Ben Bowen - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection - jazzreview.com - Your Jazz Music Connection http://jazzreview.com Tue, 23 May 2017 21:37:24 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb AG:5 by Avi Granite: 5 http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/progressive-cd-reviews/ag5-by-avi-granite-5.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/progressive-cd-reviews/ag5-by-avi-granite-5.html The first (self-titled) disc from Avi Granite's Toronto quintet showcases some very strong writing and equally fine playing from all involved. While Granite relies heavi…

The first (self-titled) disc from Avi Granite's Toronto quintet showcases some very strong writing and equally fine playing from all involved. While Granite relies heavily on odd meters for his writing (e.g. "Budat" in 7/4, 17/8, and 10/4, and "Triadict" in 11/8 and 9/8), he consistently sets up solid grooves with stark rhythmic /melodic counterpoints that take each piece well beyond the potential novelty factor. Granite's own playing is distinct: sharp and cutting, with solos that seem always to be just beyond either time or changes. On trombone, Tom Richards' superior tone and attack lends weight to the music, and he blows simple, well-crafted statements.

One of the real highlights of the album, saxophonist Fraser Calhoun (who appears only on tracks 1 -4) is well on his way to mastering his instrument, executing buttery calisthenics throughout his solos and easily navigating his way in and out of both changes and time. His fluid, dynamic playing is alternately reminiscent of Sonny Stitt, Greg Osby, and even Richard Underhill, a riveting mix of tradition and innovation; both playful and highly musical, he stretches, pulls, and pushes the music to its edges. Kevin Brow (whose seamless transition from 9/8 to 11/8 on the way out of "Triadict" is formidable) is the seething engine of this unit, propelling them along with enthusiasm and energy, while bassist Neal Davis reigns them in with steady pulse.

Furious tenor-man Jon Kay joins them for the last track, and they finish up with what has arguably become the theme music for this band, "Hortez the Chihuahua", though the screaming energy of this Sex-Mob-like execution invokes the terrible Hortezilla, unleashed beast of the depths.

This is a disc of clean crisp lines, tight arrangements, and tasty blowing. There's lots of fresh creative stuff here, and it stands as a good example of freedom's ability to thrive within set limits.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Ben Bowen) Progressive - CD Reviews Wed, 15 Mar 2006 12:00:00 -0600
Bird on Triangle by Gregg Brennan Aiséiri Quartet http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/progressive-cd-reviews/bird-on-triangle-by-gregg-brennan-aiseiri-quartet.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/progressive-cd-reviews/bird-on-triangle-by-gregg-brennan-aiseiri-quartet.html Bird on Triangle by Gregg Brennan Aiséiri Quartet
The medium an artist chooses and the tools he uses in that medium have a strong part in defining his final piece: a sculptor would be hard pressed to produce a great work u…
The medium an artist chooses and the tools he uses in that medium have a strong part in defining his final piece: a sculptor would be hard pressed to produce a great work using only newsprint and oil paint, and a painter likely could not produce valuable work without the proper brushes and palette knives.

On his new album, Bird on Triangle (Standback Records, 2005), Toronto drummer Gregg Brennan seems to have somewhat misjudged the "tools" needed for the job. Brennan is a solid, fluid musician, a good listener who is both creative and reactive, and this disc is a good representation of some of his playing. The rhythm section of Brennan, bassist Neal Davis and guitarist Avi Granite is strong, holding together well from beginning to end. That said, the choice of Mike Anklewicz on alto and Timothy Minthorn on piano does not always prove prudent, and indeed at times bogs down what might otherwise be some really buoyant music.

Right from the opening track, the European and Middle Eastern aesthetics are thick: Anklewicz, whose timbre is more like a bass clarinet than an alto sax, begins the disc with a slinky Klezmer-like melody. His ensuing primarily diatonic solo, however, quickly becomes pedantic and trite. Meanwhile, Minthorn lays down dense Debussian layers, but his solo lacks the same vitality, his attempts at swing sluggish and rigid. Just in time, Granite swaggers in, he and Anklewicz banter a bit, and the tune winds down again.

