Personnel: James Emery: acoustic guitar, composer
between the lines Records (btl 015)
Down Beat: "Best CDs of 2001"
"Throughout his long standing affiliation with the time-honored
String Trio of New York, guitarist James Emery has righteously
emerged as one of the finest modern jazz guitarists on the globe.
However, Emery has also exhibited an exquisite compositional pen via
a string of mighty impressive solo recordings on the ENJA label,
while LUMINOUS CYCLES signifies his inaugural release for Frankfurt,
Germany based Between The Lines. On pieces, such as the opener
"Luminous Cycles", we are treated to interweaving textures comprised
of micro-vignettes, burgeoning rhythms and lilting or at times,
penetrating passages amid the musicians' altogether emotive
interplay. Overall, this outing may represent James Emery's finest
solo effort to date as the artist once again demonstrates his
idiosyncratic approach to modern jazz composition. Easily one of the
top picks of the year! Strongly recommended."
"James Emery is an acoustic guitarist with of pristine technique who, in his role as composer, makes use of all of the sounds and resources available to him. Emery made two disks for ENJA, the first of them the masterful Standing on a Whale Fishing for Minnows, announcing a demanding musician in his extraordinary combination of jazz tradition and academic composition. The power of his pieces stems from the combination of the clear lines of complex structures in which he skillfully manages the voices of his sextet with the hammering percussion of Kevin Norton and Gerry Hemingway. The way the sections give way to new sections, the always open possibilities within a controlled architecture and the freedom of the soloist are signs of first-tier music.
The guitarist's sextet shows itself, in the eight pieces on the
album, to be a precision instrument within a dance of divisions and
regroupings of voices that give an ever-changing and taut feel to
Emery's geometries. A careful and pondered listening to Luminous
Circles reveals a powerful mind at work."
The first thing one notices about this elegant session from the
Cleveland-born guitarist is the liquid sonority of the sextet. With
the leader's acoustic guitar, Kevin Norton's vibes and marimba and
the twin clarinets of Marty Ehrlich and Chris Speed, the ensemble
sound has the watery, shimmering quality of the mid-50s ensemble
Michel Legrand used to frame Miles Davis. Emery has created an
aquatic garden of sound on the title composition into which the
rhythm team of bassist Drew Gress and Gerry Hemingway creep on cat's
feet. From the first bars of their stealthy ostinato figure, you're
immersed in a torpid Amazonian sound world reminiscent of Wayne
Shorter's overlooked Moto Grosso Fieio, but Emery's is cooler, more
seductive. Call it the "between the lines" sound.
All eight compositions are by Emery and they are, by turns, slinky,
surprising and always rhythmic. Gerry Hemingway always manages to
find the right groove (and yes, there are grooves here) and is an
exemplary accompanist. Ehrlich and Speed double liberally with the
former in a lush romantic mood on the aptly titled "Beyond Words"
(from a Debussy quote) and the latter raw and galvanic on "Across the
Water", a cut that also features a Klezmeric funhouse of a clarinet
solo from Ehrlich. If I haven't said much about Emery, maybe it's
because his excellence is so self-effacing. His playing is so apt and
finely-gauged that it becomes part of the organic whole on this
exquisite and yes, luminous, CD."
"-alongside John McLaughlin- Emery is one of the masters of
improvising on the acoustic guitar. Luminous Cycles - performed by a
first-rate ensemble - shows that he is also an inventive, complex
Pitting an acoustic guitar against two reeds and an expanded rhythm
section takes nerve, but Emery's sound is full and vigorous, and he
has the ability to weave his sextet's instruments so he never gets
drowned in the mix. Crystalline studio sound helps, too.
The title composition establishes the sonic territory. Kevin Norton
creates a dark-hued bottom as he plays the bustling theme on marimba.
Emery generates a stark contrast with a bright, supple guitar line,
and the clarinets of Marty Ehrlich and Chris Speed fill in the
middle. A secondary contrast is set up by countering the driving
melody with an attractive, descending, seven-note sub-theme in a
Standing apart from other tunes are the achingly beautiful "Beyond
Words", which highlights an alto solo by Ehrlich that carries echoes
of Johnny Hodges at his romantic best, and the aptly named "Violet
into the Blue", with the pairing of Ehrlich's soprano and Speed's
clarinet, and a fleet, bluesy solo by Emery.
