Thelonious Monk, piano, composer, arranger; Charlie Rouse, tenor saxophone; Barney Wilen, tenor saxophone; Sam Jones, double bass; Art Taylor, drums
Since its arrival at our house, this release has been in heavy rotation. After it seems as if everything that the famed modern bebop pianist Thelonious Monk put to record had been issued, a treasure like this surfaces: the pianist’s soundtrack for Les Liaisons Dangereuses, the 1960 Roger Vadim film adapting Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ famous 1782 novel. Buoyant versions of Monk classics such as “Rhythm-a-Ning,” “Well You Needn’t,” and “Crepuscule with Nellie” are abetted by excellent soloing from two tenor saxophonists, Barney Wilen (in whose archives these recordings resided) and Charlie Rouse, a frequent partner of the pianist’s. Monk’s playing, varied here in approach from succulent balladry to rousing uptempo soloing, spurs on the rhythm section of bassist Sam Jones and drummer Art Taylor to ever more complex coordinations. A previously unissued cut, the gospel number “By and By” by Charles Albert Tindley, receives a particularly sensitive reading.The recording contains a bonus disc that features alternate takes and a quarter hour of the group rehearsing and discussing “Light Blue.” To top it all off, the sound is excellent. Heartily recommended.
On Friday, June 16th from 7:30 to 10 at the New York jazz venue Smalls, pianist Aaron Parks celebrates the release of Find the Way, his second release on ECM as a leader (and third overall). On 2013’s Arborescence, Parks appeared on the label as a solo artist, crafting improvisations in a live setting that were gently sculpted but nevertheless stirring selections. This time out, Parks plays in a trio; he has a versatile and well-versed rhythm section at his disposal and to his credit, the pianist adopts an attitude of collaboration, encouraging each artist to take a turn in the spotlight. He is joined by eminent jazz drummer and frequent ECM recording artist Billy Hart and bassist Ben Street, a musician with many avant-jazz credentials who also plays in Hart’s quartet.
With energetic tom fills and textural cymbal playing, Hart particularly stands out on “Hold Music,” one of eight originals on the recording (the only cover is the title song, a chestnut that isn’t a household name, but ought to be). On “Song for Sashou,” Street supports a supple quasi-bossa, gliding in and out of register with Parks’ comping to underscore both rhythmic elements and a fetching countermelody.
There’s a painterly quality to the tune “Adrift.” It serves as a point of departure from the washes of sound that Parks evokes in his solo playing. These are now incorporated into a multifaceted context with a rhythm section’s underpinning. Still, the title is an accurate one; even with drums and bass, there is a delicacy of approach here that prevents the music from feeling too strongly grounded. Often Parks takes neo-impressionist approach. “Unravel” flirts with Ravel in its extended chord arpeggiations and revels in delightful offsets in the interplay between the hands. “The Storyteller” pits Parks’ stacking of extended chords against bluesy right hand licks. Meanwhile, Hart makes space for fills to spur things onwards and Street plays multi-register melodies, once again finding a melodic role for the bass to navigate. “Alice,” with aching suspensions and deft filigrees in its intro, followed by a rousing colloquy for the trio, is a particularly memorable composition and one that demonstrates that there is a bit of welcome steel in the midst of this trio’s buoyant demeanor. Find the Way is a big step forward in the development of Parks’ already potent musicality – one imagines that this will be a memorable gig!
Kronos Quartet, with Sam Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens, and Natalie Merchant
From its earliest recordings, which included transcriptions of jazz, Kronos Quartet has cast their net wide. The group’s repertoire encompasses music from the world over and from numerous composers in a variety of styles. To remind myself of Kronos’ earlier days, I put on their “Landmark Sessions” recordings of Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans. And what a reminder it was, pointing up the fluid nature of the quartet’s ability to shift tone and rhythmic feel to accommodate nearly whatever they approach.
On Folk Songs, their latest CD for Nonesuch, Kronos are joined by an all-star cast of vocalists – Sam Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens, and Natalie Merchant – in a collection of American folksongs from various traditions. The arrangements – skilfully wrought by Nico Muhly, Donnacha Dennehy, Jacob Garchik, and Gabriel Witcher – deploy the skills sets of the guests, including instrumental contributions, Amidon’s guitar and Chaney’s harmonium and percussion, to good effect. The aforementioned fluidity of the quartet affects the way that they serve as collaborators in the various selections. Amidon’s neo-folk adoption of Appalachia is well-served by fiddle tune melodies and straight tone chords. Merchant’s soulful voice is matched by chocolatey timbres and poignant phrasing. Frequent Kronos collaborator Dennehy’s contribution, an arrangement of the traditional Irish song “Ramblin’ Boy,” is an ideal vehicle for the supple singing and exuberant playing of Chaney. An arrangement by Garchik of Delta Blues vocalist Geeshie Wiley’s “Last Kind Words” is a suave and winning instrumental interlude. Giddens is a marvel, her beautiful singing winsomely swinging in two originals inspired by traditional blues: “Factory Girl” and “Lullaby.” While Kronos is currently busy with a multi-year commissioning project (titled “Fifty for the Future”), such thoughtful music-making in an entirely different vein is most welcome.
