Hep to HatHut

Robert Spencer By

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File this one under "music by people who should be household names but aren't." On these discs there are two of them: pianist and composer Horace Tapscott and clarinetist John Carter (which is not to say that bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Andrew Cyrille don't hold up their end, either; they do, and admirably so). Simply put: what beautiful music this is—not precious, not predictable, certainly not conventional, but in all respects suffused with Tapscott's winning sense of how much is enough and how much is too much. Indeed, a primary impression I get from listening to both of these discs is an immense sense of order, in the composition as well as in the improvising—an architectonic sensibility that stands on a par with that of Ellington or Charles Mingus. It's all the more tragic that Tapscott labored in obscurity for so long, but at least in The Dark Tree we get a sense of what might have been, and what was.

Jimmy Giuffre & André Jaume
Momentum, Willisau 1988
hatOLOGY 508

Jimmy Giuffre is another one: he should be as well known as Kenny G or at least Miles Davis, but instead . . . instead we have these clear-cut and vast duos, featuring Giuffre on clarinet and soprano sax with André Jaume on bass clarinet and tenor, performed live at Jazz Festival Willisau in 1988. Giuffre's music is soft-spoken and understated, as are the courteous, even courtly, somewhat old-fashioned announcements he makes between each piece, giving its title and other particulars. But the music can be deceiving: it always skirts the edge of innovation and is full of an excitement that may elude those who are accustomed to having all their musical drama telegraphed by shouts and crashes. It's small wonder that Giuffre would be so much admired by Joe McPhee (who has, of course, played and recorded with Jaume); although their approaches are superficially vastly different, both have an invigorating ability to the subtlest reaches of a melody and to display them for all they're worth. It's a pity that none of these men have gotten the recognition they deserve.

Myra Melford Trio
Alive in the House of the Saints
hatOLOGY 2-570

A double-disc reissue of the outstanding 1993 single disc, with four additional tracks that live up in every respect to the quality of the original release. Myra Melford's is a muscular, ringing attack that sounds as true as a sledgehammer hitting a rail peg. Hers also is a diaphanous delicacy that breathes deeply within the music and creates an atmosphere fruitful for meditation. Lindsey Horner (bass) and Reggie Nicholson (drums) are apposite accompanists and much more, providing strong alternate voices to create a positive dialogue. Melford's voice is firmly individual, with flashes of everyone from Red Garland to Cecil Taylor, Bud Powell and Igor Stravinsky, and "That's the Peace" may nod just a bit, in its introductory moments, to Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures At an Exhibition, but she has taken all these disparate influences, if indeed they are legitimate and not just my own associations on hearing various motifs and fragments, and fashioned her own distinctively brisk, commonsensical, and eloquently persuasive approach.

Vienna Art Orchestra
The Minimalism of Erik Satie
hatOLOGY 2-570

The music of Erik Satie, the deceptively puckish, great-souled French impressionist master, here becomes the basis for a series of "Reflections" by Mathias Ruegg of the Vienna Art Orchestra. The Orc also performs three "Vexations" and "Gnossienne No. 3" by Satie, but the "Reflections" pieces don't stray too far from the main road in any case. What is striking about this is the instrumentation: the high-flying and deeply affecting abstract vocalese of Lauren Newton, the quicksilver trumpet of Karl "Burni" Fian, the absolutely correct soprano of Harry Sokal. Also, the superlative duet between Newton and the mid-to late-Coltrane (with a tinge of Evan Parker) tenor saxophonics of Roman Schwaller on "Reflections on Gnossienne No. 2" are absolutely not to be missed. The large ensemble as a whole has none of the ponderousness that often infects gatherings of this kind; on the contrary, it's extraordinarily nimble and light on its feet.

Steve Lacy—Roswell Rudd Quartet
School Days
hatOLOGY 578

In March 1963, when this disc was probably recorded, the music of Thelonious Monk didn't have the iconic status that it enjoys today. But then as now, one of its most energetic and resourceful advocates was Steve Lacy, who himself had a brief stint in Monk's large group in 1960. Lacy has referred to his group with Roswell Rudd that played only Monk (here fortuitously recorded on tape that has now been vastly, wondrously cleaned up by hat engineer Peter Pfister) as a school—a school of music, of composition, of improvisation, and more. As Peter Kostakis puts it in the liners, these seven Monk tunes are "hard-won lessons in economy and complementary interplay." The highlight of this magnificent disc is the tricky "Brilliant Corners," which Monk himself and Sonny Rollins weren't able to get down in one complete take during a session in the 1950s. Lacy and Rudd are a phenomenal pairing; no jazz fan should be without any of their recorded collaborations.

