely Feeling" and its pathetic vocal performance and cheesy "sophisticated" chords, the ride is starting to look like a long one. Yeah, as with other songs, there are bright spots amid the dross: here, the conga-driven disco-ish part is nice, a touchstone for the flood of disco-funk revivalism of a few years ago. "Sugar" places rapidly cloying man-woman call-and-response over some more attractive percussion-laden disco. Unfortunately, this is another track stretched to totally pointless proportions, even for the dancefloor.

It's up and down from there on. You get "Mystery of Love"'s wonderfully bad opening line swoon of "Get away from my mind," which is almost topped for grotesqueness by the subsequent "soulful" shouting (and check out the histrionics on the 9-minute (argh!) "Brand New Feeling," which culminate in a Minnie Ripperton imitation gone badly awry. Anyone who thought that soul singing as caricature was a recent phenomenon should listen to this. For some reason, the singers get worse as the album wears on). The first noticeable vibes solo is heard 7 songs in, on "Green and Gold," a rather enjoyable instrumental, which fulfils its cheese quota by having Ayers go into a "chinese" thing towards the end. "Mystic Voyage" is also pleasant enough, despite its tom fills and slightly dragging tempo. The last track is called "I Am Your Mind," which, to me, evokes nothing so much as Homer Simpson. The beat is interestingly stiff, though.

The absolute highlight (or lowlight, but as we're dealing in kitsch, they're one and the same) is "Together Forever," with indescribably bad synthesizer strings and female cooing to match. It feels like an ugly girl stripping for you, desperate to arouse, while you look on in barely-hidden disgust. This may actually cross the thin-yet-essential line separating "Whoa, this is so bad I must listen all the way through" bad from "Switch this off. Immediately." bad.

2-3 good grooves and a lot of kitsch to take joy in.

Listen to clips here (for some reason, the tracks are not listed in album order).

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

'Allo 'allo

Yesterday I finally got a SIM card for a mobile phone my mother gave me some months ago. Despite the screen being slightly cracked, it's a very cool phone. It can take pictures, so you may soon have blurry squares accompanying concert reviews. Also, it can record sounds, which I can then use as ring tones, therefore bypassing the pay-for-ringtone-of-pop-song business (I'm sure they don't even have a license to use those songs, anyway).

I've long wanted to have "'Round Midnight" as a ring-tone, but decided to postpone that and go for something hipper. At the moment, I have the beginning of Usher's "Yeah!" for incoming calls and Cody Chestnutt declaring "Bitch, I'm broke" for text messages. I also recorded the Ying Yang Twinz's exhortation to "Shake it like a salt-shaker!" and will probably do the same with André's "Shake, shake it." For some reason, text messages and shaking go together in my mind.

Yesterday I was listening to Coltrane's Sun Ship and a nice blast of frenzied saxophone and drums could be a nice way to startle fellow public transportation users. Then again, it's not as if I expect to get calls all that often. It's just crossed my mind that something from James Newton's all-flute recording Axum could sound really cool too. At one point, I was tempted to use myself saying "Mwanji, you have a phone call." I don't know if it's such a good idea. Since I'm in Belgium, maybe I should do "Ceci n'est pas un appel téléphonique."

Suggestions are welcome.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Michel Bisceglia Trio - 16/04/2004, Brussels

Michel Bisceglia - p
Werner Lauscher - b
Marc Lehan - d

Last year, Belgian pianist Michel Bisceglia released his third album, Second Breath, a work steeped in subtlety. So much so that, listening to it before heading off to the concert, I realised, many months later, how much I under-valued it in my review. American listeners will be able to make up their own minds, as the album is to be released across the Atlantic by Omnitone next month. I have not heard his first two albums, but Second Breath is a very good representation of what this trio does. Also, his trio be playing at the Rochester Jazz Festival on the 7th of June.

