Ken Leighton 8 a.m., Nov. 21
pfMENTUM presents: Zen Widow featuring Wadada Leo Smith
Local musician Jeff Kaiser doesn't just make uncompromising music on the trumpet and laptop. For years he has been operating pfMENTUM Records, an independent label dedicated to the premise of allowing cutting-edge musicians the opportunity to have their music heard.
Just released is a scintillating session by the group Zen Widow, with the provocative title, Screaming In Daytime (makes men forget).
At the core of Zen Widow is a trio of alto saxophonist Gianni Gebbia, pianist Mathew Goodheart and drummer Garth Powell. This session is greatly enhanced by special guest artist Wadada Leo Smith whose contribution is indelibly linked to this album's achievement.
The disc itself is dedicated to the late, great tenor saxophone firebrand Glenn Spearman, who had a history of collaboration with all four principals. The band used fragments of Spearman compositions to inform the group improvisations found on this effort--which was recorded live-to-two track-analog at Ocean Way Recording Studio in Hollywood, California.
Smith's tart, clarion-call trumpet opens "Gifts We Have Forgotten," with deliciously squeezed and goosed tones until Gebbia joins in with liquid, languid alto musings. Throughout this disc, there is a marvelous reverence for space, allowing each instrument to enter, and breathe, on their own terms. Powell's drumming in particular, is a constant, organically developed delight.
Goodheart's harsh clusters and stenographic stabbing occupy the first part of "Notated Memory," alone, with Smith and Gebbia entering, at around the 4:00 minute mark with long, drawn tones, as Powell's bowed cymbals eek and squeak in the background.
"Black On White Paper," begins with Gebbia's percussive pad-popping, morphing into some golden-hued squiggling while Goodheart's piano stalks from the shadows. When Powell enters with stop/start drum explosions, the drama seemingly couldn't get any thicker--although it does when Smith joins in to ratchet the tension with piercing forays into the upper register, and fragile, broken tones that manage to draw the group into a distinctly bluesy groove, if only for a moment.
Highlights include the otherworldly electro-acoustic gongs and interior piano manipulations of Goodheart supporting the grainy multiphonics of Gebbia on "This Seeming Dream," which develops into a kind of controlled caterwaul perhaps most evocative of Spearman's oeuvre. Roiling statements from Gebbia, Goodheart, Powell and Smith make this one rife with sonic drama.
Probably not for the casual listener, Screaming In Daytime is nonetheless a winning combination of superior musicianship and virtuoso listening that makes for an essential experience.