Category Archives: Reviews

Review of Sunsum by Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble

By Raul da Gama
bill coles untempered ensemble

Listen to Bill Cole—no matter what reed instrument he is playing—and you will never be the same again. The basis of his  beautiful tone lies in his ethereal breath control. Now the breath is the most important element in of his playing. Without it he would have had nothing. Breathing has enabled him to master the art of breath control. Mr. Cole’s breathing to play the nagaswarm, for instance, is totally different from his normal breathing. He breathes quickly, taking in a large amount of air. Then he exhales the air over a period of time, pushing it out with his abdominal muscles, often holding his breath in pure anticipation of what will come next. But there is more…

Bill-Cole-Untempered-Ensemble-Sunsum-JDGSomething in Bill Coles playing reminds me of ‘prãnãyãma’. This is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the ‘prãnã’ or ‘breath’ of more accurately, “extension of the life force”. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, Prãnã, life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath and “ãyãma”, to extend, draw out, restrain or control. This is elemental, visceral… Ancient sages who sat in the upper reaches of the Himalayas practiced this—some playing the nagaswarm. And this by inference is the sagacity with which Bill Cole plays his myriad of reeds and double reeds, ‘breathing in pure anticipation of the final recording, with his ability to take your breath away.
Sunsum is such a recording. Again, “Sunsum” is believed to be one’s spirit; this by the by the Akan people of what is now Ghana. I must make the distinction here: this “Sunsum” of Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble is good ‘sunsum’ (as opposed to bad ‘sunsum’ which makes one kill). However, Bill Cole does not walk a fine line here. He is quite clear what his Sunsum means: “the essential nature of man”. And more importantly: “symbol of purity and spirituality”. Recognising this he lays down the law in his music. And he does so not just in the titles of the pieces in this suite of songs: “The Dove Finds Peace Everywhere”, “Great Loss Is Yours If Your Love For Another Is Not Returned” and “A Scar Is Never So Smooth As Natural Skin”, and so on…
Mr. Cole heralds this good “sunsum” in the music as well: Track 1 is what sets the scene. It suggests a certain sense of swagger and ebullience. It is music intended to foretell of what is to come. And Bill Cole’s response is to play gently, with a tender-hearted response. Track 2 is a warm tonal blend for the first statement from the whole ensemble. Here our protagonist is in full flow. In track 3, Bill Cole flies off vivace that is accompanied by the thunderous winds of Joseph Daley’s bottom interments. This is supported terrific energy and a really tight ensemble. Again, the great percussionist Warren Smith is the glue that holds it all together.
Track 4 is a bittersweet episode. Bill Cole is sounding sad here, and wistful and other-worldly, the winds of Mr. Daley and Ras Moshe taking turns to trill their comforting responses. And finally there is track 5. This is a sort of ‘finale’. It is by turns fierce, a percussive battle between soloist and ensemble. Mr. Cole and his reeds collaborate with the ensemble often breaking off for some tender dialogues. Again, the thunderous percussion of Warren Smith acts as mediator pointing to Mr. Cole, then to someone in the ensemble and back and forth until some resolution is achieved. An unsettling alarm (a brilliant solo with its portend: The Star Spangled Banner) towards the end of this finale on the nagaswarm is a good sampling of the starkness of the writing (throughout), with fabulous playing from Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble.
Track List: Grounded; The Dove Finds Peace Everywhere; Great Loss Is Yours If Your Love For Another Is Not Returned; A Scar Is Never So Smooth As Natural Skin; Evil Sown By A Man Will Grow On His Children’s Heads
Personnel: Bill Cole: digeridoo; Korean piri; East Indian Shenai; East Indian nagaswarm; Chinese sona; Joseph Daley: euphonium; tuba, percussion; Ras Moshe: tenor saxophone, flute, percussion; Gerald Veasley: bass guitar; Lisette Santiago: hand drums, percussion; Warren Smith: drum kit, percussion
Label: Independent
Release date: May 2015
Running time: 1: 52:00
Website: billcole
Buy music on: amazon
About Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble
The Untempered Ensemble was founded in 1992 by Bill Cole as a trio. The first members of the group were Bill Cole, Warren Smith and Joe Daley. Later, in the 1990’s, bassist William Parker and multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore joined the group. Soon after that, the reed player Sam Furnace was asked to join and then, at the end of the 1990’s, Cole’s son Atticus became a member of the group, playing hand drums. This group recorded four CDs for Boxholder Records during the early 2000’s and gave numerous performances, including at the Weil Recital Hall at Carnegie Music Hall in New York.