Gruffer than chamber music, more nuanced than most guitar-driven jazz...
too good to pass over."
with Klangforum Wien conducted by Emilio Pomarico
Tony Coe: tenor saxophone Franz Koglmann: flugelhorn
Peter Herbert: bass
Down Beat: "Best CDs of 2003" (4 1/2 stars)
"Guitarist James Emery establishes the underpinning for this hugely ambitious undertaking by melding the loose elements of jazz improv with the austerity of an orchestral piece, performed by classically trained musicians. He delves into the third stream with this comprehensive effort, featuring Between The Lines’ stable of stars: flugelhornist Franz Koglmann and multi-reedman Tony Coe. And while many of Emery’s peers might fail – where classical stylizations and jazz sometimes mesh like oil and water – he majestically succeeds with this stunning production.
“This is an extremely impressive achievement, a large-scale work for orchestra and improvising musicians. There is every ground for suspicion of projects of this stamp. All too often either the orchestration is a bland and dispensible backdrop for the improvisers, or looked at the other way, the improvisers are therre to add some figure and detail to a fairly dull orchestral conception. The miracle of "Transformations" is that Emery has managed to create a strong musical architecture and a context for improvisation. […] Arranged in five connected sections with three interludes, “Transformations” is the pinnacle of Emery’s career so far, a work of real depth and resonance and one which repays frequent hearings. Under Emilio Pomarico, the Klangforum Wien plays with confident gusto and precision. The set is rounded out by a sequence of quartets on which Peter Herbert is the additional soloist. “Down Home Tone Poem” and “Bird’s Nest” are further interesting reflections an what jazz is about in the 21st century. A perfect match of artist and label.”
"There has always been a chamber music element in play in the jazz practiced by James Emery either in the String Trio of New York or in his own groups like Iliad Quartet, his quintet and sextet. In any of those settings he has looked for that lark that is the combination of a sophisticated compositional style and an equally sophisticated sense of improvisation, something that he lead him to try ensembles that allowed him to work densely contrapuntal pieces with great structural designs. The foundations for this composer to jump into orchestral composition have already been there for years, the only thing lacking was the so rare funds destined to make jazz enterprises of this calibre come to fruition, something more common in European labels than in their American counterpart.
"A context old and a context new for the remarkable James Emery, the now all-acoustic guitarist with the frightening chops, nimble imagination and compositional wanderlust. On Transformations, Emery does reinvent himself in a way be enlarging his canvas well beyond its previous dimensions and writing for the large ensemble Klangforum Wien. Those who’ve followed Emery over his last few years may be surprised, though it is marked by the same idiomatic mix he prefers, blending Copland-like fanfares with ice-cool string or brass settings (including the occasional Messiaen-like flourish) as well as a healthy dose of jazz-related rhythms. Klangforum is dominated by a vast number of reed, string and brass instruments, though it is the resourceful percussionist Lukas Schiske who keeps things moving. The multi-part "Music For 3 Improvisers and Orchestra" – totaling 40 minutes or so – explores a wide range of textures, colors and devices using everything from full orchestra to lone vibraphonist. Although not technically a concerto, the piece features several instrumental spotlights for Emery, Tony Coe’s tenor or clarinet, and Franz Koglmann’s flugelhorn. It’s extremely dense writing, never really sitting still for too long, and at times the number of idea in a single movement becomes dizzying (…) the piece has a formal logic which reveals new details with each listen."
"Something about orchestrated jazz makes it an intellectualized endeavor, and James Emery's Transformations exemplifies this rule as much as Gunther Schuller or any other members of the Third Stream. The guitarist and composer takes advantage of the rich sonic spectrum provided by the 22-member Klangforum Wien orchestra to complement his jazz quartet, represented by the five- movement "Transformations" suite and five subsequent pieces respectively. The foursome comprises Emery alongside saxophonist Tony Coe, flugelhorn player (and Between the Lines frequent flyer) Franz Koglmann, and bassist Peter Herbert (only on the five pieces at the end).
