Max Light

Chaotic Neutral

Chaotic Neutral is neither. It is off-kilter and sometimes jarring, but deliberately (and very meticulously) so; the angularity and fraught emotion that guitarist-composer Max Light suffuses it with never goes down easy enough to approach neutrality. What it is, though, is complex, shrouded in mystery and endlessly intriguing.

Much of the album’s off-kilter quality comes via its rhythms. Light descends from the Andrew Hill–Guillermo Klein school of adding or subtracting eighth notes from a stable time signature, putting quite a heavy load on the shoulders of bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Steven Crammer. (Particularly the latter: Simply sketching the outlines of the opening “Pathos,” or comping Caleb Curtis’s stritch solo on “Brown Bear,” become akin to drum solos.) Not that the guitarist lets himself off easy, having to navigate the melodies of “Pathos,” “Brown Bear” and the title track — the latter for which pianist Julian Shore, who doubles Light, also gets props — across glitch-like grooves. Yet that gives him a chance to show off some serious chops even before getting to the improvised gymnastics. “Chaotic Neutral” is essentially a master class in cutting paths through tricky meters.

Which surfaces another adjective for Chaotic Neutral: demanding. These rhythms, and their attendant melodies and harmonies, are often uncomfortable at first. Sometimes the payoff comes in track sequencing: if one makes it through the difficult “Pathos,” the prize is the sinuous sunrise of “Vals Quartzite.” Sometimes the smoother foundations yield tougher tunes, as on the delicate, eerie “Is It True” and “Wash.” But there’s always a foothold of beauty tucked in somewhere, as in Shore’s gorgeous rumination on “Is It True.” And sometimes the jagged stuff is its own reward: Check the witty, Thelonious Monk-like lope of “Brown Bear” for proof.

Contrary to his name, Light doesn’t do light material. But for the listener, heavy lifting comes with heavy recompense.

Yelena Eckemoff

Romance Of The Moon
(L & H Production)

Yelena Eckemoff has drawn from a tonal palette of deep greens and blues in crafting the 13 compositions for her latest project, Romance Of The Moon, which features Sardinian trumpet player Paolo Fresu as the primary lead voice for her instrumental interpretations of 13 poems by the Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca (1898–1936). The Russian-born pianist, who is so focused on expanding her already wide-ranging body of compositional work that she no longer performs live, has produced at least one new recording every year since she released her breakout concept album Cold Sun in 2010. Long based in North Carolina, she’s known for choosing some of the finest improvisers in Europe and and the U.S. to interpret and record her music. Romance Of The Moon fits her established M.O. to a “T,” with the Rome-based rhythm section of bassist Luca Bulgarelli and drummer Stephano Bagnoli providing hypersensitive support and Italian guitar maestro Riccardo Bertuzzi replacing Fresu on four tracks. The Romance Of The Moon is a gentle, thoughtfully paced collection of aural watercolors that come across as somber, mournful laments spattered with moments of stormy anguish and oozing with soothing doses of whimsical humor. The album cover and booklet art, which Eckemoff painted herself, represent the mood of not just the music within, but also the very poems and text that inspire it. Eckemoff provides her own English-language translation of each poem in the booklet, so you can get right to the heart of the source material and reap more extensive rewards than you’d get by listening alone. The musicians, too, were provided with translations — in Italian — to help them fully absorb the music and its poetic messages. From concept to completion, Romance Of The Moon marks yet another major success for the classically schooled Eckemoff, whose inherently selfless music is only finished “when recorded with jazz musicians,” she says. “I design the project for them to be able to express themselves.”

