The way things are going in 2019, I might as well just copy-paste my introductions from each month’s column into the next. Every month, I’ve been talking about the avalanche of excellent new releases in the jazz aisle of the Bandcamp store. Usually there’s an ebb to the tide, but here we are covering April’s offerings, and nothing’s changed—there’s still too much great music to get to everything, and more than enough to keep you satisfied until we meet again this time next month.
Art Ensemble of Chicago
We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration
Fifty years. That’s how long the Art Ensemble of Chicago have been gifting the planet with their music. It’s an achievement worthy of celebration, and fortunately for us, that celebration takes the form of some new music. We Are On The Edge also functions as a tribute to Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, and Joseph Jarman—founding members who have since passed on. In addition to the studio session, We Are on The Edge contains an additional album’s worth of music recorded live at Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Edgefest. As a testament to the ensemble’s enduring legacy, vanguards Roscoe Mitchell and Famoudou Don Moye are joined by names more associated with the modern scene: flutist Nicole Mitchell, bassists Silvia Bolognesi and Junius Paul, cellist Tomeka Reid, and vocalist Moor Mother are among the talents lending their sound to this enduring musical collective.
New York Trio
This isn’t music that disappears into the background. On New York Trio, Angelika Niescier exerts her will on her surroundings. The alto saxophonist exhibits presence on each phrase, infusing them with a surging velocity that impacts everything in its path. She’s joined on this session by bassist Chris Tordini, drummer Gerald Cleaver, and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson—all musicians who thrive in this kind of session, where a punchy melodicism is simply the ignition switch for volatile motion.
This album floats between genres, and the qualities that distinguish one influence from the next are as much about the environment they create as the theories they replicate. There’s as much chamber, minimalism, and electronica as there is modern jazz on the latest from Alejandro Coello, and the way these forms of expression bleed into one another leads to some seriously intriguing passages. The percussionist has found a bird-of-a-feather musician in guitarist Diego Barber, whose own cross-pollinations of jazz, classical, and electronica have yielded equally strange and beautiful music. Coello (along with Barber, drummer Simon Phillips, and saxophonist Xavier Casal) have created something that will appeal as much to modern jazzers as fans of John Adams’s Shaker Loops, Brian Eno, and Cinematic Orchestra.
Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society
There is something undeniably hypnotic about the newest from Joshua Abrams, which is remarkable when one considers just how much life is bubbling just beneath the surface—and how often it breaks through. The convergence of jazz and ambient minimalism has a rich tradition, and this album embraces the spirit of Don Cherry’s 1975 collaboration with Terry Riley as much as it mirrors the modern application of Psychic Temple’s rendition of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. The key is how Abrams is able to cause universes of sonic imagery to materialize from the building blocks of repetition, and how he brings the music to a place where melody and groove resonate at the same frequency. Abrams’s Natural Information Society is an all-star cast that includes names like Hamid Drake, Nick Mazzarella, Ben Lamar Gay, and Jason Stein. Warning: Music contains addictive properties.
With a deft use of repetition bolstered by nuanced shifts in melodic phrasings, the Selva trio of cellist Ricardo Jacinto, double bassist Gonçalo Almeida, and drummer Nuno Morão use melodies as a form of hypnosis. But their approach is not just a product of melodic enchantment. That repetition also generates a rhythmic force that hits the sweet spot where intense groove and immersive drone become indistinguishable from one another. The ideal audience for this LP will most likely occupy the Venn diagram overlap of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin fans and Cluster enthusiasts.
Festina Lente delivers music that is almost languorous with a heavy impact. Iago Aguado’s sextet digs into a western folk sound, the kind that evokes imagery of wide open plains and wild horses running as free as the wind. Some of this comes from the fact that the guitarist had enlisted the pedal steel stylings of David Soler for this session. But it’s much less about instrumentation than it is lyricism—and the album is drowning in it. Drummer Oriol Roca has a history of contributing to projects such as this, and bassist David Mengual is a doorway to some of the more dramatically expressive projects of this century. Add to this mix the tenor sax of Miguel Villar and some poignant vocals from Joana Gomila in a guest role, and the combination of ingredients make for a huge success.
Casper Nyvang Rask’s Slow Evolution Ensemble
Slow Evolution Ensemble
This album is all about change. Casper Nyvang Rask’s Slow Evolution Ensemble transitions from a huge sound erupting with chaos to passages of an uneasy serenity that ominously threaten to explode yet again. Each time, Rask brings that unsettling quietude back around, and the back-and-forth instills a tension upon the proceedings more ominous than the threat—or reality—of massive dissonance. Joining the double bassist are some familiar names like Francesco Bigoni, Lars Greve, Henrik Pultz Melbye, and Laura Toxværd (among others).
There’s a lot going on in Massimiliano Milesi’s debut album. There’s an elasticity to the tempos that creates an almost woozy motion, except for when the tenor saxophonist’s quartet breaks into a groove. The heavy doses of electronics sometimes overtake the effect of the organic instruments, and occasionally just melt right into their surface. There’s a harmonic approach that, at times, gives the impression of one becoming two becoming three, like clones of a separate melody that depart and never see one another again. There’s some post-jazz, some modern post-bop, some indie rock, and some electronic music, and these influences inspire a cryptic dance with a curious synchronicity. But complexities are a simple course to navigate when you lead with melodies as embraceable as these. They possess an unswerving catchiness that charts a direct path straight to the listener’s heart. The melodies frame every other aspect of the music and provide it a ringing clarity, no matter what’s in the mix. It’s why Oofth is as fun as it is intriguing. Special mention for Emanuele Maniscalco, who sits in on piano on this session; his name will lead to any number of excellent recordings released over the last few years.
Brian Krock’s Big Heart Machine was a bold debut—a visionary’s take on the transformative potential of the modern big band sound. The multi-instrumentalist’s sophomore release scales things back in terms of the number of players, but the lyrical approach of movie-car-chase-as-music-composition remains. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, really, since this group were the core musicians that eventually grew into the debut’s big band ensemble. Guitarist Olli Hirvonen, bassists Simon Jermyn and Marty Kenney, drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell, and pianist Matt Mitchell bring this thing to life.
The duo of pianist Juanjo Fernández and drummer Giorgio Fausto Menossi take cheerful melodies for a spin, briskly riding them as far as they’ll go. And they pair that with a breezy, conversational style that is 100% engaging. The Barcelona-based duo hit my radar with their 2017 eponymous debut. Their sophomore release is more of the good stuff.
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