Creative Music Studio Review: Thursday June 11th

By Michael Shore
 Wednesday night’s concert, a marathon featuring high art, low comedy and highlight after highlight in between, left us wondering how Thursday night’s finale could possibly top it.  But any such thoughts vanished Thursday morning, as word spread through the early workshop session that Ornette Coleman — giant of American music and driving force in the creation of CMS – had left us at age 85.   The eerie irony of the CMS All-Stars playing Ornette’s “When Will The Blues Leave” Wednesday night, some 12 hours before the news came of his passing, was inescapable.   As Marc Epstein recounts on the CMS Facebook page, much of the morning was given over to Karl Berger and a visibly shaken Ingrid Sertso remembering their friend Ornette with warm, witty and wonderful stories of his singular, sweet yet uncompromising character.
                Thursday night picked up where the afternoon workshop had left off, with the best form of CMS tribute to Ornette:  his music.  Guiding Artist Warren Smith painstakingly assembled a breathtaking orchestral version of what many, this writer included, consider Ornette’s greatest, most hauntingly beautiful composition, “Lonely Woman” – fresh, felt, and faithful to the original’s unforgettably stark contrast of mournful melody unfurling in long, slow notes over a bebop rhythm so supersonically fast it almost seems to stand still.  Incredibly, Smith told the participants he’d planned this before the news of Ornette’s passing had broken.   Even more incredibly, he pointed out something I’d never noticed in more than three decades of loving “Lonely Woman,” of being mesmerized by it as Smith said he’d been:  the last five notes of its majestic melody are basically “a long way from home,” the last line of the great spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.”  Could there be a more fitting requiem for Ornette than some 20-plus musicians, young to middle-aged, professional and amateur, playing this tune on this day – in the place Ornette was key to creating?
                It was in that spirit that Thursday’s concert began, with no fanfare whatsoever, as Karl Berger’s meditative piano solo set up Coleman’s classic “Blues Connotation,” with Berger, Sertso, Smith, reedman Donny Davis, trumpeter and Guiding Artist Amir ElSaffar (who was driving to visit his uncle upstate but had to pull over as he passed The Roadhouse, explaining he realized he needed to be there playing one more tune before going on his way), bassist Ken Filiano, and Omar (guitar) and Emilio (drums) Tamez doing justice to its quirkily twisting yet oh-so-songful post-bop melody.   As Berger had begun the piece so he ended it, with a heated vibraphone solo, but only after a double-drum feature and an extended opportunity for Omar Tamez to show what a refreshingly distinctive and original guitarist he is – left-field and unexpected in tone, attack and conception, in a completely natural and unforced way.  He also stood out on the next tune – a reprise of Ornette’s “When Will The Blues Leave,” which Berger had the workshop band play to end Thursday’s session (and the week’s).   And what a joy to hear Warren Smith’s playing behind Tamez:  a model of taste, efficiency, logic, and dynamic control.  Emilio Tamez eventually joined in on drums, turning the heat way up, leading to an intense finale where Omar and Donny Davis wove a tintinnabulating tapestry of ringing, shrieking high notes – so different from Berger’s spontaneous workshop arrangement, which had emphasized the tune’s child-like sing-songy charm.
                A free improv followed, led by Davis’s wood flute and Sertso’s scatting, with Smith on mallets and Omar Tamez on bells and whistles (no, really – literally, bells and whistles).  Ingrid brought intense emotion to what one witness, CMS supporter Lloyd Trufelman, later called “a séance” — chanting “Ornette is here with us, Ornette is here with us…”  and “Say it isn’t so, say it isn’t so…” as Davis’s gorgeous, prayerful alto solo evoked “Lonely Woman” without outright quoting it, just as “Lonely Woman” treats that line from “Motherless Child.”
                Ingrid said “You know, it’s hard to make a musical celebration of the passing of a beloved friend…” before reading a brief Ornette poem.  Karl played a wonderful fast and intricate vibes line which had the distinct feel of a typical twisting, long-lined Ornette post-bop melody, Smith tapping delicate cymbal patterns as Davis’s kalimba entwined with Berger’s vibes to form a sort of mini-gamelan…and suddenly Karl was playing “Theme From A Symphony,” familiar from Coleman’s Skies of America and his landmark 1977 electric recording Dancing In Your Head, over Smith’s fast shuffle on brushed snare.  I wished it had kept going longer than it had, but too soon, it and the set were over.  It had lasted more than an hour and felt much, much faster than that.
                After a break, however, Warren Smith assembled the participants to bid a public farewell to Ornette, and the week’s workshop activities and festivities, with his lovely arrangement of “Lonely Woman.”  And he asked, or actually told your correspondent — a rank amateur so out of practice he’s a virtual non-musician, who’d tried to stay out of everyone’s way at the workshops on small percussion devices (slit drum, tambourine, shakers) — to “sit at my kit while I conduct, and play some real drums for once!”  Thank you, Warren Smith, for the privilege. Thank you Emilio Tamez for so graciously helping this rusty Tin Man through it.    Thank you all the other participants, and Guiding Artists Steven Bernstein and Amir ElSaffar.  Thank you Karl and Ingrid and CMS, and thank you Ornette Coleman for the music that leaves us feeling not such a long way from home after all.

