Tag: Jazz

Vienna Art Orchestra – From No Time To Rag Time

The Vienna Art Orchestra was a phenomenal ensemble led by saxophonist, arranger and composer Mathias Ruegg. The original lineup changed over the years, eventually to form a group made up of a jazz big band, with added percussion and woodwind instruments found in the symphonic orchestra. From No Time To Rag Time was the first record I ever heard of them, and right away my first impression was that it is highly virtuosic and advanced music. I was amazed by the level of musicianship from all the players, the complexity of the solos and the interesting orchestration and arrangements.

The opening track, titled Variations about n 508-10 (4g) is a quirky cacophony of sounds that tips the hat on different genres. The piece opens with a fast and complicated line featuring a soprano singer, a xylophone and a woodwind instrument (possibly a clarinet) all playing in unison. The opening phrase leads to a more straightforward section that starts with a canon played by the oboe (imitating a typical jazz walking bass line) then the vocalist enters, and then the trumpet plays a short solo while the percussion provides a steady swing beat. The band goes back to the opening phrase and again is followed by the B section with the walking bass line and trumpet solo. It then repeats back to the first phrase, but this time the drum set plays hits and fills that come unexpectedly, bringing in the band to a chaotic section with a lot of playing by various instruments in full swing mode. Suddenly, the band stops and the piano plays a complex and lengthy solo, with heavy dissonances throughout. After the piano solo the band comes in again, and the saxophone takes the next solo while the ensemble provides support. The piece ends with the vocalist and the trumpet trading lines. We can recognize the influence of jazz and the sound of the swing big bands flirting with classical music, postmodernism aesthetics, atonality and free jazz.

The next track is a slower, cool jazzy tune called Variations About Keep Your Heart Right. 5 of the 8 tracks in this album have the word “Variations” in it, which makes me wonder if indeed they are variations on previous compositions either by the bandleader or by other composers. The saxophones are featured predominantly and there are also memorable vocal lines in unison with the band. After the first dual saxophone solos, the band returns to the opening theme but then shifts gears to a faster tempo, setting up the mood for a cool trombone solo. Following the t-bone comes another saxophone solo, this time longer and without accompaniment, and then the big band kicks in at the same bright tempo as before. Finally, the coda has ensemble hits that are punched by the drum set and has an interesting blend of the different ensemble sections and timbres of the orchestra.

The 3rd track, Variations About Silence, features the soprano, exploring more of the free jazz aesthetics are. Next, the tune Un Poco Loco has more of a latin feel, with lively beats using cowbells and latin percussion and horn lines that have swing phrasing but also a bit of a Spanish flavor. The whole piece is played with a steady upbeat tempo, which is a nice break from the mostly swung rhythm of the previous tracks.

As with many jazz records, this album includes a lyrical jazz ballad called Variations About a Liberate Proposal. The drummer plays with brushes and adds nice effects on the cymbals while the percussionist enhances the tune with different effects using an array of instruments, including gongs, bells, chimes, jingles, maracas and other toys. But the saxophone is the main protagonist here, playing the main themes and lengthy solos while the band lays down the accompaniment. At the very end, the tempo is sped up and the piece ends with complicated phrases played by the saxophone and sung by the soprano in unison, a common trait used throughout the album.

From No Time To Rag Time is an interesting blend of contrasting schools and genres that in my opinion works well in exploring something new, sort of like the Third Stream concept does. This is a record that takes time to digest and thoroughly appreciate its nuances. It is a great piece of art and certainly one of my favorite big band crossover experiments.

Where Jazz and Hip Hop Meet…

For at least the past fifty years, the most important and exciting site of new fusions of music has been in Jazz. Perhaps this is owing to its roots in collective improvisation and musical play, or in Jazz’s consistent pursuit of innovative timbres, rhythms, and forms. Fusions with Latin music go back at least to Charles Mingus (Haitian Fight Song) and the innovations of Miles Davis in fusing Jazz with Rock (See his Bitches Brew) seem to have opened up the possibility of many others. In the past few years, a new fusion with rap and hip-hop has been showing us ways in which two African-American musical innovations can come together in a sort of musical dialogue.

The group “Sélébéyone” takes its name from a Wolof word, meaning “intersection” or a place between the borders where two entities may meet and transform into something entirely new.  That is exactly what happens in their music where the border of hip hop (rap) meets at the edges of jazz. They performed numbers from their recent self-titled album as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival at Merkin Hall on March 27.

January 5, 2016: Steve Lehman & Selebeyon to present New York Premiere and New Recording
Photo by Willie Davis

The group consists of musicians from the United States and Senegal. Steve Lehman and Maciek Lasserre on saxophones, Damion Reid on percussion, bass player Chris Tordini, keyboardist Carlos Homs, and two rappers, HPrizm and Gaston Bandimic.

