There's a personnel change for this jazz supergroup's fourth album: Donald Harrison replaces Craig Handy in the alto sax chair. Nothing against Handy, whose work I have always enjoyed, but that's an upgrade. I look forward to Harrison -- an excellent composer -- having a hand in the writing for the next Cookers album (though, who knows, he may not -- for some reason, this group has never featured even one of trumpet fixture Eddie Henderson's tunes). For the first time, here there are no tunes from non-members; the emphasis on modal post-bop is stronger than ever.
As usual, the most heavily featured composer is tenor saxophonist Billy Harper; hearing his expanded-for-septet arrangements of his tunes is a welcome treat. For that matter, he is the most distinctive soloist in the band as well, though absolutely everybody here is an ace improviser -- and it's so great that this group is getting pianist George Cables, who has more solos here than anybody else, a little more of the attention he has long deserved (he especially shines on his dedication to the late Mulgrew Miller). As always, kudos to the youngster of the group, trumpeter David Weiss -- who also did the arrangements for all the non-Harper tunes -- for pulling this group together.
Tsahar is an excellent tenor saxophonist/bass clarinetist on the free/avant end of the jazz spectrum who plays with a great sense of structural logic. Caught live at a club in Israel (where I think he partly lives nowadays) with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway, a top-notch rhythm section, he has plenty of room to stretch out. Anyone who enjoys the playing of Charles Gayle -- who I assume was an influence during Tsahar's early days in Brooklyn -- will enjoy his playing here, which has a similar sense of timbral variety and organic development. In the loudest parts, Dresser can't quite cut through volume-wise, especially when Hemingway goes full throttle, but most of the time is his usual stimulating and sensitively responsive self; Hemingway's loose yet spot-on free swing is wonderfully supportive and propulsive, undoubtedly inspiring the others. And Tsahar, who always was excellent, has matured into one of the best free-jazz tenormen on the current scene. This is released on his own Hopscotch label.
Fasteau is a multi-instrumental free improviser most often heard on saxophone, but here she focuses on piano (she also plays organ and sings) for a whole album, and it's quite a revelation. The opening solo track, "Another Southpaw" (from the memorial for piano icon Borah Bergman) immediately establishes that she's got chops. There are two more impressive solos, "Hai Tchicai" (composed and recorded at the memorial for saxophonist John Tchicai), and "Attuned," from the ESP-Disk 50th Anniversary concert last year. There's a conflict of interest here: I produced that concert. But having been there, I also have some insight to offer. The piano at the venue was an out of tune spinet; another artist that day had played it earlier and it had sounded awful. When Fasteau played it, she made it sound wonderful. That is real musicality: to appreciate an instrument for what it can offer and make us hear the beauty in it despite its limitations. Aside from the final track, a trio with J.D. Parran (alto flute, alto clarinet) and Ron McBee (percussion) which is one of the two occasions here when Fasteau also sings, the rest of the album is duos with saxophonists: Kidd Jordan on tenor, and L. Mixashawn Roxie on soprano and tenor, along with flute and djembe. Their interactions are jazz at its most spontaneous and exhilarating. Especially noteworthy is "Roy's Wake," for the late Roy Campbell, on which she sings through a harmonizing processor, a striking effect. The album title doesn't oversell it; this is truly a rapturous listening experience. Released on her own label.
You don't hear much about the Third Stream movement nowadays, perhaps because jazz has been madly hybridizing with so many different styles in an attempt to stay fresh (or, in many cases, commercial) that its mating with classical now seems both stodgy on the face of it and irrelevant to aspirations towards greater modern appeal. But starting in the '50s, the folks aligned with it made some of the more interesting music around. One can't avoid mentioning Third Stream on this release by a piano trio not of the jazz format (piano, bass, drums) but rather of the classical format (violin [Benedict Goodfriend], cello [Alan Weinstein], piano [Elizabeth Bachelder]). And Gunther Schuller, the man who coined the phrase Third Stream, is represented by his piano quartet (whereon the trio is joined by a viola player, Roger Chase), and its subtitle is the album's title. That said, the dominant composer here is trumpeter John D'earth, who studied with Thad Jones (a great trumpeter and orchestrator) and then served time in the bands of Buddy Rich and Lionel Hampton, among others. D'earth is represented by two suites, Natural Bridge (a quintet that also includes guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and bassist Paul Langosch) and Silent Faustus, an instrumentally and chronologically condensed rendition of D'earth's two-hour soundtrack for F.W. Murnau's 1926 silent film Faustus. Anyone interested in Third Stream should check this out. [This album came out last year on the always-rewarding OmniTone, and I've been quite remiss in not publishing this review sooner.]
Brahja Waldman Quintet: Live at Resonance (Fast Speaking Music)
Last year I reviewed a two-CD set that had two different quartets; on this vinyl release, all the musicians are combined for this quintet of Brahja Waldman, alto sax and all compositions; Adam Kinner, tenor sax; Daman Shadrach Hankoff, piano; Martin Heslop, bass; and Daniel Gelinas, drums. Waldman splits his time between NYC and Montreal; this album was recorded at a Montreal club, mostly "live" except the last track, recorded there after the gig. This is a mix of post-bop and avant; there are heads for each track, but use of non-standard timbres associated with "outside" players to color the sound. The quirky, twisting themes are fascinating and catchy; they twirl around themselves like a sonic kaleidoscope. Having two saxophonists plus piano obviously makes this denser than what I reviewed last year, but this is still music with air around the sounds, and some of the comparisons (Konitz, Tristano) are still useful, though I hasten to add that really these guys don't sound overall like anybody but themselves. Well worth picking up, and if you want the vinyl, hurry -- it's a limited edition of 300. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based composer, poet, and editor who recently composed and recorded the soundtrack for director Enrico Cullen's film A Man Full of Days.