Year-End Odds and Ends: Jazz, Vol. 2 (Whack Jazz Edition!)

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For this installment of the 2009 roundups, we lasso those stray cd’s of jazz that’s really “out there.” Hmmm, I think there’s a term for that kind of music. Despite hard times—and it’s really hard for those musicians who choose to play music entirely for art’s sake as these guys do—there’s been a wealth of releases from this stout group of accomplished individuals. Several of the releases being looked at here come from the fabled and revitalized ESP-Disk label and it’s Engine Studios affiliate.

There’s even a couple of ESP-Disk recent releases that don’t really count as “whack jazz” because it’s so far out, it’s not even remotely associated with jazz: the zany Boogie In The Breeze Blocks by Talibam! and the reissue of 1969’s gutteral Cave Rock by Cromagnon are totally off the hinges and recommended if you like experimental music that sounds truly experimental.

But, I digress. Here are the rest of the contestants:

The Othertet The Othertet: The Othertet is a quintet, a side project of musicians very familiar to each other: Bill Lowe on bass trombone and tuba, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn, Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng on drums and percussion, and Joe Morris on acoustic bass…the same as the guitarist Joe Morris we recently profiled here for his new Colorfield. Morris displays his guitarist’s approach to the bass that resonates a little like a six string, as amplified on solos like on “Cold Day Clip,” but his counter bass lines on “Tet Teo” reveals a real intimate knowledge of an instrument he’s picked up only around a decade ago. However, this is truly an ensemble affair and if anyone comes closer to dominating the others, that would be the drummer from Ghana, Obeng. A Royal Court Drummer at seventeen years old, Obeng brings an unorthodox and often sensational approach to the drums, even for a music form that’s unpredictable by definition. His track ending improvisations on numbers like “Dreamsketch” and “Look Below” alert even casual ears that something is different and compelling about him. The frontline of Lowe and Bynum with horns that represent early jazz form an intriguing balance to the unrestrained bass and drums. The Othertet, from the Engine Studios label, is well played ensemble free jazz that sounds purposeful, exotic and compelling. Hopefully, they’ll make more records together.

Flow Trio Rejuvenation: This avant garde outfit also has Joe Morris manning the contrabass, but this time, he’s joined by Louis Belogenis on tenor saxophone and Charles Downs on drums for this combo’s second album. As a long-time veteran of free jazz, Belogenis is a monster on the sax, with a huge, scary tone and sometimes using a wide vibrato that makes one think “Albert Ayler” right away. As a drummer, Brown is closer to being what most people think as a conventional drummer than Obeng, but he is a master of manipulating timbres and the tom-tom’s on parade in the middle of “Pick Up Sticks” is pretty nifty. With the temperament ranging from sorrowful to serpentine, the Flow Trio makes improvised music that carries on the tradition of the ESP-Disk legends from the sixties.

Komeda Project Requiem: The Komeda Project is a collective led by Polish expatriates Andrzej Winnicki (piano) and Krzysztof Medyna (saxophone) devoted to brining out contemporary interpretations to the music of the late, great Polish pianist and composer Krzysztof Komeda. The two longtime musical companions freshen up Komeda’s landmark European jazz music by putting together a group of American musicians to “Americanize” the Polish jazz, an interesting twist on the longer-held practice of “Europeanizing” American jazz. For this second Komeda Project album, Medyna and Winnicki retain the trumpeter Russ Johnson but bring in the distinctive American rhythm section of Nasheet Waits (drums) and Scott Colley (bass) to shake things up further. You see, Waits and Colley, hadn’t previously heard Komeda’s music before, and what is heard on this album reflects their own interpretations of it without the bias of hearing how it was played. That makes for more capricious results. The highlights are the three-part “Night-Time, Daytime Requiem” suite and the title song from Komeda’s masterpiece Astigmatic album of 1965. Both contain passages of free flowing expression punctuated by sharply defined sweeping, Old World-inspired statements. But the hard-swinging audacity of the Yankee character of this band makes Komeda’s compositions supple and vital for the twenty-first century. Komeda, who is best known for his scoring of films by Ingmar Bergman and Roman Polanski, can now be appreciated in a new way. Requiem attains its mission to bring the inspiration of Komeda in a novel and creative style.

Timucin Sahin Quartet Bafa: Timucin Sahin came to NYC from Turkey via Holland. This Manhattan School of Music grad and teacher doesn’t play music that sounds like his native Middle East environs. But the real story behind Sahn is that his guitar sounds like little of anything else, either. The distinction begins with the guitar itself: a double-necked axe that’s six-string fretted on one neck and seven-string fretless on the other. For what appears to be his third effort Bafa makes no compromises. Even with a highly articulate backing acoustic trio of John O’Gallagher on alto sax, Tyshawn Sorey on drums and Thomas Morgan on contrabass, the music possesses the direct power of heavy rock and at the same time tackling original compositions that have all the complexities of progressive and avant garde jazz. Combine that with Sahin’s unique guitar attack that’s aggressive, intelligent and punchy, and occasional live electronics, and the aggregate sound is the cosmic intersection of many of modern music’s most visionary practitioners. And yet, he’s probably only just begun to mine his potential. Bafa is delivered by Challenge Records.

Jason Adasiewicz’s Rolldown Varmint: Last May came forth an exciting debut album by one of Chicago’s rising stars of the town’s progressive jazz scene, cornetist Josh Berman. Last September he returned on CD again, this time as a member of the band led by his own band’s vibes player, Jason Adasiewicz. With the same vibes-cornet-sax-bass-drums configuration playing music that dances around the dividing line between avant garde and advanced bop, there’s nothing to dislike about the latter if you like the former. Adasiewicz’s band fills up sonic spaces a tad more and Berman takes less solos, but those are about the only subtle differences I can describe. I can, however, describe the music in terms of a superb group performance by a group of musicians who know how to balance attunement with individual expression. Not to mention Adasiewicz’s four mallet attack that produces a rich bed of chords that Berman and sax/clarinet player Aram Shelton pierce through in pleasing contrast. “Hide” is a great example of ensemble improvising that never loses sight of the harmony. Varmint, the Rolldown’s second record, comes to us via Cuneiform Records.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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