5 Composers Contribute to New Compilation CD

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SUSTAIN / PREVEDINI: Lyme Sonata / CAROLLO: Piano Suite No. 9 / Karolina Rojahn, pno / CAROLLO: Piano Etudes, Book III (Histories), Nos. 13-15 / VAN TWILLERT: Andante for Antoinette. Adagio for Piano / Lucie Kaucká, pno / THOMAS: Moto Perpetuo. 16 Lines Circling a Square / Matt Sharrock, marimba/vib / ADAMS: Solstice Introspect / McCormick Percussion Group / Navona NV6207

This interesting disc, due for release in February, juxtaposes eight works by five composers, all of them for percussion instruments that can “sustain” tones (piano, marimba and vibes) rather than just whack the instrument and decay quickly (drums, timpani, xylophone), so I guess that’s where the title of the CD came from.

We start out with the Lyme Sonata, in three movements, by John Dante Prevedini—a piece that starts out with sharp, percussive piano chords interspersed with running keyboard figures that develops in a way that combines elements of both. By and large, I was more impressed with the “smoother” piano lines, which are harmonically quite interesting and have a certain resemblance to modern jazz piano, though its syncopations lean more towards classical or ragtime influence than pure jazz. It is played exceptionally well by Karolina Rojahn, a name unknown to me. The sonata’s second movement, being the slow one, is naturally geared more towards a lyrical theme, yet one in which the composer shifts tonalities subtly just beneath its surface. Here, Prevedini plays with us by inserting silences in odd and unexpected spaces in the music. The third movement juxtaposes regular motor rhythms against syncopated ones, ending abruptly after just 1:42.

We then move on to excerpts from John Carollo’s Piano Etudes, and these are, to my ears, even more interesting music, using running keyboard figures against sharply-struck chords. Here, Carollo temporarily eschews his normal compositional style of interlocking serrated figures; though this music, too, has syncopation and in fact juxtaposes different rhythms (including what sounds to me like echoes of Bartók) in a fascinating and original manner. These pieces are so good, in fact, that I felt shortchanged by just getting three of them. I wish Navona could have included two or three more. The 14th etude uses regular quarter-note chords in the left hand against sparse notes played by the right, later using syncopation against the regular pulse, almost in the tradition of modern (outside) jazz, after which the music runs up and down the keyboard with staccato chord patterns alternating with these figures, then later in the piece the rhythms seem to run backwards against one another. Very interesting! The third is closer to his normal contrapuntal writing style, but even here he uses contrary rhythm within the development.

Robert E. Thomas’ Moto Perpetuo for solo marimba, though well constructed, sounds more predictable in form compared to the previous two composers’ works, yet it is highly enjoyable in its own right. Willem Van Twillert’s Andante for Antoinette is, on its surface, a more tonal and lyrical piece, yet the harmony keeps dropping downward through little traps in the chord progression, which then lead the melodic line downward with it. Next up is another piece by Thomas, 16 Lines Circling a Square, played by vibes and marimba. This is almost a more ambient piece than its counterpart, with the vibes producing shimmering sounds in sparse notes around quickly-shifting harmonies. This piece is in four movements with the vibes and marimba alternating from one to another. This would make great background music for a surrealist cartoon. Van Twillert then returns with his Adagio for Piano, and this is a much more conventional, Romantic-styled piece which I found only moderately interesting due to the harmonic changes in the middle.

Much more interesting is Daniel Adams’ Solstice Retrospect for three vibraphones, playing edgy figures against one another and indulging in Carollo-like figures written in hocket-styled counterpoint. These lines never quite coalesce into a melody, yet they do create a theme, which is not always the same thing.

We then hear another Carollo piece in a different vein from his normal style, the Piano Suite No. 9, subtitled “Memories of Liszt.” The first movement, though decidedly tonal, is much sparser in its use of spaced-out chords and occasional notes that never quite coalesce into a melodic line, which actually runs counter to Liszt’s own style (which was not only more melodic but chock full o’ notes). The second piece, “The Exuberant Guest,” is more Liszt-like in its proliferation of notes if not in its use of a whole-tone scale and its repetitive motor rhythm. The third, “Peace is On the Other Side of the Horizon,” is almost minimal in style, the music very sparse and tranquil. “Do We Have Time in Common?” is more playful and closer to Carollo’s normal rhythmic and contrapuntal style, while the finale, “Transcendental Incantations,” is more slow-moving, spacey music, ending on an unresolved chord.

All in all, a very interesting album of modern works with several stylistic surprises.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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The Ernie Watts Quartet Plays “Home Light”

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HOME LIGHT / WATTS: I Forgot August. Frequie Flyiers. KOEBBERLING: Café Central 2 a.m. RUIZ: Distant Friends.1 SAENGER: Horizon. Spinning Wheel. JONES: O.P. GOODE: Joe1 / Ernie Watts, t-sax/1s-sax; Christof Saenger, pno; Rudi Engel, bs; Heinrich Koebberling, dm / Flying Dolphin Records FD 1012, available at CD Baby, iTunes & Amazon

Here’s another fine, straightahead jazz album from a VJW (Veteran of the Jazz World), longtime saxist Ernie Watts. The music is relatively simple and swinging; there’s nothing here that will push the musical boundaries for you, but neither is it the kind of mindless pap that too often passes for jazz nowadays (just listen to all those wimpy, whispery “jazz” singers and pianists out there). The whole session sounds as if the Watts Quartet was playing the third set of the night at a jazz club, they were all warmed up and at their peak, and someone just happened to have the tape machine turned on.

Truth to tell, however, Watts is clearly the standout improviser in this group. Christoph Saenger is a technically facile pianist (surely much better than me, so I’m not knocking him), but his solos tend to fit regular metric patterns and just play gingerbread around the structures of the tunes they perform. He does play with energy, no question about it, but the discerning listener will find only occasional passages where he seems to stretch his imagination. Rudi Engel walks his bass with perfect aplomb, but to my ears is just a good bassist and not a great one. Drummer Heinrich Koebberling is better than average, however, and contributes some really nice and creative percussive effects to each tune on this disc.

