Though his output as a leader is somewhat sparse, guitarist Steve Cardenas brings a vibrancy and a shrewd air of restraint to every outing — the same qualities he’s shown as a sideman with Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Steve Swallow, Ben Allison and many others. On Melody in a Dream, his fourth album since 2000, he includes pieces by Motian, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver and Lee Konitz along with several originals and a standard ballad, “Street of Dreams.” Relying on a modern electric sound full of fluidity and bite, he swings effortlessly in the company of bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Joey Baron. Trumpeter Shane Endsley guests on three tracks.
The trio leads off in a rubato vein with “Just One More Thing” (an oblique comment on “All the Things You Are”), establishing a textural subtlety and openness that persists throughout the date. The original “Ode to Joey,” which marks Endsley’s first appearance, is freer and more assertive, with shifting rhythmic foundations but a clear compositional path. Baron’s “Broken Time,” a bright trio number, involves the players in a round of continual trading — a taste of what’s to come on the Konitz classic “Subconscious-Lee,” where Endsley spars with the leader until they nail the melody together at the end. Monk’s barebones theme “Teo,” a brief but tension-building duo workout for guitar and drums, has a similar quality of spontaneous grit.
Having absorbed the spirit of Paul Motian’s compositions firsthand as a band member, Cardenas brings an unimpeachable authority to the late drummer’s “Once Around the Park” and “In the Year of the Dragon.” On the former he gives Morgan the melody role; on the latter he invites Endsley back to close out the session in a relaxed medium swing feel.
These Motian pieces have a dark and insinuating quality that sets them apart, yet Cardenas plays them straightforwardly as material from the jazz canon, not far removed from Horace Silver’s “Peace.” That is Cardenas in a nutshell: he plugs in and plays, doesn’t overthink, and yet offhandedly summons a deep and meaningful sense of history with every album.
In giving his debut album the title Big Butter and the Eggmen, bassist Noah Garabedian alludes to a 1926 classic (“Big Butter and Egg Man”) by Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five — the band that wrote the book on jazz ensemble intricacy and rhythmic vigor. Even if Garabedian’s music has little outwardly in common with early jazz, his sextet deals with concepts of polyphony, harmony and counterpoint that embody the best aspirations of jazz from its beginning.
Unlike Armstrong’s group, this one has no chordal instrument, and yet the blend and individual soloing skill of tenor saxophonists Kyle Wilson and Anna Webber, alto saxophonist Curtis Macdonald and trumpeter Kenny Warren give the session a bold and complex hue. The rhythm section role, too, is dynamic and flexible. Drummer Evan Hughes, like Garabedian himself, often articulates written parts with or against the horns and adds more compositional layers.
Save for the plaintive finale “Measurements,” beautifully adapted from singer-songwriter James Blake, the date is wholly original. It opens with the stately horn chorale “Gladstone,” briefly setting out what is to come on the far longer third track, “Also a Gladstone,” with its pulsing tom-tom motives, shifting tempos and clever soloing form. The swaying rubato and austere harmony of “Once We Saw a Blimp” harks back to the chamber-jazz feel of the “Gladstone” pieces — a nice shift to follow the rock-influenced and subtly avant-garde “Hippie Havoc.” The tango-like “Opposite Field Power,” with Macdonald’s lead alto framed by staccato repetitions from his fellow horns, creates an altogether different mood and model of interaction. Garabedian chooses this tune for his most sustained bass solo, showcasing his fluid technique and robust natural tone.
My monthly list of recommended CDs, as published in The New York City Jazz Record, September 2014. NOTE: This is the last Six Picks to appear in the paper. From here on I’ll be posting a monthly Top Ten in this space.
Ingrid Laubrock Octet Zürich Concert (Intakt)
By David R. Adler
This is an expanded ensemble effort from saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, but the players from her Sleepthief trio (pianist Liam Noble, drummer Tom Rainey) are tucked away inside the octet. The date starts on a high ethereal plane with the brief “Glasses” but then forges ahead with a set of longer and far more detailed pieces, alive with the timbral possibilities provided by guitarist Mary Halvorson, trumpeter Tom Arthurs, accordionist Ted Reichman, cellist Ben Davis and bassist Drew Gress.
Laubrock aims to balance complex written material with flowing and volatile improvisation, and the result is impeccable. Reichman is prominent on “Novemberdoodle,” his lonely melodic lines assuming new shapes as the band fills out the unraveling harmony and subtle counterpoint. Rainey doubles on xylophone — at times it sounds more like marimba — and adds still more textural elements. Halvorson’s solo feature comes at the beginning of “Chant,” which goes on to highlight Gress and Davis in startling bowed unison passages. The abstract lyrical interplay of piano and cello toward the end is a highlight of the set.
It’s on “Chant” that Laubrock steps forward decisively on tenor sax, and she remains very present on “Matrix,” inviting spirited dialogue with Arthurs’ breathy and unsettled trumpet. Reichman and Halvorson have their own deep duo moment as well toward the conclusion. But if there’s a centerpiece of Zürich Concert it’s the nearly 20-minute-long “Nightbus.” It starts with solo piano, rubato Mingusian discords from the band, a brief taste of the fascinating Laubrock-Rainey duo, beautifully conceived sectional counterpoint that emerges in layer after layer, and then a tightly grooving Rainey solo that opens another new section. Soon Noble is off with a fiercely burning trio interlude with Gress and Rainey. Laubrock’s unison writing in this section is astonishing: Tim Berne-like in its difficulty and angular motion but distinctively hers, down to the last lightning chamber figure that surges up to end the piece.
Expanding on his trio output and his marvelous tabla-inspired albums for solo drum set, drummer Dan Weiss ventures into large-scale composition with the ambitious Fourteen. The disc’s seven tracks run together without pause, and though the ensemble swells to 14 members, the first 90 seconds feature Weiss with just his regular trio mates, pianist Jacob Sacks and bassist Thomas Morgan. Sacks opens alone with strong articulation, generating counterpoint in a vague tonality before Weiss abruptly joins, as if breaking through the door. The jolt of that initial entrance says much about Weiss as an artist: full of eccentric spark but controlled, as ready to pounce as he is to pull back.
Surprises like these, both jarring and exceedingly gentle, occur throughout the work. Some passages take on a chamber-like quality thanks to Matt Mitchell on glockenspiel and organ, Katie Andrews on harp and Miles Okazaki on classical guitar. (Okazaki also does some of his grungiest electric playing on record as well.) Vocalists Lana Cenčić, Judith Berkson and Maria Neckam bring a choral element, singing wordlessly with great rhythmic finesse and reaching uncanny high-register extremes in “Part Six.” David Binney and Ohad Talmor unleash on alto and tenor saxophone respectively, while trombonists Jacob Garchik and Ben Gerstein intersect most notably on the sparse duo intro of “Part Five.”
The groove syntax of Fourteen is fluid but broken up, unstable, something Weiss has honed and documented in his trio and sideman sessions as well. The slow heaving beat of “Part One” hints at his metal influences, but soon it’s on to Meredith Monk-like minimalist patterns toward the end of “Part Two,” and ultimately no drums at all on the concluding “Part Seven.” There, Garchik supplies a low tuba drone as Sacks plays rubato and voices rise and fall softly. At a midpoint when the harp and guitar join, it’s almost the inverse of the jolt from the first track. The singers come in too, sounding like flutes, hovering at an implied tempo until the music disappears.