Trio Accento’s “Extant Blues”

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EXTANT BLUES / FROELICH: Polarized. BANSAL: Wings. WOLFGANG: Jazz and Cocktails. STEINBERG: Paleface: Piano Trio (with kazoos). BEAL: Almost Morning* / Trio Accento; *Michael Chang, vla / Albany TROY 1792

California-based Trio Accento consists of violinist Limor Toren Immerman, cellist Garik Terzian and pianist Nora Chiang Wrobel. The CD booklet contains biographical information on each of them individually, but there is no information on how long they have been working as a unit. They do, however, tend to specialize in contemporary music, and this is the focus of this CD.

We start off with Polarized by Kenneth Froelich. This is a piece in the modern “edgy” style, which kicks off with a flurry of notes by the two strings before settling into the obligatory ostinato rhythm of such music. The piano plays a repeated 7-note motif which underlies the high-flying playing of the strings, sometimes soft but always with edgy interjections. The music grabs your attention but sounds like a hundred other such compositions out there nowadays, though Trio Accento plays with vigor and commitment. There is the usual “reflective” passage in the middle where things quiet down for a bit, but without much of a theme to work with there isn’t much to say about the work other than its edginess.

Next up is Juhi Bansal’s Wings. This, too, has a certain amount of the edgy style, but since it depicts birds flying it is generally quieter and has a certain amount of lyricism about it that I liked. Bansal also seems to be more concerned with thematic development than Froelich, which I appreciated. It is also a three-movement piece, each of them giving a different take on the subject. I found the second movement less structurally coherent than the first, however, and more concerned with effect. These must have been some pretty noisy birds! The third movement seems to allude to an entire flock, since the strings play together here, though the music seems more akin to minimalism, though after a while we do get some thematic development.

Then we reach Gernot Wolfgang’s Jazz and Cocktails, and almost immediately one is aware of a first-rate musical mind at work. Although only alluding to jazz, we hear a tightly-woven composition in which the three instruments actually interact in a way that makes musical sense and is not so hung up on sound effects. The two strings play opposing lines above the syncopated but not quite jazz-like lines of the piano. At times, the cello plays pizzicato, and there is always something going on here that catches the ear and makes you pay attention. This is really a marvelous piece, and Trio Accento plays it very well, but I had to wonder about the title since the music has a slightly sinister sound throughout that doesn’t relate, in my mind, at least, to a “jazz and cocktails” sort of mood. (Perhaps a bit more like “jazz and hangovers”!) I particularly liked the passage with the rising chromatics which comes to a climax, then falls away as the two strings play together in harmony. By the mid-point, we are about as far away from jazz as one can imagine as the music descend to fairly sinister rumbles in the lower range of the piano before the energetic (but no less sinister-sounding) strings return. Eventually the music disintegrates into a series of quiet-yet-edgy phrases and outbursts by the soloists, either alone or together. Then, at about 9:51, the cello begins playing fast pizzicato passages, which the piano joins in atonal sprinkles. The tempo keeps coming to a standstill, then starts up again, until finally the whole trio jumps in to stop this nonsense and drive the music forward. A sudden outburst of bitonal notes hurtles it towards the conclusion. A strange piece!

Russell Steinberg, a composer whose works Trio Accento has played in live concerto, contributes Paleface: Piano Trio (with kazoos), surely one of the strangest pieces on the album. The galloping of horses is simulated in the opening before the music hurtles into its theme-and-development sections; a bit of hoedown fiddle is heard, then Western barroom piano. The violin plays, very high and on the edge of the strings, a bit of Home on the Range, then, lower down in its range, Calling in the Sheep. I really enjoyed this piece tremendously, as it had not only energy but imagination and, yes, a sense of humor, all of which appealed to me. There’s not a dull moment in this opening movement; you feel completely engaged in the composer’s quick wit from start to finish. There’s even a passage where it almost sounds as if the violinist’s strings are snapping, calling for the player to make quick upward glissandi to simulate that effect.