But if Watts is primarily the show here, he is surely worth listening to in each and every track. In addition to being inspired in virtually every solo, he takes the music places you’d never expect it to go, and does so with a full tone and command of his instrument. Moreover, Watts develops his solos structurally, like a composer; every fill, every phrase adds to the ongoing evolution of every piece he plays. He takes you on journeys through the music, and those journeys are the epitome of inventiveness. In Café Central 2 a.m., Engel takes his best solo on the album, a fine if somewhat predictable improvisation. And I really liked the unusual melodic and rhythmic construction of Watts’ original, Frequie Flyiers, with its start-stop structure, which inspires the saxist to some of his greatest playing on the record. Even Saenger is more interesting here than usual, getting into the unusual harmonies very well. Near the end of Distant Friends and Joe, Watts indulges in a bit of studio trickery by duetting with himself on soprano sax. On O.P., Sam Jones’ tribute to Oscar Pettiford, Saenger’s first chorus is, to my ears, his best on the album, but then he reverts to just playing gingerbread. In the finale, Home Light, Watts sounds a bit like G.E. Smith’s sax player in the old Saturday Night Live band.

Thus a good album, particularly for Watts, but not quite in the top tier. Worth hearing for the saxist, however.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Lomax’s “Afrikan Epic” Concludes

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400: AN AFRIKAN EPIC, PART 3 – AFRO-FUTURISM: THE RETURN TO UHURU / all music by Dr. Mark Lomax

CD 9: TALES OF THE BLACK EXPERIENCE: 20 YEARS / Afrika. The Coast of Afrika. Middle Passage. Slavery in the New World. Visions of Freedom. Emancipation. The Hunt. Transcendence. Rapture / Mark Lomax, dm; Edwin Bayard, t-sax; William Menefield,  pno; Dean Hulett, bs

CD 10: ANKH & THE TREE OF LIFE / Ankh. The Tree of Life / as above, but omit Menefield

CD 11: SPIRITS OF THE EGUNGUN / Spirits I. Spirits II. Spirits III. Spirits IV / The Ogún Meji Duo: Bayard & Lomax

CD 12: AFRIKA UNITED / Ma’at. Trust. United. Power / Percussion Ensemble / self-issued CDs, available for ordering at https://marklomaxii.com/400-an-afrikan-epic

This last section of Dr. Mark Lomax II’s 12-CD suite is titled Afro-Futurism: The Return to Uhuru. The first CD in this set, Tales of the Black Experience, takes a Sankofan perspective of Afrikan history. The second, Ankh & the Tree of Life, chronicles culturally relevant spiritual belief systems. Spirits of the Egungun covers the spiritual, cultural, and political return to Self while Afrika United, played by a percussion ensemble as was the first disc in this series, he describes as “paramount to becoming…again.”

Tales of the Black Experience begins with the drums, simple at first but becoming increasingly more complex. When the piano enters, at the beginning of the second piece, The Coast of Afrika, the tempo picks up and we are in jazz-land. The music is more fierce than really joyous, however, as Menefield attacks the keys as if he were hitting them with mallets and Lomax’s drums crash mightily behind him. Once again, the music tips its hat to John Coltrane in so many ways, not least in saxist Bayard’s use of “sheets of sound” at one point. Hulett also takes an excellent bass solo, which ends the track; Middle Passage, which is all chaos and atonality, then follows with Bayard screaming on his tenor and Menefield playing wild, almost chaotic figures in the background. Later, one hears a coarse, rasping sound, possibly produced by the bass.

Slavery in the New World opens with piano tremolos over the bass and drums, out of tempo, as the tenor sax makes a strong statement in the foreground, mostly of long-held notes. The music then picks up in tempo but remains rhythmically uncertain, as if the group had no grounding. With Visions of Freedom, however, we get a joyous uptempo swinger with the quartet in fine form, propelling the music like one of the premier swing quartets of the early 1950s. Emancipation keeps up the jolly mood at an even faster tempo, the harmony now shifting from minor to major. As this piece ends with a bass solo, so does The Hunt begin with one, at a slower tempo, in D. For the most part, this album comes across more as a jam session than most of the preceding discs. Both Transcendence and Rapture are exciting pieces, mostly improvised and well-played by all.

coverThe next disc, Ankh & the Tree of Life, reduces the quartet to a trio. Like Up South, which also featured the trio, it is divided into only two bands, but here the music does sound more composed and less purely improvised. The opening of Ankh starts with plucked bass, then the tenor sax and drums enter in an out-of-tempo introduction. At 4:20 we finally move into what one could describe as a forward-moving rhythm, but not a regular pulse by any means, as the music becomes edgier and more energetic. Then, at 5:22, we finally reach a regular uptempo 4/4 pulse played by the rhythm as Bayard plays unusual lines over it; later on, he plays anguished, “outside” jazz as the rhythm again becomes chaotic. Hulett plays equally edgy bowed figures in the extreme upper range of his bass before moving into plucked playing. Around 11:17 we move into a calypso beat, played by bass and drums, followed by a really neat drum solo by Lomax (including his tuned drums). The calypso-type beat then resumes, with Hulett again playing bowed bass and Bayard improvising simple but effective melodic lines on top. The trio takes turns improvising, either singly or as a unit, through the rest of the track. At the end there is laughter, and someone (Lomax?) says, “That feels like a whole suite!”

Tree of Life begins with a gong, Hulett playing whiny tones on his bass, and Bayard playing breathy, slow notes, all of which create a weird effect. This unusual atmosphere continues for some time, then Hulett plays plucked notes while Lomax bangs on what sounds like a can for a while. At 3:52 we move into a jazz waltz tempo, with Bayard playing sporadic notes at first before the music becomes more rhythmically complex, with Bayard’s sax playing against the set rhythm rather than with it, later moving into atonal squeals before returning to more normal notes. He then moves into a drone as Hulett plays outside figures in his upper register and Lomax creates wild double-time figures behind them. Middle Eastern harmonies then enter the picture as the bass holds a drone in the background and Bayard improvises in the foreground. We then fade out for the ending.

coverOn the last CD we return to the percussion ensemble that played in the first. This one is called Afrika United. Good luck with that; when I was in college, as a history minor, I studied with a Kenyan who described in full detail the tribal mentality of all African nations and how they simply didn’t get along with each other, but hey, I guess it’s as good a dream as is a global society. For me, the most interesting pieces were the second and third, which weren’t as consistently driving as the others and had greater variety in their rhythm and backbeats.

