The Dude Abides

Mark Corroto By

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To paraphrase Jeffrey Lebowski, aka The Dude (or El Dudarino, if you are not into the brevity thing), "I've had a rough night, and I hate the fucking Grateful Dead, man." Actually, The Dude said the "Eagles" (and I guess I'm obliged to agree with him), but for me the Dead seem to always get under my skin.

Someone is always saying to me, "you dig jazz, check out this Dead concert from..." and then they name some date and muddy field somewhere. I usually listen out of courtesy, or because I'm sitting on their sofa, and I try to like the Dead. I really do.

It is just not possible.

The answer to this dilemma might just be Sun Ra. You see, back in the 1980s I heard Sun Ra's Arkestra live in a small club in Columbus, Ohio. It was a life changing experience and one of the most memorable nights of music I've ever witnessed. I soon began accumulating Sun Ra recordings to recapture that magic. Two hundred or so discs later and I never have. Recordings just cannot capture the communal experience of a live show. So, maybe it's the same thing for Dead fans. The recordings cannot replicate the event, but they might just trigger some dopamine center in their brains.

So what does that leave us with? I'm certainly not ready to chuck my CD and LP collection and roam the earth like David Carradine from that 1970s TV show Kung Fu in search of live music. I will, and maybe you should also, pledge to get out of the house and catch a live show every chance you can.

Keefe Jackson's Likely So
A Round Goal
Delmark Records

The Chicago saxophonist, via Fayetteville, Keefe Jackson delivers an 'old soul' recording with A Round Goal, a live 2013 date from the Jazzwerkstatt Festival in Berne, Switzerland. The old soul referred to is that of AACM composers and saxophonists Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill. Jackson, a principal of the new breed of Chicago improvisers assembled a 7-piece all-reed ensemble to perform his compositions. His music consists of highly structured parts and wildly free improvisational passages.

Like Braxton and Threadgill, Jackson encourages his band, Likely So, to extend the range of their instruments, pushing the limits of sound while maintaining a discipline to the various structures he constructs. Likely So is made up of fellow Chicagoans Mars Williams and Dave Rempis, Polish Clarinetist Waclaw Zimplel and the Swiss players Thomas K.J. Mejer, Peter Schmid, and Marc Stucki.

Like a saxophone quartet or a doo-wop band, Jackson arranges intricate, sometimes bluesy passages, for improvisors to glide over. His "Overture" opens the disc with a Braxton-like collage of sound, stacking marches, Gershwin parts, and cartoon songs into a rich garden of sound. The combination of reeds and their varying tones, from sopranino to contrabass saxophones and alto clarinet to bass clarinets elevates and enlivens the music, making the music sound like a saxophone quartet on steroids.

Jonah Parzen- Johnson
Look Like You're Not Looking
Primary Records

Baritone saxophonist Jonah Parzen-Johnson follows up his solo disc Michiana (Primary Records, 2012) with Look Like You're Not Looking, a 7" vinyl EP pressed as a limited edition of 350 (also available as a download). The two tracks, both clocking in at 4:16, showcase his baritone saxophone experimentations. Like Mats Gustafsson and Colin Stetson, Parzen-Johnson is a master of the big horn, the baritone saxophone. He opens the title track with an a cappella blues riff that expands via electronics and his own overblowing into a chorus of sound before returning to his initial theme. His music, more traditional than avant, expresses an organic mushrooming of sound. He expresses a folk music for a new tribe of people, one that has access to new technologies and uses them as opposed to being used by them. The flip side delivers "Stay There, I'll Come To You" another simple song that gets layered with overblown multiphonics and layered electronic manipulation. His vocalizations and breath maintain the story here, a small treasure of a recording.

August Rosenbaum

Misidentifying the latest solo recording by Danish pianist August Rosenbaum as an ECM Records release is both a blessing and a curse. Heights, his second solo record, follows Beholder (Hiatus, 2010) and expands his sound adding instruments and electronics into the mix. The opener "Bloomer," a cinematic vision begins with some electronic noodles that give way to a meditative composition that is revealed by way of piano, some dark and woody bass and the interlaced guitar streams of Joel Gjærbøl and Jakob Bro. Rosenbaum's pieces grow organically from his simple conceptions. Maybe it is the Nordic element that calls to mind the sounds favored by Manfred Eicher, but the ECM vibe is strong here.

The hex conjured by an ECM reference, that the pristine sounds are of a certain emotional timbre, can also be a limiting factor. Rosenbaum restricts himself to a narrow demonstrative range here. His use of saturnine passages and snail-paced songs require a certain attention. In the hands of a lesser musician, this would be problematic. Rosenbaum's cinematic scoring experience comes into play here. His piece "Calm," a ballad is about as melancholy as they come. The music is coated with Gjærbøl's electric guitar and a textured ambiance that pours as slow as thick blackstrap molasses syrup. This is music to lower the room lights and ease back into an overstuffed chair.