"This is no doubt a remarkable album, and if not, then at least a wondrous or perhaps curious one. It showcases the rapidly developing skills of guitarist and composer James Emery, whose career has traversed a not altogether straight line from the pure avant-garde of his early years to this highly detailed third stream symphonic work that incorporates a light (though not unserious) touch that defies categorization. The first eight tracks are part of Emery's suite entitled "Transformations (Music for 3 Improvisers and Orchestra)," the three soloists being Emery and Between the Lines regulars Tony Coe (saxophone and clarinet) and Franz Koglmann (flügelhorn). The compositions are the sort of nimble, though intricate, pieces sometimes explored by classical composers such as Lucas Foss, with the emphasis on the written note, punctuated by "Interludes" that provide moments of contemplative free improvisation. The final five selections are grouped together under the heading "4 Quartets," and include the three soloists plus bassist Peter Herbert in largely uninhibited, though nonetheless "cool" settings that are probably more consistent with what the listener might have expected from Emery at this stage in his career. The revolutionary part of the recording and that most likely to be spoken about and debated is, of course, the symphonic section. Perhaps to the composer's credit, it is also the portion that is most difficult to evaluate, for even more than most music of the third stream, it does not fit easily in any genre. Is it jazz? Well, not exactly, and certainly the non-improvised "Movements" are not. Is it classical music? To be sure, substantial portions of it are, but as strictly classical music it is unlikely to be judged as extraordinary. However, the blend and the bending of genres through a lens unique to the composer are intriguing, and whether Emery has produced a work that will stand over time, well, only time will tell. There are, though, enough strong segments featuring Koglmann, Emery, and Coe that their admirers might wish to explore them in this slightly different context."
Personnel:James Emery: acoustic guitar, composer
between the lines Records (btl 020)
Reviews"Several unusual aspects of this recording stand out. First, there is the utter versatility of Joe Lovano, who penned several of the tunes, and performs convincingly on a variety of instruments, including drums.
Next is the mix of players - acoustic guitar and bass, sax, and voice make up the core of the ensemble, with varied combinations on each tune.
Finally, there is the essentially conservative, melodic content. James Emery, in particular, focuses on writing beautiful lines. A perfect example is his simple, though attractive, "Hannah's Song," which closes the album.
Judi Silvano's flute work adds an extra dimension, although she is
heard mostly in her customary role as a scat singer. While some of
the pieces drift a bit, Emery's acoustic guitar pleases with its
nuance and intensity. The guitarist has absorbed a plethora of
influences and whether he picks or strums, the results are serious
and almost always worth hearing. There is a chamber feel to some of
the pieces, and even Lovano's drums are tastefully restrained. Drew
Gress' bass plays an important role, underpinning the foundation, and
providing some impressive soloing. His backing of Lovano on
"Splendido" is one of the highlights of the
"Though the set was penned by guitarist James Emery, this is a thoroughly collective effort, exuding an organic feel corporate jazz is clueless about.
Ably anchored by bassist Drew Gress, the quartet is equally cogent on luminous ballads and Brazilian-tinged vehicles as they are on roiling outbound themes and jagged, stop-go motives.
Given Emery's use of electric and acoustic instruments, Lovano's
arsenal of horns and percussion (he plays serviceable Paul
Motian-like traps), and Judi Silvano's voice and flute, the quartet
has a considerable palette, which is occasionally emphasized through
overdubbing. Still, Fourth World has the vibe of a long hang in a
loft or farmhouse, far away from the maddening industry."
"Acoustic guitarist James Emery teams with bassist Drew Gress, vocalist Judi Silvano, and Joe (Downbeat Awards King) Lovano, who plays six or seven different reeds instruments here, as well as an array of percussion modes, on "Fourth World".
"The Fourth World, or dimension" (I quote Emery's liner notes here) "is the dimension of vibration." The vibrations on this disc interweave and sing with a transcendent grace, creating a beautiful, sometimes eerie soundscape.
James Emery has a delicate, busy approach, almost flamenco-like at times, a flexible, plastic (in the very best sense of the word) accoustic guitar sound that blends seamlessly with Lovano's multiple reed vibrations.
