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Recent Recordings by Area Musicians
Bassist, composer, orchestra leader, and record company owner Paul Keller is a man whose appetites and enthusiasms seem endless. In addition to being a hard-working musician, he simply enjoys life, family, and his native state of Michigan. He has now combined all of these elements in one music album, The Michigan Jazz Suite (PKO 49), which features fifteen Keller compositions "inspired by people, places and events I've met and visited along the way." He is joined in this venture by of his closest collaborators, trumpeter Paul Finkbeiner, saxophonist Keith Kaminski, trombonist Terry Kimura, clarinetist Dave Bennett, vibraphonist Cary Kocher, pianists Ellen Rowe and Steve Richko, as well as drummers Pete Siers and Sean Dobbins. While each piece stands well on its own — the ballad "Pink and Silver Sands" may very well end up as a standard — the whole CD is obviously conceived as a whole, with shifting moods, rhythms, and instrumentation.
The recital begins with a rolling trio number, followed by a sextet, and by the fourth track we hear only a clarinet/bass duo. While the core of the musicians is derived from Keller's six-piece ensemble, the addition of vibes and clarinet on some tracks, and the use of a piano trio on the first and last parts, help create a sound that differs from any of his other projects. Those familiar with Keller's work will recognize his love of combining elements from modern as well as earlier phases of jazz as well as his dedication to the art of swinging. All the musicians, except the drummers, get solo opportunities, but this is not simply a set of tunes for jamming; Keller has constructed complex arrangements that provide both backgrounds for soloists as well as interludes that link their statements. All in all: a lovely and loving achievement that marks a new phase of Keller's development as an artist!
Among the Michigan musicians who have moved to New York in recent years, two stand out on the international scene: drummer Gerald Cleaver and pianist and keyboard player Craig Taborn. Each has played with the other on many occasions, and has recorded in each other's company; now they have joined forces with the extraordinary bassist William Parker to release a cooperative trio recital Farmers by Nature (AUM Fidelity, AUM053).
The CD consists of six improvisations that were recorded in concert at The Stone in New York City last summer. Listening to the two opening numbers, "Korteh Khah," I kept thinking that one could conceive of this as a distant riff on the first great Bill Evans trio, which reconfigured the piano trio into a group of equal parts rather than soloist with accompaniment.
It all begins with Parker's deliberate bass, with the drummer's comments, and only slowly does the piano enter, with percussive stabs that avoid flowing melody. Each of the six improvisations explores a different feeling and a different dynamic between the three musicians, and the longer pieces such as "Cranes" are built up with great patience and deliberation, imposing tension and release over longer stretches of time than one usually expects, utilizing many different instrumental techniques and interactive strategies to create highly emotional statement.
As a result, the six compositions seem more like a suite; indeed, at their CD release performance at The Stone in January, which was also recorded for release, they played only one long improvisation that never wavered in imaginative playing. It is fascinating to observe that one can still find a completely original manner of construing a piano/bass/drums trio.
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