Have a Take Five Halloween, with Hedvig Mollestad, Ember, Matthew Shipp, Joe Fiedler — and yep, Scary Goldings
Hedvig Mollestad, "High hair"
Among contemporary improvisers, nobody has a more natural affinity with Halloween's spooky side than Hedvig Mollestad. A gutsy electric guitarist on the thriving Norwegian scene, she has, after all, released a slew of albums bearing titles like "Evil in Oslo" and "All of Them Witches." Her latest is a sextet offering, Tempest Revisited — a nod to Arne Nordheim's electronic ballet The Tempest, which in turn was inspired by the Shakespeare play. The album concludes with a tune called "High hair," which Rune Grammofon has released along with a coolly unnerving video.
Mollestad — who also released a trio album, Ding Dong. You're Dead, earlier this year — often draws inspiration from metal, one of her country's prime exports. Tempest Revisited is actually one of her more lyrical efforts, featuring thoughtful arrangements for a three-person saxophone section composed of Martin Myhre Olsen, Karl Nyberg and Peter Erik Vergeni. But listen to the ominous riffs in "High hair" — and the churning foundation laid by Marte Eberson on keyboards, Trond Frønes on electric bass and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad on drums — and you'll get a sense of the darkness that still resides in this music. (Also, who can you name with high hair? This lady.)
Tempest Revisited will be released on Rune Grammofon on Nov. 19; preorder here.
Scary Goldings, "Bruise Cruise (feat. John Scofield)"
I mean, obviously. No respectable Halloween playlist in 2021 should be without a track by Scary Goldings — the irrepressibly funky collab between Scary Pockets, a Los Angeles band led by Ryan Lerman and Jack Conte, and Larry Goldings, a Hammond B-3 organist and songwriter well known to folks from the jazz side of the fence.
"Bruise Cruise" is a caffeinated ditty that packs a ton of stank into its 2:10 run time. The scraplike melody is shared by Goldings and a featured guest, guitarist John Scofield. Also putting in cameos are Louis Cole, on drums, and MonoNeon, on electric bass. (Dig MonoNeon's fills during the B section, from 0:47 to 1:02. Just don't try to transcribe them.) Scofield sounds right at home, and so does Goldings — his former partner in Trio Beyond, and a fellow traveler on the jazz-funk interstate. Long may they ride.
Matthew Shipp, "Spiderweb"
Solitude often suits pianist Matthew Shipp. Not that he isn't a top-shelf collaborator; I count no fewer than five duo or trio albums he's been a part of in 2021. Yet Shipp's solo recitals have long been events unto themselves, each distinct in its own sonic realm. Last year he released two keepers, The Piano Equation and The Reward: Solo Piano Suite in Four Movements. On Nov. 5, we'll also have Codebreaker, which by his reckoning forms a bridge between Bill Evans and Bud Powell. I hear them in the background at times on "Spiderweb," along with a flicker of Ahmad Jamal. (Note the chordal flourish that occurs at 2:50, and again at 4:00.) As for the creepy-crawly title of this composition and how it relates to Shipp's creative signature, perhaps Walt Whitman said it best: "Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space / Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them."
Ember, "Reanimation (Zombie Tune)"
No One is Anyone, due out this Friday, is the new release by Ember, a collective trio with Caleb Wheeler Curtis on alto saxophone, Noah Garabedian on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. On roughly half the album, they welcome pianist Orrin Evans as a special guest. But he sits out the opening cut, a Curtis composition titled "Reanimation (Zombie Tune)." Don't be fooled by the low-key backbeat groove — this piece is deadly. As the composer himself once characterized it: "Plodding, blunt and relentless in its pursuit, just when you think you’ve reached safety you hear them behind you."
Joe Fiedler, "Bein' Green"
Finally, a non-scary salute to the power of a costume, and the value in seeing past the surface. "Bein' Green" is, of course, a tune that Joe Raposo wrote for Kermit the Frog; it's a highlight of Fuzzy and Blue, the latest album from Joe Fiedler's Open Sesame. (As you may recall, Jazz Night in America devoted a recent episode to the swinging side of Sesame Street, with Fiedler in a prominent role.) In this arrangement, "Bein' Green" is a perky bossa nova, with Fiedler taking the initial melody on a plunger-muted horn, before passing it along in turn to trumpeter Steven Bernstein and saxophonist Jeff Lederer. As is always the case with Open Sesame, a welcome spirit of play animates the musicians' rapport, along with a faithful tether to melody — even when, as in Fiedler's solo, there are flashes of atonality. How do they manage that? As the song says: why wonder?