Here’s one well worth repeated listenings: TALsounds’Love Sick (via Ba da Bing). Analog synths, overdubbed voices, and generous melodic writing all mix together in a heady concoction of synths of yesteryear and the live loops of today.
On Beauty Will be Amnesiac Or Will Not Be At All, composer/pianist Anthony Pateras and composer/sound artist Jérôme Noetinger join forces to create an hourlong work for Synergy Percussion and improvised electronics. Its conceit is a clever one: the piece is of similar scope to Iannis Xenakis’ work Pleïades and utilizes a similarly gargantuan battery of percussion instruments, over 100, notably Xenakis’ 17-pitch microtonal metallophones, the Sixxen. These are used to particularly fine effect in the accumulating washes of sound in the piece’s first movement.
Pateras’s notated music and Noetinger’s electronics blend well together, with an emphasis on merging their respective sonic terrains rather than juxtaposing them. Along with many textural diversions, the percussion combines pulse-driven mixed meter passages with polymetric sections of considerable complexity. Noetinger finds his way inside this space admirably, teasing out contrasting rhythmic figures of his own and adding layered textures with refreshing subtlety. That said, his electronics cadenza in movement four is a standout. Haloed in a soft-mallet gong roll, he employs static to mirror the hypercomplex rhythms found in the previous movement’s percussion parts. Added to this is a duet of sustained high pitches, whose call and response fleshes out the frequency spectrum. Drum rolls return, piano this time, to reassert the place of unpitched percussion in the proceedings.Synergy performs with dedication to the subtlest details of Pateras’s score and with responsive attention to Noetinger’s contributions as well. Thus, the recording is a truly successful amalgam of notated and spontaneous music-making.
I spent a year analyzing Bach’s Art of Fugue as an undergraduate, so it is fair to say that I’m passionate about the work and a bit picky about its performance. For their third New Focus CD, DUOStephanie & Saar present the work in its entirety on piano instead of harpsichord, leaving the last fugue where Bach did (unfinished), but including “Canon per Augmentationem in Contrario Motu,” a gentle yet substantial epilogue by Stephanie Ho. This solution works at least as well as what is done on other recordings, which is to leave the final fugue unfinished but include Bach’s final chorale prelude, “Before Your Throne I Come,” as a postlude.
The duo’s playing is detailed and deliberate rather than showy, with the pianists taking pains to make all of the counterpoint clear. Since this is what the piece principally is about, it is a smart tactic to employ.
Sometimes folks grouse about the amount of recordings of standard repertoire, asking,”Do we really NEED more Bach CDs?” When it comes to a pliable and fascinating work such as this, especially when it is so well played by its performers, my answer is a resounding yes.
Pianist R. Andrew Leehas released a new EP on Irritable Hedgehog.It is a recording of composer/improviser Ryan Oldham’sInner Monologues (Venn Diagram of Six Pitches). The hexachord in question is presented in slow-paced fashion, appearing throughout the keyboard in configurations of varying densities. There certainly are links between Oldham and the Wandelweiser Collective and Morton Feldman in terms of the slow unfolding and deft touch with which material is deployed. One also might infer nods to both Linda Catlin Smith and Tom Johnson, the first in terms of a willingness to allow the proceedings simultaneously to drift and grid to an underlying pulse; the second via the process-based treatment of pitch and spacing. Inner Monologues is both an impressive and beguiling work.
As is so often the case, Lee is a dedicated advocate and compelling performer, cannily exploiting the resonance of the instrument, never pushing the proceedings but instead trusting the piano’s decay to be a guidepost, and exhorting the listener to live in the space of that decay far longer than is customary. When I recently heard Lee’s performance of a piece by Jürg Frey at New Music Gathering 2017 in Bowling Green, Ohio, he demonstrated a similar patient intensity that is perfectly suited to experimental and post-minimal repertoire. See and hear him in person when you can. But in the meantime, let his Irritable Hedgehog releases be a valuable stand-in for the live experience.