In the second movement we finally hear the kazoos, and even knowing they were coming they made me laugh. This movement features a fast, almost choppy ostinato beat propelled by the piano, but more importantly is Steinberg’s ever-quick wit and his ability to blend in elements of jazz (very well executed by the trio, by the way) and, despite all the odd effects (and kazoos), a good sense of development. No matter what Steinberg throws into this trio, no matter how incongruous the sounds produced, everything seems to fit like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, and always there is that strong sense of humor.

Surprisingly, the third movement starts off with somber, slow chords on the piano, but the strings play weird tremolos that bob in and out of the music; then the pianist plays the inside strings of her instrument. This movement, for some reason, sounds much more serious and, unlike the other two, has more of a stop-and-go movement, yet one can tell that it’s by the same composer. Eventually, the violin plays a rather sad and plaintive “Western” sort of theme, joined later by the cello. The liner notes explain that the “Western” heroes of the first movement and the “pulp fiction” heroes of the second are, here, “struggling in the night to cohere and make sense of a world they no longer can possibly describe. They ultimately all go to church and fade away to a ghost gospel choir.” A weird piece!

We conclude with Jeff Beal’s Almost Morning, a dance piece choreographed by Claudia Schreier for the Alvin Ailey dance theater in 2015, Beal, who started out as a jazz trumpeter, has moved into writing film and concert music. Almost Morning has the rhythmic element of minimalism, but the music really changes and develops and does not remain static. In this work, violist Michael Chang joins the trio to form a piano quartet. The rhythm is dance-like and even contains some elements of jazz without being “jazzy” in any really specific way. Lovely little melodies played by the violin come and go. At one point, the piano plays a quirky repeated rhythm in the right hand which pushes the three strings into a sort of slight protest, but all come together to continue the music, which has a very nice development section. All in all, a wonderful piece.

A mixed bag, as is often the case nowadays. The Wolfgang piece was interesting, the Steinberg and Beal pieces were excellent, and the other two were striking but, to my ears, not musically effective.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Goodman’s Music in Blue and Red

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IMPRESSIONS IN BLUE: GOODMAN: No Man’s Land. Blue Shade Intro. Blue Shade. Moods. Space Behind Eugene Boch. Zen. Cobalt Blue. Still Life With Skull. MACBRIDE: Space Behind Eugene Boch Intro. NEVIN: Zen Intro. VAN GELDER: Still Life With Skull Intro . SIGNORELLI-MALNECK: I’ll Never Be the Same / Ben Van Gelder, a-sax; Alex Goodman, gtr; Martin Nevin, bs; Jimmy Macbride, dm

IMPRESSIONS IN RED / GOODMAN: Choose. Circles in a Circle. Impending. In Heaven Everything is Fine. Toys. Occam’s Razor. Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It. E.T. Sonata No. 12, Adagio Intro. Views in Perspective. LO RE: Impending Intro. HANCOCK: Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It Intro. ROSENMULLER: Sonata No. 12, Adagio. FERBER: View in Perspective Intro. RODGERS-HAMMERSTEIN: If I Loved You / Alex LoRe, a-sax; Goodman, gtr; Rick Rosato, bs; Mark Ferber, dm / Outside In Music OIM2005

I don’t know where this is coming from, but we suddenly seem to be in the midst of a new fad in jazz CDs, the Cerebral Concept Album. Musicians who formerly were content to just write their music, record it, and see who likes it are now packaging their material swathed in high-flown phrases and philosophical/intellectual “concepts.”

This album. scheduled for digital release in March, is one such. After starting out with a pseudo-intellectual comment from John Dewey about how if all meaning could be adequately expressed in words the arts of painting and music would not exist (no kidding, John), it follows with a four-paragraph essay by Alex Goodman on synethesia, which some people have (the ability to “see” music as colors) and most don’t, which is in turn followed by a quote from Goethe on the color blue and one by Kandinsky, the man who more or less establishes synethesia, on the color red. And so on we go to a review of the actual music.