Jacky Terrasson

Moving On

Jacky Terrasson’s music has always been a marvelous melding of the complex and the understated. Moving On, his latest album, demonstrates both sides of this equation with fantastic results. There’s so much going on here. The theme of this recording comes from the pianist’s move back to France after spending a good portion of his career in New York City. The music demonstrates his love for both the push and pull of life. And the 15 songs on this set add to that yin–yang dichotomy, with two trios playing the tunes. Bassist Sylvain Romano and drummer Lukmil Perez, the French trio, join Terrasson for six tunes. Bassist Kenny Davis and Alvester join him as the American trio. The music is complex, but in the pocket. His pianism serves both trios well, as Terrasson plays challenging passages with such ease that the listener can just sit back and feel a rush of sound wash over them. Terrasson kicks off the album with his French trio’s total and impressive reimagining of “Beseme Mucho,” the classic bolero written by Consuelo Velázquez. Terrasson, Romano and Perez take the tune at a heartbreaking adagio, giving it an almost classical reverence. On the flip side, the American trio delivers the album’s title track as a fast-paced, raise-the-roof, feel-good jam demonstrating all the excitement that a new chapter in one’s life can offer. It’s a Terrasson original that flows with positive vibes, as do many of his compositions, like “R&B” or the slow-burning “Edit (Piaf)” from the album. Terrasson also treats us to some really great guest spots and standards. Grégoire Maret joins in on truly fun version of the mega-hit “Happy,” complete with vocal spots by Camille Bertault and Karen Guiock Thuram. Drummer Billy Hart steps in for a turn on “Misty (NYC Take).” Other treats include “My Baby Just Cares For Me” with a terrific guest vocal by Guiock-Thuram; Est-ce que tu me suis?” with another terrific vocal by Bertault; and “Enfin,” a Terrasson original with Maret guesting. Hart also takes the drum chair for the album’s outro, “Theme From New York, New York.” It’s a fitting 53-second ditty to wrap up a thoughtful set that says “goodbye and thanks” to one home and “hello, can’t wait to see you” to a new one. Terrasson’s love letter is beautifully delivered to both.

Nicola Caminiti

Vivid Tales Of A Blurry Self-Portrait
(Independent Release)

Alto and soprano saxophonist Nicola Caminiti’s debut album is a thing of beauty. He identifies it as a somewhat abstruse concept album, “a non-chronological narration of my journey in this world.” While it explains the care he takes with the music, the listener need not know even that much to appreciate the stately and meditative post-bop therein.

Caminiti is remarkably facile on his axe(s), and he wastes no time demonstrating it with the long, loquacious, angular-but-swooping alto lines he unfurls on the second track, “Elliptical Biking.” (Such lines resurface in knobbier, more dissonant guises on “Adam Arturo” and “Cloudy In(to) The Sky.”) This is expected; debut albums about proving oneself. But Caminiti is at his best when he eases up on that aspect. “City Lights (and deep darkness),” the keystone of the album’s 11 tracks, is a medium-slow, long-note and lyrical melody; in another context it might be a vocal line for Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. Caminiti (on soprano) plays it with grace and pathos, with sensitive accompaniment from pianist Lex Korten, bassist Ben Tiberio and drummer Miguel Russell. His solo still gives him a chance to flex his chops without sacrificing the lyricism.

Better still are the ballads. The mournful “Farewell Too Soon” takes a well-developed journey from intangible sadness to catharsis, and the fragile “Crowded Solitude” is treated with an almost unbearably light touch. Both cases show that Caminiti has a powerful musical empathy with Korten. Whether this quartet is a session pick-up group or a standing, working band is yet to be seen, but the saxophonist and pianist’s partnership is one that should continue.

Mike Holober & The Gotham Jazz Orchestra

This Rock We’re On: Imaginary Letters

Mike Holober’s Gotham Jazz Orchestra brings big-city virtuosity and rarefied sensibility to a double-disc, multi-movement program of original compositions inspired by the great outdoors and overflowing with the insights of its six protagonists: prominent environmental activists and artists who’ve dedicated their lives to protecting America’s beautiful landscapes and endangered natural resources. This Rock We’re On: Imaginary Letters is an utterly moving, long-form suite that finds pianist Holober — a lifelong nature enthusiast with a passion for canoeing and hiking in the pristine lakes and woods of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin — at the height of his deep-rooted composing/arranging expertise. A grand-scale masterwork, the album gracefully intersperses the leader’s grandiose jazz-meets-classical charts with sparser, vocals-centered art songs that convey the earnestness shared among champions of the conservationist movement in the form of Holober’s ghost-written correspondences, poetically rendered here by up-and-coming Brazilian singer Jamile Staevie Ayres. The ace instrumentalists in the Gotham Jazz Orchestra, drawn from the highest ranks of jazz and classical players, lend eloquence and heft to Holober’s save-the-planet message; they include tenor saxophonist Jason Rigby, alto saxophonist Ben Kono, multi-reedist Charles Pillow, trumpeter/flugelhornist Marvin Stamm, drummer Jared Schonig, guitarist Nir Felder and the prominently featured cellist Jody Redhage Ferber, among numerous other notables. The ensemble is augmented by two special guests, saxophonist Chris Potter and bassist John Patitucci, who fully embrace the group’s shared vision with gusto and simpatico. You won’t need a boat, a tent or a detailed map to enjoy This Rock We’re On, but listeners who’ve paddled their way through the Boundary Waters in the past might easily imagine the call of the loon inviting them back for a return trip.

On Sale Now
August 2024
72nd Annual Critics Poll
Look Inside
Print | Digital | iPad