Thus we reach the end of Mark Lomax II’s remarkable and diverse “jazzical” suite, which has a great many strengths and only a few weak moments. This is clearly a remarkable achievement by any means, and I highly recommend the entire set.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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The Epic Continues: Mark Lomax’s “400,” Part 2

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400: AN AFRIKAN EPIC, PART 1 – ALKEBULAN: THE BEGINNING OF US, all music by Dr. Mark Lomax unless otherwise noted

CD 5: MA’AFA: GREAT TRAGEDY / Captured. Day 1. Day 45. Day 60. Day 90 / The Urban Art Ensemble: Andrew Carlson, William Manley, vln; Norman Cardwell-Murri, vla; Mary Davis Featherston, cel; Edwin Bayard, t-sax; Dean Hulett, bs; Mark Lomax II, dm

CD 6: UP SOUTH: CONVERSATIONS ON AMERIKKKAN IDEALISM / LOMAX-BAYARD-HULETT: First Conversation. Second Conversation / Bayard, t-sax; Hulett, bs; Lomax, dm

CD 7: FOUR WOMEN / Portrait of Queen Nzinga. Portrait of Ida B. Wells. Portrait of Angela Davis. Portrait of Chimananda Ngozi Adiche / The Columbus Cello Quartet (UCelli): Pei-An Chao, Mary Davis, Cora Kuyvenhoven, Wendy Morton, cel

CD 8: BLUES IN AUGUST / Ma Rainey. Fences. Gem of the Ocean. Joe Turner. Blues in August / The Urban Art Ensemble, same as CD 5, but add Bayard on s-sax / self-issued CDs, available for ordering at https://marklomaxii.com/400-an-afrikan-epic

This review continues my assessment of Dr. Mark Lomax II’s monumental 12-CD series in which he compresses the history of African-Americans before, during and after slavery in America. With the first CD in this second part of his own tripartite division of these works, Ma’afa: Great Tragedy, Lomax turns to his large ensemble, The Urban Art Ensemble, comprised of three members of his working quartet (minus piano) plus a string quartet as identified above.

I mentioned in my review of the first part (first four CDs) that some of it, particularly the first disc which consisted of nothing but drumming, would be difficult for some jazz listeners to absorb. This is, perhaps, even more true of this quartet on discs since much more of the music therein is through-composed, not improvised, and in fact played by such formal (non-jazz) musicians as the string quartet that is part of the Urban Art Ensemble and, in CD 7, by the Columbus Cello Quartet.

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The Urban Art Ensemble

In addition, the opening number of CD 5, Captured, is all chaos and raw emotion, the music virtually exploding out of one’s speakers. Day 1 is no less emotional but is sadder and more ironic, with the string quartet that is part of the ensemble whine and cry like a group of very distressed cats. This is raw and edgy music, clearly not improvised, and takes some getting used to, although later on one hears an extended improvised solo from Edwin Bayard’s tenor sax. By Day 45, the music has not completely lost its edge but is even sadder and more resigned. Hulett has a brief bass solo (possibly improvised) in which he sounds like a depressed bullfrog while the string quartet plays around him.

At the beginning of Day 60, the bass does a highly credible simulation of the sound of oars being dragged slowly rather that rowed quickly in the slave ship. Bayard improvised on tenor above it. The drums enter later on, smashing the cymbals in the background. This leads seamlessly into Day 90, in which the bass continues its groaning while the cello plays a dolorous solo before the entire quartet comes in, now playing a very tonal and very sad tune, like a spiritual. The bass and drums eventually enter as well, now splitting the rhythm in double-time behind them, with Bayard’s sax mournfully wailing in the foreground.

coverUp South: Conversations on Amerikkkan Idealism is described as “a portrait of racism in America” and consists of just two long tracks, First Conversation and Second Conversation. Here we have Lomax’s trio without the string quartet, and these come across more like free jazz improvisations. Since this is the only album whose compositions are credited to all three of the musicians on the date, the music was probably collectively created, i.e. musical ideas thrown out by all three musicians and then improvised on. The music is anguished for the most part, but still very interesting, with changing tempi and moods. Bayard plays some chords on his tenor sax, again à la Coltrane. At about the 19-minute mark into First Conversation, the group even throws in a bit of a calypso beat. Hulett gets a superb solo in Second Conversation. Another personal comment from me: although African-Americans in Northern cities like Chicago and New York had more employment opportunities, the implicit segregation was still very real and very scary. There were no Northern lynchings, but the separation of the races was strictly enforced. I was lucky to hear first-hand stories from people who were there, like Jimmy MacPartland and Ralph Berton, of what it was like: how the black church members felt very uneasy when young Berton took his idol, Bix Beiderbecke, to a black church on the South Side of Chicago to hear a Sunday service because the races weren’t supposed to mingle; how Ralph and his older brother Vic were eyed suspiciously when they went to the Royal Gardens to hear King Oliver’s band with young Louis Armstrong on second cornet and Johnny Dodds on clarinet; how Benny Goodman had to stay outside on the street to listen to his idol, Dodds, through the open door to the nightclub. And this attitude stayed into the 1950s. When the great Irish blues singer Ottilie Patterson performed at a South Side Chicago blues club in the late 1950s, she was eyed uncomfortably by the patrons until she started singing, and they realized that, in her soul, she was one of them. And all of this due to Democratic Party racism (who do you think has been running Chicago for more than a century?). Interestingly, this is a live set, as there is applause at the end.

coverThe seventh CD, titled Four Women, is played by The Columbus Cello Quartet, also known as UCelli, whose members also play in the Columbus Symphony and Pro Musica Chamber Orchestras. The four women profiled in these compositions are Queen Nzinga, also known as Njinga Mbande or Ana de Sousa Nzinga Mbande, the 17th-century queen of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms of the Mbundu people of Angola; Ida B. Wells, also known as Wells-Barnett, an African-American investigative journalist, educator, and early leader of the Civil Rights movement who was one of the founders of the NAACP; Angela Davis, whose career was far less controversial than the others, having been a member of both the Communist Party and the Black Panther movement; and Nigerian novelist and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, born in 1977. These are purely classical compositions informed by black music, using modes rather than diatonic scales as their model, and are played with great feeling and depth by UCelli. Lomax uses contrasting themes and has an excellent grasp of quartet writing; my sole complaints are that the album is unfortunately rather short (36:54) and that the quartet seems very close-miked, which leads to the celli sounding a bit hard and edgy rather than warm. I found the music to be both excellent and fascinating, but unfortunately this is the one album that is probably the least likely to be appreciated by jazz lovers because of its formality and scoring, despite the fact that the music often has a very strong jazz or black ragtime feel to it, i.e. the Portrait of Ida B. Wells, written in D minor and having a very strong, syncopated opening theme reminiscent of both spirituals and the cakewalk. At about the 6:30 mark, interestingly, the beat shifts to a slow blues before returning to the upbeat spiritual-cakewalk feel.

