Archive for March, 2014
Earl MacDonald is a music educator (Jazz Studies; University of Connecticut), composer/arranger and musician (piano). Mirror of The Mind is his fifth album as leader, in which he continues his exploration of combining a diversity of outside influences and inspiration while still feeding off of jazz’s rich history.
The ensemble is a quartet comprised of piano, multi reedist Kris Allen, Christopher Hoffman on cello and Rogerio Boccato on percussion. It is a little bit of a different line up for a quartet but not overly so. The sonorities achieved by the group as a whole always remain interesting but never at the risk of alienating the more casual listeners.
“A Thousand Memories” begins with Earl’s piano in a see-saw pattern and brushed drums whose stuttered beat is perhaps someone’s pulse caught up in a reverie of memory. Opting to go for a cello instead of the standard upright bass is a great idea. Here, it enters the song initially emulating the piano pattern in a rich singing tone. For his solo statement Earl’s piano offers up a cascading run of percussive, clear ringing notes whose pattern is then taken up by the tenor saxophone. The horn’s solo is a long flurry of notes bereft of any discordance and so logically connected to both the piece and the piano solo which had preceded it that it serves to organically move the piece forward. Throughout the piece are two motifs, the see-saw pattern and occurring under that by cello and horn one that is a sort of diagonally upward thrusting pulse point pattern. Towards the end of the song the cello reiterates both themes. The finish is an exhale of the horns breath, softly and the final plink of the piano; the dream over but not forgotten and only for now.
The album is comprised of mostly original compositions with the exception of two covers (“Blackbird” and “I Never told you”). “Blackbird” is refreshingly executed as a fairly straight ahead read. In modern jazz a cover tune or musical quote initially would have some sort of humorous, intellectual or political raison d’etre. As jazz expanded past being music just for the outsiders (artists, intellectuals et al) a cover or musical quote became the starting point for each artist to build their own thing off of. For the past decade or so covers are often deconstructed or reimagined, sometimes distractingly so. The listener metamorphosed into an audience member at a magic show, waiting for the source material to be revealed. The “I” of the artist more often than not taking precedence over the material, what it means to them and not what makes the piece in itself great. In lieu of vocals the soprano saxophone declaims the main melody. It is a relaxed affair without ever lapsing into sounding like a jam band. The ensemble shows great interplay which is harder to organically do on material that is not comprised primarily of virtuosic turns. There is a beautifully buoyant plucked cello solo midway through the piece. The sonics for the entire album are pristine and immediate, lacking that digital coldness which can threaten to remove the humanity from a work.
“Miles Apart” is my favorite piece on the album. It has a laconic, bluesy feel. It is a nicely layered piece. There is a great opening line which has the soprano taking the lead under which a bowed cello can be heard, it being bolstered in turn by the subtle poly rhythmic murmurings of the percussion. The cello has some compelling moments, conjuring up the feel of someone with a stately mien admitting to having the blues without losing their composure as they do so. The long lines of the soprano which end the piece underscoring the point. In some bar or club, the protagonist dressed to the nines, happy to be going home not on account of having had a bad time but because that is the natural order of things. As is to lament what we lost or do not yet possess.
Maxwell Chandler -Midtown-
More information on Earl: http://www.earlmacdonald.com/
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I decide to take a walk in the opposite direction from all that I have learned geographically of my newly adopted city. I walk under a freeway ramp whose concrete columns are cracked and for some reason make me think of an old time taxi dancer now bereft of music. There are some barbeque places and alike, several tiny dive bars dark which seem to be siblings. All being kept propped up by the regulars who in turn are held erect by the cheap vinyl of their stools, stiffened with age and the work week need to eventually get back to it. The side of one of the places had chain link fence whose bottom did not quite reach the ground or perhaps the earth had retreated from its touch. There are the skeletons of several cars with concrete block feet, a graveyard of stilled motion. Objects and their myths. I decide to go in and let myself briefly be anesthetized by whisky hopes and carnival dreams.
The juke box is no good, contrary silence which is what the regulars want as they have heard it all before and are intent upon studying the diminishing returns of their perpetual last rounds. It is all right, I truly am only here for one. I leave without having been offered a word by anyone but I trust they knew I was, as always simpatico.