Much of the disc passes with similar frustrating juxtapositions: clever unusual melodies are routinely undermined by mediocre playing from Anklewicz (epitomized on "Mongols?" when the tune's breakneck speed cripples him), so that while the band maintains a rich dark palette throughout, the music itself never quite reaches a satisfactory blend. Given Minthorn's classical background and Anklewicz's experience in Klezmer groups, it's an interesting experiment, but ultimately it lacks cohesion. Indeed, drawing from the modern classical tradition as he does, Minthorn's harmonic and melodic ideas are quite fresh, but for the duration of the disc he manages to sound like a displaced solo classical player rather than the organic ensemble member one would hope for.

Setting all that aside, however, there are some noteworthy moments on Bird on Triangle. The members of the band do listen to each other well, and thereby create some good pockets of energy over the course of the album's four tracks. As well, each member contributes some adventurous textures by stretching the use of their instruments beyond the conventional: Minthorn strums the piano strings, Davis plays with the back of his bow, Granite uses an effective pointilistic technique with harmonics, and Anklewicz contributes multiphonics and percussive effects.

The album closes with "Templar," which ironically is the first time that we get a real sense of plot: until then, it's all theme and insinuation which, though musical, does not help to solidify the album as a single work; instead, it sounds like it might be a compilation of unrelated pieces. "Templar," on the other hand, finally makes me think there might be a story in this music, and I want to hear more; it's well-arranged and very musically executed - the album's best tune. I look forward to hearing an album's-worth of such songs from Brennan in the future.
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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Ben Bowen) Progressive - CD Reviews Tue, 05 Jul 2005 01:00:00 -0500
Cross Sections by Neal Davis http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/progressive-cd-reviews/cross-sections-by-neal-davis.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/progressive-cd-reviews/cross-sections-by-neal-davis.html Every now and then I really enjoy a glass of cold orange juice. It’s infrequent enough, though, that whenever I make a jug, it sits in the fridge so long that it separat…

Every now and then I really enjoy a glass of cold orange juice. It’s infrequent enough, though, that whenever I make a jug, it sits in the fridge so long that it separates into its constituent parts, and you can see three distinct layers: pulp, concentrated orange syrup, and water. That’s the difference between mixtures and solutions: a mixture is always just its separate parts, whereas a solution becomes something new and completely different from its original ingredients.

Neal Davis’ debut release, Cross Sections, is definitely a solution. Manned by a small army of musicians in at least three different configurations, there is a real melting pot of styles and influences present, but the end result, while familiar, is new. And it’s exciting. Davis’ personality and voice are clear and distinct, and his musicians seem to subscribe wholeheartedly to his vision.

The opening track, "Starlight for Sigmar Polke" (revolutionary East German Pop Art artist), is like a macabre circus coming to town: strong dark horn arrangements dive from intimation into cacophony, giving way to an argument between a couple of flailing irate ogres that comes to damaging blows. Newcomer Fraser Calhoun holds his own against the monstrous Alex Dean as the ghoulish spectacle climaxes, breaks, and is finally thrown aside by a stampeding herd of angry bull elephants.

Fade to black; spotlight on the centre ring: the title track creeps in with psychotic percussive stringed effects, laying down the base for a free duet between Davis and guitarist Avi Granite which showcases both their ears and their musical chops and tells us a bizarre post-modern fairy tale.

The one standard on the disc, "All Blues," does not take away from the overall shape of the album, and in fact in some ways acts as a bit of a plot twist: carrying the melody, a baby elephant (played energetically on mellophone) flies manically through the scene, intent on finding its lost troupe. The solo is awkward and playful, and finishes with a couple of longish afterthoughts. On tenor, Jon Kay re-focuses the band, playing a few choruses of tasty boppish lines, and Granite follows with a confidently carnivorous rant. Trumpeter Patrice Barbanchon gives a fiery sermon on Zen meditation, and Davis wraps up with a solemn Hadenesque solo that leads back into the restatement of the theme, sending the bewildered pachyderm on its way.

