Jazz music, news and views

Friday, July 27, 2007

Avishai Cohen: After the Big Rain

Trumpeter Avishai Cohen's newest release, After the Big Rain, artfully unites the sonic worlds of modern jazz, electronic, funk and "world." That last term is generally considered an undesirable, reductive catch-all, but there are few economic ways to describe Cohen's globally inclusive approach. The Tel Aviv trumpeter (no relation to the bassist by the same name) is prized as a sideman (I'd recommend his sister Anat Cohen's Place and Time and Noir as well as Yosvany Terry's Metamorphosis) and has already debuted with The Trumpet Player, but his sophomore release should shed more light on his creativity as a leader.

The opening title track is actually a good representation of Cohen's MO here. His songs seem more like melodic sketches or polyrhythmic explorations -- open-ended rather than rigidly structured. His trumpet, treated with some tasteful effects, is beautifully eerie. And while each player's personality is essential to the album's vibe, it's clear from the first track that guitarist Lionel Loueke stands out as a major figure. His distinct muted fingerpicking on acoustic guitar give the song -- and album -- plenty of texture. A gig review by Ben Ratliff for the NY Times accurately noted the guitar phenom from Benin "has quickly become one of the astonishments in American jazz." He also reveals how Loueke achieves some of his unique sounds here by placing paper under the strings near the bridge of his guitar. After seeing him live three times, I still have no clue how he pulls these ideas out of himself.

Like the opener, many of the songs are built on vamps that open outward as the song develops, especially when the rhythm section picks up steam. Drummer Daniel Freedman's strength and finesse blossoms fully as Cohen's trumpet solo unfolds on "African Daisy," and the band as a whole eventually erupts on the twelve-minute tour-de-force, "Parto Forte." Cohen's bright, agile solos here (one with effects, one without).

On the gentler side, though, he's just as captivating. He uses a harmon mute on the brooding, intimate "Afterthoughts (Mozartine)." Especially here, his lachrymose phrasing and tone might invoke images of Miles Davis playing a ballad, but Cohen is less terse and readily explores the song's harmony with his own brand of lyricism. He acquires a buzzy, choked sound through his effects on the erotic "Meditation on Two Chords" with Jason Lindner's Fender Rhodes providing the tune's creamy sonic core.

Most importantly, Cohen doesn't lose his personality in the sea of ambience and effects. He's a potent, sensitive player whose improvisations are highly attentive to the forms, melodies and motifs, and he appears to be an emerging conceptualist with a strong vision. As the first part of an album trilogy, After the Big Rain sets the stage for a gradual, artful revelation of his musical vision.

After the Big Rain (Anzic)
Avishai Cohen (trumpet)
Lionel Loueke (guitar, voice)
Jason Lindner (keyboards)
Omer Avital (bass)
Daniel Freedman (drums)
Yosvany Terry (shekere)

The Big Rain Trilogy (listen to "African Daisy" by clicking on "After the Big Rain" at the bottom)
NY Times gig review (Ben Ratliff, 01.14.06)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

(It's Just) Talk

Yesterday afternoon, I had to call my internet service to get my wireless up and running again. The automated voice said I'd be on hold for six minutes, which of course made me groan. As it turned out, though, those six minutes featured the coolest "on-hold" music I've ever heard.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

R5 Records

During a brief visit to my hometown, I dropped by the new R5 Records, a reincarnation of the recently dissolved Tower. Much is being made of founder Russ Solomon's stalwart brick-and-mortar mindset in the digital age, but I think it's too easy to view it as simply quixotic. There are plenty of people who prefer buying CDs in a record store, and it sounds like Solomon's focus is serving them, not necessarily winning over digital consumers. Of course, like anyone who values "the album" over "the single," his newest endeavor doesn't follow the trend, as he told The Sacramento Bee:
"I believe that there's life left (in the business)," he says. "There are things that need to be tried. And since I was preaching against a wall the last two years that what Tower was doing and what the industry was doing was misdirected and wrong, I owe it to myself and to the business to do it my way."

Solomon's way, as he puts it, "is getting back to the fundamentals. Our focus has to be on people who love music, giving them great variety at great prices."
He might not be able to compete with some of Amazon's prices, but the browsing experience is valuable enough for some consumers (and not just Tower loyalists like myself). Antony Bruno, senior writer for the digital section of Billboard said of stores like R5: "There's clearly room for good record stores... There will always be record stores that survive, because they know the area and the people and the music."

The store itself occupies the location of the original Tower Records at 16th and Broadway in Sacramento, which wasn't large, but it seems they plan to maintain a healthy inventory. The jazz section looked a bit thin, but there were signs throughout the store asking for suggestions of titles to carry, and there were carts of new albums waiting to be shelved, too.

The trend may be digital, but there are plenty of hangers-on like myself, and for now at least, that's the majority (though I guess there's no accounting for taste).

R5 Records
Sacramento Bee
Another Sactowner's perspective

Monday, July 09, 2007

John Ellis

While transcribing an interview I did with Aaron Goldberg, I noticed we'd talked quite a bit about his sideman experiences with Joshua Redman, Wynton Marsalis, Mark Turner and Kurt Rosenwinkel. I'd foolishly forgotten, however, to get his thoughts about playing with John Ellis on the record. At the time of the interview, I'd only just heard Ellis's By a Thread. Recently, I've been diving back into that album as well as One Foot in the Swamp -- and kicking myself for not getting Goldberg's thoughts on tape. Ellis and he are a natural fit no matter how restless and risky the musical moment is. Even the most demanding passages sound comfortable and personal in their hands.

So, after YouTubing around, I found two videos of the pair with bassist Leonardo Cioglia –- beautiful tunes, and the solos absolutely sing. I've seen Ellis live only once at a bizarre basement gig at CSU Fullerton. His quartet (Mike Moreno, Alan Hampton and Derek Phillips) played in the underground student union in a pizza parlor, which had a small bowling alley right outside the door. Coincidentally, one of his song titles seemed to articulate the bizarre audience makeup: "Tattooed Teen Waltzes With Grandma." Three elderly ladies were at a table just in front of the stage with a few scattered forty-something men and a fair number of students. He blogged about being exhausted, but the group's performance was amazing -– lyrical, earnest and bristling with energy, if a bit surreal due to the setting. Ellis's tenor sound was full of earth, voice and soul, and his soprano tone was startlingly pure. (I should add that Mike Moreno sounded every bit as impressive as on record, too.)

Goldberg did say something about the saxophonist just as I was leaving the hotel room. We had been talking about players whose musical personalities are honestly unique, as opposed to marketable contrivances. He said Ellis's sound was purely a product of his personal tastes: "A mixture of folk and 'Americana' with modern jazz," "just honest music" and, emphatically, "no bullsh--." You can't get more straightforward than that.


"Lonnie" from By a Thread (via AAJ)
"Lencois de Areia" and "Santa Maria" videos with Leonardo Cioglia
Two live sets from Yoshi's (07.18.05): incredible improvisations, as usual, not to mention a great sounding recording.
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