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The Dude Abides

Mark Corroto By

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Bassist Albey Balgochian has presented jazz and poetry in multiple groups. Here he invites poet Jane Grenier B. to read her poems to his musical accompaniment. The pair draw from both improvised jazz and hipster spoken tradition. They trod an updated version of Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" with "The Revolution," a tome that now includes our sanitized Mid-East wars and corporate greed. The war comes home with "Cerial Killer Moms." 'Cerial' being a mashup of cereal and serial. The Death does not come from bombs here, but high fructose corn syrup IEDs. Balgochian's bass is as expressive as a poet's voice. Their marriage of tone and poetry in this EP is timely, yet not quite of the times.

ZZ Quartet
Beyond The Lines
In And Out Records
2013

The answer to the question: what does one do with an accordion?, is not beat it with a club until it is silenced. At least that is not the case when the accordion is utilized in the context of a jazz quartet like this ZZ Quartet. The 'Z' stands for Croatian guitarist Ratko Zjaca and Italian accordionist Simone Zanchini. Their quartet is rounded out by the Macedonian bassist Martin Gjakonovski and American drummer Adam Nussbaum. Beyond the Lines follows The Way We Talk (In And Out Records, 2010) and, while eschewing the traditional (or avant) aspects of the accordion, makes some innovative and what is more important, some swinging jazz.

Their music is difficult to pigeonhole. They draw from modern jazz, Italian film, and folk music as influences. The disc opens with the weighty bass line of "Voglio Una Donna" that unwraps into a complex and destabilizing sound. The band can hit hard and switch gears instantly ("Freak in Freak Out"), deliver a whistling pop song ("The Easy Whistler") with actual whistling, and negotiate the coolness of a lush blues ("River Spirit") all by meshing the ying/yang of Zjaca's guitar and Zanchini's accordion. The music is engaging and instantly agreeable.

Brass Mask
Spy Boy
Babel
2013

Tom Challenger's Brass Mask is not so much a 'band on the run,' but it is on the move. His octet is built like a New Orleans street band. Each member, seven horns and a percussionist, sound (and maybe even play) portable.

This update on the New Orleans carnival draws from the African-American tradition and is part blues, part jazz, and infused with the evangelizing church. What make this configuration stand out is Challenger's refinements. He pulls not only from N.O., but modern composition. The opening track, "Onnellinen" (a Finnish word meaning "happy") played with saxophones, clarinets, trombone, tuba and percussion mixes Philip Glass' minimal classicism with Gil Evans orchestration. Played by the 'street band' setup the formalism obtains soul.

The octet with Challenger (saxophone, clarinet), Theon Cross (tuba), and Nathaniel Cross (trombone); George Crowley (saxophone & clarinet), Dan Nicholls (bass clarinet & saxophone), trumpeters Rory Simmons and Alex Bonney; and percussionist John Blease do exercise their New Orleans (say Nawlins) funk with tracks like "Shallow Water," "I Thank You Jesus," and "Wizards." The updates here also draw from a Henry Threadgill influence. "Francis P" and "Israfil" play off that Threadgill fractured song structure and improvisation. The music is more than just a moveable party, it is a musical feast.

Go: Organic Orchetra
Sonic Mandala
Meta Records
2013

No, this is not a musical instruments garage sale. It's the 33-piece Go: Organic Orchestra and their 100-plus instruments under the direction of master percussionist Adam Rudolph. His self-described ensemble can be "assembled anywhere, anytime," and has had many lineups. Here he is working with New York-based players, and this recording is the orchestra's first studio session after six prior live recordings. The last release being Sound Of A Dream (Meta Records, 2011).

The music is an orchestral improvisation that is built upon Rudolph's interval matrices and cosmograms, the figurative form being mandalas utilized for meditation. The rhythms are intoxicating and mostly nonwestern. Rudolph's conduction brings to mind Butch Morris' work and that of John Zorn's Cobra, the difference here is Rudolph's background in African drumming, North Indian tabla, and Western classical composition. Let's say the Go: Organic Orchestra is a large (very large) version of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

The remarkable aspect of this recording is just how intimate this recording is for such a large gathering. The music flows from one part to the other with an intoxication of rhythm. Horn or string sections enter, broadcasting their message, but always there is the heartbeat of percussion making this a very obliging session.

Tracks and Personnel

A Round Goal

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