Creative Music Studio Review: Wednesday June 10th


By Michael Shore

Can there be too much of a good thing?  Day Two of the CMS Spring Workshop ended with a bang – a whole LOT of bangs, as if it were fireworks on the Fourth of July – in the form of a marathon concert where the music just. Would. Not. Stop.   All three of this week’s Guiding Artists – Steven Bernstein, Amir ElSaffar and Warren Smith – took unforgettable star turns, while many workshop participants also made their marks.
                The night began with trumpeters Bernstein and ElSaffar and drummer Smith joining CMS founders Karl Berger (vibes) and Ingrid Sertso (voice), Ken Filiano (bass), Donny Davis (reeds), Omar Tamez (guitar) and his brother Emilio (drums).   Berger invited two-time workshop participant and Official Coolest Guy In History Robert Bresnan (hey – he hired the Sun Ra Arkestra to play his wedding 20-plus years ago, okay?) to sit in on piano.   A collective rustle built as the horns and vibes entered as one, holding long clarion tones over Filiano’s driving vamp, the two trumpets spitting rapid unison lines before ElSaffar delivered a fiery, fluttering turn.  After the full band percolated behind some Sertso scat, Smith played a fractured march over which Bernstein blared a rowdy slide trumpet solo before both drummers built from a busy low boil for Berger’s vibes, to volcanic fury as the horns reunited in ferocious free harmony.  The group settled into a modal groove as Davis chanted on alto, before ending quietly.  Any jazz outfit would have been happy to call this a meaty chunk of its set.  It turned out to be mere prelude.
                Next up:  Ornette Coleman’s “When Will The Blues Leave” with Berger and Bernstein stating the fleet, darting boppish melody before all three horns traded several furious 12-bar choruses, then united to baptize The Roadhouse in righteous fire.  Filiano soloed, plucking high up on the neck of his bass as Smith played soft, fast, intricate hi-hat/ride bell patterns, then all three horns faced Berger as his vibes cued their fanfare – which gave way to a thunderous double-drum feature, before the horns stepped back to the fore to reprise the theme.  The next morning, participants learned the terribly sad news that some 12 hours after we’d thrilled to “When Will The Blues Leave,” Ornette – the jazz giant who co-founded CMS, whom Karl and Ingrid say convinced them to stay in the U.S. – had left us.
                Back to Wednesday’s concert, and one of the night’s highlights – everyone left the stage but Bernstein and ElSaffar, who dropped the room’s collective jaw with a dazzling display of witty, pithy telepathic togetherness, running march-derived spitfire riffs in unison, in parallel, around and against each other – before Bernstein began rudely blowing Lester Bowie-style blats, snorts and whinnies at ElSaffar’s urgent soloing.   Bernstein meandered to the back of the stage to blow into the drums, finally hitting a floor tom with a resounding thud – at which point ElSaffar began squawking and squealing back, and they began going at it that way, with as much focus and intensity as they’d given to the supersonic figures with which they’d started.  Finally, ElSaffar blew a mocking version of the familiar horse-racing posthorn call – and Bernstein could only bow in “I know when I’m licked” fashion.   Displays of genius are hardly out of the ordinary at CMS concerts – but slapstick genius?  The radiant smiles on the faces of these two friends, hugging as the crowd erupted in hoots, hollers and cheers, said it all.  Except for the part about how, aside from a big band gig a dozen or so years ago, they’d never played together.  Memo to CMS Executive Director Rob Saffer:  do NOT wait for some distant future Archive Series release – put this out on record ASAP!
