Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Alex Weitz, Luma

Alex Weitz
Independent (2017)

by Raul da Gama
There are many ways to make an uplifting album, but one that manages to convey its deeply personal sources of inspiration, while at the same time welcoming the listener into the music, is surely one of the most satisfying. So it is with this second outing for the tenor saxophone player Alex Weitz’s highly commendable quartet recording Luma. Here is an album that offers pieces inspired by real-world ideas and the intellect, inextricably rooted in the concreteness of human existence with unrestrained flights of improvisation acting as the glue that holds it all together. All the while one has a sense that ‘ideas’ and ‘intellect’ seem to drive what appear to be living soundtracks infused with the kind of heady imagination that transforms their resonances into a series of vivacious musical adventures that may also be construed as one extended one, perhaps. However the experience is perceived, the fact that it is cinematic in an epic sort of way is inescapable. This also means that each of the pieces though not necessarily connected by theme, are certainly one of transcendental, spiritual kind at any rate. And, as it was with Mr. Weitz’ previous recording, Chroma, it is impossible not to be knocked out by the sheer creative firepower of the artist.

There is a predominantly melancholic, or at least contemplative, cast to the set of 9 pieces or movements (depending on which camp you happen to fall into). At any given time Alex Weitz engages pianist Tal Cohen, bassist Ben Tiberio and drummer Michael Piolet – together or separately – as he intersperses ensemble passages with soloing or duo conversations between himself and one or all of the other musicians. Together with the other musician(s) Mr. Weitz roams the musical topography of the composition mining its theme with startling short-form improvisations. Ideas are trussed, then released and shred; musical thoughts and viewpoints are pursued in the spur of the moment as well as after pausing from contemplation. As always the results are magnificent (How about the two-part Song for Peace, for instance?) and even when completely invented almost like out-of-body musical experiences they are anchored in what seems to be the here and now. Throughout the performance Alex Weitz’s playing is intimate, restrained, reflective, introspective and deceptively simple, moulding myriad disparate sources into a beautiful and meaningful whole. Through it all, there are also both orchestral arrangements and voicings that are invariably rooted in swing – no matter how subtly the latter characteristic may be suggested.

With Luma – as with Chroma – Alex Weitz has solidified his reputation as a young musician with an accomplished knowledge of history and of where he not only fits in, but where he can ride with this knowledge. He is wise beyond his years as a musician and a tenor saxophonist. And if this latter extension of his being provides a suitable outlet for his virtuosity, it also gives great scope to his artistry. Mr. Weitz uses very little tremolo, his characteristic sound is clean and dry and when he gives us the histrionics of the tenor saxophone, they are elegant, forceful, seemingly weightless and always his own.

Tracks: Did You Know; Outer Noise; Song For Peace – Part 1; Song For Peace – Part 2; Let It Go; Luma; Equilibrium; Azalea; Reminiscence. 

Personnel: Alex Weitz: saxophone; Tal Cohen: piano; Ben Tiberio: bass; Michael Piolet: drums.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Equally Stupid, Escape from The Unhappy Society

Equally Stupid
Escape from The Unhappy Society
Eclipse Music (2017)

By Nolan Debuke

A second offering from Equally Stupid gives forth a multinational crew of musicians with like-minded ideals all within the vein of their first offering Exploding Head (2014), yet directionally a different route.  Blending Rögnvaldsson's biting guitar with saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen's tone, offering a round and warm sound, bound together by David Meier  muscularity and textures on the drums the group three years later shows its group sound in a different light.

Escape from The Unhappy Society is more melodic and spacious, less of a romping affair with an affinity to melody and lyricism. “Fools Paradise” offers textures with lilting sax phrasing and deeper rhythms by the guitarist Rögnvaldsson which I might add is the unusual sound of baritone guitar, lending a darker sound to the overall appreciated swells.  Accompanied by Meirs’ gentle brushed percussion one immediately realizes the groups continued evolution as group sound.

Where their first outing was brash, edgy and in your face, this offering is a more measured and a polished sound, offering the listener an alternative look at the ever-evolving ensemble. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of muscularity, angularity and the interaction between Rögnvaldsson and Lyytinen still gives their original fan base plenty of meat to chew on, as best exhibited on “Paranoia.” The riffing sax and driving guitar weave through and around each other like a childlike chase before embarking on a lyrical solo, then reverting to the romp and play of the intro approach.

A completely playful approach, it is refreshingly good-natured, and all about the art of the music. These three young emerging Europeans have the right approach. The prowess is there and certainly at their fingertips when needed, but also the humanness of their music shines through, keeping it an organic experience that is polished, but not so much that it makes it a sterile listen like so many jazz CDs on the market today.  I have always liked my jazz a bit dirty rice and beans, and this fits the bill.

Track Listing: Politician’s Nightmare; Birdlife; Legacy to the Children of the 21st Century; Fool’s Paradise; Cruising Back to Mother Earth; The Garden of Edward James; Paranoia; Transpiration; Escape from the Unhappy Society. 

Personnel: Sigurdur Rögnvaldsson: baritone guitar; Pauli Lyytinen: tenor, alto, bass saxophones, effects; David Meier: drums.