Walking back I hum to myself, the music lulling me into contemplation. Lately I have been reading the Russians, not just the immortals but the newer greats too (Babel, Solzhenitsyn, Olesha). It has made me contemplate a stoicism which tries to see a little good even in a bad situation without lapsing into any sort of Panglossian blind optimism.
Music no longer has the steadfast genre classifications and while this in itself may not be viewed as a bad thing, there have been some definite negative side effects. Although proper usages for genre terms are more often than not now made vague and irrelevant, a common point of reference is needed for any kind of interaction. Speaking in the broadest sense, for there will always be exceptions to every rule; this has quelled the casual listener’s ability to see and hear things which fall under the mainstream’s radar. With the bottom line almost always winning out, to find anything different one must now make an effort to search, which means it stays largely unknown to people who like music but do not live for it.
As I now strive to see the positive, the good thing to come from this is that those artists following their muse outside of the mainstream are now freed up to draw upon diverse influences differing from what their work may end up as. The freedom caries over too into their ability to incorporate myriad stylistic turns within their own work.
Jason Miles is a Grammy winning producer/composer/musician. From the very start of his career his pedigree shows diversity in the spirit of which he continues to create with today. Within his large and varied palette can be found some pop elements. Pop, not in the pejorative term as used to describe the vapid state of the genre now but harkening back to producers and arrangers like Van Dyke Parks, Quincy Jones and George Martin. He has also introduced components of world music and electronica into the realm of pop and fusion.
A Prayer for the Planet is Global Noize’s second album. As with some of his other projects, here Jason brings in some guest stars: world vocalist Falu and turnbulists/efx maestro DJ Logic among others.
The sound throughout the entire album is pristine. “Tokyo Sunrise” starts with softly ascending electro-washes over which a soprano saxophone played not in the nasal mid-eastern cadence as is so often utilized but with more legato gentle breathy notes, slowly unfurls. There is the percussion of drums intermittently peppered with finger snaps. The piece has the ambience of when one is initially arriving back from the land of slumber. Those first golden ambassadors of the early morning sun waking one as projected fingertips gently caress still closed lids, the soft growing heat signaling an end to the night. There is a churning of bass and vintage sounding synthesizer washes which add richness to the piece from its halfway point. The piece finishes with the sax trailing off, the sun moving down the street to wake the rest of the city, heralding the start of the new day.
“Charisma Love” has world music vocalese by Falu. Although I do not know what she is singing I greatly enjoy the song, which emphasizes the universal aspect of all music and underscores the general philosophy of Jason’s project. There is a compelling mélange of world music meets funk, led by a transistor toned guitar which serves as contrast to the plucked string section swells and soprano saxophone runs. The whole song in general seems to exist within a series of pulses as could be created by seeing a beautiful woman or something as equally enjoyable and perhaps nocturnal.
“Viva La Femme” is my favorite track on the album. It starts off with voice coming as if from a long ways away via a radio. There are layers of percussion and electro flourishes as signal flares that something is about to happen. The melody created by a chant is mirrored by harmonica; some local in a café in Marseilles who plays for change and cannot but help have the ambient surroundings enter into his own music. Bolstered by a dark oscillating ambient churning a rhythmic panting can be heard before a more song-like and melodic vocalese enters. There are some Gitane like scales upon which the melody is built. I can taste Pastis in my mouth as my feet feel the cobblestones of the street. The song successfully creates a layered mélange of electro and acoustic elements. It is a joy derived from music with the music generating an organic near on eroticism. It is all beauty which sets the mind to wandering and toes to tapping.
“Walking On Air” has a great relaxed vibe combining a down-tempo feel with elements of jazz in the soft flute lead voice. Over the entire album, even with guests coming and going, there is cohesiveness to the playing. It never feels like anyone is merely playing a part which will be jig sawed into the rest of the song. Even though there are electronic elements to the songs it is never at the cost of emotion.
With his Global Noize project Jason has set out to create works with various collaborators which ignores any kind of stylistic restrictions in execution or from where they pull in their influences. Subtler and left unsaid is the shown example within this album of how music can be fun, groove and still be art.
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More Information on Jason