Saturday, 18 February 2012

Geir Lysne and Christian Wallumrød...

Time to dredge up another of those old reviews to clutter the web. 'Solid' and 'sub-ECM' are two bits of fairly faint praise, though all things are relative and there's still lots to enjoy here. I've sampled other bits of Lysne's work over the last year or two, and I know that he'll come good at some point with a really definitive statement.

I realise that Afric Pepperbird didn't make any reference to the slightly disappointing gig by Christian Wallumrød at The Sage last Autumn. This was same Ensemble responsible for the similarly dull Fabula Suite Lugano, their music stuck in a hinterland somewhere between contemporary composition and 'improv'. I prefer the more playful and declamatory Wallumrød, and if I'd never heard great discs such as The Zoo Is Far and A Year From Easter then the Ensemble's rather flat performance with few obvious highs would have left me completely non-plussed. 

Wallumrød is the kind of guy who'll keep exploring though, and although not everything will strike a chord with me I'm confident that, just like Lysne, there's a lot more to come from him in the future.

Right, that's it for now...

The Grieg Code
ACT (9479-2)

Transad Nias; Memorits N’Gneng; Blog Her; Vebburedong; Wonde Hinsisi; Døse Dås; Glossi Vangse; L’omai

Geir Lysne (ts); Morten Halle (as/ss/fl); Tore Bruneborg (ts/fl); Steffen Schorn (bs/bfl); Eckhard Bauer (t/flh); Jesper Riis (t/flh); Arkady Shilkloper (frhn/flh); Helge Sunde (tb); Lars A Haug (tba); Jørn Øien (ky/elec); Bjørn Kjellemyr (b); Andreas Bye (d); Terje Isungset (voc/perc). Recorded 6/08.

Composer and saxophonist Geir Lysne has been bubbling under for a few years now, picking up awards in his native Norway and notching a string of releases on the Eurojazz-friendly ACT label. Although principally working within jazz, Lysne has a background in teaching and can sometimes be found playing in classical ensembles. Bringing together his many stylistic interests for this project, what we get is a nod to fellow countryman and musical predecessor Edvard Grieg. Commissioned for a conference in the great composer’s honour, the music of The Grieg Code places fragments of his themes, heavily disguised and anagrammatically re-titled by Lysne, into contemporary clothing.

Lysne’s subtle use of electronics and voices is very Norwegian, and you’ve probably guessed that he’s not simply doing jazz versions of Grieg. Lysne prismatically diffuses the source material, using a band bristling with familiar voices. Jon Balke’s brass-heavy Oslo 13 an important touchstone, but although the Jan Erik Kongshaug/Rainbow Studios production sounds reassuringly familiar, the project couldn’t really be described as sub-ECM. A handful of scholars may attempt to crack the code and identify the fragments Lysne has lifted, but to enjoy the music you need never know his points of reference. It may not be the record to set 2009 ablaze, but if you like the contemporary Scandinavian sound, this is a solid disc that you’ll want to return to many times.

Fred Grand

Friday, 10 February 2012

Set the alarm for Bobby Previte...

Time to start the New Year (well, nearly new) with another old review of mine from the Jazz Review days. Previte is simply one of my enduring favourites, and I know each of his albums in much the same intimate kind of way that many claim to know the oeuvre of The Beatles. What is it that I so like about this easy to overlook artist? 

It's not the fact that he's a great drummer, or that he surrounds himself with some of the most creative players of his generation. It's not that he's a genuinely gifted composer of high quality and complex music, or that he takes outrageous liberties with a razor wit, making bold choices that invariably pay off. No, it's the way in which he combines all of these things to draw you into his rather unique and colourful world, and why he's pretty much omni-present in any listening I do that is purely for sake of pleasure. 

My first ever trip to New York (there've only been two) was to see a retrospective of his work presented over three nights at the Knitting Factory. Each of his albums were recreated, from Claude's Late Morning and Empty Suits to Hue & Cry and Euclid's Nightmare, the fiery duet with John Zorn that was at that time his most recent release. If you're not yet a fan of Previte, do yourself a favour and try him out. This disc probably makes as good a starting point as any, and should be available cheaply as either artefact or download.

