Still can't post pictures, but getting there.
Walsh Set Trio, "Set One" (Nine Winds)
Cal Arts ain't no clone factory. Musicians who come out of that university sound like themselves, and it's usually worth making their acquaintance.
Clarinetist Brian Walsh, for instance, has woven himself into the fabric of L.A. improv for some years alongside Vinny and Nels and the gang; I think this trio thing is his first record as a leader. It's avant, sure, but he gives you a star to steer by.
Without disrespect to the hi-flites of Benny Goodman and Barney Bigard, Walsh favors the darker hardwood ranges of the clarinet, which he wrangles in its B-flat and bass manifestations. His tone is clear but rich, his technique crisp but unfussy. And as an improviser, he can spin off strong centrifugal flow, knowing to stop before he runs out of ideas. For untrammeled whammo, Walsh indulges in a couple of pad-rattling solo excursions that banish any evil spirits of restraint.
The trio's "Set One" sports a certain tension between freedom and communication. One senses that drummer Trevor Anderies prefers the gently stirred cymbals and rumbling toms of "14," so the slightest current of irony surfaces when he's required to swing a straight titty-boom, as on "Blues for Lee Van Cleef" (with Walsh's dryly incredulous clarinet commentary), or when he's called upon to take a quick blues walk, as on the boplicious "Ivar's Octopus." Still, he's aware that kind of stuff is where the audience connection lies, and bassist Colin Burgess' big, confident boom throughout makes the same entrée.
Still, these dudes make no apologies for their eccentricities -- you can't miss the quirks in the thunderfoot unisons and Tuvan vocal accents of "Eserav" or the tweet, roll & sproing of "The Imp." A good compromise: "The Madness of Hans Petter Bonden," combining hard angles with the drive of a hoppin' contrapuntal tango.
Most approachable, though, is the sole non-original, "A Little Pain," Walsh mentor Bobby Bradford's tribute to Billy Strayhorn. It's got a pretty melody, a gently butt-twitching rhythm, a bluesy segue and a sensitive offbeat jam, which should be about all you need.
Imaginative musicians, of course, are never satisfied until the wheel has been thoroughly reinvented. Who says it's gotta be round?
"Set One" can be purchased here.
Nick Rosen, "Into the Sky" (Porter)
The Cal Arts originality link holds for young Nick Rosen, a bassist (etc.) who was instrumental in reviving the career of absent avantist Henry Grimes five years back. You like surprises? Load up on his debut recording.
If any facet of modern American music has suffered particular neglect in the overdriven years since Gil Evans' passing, it's got to be slowness. And Rosen helps us to savor the mating of harp and flute, to stretch into the leisurely unfolding of a composition, to appreciate subtle touches and depth of field. Give some credit to the Liberation Music Orchestra of Charlie Haden, with whom Rosen studied. But give more credit to Rosen's vision.
Two factors really help: the wide palette of instruments, and the co-arranging skills of multi-instrumentalist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. Any regular observer of L.A. jazz will recognize the names of vibesman Nick Mancini, flutist Katisse Buckingham, cellist Peter Jacobson and others; French horn, flugelhorn, bassoon and clarinet spread their textures across the soundscape in ways that ol' Gil would certainly have approved. You will breathe.
With their harp shimmers, dragonfly-wing violins and gradually revealing structures, "Blossoming Song," "Rainfall" and "African Sun" set the standard for Rosen's posh aesthetic, while the elephant-sauntering "Ancestral Echoes" falls a bit short only because its ambitions lead it into a distracting busyness. "Twin Harbors" blends nature sounds with acoustic instruments to achieve an unusual and gratifying pastoral simplicity that Rosen plainly values, although the three drowsy, open-eyed vocal tunes he sprinkles in would have worked better in a different context.
Well, Rosen loves a lot of music, and he wants to share it through his own personality. Good impulse, excellent result.
"Into the Sky" is available at www.porterrecords.com.
This Friday, July 23, the Miguel Atwood-Ferguson Ensemble plays Grand Performances at California Plaza, 350 S. Grand Ave., downtown 90071; 8pm; FREE.