The music on "Fourth World" is a close kin--more than a first cousin; let's say a half sibling--to Lovano's recent trio CDs. Fluid, wandering tunes that roam around then come back home. Pure, sweet dark wood noise contrasted with the tangy metallic brass sound of the alto and the deeper-throated tenor. Then take it a step further and add Judi Silvano's wordless angel vocals, reminscent of her work on the Lovano/Gunther Schuller masterpiece, "Rush Hour", or the marvelous Lovano disc, "Celebrating Sinatra". Though the Lovano/Silvano team teased us a bit a couple of years back with a two song teaming on Judi's overlooked "Songs I Wrote or Wish I Did", it's been too long since we had a real collaboration from them. They do, indeed, make beautiful music together.
This is a sparkling diamond of a CD, an absolute must-have for fans
of Lovano's trio recordings, one offering the added zest of James
Emery's warm, succinct guitar string vibrations."
"The title of this newly issued recording might ordinarily imply notions of poverty and human rights but in the liners, guitarist James Emery iterates that the Fourth World, "is the world, or dimension, of vibration." Therefore, we are presented with four world-class musicians, pursuing good vibes on this astutely constructed 2002 release.
Joe Lovano performs on a variety of woodwind instruments here yet on certain tracks he mans the drum kit, also evidenced on his recent lights Of Fancy outing. A minor beef is in order for the decision of not utilizing a seasoned drummer, as Lovano is prone to sound tentative amid choppy and uninteresting fills. However, his activities behind the kit do not detract from the recording when viewed upon as a whole as the musicians surreptitiously translate polytonal pastiches of sound via their often-compelling exchanges. On many of these works, the band is apt to break off into briefly actualized sub groups. Alternatively, on pieces such as "Fourth World," Judi Silvano renders whispery vocalise in unison with her associates' complexly stated themes. The quartet pronounces an airy backdrop via loosely formulated dialogue or when Lovano and acoustic guitarist, James Emery partake in blistering cat and mouse like episodes.
Emery executes razor sharp single note lines and sweeping chord
progressions during "La Scala," while also counterbalancing Lovano
with emphatically placed accents on their duet encounter titled, "The
Next Level." Throughout this affair, bassist, Drew Gress serves as
the traffic director, while Ms. Silvano picks up the flute on the
Caribbean tinged closer, "Hannah's Song." Hence, the musicians bring
a melange of experience to the table as they elicit notions of wide
open terrain or expansive horizons, while touching upon the
preternatural minutiae of the Fourth Dimension. Recommended."
Personnel: James Emery: acoustic guitar, composer
Enja Records (ENJ-9312)
ReviewsTOP TEN CDs of 1997, JAZZIZ Magazine
TOP TEN CD, The Tracking Angle
Sometimes it is chamber jazz, sometimes it is ballad mood, sometimes
it is blues roots in modern music. Yet every time James Emery's
quartet shines with an original, integrated group sound. Like the
String Trio of New York he co-founded, the guitarist succeeds in
something astonishing: shaping modernistic sound dimensions in an
extraordinarily delightful way and making them accessible to a wider
The most consistently fascinating and virtuosic improvising guitarist
in the world ... Fans of the String Trio of New York know about
Emery's machine-gun improvising and cerebral compositions. Here with
his own killer quartet, he's come up with the most stimulating set of
his career. Mighty fine.
... This disc develops its own flair by contrasting a reliably
swinging atmosphere to Marty Ehrlich's energetic, vibrant alto and
James Emery's very acoustic, resonant guitar tone. Virtuosic and
... He aims at a contemporary widening of the
guitar's formal language. ... "Standing on a Whale..." is a
surprising album in many ways, presenting, developing and integrating
a considerable spectrum of modern-style facets of expression ranging
from blues to free. ... Hard stuff! Listen to it several times,
then enjoy it!
... It seems that in this production Emery has deliberately
reflected his complete potential of expression. ... A program like
this demands more than just average flexibility. Ehrlich, Formanek
and Hemingway are probably the ideal personnel, and being a team of
leaders out of New York's creme of experienced ensemble players, the
results are high-class.
