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From the Stacks 2011, Vol. 3: Michel Reis, Pitom, Rhys Chatham, Ken Peplowski, Others


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by S. Victor Aaron

Rhys Chatham: The Man With The Horns. Many, many horns.

It might be only the third Stacks so far this year, but it's a much overdue one. There's a whopping seven 2011 releases discussed here, with several other worthy ones being pushed back to a later fourth installment.

Two of these albums are by veteran acts, but the remaining five capture five budding talents at or near the beginning of their recording careers as leaders. Some are already poised to expand the jazz vocabulary, while others are doing a good job of keeping the current language of jazz strong and vital. As we range from the mainstream to the mad, it's not likely that all of these would run in your tastes, even if you're already a big jazz fan. Such is the big tent that makes up the idiom these days. Now, if we can only get more fans to come inside that tent, so they can enjoy the sounds and surprises of records like these ...

Michel ReisPoint of No Return: It's not everyday we get to discuss musicians from Luxembourg, but we're off to a great start in examining the musical talents of the young pianist Michael Reis. Though he earned advanced music degrees at Berklee and the New England Conservatory, learning under Joanne Brackeen, Joe Lovano, Ran Blake and Danilo Perez, Reis maintains a very Euro flavor in his composing and playing styles. Each of these nine songs are his, and all contain strong harmonic components that attest to European classical music influence, flowing naturally and reveals more of itself with each listen. Yes, Reis leaves much space for improvisation, but improvisation that extends as a matter of course from the melody. He begins with a base trio of himself, bassist Tal Gamlieli and drummer Adam Cruz, adding in flugelhorn player Vivek Patel and soprano saxophonist Aaron Kruziki where needed. Reis' piano personality is both delicate and full-bodied, and occasionally bold. It's hard to pick the best tracks, because I don't ever find myself struggling to get through any of them, but “The Power Of Beauty," “Street Of Memories" and the title cut might stand out just a tad over the rest. Only his second album, Reis' Point Of No Return is very consistent, pleasing, and deep.

Eddie MendenhallCosine Meets Tangent: From a second effort to a first one. Mendenhall has played piano since the age of four, was performing Beethoven and Schumann by eight and earned scholarships at Berklee. The fast start for this former prodigy has culminated in his first album, Cosine Meets Tangent. The record brings me back to the Bobby Hutcherson records I used to listen to back in the eighties: a retreat from the boundary-pushing stuff he did for Blue Note in the 60s, but very competent, well performed vibes/piano jazz nonetheless. Unlike Hutcherson, Mendenhall goes without the saxophonist, but his interactions with Mark Sherman's vibes combine to form a tone-rich front line, and when Mendenhall plays alone, you can detect echoes of Mulgrew Miller and John Hicks in his approach. Bassist John Schifflet and drummer Akira Tana round out the quartet. The young leader works out his Berklee degree in Jazz Composition, writing eight of the ten tunes, and all are solid if not especially memorable; occasionally, there are some challenging ones like “Blues for Yokohama" and “Rin Ki Ou Hen." For a first effort this is overall a very professional, smooth and frequently energetic outing. Cosine Meets Tangent, by Miles High Records, came out on February 15.

Rhys ChathamOutdoor Spell: This former student of LaMonte Young used to layer guitars. These days, he's layering trumpets. Many trumpets. The long-time post minimalist veteran explores drones and microtonal soundscape creations using not state of the art electronics, but the overall effect is about the same. Like a poor man's atonal Jon Hassell, Chatham explores the full tonal palette of the trumpet all at once, helping to create a din that's not just eerie, but rich, too. The eighteen minute long “Crossing The Sword Bridge Of The Abyss" even prominently includes what is essentially spitting through the horn without making any notes, emitting a strange percussion effect. On “Corn Maiden's Rite," actual percussion is used in the form of Beatriz Rojas' cajón. The final of the four tracks “The Magician" adds and electric guitar and drums and somewhat less trumpet overdubbing, bringing the song closer to an actual group improvised performance, and is an indication of Chatham's punk rock inclinations. To be released April 12, Outdoor Spell will come courtesy of Northern-Spy Records.

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