                “Let’s have some more conversations” Karl Berger announced, introducing a trio he called “KIK — Ken” (Filiano) “Ingrid and Karl.”  Filiano was especially striking in this context, hitting his strings with his bow to produce a percussive popping effect as Ingrid intoned “Music is an energy – like the sun…” Their second piece was a bouncy, spritely version of Karl and Ingrid’s “Africa/DakarDance,” which they’d also played last night – and again one was struck by just how terrific a bassist Filiano is, everything he plays so propulsive and responsive.
                  Warren Smith returned to the stage and Karl joked “now it’s KWIK!” – but he and Ingrid took a break, leaving Smith and Filiano to back Donny Davis on reeds and Omar Tamez on guitar.  Davis led the way with an Oriental meditation on wood flute, as Smith softly rustled his cymbals and Tamez emitted eerie tones from his prepared guitar, a drumstick stuck under the strings midway up the neck.  Suddenly he was on digeridoo and Davis on kalimba, as Filiano provided yet another irresistible rhythmelodic vamp.  Smith built the rhythm back up on mallets as Davis soloed sinuously on soprano sax – and before we knew it the music had built and built to such intensity that Warren Smith, 81 years young, was standing up AND GOING NUTS NOT JUST ON HIS KIT BUT ALSO ON EMILIO TAMEZ’S KIT NEXT TO HIS.  In 40-plus years of concert-going I can safely say, I’ve seen Han Bennink go to the men’s room mid-set and play the plumbing, and I’ve seen Paul Burwell play drums with rolled-up newspapers — but I have NEVER seen a drummer play TWO kits at once.  And of course, this being Warren Smith, it was completely musical.  I’m just doing the “I’m not worthy” bow in his general direction, and thanking the lord I was able to witness such a thing.
                   While I was finding my lower jaw on the floor, the piece was continuing – with Filiano locking into a beautiful Middle Eastern dum-tek groove (possibly inspired by the maqam piece ElSaffar had taught the participants during his workshop earlier this day) behind a tart, cliché-free Omar Tamez guitar solo.  Donny Davis joined in on alto and things got heated again darned quick, staying at a high-energy pitch for several minutes before subsiding into another Davis wood-flute interlude.   But the puckish comedy theme Bernstein and ElSaffar had introduced earlier reared its head again as Tamez suddenly appeared right over Davis’s shoulder blowing crazy birdcalls on a small whistle  – Davis shrank back in mock horror before removing his alto mouthpiece to respond with duck calls, a la John Zorn.  And still the delights kept coming, in the form of a brilliant Warren Smith drum solo – vocalizing with whoops and grunts and moans in time AND IN TUNE with his hands, then sticks, round his kit before proving his mastery of dynamics yet again, taking it down to a whisper, ending by shooing the sound off his ride cymbal as if flicking away a mosquito.    You know the drill: I’m not worthy, thanking the lord…
                And still the musical conversations did not stop.  Berger, Davis (on the sepulchural contralto clarinet, as tall as he is if not taller), the brothers Tamez and CMS participant Michael Gassmann on guitar…a bass quartet with Filiano and participants Jeff Schwartz, John Dreschler and Leigh Daniels, eventually joined by participant Anne-Marie Weisner on violin as Warren Smith tapped out patterns on his plastic drinking cup in the third row…a big participant band with Weisner, vocalists Hillary Carr, Yasuno Katsuki and Chuck ver Stratten, Daniels, and guitarists Lucas Marti, Esteban Fredin, Stuart Leigh and Rick Warren – ver Stratten speaking in tongues against a chorus of sustained sighs from the women, all of it over a tinkling, twinkly tapestry of overtones from all those guitarists…
                Um, Thursday?  Final night of this CMS Spring Workshop?  You’ve got your work cut out for you.