The opener of disc one (blue), titled No Man’s Land, presents alto saxist Ben Van Gelder, whose playing reminded me a good deal of the late Paul Desmond. After an amorphous introduction, the music settles into a nice funky jazz groove and is very well conceived and executed as music. Goodman is a really outstanding jazz guitarist who doesn’t play his instrument like a rock guitar, thank goodness, nor does he play his instrument with that wimpy soft sound that seems to be all the rage nowadays. After this, however, the reader must be careful in following the sequence of tunes, because some of the “introduction” pieces were written by his bandmates, though they directly precede the pieces by the same name written by Goodman, and the first CD concludes with the wonderful old Marry Malneck-Frank Signorelli standard, I’ll Never Be the Same.

Blue Shade is the only piece with an intro written by the same person, that being Goodman himself. The intro is an out-of-tempo, ruminating guitar solo before moving into the tune proper, in which the rhythm seems to run backwards. Van Gelder enters at about the 38-second mark, playing his own music in a forward rhythm but occasionally falling into Goodman’s reverse beat before leading the guitarist to the straight path. Once again, the two soloists build the music in an interesting, original yet logical fashion, allowing themselves to listen to each other and use their solo spots to continue what the other has just finished saying. Towards the end, Goodman seems to be quoting one of Django Reinhardt’s old tunes (the name escapes me at the moment, but it’s Django, all right).Moods sounds exactly like you thought it would: soft, slow music, but thankfully not wallowing in bathos or pathos.

The Space Behind Eugene Boch Intro isn’t really music, just a drum solo by Macbride, whereas the tune proper begins with no discernible meter, the music just sort of floating around sax and guitar licks before Macbride brings things into tempo a bit. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the main theme of this piece particularly interesting, and Goodman’s guitar solo ruminates a bit too much. Goodman’s later solo throws in a brief quote from Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

The Zen intro is a bass solo by Martin Nevin. I really wish that Goodman had simply tied these “intros” to the main tunes that they belong to; after all, a ton of jazz numbers begin with just one instrument playing. That doesn’t make it an “introduction” in the formal sense of the term, and in this case Zen itself is also played by the solo bass for one full chorus before the others enter. It’s a simple but nice theme. Van Gelder’s alto solo is excellent, full of ideas and making something interesting and complex out of the simple theme. Oddly, it stops in the middle of nowhere.

By contrast, Cobalt Blue is a very complex piece consisting of fast-moving eighth notes that jump around in an almost bitonal manner, initially played by guitar and then with the alto sax joining in. As in the previous two instances, the Still Life With Skull Intro is just an a cappella solo by one of the musicians, in this case Van Gelder, but in this case the fast, peppy intro does not prepare us for what is clearly one of Goodman’s most interesting pieces, almost a “third stream” composition in which a series of repeated Es on the guitar back a very strange, bitonal melodic line that continues to morph and develop even after the guitar ostinato drops out. This was, for me, the masterpiece of this album; it’s almost as good as some of Charles Mingus’ best pieces from the late 1960s or ‘70s. Bass and drums then play out-of-tempo (and rhythm) licks behind Goodman’s outstanding guitar solo. The blue portion of our program concludes with a very imaginative version of I’ll Never Be the Same, played by Goodman alone.

Now we move on to disc two (red). Except for Goodman on guitar, the personnel is quite different: Alex LoRe, whose sound is closer to a clarinet, is the alto saxist, Rick Rosato is the new bassist, and Mark Ferber is the drummer. The music is still very interesting in places but if a somewhat different character, being more uptempo (I guess that’s the “red” factor) and less impressionistic in quality. Choose is a tune that becomes ever more complex as it goes along, almost splitting into two competing lines right after the halfway mark. Goodman plays rapid triplets on guitar to propel the music along. LoRe’s playing, at least on this piece, is actually more minimal and less busy than Van Gelder’s.

