by: Hobart Taylor
Yelena Eckemoff Quartet - Desert - (Self Released)
Danny Green Trio Plus Strings - One Day It Will - (OA2 Records)
In the spectrum of creative music, AKA jazz, if red equaled freed jazz, orange to yellow modal and improvisation based around standard chord patterns, green the transitional music the missing link, Monk/Mingus, blue, rhythmic blues based and swing musics the beating heart of jazz, indigo (Mood Indigo) formal compositions based on song structure form myriad world cultures and gospel music, and violet uber melodic compositions that are "semi-classical" in nature then these two new releases strike me as being indigenously indigo spilling all the way into ultra violet. This is pure nonsense of course, but a crude way to categorize if it helps.
Pianist/composer Eckemoff and her collaborators including the esteemed reed player Paul McCandless (Oregon, Paul Winter), Arild Andersen, bassist (several ECM artists), and drummer Peter Erskine (Weather Report, John Abercrombie, Joni Mitchell), use several Central Asian melodic tropes as points of departure, but in the Rimsky-Korsakov tradition they translate these via jazz composition into more familiar variations in order to evoke the sere and thermal caressing winds of the desert. On the tune "Colors of Nothingness" McCandless' barely perceptible vibrato and pure pear shaped tones serve as counterpoint to pizzicato bass and ascending and descending figures from Eckemoff's right hand with cymbal accents from Erskine that provide a frame. This is gorgeous composition and arranging, and a further testament to Eckemoff's talent as a shaman capable of invoking spells that reify distant times and places so that they hover in the thinnest air beyond the immediate ken of the listener.
In contrast to the dry and austere release described above, but no less engaging and fulfilling is the lush work of San Diego composer and pianist Danny Green. Green is a melodist, one of those folks who creates tunes that are at once completely new and yet deeply and intimately familiar. Musicians like that astound me. It's as if someone took a rock and some leaves and and pond water mixed them together and came up with coq au vin. It would be easy to say that the addition of a string quartet makes the sound "semi-classical", but I believe in reality the compositions themselves respect the western musical canon deeply from Bach to Chopin and Liszt, and while the excellent rhythm section, bassist Justin Grinnell and drummer Julien Cantelm, swing and the string quartet underscores the classicism, it is Green's piano that bridges genres with a fresh take on the vibrancy and exuberance of a good song well played. Like Bernstein and Sondheim before him, Green is working to codify formally the best in the popular melodic traditions using equal parts of two tremendous genres.
Charlie Ballantine - Life Is Brief: The Music of Bob Dylan - (GMR Records)
Ballantine has a dreamy reverb filled sound that gently strokes melodies in a reassuring way before hesitating and then deconstructing like a puzzle slowly unhinging and floating in gravityless suspension. He selects from among Dylan's most haunting and profound melodies (folks, Dylan is a master tunesmith, a fact overshadowed often by his poetic brilliance), songs that are as deep as the experiences they portray like "The Death of Emmett Till" and "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall". The result is an opportunity to truly appreciate the lasting contribution Dylan has made to world culture as a musician.
Andreas Varady - The Quest - (Resonance)
Guitarist Varady is a Slovakian prodigy (now 20) whose energetic re-imaging of the golden age of fusion, Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius etc, attracted the attention of Quincy Jones who serves as executive producer on the project. Working in a quintet format with two of his brothers as the bass and drums, pianist Benito Gonzalez (his secret weapon), and saxophonist Radovan Tariska, Varady's breakout release is charting heavily, and with good reason. These tunes explode.
Nels Cline 4 - Currents, Constellations - (Blue Note)
Nels Cline with drummer Tom Rainey, acoustic bassist Scott Colley, and fellow guitarist Julian Lage goes from 0 to 90 in the opening cut and sets us up for jagged and sharp observations throughout this recording. Whether intense and dramatic or reflective these tunes are almost consistently disquieting. Some of us think that is a good thing. In a world filled with zombies with phone welded to their claws, these skewed reflections serve to shake us out of our stupor.
Julian Lage - Modern Lore - (Mack Avenue)
Lage's power trio features Scott Colley again on bass, and drummer Kenny Wollenson who doubles on vibes. This record is blusier and more accessible than Cline's. Filled with humor and lots of referents to pop traditions like rock and country, the easy going nature of the work conceals deep virtuosity and sophistication.