Creative Music Studio Review: Tuesday June 9th

By Michael Shore
Tuesday, the first full day of the CMS Spring 2015 Workshop, featured two sessions in The Barn led by guiding artist Steven Bernstein — who was onstage at The Roadhouse, slide trumpet in hand and trumpet at the ready, to end the day with a concert also featuring CMS founders Karl Berger (piano, vibraphone) and Ingrid Sertso (voice) plus Guiding Artist Warren Smith (drums), CMS stalwarts Ken Filiano (bass, eyebrows) and Donny Davis (reeds), and the brothers Tamez, Omar (guitar, ocarina, digeridoo, percussion) and Emilio (drums, percussion).  Bernstein the Guiding Artist broke down music not as art but as science, with four key areas of focus: sound (not just the sound a musician makes but their personal sound on their instrument), melody, rhythm and magic.  All, including the latter, are in evidence this evening.
     As Bernstein had done earlier in the day as a Guiding Artist, Sertso onstage offers bracingly direct perspective on music-making with a spoken opening about words and music being her job, with the players immediately falling in line with soft yet strong prayerful accompaniment.  It builds in very controlled, deliberate fashion until Berger lays down a piano figure which, on an unseen and unspoken signal, cues a fleet freebop groove, Bernstein stepping forward to deliver an authoritative, declamatory trumpet solo, at one point holding a high note an impossibly long time (he does practice circular breathing but says “not on that note — too high — that was just one really big breath”), Davis eventually joining in, equally fiery on alto.  Berger moves to vibes — its motor turned off to provide a bright, crisp, xylophone-like sound instead of the usual watery vibrato. As always, his mallet-work invigorates the music, as Sertso intones “In Africa, all the women are sisters, In Africa the sun is on fire…”  The music swells as Bernstein and Davis join in a noble, improvised fanfare, while Ingrid scats rhythmically repeated hard-consonant syllables — “dugg-dugga-dugga-dugga-DAT” — highly reminiscent of the Indian singer Sheila Chandra’s Konakkol percussive vocalizing (though both Karl and Ingrid say she’s been doing it, unaware of any similar Indian style, since before Chandra began recording it in the early 1990s).  Karl taps out a repeating 6 or 7-note line on vibes — it’s his composition “Dakar Dance,” and Ingrid instantly sings wordlessly along.  It is sound, it is melody, it is rhythm, and yes, it is magic.  Sertso’s harmonizing cues the horns to join in, and the rhythm goes positively airborne, lifting the bandstand and the entire room into that particular heavenly orbit that only on-the-spot communal creativity of a very high order can achieve.  Bernstein takes wing, soaring and darting as the drummers roll and surge around Filiano’s bounding vamp, Berger’s vibes sprinkling shiny harmonic stardust over the ecstatic communion they’d just launched.  Davis steps forward with an exuberant, spiraling soprano sax solo, finally hitting on a 6-note phrase that echoes Berger’s launchpad motif again — and Karl and Bernstein pick it up immediately.  THIS is higher musical education, before our eyes and ears!  Bernstein delivers a brief, fluttering trumpet solo as the music quiets, both drummers gently clicking sticks on the rims of their toms…and as it fades to silence, Ingrid waits a perfect beat and says — “The End,” to laughter and well-deserved applause.
     Piece Two begins with Omar Tamez on kalimba — giving the African thumb-piano uncommon expressiveness with exaggerated plucking motions that turn into arm-sweeps, his wide-eyed glee and forward-leaning posture engaging the other players and the audience. Davis pipes up on a small wooden flute, the drummers conjure a forest of clicks and clacks with sticks on rims again, and the ghost of CMS stalwart Don Cherry can be felt smiling down on The Roadhouse.  Warren Smith gives an object lesson in dynamics, s-l-o-w-l-y building  a rumble into a maelstrom behind Davis before switching to mallets as Berger hits the vibes for a freebop turn. Bernstein delivers a burning slide-trumpet solo as the full band roars, the clamor finally subsiding as Sertso says “My time, is your time…”  And as it fades to quiet, Sertso this time asks, rather than declares — “that’s it?  We’re done?”
     Only for a moment.  Berger, Bernstein and Smith leave the stand, as Omar Tamez picks up a digeridoo to engage Filiano, brandishing a bow — and we know from last night just how skilled an arco player he is.  Davis makes this a full-on subterranean convocation, busting out a long tall contralto clarinet on which he not only hits tummy-tingling foghorn lows, but some rather astounding high-harmonics that sound frankly more like something from a brass instrument.  Omar Tamez resourcefully slices through the deep thickness with an ocarina, on which he emits eerie, sustained wails that sound far richer and more musical than one might expect from this child’s toy, while his brother Emilio rustles round his kit, Sertso telling us “Once there was a bird most beautiful, who could fly and soar — until it was seen by a man most rich…”  The piece ends as she discloses the poor bird’s untimely fate.
     After a brief break, Karl announces he has a new composition to debut.  He’s joined by CMS participants Leigh Daniels and bass and Yasuno Katsuki on euphonium.  It’s a lovely, unhurried unfolding of gentleness and insistence, Katsuki pecking out some agile staccatos and Berger’s vibes dominant, featuring extra-bright notes hit with the butt ends of his mallets.  A quietly thoughtful way to end a thought-provoking day.

