Ken Leighton 11 a.m., May 27
Nobu Stowe: Confusion Bleue
By Robert Bush | Posted February 9, 2012
Confusion Bleue is a fresh look into free improvisation principals that bears repeated listening. Stowe plays acoustic and electric piano on the disc, fronting an ensemble consisting of Lee Pembleton on electronics, Ross Bonadonna on guitars and alto saxophone, Tyler Goodwin on 5-string double bass, and Ray Sage on drums.
From the opening "Introduction," the five musicians conjure up a cloud of dreamscape electronics and waves of manic energy underpinned by the deep arco of Goodwin . Stowe plays mysterious, dramatic chords and trills that creates a darker undertone, perhaps indicating that the dream is about to head South.
Throughout the disc, Stowe's uncanny ability to create melodic motion and spontaneous structures separate this from the aimlessness that pervades many efforts of completely improvised material. Stowe doesn't dominate--but he definitely leads the group into areas of his own imagination--his ideas are very strong, so the band tends to go with his flow.
Having said that, there are many moments on this disc where he lays out, letting the others shine, especially Bonadonna, who kills on both guitar and saxophone. Goodwin has a full, dark sound and the ability to spin his own narrative within the contexts established by the pianist, and Sage is an especially dynamic drummer who is constantly in motion. The electronics of Pembleton tend to hover in the background, but they are an important contextual voice that play a key role in this recording.
On "Quatrieme Mouvement", Sage's clanging cymbals are grounded by the full-bodied plucking of Goodwin, both supporting the chirping and swooning alto of Bonadonna. Suddenly Stowe's piano erupts with volcanic skeins of pure energy splayed across the keyboard. Amidst the chaos, there is a definite intent involved, as themes emerge in a seemingly compositional arc-- similar, to the iconic Cecil Taylor masterpiece, Conquistador.
There is one composed piece on the disc, and it's probably the highlight track for me. Bill Evans' "Blue In Green," is given a highly oblique reading--but, in it's own way, it's as profoundly lyrical as the original. Stowe waxes rhapsodic, layering over the cymbal washes of Sage and the sublimely melodic counterpoint of Bonadonna.