Angela Davis is surprisingly delicate-sounding for a portrait of such a volatile personality, using pizzicato at the opening and a broad theme using a great many whole and half notes, although at 3:18 the music changes quite drastically in feeling, using edgy, bitonal chords and ominous tremolos here and there, then at 6:25 increases the tempo and involves a more complex passage with polyphonic interplay between the instruments. For Ngozi Adichie, Lomax uses African-sounding modes as the basis for his composition. A brilliant album.

coverBlues in August features musical profiles of famous early blues singer Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Kansas City blues shouter “Big Joe” Turner, and events chronicled in playwright August Wilson’s century-spanning Pittsburgh Cycle. On this disc we return to the Urban Art Ensemble. The music for Ma Rainey is indeed bluesy but far more modern than the music she sang so well, sounding more like a Blue Note session from the late 1950s except with a string quartet added. Hulett helps drive the rhythm with tremendous verve and invention, and Lomax again uses his tuned drums to great effect. And once again, the music sounds continuous, Fences starting with a drum solo like the one that ended Ma Rainey, only here the music is spikier, its opening theme consisting of serrated notes played on the tenor sax before the tempo increases and things pick up, increasing even more a chorus later (again, much like a Mingus piece). The string quartet does not play on this one, but returns to set up a doleful theme in Gem of the Ocean. There’s also an interesting passage in which the quartet plays whole and half notes while Hulett pushes them with some plucked bass, then the strings revert to an edgy motif in eights while the bass and drums push the music forward. The strings briefly drop away as Bayard plays a tenor solo, but then return in the background to provide commentary. We then move into a free jazz section, with Bayard churning out anguished notes while the rhythm section plays almost maniacally behind him.

Joe Turner follows hard on the heels of Gem of the Ocean, and here Lomax has written a piece that resembles the Kansas City jazz of the late 1930s as exemplified by such bands as Count Basie’s, Harlan Leonard’s and Jay McShann’s. Bayard switches to soprano sax here to good effect. The finale, Blues in August, begins with an exposed bass solo (played excellently by Hulett) before a really cute, funky beat is set up with the two violins playing pizzicato behind a nice, sparse tenor solo. Lomax then splits up the quartet, giving the viola and cello a more lyrical theme to play in unison (a couple of octaves apart) behind everything. The piece fades out at the end.

Thus we come to the end of Ma’afa, with one more series of four albums to go.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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An Epic Begins: Mark Lomax’s “400,” Part 1

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400: AN AFRIKAN EPIC, PART 1 – ALKEBULAN: THE BEGINNING OF US, all music by Dr. Mark Lomax

CD 1: THE FIRST ANKHCESTOR / Ngoma Lundundu. Tiriba. Wolosodon. Gombé. Talking Drums. Casa / Mark Lomax II, dm & unnamed percussionists

CD 2: SONG OF THE DOGON / Po-Tolo. Amma. The Pale Fox. Blessing of the Agon. LEB. Nommo. Segui

CD 3: DANCE OF THE ORISHAS / Obatalá. Ogún. Oshoshi. Eleggua. Oya. Oshún. Yemayå

CD 4: THE COMING / Jua. Matumwa. Uponyaji / Edwin Bayard, t-sax; William Menefield,  pno; Dean Hulett, bs; Mark Lomax II, dm / self-issued CDs, available for ordering at https://marklomaxii.com/400-an-afrikan-epic

This is the first of what will be three separate reviews of parts of Dr, Mark Lomax’s magnum opus, 400: An Afrikan Epic. The 12-album cycle comprises three suites. The first four albums make up Alkebulan: The Beginning of Us, which spans the thousands of years that civilization and music had developed in Africa prior to the encroachment of colonialism. Titled for the original Arabic name for the continent, Alkebulan begins with First Ankhcestor, featuring a gathering of master percussionists, and continues with Song of the Dogon, a tribute to the West African people credited with establishing ancient Nubia and Kemet (the original name of Egypt). Dance of the Orishas is inspired by the religion, culture and art of the Yoruba people, while The Coming introduces the onset of the slave trade via the words of Daniel Black’s novel of the same name, read by the author.

An Afrikan Epic may be the most difficult of jazz sets to review for several reasons: 1) It consists of 12 separate albums, grouped into three sets of four each; 2) all the music is new and some of it based not on American jazz but on the African talking drum tradition that, although it did not directly inspire jazz, was its original root; and 3) not all of the music is of equal quality. In the first CD, for instance, drummer and composer Dr. Mark Lomax II is the solo performer, and those not familiar or comfortable with superb but extremely long drum pieces that have no melody or harmony may feel such a listening experience wearing.

Of course, the talking drum tradition which originated in Africa normally does not have as much jazz syncopation as Lomax puts into his performances, but traditionally has more complex rhythms because you generally have two or three drummers, each playing a different beat on top of one another. This creates a layered sound that, like traditional Indian music, is designed to hypnotize the listener into a trance state. You can hear a semblance of this in the indigenous voodoo drumming of Haiti, some of which was reproduced in the classic film Black Orpheus. The early jazz drummer Warren “Baby” Dodds, who to the best of my knowledge never went to Africa, was somehow able to infuse his own playing with his kind of complexity, as can be heard in several of his best drum solos on records. Dodds’ early mastery of complex rhythms influenced a whole school of jazz drummers both black and white, including such famous names as Chick Webb, Sid Catlett, Ray Bauduc and, to a lesser extent, Gene Krupa. Jazz drumming “smoothed out” with the coming of the Swing Era, as can be heard in the work of Jo Jones, Alvin Burroughs, Buddy Rich and others, but became complex once again during the modern jazz era of the 1950s and ‘60s.

coverIn that first album, Tiriba is more complex than the first number, in part due to the increasing tempo, and in the third, Wolosodon, he relaxes both the tempo to produce a kind of loping beat, closer here to jazz than previously. Talking Drums is clearly the most complex of these pieces, and includes chanting in the background. Unfortunately, none of the other drummers involved are identified in the recording, but in an ironic twist several of the drum riffs played here sound very much like jazz, particularly when Lomax brings in the cymbals, which of course were and are not part of the African talking drum tradition. So there is a sort of musical evolution even within the fairly narrow scope of succeeding drum pieces.

