Billy Lester has a record out; the trio From Scratch with Rufus Reid and Matt Wilson. Producer Elan Mehler explains:
Billy studied with the great pianist and educator Sal Mosca for 16 years. These were intense lessons devoted largely to ear training exercises, transcriptions, and endless harmonic configurations. At the age of 32, Billy found himself in a crisis of identity. After delving so deeply for so many of his formative years into the techniques of Sal (and Lennie Tristano, Sal’s mentor), Billy had no idea what his own musical identity was. One morning, Billy sat down at the piano, closed his eyes and focused on his own emotional state. He found, if he concentrated long enough, that the feelings he had in that moment had their own sound. He reached out one hand and found that note on the piano. This experience, of playing one “true” note, flooded him with gratitude. Billy says that that moment, in his early thirties, is the moment he became an artist.
Lester’s playing is definitely “post -Tristano” and there is weight to his phrases. And what a story! It’s so great that Lester finally documented his unusual art. Relevant webpage is here.
I love mid-century American composers, and through casual researches I’ve heard a bit of Robert Palmer over the years. The Toccata Ostinato played by William Kapell is driving and octotonic; even more to my taste is the romantic Second Sonata recorded by Yvar Mikhashoff on a classic LP alongside other excellent mid-century sonatas by Jack Beeson and Hunter Johnson.
Adam Tendler has released Robert Palmer: Piano Music.
Palmer’s unique musical language combined a deeply emotional impulse with complex counterpoint and rhythmic structures, drawing comparisons to Hindemith, Bartók, Lou Harrison, even Brahms. Aaron Copland famously included Palmer on his 1948 list of seven composers whom he considered “the best we have to offer among the new generation,” a list that included Lukas Foss, Leonard Bernstein, and John Cage.
This recording, the first devoted solely to the work of this enigmatic and still-unsung hero of American composition, comprises the bulk of his landmark piano works.
I’m still assessing all of the music on Tendler’s fine disc. As of now, I definitely declare the compact and rather Chopinesque Second Sonata a keeper, something that will be admired by all those with a taste for American classical piano.
Tendler’s mission is eminently worthy; I fervently wish every composer of note had such a devoted and skilled advocate. Further reading: In Search of Robert Palmer.
Jazz iconoclast Benoît Delbecq is an old friend (see DTM interview); virtuoso classical violinist Mandhira de Saram is a more recent associate. I didn’t expect them to put out an album together but it really works. Mandhira leads the Ligeti Quartet but can also improvise in a contemporary style. At this point, the European scene has many proficient musicians trained in old European idioms who can also perform diverse concerts with absolutely no sheet music. It’s an interesting time. As good as things already are, I’m also excited about the limitless prospects for creative music in a space packed with so much potential kinetic energy.
From the Spinneret Bandcamp page:
Mandhira and Benoît met three years ago in Paris and soon discovered that they loved playing together. They recorded Spinneret in Paris a year later, over a day of quiet, meditative, and sustained sonic crafting, at mysterious distance from the animated music they are both usually drawn to in their own projects. Propelled by a spectacular sense of exploration in sound, time, and texture, together they weave a tapestry of sound which blurs the edges of where one instrument begins and the other ends. With Spinneret, these two internationaly acclaimed players have fostered a new imaginary improvised folklore of slowness that’s unique in many ways.
The music of Scott Joplin is still fresh when played entirely straight. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t need wild new arrangements. Of course we do! Nude Piano
by Petite Feet is an engaging surprise. Ted Reichman’s liner notes (from the Bandcamp page) are helpful.
Shane Simpson, Travis Bliss and Jonathan Starks have used their instruments, their laptops, and their ears to guide this musical contraption into a constantly changing, clangorous, kaleidoscopic mishmosh of time and space.
It’s goofy as hell but you can tell that the performers also simply love the music. Listening to Nude Piano took me back to the first time I heard John Zorn’s Naked City 30 years ago, a moment when so many impossibilities became possible.
For all the masterful jazz on record from its greatest era, there is a dearth of exceptional video. Alan Nahigian sent along an episode of the Afro-Centric TV show Soul featuring a extraordinary cast shot by a team unafraid to let the cameras look closely at the musician’s techniques. From the first moments, a spoken intro over a Freddie Waits drum improvisation, it feels like the door of the time machine closed shut and we are transported back to a hipper, and, frankly, blacker time in the music. Wow. Must-watch TV! I particularly enjoy seeing Waits and Mickey Roker in action during their peak as practitioners. Just too much.