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Before We Say Goodbye To 2012

Mark Corroto By

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In consumer culture, where we are all guilty of looking for the next new thing, the emphasis is always on new releases, and what the next, best, super-improved product will be. It seems that even before this week's movie opens, we are being told about next week's blockbuster.

Before we turn our attention fully to 2013, here are some 2012 releases that deserve a listen.

Sam Newsome The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1 Self Produced 2012

When something is as graceful as an athletic touchdown catch or as beautiful as a landscape, it is quite easy to keep returning to it. Even the untrained can appreciate pure beauty. Such is the case when musician Sam Newsome plies his art, the solo saxophone.

In his case, the soprano saxophone, perhaps the most difficult to master. One can probably count the significant living soprano players on one hand. That maybe why each solo release by Newsome is such a treat. The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1 follows two other self-released albums, Monk Abstractions (2007) and Blue Soliloquy (2009). Here he guides us through recognized territory, John Coltrane's A Love Supreme from 1965 and a medley of Duke Ellington tunes, plus his own "Soprano de Africana" suite.

Playing solo, this one man band uses occasional overdubbing to simulate the percussive parts of his Africana suite. He pairs his cluck and slap tongue approach with flowing notes to multiply his sound, otherwise he maintains the narrative himself. Newsome's take on Coltrane's masterpiece is both reverent and ultimately fresh. Playing notes into the strings of an open piano, he is able to achieve overtones and echoes that elevate the harmonics without studio effects. With an arsenal of sound, this recording never seems to lag.

In many sci-fi B-movie plots there always seems to be a some type of science experiment that goes horribly wrong. This, of course creates a monster that has to be dealt with. In music, leviathans are not built in a laboratory, but in music practice rooms. They still require that we 'deal' with them. Consider tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman. The Brazilian-born painter and musician with a Godzilla of a sound, he can be heard on five (count them) stellar releases in 2012. Each disc begins with his quartet of pianist Matthew Shipp, guitar/bassist Joe Morris, and drummer Gerald Cleaver, first heard on the disc The Hour Of The Star (Leo Records, 2011). Perelman then slices and reconfigures the quartets molecules to come up with new strange and beautiful creatures.

Ivo Perelman/ Joe Morris/ Gerald Cleaver Living Jelly Leo Records 2012

Living Jelly excuses Shipp and plays in trio formation with Joe Morris wielding his electric guitar over bass. Like each new disc, every track is spontaneously composed. Without a bassist, this session opens up, free of a strict timekeeper's watch. Nimble is the tone on "Playing With Mercury," Perelman squeezing out upper register blurts against the nimble fireworks of Morris and Cleaver's stick work. Where a lesser band might get repetitive with such freedom, this trio seems to prefer a coherent message. The bluesy slur of "The Sloth" compliment the almost-bebop of "In Pursuit Of Pleasure."

Ivo Perelman/ Matthew Shipp/ Whit Dickey The Clairvoyant Leo Records 2012

The saxophonist reunites with Shipp and adds drummer Whit Dickey, (both having worked with the late saxophonist David S. Ware) on The Clairvoyant. Again, sans bass, the role is often filled by Dickey's drum kit. What weaves throughout this disc is a sense of exploration. The trio is constantly marking each other's notions, reacting and anticipating some move or direction. They come off with a fumbling blues touch on "Ritual" with Perelman opening up with his jelly smeared Albert Ayler-sound. Shipp, dances around blues here and then stakes his claim by returning fire on "Torture And Glory." Besides holding down the beat, Dickey is a fine colorist. Where Shipp and Perelman are instigators, the drummer is content to support.

Ivo Perelman/ Matthew Shipp/ Michael Bisio The Gift Leo Records 2012

The Gift swaps Shipp's trio partner Dickey for bassist Michael Bisio.

Without a drummer the trio delivers eight shortish improvisations and two lengthier tracks with the longest, (clocking in at 13:06) "A Flower Bewitched And Too Bright By Far," and the most introspective. The three complete each task with a reasoned articulation that might be the hallmark of Perelman's sound. The title track begins with a very Carl Stallings cartoon-like walk from Shipp. He seems to be goading the saxophonist towards a bit of mayhem. The saxophonist works the upper registers dancing over the runs. Elsewhere the trio makes some lounge-like jazz sounds on "What Is this Anguish?," playing within the form and the formalities of the perceived jazz tradition.

Eric Boeren Quartet Coconut de Platenbakkerij 2012

It is, perhaps unfair to continue to draw comparisons of Eric Boeren's Quartet to that of Ornette Coleman's circa. 1960. Sure the piano-less quartet, founded in 1979, covered primarily Coleman's music and indeed, Boeren plays a cornet, the same type fancied by Don Cherry. In the years since, their evolution has yielded a distinct musical personality.

