Nine Winds: Face in the Mirror and Fancy Meeting You Here
Vincent Golia has quietly built a powerhouse indie jazz label at Nine Winds. Since its establishment in 1977, the label has documented jazz's unappreciated West Coast, releasing albums from Nels Cline, Kim Richmond, Tony Malaby, George Lewis, Wadada Leo Smith and the multi-instrumentalist Golia.
One of Nine Winds' strongest forces right now is pianist/composer Rick Helzer. The San Diego State University professor has been recording jazz for over twenty-five years, most notably with the trio Big World, and is a talented and prolific composer, with over two hundred compositions credited to his name. His latest releases are Face in the Mirror, a composition-heavy hard bop session with aspects of avant-garde-ism, and Fancy Meeting You Here!, a lengthy collection of duets with Golia.
Though released last fall, chances are both these records are still slightly under the radar, warranting thorough, if tardy, review.
Face in the Mirror
Struggling to find something to compare Face in the Mirror to, I turned to a reliable music source if ever there was one, my roommate the graffiti artist.
"It's like a West Coast cool-jazz big band ... with Matthew Shipp playing piano, he says.
Bang! ... and the proverbial hammer hits this nail on its head.
Face in the Mirror definitely has this old school, straight-ahead swinging, hard- bop feel to it but it's laden with all these subtle nuances that tip to knowledge of the avant-garde. The tunes tend to have a Konitz/Baker/Mulligan thing going on, definitely West Coast in style, but little moments of Cecil Taylor-ish piano or Ornette Coleman-like composing keep things sounding fresh despite the aged influences.
Helzer draws from an outstanding collective of little-recorded West Coast artists to fill his ensemble. Bassist Chris Conner and Duncan Moore join Helzer in the rhythm section for eight of the albums eleven tracks. This core is supported by saxophonists Kim Richmond and David Borgo, flutists James Newton and Lori Bell, Joseph Howell on clarinet and Derek Cannon playing flugelhorn, though never do all nine artists perform together. So it's not quite a "West Coast cool-jazz big band ... but the feel is there all the same.
"Tell Your Story is a fantastic duet between Helzer and Howell, sounding like Gershwin kicking it in the Bay Area, while "He who is Acquainted with Sorrow expands the ensemble to its largest point, featuring Bell, Borgo and Cannon.
The quartet arrangements (with Richmond's alto on "Fire Storms or Newton's flute on "The Mentor ) are Facesmost solid moments, supported by strong compositions and interesting improvisation from the featured winds. While some of Helzer's composing on Faces may be too trad for some, it's this sort of exciting soloing from so many slept on artists that makes Faces in the Mirror a worthwhile pick-up.
Faces in the Mirror is a fantastic presentation of pianist Rick Helzer's under- recorded and under-appreciated artistry. For an introduction to an incredible yet unknown artist it is a must.
Rick Helzer and Vinny Golia
Fancy Meeting You Here
Fancy Meeting You Here finds Helzer teamed with labelmate and longtime associate Vinny Golia for 73 minutes of outstanding interplay. The album shows a different side to Helzer than Faces, one that is less rooted in the tradition and more avant- garde and expressionistic. He seems quite comfortable alongside Golia, and the two achieve top notch chemistry throughout.
Golia has assembled a vast catalog of albums since his emergence in 1971. The eclectic wind player is proficient on upwards of twenty instruments; for this particular session, Golia introduces us to seven: soprillo, sopranino, tenor and bass saxophones, saxello, and contrabass flute. For someone not incredibly familiar with the wind family, many of the instruments are indistinguishable. The five-part overdubbing of soprillo sax on "Sub Coda is shrill and unlistenable and the saxello on "1st in the Fast Walking Julius Trilogy (Part 2) seems unnecessary, other than to advertise ownership of a saxello.
The material on Fancy is compositionally quite solid, with tight, technical lines bounced back and forth from Helzer to Golia and effective use of space from both players giving the other enough room to flex when necessary.
While the performance captured here is astounding, much of this rather long album gets repetitive (despite Golia's constant rotation of instruments) and nothing sets Fancy Meeting You Here apart - not like the last piano/wind duet album I got my hands on, Christophe Studer and Lucien Dubuis's Avec Les Pouces.
Some tracks on Fancy Meeting You Here do standout - the balladry of "Silent Voices or "All Upset About the Kirwood Dirby, on which Golia plays an amazing bass saxophone. "You Tell 'Em Kwai-Chung is a staccato and scatter brained starter to the album and the spacious "Green on Purple slowly pulls the album to a comforting close. "The Insidious Tortures of Brian Henderson is the albums moody, and slightly spooky, centerpiece and Helzer and Golia are certainly at their best here.
Start with Faces in the Mirror. If that impresses you, Fancy Meeting You Here should come next.
Visit Nine Winds for track listings.