Muhal Richard ABRAMS
BLU BLU BLU (1990) ●●●● [core collection]
If you think Holland’s or Bley’s are the only big bands that are worth listening to in our days, then you’d better pay attention to the music of this undervalued protean artist. You will take part to a stunning musical representation, melodically, rhythmically and harmonically multifarious, made of tradition, bebop, free, avant-garde, and something else not well-defined. All is wisely elaborated with rigorous compositional carefulness and recourse to wealthy instrumentation. In this regard, a very special mention deserves Joel Brandon, whose whistle is an unexpectedly phenomenal instrument: a sound between a piccolo and a recorder, and an array of inventive solos that leave open-mouthed (but the other musicians are no less than grade A). This album is a multifaceted and colourful one, with ample palette, representing a superlative achievement by a marvellous contemporary jazz big band.
YOUNG AT HEART / WISE IN TIME (1969) ●●●● [favorite, core collection]
“Young at Heart” is a solo piano performance, and is a chef-d’oeuvre. A deep tension is created through a sagacious alternation of vigorous chords, stupefying pauses, lyrical harmonizations. In this piece, Abrams shows a consummate art in using sound and silence interchangeably. Not exactly silence, because notes keep resounding and never really fade out completely, but leave traces that are left floating freely in the air. Abrams makes use of a vast array of musical devices to astound the listener, who is strucked by the beauty of this audacious 29-minute full improvisation. One finds resonances, reverberations and dissonances, as well as melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic oxymorons. The pianist takes the listener by the hand, and leads him in a world where echoes of Cecil Taylor’s clusters of chords and idyllic openings redolent of Bill Evans are perfect siblings; where Tradition meets blues, where blues meets stride, where stride meets late 19th classical music. This piece is a major achievement in music. Listen to it in the dark, with closed eyes. The second track, “Wise in Time”, features an interesting quintet in a free set, with ebullient solos by all musicians.
J MOOD ●●●● [favorite, core collection]
Marsalis displays a charismatic aura in this record. Perfectly balanced, his melodic allure is irresistible and the freshness of the music is captivating. The swinging walk of the combo is arresting in “Insane Asylum” and “Skain’s Domain” and alternates with a mournful mood in both “Presence that Lament Brings” and “Melodique”, but the other tracks are no less expressive, elegant, and warm. An album which shows Marsalis’s mature and personal apprach to jazz. Drummer Jeff Tain Watts sustains the leader with astonishing vivacity, Marcus Roberts’s solos at the piano manifest enthralling effervescence, while bassist Leslie Hurst III is perfectly at ease. Though implicitly, the reference to Miles Davis is present. For example, in “Melodique”, where Marsalis’s phrasing is heavily influenced by Davis (listen to the beauty carved out of his trumpet at 2:23 to 3:10); or in the doleful timbre of “After”; or in “Much Later”, where the Davis of the early Sixties seems to be evoked. However, Marsalis impresses the music his inventinveness, which generates an abstract ad intellectual melodism where spontaneity is fiercely presevered, and Marsalis’s timbre is almost imperceptibly hoarse and sometimes hints at a sort of modern Armstrong.
THE BLACK SAINT AND THE SINNER LADY (1963) ●●●●♕ [favorite, core collection]
This gigantic masterwork surprises for its continuous changes of mood, unconventional melodic lines, and elaborate mixture of various timbric effects. Swaying between consonant and dissonant scenes, Mingus shows a sophisticated concern of the harmonic effects of poliphony. There are several occurrences of stunning traumatic episodes revealing various emotional states: anguish, rage, fear, love, passion, tenderness, sweetness, pain. It is an urgent attempt to communicate life and vitality, and to cry desperateness and loveliness. The intensity and the energy of the music lies in an unexplored musical land between a sort of suffering Ellington and a passionate jazz avantgardist. There are several layers of music; a multidimensional work, so to say, where musicians are often let free to improvise and dispense a complex amalgam of textures and beautiful overfeeding colors. It sometimes seems as if Mingus is desperately addressing an invocation of help. So, when in “Group Dancers”, at precisely 5:05, the soprano sax screams painfully and helplessly, you feel shivers up and down your spine and cannot avoid somatizing the music. Passing through any kind of vital emotions, when the final note peters out, you realize that you have been given more that a mere aesthetic experience. Unbearably beautiful and moving. Armstrong.
Tomasz STANKO (2001) ●●●●
The disc commences with slow stretched notes whispered in poetic concentration by the band. The interplay Stanko creates with his new band is intriguing. The music is more affectionate and softhearted, less icy than that provided by the cooperation with Stenson. Wasilewski furnishes a different substance: where Stenson add mind, Wasilewski adds soul. Stanko’s trumpet is more open and less gloomy than in “Leosia”, and highly lyrical. There is no austerity but plenty of euroepan finesse. At time, Stanko’s playing indeed reminds of Rava (or vice versa): one may even wonder whether some tracks (e.g. track 3) is not a Rava’s tune played by Rava himself. All tracks are qualitatively superlative, and the entire album is charachterized by inspiration and expressiveness. A great album.