Tuesday, 17 June 2014

More from Singlespeed: #2 - Cory Wright Outfit: Apples + Oranges

Welcome to part two of Singlespeed Music's releases this month. Today it's the turn of the Cory Wright Outfit with "Apples and Oranges", or is that, as written, "Apples + Oranges"......?

I have to say straight away that this is a new one for me, a great surprise. Singlespeed mentioned in a press release that he was bringing out a record from Cory Wright, unbeknown to me this record was going to blow me out of my chair - sofa in fact.

Next, what type of music is it?

What really defines the music on this release is the excellent ensemble playing, combined with beautifully written charts and arrangements, there isn't one duff track on the record. The underlying trend of the music is built on tradition, and in particular that of hard-bop. Yet, the group, and the compositions, take this much, much further. The music develops in an extremely organic fashion, using some intriguing methods, tempo changes, improvised sections and hot fiery solos. The music sits on neither side of the fence, taking in straight ahead and improvised musical traditions. Cory Wright has put together a set of charts which succeed in the same way that the Ken Vandermark Five have tried in the past. Other groups, such as Atomic or Motif, have also pushed in the same direction, combining accessible melodies with alternative ways of soloing over (or with) material. 

On this record examples of that can be found from the start Freddie Awaits the Sleepers blasts off the record, a theme that could come straight from the Marsalis song-book (with a difference). Great melody, wonderfully arranged interlocking hits and rhythm section breaks, before letting the soloists play their magic over the whole thing.

That's just the beginning of the record, things keep coming at you! Low Impact Critter (tk2) starts off with some great free blowing before coming together for a theme, using an impro/theme/impro/theme type form, to great effect. St. Bruno's Preview (tk3), gives you a breather, a short 'to the point', quasi ballad. Many of the pieces tread a fine path between total freedom and organised melody, added to this the soloists negotiate each piece, fitting in perfectly. One of the key soloists, Evan Francis (alto sax and flute), plays some very fiery solos, using strong sinewy lines to bring tension to the music. Cory Wright also plays some excellent tenor sax, reminding me of Oliver Nelson at times - a way of playing a sax like a composer. He also plays clarinet on The Sea and Space (tk5), giving us new colours in the ensemble sound, and of course the solos also. But the whole ensemble is clearly top notch, Rob Ewing, on trombone, plays a key role in the ensemble's sound, adding fine imaginative solos along the way. Add to that the fine bass and drums team of Lisa Mezzacappa and Jordan Glenn who do a great job of bending over backwards to fit into all situations with equal energy and inventiveness. The album clearly works best listened to as a whole, the shorter pieces - all titled St. Bruno's .... - work as melodic interludes connecting the larger scale pieces.

Finally, as you can see there's plenty to say about this record. It's a top notch album that should be heard, especially by those interested to hear inventive music from the American west coast. This is how one imagines jazz should be, fresh, musical, adventurous, and certainly no pretensions.      

The musicians: Cory Wright - tenor sax & Bb clarinet; Evan Francis - alto sax, flute; Rob Ewing - trombone; Lisa Mezzacappa - bass; Jordan Glenn - drums.


Enjoy the clip from YouTube "Freddy Awaits the Sleepers", which is a pretty good taste of what the album sounds like.

If you enjoy this check some more releases on the Singlespeed Music label.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Some more from Singlespeed: #1 - Aram Shelton's Ton Trio II.

Well here we are again after many months away, surely it's time to get a few posts up and running again? To start the ball rolling are a couple of new releases from Aram Shelton's Singlespeed music label. 

Aram's cooperative label has been gradually developing with nine releases to date so far. The latest three albums are all really top level releases deserving wide-scale attention from all those who are interested, especially those interested in creative improvised music but with composition, structure, melody and swinging free-bop as some of the central points. 

First up is Aram's own release, Ton Trio II: On and On (Singlespeed Music, SSM-013).

I haven't heard the first album from the Ton Trio, released back in 2009, titled "The Way". However, if this latest album is anything to go by I'll be ordering a copy to catch up on this very creative band. The musicians in the trio have now changed with the excellent Alex Vittum drums and Scott Brown on bass and Aram on alto sax, naturally. The thing that struck me most on first listen is the sheer energy and creativity in the music, which stays at a high level throughout the whole album. His style of composition, and playing treads a line between that of (the free-er side) Jackie McLean and the inner melodic logic of Ornette Coleman. Of course it's certainly not a copy, but the sound of Aram's alto, the bass and drums trio set up, make it difficult to ignore such a comparison. The other aspect that brings these giants to mind is the wonderful set of compositions which all have melody at their heart, almost catchy at times. 

As for Aram Shelton, like Jackie McLean, he seems capable of combing several elements into his music.This aspect comes up on his other albums and shows a strong melodic understanding, which also comes across in his playing. Melody is a constant thread throughout the improvisations, even with multi-phonic stabs or wild atonal lines. 

On this album the band pulls together at all levels showing some fine empathy for the compositions, floating through the free-er improvisations moving between free-bop and rubato sections with ease. Orange Poppies (tk2) burns away falling into a free section where the band follow each other like a dog chasing its tail. We Were Told (tk3) is a rubato melody that lays the groundwork for an open piece with plenty of space. Aram works on the tonal possibilities of the sax whilst Alex Vittum's drums accompany. It's also a chance to hear Scott Brown's bass playing as he steps forward on a short solo workout. On and On (tk4) and Let's All Go (tk5) are both pieces which tackle a 3/4 (or 6/8) feel both have bouncing melodies to accompany them. Interestingly both tunes make space for Alex Vittum to play some fine solo drum workouts which build themselves into the compositions. Freshly Pressed (tk7) is an all out free-bop romp, the alto steps aside at one stage to play some gently unison lines with the bass, leaving the drums to keep the high energy going. Findings (tk8) is the closest you come to a ballad on the record. The last track Turncoats show the group swinging hard. There are burning lines from Aram and some highly playful backing from the bass and drums who try to re-think the rhythmic pulse in several different ways, giving a constantly twist to the music. The music finishes by returning to an almost film like melody which is tinged with a certain sadness, a fine ending to a great album.

This splendid album is a 'must' for all those who really enjoy music that sits somewhere between open structures and melodic free-bop. It will surely appeal to anyone who has been (or is) a fan of Jackie McLean. There is a resemblance, although brought up to date, to such classics from Jackie's highly productive period of "Destination..Out", "One Step Beyond", "Old and New Gospel" or  even the musical experiments of Grachan Moncur III*. Of course if you haven't heard Aram's music before then you'll be in for a treat.    


There are a couple of videos from the trio to be found on YouTube, but I found this one "Freshly Pressed" nicely sums up the various aspects of the album 


* = Fine records, which have long been forgotten such as Evolution (1963) and Some Other Stuff (1964).
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