Ayelet Rose Gottlieb - InTernal-ExTernal (Genevieve)

If jazz is dying, then vocal jazz is probably already cold. but if this is all nonsense, and it is, then Ayelet Rose Gottlieb is jazz vocals' vibrant beating pulse. Upon hearing her debut effort, I was struck by many things: Her ability to assimilate all the masters of the form, not stopping at Billie Holiday but going on forward to Jeanne Lee and beyond; Her understanding of musical composition; and her courage in investing every note of her songs and delivery with her wit, heritage and personality.

Gottlieb's Internal- External is a far cry from today's average vocal record. Of the outside sources she chooses, Ornette Coleman's "Peace" is almost a standard in certain circles though not for singers and Mingus' "Portrait" is one of the bassist's more obscure compositions. But the strength of Ayelet Rose Gottlieb is not in her ability to interpret other people's work but to creat her own. Throughout the record, she is in the musical trenches with her companions, talented players of a couple of generations. Rather than being borne aloft by a backing band, she is fully integrated into the complex and robust compositions. Gottlieb is not another singer who felt that jazz would put her in the spotlight. Rather, she is an accomplished musician and writer who understands that the voice was the first instrument and that she has a long heritage not only to uphold but also to continue.

Sirone Bang Ensemble - Configuration (Silkheart)

The texture of bass and violin in tandem is, even now, relatively uncommon to most jazz listeners. The two instruments matched against saxophone and drums can seem a conflict, an irreconcilable intersection. Will it be quiet and delicate? Will the horn and drum throttle their wooden companions? Donít worry about Sirone and Bang though...they easily match wits with saxophonist Charles Gayle and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Questions of how can this work are quickly dispelled with how well it does.

On some level, the Sirone/Bang Ensemble invites comparison to the Revolutionary Ensemble, but, in 2004, it has its own significance. Though now accepted into the jazz canon through the efforts of musicians like Leroy Jenkins and Bang, the violin still suffers in reputation against its metal counterparts. Bang is a tireless innovator and has, particularly after his award-winning Vietnam: The Aftermath album (Just in Time, 2002), continued to delve into the violinís possibilities in an improvised context. Moreover, Sironeís dialogues with the violin are not limited to his work with Jenkins. In his half-the-year home of Berlin, Sironeís latest group includes a young European violinist far different than Jenkins or Bang. Sirone plays with other violinists not because that is what listeners have come to expect of him, but because he wishes to change what listeners expect.

As a recorded concert released to the public, vulnerability and brashness run in parallel. The opening track, Bangís Jupiter ís Future, essentially is solos by all four musicians loosely linked by a perky melodic line. Rather than bombard immediately with a group voice, the various shades can be presented discretely. The listener eagerly awaits seeing how a swinging drummer will fare against a shrill saxophonist, how soul-drenched violin will complement thick frantic bass.

Bangís Freedom Flexibility then comes as a shock. Instead of the four musicians, having introduced themselves, congealing into an amorphous soup, a hard bop exploration appears. Sorey is the catalyst,rejoicing in the rhythms that so many avant garde drummers eschew, letting the wonderful head bubble and pop. Already the three veterans, Sirone, Bang and Gayle, have been infected by the young drummerís exuberance and he by their advanced thinking.

The two opening Bang pieces are then followed by two of Sironeís. Despite Sironeís playing background (stints with Noah Howard, Marion Brown, Dave Burrell, Pharoah Sanders, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman and others), he believes strongly in firm compositions. Improvisation and freedom are never far behind but there is never the sense of musicians running blindly, bumping into each other or into walls. We Are Not Alone, But We Are Few, according to jazz conventions, would be the setís ballad and I Remember Albert would be its barnstormer. Throughout both, Bangís emotive playing striated with Gayleís plaintive wails creates remarkable emotional tension.

For the last two pieces, Bang and Sirone reverse roles, or perhaps show a greater breadth to their composing. Bangís Notre Dame De La Garde is an abstract melancholy excursion featuring a discomforting duet between Bang and Gayle. Sironeís Configuration is the bookend to the opening track. The vivacious jaunt gives Sorey another opportunity to drive the proceedings and the ensemble to realize the heavy funk of which they are capable.

This hour-long set, recorded in a blustery November has a cohesion that comes from knowing it was recorded for potential release. Often times though, the best musical intentions can go awry. This is a new group and they may have not been able to come together successfully. But since it is not another gummy freejazz record that has little relevance to anybody but the crowd witnessing its creation/destruction, the inclusion of the word ensemble in the band name is apt and hopefully indicates a future.