Circles in a Circle is built around an ostinato series of low Es on the bass while Goodman plays what appear to be random chords and LoRe plays a swirling, amorphous melodic line. Parts of it put me a little in mind of some of Dave Brubeck’s more experimental pieces. Impending follows the same pattern as the split pieces on CD 1, the intro here being played solo by LoRe before moving into the tune proper. Here, Goodman plays some sustained chords on his guitar using the wah-wah pedal, something I could have lived without, and the beat is closer to rock music than jazz, but it is an interesting line, seemingly consisting of random notes but actually making a complete theme statement (just not a very attractive one). In Heaven Everything is Fine also has a somewhat quirky melodic line, but a harmonically interesting one, played by Goodman over bass and drums before LoRe enters with a quirky theme of his own. The saxist then gets the chance to expand his theme and make it the dominant one, followed by a Goodman solo.

Toys opens with a fast series of rising chromatic chords on guitar before moving into a pleasant but fairly innocuous tune. Goodman fairly dominates this track with interesting extended solos. Occam’s Razor also begins with a guitar solo, this time somewhat out of tempo and a bit ruminating, before settling into a steady beat and allowing LoRe to state the theme while Ferber plays paradiddles behind him. Yet Goodman again dominates this track. I wondered, at this point, if he really felt that LoRe was capable of taking this tune where he wanted it to go; the saxist does return later on, but only to re-state his theme while Goodman improvises around him.

Interestingly, according to the booklet, the solo bass into to Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It was composed not by our bassist but by Herbie Hancock. The melody itself isn’t fiery at all, but rather slow, soft and a bit bland. At the 40-second mark, the drums set up a slow marching beat and LoRe plays the simple but effective melodic line before the solos take over (including one by bassist Rosato). LoRe’s solo on this track is clearly one of his finest on the entire album, inventive while still staying within the basic framework of the piece.

E.T. is a slightly uneasy-sounding piece with a pseudo-samba beat and a simple but attractive top line. Oddly, on this track it is Goodman’s solo that seemed to me to ramble a bit; LoRe is right on the money with a very interesting solo, playing with his Lee Konitz tone. (Sidelight: One of my favorite Lee Konitz anecdotes is the time he told an audience that Bird complimented him on playing his own thing and not trying to “copy his shit.” Said Lee, “I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the only reason I didn’t copy his shit is that it was too hard for me to play!”)

The next track(s) are rather interesting. First, Goodman plays an out-of-tempo guitar solo, then we hear the “Adagio” from Johann Rosenmuller’s Sonata No. 12. I had to look Rosenmuller up online because I’d never heard of him. It turns out he’s one of those old-timey guys from the 17th century “who played a part in transmitting Italian musical styles to the north.” Well, cheers and beers for him. Since I don’t know the original piece I could only comment on the way the band played it here, and they certainly do make it complex and interesting, particularly LoRe, although Goodman gets some nice licks in.

View in Perspective consists of a solo drum into by Ferber followed by the piece itself. I found it a pleasant modern jazz tune if not a particularly interesting one. Goodman’s long solo has its ups and downs, being highly creative in places and just doodling around in others.

The “red” portion of our program concludes as did the blue, with a solo guitar interpretation of an oldie, in this case Rodgers and Hammerstein’s If I Loved You, and here Goodman is inventive in a very relaxed way.

So there you have it. An interesting excursion, to be sure, with some ups and some downs.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Songs of John Harbison

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HARBISON: Mirabai Songs. After Hours: excerpts.* North and South, Books I & II. Crossroads+ / Kendra Colton, sop; Kayo Iwama, *Sandford Margolis, pno; +Peggy Pearson, ob; Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble; Timothy Weiss, cond / Oberlin Music OC19-02

John Harbison, one of America’s better composers, presents here a selection of his songs as performed by soprano Kendra Colton, a noted interpreter of contemporary music as well as that of Bach.