Cecil Taylor Unit
It Is In the Brewing Luminous
hatOLOGY 562

It may be hard to believe, when listening to School Days and It Is In the Brewing Luminous back-to-back, that Cecil Taylor and Steve Lacy played together in the Fifties. Yet for all the astonishing fire-breathing quality of this music—which is one continuous 69-minute piece—it never loses its sense of inner logic or its cataclysmic dramatic power. Taylor is famous for pounding the keyboard with his elbows, and there is some of that here. But to emphasize that aspect of the music—a kind of full-bore Cageism—would not do justice to the astounding facility of Taylor's high-speed, high volume improvisations. Taylor is responsible for awesome firepower on this disc, but this edition of his Unit is no slouch either. This music also features the formidable Jimmy Lyons on alto saxophone, along with violinist Ramsey Ameen, Alan Silva on bass and cello, and Jerome Cooper and Sunny Murray on drums.

Sun Ra Arkestra
Sunrise In Different Dimensions
hatOLOGY 568

Let's see. On this one we have "Pin-Points Of Spiral Prisms," "Round Midnight," "Silhouettes of the Shadow World," "Take the A Train," "Disguised Gods In Skullduggery Rendez-Vous," Noble Sissle's "Yeah Man!" and more—that's right, it's a Sun Ra record, with the Man from Saturn in absolutely top form in a concert at Willisau in 1980. All the most noted Arkestra members are also having a tremendous night, serving up Ra's unique combination of intellerstellar freak-out and Forties big band—notably Marshall Allen (alto sax, oboe, flute); John Gilmore (tenor sax, clarinet, flute); and Michael Ray (trumpet, flugelhorn). Ra's piano sums up the enigmatic and fluent versatility of the whole ensemble, as it transitions seamlessly from ragtime to post-Cecil Taylor sturm und drang. Somehow Ra manages to join these two universes and make them seem as if they were never really all that far apart after all. And I believe that they weren't.

Matthew Shipp String Trio
Expansion, Power, Release
hatOLOGY 558

Versatility is the watchword on this tight set of fourteen Matthew Shipp compositions performed by Shipp, violinist Mat Maneri, and the stupendous bassist William Parker. Consider, for example, the transition between the apocalyptic "Expansion" to the lyrical "Waltz," and then to the dark and meditative "Combinational Entity." Shipp, Maneri and Parker work comfortably within what is traditionally considered to be a jazz idiom, but stylistically this set is all over the map—and that's all to the good. All three performers are aware of and conversant in both post-Parker idioms (that is, post-Charlie and post-Evan), as well as of a gamut of classical developments both pre-modern and ultra avant-garde. It may seem improbable that anyone, much less a relatively young man like Matthew Shipp, could convincingly channel Olivier Messaien, Cecil Taylor, and Bud Powell, as well as a host of others. But here it is. (Perhaps that's misleading: Shipp is much more than just the sum of his influences, real and imagined. Much more.)

Guillermo Gregorio
Degrees of Iconicity
hat[now]ART 134

"Much more directly than, for example, Webern, Feldman, or Tristano, who have often been cited as influencing my work, I think that the most important elements acting on my music come from the visual arts—more specifically, from the so-called 'constructive' tendencies of 20th century art, namely, some varieties of Constructivism and Concrete Art." Thus Guillermo Gregorio, the composer, conductor, clarinetist, and alto saxophonist on these ten oblique and beguiling pieces. Certainly to close your eyes and picture them as visual constructs is a fruitful exercise, for there is a great deal of variations of color in this music, courtesy of the contrasts between Gregorio's horns, Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello, and Carrie Biolo's delicious vibraphone and marimba. (Lonberg-Holm also contributes a cornet, and bassists Michael Cameron and Kent Kessler are on hand for some of the proceedings.) Take, for example, the sharp transitionless contrasts between cello and vibes on "First Sketch for 'Omaggio a Luigi Nono.'" If you pay attention, you can see it all.

Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy
Live at Dreher Paris 1981
hatOLOGY 4-596

There is so much that is so right, so perfect, so enduring about these collaborations between Mal Waldron (piano) and Steve Lacy (soprano saxophone) that without exaggeration they ought to be in the home not only of everyone who loves jazz, but everyone who has ever experienced his soul being brightened by any piece of music at all. Waldron's muscular romanticism was the precisely correct counterpart to Lacy's dry, wry sax, and on these four discs they made music full of immense soul, ravishing beauty, overflowing, flooding power, outrageous drama, high-speed hijinx, and much more, music that is at the heart of what improvised music can do and why it is so essential: music that lays bare these men's most essential perspectives, priorities, values, loves, what have you. Whether they're playing Monk (the "Well You Needn't" on cd 3 may never be equaled), Lacy (cf. the two highly distinct and angular takes of "No Baby") or Waldron ("Snake Out" from disc 1 is nothing short of monumental), this music is simply a textbook example of what it means to improvise, what it means to play music, what it means to live. If anything was ever an essential classic, it is this.


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