Bisceglia doesn't go for the big punchline, the ear-catching phrase or the dramatic climax. Rather than waves crashing on the beach, his music tends to seamlessly undulate like the open sea: a solo may begin and end at any time without warning, and pieces are studies in accretion and dissolution. In this sense, he has abandoned the traditional narrative arc, the sense of going from here to there and coming back in favour of dipping into an ongoing meditation, of which any individual solo is only a fragment of. This sounds like a recipe for rather abstract music, but in fact his group concept comes out of the legacy of Bill Evans's quietly free-wheeling trios. Therefore, from a remove, the music is attractively tender, but a closer inspection reveals a myriad of fascinating details, unexpected twists and a steadfast unsentimentality.

Werner Lauscher and Marc Lehan can depart from time-keeping roles at will to engage in an intricate triologue, at which times the music seems to move forward of its own volition: an alchemist's secret, unlocked. Lehan, especially, concentrates not on virtuosity of the fingers, but of the ear. This is audible on the record, but even more evident in concert. His face screws up as he searches (mostly using synthetic brushes: when he picked up one or two sticks, or mallets, the reasons for these choices were clear) for the perfect colour, attack, shading and dynamic. Indeed, rarely have I heard a drummer with such a keen ear for, and utmost dedication to, those elements: both the loudest slap of the snare drum and the quietest of sweeps on a cymbal seem to receive equal amounts of deliberation. His skinny setup indicates his concerns: no floor tom, a bass drum hardly bigger than the larger of his two toms, two cymbals placed as close as possible to the toms, a hi-hat and a cow-print stool.

The concert began with "The Epic," a mostly modal composition that was magical and captivating from the first notes of its short, repeated melody. The Miles Davis (or perhaps as Bisceglia reminded us, Bill Evans) standard "Blue in Green" fit this trio like a glove, as Lehan worked on cymbals and hi-hat over Lauscher's ostinato to create an airy, light vista. Their arrangement includes a slightly funky coda, in which a groove solidified and dissipated, as signaled by only a few notes from piano or drums. Or perhaps these changes were not intimated by the notes themselves, but the intention of the notes.

When the pace picked up, the group went in different directions, but maintained their central aesthetic. Bisceglia's "Septfolie" went through 7 keys in 12 bars and sounded kinda Monkish. Dizzy Gillespie's "Groovin' High" was a surprising choice of standard, but Bisceglia treated it as if it were an original, rather than as a period piece: while its uptempo swing put some muscle on the trio's body, grace and restraint were maintained. A similar effect was achieved as Bisceglia's piano skittered over an original that sounded something like Chick Corea's "Matrix." His most easily recognisable standard was, as on the album, Jacques Brel's "Les Ports d'Amsterdam." Mischeviously, the theme was followed by the most abstract improvising of the night. On "One Finger Snap," [1] I notice another unexpected element: Lehan has a second bass drum pedal next to his hi-hat pedal. By that time, I was already expecting the unexpected.

Michel Bisceglia's website

[1] A few days ago, I heard a version of this played by Herbie Hancock on a newly-released trio album, Live in New York (recorded 1993). It's an exhiliratingly relentless high-octane bulldoze through the piece, which is perhaps worth the price of the CD by itself.

One Final (Diminished) Chord

Some reviews of mine at One Final Note:

Dawn Clement Hush

Joel Frahm Don't Explain

Matthew Parrish Circles

Why diminished? Well, the Clement (chronologically is the root) the Frahm is very good, by far the best of the three (major), the Parrish much less so (a diminished third up from the Frahm).

Friday, April 16, 2004

Dave Liebman, Steve Swall... no, scratch that

Well, there's a first time for everything. Went up to Antwerp for a Liebman/Swallow/Nussbaum concert and, embarassingly, got lost along the way to a place I've been several times already. By the time I found an alternate route, I decided it was too late for it to be worthwhile. So, no concert report tonight.

I do have an RSS feed now, though.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Feed me!

I've added a link to a be.jazz RSS feed. I have little idea how these things work. I've just downloaded Bottom Feeder to get myself into the RSS game.