Colton is a highly musical singer with a bright voice and generally good (but not crystal-clear) diction. But she is no spring chicken, having graduated from Oberlin (where she now teaches) in 1983, and the voice has a bit of wear on it. In her case, thank goodness, this wear is not evidenced by any sign of unsteadiness or wobble (the bane of most famous singers today) but merely by an edginess of tone which, played through my computer speakers, is exacerbated a bit. I would think that, singing in a large hall where the sound can dissipate, her voice would be more pleasant, but we take what we can.

Harbison’s style, as those who have heard his opera The Great Gatsby know, is essentially lyrical in the top line (whether vocal or instrumental) with Britten-like chords beneath it. He has a lively sense of rhythm and is a master of matching the patterns of his music to the patterns of speech as if one were reciting the words rather than singing them. This makes his music modern but not avant-garde; he is, rather, a composer in the tradition of Ned Rorem, which is not bad at all.

The Mirabai Songs are based on the poetry of Princess Mirabai who was one of Lord Krishna’s most devoted followers. Reading the lyrics, one is struck by her very poetic and sometimes graphic descriptions of love. For Mirabai, Krishna was apparently more than just a Hindu deity; she speaks of him and makes verbal love to him as if he were flesh and blood, creating an erotic tension in her words. Harbison’s music for these songs alternates between fast, edgy music (“Why Mira Can’t Go Back to her Old House”) and slower, more sensual melodies. It’s an interesting cycle of songs, then, with some really fine moments.

After Hours is a set of songs to the words of Murray Horwitz’ Baseline Ballad. The texts here are more American and descriptive, and so is Harbison’s music, even tossing in a few jazz licks for the piano accompanist in “Like Spring” and “Sleepsong.” Fortunately, Colton’s accompanist here, Peggy Pearson, gets the rhythms right. By contrast, North and South is set to six poems by Elisabeth Bishop, and these conflate tales of washing clothes and listening to singers on the radio with sensual overtones and sexual innuendo.

Crossroads, set to the poetry of Louise Glück, is accompanied by a small chamber ensemble of 12 strings and an oboe. Although a nice set of songs, I personally felt that the style and musical language used here was more formulaic and less original than the preceding works, but taken by itself it is a nice little cycle.

So there you have it. Basically, a well sung recital of mostly interesting music by an American original.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Mark Godfrey’s Square Peg

Cover Art - Mark Godfrey - Square Peg

SQUARE PEG / GODFREY: Black Stars. Square Peg. No Gig Today. U.S.S. Rent-a-Car. Skyline. One Game Away From Winter. Forty Minutes or More. Driving Westbound. McDuff. Bucket List / Allison Au, a-sax; Matt Woroshyl, t-sax; Chris Pruden, pno; Mark Godfrey, bs; Nick Fraser, dm / Independent release, no label or number

For millions of millennials and Gen-Xers, the minivan replaced the station wagons of old as the Family Vehicle of Choice (well, maybe also Necessity) to cart Da Family around. But even the direction and reasons for the carting have changed. When I was young, the carting was mostly to school if we missed the bus, to Girl or Boy Scout meetings, to church on Sundays and to visit grandma or uncles-aunts-cousins on weekends. Sad to say, none of us played soccer and frankly, I’m glad I wasn’t forced to do so. And no one in my family was skilled enough to qualify for Little League baseball. We were lucky we could make contact when we played stickball in the street. In this case, however, it refers to Godfrey’s own 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan, which he used to commute between Toronto and New York for four years. He named it “Jean Claude Van Tan.”

But jollity aside, this is one strange album. The music is generally soft and moody, which would normally place it in the category of “soft jazz,” but the compositions are harmonically interesting and quite advanced in musical concept. I was also delighted to see alto saxist Allison Au, whose quartet recording Forest Grove I reviewed in October 2017, as part of the group here. She is an outstanding player whose work enhances any jazz ensemble.

But the others are also quite good, and although I felt that pianist Chris Pruden’s playing was spacier and more minimal in design, all contribute to the whole. This is also one of those rare albums nowadays where the rhythm section functions as a unit most of the time, with the bassist and drummer normally on the same page rhythmically, although in the opener (Black Stars) I felt that Nick Fraser was a little too loud behind Pruden’s solo.

