I saw the Vijay Iyer trio at Birdland in midtown Manhattan two weeks ago. It was a great show. Most of the songs were from the band's new CD, Accelerando (which I raved about in my March 31 blog post), some were from earlier albums; all were riveting. The trio weaves in and out of patterns with a swinging agility. Iyer plays piano with precision yet gusto; he could have been a master interpreter of Liszt or Ligeti, had he chosen that direction. If you have a chance to hear this group live, take it.
But my main purpose here is to correct something I wrote in that earlier post about the album's sonics, namely that "the drums have that digital swish (I'd like to hear the ride cymbal ring and the bass drum boom once in a while)." Well, after watching the group in person, I have to conclude that the drummer, Marcus Gilmore, doesn't like to hear those things very much. He tightens his drum heads more than any drummer I've seen (he re-tightened them several times during the show), to the point where banging them (or the cymbals, which I didn't see him tighten, but he must have before the set) produces almost no decay. He seems to aim for razor-sharp control of his share of the rhythm.
In other words, the drum sound you hear on Accelerando, like it or not, comes quite close to the sound of Gilmore live. The real thing swishes forth a bit more air, but the difference isn't huge; if I'd known what he sounds like in person before hearing the disc, I wouldn't have criticized anything. Apologies to the engineer, Chris Allen.
Paul Bley's Play Blue: Oslo Concert (on the ECM label) is a bracing solo piano album. Think Keith Jarrett, with less Rachmaninoff and more Monk, but the distinctions sway on the margins. Bley too is a romantic improviser, immersed in jazz idiom but classically trained (and he lets it show, though less showily than Jarrett).
Paul Bley is featured on The Montreal Tapes, with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian.
I missed the chance to send off an R.I.P. to the jazz pianist Paul Bley, who died on January 3, at the age of 83, so I'm catching up with this advance notice of a free memorial concert to be held this Thursday night, February 11, featuring piano solos by seven of his acolytesmost notably Ethan Iverson and Frank Kimbrough, whom I've lauded on this page many times.
The wondrous drummer Paul Motian died Tuesday morning at the age of 80 (he didn't look much older than 60), and New York, the only city where he ever played for the past decade (and he seemed to be playing somewhere all the time), feels a little emptier.
Speakers Corner Records, the German audiophile vinyl reissue label (distributed in the U.S. by Acoustic Sounds), has one of the more diverse jazz catalogues, drawn from a variety of golden-age labels (Verve, RCA, Impulse, Columbia, among others). Three new additions are worth mining:
There's a retro, Heathkit vibe to the curiously capitalized PrimaLuna ProLogue Eight CD player: a shelf of glowing tubes and a chunky transformer case perched atop a plain black chassis. But on closer inspection, it seems there's much more going on here. The chassis is made of heavy-gauge steel, with (according to the manual) a "five-coat, high-gloss, automotive finish," each coating hand-rubbed and -polished. The tube sockets are ceramic, the output jacks gold-plated. Inside, separate toroidal transformers power each channel. Custom-designed isolation transformers separate the analog and digital devices, to reduce noise. The power supply incorporates 11 separate regulation circuits. The output stage is dual-mono with zero feedback. Audio-handling chips include a Burr-Brown SRC4192 that upsamples "Red Book" data to 24-bit/192kHz, and one 24-bit Burr-Brown PCM1792 DAC per channel. Only the tiny silver control buttons (on the otherwise hefty faceplate of machined aluminum) betray a whiff of chintz.
Soon after raving over Fred Hersch’s new piano-trio album, Whirl, I learned that it was also available on 180-gram vinyl. I’ve since obtained a pressing and can report that, good as the CD sounded, the LP sounds considerably better.
Ran Blake may be the most unjustly obscure jazz pianist out there, so it's worth notingshouting, eventhat he has three new albums that rank in the top tier of his career: Cocktails at Dusk (Impulse!), The Road Keeps Winding (Red Piano), and Kitano Noir (Sunnyside).
Among the many compelling jazz pianists still around, Ran Blake may be the oddest (and the most unjustly, though understandably, obscure). He can’t swing for more than a few bars; he tends to change keys at random intervals; for this reason, he usually plays solo, figuring that few musicians have the patience for his quirks (though some of his best albums—The Short Life of Barbara Monk, Suffield Gothic, That Certain Feeling, and Masters from Different Worlds—were collaborative efforts, involving such established artists as Steve Lacy, Clifford Jordan, and Houston Person). Yet there’s magic in Blake’s music; his chords, dissonant but heartfelt, seem to waft out of a dream. Now in his 70s, a longtime teacher at the New England Conservatory, Blake has called himself a filmmaker who doesn’t know how to hold a camera, and his albums all have a cinematic flavor. (Many years ago, he recorded the soundtrack of Hitchcock’s Vertigo and told me afterward that he could see scenes of the film in his head while he was playing.) Even when not playing movie themes, his songs possess a narrative impulse; he’s a very instinctive pianist (by his own admission, he’s not a strong sight-reader), and he seems to have some weird synaptic nerve that translates images in his brain to chords and intervals in his fingers.