coverThe second album, Song of the Dogon, is a tribute to the West African people who purportedly established ancient Nubia and Kemet (the original name of Egypt). The opening of Po-Tolo is startling: a harsh piano chord followed by groans on the bass, but quickly settles into slow up-and-down right-hand arpeggios on the upper part of the keyboard while the left hand plays a plaintive melody in the middle. Then a crashing chord with atonal squeals from Edwin Bayard on tenor sax, and we are off on our African adventure. This is highly creative and original music, startling to the ear although it all eventually hangs together—very Charles Mingus-like with touches of John Coltrane’s Africa sessions. And this is a quartet in which each and every member has his say and contributes to the whole. No one coasts in this band; I might even add that no one is allowed to coast. Despite some of the tenor saxist’s “outside” playing, it is, like early-‘60s Coltrane, musical and interesting without sounding out of control. The ear follows each twist and turn, thus the music can be listened to either passively, just absorbing the flow, or actively, following the music’s form and evolution. Amma begins with a slow, rich and powerful bass solo, after which Lomax’s drums up the tempo as we move into a jaunty yet somehow uneasy-sounding 6/8. Both the Mingus and Coltrane elements are very strong here. I always wondered what it might have sounded like if those two giants of jazz had gotten together (they never did), and I think this is what it would have sounded like. And yes, Bayard’s playing is that good, though of course he has Coltrane as a model whereas Coltrane only had his own instincts to draw on.

Moreover, although the individual pieces are all different, Lomax has found a way to hook them together musically so that they sound like sequential numbers in a suite. Thus, as we move from Amma to the conga-like The Pale Fox, driven by the leader’s wonderfully complex drumming, the ear hears it as a continuation and development on what has gone on before, and the gradual slow-down as we move into the delicate piano tracery of Blessing of the Agon thus sounds like the slow movement of this suite. This piece’s broad, slow theme opens up like a giant sunflower, showering light over the listener. Bayard eventually moves into a long, double-time, a cappella sax cadenza, and when Lomax returns on drums the tempo picks up considerably with a neat-sounding modern riff which turns out to be the opening of the next number, LEB. William Menefield adds a counter-melody to Bayard on piano while Lomax drums happily away behind them. Minimalist jazz? Well, almost but not quite, since Menefield’s piano improvises further and more complex lines in the background—he is the creative center of this piece, at least until Lomax’s terrific drum solo towards the end.

Lomax slows down the pace at the very end, then moves into Nommo with yet another variant on the rhythm. Interestingly, he seems to have tuned drums, meaning that they play notes (in the key of Bb) rather than just sounds. Following this drum solo is the exuberant finale, Sigui, with its asymmetric beat and background chanting by the rhythm section behind Bayard’s sax (later adding handclapping). This is how the second CD comes to a close.

cover - gye-nyameDance of the Orishas features music inspired by the Yoruban spiritual tradition. Obatalá opens with slow cymbal washes followed by sparse piano chords, then sparse notes on tenor sax which then open up into extemporé cadenzas. The semi-formlessness of the piece continues as the piano and bass enter, and surprisingly Bayard tosses in a short quote from Kurt Weill’s Speak Low before moving into what almost sounds like free jazz using complex rhythms and atonality. Ogún opens with soft music played a cappella on tenor sax, with Dean Hulett’s bass bringing in double-time background licks later on. The tempo slowly increases as the sax’s intensity builds, including a great deal of “outside” playing. Bass and drum solos then follow in short order. Menefield then plays a remarkable, rapid, single-note solo with interjected chords while the bass and drums cook behind him, followed in turn by Hulett on bass. When the saxophone returns, the music becomes faster and more manic. This is the longest piece in the series so far, running a full 18:34.

Oshoshi begins with slow, sparse notes on the piano, which eventually coalesce into a theme. The bass enters, playing fluttering figures behind the piano, then the drums playing a contrasting rhythm before, much to my surprise, the whole piece swings in a nice medium-uptempo. Lomax’s drum solo is fascinating, fractioning the time and adding backbeats and fills as it goes along. After a pause we hear Eleggua, with Hulett playing a remarkable solo in which he flutters the strings of his instrument. Eventually he starts playing single notes (with enharmonic overtones) on the ground note of D as Lomax plays a fast shuffle rhythm with brushes and the sax and piano come in to play around them. Somehow, Lomax makes all of these disparate elements come together in a soft but clearly structured development section with all four instruments participating in the ongoing structure, each in their own way. Lomax’s backbeats are utterly fascinating as the tempo moves into a sort of jazz samba beat. The music eventually fades away.

Oya is a drum solo starting with simple cowbell chimes, followed by a sort of ambient wash on the cymbal. The cymbal becomes increasingly louder, with a few sparse notes played on his tuned drums, leading into a fairly quiet, sparse drum solo with (again) actual notes being played. I should mention that Lomax is the first jazz drummer I’ve heard to use tuned drums (probably tympani) since Vic Berton back in the 1920s and ‘30s. His solo builds in both tempo and intensity before becoming quiet again. This leads into the quiet piano opening of Oshún, a lovely ballad on which Bayard plays with a breathy tone (including a slight rasp in it) reminiscent of Ben Webster.

With Yemayå, the last number on this very long album (it runs over 80 minutes), we are back in Coltrane territory with an irregular-meter piece in which the piano, bass and drums drive the rhythm behind the impassioned playing the tenor sax. This one sounds more or less like a traditional jam rather than a composed piece, despite the audible underlying structure which is (I think) purposely kept simple for this reason. The rest of the band falls away for Hulett’s excellent solo, which closes out the track and the album.

coverThe next CD, titled The Coming, introduces the onset of the slave trade via the words of Daniel Black’s novel of the same name, read by the author. I have a few words to say about this very sensitive subject that I hope the reader will allow me to expand on a little. While it is true that American slavery was not unique in the world at the time of the country’s founding in the 18th century, we were one of the last civilized countries to abandon it and only did so through a brutal and bloody Civil War. What made the whole endeavor so awful is that it was the Democratic Party that insisted on the influence of slavery, Democratic judges who ruled the wrong way in the Dred Scott decision, and Democrats who virulently opposed complete citizenship for African-Americans. They were also the party of the Ku Klux Klan, Mississippi lynchings, Margaret Sanger’s founding of Planned Parenthood as a means of ridding America of black babies, and Woodrow Wilson’s reversing the use of white and black troops together in World War I. What made the century following the Emancipation Proclamation so revolting was the white societal patronizing of African-Americans as if they were idiot children or somehow sub-human, and this racism continued into the 1960s. Other cultures which had ended slavery did not all act this way. My own mother, who I thought was a Northerner because she was raised in the exclusive Flushing, New York home for wealthy Jewish children, The Shield of David, was actually from North Carolina, a fact I never learned until she was in her late 80s (and not from her). She used to tell us, her children, the most unfunny racist jokes—behind closed doors, of course, but still. And I can tell you that even into the 21st century, the subject of slavery was still a touchy one for many white people, not for me but for those whose families had it in their history. Happily, most of America has “come clean” on this subject although it is my firm belief that, as Martin Luther King (whose birthday I proudly share) said, we need to reach a point where people are judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” and I am as much revolted by African-American thugs, dope pushers, murderers and thieves as I am by white ones. I am a strong proponent of complete color blindness in judging anyone’s character and will fight until my death for that to be the norm everywhere in America.