Godfrey clearly has his own concept of jazz composition, and one wonders if Pruden’s spacey solos were not part of the grand scheme, as they provide the centerpiece to each of the first two pieces. Perhaps he wanted to simulate the random thoughts that went through his mind during those long commutes. In Square Peg, the piano and the rest of the band fade away to allow bassist Godfrey an extended solo of his own, in which the drums re-enter during his second chorus. No Gig Today is a jazz samba, one of the few extroverted pieces on the album, with good solos throughout. Au and Woroshyl also play a nice duo-chorus in this one, followed by a chase chorus, somewhat reminiscent of the kind of thing that Zoot Sims and Al Cohn did so well back in the 1960s and ‘70s.

U.S.S. Rent-a-Car begins as one of the most “formed” pieces and, despite its rather slow tempo, one of the most swinging on this album, with an outstanding tenor solo by Woroshyl; eventually, the piece disintegrates into free-form jazz, with both saxists splattering notes all over each other as the piece sort of drags to the finish line.

The remaining tracks are all in one or another of these same kind of grooves, and although there are times when the listener conflates one piece with another, each one, taken by itself, is excellent. Pruden’s piano, surprisingly, is much busier and more outgoing in Skyline. while One Game Away from Winter is pensive, almost a bit melancholy in tone. Forty Minutes or More alternates between quick, straightahead swing and slower, more pensive moments when the tempo is pulled back to allow for musings and explorations (and a fine drum solo).

Towards the end of the album, I felt that some of the pieces, e.g. Driving Westbound, sounded a bit too much like others on the CD, but overall this is an interesting excursion in Godfrey’s Dodge Caravan of music.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Brian Scanlon Presents His Brain Scan!

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BRAIN SCAN / SCANLON: Brain Scan.2,5 El Entrometido.1 Re-Entry.2, 3 Not Watching (for Nancy).2, 3 I Hear Something.1 HAGEN-ROGERS: Harlem Nocturne.1 SCANLON: Mark’s Time.1,4 My Right Foot.2 Scandalized 2,5 / Brian Scanlon, t-sax/a-sax; 1Tom Ranier, 2Ed Czach, pno; 3Andrew Synowiec, 4Larry Koonse, 5Avery Scanlon, gtr; Trey Henry, bs; Peter Erskine, dm; Jeoy de Leon, perc / no label or number, available for digital sales online

Saxist Brian Scanlon has had a busy, active career for the past 32 years, working in television, movies and as a sideman for some top names in jazz, the most famous of which is probably Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, but this CD is his very first as a leader and principal composer.

Not too surprisingly, the music is, like that of Goodwin’s band, mainstream but with some interesting twists. Just as the Woody Herman Herd of 1944-46 was a breakthrough in the formulation and arrangement of musical materials within a “swing” orchestra, so too the Goodwin band was in our time, and this is the aesthetic that Scanlon follows here. Meter is sometimes extended or even varied from bar to bar, the melodic lines are fresh and original without actually breaking any ground, and the whole endeavor is a wonderfully refreshing return to the basics of jazz in the post-modern-and-free-jazz era.

My sole caveat about the album is that guitarist Avery Scanlon’s playing veers a bit too far in the direction of rock music for my taste, as does the entire tune Re-Entry (sorry, but I generally despite jazz-rock). Otherwise, this is excellent, solid jazz that will delight you any time of year but particularly in the dead of winter (like now) or the heat of summer when you need a pick-me-up. Indeed, the second piece on this CD, El Entrometido, is one of the hardest-swinging pieces I’ve heard on a jazz CD in quite some time. It could easily be expanded on in orchestration and be part of Goodwin’s book. I also really liked I Hear Something, and I was delighted to find one of my favorite tunes of the swing era, Earle Hagen’s Harlem Nocturne, in an entirely new meter (or, actually, two mixed meters).

