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Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records

Mark F. Turner By

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The launch of Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records in the Spring of 2008 was a clear indication of the sign of the times where musicians are taking control of their own destinies, creating labels that are autonomous and imaginatively focused on their own ideas. A point of interest is that BJURecords is a sister company of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground formed in January 2007—a collective of forward thinking, talented bandleaders, that includes names such as trombonist Alan Ferber, violist/violinist Tanya Kalmanovitch and saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh.

The initiative found in BJURecords' mission statement—"to put out quality recordings that define the shape of today's jazz,"—is realized in the label's debut of three outstanding releases: Alexis Cuadrado—Puzzles, Anne Mette Iversen—Best of West (AMI & 4Corner String Quartet) + Many Places (AMI Quartet), and Bernard Emer Lackner Ferber—Night For Day. A diversity of music that is fully in tune with the musicians' environment, these releases should effectively put the fledgling label on the map for fans seeking creative improvised music.

Female bassist/composer, Anne Mette Iversen, delivers a double treat with a two disc set that illuminates her working quartet (saxophonist John Ellis, pianist Danny Grissett, and drummer Otis Brown III) with the 4Corners String Quartet on disc 1—Best of West and the AMI Quartet on disc 2—Many Places .

It's not a trivial task to pull off a jazz suite, let alone for double quartet, but Iversen's compositional fortitude, leadership and performance are impeccable. The string and jazz quartets work together harmoniously, articulating a work written in four movements based on traditional classical music forms: "East" (Allegro), "South" (Adagio), "West" (Menuet) and "North" (Presto). Best of West is a fine duality of contemporary jazz and classical influences, where discipline, tasteful flamboyance, deep composition, and creativity all coexist.

This same attention to detail is heard on Many Places albeit in a more intimate setting as each player expresses their individuality and oneness, showing why the inner workings of a "jazz quartet" is such a wondrous union. With this double release, Anne Mette Iversen is clearly one to watch and listen for.

Night For Day features the four member group of Will Bernard (guitar), Andrew Emer (bass), Benny Lackner (piano) and Mark Ferber (drums). While they are all coincidently Californians transplanted in NYC, who have lead their own bands and worked in various music backgrounds, what comes through vividly in this recording is a distinct "group sound" which is comprised of Bernard's blues and New Orleans influences, Emer and Lackner's free form compositions, and Ferber's in demand percussive drumming.

Trippy grooves, avant-gardism, attentive melodies, and some rigorous group interaction all coalesce into nine original/imaginative compositions including "Dry Tortugas" a shuffling blues vamped piece about a "drunk swaggering through the night," the chamber eloquence of "Pianohaus" written by Lackner in Germany at a piano store where he practiced, and unique cover of "Heaven" by composer/pianist Billy Strayhorn, which conveys an essence of timeless beauty. The music, like the album title, as Emer states is "open for interpretation... I see it is as the yin and yang or heaven and earth of music and art—night and day."

Born in Barcelona, Spain, bassist Alexis Cuadrado's Puzzles is his third as a leader. Bringing a variety of ideas in a cohesive and intriguing package, he enlists the help of some dynamic players—saxophonist Loren Stillman, guitarist Brad Shepik, drummer Mark Ferber, trombonist Alan Ferber (on three tracks) and Pete Rende (Hammond B3 organ, on one track). Like a jigsaw puzzle with its differing shapes and colors; when all of the pieces are put together, the recording gives a comprehensive portrait of Cuadrado's depth as a performer and composer.

The rock music dreamscape of "B&W Pop," where Rende's organ adds an atmospheric touch, the swinging "Abstract Rhythm," the surrealist abstract Fellini tribute song "8 & ½," and the brilliant "Quintessential" with its mini-suite format; are all strong individual pieces connected to a memorable body of work. The mood and tone varies on each track, keeping the listener intrigued; yet what is consistent, is the group-bond, revealed in exemplary performances that don't sound rushed or stifled, a perfect vehicle for musicians to express their music; which is exactly the objective of Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records.

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