• Birthing Experimental Jazz Improvs

     Haney: Birth of a City

    Jason Kao Hwang, violin. Melanie Dyer, viola. Adam Lane, bass. Tomas Ulrich, cello.
    Julian Priester and Steve Swell, trombones.
    Dave Storrs and Bernard Purdie, percussion.
    Big Round Records 8956
    Total Time:  52:14
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Composer David Haney’s new album Birth of a City is an intriguing collection of conceptualized improvisations.  There are two works here that explore blends of percussion with trombones and string instruments.  The title work is a series of eight different sections that explore rhythmic, or melodic fragments.  These are then improvised between whatever combos Haney intends to explore.  A host of percussion instruments are used to add a variety of intriguing sounds and punctuations with an occasional rhythmic idea providing a foundation from which the other material then springs.  The use of the trombones in the opening section gives the music an almost noir-ish quality.  When this switches to add strings, the music takes on a more intense quality and moves closer to a more classical avant-garde style.  Haney uses interesting bent pitches alongside gongs and different cymbals.  Even the melodic contours of the third part have an almost Asian-quality in their aesthetic.  As each of these different sections plays out, we get a sort of musical birthing image of different parts of this single thematic thread that provides the link between these different sections.  It connects with this concept of birthing sections of a city where different ideas will interact and where the listener seems to stand at one corner that can take them in any one direction.  The music overall has this jazzier underpinning upon which Haney also crafts music that might be more on the aleatoric classical realm, but the harmonic ideas are built around jazz progressions laid against these various explorations of line.  The music moves toward more intense writing as the parts build on one another gradually moving towards using all the different instrumental sounds.  Dissonance becomes far more pronounced as the piece progresses adding to this bustling intensity.  Sometimes, as in the seventh section here, the music has moments of emotive lyricism that move into extreme dissonance.  The work thus moves towards these denser textures becoming more forceful and dramatic culminating in the final smashing together of all the instrumental ideas in an atonal jumble of ideas and sounds.  It is as if the opening music has been deconstructed away from its harmonic and melodic roots to an exhaustive conclusion.  Part three explores a waltz tempo

    The five parts of Variations on a Theme take a specific part of a thematic idea for improvisation and development.  This allows for the creation of a variety of different sonic textures and sounds.  The piece opens with the modified string quartet which lends the music a more classical sensibility.  The cool bass ostinato pattern in the second part, coupled with the brush snare, moves us more into the jazz realm.  The music dissolves into a trombone duet for its final part.

    Birth of a City is in that third-stream universe that brings in aspects of classical chamber music with jazz for a more cerebral experience of musical material.  However, Haney’s lines are quite clear and this allows for an instantaneous entry into the soundworlds that he creates in both of these improvisatory works.  Certainly an album worth exploring for those who like their jazz and classical combos a little chunkier.

  • Hevreh Ensemble Debuts on Ansonica


    A Path of Light
    Hevreh Ensemble: Jeff Adler, bass clarinet/Native American flutes; Judith Dansker, oboe/Native American flute; Laurie Friedman, clarinet/Native American flute; Adam Morrison, piano/keyboards.
    ETHEL: Ralph Farris, viola/vocals/minimoog; Kip Jones and Corin Lee, violins. Dorothy Lawson, cello.
    Shane Shanahan, percussion. George Rush, double bass. Naren Budhkar, tabla.
    Ansonica Records 0013
    Total Time:  49:13
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Ansonica tends to pull together a blend of global music with connections often to both the classical and jazz worlds.  This new release featuring the Hevreh Ensemble fits perfectly with that mission.  The group makes its debut here on the label.  They have traveled throughout Europe to audience and critical acclaim for their unique blend of global musical traditions.  The compositions on this release are by Jeff Adler.

    The listener is invited to come along on a musical journey that explores a few unique global traditions while also offering moments for reflection and deeper contemplation along the way.  The album opens with the jazzier rhythms of Sima de los Huesos which features a gentle lyric line against a jagged propulsive bass line.  The ensembles interesting blend of Native instruments with traditional sounds is rather refreshing and the organ adds an almost 60’s vibe to the opening of the album.  “A Path of Light” moves from a moment of subtlety to a klezmer-like dance which then adds an Indian table for a real ethnic musical fusion.  The music here, as elsewhere, blends engaging melodies with a variety of gentle percussion and mallets creating a sound that has an ancient folk feel that is very much modern in its harmonic and rhythmic funkiness.  From this to a the poignant “A Thousand Questions” with its dark bass clarinet tone against mallet percussion and a plaintive oboe that opens the work.  The primary melodic idea is then continuously transformed as new instrumental colors are added.  Each of the pieces that follow craft fascinating journeys of melody and timbre with beautiful results.  Once in a while the melody takes a rather unusual turn which makes the music ever more interesting.  The use of different keyboards often adds an additional unique color and jazzier reference to the style.  Each track moves through these moments of reflection and dance-like rhythms that create engaging music.  Some of the central pieces begin to move us toward more classical expression with a variety of repeated motifs that often come together with extended harmonies in tracks like “Hacked”.

    Hevreh Ensemble is a distant cousin to the Frederic Hand Jazzantiqua.  What Hand’s group did in blending ancient modes and melodic styles with jazz, Adler’s music does with global musical instruments and gestures.  The use of electronic keyboards adds that modern jazz vibe from time to time with the melodies lending themselves to interpretation that is enhanced by the shifts in instrumental color.  A Path of Light thus creates a steady stream of invitations to explore the ancient and the present.  The result is a very engaging album that is about as unique as one can get as it blurs the lines of New Age, Jazz, Classical, and Global music.