Creative Music Studio Review: Monday June 8th

By Michael Shore

  This was one of those concerts where the line is blurred between the warmup and the “actual music” — where you become aware the warming up never stopped and instead transmuted into rolling waves of sound, and you realize from the casual mastery displayed by such musicians as CMS Spring 2015 Workshop Guiding Artists Karl Berger (piano, vibraphone), Omar Tamez (guitar, percussion), Ken Filiano (bass) and Warren Smith (drums) that loosening up and tuning up IS in fact music…a way of approaching and striking up a conversation with their instrument, not “as if” it’s a living partner — it IS a living partner, no less than their fellow musicians are partners.  Later, CMS Executive Director Rob Saffer will sidle over to me and whisper that just as I’d been noting how the warmup bled into those waves of sound, he’d asked the videographer if he was rolling — and the reply? “Oh, have they actually started playing?”
     The extended warmup/overture finally dissolves as Karl hits on an Afro-Latin piano vamp — a handful of notes, repeated just-so with that particular rhythmic feel and emphasis Jelly Roll Morton called “the Latin Tinge,” so central to jazz syncopation — and they’re off, sailing along on Warren’s classic bop ride cymbal…Karl, rakish in a fedora, hustles across the stage to his vibes for an emphatic and exultant solo, crouching in time to the decay of sustained notes, then tapping out rapid repeated runs…a scrabbling Omar Tamez solo leads to a free interlude dominated by Omar’s assortment of sirens, whistles and bells…Karl’s stately piano ruminations morph into a vaguely Spanish vamp which Rob Saffer thinks is a Karl composition whose title he can’t place, over which Omar peals out gorgeous sweet-sustained licks and reverbed trills…for an ecstatic and too-brief moment the whole band catches hold of a beautiful cycling groove one wishes would last all night.  Then — a brief free interlude, some reflective piano…and Piece One is over.
     Piece Two starts of with Karl’s repeating piano runs, leading the foursome into a prolonged free meditation, dark and stormy like the weather outside on this rainy night.  It finally subsides for a superb bowed solo by Ken Filiano, making the bass sing in that solemn, cantorial way that the late great Ronnie Boykins had with the Sun Ra Arkestra…Warren Smith clacks out quiet patterns on the rims and shells of his drums before all subsides for Omar’s kalimba solo, Filiano rubbing the body of his bass to produce scrapes and moans — like rubbing a balloon on a flannel shirt…or like a whale sighing in its sleep.  Karl ruminates on piano, Warren taps out a steady bass drum pulse — and it’s over.
     Seemingly with hardly any effort at all, these four have taken The Roadhouse on quite the sonic journey.  This, folks, is how it’s done.  Now let’s see what Guiding Artists Amir elSaffar and Steven Bernstein, and this spring’s class of attendees, can bring these next few nights!

CIMP Review of Honeymoon on Saturn by Andrew Lamb Trio

With bassist Tom Abbs adding tuba, didgeridoo, and the occasional vocal to his setup, and all-around percussionist and long-tim collaborator Warren Smith on hand, the Andrew Lamb Trio generates a powerful sound on Honeymoon on Saturn. As engineer Mark Rusch observes, Lamb’s “tenor sounds like no other” that he’s recorded. His is a big and hard sound, tight and without any vibrato. In its absence of breath sound, you could almost think of it as the antithesis of latter-day Ben Webster. The tautness of Lamb’s approach to the horn almost inevitably leads to reed squeaks, which are incorporated into the flow of his ideas. Every one of his note choices has weight and heft. His lines are clear, emphatic, unexpected perhaps but establishing their own logic as they swirl past. In realizing his vision, he’s helped immensely by his partners, the cagey Abbs and the seriously under-appreciated Smith. Highlights in this deeply satisfying set include the animated three-way conversation that’s at the center of the long opening track, the elegantly strangled and insistent Year of the 13th Moon, the irresistible dance of A Alegria E O Prazer de uma boa Tarte, and the tender The Call of Love’s True Name, featuring a taste of Smith’s glockenspiel. At just over 10 minutes, Dance of the Prophet is a bit too long for its own good, an occasional hazard for the “what you hear is what it was” style of CIMP’s recordings. While Lamb’s tart, dry sound is definitely an acquired taste, it’s one worth cultivating for his fecund imagination and uniquely vivid style on tenor sax. Definitely recommended.2015_01_30_14_02_55

