Saturday, July 5, 2008

Leftovers: Contemporary Reissue Edition

When I say "contemporary," I'm neither talking about the jazz record label, Contemporary, nor making a sarcastic reference to the fact that nothing truly contemporary could be reissued; both of the reissues that I'm going to review hear were initially released in roughly the last ten years, so they can tell us a lot about the contemporary jazz scene. Avishai Cohen, the bass player, is sort of like the John the Baptist to Anat Cohen's (no relation) Christ figure in the Israeli jazz scene. After playing with Chick Corea for a while, Avishai Cohen struck out on his own with a record, "Adama," that lightly fused middle-eastern musical ideas with jazz. Granted, it was nothing nearly as bombastic as what John Zorn had been doing with Masada for years already, but the fact that it was a real, live Israeli who had played with Chick Corea who was doing it meant something. The other reissue, Mark Feldman's "Music For Violin Alone," has nothing in common with Cohen's straight-ahead Israeli music. In spite of Feldman's credentials as a founding member of John Zorn's Masada String Trio, "Music For Violin Alone" has most in common with 20th century avant garde music for violin.

"Adama," Avishai Cohen's first album and the harbinger of Israeli dominance in the jazz world in recent years, has worn extremely well. Yes, in recent years people have found newer and arguably more innovative ways of working middle eastern influence into jazz. Yes, Omer Avital is now the go-to bass player for all of the Israelis in New York. No, none of the other players on "Adama" are major players in the Israeli jazz scene in Brooklyn. Who cares? With Steve Wilson on soprano, Jeff Ballard on drums, and either Brad Mehldau or Chick Corea on piano, there is no possible way to go wrong, and everybody plays up to their talent. Cohen himself shines on the funky "Bass Suite #s 1 & 2." Sparks also fly on "Gadu," in which Mehldau and Corea are given a chance to trade off, with Corea on electric keyboards and Mehldau on piano. Recommended.

Mark Feldman's "Music For Violin Alone" is easily one of the most jarring recordings I've heard recently. Falling somewhere between Jenny Scheinman's most avant garde early work and the experimental classical music of composers like George Crumb, Feldman does his best to create music that cannot be ignored. Feldman has played on hundreds of recordings a studio musician, for artists as varied as Zorn and Johnny Cash, but this music is a far cry from virtually anything else he's done as a sideman. Front and center, Feldman's music runs a gamut from the screaming, abrasive noise of "Etude" to the angry motivic rhythms of "Jete" to the pensive, quiet, middle-eastern flavored "Calista-" and that's only over the course of three tracks. "Music For Violin Alone" manages to be all over the place musically while being unmistakable as a work by Feldman. I add this caveat to my reviews of a lot of albums, but "Music For Violin Alone" is not for everyone. It's a far cry from straight ahead jazz, and for some people parts of it could sound like a guy trying to make weird noises with his violin. But, that said, this album is recommended for those with open ears.

Next time I'll have reviews of Nicole Mitchell's latest albums, "Black Unstoppable" and "Xenogenesis Suite."

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