Matana Roberts
COIN COIN Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile

Back in the day, long before music videos, artists made music to tell stories. Their sounds were not just the background for paparazzi seeking celebrities to twerk to. Sure, it's hard to believe, but the music of saxophonist Matana Roberts found on COIN COIN Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile returns to the African-American tradition of storytelling and musical narrative.

Chapter Two was recorded with a pared down version of her 16-piece band assembled for COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres (Constellation, 2011). This edition continues Roberts' family history from slavery to freedom with a traditional jazz quintet composed of Shoko Nagai (piano), Jason Palmer (trumpet), Thomson Kneeland (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums), and Roberts conduction, spoken word, and alto saxophone. This edition adds the operatic tenor voice of Jeremiah Abiah to add sanctified texture to the story told in 18 parts that flow seamlessly from the lissome free opening to the Gospel-tinged revival and the cruel segregationist passages. The music is a sung/spoken testimony to endurance and survival, and the family bonds that play a role in overcoming intolerable barriers. If Wadada Leo Smith's Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform, 2012) was the macro chronicle, this is the micro. The music begs to be heard from start to finish. Hopefully,this chapter is just the middle part to an ongoing saga.

Wacław Zimpel Quartet
Stone Fog
For Tune

By now, enough introductions have been made to Polish clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel that his name as a leader is of consequence. His horn has been favored by Ken Vandermark in The Resonance Ensemble—What Country Is This? (Not Two Records, 2012) and Kafka In Flight (Not Two Records, 2011) and The Reed Trio—Last Train To The First Station (Kilogram, 2011). He can be heard in duo with Tim Daisy (plus Dave Rempis) Four Walls (Multikulti, 2008), with Joe McPhee in Mikołaj Trzaska's IRCHA Clarinet Quintet Lark Rising (Multikulti, 2011), and in Keefe Jackson's Likely So (reviewed above).

His own projects, HERA, Undivided (with Bobby Few) and now, this Quartet mark him as a prominent leader. Stone Fog is a chamber-meets-free jazz session that bookends Zimpel compositions with group improvisations. His band of fellow countrymen are adroit collaborators seasoning the music as they maintain the animation. The quartet has no need for labels, genres, or styles. They eschew the pigeonhole by working improvised pieces with classical language on a track like "Hundred Of Wings Steel The Sun," all titles are borrowed lines from Laura Winter's poems. The improvisational component, Zimpel's deep throaty reed floats over the ruminating cymbal work of Klaus Kugel, bowed bass of Christian Ramond, and wind chime-sounds of Krzysztof Dys' piano. The effect of this expansive view of classical and improvisational music making is to render a special 'beyond category' recording.

John Stevens Away At Home
At The Plough Stockwell
Loose Torque

Most of the attention given to drummer John Stevens (1940-1994) centers on the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. From it's inception in the mid-1960s, SME, which Stevens co-founded with Trevor Watts defined the language of British free improvisation. The various and changing members of SME from Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, {Barry Guy}}, Kenny Wheeler, to John Butcher became the who's who of the British creative music scene.

Then there is the other side of Stevens' career. Where SME favored so-called 'insect improv' or quiet listening and atonal group interaction, his explorations into jazz-rock in the groups the Splinters, John Stevens Dance Orchestra, Away, Free-bop, Folkus, Fast Colour, PRS, and his Quintet and Quartets pushed electric and rock envelope. At The Plough Stockwell is a cassette recording (and very high quality at that) of Stevens' band Away playing a gig at The Plough in 1978. The music is plugged-in, amped up and could easily be mistaken for an electric Miles Davis concert. Two guitars, Nigel Moyse and Martin Holder compete for space with Robert Calvert (saxophone) and John Corbett (trumpet). Stevens and Nick Stephens, who thumps a powerful electric bass, are collaborators in maintaining a thunderous pulse throughout and competing for decibel dominance. The music, bookended by lengthy jazz-rock explorations finds a gem with the New Orleans inspired version of "Whoops A Daisy." Otherwise, the music delivers all the energy of jazz-rock before the failures of jazz-rock-fusion.

Dennis González Yells At Eels
Colorado At Clinton
Ayler Records

The Dennis Gonzalez family records, aka his Yells At Eels trio, is a fine working trio led by father, Dennis, a recognized leader in avant-garde trumpet since the 1970s. His 1980s records for the Swedish Silkheart label are valued gems (and worth the treasure hunt). His sons, Stefan González (drums) and Aaron González (bass) have performed and recorded in multiple settings. Their inclusion of guest stars add an additional layer to each release. Prior discs have found them collaborating with Louis Moholo-MoholoCape Of Storms (Ayler Records, 2010), Alvin FielderResurrection Of Life (Ayler Records, 2011), Rodrigo AmadoThe Great Bydgoszcz Concert (Ayler Records, 2009), and the unofficial Yells At Eels disc Renegade Spirits (Furthermore, 2008) with Aakash Mittal, a gifted Indian-American saxophonist, who like Rudresh Mahanthappa has incorporated South Indian into his jazz lexicon.


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