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Outer Jazz from 2004

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Kurt Grämiger/Daniel Studer/Dieter Ulrich
Aus freien Stücken
ART-PURecords/Unit Records

This Swiss alto sax/bass/drums trio plays the type of free jazz we have come to know so well from various European groupings. The music is often angular, with the sax honking and squeaking, while the bass plays a tilted walking line, as the drums punctuate with staccato bursts of sound. At times, the music is reminiscent of some of the similar trio recordings of the great Michel Portal in the 1970s. There is that same sort of group spirit. This type of group improvisation is based upon action and reaction, as opposed to the rhythm section setting up a pulse for a soloist to play over. While competently played, it never seems to reach an energetic level where the music just burns and propels itself forward, like the longstanding Parker/Guy/Lytton trio does. An interesting, if not compelling, recording.

Less of Five
Acrobati Folli e Innamorati
Nine Winds

This Italian quartet offers fifteen compositions that cover a wide range of moods and styles. "Cus Cus" is sort of a minimalist circular motion for bass, snare, and prepared piano, while "Le calmar dans le bassin" is a tightly woven tunes of interlocking parts featuring a mournful alto sax on top. "Acrobati Innamorati" juxtaposes staccato toms with long arco bass tones while the piano plays short chords with the sax again layered on top. What sounds like four disparate parts actually adds up to a cohesive whole. "Uma anda de musica continua," which comes in at just over ten minutes, is a series of short solos played in rotation that form a sort of continuum, picking up from where the last solo ended. Less of Five is a group of very accomplished musicians who offer up an intriguing and enjoyable outing.

Steve Swallow/Ohad Talmor
L'Histoire du Clochard

This is an intriguing drum-less sextet outing prominently featuring the unique bass styling of Steve Swallow. The bass/tenor/trumpet/violin/clarinet/trombone line up plays a sort of vaudeville-meets-le Hot Club-meets-brass band arrangements. Swallows compositions are deftly arranged by saxophonist Ohad Talmor. The music is not what you expect. The voicings are often tight and intricate, played off of Swallow's distinctive walking bass lines. This is not an improvised affair. Rather, it is a well conceived and orchestrated recording that focuses on the songs more than the performers. Highly recommended.

Nancy & Bertran Turetzky
Music for Flute(s) and Contrabass, I
Nine Winds

Talk about your contrasts! The pairing of flute and contrabass is an unusual combination. These commissioned works vary in their styles and uses of the instruments. "Primal Balance" conjures Oriental images, while "Sonnets: Seven Studies in Color and Rhyme" uses a subtle electronic track as a background to the seven movements. The electronics move more like a wave of sound, ebbing and flowing, than like effects. The musicians' parts float on top, giving the whole piece a soundtrack-like quality. Excellently recorded and beautifully performed, the CD here owes more to contemporary classical music than jazz or improvisation.

Michael Jefry Stevens/Michael Rabinowitz
Drimala Records

Pianist Stevens and bassoonist Rabinowitz improvise a set of mostly miniatures that, while touted as jazz, fall more into the contemporary classical music definition than jazz or what is traditionally thought of as improvisation. Perhaps it's the instrumentation, or just the musical territory the artists chose to travel. With echoes of Debussy, and even Stravinsky, the music explores uncharted territory, but never goes too far out. This is pretty music that is in no danger of trespassing on the improvisational territory that Peter Brötzmann or Evan Parker inhabit. Check it out if your tastes learn towards the classical chamber music side of things.

Bobby Previte and Charlie Hunter as Groundtruther
Thirsty Ear

This is an intriguing pairing of eight-string guitarist Hunter and drummer Previte (who also contributes electronics), with special guest Greg Osby on alto sax. The music runs the gamut from Nordic ECM-ish chills to hip-hop dance beats and electronica. While it's all well played and conceived, I can't help but feel like I'm listening to some soundtrack CD. For example, "40th Parallel" sounds like an updated spaghetti western theme. Hunter plays a sort of twangy guitar lead, while Previte drops in stacatto drum loops and heavily effected drums. Osby blows a cool sax on top, but I could hear the same sort of thing while watching the latest hip crime drama on television, or putting on an old Art of Noise LP. The music is so heavily processed as to become annoying after a while. I dig what they were trying to do, I just don't enjoy the results. This is apparently the first of three planned duo recordings with a guest artist on each. Let's hope they get past the novelty stage for numbers two and three.


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