The peak of the album is the introduction of "Hortez the Chihuahua," one of a rare legendary breed of Mexican gunfighter dogs. On soprano, Jon Kay pays homage with slippery lines reminiscent of Steve Grossman and Paul McCandless, and is followed closely by Granite, who plays like a stream carving its way through sand in a downpour. Sounding as Turkish as he does Mexican, Hortez has the vitriolic last word and exits stage left.

For the final act, Davis has chosen a truly breathtaking piece of music: "For Turiya," written by Charlie Haden. The band is in amazing form here, taking this hypnotic hymn of celebration and mourning through stark periods of dark and light, restlessness and peace, sin and contrition. It is a haunting, golden end to the work as a whole.

Epilogue: This may be Neal Davis’ first album, but it will certainly not be his last. It is coherent, focused, colourful, and emotional. There is vision, clarity, and shape to the disc, and Davis shows himself to be a mature, sensitive musician, promising rich things to come.

~ Ben Bowen

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Ben Bowen) Progressive - CD Reviews Mon, 02 Aug 2004 19:09:49 -0500
Three Cuts in London by Nautilus http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/soul-/-funk-jazz-cd-reviews/three-cuts-in-london-by-nautilus.html http://jazzreview.com/cd-reviews/soul-/-funk-jazz-cd-reviews/three-cuts-in-london-by-nautilus.html Three Cuts in London by Nautilus
Nautilus is a funk/trance/drum n’ bass trio out of Toronto. Their new release, Three Cuts in London (Pet Mantis Records, 2004), is an intelligent skillful album …

Nautilus is a funk/trance/drum n’ bass trio out of Toronto. Their new release, Three Cuts in London (Pet Mantis Records, 2004), is an intelligent skillful album jammed with clever interplay, neo-psychedelia, and funky, danceable grooves.

While Three Cuts in London has some obvious elements of Portishead, Miles, and Scofield, it manages to avoid trying to clone of any of these, and the result is fresh, interesting, and listenable. Each member contributes his musical aesthetic to this veritable audio mantra, weaving an intense trance-like blanket of sound. More often than not the three-piece sounds more like a four- of five-piece ensemble, deftly using a wide arsenal of effects to produce this aural illusion.

Because of the seamless fusion of influences and the various dynamic shifts throughout this recording, each track sounds well-rehearsed and carefully thought-out, and yet what is most striking about this recording is that it is entirely improvised from start to finish. Says Avi Granite (guitar), "(this is) all improvised all the time. We are all like three record players spinning together: sometimes one album will end before the other, and sometimes albums run parallel, and sometimes the record player explodes... We're all interested in effects and finding new sounds on our instruments. It started off as trying to pull off live drum'n'bass/ jungle-influenced improvisations that people could dance to, and (it) has grown from there."

Certainly, there is a real unity of ideas and approach present that highlights both the musicality of each member and the communication between them. Scott Peterson’s fat, ballsy bass is sometimes joined by and sometimes juxtaposed by Granite’s playing, which shifts easily from discordant to eerie to spacey to playful, bobbing in and out of time. As a drummer, Kevin Howley is a relentless machine, often holding down punishing jungle beats for lengthy periods, yet still able to gear-down instantly into heavy reggae or free time passages.

In the end, this album sounds more like the movements from an elaborate jungle suite than eleven separate tracks. It’s rare to hear three such obviously skilled musicians put their talents to work on something so funky, but with Nautilus now resolutely in the fray, the ante has been upped, and we should certainly expect to see more artists follow their lead.

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morrice.blackwell@gmail.com (Ben Bowen) Soul / Funk Jazz - CD Reviews Sun, 18 Jul 2004 03:09:03 -0500