Review of Portraits: Wind, Thunder, and Love by Joseph Daley

Reviewed by Mark S. Tucker
Portraits: Wind, Thunder, and Love

The New Age front cover art to Portraits: Wind, Thunder, and Loveis more than a little misleading, the reverse liner photo giving the best sense of expectations to this CD and its environment: a small symphony ensemble arrayed around composer-conductor Joseph Daley. Portraits is the kind of novo-jazz nu-classical amalgam written and performed all too rarely on these shores. Long-time FAME readers know my affinity for this sort of music as portrayed by Anthony Davis in the 80s, and every new slab in league is always more than welcome as each travels back in time to a wrinkle in the neo-jazz canvas that was too briefly etched. Well, take heart, y’all, ’cause this is only the third of a highly ambitious 10-CD series of works to be completed by the time Daley reaches 70 years of age, all of them crafted in his recent rather dramatic conversion to post-Impressionist neoclassicalism.
Did I say ‘post-Impressionist’? Hm, I may have been a tad hasty, because the term, as with so much of the linguistic baggage applied to art, embraces a good deal more than my trusty 1954 edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians is willing to grant. That marvelous but sometimes wanting mini-encyclopedia states that the “chief aim of impressionism is to capture a momentary glimpse of a subject under certain temporary conditions rather than its permanent qualities”, and this quite nails a good deal of what the estimable Mr. Daley is accomplishing here in the very first movement of his five-section Wispercussion/Five Portraits of Warren Smith, at times searingly illustrative of the technique and its affective qualities.
Three of my all-time favorite CD box sets are obscure collections of rare sounds, all of performances taken from live recitals: New World Records’ Music from the ONCE Festival: 1961 – 1966 (five discs); the Col Legno Leningrad 1988, Vols. 1-6 (six discs); and New World Records’ Testament: A Conduction Collection (ten discs of Lawrence D. ‘Butch’ Morris’ sessions with ensembles). What Daley is doing, and what Davis did and is still doing, is colliding the Classicalist and Romantic periods of classical music with what was sparked by Schoenberg and others, producing what I call ‘incidentalism’ (I’ve merely extended Grove’s definition of ‘incidental music’ to its proper sphere): whole opuses, or elements within them, consisting of even briefer glances than Impressionism propounded, rendered serially, though not necessarily linearly, strung together either as an entire work or tossed in as garni. What this derived from, though, as shown in Cage and Stockhausen, was a historic expansion of consciousness and, after that, the artist’s self-permission to create without necessity to adhere to stifling conventions.
However, the mid-ground within that (starting in utilizations of ancient hallowed traditions, moving to recent more peculiar rules, and then finally the expression of self as artist in a here-and-now granting far more anarchic space than ever before) is what Daley, Davis, and others occupy. This eradicates the too-often irresponsible avenues of free jazz (which is magnificent when done correctly—see, for instance, the new Frank Lowe issuance [here]), the vacuousness of the fruitier sidestreams of the avant-garde (can we say ‘Laurie Anderson’, boys ‘n girls?), and so on. What I’m saying is: this is serious music ensuring the classicalist tradition does not slip into the ‘dead music’ realm Brian Eno accuses it of.
The long Wispercussion suite is segmented according to a quintet of expositions showcasing 80-year old Warren Smith’s percussive excellences. Warren played with Miles, Aretha, Janis, Lena, Lennie Bernstein, and even one of the most maverick of all American musicians, the unclassifiable Harry Partch, among many many others. Daley, who knows from superlative, played with Sam Rivers, Gil Evans, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley, and others as well, all stellar names in jazz’s various firmaments. The joining of the two men, then, is something of a major event in this rarefied sector. But also take note of Shadrack/Portrait of Bill Cole. Cole’s the nagaswaram player in the piece, and his work is highly evocative of the late Elton Dean of Soft Machine, playing the distinctive double-reed in a stormy milieu.
Two more cuts appear, but I’ll let you discover those for yourself. Again, though, this is music to listen to. There are so many colorations, images, emotions, and whatnots entablatured that experiencing the events requires one’s full attentions lest so much be missed in work well beyond what Copland, Ives, Grofe, Gershwin, and other modern masters emitted. My favorite track is the closer, Industria, a moody chaotic 9-1/2 minute very progressive piece that could’ve erupted from Univers Zero or some of the highest caliber progrock bands, a grey wonderland of marvels, dangers, intrigues, and ceaseless fascination.
Track List:

1) Wispercussion/Five Portraits of Warren Smith/MVT 1….02:51
2) Wispercussion/Five Portraits of Warren Smith/MVT 2….02:32
3) Wispercussion/Five Portraits of Warren Smith/MVT 3….03:59
4) Wispercussion/Five Portraits of Warren Smith/MVT 4….06:44
5) Wispercussion/Five Portraits of Warren Smith/MVT 5….07:23
6) Shadrack/Portrait of Bill Cole…………………….………07:23
7) Doretha and the Blues/Portrait of Wanda Daley….………06:08
8) Industria…………………………………….……………..09:23
Composer/Conductor: Joseph Daley
Violin 1: Curtis Stewart [Concertmaster], Mazz Swift, Jason Hwang, Skye Steele, Violin 2: Charles Burnham, Elektra Kurtis, Jessie Montgomery, Sarah Bernstein
Viola: Nick Revel, Janina Norpoth, Trevor New, Nora Krohn, Cello: Akua Dixon, Marika Hughes, Amanda Gookin, Rubin Kodheli, Bass: Ken Filiano, Ben Brown
Keyboards/Piano: Lafayette Harris, Percussion: Warren Smith
Guest Artists: Tracks 6, 7, 8 Jerry Gonzalez [Percussion], Onaje Allan Gumbs [Keyboards],, Satoshi Takeishi [Percussion], Richard Huntley [Percussion] Track 8 only Gregory Williams [French Horn]
Edited by: David N. Pyles

