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Jazz Quanta January: Chris Kelsey and Tomas R. Einarsson

C. Michael Bailey By

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There are two jazz traditions represented in Jazz Quant January, the freedom principle of saxophonist Christ Kelsey and cool complexity of Latin jazz by way of Icelander bassist Tomas R. Einarsson. Two traditions transplanted and allowed to flourish.

Chris Kelsey
Duets | NYC / Woodstock
Tzazz Krytyk
2015

What happens with free jazz stalwarts saxophonist Chris Kelsey meets one Dom Minasi, the guitarist of the future past? A freedom lovefest, or course. Through nine compositions co-written by Kelsey and Minasi, the two demonstrate the psychotically-fractured temperament of the House of Ornette, John, Archie, and Pharaoh. The beauty of these often noisy and circuitous conversations is that free jazz is given its most basic definition, the actions of reactions of the least number of musicians defining what free jazz is...the influence of one another. Free jazz was a difficult nut for me to crack. But I was over-thinking it. The best of it demands attention and the worst, at least a listen. Kelsey and Minasi obviously enjoyed making this recording. Their interplay and counterpoint is like listening to two near-languages conversing (something like Castilian and Italian or Polish and Czech). Song titles, structures, and arrangements are anathema to this brand of jazz. These guys sat down, perhaps had a few words about what they planned to do, and then started to play. I find this brand of free jazz much more appealing than the late-period John Coltrane which still sounds to me like a misunderstood manifestation of the cerebral metastasis of his fatal liver cancer. There is sense to free jazz. It lays in its calm heart.

Chris Kelsey
Kelsey/Porter Duo Plays Ornette, Vol. 1
Tzazz Krytyk
2015

Simply, the blues. That is the wellspring from which all of Larry Porter on what promises to be a multipart release of Ornette Coleman's music. Opening this ten-song collection is "Music Always" form 1975's To Whom Who Keeps a Record (Warner). Porter's left hand drives (and directs) the piece with Kelsey gleefully coloring outside of the lines. Ostensibly derived from Coleman's most notorious recording Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (Atlantic, 1960), "Free" reigns in most of the noise and chaos of the original, gleaning out certain melodic motifs and angular counterpoint. "Giggin'" from Tomorrow is the Question (Atlantic, 1959) echoes the order of the opening "Music Always," composition on the edge of anti-composition and free improvisation. "Face of the Bass" from Change of the Century (Atlantic, 1960) displays Coleman's integrated sense of harmony and melody is stream with Coleman's pulse, the momentum of the blues. Kelsey plays a precise brio and Porter a dignified rebellion.

Tomas R. Einarsson
Bassanott
Blanott
2013

This is the most beautifully strange and satisfying Latin jazz. Iceland may be thought an odd place to this recording to originate, but here it is. This is not without precedence. Europe has long championed Latin Jazz and produced credible examples of it. Bassist Tomas R. Einarsson stirs a good measure of cool Iceland into the steamy rhythms of Latin jazz producing a complex and provocative brand of music that makes universally makes it to a solid simmer without ever losing momentum and control. Leading a crack quartet through eight original compositions, Einarsson allows himself generous solo space, which he uses conservatively within the vernacular he plays. He leads the light ballad "Januar" ("January") through a carefully conceived ether of Latinate figures as if teaching an accomplished masters class. Guitarist Omar GudJonsson plays a flash-frigid brand of electric guitar that sounds future-worldly while remaining fixed in the tradition. This is top-drawer Latin jazz for an unlikely place, making it all the better.

Omar Gudjonsson | Tomas R. Einarsson
Braedralag
Blanott
2015

From the sextet of Bassanott to the small-space duet of Braedralag which Einarsson shares with guitarist Omar Gudjonsson, who also appeared on Bassanott. The disc departs the Latin jazz realm for more jazz noir climes. The music is precise as detected on "Pratt Fyrir Allt." Gudjonsson chooses a dry-ice, slightly reverberated tone that adds a shadow to the Einarsson composition. There a not many places to hide in a duet, and neither artist attempts to do so. Einarsson solos with a full-throated, well-defined tone that eschews wild and aimless improvisation. He always prefers to make sense. The title piece bears a light Latinate character with a storybook melody. The Gudjonsson chording is sharply designated, providing a piquant flavor to the piece. "Baedraborg" bears the mark of folk music in the complex time signature and harmonic structure. Gudjonsson plays as if sliding down hill and stopping at a lyrical plateau where he explores the surrounding environment established by Einarsson's simple bass figure. This is honestly-rendered music that is easily comprehended and internalized. It challenges with its broad influences and soothes with a certain familiarity.
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