Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Christian Scott: Anthem...

Yikes, the last time I posted anything here was the 9th of August! Whilst I'm certain that there won't be anybody, anywhere in the world, currently experiencing withdrawal symptoms as they're starved of new material, it's still a little bit more of a gap than I'd like. So what's my excuse?

Really there isn't one. Things have certainly been busy, and a new batch of releases for the next edition of Jazz Journal (seven in total) has accounted for most of my time at the computer. The good weather has seen me getting out a bit more on my road bike, and my relative lack of fitness and advancing age has lengthened the recovery time between rides. Spending far less time at the computer in a typical evening to make the most of our evenings at home is another factor, so I suppose it's fair to say that there's no single excuse, but lots of reasons why postings aren't more regular.

To get things back on course again, here's a write up of a disc by Christian Scott which complements the Wallace Roney piece quite well. It went into Jazz Review some time last year, and with the demise of that magazine it'd be nice to post the remaining reviews in my archives over the coming months. After that it'll be back to Rubberneck and Avant.

Next major jazz event has to be the re-issue of Horace Tapscott's Dark Tree, though I'm almost tempted to venture north again to see Tommy Smith and Gary Burton doing a Wayne Shorter programme. If only it wasn't for that damn big band...


Litany Against Fear; Void; Anthem; Re:; Cease Fire; Dialect; Remains Distant; Uprising; Katrina’s Eyes; The 9; Like That; Anthem (Post-diluvial Adaptation).

Walter Smith III (ts); Louis Fouché (as); Christian Scott (t, cn, flh, p); Aaron Parks (ky), Matt Stevens (g); Luques Curtis and Esperanza Spalding (b); Marcus Gilmore (d); Brother J of X-Clan (voc on 12).

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of Miles Davis is seen today in the number of trumpeters still seeking to popularise a blend of jazz, rock, funk and hip-hop. From Ron Miles through to Wallace Roney, Erik Truffaz and Nils Petter Molvaer, many have ‘plugged-in’ and tried their luck. Almost to a man they’ve improved on Miles’ latter day efforts – let’s face it, his final decade was pretty lightweight – and so it is with Grammy nominated Christian Scott.

Rewind That (Concord, 2006) deserved its place in my end of year ‘best of’ list, and the same post-rock rhythms, inter-woven rock guitar lines and doom-laden pedal chords are all found here. Written in the wake of Hurricane Katrina - Scott is himself a Crescent City native - this is a disc pregnant with emotion. From the opening chords of ‘Litany Against Fear’, a pensively brooding melancholia is laced with the optimism of Scott’s declamatory trumpet. ‘Anthem’ starts with the kind of urgent piano vamp that Matthew Shipp would recognise, before settling into a beautifully reflective groove that could play for hours. The impetus behind the sombre ‘Katrina’s Eyes’ should be obvious, whilst ‘The 9’ stands out with a more upbeat and overtly ‘jazz’ feel. ‘Like That’ adds moody reverb-laden Rhodes to the mix, though Aaron Parks’ sentimental solo is a little cloying. A reprise of ‘Anthem’, this time offering the thoughtful polemic of rapper Brother J of X-Clan, closes out this impressively mature and coherent statement and programmatically it makes perfect sense.

With his fat, furry tone, Scott could no doubt hold his own in any neo-con blowing session. That would somehow waste his talents. He already has a very personal music, both of its time and ‘in the tradition’. Too early to speak of his place in the pantheon of great, he’s nevertheless doing just fine for now, thank you.

Fred Grand

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Wallace Roney...

Continuing the Edinburgh connection, here's a review from 2006 of a disc by a band I'd seen just beforehand at The Hub In Edinburgh. A memorable gig, but the disc fell a little short...


Atlantis; Mystikal; Stargaze; Just My Imagination; Hey Young World; Poetic; Baby’s Breath; Nice Town; I’ll Keep Loving You.

Wallace Roney (t); Antoine Roney (ts/ss/bcl); Geri Allen (p/elp); Adam Holzman (ky); Matt Garrison (b/elb); Eric Allen (d); Bobby Thomas Jr. (perc); Val Jeanty (turntables), (May 2005).

