Friday, September 29, 2006

Solid Ether/Recoloured

Nils Petter Molvaer - Solid Ether/Recoloured

Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer started out playing 'nu jazz' with Masqualero and went on to make his solo debut for ECM records in 1998. Solid Ether was his second solo LP in 2001.

As you might expect from the label, the style of 'Solid Ether' is, well... ethereal. Molvaer's sound owes a lot to Miles Davis circa 'In A Silent Way'. Where this album differs is in it's use of electronics - and particularly drum'n'bass on many tracks. 'Merciful' stands out, with it's melancholy female vocal. As an album, 'Solid Ether' has a very relaxed, saturday night/sunday morning feel, but can seem dull at times. Grey, even.

So it's lovely to hear 'Recoloured'. Remixed by a variety of electronic and jazz musicians, the ideas in 'Solid Ether' are given wings and the result is an album bursting with energy and colour. 'Merciful' opens in the style of the original then bursts into life with ever expanding layers of rhythm. 'Dead Indeed', in the hands of Mind over Midi, turns from Miles-goes-drum'n'bass to an extended piece of ambient acid house. But as seen by Pascal Gabriel, it's funky mid-tempo electronica. Anything goes, pretty much, and it's pulled off beautifully in most cases.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Black Fire

ANDREW HILL - Black Fire

If I had to pick a favourite pianist I would find it very difficult, but Andrew Hill would have to be on the list. (the others? Herbie Hancock, definitely, and probably Tord Gustavson, too). Picking an Andrew Hill album would be even harder, so where better to start than with his 1963 Blue Note debut. Playing alongside luminaries such as Joe Henderson (tenor), Richard Davis (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums), Hill works a bop revolution starting from the inside. This is unusual for the time - most of the innovations taking place in jazz in 1963 were heading into free jazz territory.

All of the pieces have strong bop structures and melodic elements, but with Hill's characteristic unusual block chords. The harmonies have a modal feel that is reminiscent of the contemporary work of the more well-known Hancock. Opener 'Pumpkin' is a standout with it's strong tenor melody and melancholy feel. Hill's playing is at times complex but never sounds uncontrolled, even when he plays his trademark descending runs on the keyboard. These bring to mind a vision of his hands falling over each other as they run down the keyboard, but the playing is always totally accurate despite often being at odds with the accepted choice of chord. These unusual choices of chords make the music seem fresh, and give a feeling of freedom that is not dependent on abandonment of traditional notions of rhythm and harmony.

Black Fire has been reissued several times on CD, but the current Blue Note edition is a corker, with fine extra takes of 'Pumpkin' and 'Black Fire', and exquisite sound, beautifully remastered from teh original Rudy Van Gelder recordings.