Mark’s Time is a particularly attractive piece, with a good, solid melodic line and some exquisite playing by veteran guitarist Larry Koonse. My Right Foot also has a nice medium swing beat to it, and a melodic line that sounds old thought it is not, with an excellent piano solo by Ed Czach. The leader’s solos throughout this set are fine, solid constructions that fit the surrounding material without necessarily providing anything new or exciting. The album closes with a ballad, Scandalized, which again sports a guitar solo that leans towards rock music.

Overall, however, this is a good CD, solidly written and played.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Nick Finzer’s “Cast of Characters”

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CAST OF CHARACTERS / FINZER: A Sorcerer (is a Myth). Evolution Of…  …Perspective. Brutus, the Contemporary. Patience… …Patience. A Duke. (Take the) Fork in the Road. Weatherman. Venus. You’ll Never Know… …The Alternative. The Guru. We’re More Than the Sum of Our Influences / Nick Finzer, tb/ldr; Lucas Pino, t-sax/bs-cl; Alex Wintz, gtr; Glenn Zaleski, pno; Dave Baron, bs; Jimmy MacBride, dm / Outside in Music 2000

I don’t want to dwell on the idea behind this release because the music is really very good, but since the concept, packaging and promo material all proclaim leader-trombonist Nick Finzer as exploring “the nature of influence,” I felt a word or two needs to be said.

It’s certain true, as Finzer states in the booklet, that “Each of us responds and develops along our journey with the influence of the people we meet along our path. We follow, we depart, we react and we grow in myriad ways based on the experiences we encounter.” So far, I’m with him.

But turn the page and you start getting some really strange statements, e.g.:

We are both the sum of our experience and the product of our influences. We are who we choose to embrace.

This certainly doesn’t apply to me. I’ve always been my own person, even when still a child in grammar school. My “influences” are all musical, artistic and literary, but only insofar as their music, art and literature go. I never actually tried to emulate their personalities or assimilate them into my own.

Our expectations of reality are often met with a different truth.

This is probably true, but only if you involve yourself deeply with social media (or mainstream media) and choose to believe what you see and hear there. In Real World 101, for better or worse, there is only one reality I know of. I’ve yet to find a Bizarro world where reality or truth are different.

But hey, it’s his trip and not mine. At least, as I said earlier, the music on this disc, scheduled for release February 28, is excellent. The opener, A Sorcerer (is a Myth) opens with piano solo, then the sax and trombone play the intro, which is a fascinating one built around just a few notes. Piano-bass-drums pick up the music with the theme, then the whole band comes together for development and exploration via solos. The leader is up first on trombone, and he is truly superb, with a firm, rich tone and sterling technique. He almost sounds like a combination of Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Knepper. and his solo is well constructed, not just throwing notes out there for their own sake. After a brief bass interlude, the trombone and sax return to play the intro as an interlude before Lucas Pino’s sax solo, and this is a bit more abstract in design.

Evolution of Perspective is one of three selections divided on the CD into two separate sections. The first, here, opens quietly with slow music that sounds very abstract, the two horns just throwing what sound like random notes out there while the piano plays repeated As. Then the theme is heard; like the opener, it has a very slight Middle Eastern flavor about it. Zaleski’s piano plays block chords that then introduce the second section, in a faster tempo, whose brief theme is simpler and more abstract before the solos shoot out at you. Brutus the Contemporary is a nice medium-tempo swinger, albeit with an odd-sounding meter, and on this one Pino plays bass clarinet, and does so with a “real” clarinet tone, if you know what I mean. Zaleski is finally rewarded for his patience with a good solo of his own. Finzer’s solo on this one is particularly adventurous, even a bit wild, yet fits into the surrounding material very well. Jimmy MacBride even gets some drum breaks on this one.