I’m sure that nobody will be surprised to learn that the new release by trumpeter Wallace Roney has something of the influence of Miles about it. If you missed his 2004 release Prototype (High Note), you may not yet be aware that electric Miles is currently exercising the mind of the official heir. We’re not talking about the out and out funk of On The Corner or the epic jams of Agartha, but Silent Way and even Bitches Brew have suddenly appeared on Roney’s radar. I saw the gig in Edinburgh that was given Mike Pyper’s approval in JR 72, and I too marvelled at Roney’s awesome command of his music. I was surprised to at just how far ‘out’ he ventured in a live setting, suggesting there’s plenty being left in the locker when he visits the studios.

Mystikal then is far more reigned in than the gig, but despite a few wobbles it generally builds on the largely fulfilled promise of Prototype. The addition of DJ Val to the cast is a major advance. Her contributions are more seamlessly integrated into the music than any turntablist I’ve yet heard, exactly the kind of innovation that Roney needs to embrace to sidestep accusations of an overly retro approach. Rest assured he’s not merely pitching for NuJazz cred, Mystikal at least matching any of his discs in the tradition of the Shorter-Hancock quintet for uncompromising improvisation. Jeanty’s contributions veer between narrative comment and sonic texture, always unobtrusive and in service of the music. It’s a Shorter composition, “Atlantis”, that opens. Allen’s piano meshes with Holzman’s Rhodes to locate things somewhere around late 1968. The title track follows and is a purely acoustic affair, that is until Jeanty inserts a telling voice sample which leads into the motoric funk of “Stargaze”. So far the transitions seem natural, the direction clear.

Less successful are the slightly too saccharine version of The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” and the insipid reggae plod that is “Hey Young World”. A traditionalist reading of Kenny Dorham’s “Poetic” precedes another late 60’s quintet workout, a further slice of charged funk, and the tender balladry of the closing “I’ll Keep Loving You”, performed as a duet with his wife Geri Allen. Although I’d recommend Mystikal without too many qualms, its predecessor seemed more even and assured. Time for the less Janus-like outlook of his mentor to be asserted? I for one will be watching Roney’s next moves with interest.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, January 2006)

Monday, 3 August 2009

Roy Hargrove, Enrico Pieranunzi and Tommy Smith/Makato Ozone Quartet @ Edinburgh Jazz Festival...

Time to rediscover the art of macro-blogging (or is is it just blogging?) after tweeting some some short comments about the weekend's activities on Twitter. Principally a mini RSS reader for me, it was nevertheless good to be able to post short real-time comments about each of the three gigs as soon as they'd happened, and using Blogger's Twitter widget here on Afric Pepperbird to have them instantaneously appear on this page. I just love putting technology at my service where it can be of a real use, and I think this was a pretty good example. And for anybody who followed the tweets, yes, we did go to the Botanical Garden (Louise deserved some non-musical activities, after all), and it wasn't too bad, even for a decidedly disinterested non-botanist like me.

First up was the now not so young lion Roy Hargrove. Well, before that honourable mention must go to our favourite Indian/Gujarati restaurant Ann Purna, where we ate before ambling along the road to the Queens Hall. Superb hospitality, subtly spiced and delicious food, and I'm just sorry we can't get there at least once a fortnight. Now onto the Hargrove, who I last saw at the same venue some 15 to 20 years ago, at the height of his newness. That night he had spark, and an energetic quintet with Marc Cary and Antonio Hart, to belt out the tunes with unmistakably sincere passion and fire. This time he delivered a solid festival set with enough variety to please an eager-to-be-pleased crowd, but it was clear that he now has a set of laurels on which he can rest. Justin Robinson, who I have at times enjoyed a great deal on record, was langorous and strangely behind the beat for most of the night. Hargrove played high notes with a fair amount of precision, but nothing that the late Freddie Hubbard wouldn't have done in his sleep, and young drummer Montez Coleman played with an all consuming passion and volume that at times threatened to sink the music. He could do well to listen to Billy Higgins' masterclass on Hargrove's Public Eye, but I doubt he will. Apart from a pianist in a kilt and an engaging enough warm-up from Brian Kellock before Hargrove arrived on stage, there's not a lot more to be said. And so to bed...