Alexi Tuomarila & Nicolas Kummert - 14/04/2004, Brussels

Alexi Tuomarila - p
Nicolas Kummert - ts

This was billed as a piano solo concert, but Alexi Tuomarila is a rather shy type, so he called in reinforcements, in the shape of his quartet's saxophonist, Nicolas Kummert. So this became my third piano-saxophone duet in less than a month (fourth if you add the Frahm/Mehldau album). It was their first time giving a duo concert, even though they've been playing together for maybe 5-6 years.

To slip into a prime example of "critical laziness," the concert could be said to be somewhere between a Keith Jarrett/Jan Garbarek and Brad Mehldau/Joel Frahm. Tuomarila is Finnish and brings many folkloric elements into play: wonderful, memorable melodies and dance-like rhythms. One song, who's Finnish name translates as "The Stormwatcher's Daughter," always evokes images of knights, damsels, jousting and perhaps a dragon or two. On Tuomarila's compositions, Kummert has a full, smooth, vibrato-less sound, but on the concert-ending Monk composition "I Mean You," he switched to a more straight-ahead jazz sound, still deprived of vibrato, but less smooth. This is something he often does on jazz standards.

A particular highlight was Tuomarila's playing on Miles Davis's "Solar, " which brought some very nice, subtly contrapuntal elements into play. I hadn't seen him play in around a year and remembered him as a very gifted player, but perhaps a little cold. What surprised me most last night was how he seemed to have pruned the long, abstract lines from his playing, in favour of a more direct, and at times even quite intimate, form of expression. Maybe my memory is wrong, but in any case, I was quite moved.

Alexi Tuomarila Quartet - 02 (Warner)
Alexi Tuomarila Quartet - Voices of Poholja (Igloo)

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Two turnta..., um, a ringtone and a microphone

This warms my heart:

A week earlier I listen as two boys spit lyrics to a series of ringtones-
'get slapped in the manor/get jacked in the manor/get capped in the manor'
'oi, where's Roll Out blud? I can't find it, put that on, I want to ride that one."

While polyphonic ringtones are less fun than the old connect-the-bleep ringtones, I fully expect beats to start sounding like ringtones (old-school tones, preferably). Or maybe that's already been and gone? My head is generally in the sand.

Saturday, April 10, 2004


It's uncanny how coincidences work, sometimes.

For the last two years, I've been thinking on and off that I really needed to interview Bert Joris, a beautiful trumpeter somewhere in the Art Farmer/Kenny Dorham/Chet Baker/Miles Davis nebula of lyricism and a very fine composer and arranger (two indispensable albums on De Werf from 2002: The Brussels Jazz Orchestra Plays the Music of Bert Joris and his own Quartet Live).

Yesterday morning I played the Live album for the first time in a long time. That very afternoon, the PR person for Flagey called me to see if I'd be interested in a triple Bert Joris/Philip Catherine/Frank Vaganée (leader of the Brussels Jazz Orchestra) interview on the day of their collaborative concert at Flagey. Naturally, I agreed.


Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Polar Bear - 04/04/2004, Brussels

Ingrid Laubrock - ts
Pete Wareham - ts
Tom Herbert - b
Sebastian Rocheford - d

They're back! This time in Brussels at the Archiduc, late on a sunday afternoon.

The repertoire was similar to that of the first concert back in October, mainly covering songs from their debut album, Dim Lit. Ingrid Laubrock is a sub and hadn't played with the group since then, so there were a lot of flubs and missed cues, but the energy level was high and nearly all solos were very, very good.

Despite working essentially in the head-solos-head format, Sebastian Rocheford's writing and arrangement for the group is very fresh-sounding and intriguing, full of memorable contrapuntal melodies, tempo-shifting grooves and the odd bit of exotica. For example, on a Russian-flavoured tune, Rocheford began by clapping a rhythm, which he later turned into a slightly martial, dynamic drum pattern. Contrary to the driving groove to which a honking Wareham contributed, Laubrock played a rather languid and nostalgic melody. Russian-sounding, of course.

