They Must Walk The Bridge

Gerald Cleaver & Violet Hour Live at Firehouse 12 (Sunnyside)

The solos can be wise and the chemistry can be deep, but if a performance of what’s traditionally deemed hard bop is lacking a clear blend of enthusiasm and cohesion, then something’s off. Vigor is the music’s key element, often yielding its own rewards while generating a nutritional commotion. If you were lucky enough to have caught drummer Gerald Cleaver’s Violet Hour ensemble at one of its gigs 15 or so years ago, you know the sextet wasn’t lacking in the vehemence department. Their Detroit record, recorded at Brooklyn’s Barbès in 2006, illustrates their collective charisma. This new disc from a New Haven gig of the same era makes the group’s brawn even more obvious. Everywhere you turn, ardor carries the day.

The Motor City native was a recent New York arrival when he built this band of bassist Chris Lightcap, pianist Ben Waltzer, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, tenor player JD Allen and reed whiz Andrew Bishop. His love of trad swing and its ever-mutating offshoots found him blending modernist twists into the string-of-solos architecture that helped define the hard bop realm. From the tempo-setting snare cracks of “Pilgrim’s Progress” on, Live at Firehouse 12 is ablaze with exclamation, its force increasing with every new exchange of ideas. The ball gets moved quickly here; there’s lots of behind-the-back passes, three-point swishes and full court razzle-dazzle. The animation suits the tunes, a clutch of deeply legible themes the group bends in all sorts of ways.

Bishop’s use of bass clarinet, Pelt’s harmonic savvy, and the leader’s design vision occasionally converge to make the record’s temperament seem like an unholy blend of Eric Dolphy’s Live at the Five Spot and Clifford Brown & Max Roach’s At Basin Street. Allen’s poetic aggression on “Silly One,” Lightcap’s traversing on “Tale Of Bricks,” some sweet ‘n’ sour filigree by Bishop in unexpected spots – when mixed with Cleaver’s ferocious pulse, it all blossoms into a must-hear document of early-aughts Gotham creativity.


I Was Minding My Own Business, Where Were You?

Nick Dunston Atlantic Extraction (Out Of Your Head)

Nick Dunston didn’t have a particular ensemble sound in his head when he built his new quintet last year. He just hoped a handful of committed improvisers would naturally morph into a working band, sharing their savvy and collectively shaping a music that deep-sixed the constraints of  idiom. Guess what? Dude’s dream came true. Atlantic Extraction’s debut is an engaging date that offers unique vista after unique vista, coming on like a suite regardless of how far-flung any of its individual elements seem to be. 

The young bassist, who has swooped onto the New York jazz scene with surprising velocity in the last two years, has myriad interests. So the terrain of this program’s 16 tracks is in constant flux; his embrace of modern classical and abstract improv lingos informs many of the vignettes. A guitar, flute, drums, violin and bass outfit has innumerable textures to investigate, and Team Dunston’s curiosity gets the green light at every turn. Plus, those experimental gambits are bolstered by several arrangement insights. 

That means there are solo tracks as well as passages by  pared-down versions of the group. Luminous crescendos that exude a natural radiance. Poetic reveries that thrill with their commitment to pith. Frenzied drama that manages to exude grace. Simple taps and gurgles that conjure the natural world. “String Solo No. 2” actually works as a percussion piece, with Tal Yalamon tapping a parade of feels from his guitar. One section of “Contraband Peanut Butter,” finds Ledah Finck’s violin drone stabilizing a swirl of hubbub just aching to boil over. Dunston has a way with suspense, and his design game is strong. At some points, it’s as if Air was interpreting Anthony Davis’ I’ve Known Rivers or Leroy Jenkins’ Legend of Ai Glatson. Or both at once.

The bassist has worked with Tyshawn Sorey, Dave Douglas and Amirtha Kidambi. A recent video portrait for NYC’s Roulette performance space found him touting influences including Bartok and August Wilson. He’s said his perspective is  informed by the AACM and BAG, and “SS Nemesis” features a momentary “Oh Susanna” reference. Seems this broad-reaching testament to inclusion is also a refutation of formulaic expectations. Long story short: Dunston has made the debut of the year, and it’s likely the beauty of its power will resonate for much longer than that. 


Out Of Your Head

Nick Dunston BandCamp 



No Quid Pro Quo

Happy Birthday Joni Mitchell

ECM at 50 – Tracks That Stick With You



The first ECM title I bought was either Marion Brown’s Afternoon Of a Georgia Faun or Corea/Holland/Altschul’s A.R.C. Can’t really remember. But I do remember once having to put Bobo Stentson’s Underwear back in the racks because I didn’t have enough money. Maybe because I was getting that Bailey/Holland duet album. Favorite early titles through the decades are many, but definitely Facing YouThe Colours of Chloë, Conference of the Birds, Illusion Suite, Bremen/Lausanne, Conception Vessel, The Jewel in the Lotus, Eon, Gnu High, Silent Feet, and Emerald Tears were big in Macnieville. I recall David Breskin pointing to Jarrett’s Sun Bear box and saying “I’ll take it” when I was working in a Providence record store. Same place same time: when Carla Bley’s Watt titles got an ECM ride. Did that start with Social Studies? Another biggie for me. Things took off when Manfred tapped the outcats for Nice Guys and Divine Love and Special Edition and Contrasts and Bitter Funeral Beer. Here’s a thank you to him for bringing the world Meredith Monk. The first album I reviewed for Musician mag was Frisell’s Rambler. I just found my Boston Globe review of The Third Decade in the basement last summer. And these days keeping in touch with Edition of Contemporary Music has led lots of listeners back to New York with Snakeoil and Larry Grenadier and Billy Hart and Andrew Cyrille and Mike Formanek and Chris Potter and Aaron Parks. Miles to go, I bet. Here are 50 pieces I always return to.

(put the spotify crossfade on 10 seconds for this list) 

And RIP to Jan Erik Kongshaug, master engineer and co-architect of ECM’s sonic personality.

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