Ellery_eskelin-one_great_day_span3 Misha_mengelberg-root_of_problem_span3 Ran_blake-memory_of_vienna_span3 Matthew_ship-thesis_span3
January/February 1998

Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black
One Great Day…
hatOLOGY
Misha Mengelberg
The Root of The Problem
hatOLOGY
Ran Blake/Anthony Braxton
A Memory Of Vienna
hatOLOGY
Matthew Shipp duo with Joe Morris
Thesis
hatOLOGY

Over the past 22 years, hatmeister Werner Uehlinger has revamped his label several times, changing the format and design of his recordings, as well as creating new series to reflect his expanding interests in jazz, post-serial composition and non-idiomatic approaches to improvisation. For the first time, Uehlinger cites market conditions as a primary reason to overhaul the label and establish three limited edition series: hatOLOGY for jazz and related improvised music; hatART(now) for contemporary classical music; and hatNOIR for the unclassifiable. The format and design changes include the replacement of jewel boxes by ultra-thin, but sufficiently sturdy cardboard covers, and the dumping of liner notes in French and German in favor of a single essay in English. Mix a few new faces in with label stalwarts like Anthony Braxton, and the hat-lift is complete.

Like few of his contemporaries, most notably Dave Douglas, Ellery Eskelin has developed several projects that emphasize a particular aspect of his multi-faceted creativity. His genre-bending trio with accordionist Andrea Parkins (who also employs a sampler) and drummer Jim Black allows him the compositional latitude to apply his strong sense of structure to a free-wheeling juxtaposition of disparate materials. The striking timbral palette provided by Parkins and Black gives the tenor saxophonist plenty of vividly colored space, which makes his Jug-to-Shepp amalgamated style all the more appealing.

Recorded live in mid-European tour, One Great Day...captures the daring of a band that slips a Pauline Oliveros-like deep listening interlude into a soulful take on Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "The Inflated Tear," or, in the case of Eskelin's title piece, segue between a B-3 sample-driven work out, a riff that suggests an off-center South African accordion band, free improvisational space, and prog rock-hued chord progressions. Regardless of the material's origins, Eskelin's hard-edged tone and driving sense of phrasing gives the music a jazz relevancy that is hard to deny.

The problem with too many Misha Mengelberg albums is the pianist's studied disinterest. There are albums as varied as the long out of print A European Proposal (Horo), Who's Bridge (Avant), and the two volumes of his Instant Composer Pool Orchestra's Bospaadje Konijnehol (ICP) that give credence to Mengelberg's exalted status, but not The Root of the Problem.

This album of free improvised duets and trios with a revolving cast including the painfully under-documented saxophonist Steve Potts (who, alas, is only on three of the 12 pieces), trumpeter Thomas Heberer, tuba player Michel Godard, and percussionist Achim Kremer, is infrequently engaging. Repeatedly, Mengelberg lingers at the margins of the improvisations, alternating between Satie-like placidity, fluxus-informed jottings and generic free improvisation devices. As a result, the music often doesn't really gain much momentum; Mengelberg would suggest with validity that it needn't, but when he does gain traction, as with an inventive explication of jazz cadences in a trio with Potts and Kremer, it results in memorable music.

A Memory Of Vienna was made literally on the spur of the moment when Ran Blake and Anthony Braxton found themselves in '88 at a Franz Koglmann Pipetet recording session that ended a couple of hours early. Without any preparation, save a hastily compiled set list, Blake and Braxton gave eight standards remarkably limber, yet thoughtful readings. The circumstances brought out the tenderness and occasionally puckish humor of Blake's compacted, occasionally shrouded approach, while prompting Braxton to reach back for the youthful panache of such classic dates as Trio And Duet (which Sackville has pig-headedly kept out of print) and In The Tradition (recently reissued as a mid-price two-fer by Steeplechase). Time and again, Blake and Braxton pull at the edges of familiar compositions like "'Round Midnight," "Yardbird Suite" and "Just Friends," creating the type of unexpected contours usually found in a lengthy collaborative process. Yet, what is most amazing about this album is that it languished in Uehlinger's vaults for so long.

Pianist Matthew Shipp and guitarist Joe Morris are two of the most intriguing musicians to emerge in the past decade. Particularly in his duo with bassist William Parker and with his String Ensemble (this trio with Parker and violinist Mat Maneri was featured on one of the last hatARTs), the frequently strident Shipp has demonstrated an ability to sidestep the Eurocentricism that tints most chamber jazz. Like few pianists of his generation, Shipp's idiosyncratic distillation of his instrument's jazz tradition thwarts attempts to isolate specific sources in his playing. Morris' work is largely rooted in African folkloric and popular styles, giving his solos a unique propulsiveness. As a result, their work on Thesis has an unrelenting,yet ultimately exhilarating edge, making this program of Shipp originals the antithesis of the cozy duet date.

Originally published in January/February 1998
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