... In his fingers he focuses the tradition of the guitar as a
whole, creating up-to-date and swinging forms of modern jazz with a
brilliant technique. ... Although Emery is stylistically
unmistakable, his works show great variety. Braxton-like
compositions with angular intervals, sweeping asymmetrical themes or
collective improvisations take turns with deep-felt ballads and
Standing on a Whale Fishing for Minnows is the wonderful title of a
disc by guitarist James Emery. The music is muscular free-bop riding
on Gerry Hemingway's energized drumming and enlivened by Emery's
spiky and lopsided tunes. For contrast there are more relaxed
passages, like "Strings of Thread", with Hemingway doubling vibes on
a decidedly foolish theme. There are also 2 strategically placed solo
guitar tracks, a tender version of Monk's "Crepuscule With Nellie" at
the halfway point, and the closing "Poetry in Stillness" played as a
warm-up and not originally intended for the disc. Standing on a Whale
Fishing for Minnows is an excellent release, worthy of repeated
listening as this well-matched quartet attacks the material. Seriously
James Emery: Acoustic Guitar, composer
By Jim Macnie
...ground-breaking... Intricate melodies waft around each other, tempos take cool detours through landscapes that both swing and float. Sophistication reigns - it's arguably the guitarist's finest moment. Perhaps the biggest achievement of Spectral Domains is that its beauty - whether abstract on "Chromosphere" or focused on "Cosmology" - is unmistakable. Emery says he chose to update Mingus' "Far Wells, Mill Valley" because of its daring, logic and exquisite aura. His own pieces manage something similar, aiming for radiance at every turn.
Solo artist and member of the critically acclaimed String Trio of New York, guitar virtuoso James Emery has produced a bonafide winner in Spectral Domains. Emery is one of the world's finest guitarists and possesses an encyclopedic jazz vocabulary as a technician and composer. The James Emery Septet is an assemblage of modern, cutting edge jazz musicians who have been shaping and to some extent, reinventing modern jazz through refreshingly new concepts and adept technical proficiency.
1997 ENJA release, Standing On A Whale Fishing for Minnows is
Special kudos to the all world rhythm section of Michael Formanek (bass), Kevin Norton (vibes, marimba, percussion) and Gerry Hemingway (drums) for their keen sense of dynamics and sympathetic accompaniment. Kevin Norton is the painter as he supplies subtle shades and bright colorful tonalities throughout the entire project. Emery's incredibly fast single note runs, complex chord progressions and clever utilization of harmonics make for delightful listening on Monk's Trinkle Tinkle. Chris Speed's solemn, reflective clarinet performance on the Ornette Coleman classic Kathelin Gray meshes well with Emery's classic jazz style guitar in this brief yet lovely duet. Bassist-composer Mark Helias conducted Emery's Sound Action Seven as the Septet take sort of an Anthony Braxton-ish approach. A lengthy tone poem, the music becomes furiously conversational and is orchestrated in clusters; hence, Sound Action Seven takes on a free-jazz complexion. The album's amiable closer is an Emery composition titled Strings Of Thread. Here, violinist Mark Feldman jazzes up a quaint Brazilian motif as the project ends on an affably simple yet highly entertaining note.
Supported by an all-star ensemble of proven modern jazz stylists and session aces, Spectral Domains features staggering technical virtuosity, remarkable creative spirit and unique renderings of jazz classics. Folks, this is the complete package!
decades of picking obliques with Leroy Jenkins, Anthony Braxton
and bending Monk-bebop-blues notes with the String Trio of New York
have evolved acoustic guitarist James Emery into a formidable
improviser/composer/arranger with a particularly unique
chordal-melodic-harmonic six-string flow.
On the new Spectral Domains, Emery takes his jazz cipher to the
level via the instrumental color-expanding construct of the septet.
Anchored-pushed-pulled-lifted by the spirit-cosmic yin/yang fission
set off by demigod freestylers like Marty Ehrlich, Chris Speed and
Mark Feldman, Emery serves up 10 emotionally nuanced/harmonically
Whether exalting in the Django/Grappelli-haunted abstract bop of
Spaces in a Blue Field pt. 2, "Trinkle Tinkle"'s
Monk-Bird-Roach-Pettiford-52nd St wildest dream jam fantasy or
"Strings of Thread"'s intoxicating flamenco-tango vapors,
Domains is never less than compelling. James Emery is special.