With a growing number of musicians to keep track of, staying on top of the continuous onslaught is one task, visiting and/or revisiting the chestnuts of yesteryear and decades past is yet another ever time-consuming yet essential pleasure for music fans as more recordings are being reissued these days, many of which haven't seen the light of day since their original issue. One such timeless session by a musician whoif you're luckyplays on occasion (primarily Philadelphia, his hometown) is Byard Lancaster's It's Not Up To Us (Vortex, 1966) with guitarist Sonny Sharrock. Revisiting his all-encompassing jazz originals and interpretations with longtime similar-minded associate, percussionist Harold E. Smith (drummer, didgeridoo, conch shells), Lancaster visited Brooklyn's Sistas' Place (April 4th) with a two-bassist quartet. His bass clarinet (second perhaps only to Bennie Maupin as the instrument's most impressive post-Dolphy player) flew over undertones provided by his dynamic double-bass backing of Edward Crockett and Bert Harris, one arco while the other alternately went pizzicato.
From "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise to "I'm An Old Cowhand , Lancaster wisely selected segments to occasionally break up melodically extemporizing with deep-rooted rattling improvisations that shook the very foundation of the jazz standard repertoire while still remaining true by assuredly returning from whence he came as in the early period Coltrane standard "Blue Train , funneled into a blistering-paced latter Coltrane-inspired rendition covering a range that seemed to extend beyond saxophonic possibilities. The space's unfortunate and haunting feedback at times strangely complemented the eerie at-times sounds or was thankfully drowned out by intense interplay blanketing more major distraction.
~ Laurence Donohue-Greene
Most saxophone-drum duos, regardless of quality, usually traffic in gusto rather than subtlety. The collaboration of English saxophonist John Butcher and American drummer Gerry Hemingway (presented by Roulette at Location One. Apr. 16th), was a welcome respite from all that bravura. Instead of sharp jagged beams, the music expanded and contracted like a delicate soap bubble, only once fully foraying into sounds above a whisper. What is most striking about Butcher is that he becomes more compelling the quieter he plays. Like all good Brits, he is a master circular breather and can create effects on his horn ranging from birdcalls to space radio waves. Hemingway too can conjure up some wonderful aural effects and was aided at the performance by a touch-activated electronics setup. The duo played three pieces of decreasing length (20, 15 and 7 minutes), eschewing any emphasis on melody or pure tone. The improvisations were cerebral rather than instinctual and developed slowly and deliberately, careful thought given to each sound. The rare loud moment was a release of tension, like a tree falling rather than a volcano erupting. The set's last piece featured Butcher playing his soprano sax into the carpet underneath Hemingway's kit while the drummer methodically bowed away on a cymbal. A masterful example of understatement.
If there was further proof needed that jazz critics don't know anything, your correspondent was certain that altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa was at least a devotee of British altoist Mike Osborne, if not a serious student. Turns out he has never heard of him thoughlike scientists developing parallel hypotheses across the globehis playing has come to many of the same conclusions. Marked by a wonderful concoction of fierce intellect and dripping emotion, Mahanthappa's music would have fit nicely in early '70s London. But it was on display at Sweet Rhythm (Apr. 21st) in a quartet with frequent foil Vijay Iyer on piano, Francois Moutin on bass and Eliot Humberto Kavee on drums. The music was plucked from Mahanthappa's newest album for Pi Records, an exposition on the countless dialects of the leader's ethnic home of India. Iyer's rich chord voicings filled the underbelly of Mahanthappa's brisk runs while Moutin and Kavee provided a syncopated post bop underpinning. Again, your correspondent misplayed, assuming Moutin to be limited by his more typical straight ahead appearances and then being surprised at how out there he could - and did - get. Like his hero, wait, the guy he had never heard of, Mahanthappa layered urgency into every piece by eschewing long tones, instead presenting his melodic ideas in mosaic fashion - lots of small connecting phrases that create an image of a busy Eastern marketplace full of Babel-like buzzing.
~ Andrey Henkin