The music of the opening track, Jua, is a joyous, uptempo jazz waltz (or perhaps a 6/8 tune, it sounds as if that might be the actual tempo), with the hint of a Caribbean beat. At the 5:50 mark, the tempo changes in both speed and rhythm, with the piano playing a repetitive bass riff over the drums as Daniel Black’s narration continues. After he finishes the music enters its improvised phase with the tenor sax playing impassioned rapid 16ths in atonal flurries and runs.

As in the previous CDs, several of these pieces sound linked, thus Matumwa opens seamlessly on the heels of Jua, again with Black’s commentary. Menefield has a terrific double-time solo in this one, which runs until the slow fade at the end. My favorite line in Black’s narration, which I firmly believe, is that “a life of leisure destroys a child.” Wow, that’s a blunt truth hammer blow. This leads into the last track, Uponjayi, on which Lomax’s drums play complex rhythms in the background, fed by the piano and bass, as Bayard improvises extemporaneously à la Coltrane.

And with that number, the first third of Lomax’s complex work concludes.

More to come.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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It’s Schulhoff Time Again!

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SCHULHOFF: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 5. Suite, Op. 37 / Bavarian Radio Symphony Orch.; James Conlon, cond / Double Concerto for Flute & Piano. Piano Concerto No. 2. Concerto for String Quartet & Wind Ensemble. BEETHOVEN: Rage Over a Lost Penny (orch. Schulhoff) / Jacques Zoon, fl; Frank-Immo Zichner, pno; Leipzig String Qrt; Deutsches Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin; Roland Kluttig, cond / SCHULHOFF: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2. 5 Pieces. String Quartet in G, Op. 25. String Sextet / Petersen Qrt; Rainer Johannes Kimstedt, vla; Michael Sanderling, cel / Violin Sonata. Duo for Violin & Cello / Conrad Muck, vln; Hans-Jakob Eschenburg, cel / Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 & 3. 5 Burlesken. 5 Grotesken. Ironies.* 5Pittoresken / Margarete Babinsky, *Maria Lettberg, pno / Jazz Improvisations: Dein Kokettes Lächeln; Capricciolette; Butterfly; Tango; Melody Waltz; A Musical Flip; Mitternachtsgespenster; Humoreska / Margarete Babinsky, Andreas Wykydal, pno / Capriccio C7297

schulhoff stottDespite a few previous releases of his chamber music, when little-known pianist Kathryn Stott issued her CD of Erwin Schulhoff’s “jazz”-influenced piano music in 2003 (Hot Music, Bis 1249), the composer’s name was barely known among classical music lovers, but that disc created a strong following which led to further releases by other artists, not just piano music but also symphonies, concerti and chamber music. From such acorns do mighty oaks grow.

Here is a massive 6-CD set of Schulhoff’s music on Capriccio. The first disc, of Symphonies 2 & 5 along with other orchestral music conducted by James Conlon, came out on Capriccio 67080 in 2004. Discs 3 and 4 with the String Quartet and Sextet along with the violin-piano works came out in 1995 on Capriccio 10539, the piano works played by Margarete Babinsky were originally issued as a 2-CD set on Phoenix Edition 181 in 2009, and I myself own all of the material on CD 2 of his concerti conducted by Roland Kluttig on Capriccio 5197, issued in 2014. This is the first time all of these have been available as a set.

But of course the real question is, How good are these performances? Not having heard the Conlon disc before, I admit that I had my doubts. I happened to see Conlon’s Cincinnati debut as a conductor back in the early 1980s in a performance of the Dvořák Requiem with the May Festival Orchestra and Chorus. My impression then, and my impression throughout his career, was of someone who had a firm grasp of both the score and complete control of the orchestra, producing beautiful sonorities, but also of one who produced a glassy tone and gave very little in the way of emotional commitment or drive. Since Schulhoff’s music is often hyper-emotional, I had my reservations.

As it turned out, Conlon’s performance of the Second Symphony did lack some of the manic energy that one expects in his scores, but it is at least a lively performance, bouncy and forward-moving, so at least he had evolved that far by 2004, but as usual for Conlon the orchestral sound is somewhat icy. The whimsical and ironic third-movement “Scherzo alla Jazz” is played with no jazz rhythm whatsoever although it is clearly implied. Yet, as I pointed out in my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond, Schulhoff had no first-hand experience with real jazz. To him, any peppy, syncopated dance music of the time was “jazz,” two of his favorite artists being novelty pianist Zez Confrey (composer of Kitten on the Keys, on which Schulhoff wrote a series of quite wild variations) and pop bandleader Paul Whiteman (the latter also a favorite of Arnold Schoenberg). Schulhoff’s real contribution to jazz, as we shall hear in some of the piano pieces, was the use of extended chord positions (ninths, elevenths and thirteenths) which were first used in jazz by pianist Art Tatum and then by alto saxist Charlie Parker, both of whom influenced all jazz to come during the 1940s.

Even so, Conlon can’t even produce a real ragtime feel in the eponymous piece for orchestra in the Suite. Apparently, his musical upbringing was as corny as Kansas in August, as the old song says, but he does capture the whimsical playfulness of the “Valse Boston” and “Tango” which follow. Oddly enough, he does capture a ragtime feel in “Shimmy,” although real “shimmy” music of the 1920s was looser than this. “Step” sounds more like a Nazi goosestep than anything jazzy, with heavy percussion playing the entire piece, and the concluding “Jazz” sounds more like a tango. But it is fun music in its own right.

The Fifth Symphony is one of Schulhoff’s most powerful and frightening, evoking the domination of the Nazis in Germany. By and large, Conlon and the Bavarian Radio Symphony play this symphony well if not quite with the same manic fervor as Vladimír Valék’s recording with the Symphony Orchestra of Prague Radio.

