Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 125)





Roy Nathanson’s Sotto Voce, Complicated Day     (Enja / Yellowbird)  

From early days with the Lounge Lizards and Jazz Passengers to his solo conceptual constructs of mythical taverns, this idiosyncratic downtown poet/saxist/bandleader has always exuded a conversational NYC warmth even at his most arch and/or difficult. But rarely before has Nathanson given himself over so utterly to the pleasures of songform. While the assembled brass does rise in sometimes-cacophonous unison and the human beatbox stylings of Napoleon Maddox do burst forth, these seven originals and three interpretations [Isaac Hayes! Frank Loesser!] mostly exist to showcase the easy bonhomie of untrained yet pleasurable voices taking conversational turns at the mic between horn solos - cordially kooky vocal jazz of the Blossom Dearie and Bob Dorough variety. The comradely mood jibes with Nathanson’s familial concerns, from that love poem Roy promised his wife he’d never recite in public to the way the proud father steps aside to feature teenage son Gabriel on Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now”. Right, who needs another version of “I Can See Clearly Now”? If you haven’t yet heard it performed as lilting son montuno, perhaps you. It’s one of several delights on an album with pleasure to spare, ending with the sextet benevolently offering shalom: “Let a warm wind carry you home”.


Miles Davis, Miles At The Fillmore - Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3     (Columbia / Legacy) 

Unlike previous offerings in this clumsily-entitled excavation series, these 1970 Fillmore East concert recordings don’t capture a hitherto “lost quintet” - they simply restore four nights of performances to unfettered full extent. Which means if “Directions” being chopped down from ten minutes to two plus change on the original two-LP Miles Davis At Fillmore always struck you as an outrage, this will be essential listening. If, on the other hand, you’re grateful producer Teo Macero exerted editorial control over a sprawling unit (“Wednesday Miles”; “Saturday Miles”), this may seem mostly of historical/archival importance. As both a Miles connoisseur and Teo admirer, I feel obliged to point out that this unit wasn’t really so sprawling (a quick glance reveals remarkable consistency in both set list and running length) and that the greatest indignity visited upon Miles during his Fillmore residency was opening for Laura Nyro. With four discs under review, there’s caveats for sure: the “bonus” Fillmore West stuff tacked onto Discs 1 and 3 are inessential murk, Steve Grossman’s clock-punching solos chew up time, and “Bitches Brew” proper remains the slow indulgence it was in the studio - bells and whistles and Airto Moreira hooting. But phooey. Jack DeJohnette smokes, Dave Holland rocks the pocket, and Chick Corea/Keith Jarrett plow into mostly unchartered dual-keyboard territory, with Jarrett in particular mining a nasty organ overdrive that takes care of John McLaughlin’s missing guitar. And Miles has yet to discover the wah-wah pedal, which means his trumpet displays a forthrightness he’d soon abandon for texture and technology. As the final night’s surprise appearance of then-new and overtly rockish “Willie Nelson” suggests, things would soon tighten, then loosen, then darken. Few ever sold out with such vengeance.



Roscoe Mitchell With Craig Taborn And Kikanju Baku, Conversations 1     (Wide Hive)

Avant as hell, which isn’t surprising coming from one of destination out’s longest-running emissaries - in case you haven’t revisited it lately, rest assured Mitchell’s 1966 Sound can still peel paint. Opener “Knock And Roll” and closer “Last Train To Clover 5” present the saxophonist at a high-energy peak, his horn flurries offering noise-hounds pure catharsis. Elsewhere, Mitchell tirelessly explores the kinds of tricks that have turned so many away from the likes of AACM: squeaks, hums, spit valve rumblings. Which means sometimes the most fascinating conversations taking place are between pianist/keyboardist Craig Taborn and unknown-to-me percussionist Kikanju Baku. Taborn’s occasional synth/organ squawk can be fun, even when (or especially when) his tricks devolve into space noize. But Baku simply goes nuts, sprawling over his well-equipped kit, chimes and gongs and blocks all surging into the Hamid Drake hi-hat freneticism of “Cracked Roses”. It’ll take care of your avant fix. Just don’t expect any tunes.