March 2021 Jazz Record Reviews

Michael Feinberg: From Where We Came
Feinberg, bass; Dave Liebman, soprano saxophone; Noah Preminger, tenor saxophone; Gary Versace, piano; Ian Froman, drums
SteepleChase SCCD 31902 (CD, available as download). 2020. Nils Winther, prod.; Chris Sulit, eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

One of the deepest, richest repositories of modern mainstream American jazz is not in America but in Denmark, where Nils Winther has operated his SteepleChase label for almost half a century. From Where We Came is representative of Winther's work. He finds creative, emerging musicians and records them in the best studios, including Chris Sulit's Trading 8s in Paramus, New Jersey.

It is common for young leaders to bring in heavy hitters, for credibility. Dave Liebman, Noah Preminger, and Gary Versace play brilliantly, but they never are out for themselves. Rather, they sound dedicated to elaborating Feinberg's album concept.

Eight original compositions are named for the hometowns of artists and athletes who inspired and shaped Feinberg. "Nogales," the Arizona birthplace of Charles Mingus, channels Mingus as a looming presence, from the powerful introductory bass cadenza to the wild, whirling ensemble. Some-times the connections are less obvious: "Hamlet" is John Coltrane's birthplace in North Carolina. Liebman and Preminger don't sound like him when they solo. Instead, they offer their own spontaneous wonder and praise. "Tryon" is for Nina Simone, who was born in the segregated American South of Tryon, North Carolina, in 1933, and denied a career in classical music because of her race. "Tryon" is protest and lament. Preminger's dark calls and Liebman's vivid cries flow all around and through one another, while Versace's piano chimes, Feinberg's bass circles, and Ian Froman's drums rumble.—Thomas Conrad


J. Peter Schwalm/Arve Henriksen: Neuzeit
J. Peter Schwalm, pianos, electronics, programming; Arve Henriksen, trumpets, percussion, synthesizer, voices.
RareNoiseRecords RNR0125 (CD, also available as LP, download). 2020. J. Peter Schwalm, prod.; J. Peter Schwalm, Arve Henriksen, engs.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Based in London, RareNoiseRecords is committed to erasing boundaries around jazz. Grab any five RareNoise releases, and you are likely to be alienated by one, thrilled by at least one, and aesthetically realigned by all five.

Press notes state, "Neuzeit is not only a sonic commentary on this unstable age but a product of it." German electroacoustic composer J. Peter Schwalm and Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen intended to go into a studio in the spring of 2020; the pandemic took away that option; they collaborated long-distance. Schwalm crafted compositions in Germany and sent mixes to Henriksen at his studio in Sweden. They spoke on the phone about tempo and dynamics. Henriksen recorded his parts. Schwalm mixed, and edited the finished product at a studio in Frankfurt.

The result is cinematic, austere, strange, and captivating. Schwalm is the auteur, with his fluid forms and diverse, synthesized sonorities—but Henriksen is the star. He responds to Schwalm's evolving environments with continuous tracings of stark new melody. Sometimes, Schwalm prompts him with a minimal rhythm track ("Blütezeit"). Sometimes Schwalm surrounds him with orchestral densities ("Schonzeit"). Always, Henriksen's trumpet lines, immersed in the moment, are chilling in their loneliness and finality.

For more than a decade, RareNoise has been at the forefront where electronics and acoustic jazz meet. Neuzeit may be the most essential example to date.—Thomas Conrad


Andrew Hill: Passing Ships
Hill, piano; Woody Shaw, Dizzy Reece, trumpet; Joe Farrell, saxes, flute, English horn; Robert Northern, French horn; Julian Priester, trombone; Howard Johnson, bass clarinet, tuba; Ron Carter, bass; Lenny White, drums
Blue Note (2 LPs). 1969/2020. Michael Cuscuna, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng.; Joe Harley, LP supervisor; Kevin Gray, LP mastering.
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

Andrew Hill's Passing Ships is one of the great lost-tapes albums. Recorded in 1969, it was tossed in the vaults by Blue Note's new corporate owners and remained unknown for three decades, even to discographers, until Hill, recalling it as one of his best sessions, urged Michael Cuscuna to dig it up. Hill was right: It's a masterpiece.

An astonishingly original pianist and composer, Hill came to Blue Note in the early '60s and defined its free-jazz era. Point of Departure and Black Fire are his classics, but Passing Ships marked his peak: an octet session of dense chords and accessible, fresh melodies, each of its seven tracks a distinct exotic voyage. "Imagine the lush tonal colors of Gil Evans combined with the fierce rhythms of Charles Mingus and the dissonant precision of Thelonious Monk, and you get some idea of the music's odd pleasures," I wrote about the album in the New York Times. The band plows through this knotty music with aplomb. Take special notice of Farrell, a protean, underrated horn player whose solos navigate the tightrope of structure and improvisation with fierce, free precision.

This "Tone Poet" release is the album's vinyl debut, mastered from the original analog tapes. This is Van Gelder of the late '60s, so massed horns come off a bit thin, and the piano seems a bit hooded, but otherwise it sounds terrific: The solo horns, the bass walks, the snare-and-cymbal sizzles are right there. By comparison, the original CD sounded flat and compressed.—Fred Kaplan


Sonny Rollins: Rollins in Holland
Rollins, tenor sax; Ruud Jacobs, bass; Han Bennink, drums
Resonance Records (2 CDs/3 LPs). 1967/2020. Zev Feldman, Frank Johensen, David Weiss, prods.; George Klabin, Fran Gala, Bernie Grundman, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics **

Stereophile's music section exists to tout albums that offer good music and good sound, so I hesitated to review this album. A quarter sounds okay; the rest ranges from pretty bad to bad. The music, though, is so stunning—some of the greatest performances by Rollins, one of the great improvisers on tenor sax—that I'd feel remiss not alerting music lovers to its existence.

The album captures Rollins at three sessions in the Netherlands in May 1967—at a recording studio (pretty good sound), a nightclub (pretty bad sound), and the Arnhem Academy of Visual Arts (bad sound, though much improved over long-circulating bootlegs). Rollins plays with two of Holland's most notable jazz musicians, avant-garde drummer Han Bennink (who'd played with Eric Dolphy three years earlier) and Ruud Jacobs, a bassist with a warm, plummy sound that shines through even here. Bennink pushes Rollins out, Jacobs pulls him in, and between the currents the saxophone colossus uncorks some of his most adventurous excursions on disc—notably, a 22-minute cover of "Three Little Words" that locks on to the rhythms of the earth and the pulses of the cosmos in a way unmatched this side of Parker and Coltrane.

The album captures Rollins at a previously undocumented moment: the start of a five-year recording sabbatical between East Broadway Run Down (1966), the finale in his most experimental phase, and his return in '72 with a more toned-down sound. The LP, mastered by Bernie Grundman, has more depth and dynamics than the CD, but the difference isn't huge.—Fred Kaplan

jtshaw's picture

Thomas Conrad and Fred Kaplan have never led me astray, and my jazz collection has benefited immensely from their reviews. Thanks to both JA's who have kept them in the Stereophile arsenal for such a long and productive time.

avanti1960's picture

the first track of the Sonny Rollins CD sounded unbelievable, sublime and nearly perfect in every audio way. after that- low fi all the way. such a shame....