Review of Dialogues @ ShapeShifter Lab


dialogues, live @ shapeshifter lab brooklyn

Artdialogue /

Warren Smith (vib, dr, perc), Edith Lettner (as, ss, duduk)

On this live recording, saxophonist Edith Lettner (who also plays the Armenian duduk) presents herself in an exceedingly clairaudient improvisational union with veteran percussionist Warren Smith. What you can expect is improvisational music on a high level. Lettner proves to be a sensitive and virtuoso instrumentalist who doesn’t dread leaving her comfort zone while she trenchantly interacts with her partner Smith. Their range covers careful touches to swirling cascades of notes, occasionally suggesting a penchant for small intervallics, many times even in parallel or jumbled in lively alternation. It’s a treat hearing how Lettner can get persistently wound up in small motifs and particles while she continuously refines them as if she were possessed (in the most positive sense of the word, naturally). Smith is a fabulous conversationalist and you wouldn’t expect anything else from such an accomplished player. They draw on all kinds of sources, cis and transatlantic as well as others and yet they always remain true to themselves, thankfully. The result is definitively worth listening to- it is very good. Thank you for the dialogue!

(Bertl Grisser)

Review of Musical Blessing by Kalaparush Maurice McIntyre

“Nothing to say except what’s going on being a professional musician. Starvation box. You don’t get nothing. We’re fighting to stay alive.”

The sobering sentiments above are the sole artist’s notes for tenorist Kalaparush McIntyre’s latest CIMP release. The decades since his ascendancy as an AACM leader in the late 1960s haven’t been kind to his financial solvency or physical fitness with street corner busking serving as a principal means of both musical expression and income for at the least the past handful. CIMP has stalwartly stood by him through these lean years, releasing a string of projects showcasing his music, peculiarities and all, over the past decade. Those foibles are in full display onMusical Blessing,too, where the occasional reed squeak, ragged entry or eccentric intonation choice doesn’t always sound intentional. An essay of Coltrane’s “Impressions” is delivered at a fractured and halting crawl.

Above all, McIntyre frequently sounds world-weary and more than a bit insular in his improvisations, the frustrations enunciated in his artistic statement bleeding over into the wounded language expressed through his horn. It’s a discouraging state of affairs the good folks at CIMP are well familiar with as the bulk of their now vast catalog of releases documenting some of finest free jazz musicians still resides in a space removed from the awareness of most jazz listeners. This session dates to nearly three and a half years ago, a long time to be collecting dust in the can.

In contrast, McIntyre’s colleagues on the session don’t sound the least bit disheartened by any of these hard realities. Bassist Michael Logan, a regular McIntyre confrere, joins bassist RaDu Ben Judah (a former Sun Ra sideman) in weaving febrile patterns of cross-hatching lines. Both men take the leader’s idiosyncrasies easily in stride and use the pervading looseness to come up with some risky ventures of their own as on the hard-strumming bass relay that opens “Crossing Zone.”

Drummer Warren Smith has experienced some similar ups and downs in his over half-century behind the kit. His ace percussion skills are an asset from the outset and the CIMP standard of naked, no compression recording brings his polyrhythms into bold relief. Referencing McIntyre and Smith’s Chicago roots “Southside Loop” gives the bassists a break and allows the drummer to converse musically and verbally with his old friend. It quickly becomes a beautiful example of one improviser honoring and enhancing the work of another.

McIntyre may not be the player he was in his prime, but like past loft jazz lions-in-winter (Frank Lowe in particular springs to mind) a depth of feeling projects from his singular serpentine phrasing that almost seems enhanced by the situationally-compromised facets of his musical toolbox. It’s especially true on the closing largely-solo rendering of “The Very Thought of You.” Listening through and past the irregularities that litter his phrasing, there’s an artist of obvious integrity and worth still wholly dedicated to putting his personal message out.

[Postscript: Kalaparush passed away on November 9, his financial and professional positioning not much removed from the status quo described in the quote that leads this piece. As a final artistic statement he might have wished for better, but the candor and poignancy suffusing this record still gets the job done.]

Derek Taylor