The concerto performances on CD 2 were as good as I remembered them from the single release. None of this music is jazz-inflected, although the flute and piano play a highly syncopated duet in their first entrance in the opening concerto. Modes and whole tones often intrude in the harmonic line, adding interest to the music as it goes along. There is also some jazz inflection in the third-movement “Rondo: Allegro con spirito,” and this is played well by flautist Zoon and pianist Zichner. Strange harmonies also pervade in the opening of the Piano Concerto No. 2, as odd a piece as Schulhoff ever wrote. The Concerto for String Quartet and Wind Ensemble is a bit more tonal, albeit modal, but also a lot of fun to listen to, as is his orchestration of Beethoven’s “rondo capriccioso,” Rage Over a Lost Penny.

In some of the chamber works, this set competes against the Naxos release by Spectrum Concerts Berlin (the String Sextet, Violin Sonata No. 2 and Duo for Violin and Cello), but I found these performances just as lively and energetic if not more so. The String Quartet No. 1, which I had not heard before, is a very strange work, consisting of short movements within each movement and alternating between straightforward passages and those that sound a little drunken and off-kilter, particularly in the second movement (“Allegretto con moto e con malinconia grotesca”). Schulhoff almost sounds as if he were chomping at the bit to throw in as much oddball music into this quartet as he possibly could. After the fairly offbeat 5 Pieces for String Quartet, we get the Quartet No. 2. This is a somewhat more formal piece structurally, not as wacky as the first quartet, but equally energetic, almost frantic in its rhythm. The second movement is played, in the middle, with a very strong ragtime beat. Only the unnumbered String Quartet in G actually sounds like a somewhat conventional quartet, the third movement in particular being a charming Viennese waltz.

By contrast, the String Sextet sounds much more like a piece by Schoenberg or Webern, with no real grounded key and edgy atonal figures jarring against one another, but it, too, is original and gripping music. Schulhoff’s rhythms are stronger and “springier” than those of the dodecaphonic composers, more like the music of Hindemith or Bartók. Surprisingly, the sonata for solo violin also has the same edginess despite a surprisingly lovely (though bitonal) second movement. The Duo for Violin and Cello inhabits much of the same harmonic world, but perhaps because of the presence of the latter instrument, the melodic line is more elegant, almost (but not quite) tuneful at first, but becoming edgy again by the end of the first movement. In the fast second-movement “Zingaresca,” the cello almost sounds like a ticked-off bullfrog.

With the next disc, we are plunged into the world of Schulhoff’s piano music, starting with the energetic, almost manic-sounding first piano sonata, and as much as I liked Kathryn Stott’s reading, Margarete Babinsky is better at capturing a quasi-jazz quality in the music—or, to be more accurate, adding a jazz sensibility to this music that was ostensibly based on jazz but wasn’t really. What is it that she does that makes so much of a difference? She “holds back” slightly on the lead notes of beats 1 and 3 of each measure, which creates a “springiniess” to the second and fourth beats, which then sound ever-so-slightly shorter. Because Schulhoff didn’t know real jazz, he didn’t understand this concept, thus his written scores, unlike those of composer with jazz experience such as Charles Mingus, Nikolai Kapustin and Daniel Schnyder, do not have any “breathing room” or space between the notes. The performing artist must thus create his or her own space via these slight rhythmic alterations, which a performer with jazz experience understands while a performer with no jazz experience will not. I tip my hat to Babinsky; she knows what she’s doing, thus she makes each of these Schulhoff pieces come alive with at least a touch of real jazz rhythm: note, for instance, the third movement of the first sonata, marked “Allegro moderato grotesco,” in which she gives us a little taste of James P. Johnson or Fats Waller in her handling of the syncopation. I’m rather sad that she didn’t choose to record the famous 5 Études de Jazz as part of this series.

The 5 Burlesken, though syncopated, are not jazz-based but rather related to Czech folk music; even so, Babinsky rips through them in fine fashion. The third piano sonata, unlike the first, has some surprising moments of tenderness, and when it is rhythmic it reminds you (oddly enough) of Oriental rather than Eastern European music. This Oriental (or Asian) feeling also runs through the second movement, reminding me of Koechlin’s The Persian Hours except with occasional rhythmically upbeat interludes. The third movement, by contrast, is a rapid moto perpetuo marked “Allegro molto,” with the pianist playing constantly-moving serrated figures. Although the fourth movement is marked “Marcia funebre,” it bears no resemblance in mood or style to the similarly-titled works of Beethoven and Chopin, but rather sounds like a fairly glib, medium-tempo piece with modern harmonies. Apparently, Schulhoff even had a different concept of a funeral march from everyone else! And this sonata has a fifth movement, “Finale retrospettivo,” which again reverts to Asian rhythms and quasi-Asian modes.

Oddly for Schulhoff, the 5 Grotesken aren’t all grotesque; in fact, the second piece is a quirky waltz, and the third, marked “Schnell und leicht,” is a charming if bitonal sort of dance tune. In this recording, the Ironies are played by two pianists. Babinsky is joined here by Maria Lettberg, and the two play as one pianist so it’s difficult for me to say who is playing what, but it’s a good performance nonetheless. Only No. 6, “Tempo di Fox,” is dance-oriented, more of a ragtime than a jazz tune, albeit harmonically complex, and the duo play it very well.

By contrast, all of the Pittoresken (Pictures) are pretty much dance music, with Babinsky clearly in her element. They almost sound like silent movie music with Bartókian harmonies thrown in for fun. Oddly, “Ragtime” is one of the slowest pieces, does not follow the classic tri-theme pattern of ragtime, and has more of a loping beat than a raggy one; it resembles, to some extent, John Alden Carpenter’s ballet music for Krazy Kat (I’ll bet you haven’t heard that one in a while!). “In futurum” is clearly the oddest piece in this suite or on this set, consisting of soft ambient sounds as the pianist lightly taps his or her instrument and also lightly runs their fingers over a few of the strings. So Schulhoff was able to accurately predict the satiric music of John Cage as well. The last piece, “Maxixe,” also bears no resemblance whatsoever to the jazz version of the same title, but is rather a slow, quirky piece with a stuttering rhythm.