Coined by journalist Kevin Whitehead, the term "New Dutch Swing" is a befitting descriptor. The release of Coconut follows Song For Tracy The Turtle (Clean Feed, 2010) another live date with drummer Paul Lovens. Where the latter was recorded in 2004, Coconut was made in the Netherlands in June 2012. And, probably more significant, the heart-and-soul of the band, drummer Han Bennink is back in the drum chair. Rounding out the original line up is American expatriate Michael Moore (saxophones) and bassist Wilbert de Joode. This exceptionally well-recorded live date finds Bennink playing a single snare drum. Which, of course, is more than enough for him to command his brand of mayhem. Boeren penned eight of the eleven tracks, the band covering two Ornette Coleman tunes, "Little Symphony" and "Joy Of A Toy," plus Booker Little's "BeeTee's Minor Plea." Never mind the heady intellectual nature of jazz today, this quartet favors a relaxed swing fueled by Bennink and the ongoing conversation between players. Moore tends to finish Boeren's thoughts and de Joode is spurred by Bennink to change direction and tempo throughout. Their playing calls to mind rapid fire comedians who barely pause to allow their audience to catch the last joke.

The Claire Daly Quartet Baritone Monk North Coast Brewing Co 2012

Baritone saxophonist Claire Daly's salute to jazz legend Thelonious Monk is an unrepentant delight. Certainly, there have been hundreds of Monk tribute recordings, but Daly's undertaking is quite special. Recorded for North Coast Brewing, makers of the aptly named Brother Thelonious ale, this disc and the previous Brother Thelonious Quintet (North Coast, 2009) with Ambrose Akinmusire donate all proceeds of discs sales to The Thelonious Monk Institute Of Jazz.

Daly's take on Monk pairs the familiar, Monk's "Teo," "Ruby, My Dear," and "Pannonica" with the obscure, "Green Chimneys," "Two Timer," and "Brake's Sake." But even the familiar is renewed by way of Daly's baritone. Although Monk did work with baritone players (Pepper Adams and Gerry Mulligan come to mind), Daly's presence is emphatic. She brings a comfortable swing to the tunes like a blanket of snow that quiets a busy city. With pianist Steve Hudson, bassist Mary Ann McSweeney, and drummer Peter Grant, the eleven selections are delivered almost effortlessly by the band. Highlights include a poignant "Light Blue" with Daly in conversation with McSweeny's bowed bass, "Bright Missisppi" that skips and plops some energized bebop, and the tangled "Let's Cool One." Hudson, although at the piano chair, eschews any direct Monk references, instead sticking to contextual playing, a little slow stride on "Green Chimneys" and deft maneuvering of theme on "52nd Street Theme." Daly swaps saxophone for flute for "Pannonica" and a bit of vocals with the closer, "Holiday Medley—A Merrier Christmas/Stuffy Turkey."

DKV Trio Past Present Not Two 2012

One of saxophonist Ken Vandermark's earliest Chicago collaborations was in DKV Trio with drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Kent Kessler. While the trio has not released a recording in ten years, the last being Trigonometry (Okka Disc, 2002), this limited edition box set certainly makes up for lost time. The seven disc, nearly 6.5 hours of music documents the band from a (sort of reunion) show recorded 2008 in Sardinia, through an appearance in Chicago 2011. Naysayers and traditionalists might suggest an editor or producer might have pared these seven discs down to a more manageable two- disc set. One which would have been more marketable, and thus consumed by a larger audience. If you follow the theory out, maybe 30 years from now, this lengthy 'complete session' could be released as an archival 'find.'

But then that is not how Vandermark operates. Past Present fits nicely on the shelf with such behemoths as his 12-cd Vandermark 5 Alchemia (Not Two, 2005) and the 10-cd Resonance (Not Two, 2009).

This full immersion style of consumption is not just for Grateful Dead or Fugazi fans any more. Vandermark, and his musical guardian angel Marek Winiarski of Poland's Not Two Records (like Bruno Johnson of Okkadisc before him) believe more is better. Agree, or disagree this box set is a juggernaut of improvised sound making.

The seventh disc, titled Bonus Disc brings DKV full circle from their origins. Recorded in Sant'Anna Arresi, Sardinia, the band covers the music of Don Cherry as they have on Live in Wels & Chicago, 1998 (Okkadisc, 1999) and Trigonometry (Okkadisc, 2002). Like their European comrades, The Thing (Mats Gustafsson, Paal Nilssen-Love, and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Cherry's music is a touchstone to their original material. His music is also the codex to understanding DKV's methods.

Like Don Cherry, the trio never hesitates to bring all types of musical language to their instant composing. Vandermark, the ever organizing force, catalogs and coordinates throughout. His knack to bring order from improvisatory chaos is the glue here. Together, the three bring rocked-out sensibility together with ethereal free improvising, some funk, both minimalist and shouting improvisation, moments of gripping music making, and lengthy soloing. If you've got the time, this journey is quite rewarding.

Peeping Tom Boperation Umlaut 2012

What if we could go back in time? Back to an era when bebop was as controversial as hip- hop is now, and jazz musicians were either glorified as trailblazers or denounced as traitors. Surely, we don't want to return to a time when Miles Davis is beaten by the police or Lee Morgan shot, but we do hunger for jazz music to be part of the musical discussion, and maybe just a little argument would be okay.

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