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Trio X


Recent Recordings by Area Artists


This installment of our ongoing documentation of recordings from Southeastern Michigan covers the work of musicians who stay close to home, others who are busy touring all over the country, and a pair of releases from a former Ann Arborite.

This Is What We DoDrummer RJ Spangler is one of the busiest and most versatile musicians in our area. Remembered fondly for steering the Sun Messengers, for his work with the late Johnnie Bassett, and most recently for his Planet D Nonet, Spangler is equally at home driving Afro-Beat, bebop, urban blues, or the cosmic excursions of Sun Ra. One of his current steady gigs is at Cliff Bell's jazz club in Detroit, where his organ trio plays every Wednesday night. He has now documented this band on This Is What We Do by R.J. Spangler Trio (RJ Spangler, drums; Duncan McMillan, organ; Ralph Tope, guitar, Eastlawn Records [700261364995]).
This is the classic jazz organ trio, pioneered by Jimmy Smith with guitar and drums but no bass; Spangler's group, however eschews the extrovert, hard-hitting funky bop that such associations bring to mind. The trio seeks its inspiration from the more refined easy swing of organist Big John Patton and guitarist Grant Green.

Three of the six tunes come from Green's repertoire and Tope's guitar playing is clearly influenced by the clean, singing lines of the great Blue Note artist. The recital begins quietly with the standard "Don't Blame Me" and concludes with the laid back shuffle beat of Big John's "Funky Mama." Spangler does what he does best, maintaining a steady, irresistible, driving beat, that allows Tope and McMillan to ride effortlessly above, and their togetherness reflects the experience of a three and a half year weekly residency at Cliff Bell's. There is an intimate quality to the music that has instant appeal; this is perhaps best revealed on the longest track, Duke Pearson's "Idle Moments" from one of Green's classic Blue Note dates. The late-night character of this tune provides the trio with the opportunity to demonstrate just how well it can play with understated emotion, slowly building up tension.

Each member of Spangler's trio is a leader and they all work in other bands playing a wide range of music, but their playing here seems just right as if they were made to play with one another. Lovely stuff!

JunctionThe Hot Club of Detroit continues to evolve in unexpected directions. What began as a Django Reinhardt-inspired Gypsy jazz combo has morphed into a post-modern group that blends together components of traditional, modern and even avant-garde jazz with French chanson, rock, blues, and even country music elements into a vibrant mix. The rhythm guitar of Paul Brady, the lead guitar of Evan Perri, and the accordion and accordina of Julien Labro remain at the core of the Hot Club; they maintain the overall sound blend as well as most of the compositions and arrangements, but two new musicians contribute mightily to the blend: saxophonist and clarinetist Jon Irabagon and bassist Shawn Conley. The latter replaces Andrew Kratzat, who is still recovering from a grave auto accident.

Their newest CD is Junction (hotclubofdetroit.com). For this recording the quintet is augmented on some tracks by saxophonist and clarinetist Andrew Bishop and singer Cyrille Aimee, who now regularly tours with the band.

True to their exploratory commitment, the members of the Hot Club cover a wide range of music on this recital. There is the melancholy "Messe Gitane" that begins with two intertwined clarinets followed by an organ-like accordion passage that blends into "Django Mort," with lyrics by Jean Cocteau written for the guitarist's funeral, sung by Aimee. As it evolves, it becomes a funky jazz ballad, with laid-back rhythm and tenor sax obbligatos, as Aimee and Perry improvise. "Chutzpah," on the other hand, begins as a wild free jazz outing, but eventually turns back to become a Gypsy jazz tune. The title of "Midnight in Detroit" promises some Motown sounds, but is actually a Gallic-inspired waltz! Aimee comes back for Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," which makes few references to the composer's arrangements, changing the atmosphere and rhythm of the song in a unique manner. The judicious use of the many different horns played by Irabagon and Bishop add admirably to the tonal palate of Hot Club and offer some chances for humor as on "Puck Bunny," on which a low-register bass clarinet solo by Bishop is followed Perri's far-out guitar, followed by a low/high reed duet as Irabagon joins in on the high-pitched sopranino sax.

Compositions (Braxton) 2011Bassist and composer James Ilgenfritz was a vital member of the local improvised music scene before moving on to San Diego for further studies and then on to Brooklyn. For some time he has been perfecting a solo recital that covers his idiosyncratic interpretations of compositions by Anthony Braxton, and he has now recorded them on Compositions (Braxton) 2011 (Infrequent Seams IS 1001). Braxton was one of the pioneers of the solo full-length instrumental recording, For Alto from 1968, which was also the year when Barre Phillips recorded his solo bass recital Journal Violone. Many solo instrumental improvised records have appeared since then, but the only bass presentation of the work of one composer that immediately comes to mind is Ornette on Bass by the Polish artist Marcin Ole?.

It is fascinating to observe just how far Ilgenfritz has come since he first toured playing Braxton's music. His playing on this record reflects a complete mastery of the material. Rather than playing literally the notated parts, he seems to take random parts and interpret them with various degrees of precision, as vehicles for variation and improvisation. In this manner, he enters into Braxton's musical world without in any way surrendering his own individuality. Moreover, the original music was written with alto saxophone, ensembles, or trumpets in mind, but Ilgenfritz never waves from his commitment to the technical and timbral idiosyncrasies of his chosen instrument. In his hands these become bass stories, not mere adaptations. His mastery of the instrument is impressive, with a full repertoire of judiciously applied extended techniques, and a highly developed use of the bow. He also knows how to instill this highly abstract music with emotional honesty, with variety, and to bring out beauty from the sound of his bass.

Mind GamesIlgenfritz also appears together with pianist Denman Maroney, alto saxophonist Angelika Niescier and drummer/percussionist Andrew Drury on MiND GAMes (OutNow Recordings ONR 011). Half of the eight tunes on this CD are group improvisations, the rest are two compositions by Ilgenfritz and one each by Maroney and Niescier.

There is a great deal of tonal, rhythmic and thematic variety here, from quiet minimalist explorations to wilder explosions, much of maintaining the "sound of surprise." The opening collective "Ledig House" is on indefinite scraping sounds, which slowly become notes, with saxophone multiphonics eventually morphing into a mournful single line played with full tone.

This then leads to Maroney's playful, fully rhythmic "One Off, or Two." In what follows, the quartet takes up many of these strands, exploring in many directions a variety of sounds, stretching or abandoning predictable rhythms. Sometimes it is difficult to determine which instrument is playing what, but then one or more of them will assert their more common resonances and more traditional role as a rhythm section or lead voice. This endless subversion of traditional roles is one of the most fascinating elements of this recording, which explores many moods from the playful to the somber, with endless variety. Mind games indeed, but although the bass player's name seems consciously missing from the anagram of the title, this is a true collective quartet outing.

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