New to Me: Fly, Contemporary Quartet, Ryan Kisor, Ravel Duo Sonata

It’s been a while since the last installment, so looks like it’s ime for another edition of the series where I recommend albums which have recently jumped up on my radar–some of which may be new, some of which may be not-so-new, some of which I may be the last person on Earth to hear about (are you guys hip to this “Maybe Call Me” thing?). So here are four great records which are New to Me!

Fly — Year of the Snake (2012): This actually is a new one! I was lucky enough to see these guys (Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier, and Jeff Ballard, that is) a few years ago when they released their previous album, the great Sky & Country, and they’re just getting better. The tunes especially are going new places–everybody’s got multiple composing credits and a wide variety of tune types are represented, from the Mingus-y straightahead “Salt & Pepper” to the sound-painting of some of the miniatures that make up the five-part “Western Lands” set. I had a regular trumpet/bass/drums trio for a while in my 20s, and really enjoyed writing music for that format, since–assuming you don’t want to just play tunes (which can be fine, too)–it forces you to do more with less, and makes a case for the whole “restriction as inspiration” idea. (See the Ravel below.) Counterpoint becomes especially important, and Fly makes great use of it on this record–see Grenadier’s “Kingston.” These guys make me want to start writing for that kind of small chord-instrument-free band again.

Contemporary Quartet Plays music of Bacewicz, Kisielewski, Komsta, Lutoslawski, Penderecki (2002): I think this album came to my attention by way of someone on Facebook (like my page here) but I can’t remember who. So thanks, whoever you are! The record consists of free jazz-ish renditions of pieces by contemporary Polish classical composers. You can check out the first track, a version of Penderecki’s Prelude, here. The tonal palette and instrumentation (definitely the clarinet!) gives it shades of some of my favorite work by the great early-60s Jimmy Giuffre 3 (with Bley & Swallow). Some of the tracks are a little on the thorny side, but it definitely has its moments and is worth a look.

Ryan Kisor — Power Source (2009): I’ve heard a fair amount of Ryan Kisor live and on record in a bunch of different formats (from big bands like the LCJO and the Mingus Big Band, to small groups at… Smalls), and he always sounds good, but this record is my favorite thing he’s done so far. It’s a pianoless quartet (a no-doubter band of Chris Potter, James Genus and Gene Jackson) and the format seems to really bring out the stretch in everybody. The tunes are geared towards blowing–two Mingus staples, Ornette’s “Bird Food,” and Potter originals (“Pelog” almost has an Okinawan vibe!) –and everyone delivers, especially Kisor, who has a great sound and fresh ideas, and makes it sound easy. (Side note: Maybe it is, for him! Who knows, all players are not created equal. Sure is nice to listen to, though.)

Music at Marlboro— Ravel: Piano Trio / Sonata for Violin & Cello (2011): This is another one I was hipped to by my friend the voracious music consumer (and improvising vocalist) Lorin Benedict. I picked it up mainly for the duo Sonata (played here by Jaime Laredo and Leslie Parnas), which packs more color and texture into two instruments than other composers could get out of entire orchestras. Written in 1922, it reminds me at times of another favorite of mine, Stravinsky’s then-recent Histoire du Soldat—especially the 2nd movement, seen here:

… while other spots wouldn’t be out of place in a Schoenberg piece, and the blues-scale-y opening of the first movement would fit right in with Gershwin, Milhaud or the other jazz borrowers of the 20s. But since it’s Ravel, the whole thing works cohesively and will further convince you of what an unremitting badass that guy was. As my old professor Henry Martin said, “pretty much everything he wrote was a masterpiece–except ‘Bolero.'” That’s a pretty good sign, when your worst piece is one of the most popular tunes in history!

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