(1) Paul Hubweber – Paul Lovens – John Edwards – Papajo Simple Game (Cadence jazz 1209)
(2) Michael Dessen Trio – Between Shadow and Space (CF 106)
(3) Kirk Knuffke Quartet – Big Wig (CF 107)
(4) Prana Trio – Pranam (Circavision 38725)
(5) Open Loose – Strange Unison (Radio Legs 13)
PAPAJO’s Simple Game (1) is not an easy session to listen to on the fly. By half listening to it you not only miss the nuances, but also grow frustrated because even the distracted ear detects the depths in the music, and to plumb those you need to devote the proper amount of aural energy to the session. Trombonist Paul Hubweber, percussionist Paul Lovens, and bassist John Edwards bring years of experience in collective creation, with each other and an array of other musicians, to bear on a session that develops organically. Each musician spontaneously fashions an individual part that contributes to the whole. They explore the cracks in the sounds of their horns, odd evocative bits that seem to belong either to the space age or just the ages. They respond both to what their compatriots are doing as well as to the jazz in their DNA. So it’s not surprising on “Smell It” when they work up to a train groove, or if they slip into a nifty four-to-the-bar walking pattern on “Orleans Trib,” which also finds Hubweber citing Parker’s “Confirmation.” But these evolve naturally from the freer thicket of groaning bass, clattering drums, and guttural wah-wah trombone. Every moment brings its own reward, at least those willing to give their ears and brains over to the effort.
(2) Despite having the same instrumentation, save for the inclusion of some subtle electronics on most tracks, Michael Dessen’s Between Shadow and Space has a very different approach. The trio of the leader on trombone and electronics, Christopher Tordini, bass, and Tyshawn Sorey, percussion, is committed to realizing Dessen’s compositions. They examine his tightly wound modules of tones and stretch them out, flip them on their ends, pull them inside out. Though the players imbue these pieces with Free improv energy, the performances grow from inside Dessen’s concepts outward. Tordini contributes fat, grounding bass lines while Sorey pushes the tunes forward. He implies Swing figures, loosening their screws so they serve as another textural color, but never lose a sense of forward motion. Dessen really couldn’t ask for a better accounting of his knotty compositions.
(3) Big Wig adds a trumpet to the mix, in this case the leader Kirk Knuffke’s trumpet. While Dessen’s pieces employ a thematic approach, owing to more classical methods albeit filtered through Free Jazz, Knuffke bookends his performances with trenchant, even singable, Free Bop heads. These are the kind of pieces ready made to launch rounds of solos, ending with fours with the drummer. Knuffke, however, departs here from the norm. Instead the quartet engages in finely tuned—this is a working band we’re told in the notes—interactions. The two Free interludes “Sustain 1 and 2” show the musicians’ fine intuition as an ensemble, tuning into a collective sound. Take “Something’s always change.” The head is a spare few bars long, a simple repeated riff that launches a short, rambling drum solo by Jeff Davis. The leader’s trumpet and Brian Drye’s trombone enter together, their lines bouncing off each other. They continue driving forward even when Davis’ drums drop off, leaving them with Radding’s bass as a third voice. The bass solos, then the entire quartet brings the tune in for a quiet landing with the theme returning in a smoother rendition before a final acceleration by the horns. Not that the individuals don’t get a chance to step out on their own. Radding, who’s a major asset to any session, has a powerful arco spot on “The Same.” And the chipper “Normal” does indeed have a round of solos ending with exchanges with the drummer, though those involve eight bars of tangled trumpet and trombone lines alternating with Davis’ outbursts. For his part, the leader has a fluid, probing style, more interested in content than flash. Drye mixes driving legato lines with marcato exclamations. What’s special about the day is the way all voices merge within the contexts set up by Knuffke.
(4) The Prana Trio of Brian Adler, drums; Sunny Kim, voice; and Stomu Takeishi, electric and acoustic bass, are at the core of Pranam, but as the music requires—and what the music requires depends on what the poems require—the trio augments its sound with electronics, keyboard, and reeds. Setting poems, ancient and modern, in a jazz-inflected contemporary music context can’t help but evoke the work of Steve Lacy. That influence is particularly strong on e.e.cummings’ “once like a spark” starting with Kim’s passionate declaration of the lyrics and Jeremy Udden’s knotty saxophone solo. But the Prana Trio ranges far afield in its settings of the poems, and Kim uses a variety of vocal approaches, from speak¬ing on the opening “Tao Te Ching” to the ecstatic chanting on the Rumi suite and the more ethereal chanting on “La Ilaha Il Allah.” Throughout she has a crystalline voice that delivers the lines with controlled passion. “Everywhere” showcases her voice in a ballad mode cushioned by saxophone and two clarinets. It’s a strikingly beautiful track. Still, “The Rumi Suite” shows the trio can create an orchestral sound without guests. Takeishi fills out the harmonic bottom with singing lines and atmospheric harmonics, and Adler’s percussion is sure-footed and, when called upon, majestic. It all depends on the needs of the words. Like fine jewelers Adler, Kim, and Takeishi craft perfect settings for these poems.
(5) The trio Open Loose’s Strange Unison is a case when the title’s worth pondering, especially given the trio’s moniker. With Malaby, Rainey, and Helias delivering a flowing stream of sound, any true unison—Malaby and Helias locked in on the same phrase in the same octave—would be strange indeed, phenomenal really, and, at the end of the ballad “CBJ,” they actually approximate it. But there’s unison of spirit in approach in these fluid ensemble improvisations inspired by Helias’ compositions. Though they produce a sound true to the band’s name—open and loose—that belies how they are locked into the compositions, And how composer and bassist Helias and drummer Tom Rainey keep the pieces on track, whether the deep Blues of “Blue Light Down the Line,” mournful ballad “CBJ” with its majestic scene-setting solo by Helias, or the trio’s varieties of Swing including the rattling, jalopy rhythm of “Illustrate.” Helias provides heads with plenty of melodic meat for all three musicians to chew on. Malaby is very much in his element here. The trio is a fine showcase for his impassioned, at times gnarled, lyricism. On “Irrational” the trio shows how it can work a simple groove—the boom chick of Rainey’s bass drum on one beat, and slapped, loosely closed high hat on the other—to fine effect. After the tenor and bass play the head in octaves, they drift off, each having his own idea where the piece should go. In the end they produce a unified performance that’s typical of the strong work throughout.
©Cadence Magazine 2009 www.cadencebuilding.com