This band's most interesting feature is its interplay between the tenors and between the tenors and the rhythm section. While both Wareham and Laubrock seem to come out of similar modern jazz backgrounds which takes in everything from bebop to free jazz, with a little r'n'b and even free improv thrown in for good measure, they have arrived at quite different sounds and approaches. Laubrock is a bit fuller and warmer, but Wareham can be quite haunting at times, especially in his almost flute-like upper register. And of course, there's an omnipresent irresistable groove provided by Rocheford's idiosyncratic mix of jazz and contemporary London rhythms and Tom Herbert's melodic lines. They reached back in time for the concert's only new tune, "King of Aberdeen," when bass and drums established a fun, very fast, old-timey two-beat.

Rub Recordings label owner Gea told me that Dim Lit has just been released in the UK and apparently it's doing quite well over there. UK readers (if there are any), go get this album! They're aiming for a second album by the end of the year, which I'm very much looking forward to.

The next day, they played at the Hnita-Hoeve. Due to the combination of energy and imperfection, I would have loved to have gone, but alas I caused my first car accident in 6 years of driving on saturday and lost my front fender, so the car was (and still is, at the moment) undriveable... No injuries though.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Jef Neve Trio - 01/04/2004, Brussels

Jef Neve - p
Piet Verbist - b
Teun Verbruggen - d

This was a pretty big night for Jef Neve, as it was his first time playing in the prestigious Flagey and he was in suitably high (too high?) spirits (a number of people seemed surprised by all the joviality and smiles displayed). He introduced a new move to his stage show: the standing jump. I'd already become used to the sitting jump (or "frog jump," as I like to call it), but the standing jump (I haven't found a cute name for it yet) is a new one. There was a massive turnout of about 200 people: the small Studio 1 (Flagey has a much bigger Studio 4, where Andrew Hill played not too long ago, for example) was full to the brim and they even had to add two rows of wooden chairs. Two odd things: the trio were all in suits, as Neve had decided that should look sharp for their initial Flagey performance; on the first tune, as Neve snapped and counted to give the tempo, someone just behind me started snapping and counting as well, quite loudly. Weird.

The repertoire was similar to the one I saw him play just under a month ago at the Hopper in Antwerp. Both opened with a playful reading of Chick Corea's "Matrix" and otherwise consisted of new originals. Neve playing "Matrix" makes evident that Corea is perhaps the biggest influence on his composing style. A very nice piece was "Lament," which begins with Verbruggen tapping out a quiet drum'n'bass beat with hands and fingers, while piano and bass slowly build upon two sparely stated chords. It builds up to a kind of warm and relaxed folky-bluesy stretch (I always think of Norah Jones at this point... in a good way), bursts into a full-out 12/8 before dissolving into a more classical-sounding take on the initial two chords. In the middle, Piet Verbist took a very nice bass solo, full of finger-bending double stops. Overall, the feel was open, dreamy and with an emphasis on texture, as Neve often insisted on a single low note while Verbist doubled it on bow.

The fourth tune featured a very nice intro recalling Brad Mehldau's contrapuntal playing. The second standard played was "It Could Happen To You," which featured a fantastic bass solo in the 50s jazz style the trio decided to play the tune in. Sometimes you branch out by going backwards, I guess. The last piece before the encore was "Get Yourself a Wheelchair" in which tempo was stretched and compressed like a lump of clay. This and the previous "Bop Me If You Can" seem to indicate that Neve is taking a subtler approach (both in his writing and soloing) to the fast, highly arranged bop of "Pink Coffee."

The two-song encore consisted of a three-tempos-at-once "There Will Never Be Another You" (until the three tempos snapped into one towards the end, it sounded very much like bad jazz well-played, which was the point, I think) and the ever-popular "Blues For Mr. P.S." I felt this concert not quite up to the afore-mentioned Antwerp one, but Flagey does tend to have a slightly soul-sapping effect, on jazz performances at least. Still, I taking a stand now and saying that I don't know who can challenge Neve for the title of "Best New Talent" at the Belgian Django awards to take place in December.