Bandimic raps in Wolof, the indigenous language of Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritiana. Wolof, interestingly, is not a tonal language, which means that pitch difference does not convey meaning (unlike, say, Mandarin) thus the rhythmic rush of the language and Bandimic’s rapping may come naturally from the language itself. HPrizm, by contrast, offered slower, more resonating lines, often taking advantage of his two-microphone set up, in which one was set to a high reverb, extending his words in a long echoing resonance.

HPrizm has been active in the experimental hip hop scene for some time, especially with his project, the Antipop Consortium Collective.

Drummer Damion Reid is perhaps best known for his work with the Robert Glasper Trio, the inventive trio that won a Grammy for best R&B album with just such a collaboration between Jazz and Hip Hop. His is a cymbal-centered style, that relies less on big resonating toms or typical snares and more on the variety of metals in his kit. This makes some sense in the context of Sélébéyone for the group tends to rely on robust synthesized sounds for its lower register, laying down big electronic textures to fill out those sub-audible ranges. Reid’s cymbals float above this this bass, producing an astonishing variety of timbres and resonances.

The saxophones created thick constellations of sounds, with long arpeggiated gestures that defy harmonic analysis. Lasserre, on soprano, created sonic depth with swirling motions that moved his horn closer to and further from his microphone. The reverb applied to the instrument gave it even more warmth. Lehman’s alto sax playing is virtuosic and defies easy description. The harmonic density of his solos is breathtaking.

The overall effect of this group is electrifying. On the one hand, the music is mesmerizing, with its thick electronic foundation and eddies of saxophones above it all, with shimmering cymbals and brittle piano above it all. On the other hand, their songs are formal structures with breaks for rappers in two languages. The electronics often use recordings of people, not in English, as a starting point, and it would be interesting to know if the rappers were engaging in ideas presented in hat recorded material. To a non-African listener, the effect is one of general African evocation.

HPrizm, Gaston Bandimic, and Maciek Lasserre all practice Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam which, in Senegal, has coalesced in the Mouride Brotherhood, founded in 1883 by Amadou Bomba, to whose memory the group’s last song was dedicated.

The group has uploaded the first song, “Laamb” on Youtube :




Keith Jarrett An Evening of Solo Piano Improvisations

Over the past 45 years, Keith Jarrett and his transcendent improvised solo piano concerts and recordings have helped to redefine the piano in contemporary music, incorporating a broad spectrum of musical languages from jazz and classical to folk and ethnic music traditions. In 2015 his legendary 1975 ECM recording The Koln Concert celebrated its 40th anniversary as the best-selling solo piano recording in history. Considering his most recent ECM recording to be a pinnacle of Mr. Jarrett’s career, A Multitude of Angels is a 4-CD box set featuring four complete improvised solo concerts recorded in Italy in October 1996 in Modena, Ferrara, Torino, and Genova


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Steve Lehman & Sélébéyone

The new collaborative project Sélébéyone takes the conversation between jazz and hip hop to “feverish new heights” (The WIRE), drawing from Senegalese Rap, French Spectral Music, Modern Jazz, Underground Hip-Hop, Interactive Electronic and beyond. Composer and saxophonist Steve Lehman leads the international ensemble, which features HPrizm (vocals, English), Gaston Bandimic (vocals, Wolof), Maciek Lasserre (sax/electronics), Carlos Homs (keyboards), Chris Tordini (bass) and Damion Reid (drum set).

Thums Up (Vijay Iyer, Himanshu Suri, Rafiq Bhatia, Kassa Overall) & Arooj Aftab

The trailblazing, Grammy-nominated jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer joins forces with an all-star ensemble of equally brilliant, inventive, and musically multilingual performer/composers Himanshu Suri (formerly of Das Racist), guitarist Rafiq Bhatia (Son Lux) and drummer/rapper Kassa Overall for a voyage across multiple musical landscapes, articulated by the individual brilliance of the four collaborators. Pakistani vocalist/composer Arooj Aftab will join Thums Up and also perform a set of her own songs with Leo Genovese, piano; Jorn Bielfeldt, drums; and Yusuke Yamamoto, synths.

Ambrose Akinmusire & Kool A.D. with Mivos Quartet

Presented in partnership with Liquid Music
Jazz trumpet virtuoso Ambrose Akinmusire, hailed by PopMatters as “one of the very best musicians in jazz–or any other style of music,” joins post-modern rapper Kool A.D., known for his “social consciousness infused irreverence” (Colorlines), for the premiere of a new chamber work that pushes the boundaries of jazz and hip hop. Guided by Akinmusire’s “strong aesthetic compass” (The New York Times), this uniquely explorative and expressive world premiere collaboration will feature the “fearless, precise and forward-looking” (The Chicago Reader) Mivos Quartet alongside pianist Sam Harris and drummer Marcus Gilmore.