Producer Marc Free and engineer Nick O’Toole have exquisite taste when it comes to music and indeed all art although some might find that their catalogue is a tad organ-heavy. . To those who feel that way I would say: cherish the enterprise that is impressive in its authenticity and love for music. Month after month these two gentlemen along with assistant-engineer Michael Brorby turn out one fine recording after the other. Very few labels outside the mainstream have been as prolific as Posi-Tone in their productions. Still there is no evidence of cookie-cutter issues. Each is milestone recording.
I suspect that music is burning inside each one in the group. There seems to be no way to put out the raging fire; only to quench its thirst by feeding more music into its flames in order to make a record come out at the other end. Some of these are often the first recordings for the artists in question. Theo Hill’s Posi-Tone debut Promethean is one such disc. Others, such as Ken Fowser’s Now Hear This! are documents of rapidly maturing artists. And still others, such as Jordan Young’s Jazz Jukebox remind us that the organist Brian Charette is someone to watch.
No matter how you cut it, however, releases by Posi-Tone are invariably something to look forward every month for the listener. And for the artist this forward-momentum enables him or her to do what Jean-Luc Goddard, famed revolutionary in French cinema suggested: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” It took the wisdom of a young genius like Theo Hill to remind us of that as surely as he propels his performance on Promethean heavenward.
Theo Hill: Promethean
Theo Hill captures the reflection of the Promethean in nine artists whom he admires, and offers one of his own as well, on a remarkable first recorded performance as leader. The music is alive with intelligent nuance, stylish surety and tonal allure. Everyone from Bobby Timmons and Herbie Hancock to Victor Lewis and Tony Williams is painted with a wealth of colour and rhythmic complexity. Bobby Timmons’ “This Here” opens this robustly engineered disc and proceeds to delight the ears through the pianist’s subtle contrapuntal repartee between the hands, which proves most telling at climactic points, along with a genuinely vocal attitude towards shaping long melodic lines. Hill’s effortless yet sophisticated of allegro molto’s rapid phrase groupings (on “The Phoenix”) makes the bar lines disappear to magical effect. Elsewhere (on “Litha”, for instance,) denser textures and wider dynamic spectrum add urgency and emotional weight to the music. One may find brasher, bouncier playing of the original standards on disc, but Theo Hill’s unusually seasoned expertise (together with that of Yasushi Nakamura’s and Mark Whitfield Jr) guarantees lasting joy.
Track List – 1: This Here; 2: Hey, It’s Me You’re Talking To; 3: Finger Painting; 4: I Love Music; 5: Pee Wee; 6: The Phoenix; 7: Blasphemy; 8: Is That So? 9: Litha; 10: Chance; 11: Citadel
Personnel – Theo Hill: piano; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Mark Whitfield: drums
Ken Fowser: Now Hear This
This is another example of the quiet magnanimity of the Posi-Tone imprint. It speaks to the producer’s confidence in enabling individual artistic genius and allowing for the showcasing of original work. Ken Fowser may be no stranger to the label but each new recording is an affirmation of his importance to Marc Free in the grand plan for Posi-Tone’s growth. It must be a comforting thought indeed for Fowser to be welcomed in this manner. For his part, the saxophonist pays it forward with pure musical gold. Now Hear This is a fine example of this endeavor; an exhortation to open our ears to where Fowser is at right here, right now as he stares down the double-barrel gun of challenge and inspiration. This is also a Ken Fowser who goes beyond instrument rules through a portal into the rarefied realm of sound that beckons to none but the brave. On each of the eleven delectable pieces Fowser invites his stellar quintet and, more importantly the listener as well, to journey without restraint to the outer limits of his musical world. Exploring the rhythm of “Time” is challenged not simply in word, but also in deed. “Blast Off”, “Here and Now” and “Now Hear This!” provoke Bruneau, Rick Germanson, Paul Gill and Jason Tiemann into out-of-body experiences that arouse the music’s emotional content in an attractively unsettling way. This extramusical imagery that Ken Fowser attaches to every piece also enables the listener to travel to those places where music shines like dancing snowflake patterns, shiny and brilliant as ever.
Track List – 1: Blast Off; 2: Here and Now; 3: Blues for Mabes; 4: Still Standing; 5: The View from Below; 6: One and Done; 7: Now Hear This! 8: Fair to Middlin’ 9: Transitions; 10: A Few Blocks Down; 11: Ready the Mops.
Personnel – Ken Fowser: tenor saxophone; Josh Bruneau: trumpet and flugelhorn; Rick Germanson: piano; Paul Gill: bass; Jason Tiemann: drums.
Art Hirahara: Central Line
If Emerson is to be believed in that “The ancestor of every action is a thought” there is plenty to show that pianist Art Hirahara is a “thinking” pianist with a talent for unfolding the thought into profoundly suggestive music in a dark-hued era. The pianist hosts the sensitivity, concentrated wit and energy of bassist Linda Oh, Drummer Rudy Royston and saxophonist Donnie McCaslin in a programme that swings unambiguously. Central Line despite its linear suggestion, ducks and weaves through 14 melodies that Hirahara plays with an imaginative insight and delicacy given to few pianists. He wears his wisdom lightly using it to weave magically from innocence to experience, to magically evoke the balletic grace of Japanese tradition and the candlelit sensuality of Brasilian music with profound beauty. Similarly, Hirahara brings the generosity and ebullient swing of Jazz to each of his eleven original compositions. Melodies are thrown off with superb grandeur and in each of the songs Hirahara combines virtuoso stateliness with and ever-enlightening sensitivity and perception. The patrician poise of his playing on “Kurodi Bushi” highlights Art Hirahara’s quietly cool and unique musicianship best on a disc brimful with introverted masterpieces.
Track List – 1: Central Line; 2: Kuroda Bushi; 4: Astray; 5: Drawing with Light; 6: Introspect; 7: Little Giant; 8: The Giant Catfish; 9: Sensitive Animal; 10: Tracing The Line; 11: Entanglement; 12:As Minhas Meninas; 13: Redwood Thaw; 14: Kin-Ka: 15: Gold Coin; 16: Yuyake Koyake.
Personnel – Art Hirahara: piano; Linda Oh: bass; Rudy Royston: drums; Donny McCaslin: piano.