Saturday, December 10, 2011

HurdAudio Rotation: The Ear That Was Sold To A Fish

Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris: Testament: A Conduction Collection [disc 2]: Conduction 15 - Where Music Goes II. 1995. New World Records: 80480-2.

Arthur Blythe: alto saxophone
Thurman Barker: vibraphone, percussion
Marion Brandis: flute, alto flute, piccolo
Vincent Chancey: french horn
J.A. Deane: trombone, electronics, live sampling
Janet Grice: bassoon
Bill Horvitz: electric guitar
Jason Hwang: violin
Taylor McLean: percussion, glockenspiel
Brandon Ross: acoustic guitar, octave guitar
Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris: conductor

Part of the attraction of hearing these Conduction pieces - especially this early set from a period when the process of conduction was being discovered and explored - is the collection of improvised musicians that participated in this performance. While it is possible to pick out the characteristic timbres and phrases of a Brandon Ross on guitar or Zeena Parkins' harp sound and the electronic sampling antics of J.A. Deane, it remains startling just how sublimated the individual parts are. It's as if Butch Morris composed a work using the improvised materials provided by these players and molded into something that is clearly a Morris creation. Somewhere along the way a new kind of sound is realized through the fusion of these individual parts. Arthur Blythe's solo in part III of Conduction #15 is one of the rare points along the way where the full personality of the individual emerges from the texture. And yet even that idiosyncratic identity is flawlessly layered into the larger sonic picture. The excitement and dedication given to these Conductions is well founded. These documented performances are a gift to behold.

Thelonius Monk: piano
Art Blakey: drums

The ears travel barely two notes into "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" before registering the fact that the Thelonious Monk obsession is entirely justified. His attack on each note along the piano is identifiably his own. There are those who can emulate, but few pack the full force of the genuine article. This first disc focuses on Monk's interpretations of standards. Leaving the true devastation of hearing his takes on his own compositions for later in the set. The solo take on "Solitude" alone is worth the price of this entire box set. "Honeysuckle Rose" lays bare the Fats Waller and ragtime influences that play a large role in Monk's playing. This particular interpretation of "Caravan" is nearly definitive. And while "Darn That Dream" is a ballad that is tough to love under the best of circumstances, this trio does indeed present one of those "best of circumstances" to hear the languid, melodic contours of a show tune that has long ago receded into the distance. This was a piano trio that was both at the bleeding edge while still drawing inspiration from deep roots extending back to the birth of jazz. This is music with more than enough substance to sustain further study and obsession with this master.

Darren Johnston: trumpet
Aram Shelton: alto saxophone, b-flat clarinet, bass clarinet
Lisa Mezzacappa: acoustic bass
Kjell Nordeson: drums, percussion

There just aren't enough recordings of Kjell Nordeson's percussive flights from behind a drum kit. The timbral and rhythmic inventiveness of this improviser is the sound that propels this incredible quartet for my ears. The range of muted and resonant percussion sounds combined with the rapid fire pulse changes and near-harmolodic sense of space elevates this session to a new level. It doesn't hurt that the rest of the ensemble is filled out with members who are equally compelling in their own right. And each individual contributes original compositions and material to a focused set built upon the deep improvisational talents of this quartet. Darren Johnston's cadenza in "Sink Town" is incredible and makes for a strong argument for paying attention to this emerging player. Clean Feed is establishing itself as the Blue Note of this current era and Cylinder is well above average, even for a label that is consistently excellent or better. Highly recommended.

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