Saturday brought a fresh day, and with it some fresher musical winds. A trip to the aforementioned horticultural mecca was washed down with a nice lunch at Hendersons (incidental detail, but bear with me...), before we headed off to The Hub, possibly the best venue I've ever seen used for live jazz. Everytime I go there I'm impressed not only by the building (a converted church) and it's intelligent use of space and smart interior design, but also the brilliant acoustics. I've seen a few gigs there now, including Arild Andersen and Tommy Smith on the same weekend last year, but it doesn't really seem to get much use for jazz between festivals. Shame, as it is infinitely better than the dull acoustics and hardwood pews of the Queens Hall.

First up was Enrico Pieranunzi's trio with bassist Darryl Hall and facially hirsute drummer Enzo Zirilli. Anybody who has ever heard the great Italian maestro will not be surprised to learn that this was melodic improvisation at its subtle and creative best. Playing a mixture of standards and self-penned pieces, the time just flew and his 75 minutes was over all too quickly. Much is quite rightly made of Keith Jarrett's artistry in this same field, but I bet that the American holds the lesser known Italian in extremely high regard. Perhaps only the late Michel Petrucciani (who, in another gratuitous aside, I once saw perform solo at the Queens Hall) has in recent times operated in this area of jazz so well, and the wellspring of Bill Evans continues to gush serenely.

After a quick glass of wine in a nice little place at the top of the Royal Mile (a place with a ludicrously high count of tacky tourist traps), it was on to the last gig of our festival. Tommy Smith is an Edinburgh legend, and anybody who introduce a tune he wrote 23 years ago (and subsequently recorded for Blue Note) and still be performing on a stage as big as this has made themselves a career to be proud of. I'm a big fan, and my admiration goes back almost 23 years, remembering as I do his early days on the UK circuit after he'd returned from Berklee. Forward Motion, the Azure Quartet, the Standards Quartet, the Paris Sextet, and more recently Arild Andersen and the Forbidden Fruit Quartet - all have entertained and delighted over the years. I like the fact that for all his admiration of Coltrane and Brecker he is still rooted in his homeland, playing with a Celtic and Northern outlook that smacks of authenticity and sidesteps charges of imitation.

For this gig, we were treated to a first-time quartet. They met and rehearsed at 5PM, and performed at 8:30. Of course Smith and pianist Makato Ozone (ex-Miles and Gary Burton) have played and even recorded together before, and Smith is also no stranger to Chris Minh Doky, but to play sophisticated contemporary jazz as advanced as this and sound like a regular working group is quite a feat. Danish power drummer Jonas Johansen (who Smith introduced as Johannes Johansen, before quickly correcting himself and giving a witty aside about the newness of the band) was an excellent example of the need for taste when hitting hard. He found his place in the music with a natural ease, but despite his awesome technique and big presence he knew the importance of allowing space for the music to breathe. Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette had it, and so does the young and exuberant Dane. I'm keen to hear his trio with Steve Swallow and Hans Ulrik, but that will have to wait for another time. All of the musicians introduced their own pieces, and you could write an essay on each. Smith's 'Ever Neverland' was nice to hear again (23 years after it was written), and his Nordic, Garbarek inflected ballad 'Celtic Warrior' brought out the best in the bassist, whose long drone like improvised intro brought the great Palle Danielsson to mind. The bassist let slip that he was thrilled to be in Edinburgh because of the James Bond connection ('the real James Bond') while introducing his slippery piece 'Sniper', and I also enjoyed his Brecker-ish burner 'Certified'. Ozone played highly charged acoustic piano in the Tyner/Corea tradition, and although I've never really listened closely to him in the past I was suitably impressed. His post 9/11 statement 'Where Do We Go From Here?' was the most intense moment of the evening, an emotionally charged hymn of great intelligence and hope. I'm glad they stuck around to play two sets and an encore, and although logistically difficult given their geographical spread and busy diaries, I hope that they can find a way to record.

A touch of shopping on the Sunday morning and then off to Waverley station (with a heavy heart to be leaving this city mid-festival). We should really have stayed longer and found ways to catch The Thing and Atomic, but so much is packed into the Festival these days that if you're not living in the city you have to be selective. I'll get a run down on Stanton Moore and Elephant9 from my good friend and Edinburgh resident Andrew (he may even Twitter it), but for now that's it for us. The festival has come along way since its mainstream biased origins, although I did catch a significant deviation the year I saw Sun Ra at Meadowbank Sports Hall (1991?), and I can't wait to get back there for more next year. I wonder who Tommy will be be with at The Hub on the first Saturday of August, 2010?

Fred Grand