We end our excursion into the music of Schulhoff with eight of his Jazz Improvisations, and these are for the most part very much ‘20s-styled ragtime-jazz, played here with a deft touch by Babinsky and fellow-pianist Andreas Wykydal. The first of these, “Dein Kokettes Lächeln,” could easily give George Gershwin a run for his money, although it is more imaginative in places, and “Capricciolette” is, at least as played here by Babinsky and Wykydal, a jazz piece that in form and displacement of the beats far ahead of its time, playing 3 against 4 in its opening strain before switching to a swinging stride-style theme in the middle. Butterfly is given a James P. Johnson sort of treatment. The tango isn’t very jazzy in itself (Schulhoff was forever confusing waltzes and tangos with jazz music), but the duo give it a nice swagger. Next is, of course, the waltz, a pretty if somewhat undistinguished piece, but “A Musical Flip” has a nice relaxed swing about it. “Mitternachtsgespenster” has a nice relaxed blues feel about it, like the blues from Alexandre Tansman’s Transatlantic Suite. The duo gives the final piece, “Humoreska,” a nice ragtime-jazz swagger.

Except for my slight reservations regarding Conlon’s performance of the First Symphony, this is an outstanding set and a good introduction to Schulhoff’s unique music and widely diverse styles. Well done!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Pablo Aslan’s Superb Jazz String Quintets

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CONTRABAJO / VILLA-LOBOS: Preludio No. 1. CUADRADO: Confluencias. Reflejos. ASLAN:Tanguajira.* DAVIDSON: Te Extraño Buenos Aires. Tango Para Cuerdas. ELLINGTON: Come Sunday. SENANES:Contratango. Riendo Suelto. RODRIGUEZ:La Cumparsita+ / Pablo Aslan, bs; Cuarteto Petrus (Pablo Saravi, Hernán Briatico, vln; Adrian Felizia, vla; Gloria Pankaeva, cel); *Paquito D’Rivera,cl; +Raul Jaurena, bandoneón / Soundbrush Records SR 1040

Bassist Pablo Aslan describes the genesis of this remarkable album thus:

At the suggestion of bandoneonist, arranger and composer Raúl Jaurena, I set out to create a body of work for bass and string quartet, in order to feature the bass not only as foundation and a melodic instrument, but as a driver of rhythm. As I was mulling over the idea, I got an invitation from Cho-Liang Lin, Artistic Director of the La Jolla Music Festival, to play a concert with Paquito D’Rivera and the Escher String Quartet in 2016. In turn, Pac-man, as he calls himself, invited me to bring some repertoire to the musical shindig, and thus the album was off to a start. I enlisted by teacher and friend, Gabriel Senanes, who lives in Buenos Aires, to write and arrange several pieces. This led naturally to inviting him to be the Artistic Producer. He contributed two mini-concerti that sent me to the practice shed for months and forced me to up my game, a common thread throughout the making of this album.

The result is, as you will hear, a series of string quintets in which the bass is not only the primary timekeeper in terms of rhythm but essentially the lead voice, thus turning the normal concept of such a group within the classical music community on its collective head. It begins with a new arrangement (by Senanes) of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Preludio No. 1 and ends with a popular tango song from the 1920s, La Cumparsita (recorded in a famous version by tenor Tito Schipa). Both pieces, as well as the others in between, are now much more complex than before, with changing tempi and the addition of jazz rhythms, sometimes quite subtle.

But of course, the problem with such a disc, as I noted in my review of Justin Morell’s jazz guitar concerto, is that the snobs on both sides of the musical aisle will probably reject it because a fusion of such elements is beyond their ability to grasp. Classical listeners, tied as if by Gorilla tape to The Score, won’t know why Senanes arranged Villa-Lobos like this, let alone try to appreciate what is being done, while jazz listeners, who reject any and all formality in their music, won’t like the classical elements.

The two new pieces that follow the Villa-Lobos, Confluencias and Reflejos, were written by Spanish bassist-composer Alexis Cuadrado. Interestingly, these pieces could easily be played in concert by a standard string quartet, without the bass, and still be interesting music. The first of these keeps on accelerating ever-so-slowly from start to finish while the second is a slow, moody piece using close modal harmonies, which automatically make it sound more jazz-related and less classical than the first piece. There is a rather strange-sounding cello solo on this one that dominates the lead line for some time before Aslan takes over with what sounds to me like an improvised chorus.

On Aslan’s Tanguajira the group is joined by D’Rivera himself on clarinet, which adds an extra voice to the mix. Here the string quartet plays around the edges of his solo lines in a nicely swinging style and, oddly enough, the clarinet almost sounds as if it is playing klezmer rather than Latin music. Aslan also gets a solo, then when the quartet comes back in it is the group’s viola player who takes a solo before D’Rivera returns.

Te extraño Buenos Aires is one of two tangos written by another of Aslan’s friends, pianist Roger Davidson. It is tuneful and sounds, as he puts it in the notes, “old-fashioned in the good sense.” The bassist and the quartet have a good time playing it. I’ve always felt that Duke Ellington’s very sentimental tune Come Sunday was rather overrated, being simple and too much like a mediocre pop tune, but Senanes did what he could with it. For me, however, this was the one weak link on this program.

Happily Davidson’s second tango, Tango Para Cuerdas, is bouncier and even quicker in tempo than the first and thus picks up the pace of the album again. Aslan’s bass solo sounds like a fairly chipper bullfrog singing in his pond. Eventually all the pieces come together. Senanes’ Contratango is a much more thematically and harmonically complex piece: as Aslan puts it, “a mini-concerto that explores a wide range of techniques.” And yes, even classical listeners should like this one, as it has very little jazz in the first half other than the pizzicato bass lines underneath slithering bitonal glissandi by the other strings in one passage. Later on, a sort of funky jazz beat does enter the picture for a while, but the music continues to morph and grow.

Although Senanes’ Riendo Suelto was written for an entirely different multi-part work, it complements Contratango very well—except to note that the music in this one is much edgier at the start, walking a tightrope between edgy, jazz-influenced rhythms and more classical interludes. Eventually a slower melody in 3 comes into play, after which Aslan plays a cadenza full of double stops. Then the whole quartet plays an edgy rhythmic passage.

Raúl Juarena’s highly imaginative arrangement of La Cumparsita deconstructs the familiar tune and puts it back together in such a way that it sounds as if little pieces of the melody line somehow got left out. Later, the piece slows down and Juarena comes in on bandoneon while the string quartet plays bitonal figures around him and Aslan plucks happily away in the background. Eventually the ear picks up the various bits of the tune and puts them together in one’s mind. There’s a swinging passage later on for Aslan solo while the bandoneon plays little figures around him, then swirling string passages in sixteenths to wrap it up.

Overall, then, an absolutely wonderful CD, neither fish nor fowl (though, believe it or not, I’m going to file it under classical) but as happy as a platypus swimming in Atlantis…provided that Atlantis is close to South America.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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