October 2022 Jazz Record Reviews

Enrico Rafa, Fred Hirsch: The song is you

ECM (WAV file; also CD). 2022. Manfred Escher, production; Stefano Amirio, M.;
performance *****
Sonic *****

Many of the inspiring jazz recordings come from instrumentalist groups – usually the more unexpected, the better. What’s even more amazing are the ways players adapt to each other’s feelings and creativity.

This pairing, which is exactly the kind of merger that has made ECM a distinct entity for such many years, is likely inspired by ECM founder and inspiring attendee Manfred Eicher. American pianist Hirsch, who can perform as melancholy as he does gracefully, melodicly and rhythmically, is easily one of the best pianists in jazz today. Italian Rafa, who made his ECM debut with 1975 Hajj and the stars Which began as an instrumentalist before falling under the dominance of free jazz, he plunged into the trumpet with an astonishing range, capable of controlling nearly every change in jazz, from avant-garde to soul jazz. Both men are emotional in the best sense, and both are singing players, which is what makes their pairing The song is you Very captivating. This combined with their collective wisdom allows Hirsch to transform worn chestnuts like Thelionius Monk’s “Midnight Ring” into a short and subtle solo tribute. The duo’s lively and optimistic presentation of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” is a hall of mirrors bouncing between choppy exclamations as each musician interacts with the other’s thoughts.

With its impressionist ending, the title track is sweeping and emotional in all the right ways. Its stylistic antithesis is “Improvisation,” the only new track the couple composed together, a moody wander with Rava tooting and Hersch banging as an answer and an addition to each other’s trends. The sound here is breathtaking: spacious, natural, and flawlessly balanced, with just enough reverberation from the room’s sound to create presence. It is – as is standard with the ECM – an audiobook tutorial on getting properly done. Totally fun and instantly essential. –Robert Bird

1022 Jazz

Rainier Bass / Jonas Burgonkle / Kate Downs: dead
Bass, Burgwinkel Guitar, Drums Downs, Hammond B3 Member
Dox DOX633 (CD-ROM, also available for download hi-rez). 2022. Baas, Burgwinkel, Downes, prods.; Stefan Pfister, M.;
performance ****
Sonics *** ½

The debut of the international organ trio features three bright lights emerging from European jazz.

It’s impossible to score a Hammond B3 triple record without thinking about the rich history of the formula and fondly remembering organists such as Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, and Richard Holmes, whose nickname was “Groove”. The groove is of course the triple-ended point. It’s party music.

But the three postmodernists who call themselves Deadeye have their own opinion of ordination. Tunes like “Wild Bill” (for Wild Bill Davis?) and “Familiar” are sure to recall the earthy, greasy vibes, appropriate for the triple organ tradition. But drummer Jonas Burgwinkel’s beats, while undoubtedly unconventional, are too choppy to dance to. Guitarist Rainier Bass and organist Kate Downs develop sharp acoustics and progressive forms that have not been explored before with these instruments.

Unlike most of the B3 trilogy, Deadeye is not led by an organist. This is a real group. In “Song for the Sea,” Baas begins with the kind of guitar lines he’s known for: intricate strands of clean, fresh lyrics. When it enters the Downs, it introduces lower ocean currents and then creates excited unions with bass as the sea begins to rise. There are other atypical triple organs, such as the “Sonatina”, a formal and elegant miniature sonata that gradually becomes more intense, and two covers. Morricone’s song Ninna Nanna per Adulteri is so rich in mystery and orchestration that it asks Deadeye to do the Morricone movies’ music album. Filled with dramatic, suspenseful, and choppy Baas stops, “The Wayfaring Stranger” makes you wish you had a Deadeye album for Americana.

This trio can keep you from getting cold simply by playing the tune. –Thomas Conrad

1022 Jazz

Kirk Knovic Trio: gravity without air
Knuffke, Cornet. Michael Bessio, Bass; Matthew Shipp, piano
TAO TAO 10 Forms (2 CDs, available for download, 2 LPs). 2022. Knuffke, Whit Dickey, prods.; Jim Close, M.;
performance ****
sonic ****

Quietly, Kirk Knovke has become one of the most interesting trumpet players of his generation. In fact, its horn is a trumpet (a kind of trumpet with a slightly deeper and warmer sound). He is eccentric but friendly.

Nearby avant-garde jazz venues can be a particularly fertile artistic environment. Knuffke said, “I am interested in making beautiful music. Even when the music is free, … I want it to reach people’s hearts.”

gravity without air A diverse, curious, in-depth 90-minute concert on two CDs by a trio with very unusual instruments. Michael Pesio plays the bass and Matthew Ship plays the piano. Knovsky’s path to people’s hearts runs through their minds. (He may be the only jazz musician preparing to record by reading Marcus Aurelius.) His work is intellectually rigorous. As he swayed his time, swerved and screamed, he sculpted abstract shapes out of the air. His melodies are often rough and his harmony harsh. Graying enhances cerebral context. Sometimes he reflects Knovsky’s lines to him analytically and methodically. Sometimes he assumes angry counter-proposals.

But a piece like “Birds of Passage” is proof that Knaufk’s true creative interests are sentimental. It is one of eight collective improvisations on the album. (Six other tracks are Knuffke’s compositions. It says so much about Knuffke’s aesthetic that his compositions seem improvisational and his group’s improvisations seem composed.) Birds of Passage begins with Shep banging loudly in his bass and Knuffke’s screeching vocals. But Chip abruptly recedes and turns inward with agonizing stops for the piano, and Knuffke remains calm in a long series of melodic variations, still irregularly shaped but beautiful enough to reach people’s hearts. –Thomas Conrad


Anteloper: pink dolphins
Jaime branch, bugle. Jason Nazari, drums and sync
International Anthem IARC0056 (LP – pink vinyl; also available on CD, for download). 2022. Jeff Parker, production; Ian Hersey, M.;
performance *****
sonic ****

The musical experience is a world full of big ideas and unheard-of accomplishments. Breaking free from any rules or expectations while still making the music others want to hear is harder than it sounds. For the electronic experience to work, there has to be an inherent joy in the act of creation and ambitious research — a groove, an exciting new mix and hearing of sounds, something that could grow into a subgenre if only for one album.

When all these elements are there, as they are pink dolphinsThe newly appointed duo of trumpeter Jaime Branch and drummer/drummer Jason Nazari with guest producer/guitarist Jeff Parker of Tortoise could add up to some more exciting new music. Named after the pink dolphins that live in the fresh and saltwater Amazon, this five-song exploration is named “Inia,” an example of this more focused duo. After playing synth whistles and whistles, Nazari begins to drum slowly, building a deep synthetic groove. The branch eventually enters into a flurry of quick notes before lengthening its lines. Cycadilia, the flavor of the day in popular music, is the dominant passion here. The long nearest, “one living sex,” zigzags before adding and subtracting sounds and then softly lags behind.

The sounds on this album, which were recorded at Carefree Studios in Brooklyn, New York, vary from balanced and accurate to deliberately challenging. In Earthlings, for example—a tune with unexpected, if not disturbing, branch vocals—they go from intentionally loud and hazy to a clear, focused acoustic guitar sound near the end.

Does all this work? No, but that’s kind of the point. As Branch so eloquently puts it, “We improvise first and deliver ‘the music of the moment’.” –Robert Bird