Patience…Patience is a slow work, brooding and moody, again introduced by piano. After stating the simple, abstract theme, the horns bow out and give the stage to Dave Baron’s bass. A Duke opens in a medium tempo which quickly morphs into a sort of shuffle rhythm, then to a straight swinging 4. The them here is rather elongated and quite interesting, which then makes the solos all the more interesting in context.

One could give such detailed descriptions of every piece on this album, which is almost like a suite, but it would perhaps spoil the element of surprise that I encountered when listening, and which I would like the reader to discover for him or herself. I’ll only hint that the opening of (Take the) Fork in the Road is one of the most interesting and unusual presented here, and leave it at that.

Cast of Characters might well have been titled An Album of Discovery, because it is exactly that. Not a bad solo or dull track on the album, and that’s saying quite a lot nowadays. Check it out!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Damian Iorio Conducts Malipiero

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MALIPIERO: Symphony No. 6, “Degli Archi.” Ritrovari (Rediscoveries). Serenata Mattutina. 5 Studies / Orch. della Svizzera Italiana; Damian Iorio, cond / Naxos 8.574173

Gian Francesco Malipiero was clearly one of the most significant of modern Italian composers of his time, which ranged from the 1920s through the 1960s. His music was colorful, imaginative and bristling with new ideas; almost none of it was predictable or formulaic. Yet it took decades for him to be recognized much outside his native Italy because he was overshadowed by the likes of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Messiaen, etc.

Listening to his excellent Sixth Symphony, written entirely for strings, one wonders if his penchant for lyricism—albeit lyricism tempered by modern, Bartók-like chord progressions—didn’t have something to do with his lack of recognition. The composers mentioned above had all but abandoned lyricism by 1947, when this work premiered (though Stravinsky resuscitated it for The Rake’s Progress in 1951), while Malipiero unashamedly pursues it. Unlike Messiaen, who in his “Turangalila” Symphony completely broke the old mold, Malipiero continued in this work to use the four-movement format that went back to Haydn and Beethoven. Moreover, the slow second movement almost has an “American” sound in the sense that Copland’s music did. Surely, both its theme and its harmony are not far removed from Appalachian Spring or the slow movements of Copland’s famous early-1940s ballets. I bring all this up not to disparage Malipiero, but merely to place him historically and to explain why other modern composers, even Italians like Petrassi and especially Scelsi, found Malipiero sympathetic to their aims but not quite as radical in his actual scores.

And yet, just listen to the “Scherzo” of this symphony and you’ll appreciate Malipiero’s musical mind. The music remains bracing in a Copland-esque way, with many open fourths and fifths used in the scoring, yet its progression is uniquely his own (though perhaps with a tip to Hindemith in the unusual, brief cello solo). The last movement begins slowly, lyrically and tonally before opening up, at the 1:38 mark, into faster, more driving music, sounding here like an Italian Stravinsky, before receding into slower music once again.

Ritrovari (Rediscoveries), of which this is the first recording, is a fine suite written in 1926 for the odd combination of a wind quintet with four violas, cello and bass. The music was based on Gabriele d’Annunzio’s The Ship of Promise, which called for a “warlike” first movement, a second movement of “discordant violence,” a “funeral march” for the third, the fourth expressing “solitude and sadness” and the fifth and last flaring up “with the immortal will to vengeance, liberation and glory.” After a relatively conventional opening, most of this suite is indeed quite imaginative and follows d’Annunzio’s suggestions fairly closely. The Serenata mattutina (1959) is mature Malipiero, one of his most modern-sounding compositions, yet still retains some of the lyricism of his youthful works.

We close out this program with his 5 Studies of 1959-60, a very Stravinsky-like piece in a sort of Italian neo-Classic style with typical Stravinskian harmonies. Although I found nearly all of the music on this set of interest, I can’t say much about the performances themselves other than that they are clean and professional-sounding. Damian Iorio may indeed be a well-trained conductor, having studied at Indiana University, but I found his work here to be devoid of any feeling, which is a shame because this music clearly cries out for impassioned playing. Recommended, then, for the music as such while the conducting and playing merely ranks two fish.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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