I'm well aware that there hasn't been much content on Afric Pepperbird of late, but I'll once again make a vow to change that. Even if I don't get my own act together I've included a couple of widgets at the side of the page which from the redoubtable All About Jazz, which are guaranteed to generate something new each day.

London International Jazz Festival was as stimulating as I'd hoped, and apart from being a nice holiday with Louise I managed to burn the midnight and get my reviews filed within hours of the each performance for instant publication on the Jazz Journal website. If you haven't read them yet, you'll find them here.

Gearing up for a strong line-up at this year's Gateshead Festival, and at this stage I'm hoping to catch Jasper Hoiby, Andy Sheppard and/or Ambrose Akinmusire for interviews.  

We'll see...

Set The Alarm For Monday

Set The Alarm For Monday; I’d Advise You Not To Miss Your Train; She Has Information; Were You Followed?; I’m On To Her; There Was Something In My Drink; You’re In Over Your Head; Drive South, Along The Canyon; Wake Up Andrea, We’re Pulling In.

Ellery Eskelin (ts); Bill Ware (vib); Brad Jones (b); Bobby Previte (d) with guests Steven Bernstein (t) and Jim Pugliese (perc).
Recorded during 2007

Bobby Previte has always been more than just a drummer. A composer who plays the drums perhaps, his influences range from Mingus to Stravinsky via electric Miles and Terry Reilly. With a keen wit and ruthlessly individual musical signature, he now represents New York’s somewhat dissipated ‘Downtown’ scene as a distinguished elder statesman. Bump The Renaissance (Sound Aspects, 1985) showed an originality that was obvious even then, and I’ve followed his career assiduously ever since. Key ‘Downtown’ players such as Bill Frisell, and to an extent John Zorn, may have gained wider mainstream exposure, but Previte has continued to lead a spidery web of exciting projects, each exploring the many facets of his unashamedly individual musical persona. Even when dabbling in the ‘jam band’ scene as he did with Latin For Travellers and Ponga , he regularly planted epic chord progressions that would make composer John Adams sit up and payattention.

The history of ‘Bump’ in Previte’s oeuvre is an interesting but intermittent one. A pocket-sized orchestra mixing brass and reeds, re-appraising and subtly meddling with the tradition with wit that permeates his writing like a benign viral disease is what Bump are all about. I saw a re-formed BumpThe Renaissance group featuring Ray Anderson, Marty Ehrlich and Wayne Horvitz at a Previte retrospective held at New York’s Knitting Factory around adecade ago. A highlight then, the same group later made two fine albums for Palmetto (Just Add Water and Counterclockwise), and now five years on he’s at it again, this time with an entirely new cast of players.

Everything from the artwork to the credits, the track titles and naturally enough the music its self, is a nod to film noir. Many of Previte’s previous albums - Empty Suits in particular - have adopted a suite-like (if not cinematic) approach. Set The Alarm For Monday takes things a step further and often reminds me of the best moments of Miles’ Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud, thoroughly re-vamped and infused with infectious contemporary grooves. Using the programmatic music savvy of Jazz Passengers Ware and Jones was a smart move, whilst Ellery Eskelin is so good that no justification for getting him into the studios is ever needed. His deep affinity for the purring tones of Hawkins (via Rollins), and some supremely accomplished method acting, intrigue and delight by turns. Bernstein and long-term collaborator Pugliese appear sparingly as colourists, but are nevertheless crucial elements in the montage. The trumpeter’s gritty rubato opening to ‘Miss Your Train’ at first seems too rude a gesture, though all good film noirs need tension. On the delicious “She Has Information”, his retro muting meows to the fictional vixen with perfection. Jones’ deep bass pulse anchors the vast majority of these pieces and he’s increasingly becoming today’s Cecil McBee (‘Canyon’ is a great case in point), whilst Ware’s vibes have probably never been put to a more atmospheric use. Their beguiling sonorities lure the listener into the musicfrom the very opening bars and never let up.

Whilst soundtracks to imaginary movies are nothing new, this is the kind of fully realised concept album that only comes along once in a blue moon. Its smooth flow and catchy hooks reveal a master at the height of his powers. Anybody approaching Previte’s music for the first time will kick them selves for missing two decades of his individual music. In the middle of a purple patch just now, Set The Alarm ForMonday is an essential release, perhaps the most convincing ‘Downtown’ release since Tim Berne’s Science Friction. It really is that good.

Fred Grand