Friday, April 27, 2012

This Dennis Rollins Album is sort of Worth It

From my PopMatters review, some sentences. (They are the reviewer's bread and butter, you know.) (If we're comparing "writing record reviews" to "building sculptures out of bread and butter"?) (#dancingaboutarchitecturewhilecoveredinbutter)

Rollins plays his trombone with a beautiful burnished tone, bouncing and swooping into his notes on little catenaries of sound, reaching out to listeners with a grin and a handshake. He’s also got an Aquarian numerological thing going on. Motéma had the spiritual wisdom to release The 11th Gate on 11/11/11, the day Rollins turned 47, and you’ll notice that four plus seven equals 11. (They released it digitally, that is; the physical CD had to wait until January.) Naturally the trio has included 11 tracks here, the better to usher in Rollins’s “universal paradigm shift, an emergence into our authentic selves”.

My authentic self tells me they had to pad this album to reach 11 tracks.

Opening song “Samba Galactica” punches out of the speakers with a tricky rhythm, Segundo skittering around the beats while Rollins uses some electronic device to harmonize with himself. The apparently ambidextrous Stanley handles the bassline with his left hand; his right hand either harmonizes closely with Rollins’s trombone, plays remarkably fluid solos, or stretches out on thick washes of sound that make you say, “Ooh, Hammond organ!”

This is all fine, accomplished stuff, but The 11th Gate is ultimately too tidy to set anyone’s world on fire. Solos are inventive but never outlandish; the chord changes go to unexpected places, but they never astonish. The album sounds immaculate, and you get the sense these guys knew what they were doing every step of the way. They’ve made a solid and professional straight-ahead jazz record. That’s not exactly a universal paradigm shift, but it’ll at least keep you awake until your enlightenment kicks in.

Monday, April 16, 2012

This '09 Flexible Music CD is Worth It!

The green room was a disgrace.

From my PopMatters review of Flexible Music's fm album, a few sentences:

[FM] favour modern classical music squarely in the downtown NYC tradition of bucking tradition, blending atonality with gestures out of minimalism and soundtracks, and pushing complex syncopated rhythms right out front.

The album opens with Louis Andriessen’s 1991 “Hout”, one of the few pieces written prior to this millennium for FM’s instrumentation. The Dutch composer wrote “Hout” as a nearly-strict canon, with saxophone leading the melodic charge and the other instruments following at 16th note intervals. The resulting piece sounds like a long, jazz-influenced melody getting dragged through a lake, sending out ripples of echoes that threaten to swamp the tune but never do. As a musical experiment, it’s cool; as a piece of music it’s something more, given Andriessen’s talent for mixing the instruments’ sonorities into indelible blends. Though the notes move constantly, with saxophonist Timothy Ruedeman’s fingers clacking away, the piece swells and breathes with a large-scale shape all its own.

[In "Sustenance Variations"] pianist Eric Huebner lulls you with a delicate music box melody, and then, out of nowhere, Lippel and percussionist Haruka Fujii start smacking their instruments around. The effect startles, and it achieves the grab-you-by-the-throat physicality that’s one of FM’s goals.

Musicians of all genres would do well to realize that James Brown was one of last century’s smartest musicians, up there with Stravinsky. That doesn’t mean you can’t imitate him. But simply copping a couple mannerisms reveals a shallow understanding of his chief innovation, a precise rhythmic pointillism that coalesces into free-floating grooves. Don’t condescend to the Godfather. (OK, I’m done.)