James Tartaglia

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Reviews of James Tartaglia


15/06/2009 Jeff Dayton-Johnson

What does it sound like? Mostly tight, jovial funk, driven by Jennifer Maidman's fluid bass and Mark Huggett's crisp drumming, punctuated by brief outer space episodes. On paper, the lyrics are a witty part of the disc's attempt to communicate philosophically, from the cheerleading affirmation of science in "Priests In White Coats" to the bitter, anti-music-biz screed "That Boy Were Gonna Play A Solo."

In their long solos—trombonist Annie Whitehead's are especially good—the players face a challenge: how can improvisers trained to exploit harmonic cues sustain inventiveness over single-chord vamps with little melodic variation? Members of Miles Davis's 1970s bands grappled with this question: Gary Bartz, Dave Liebman, and best of all, Sonny Fortune. This certainly has something to do with Davis' famous remark that his records from that period had successfully extirpated all European influence. A bold statement worthy of musico-philosophical rumination. Arguably, this gauntlet thrown down by Davis is the conundrum most thoroughly engaged by Dark Metaphysic, and here, the musicians prove they have something significant to say.

Review from www.allaboutjazz.com


01/10/2003 Jazz Journal International

Paedophile Priest; Asylum Seeker; Weapons Of Mass Destruction; Peace Process; Economic Migrant; Paedophile Priest (Live); Peace Process (Live); Weapons Of Mass Destruction (Live) (62.23)
James Tartaglia (ts); Nick Haward (b); Mark Huggett (d); Lizzi Wood, Sonja Morgenstern (v)
London, live tracks the Old Crown, New Oxford St, February 2003
(Nous Jazz 2003)

Conceived in the run-up to the recent AngloAmerican invasion of Iraq, Treatise employs the musical language of Albert Ayler his fervour, intensity, and exuberance, as well as his wide vibrato style and strong melodic invention to explore some particularly difficult current issues. Tartaglia realises that Aylers music was a product of religious fervour and black power politics and thus not immediately relevant today, but seizes on its universality to make his political points. This approach works extraordinarily well, the pieces all first takes mixing expressive solo tenor lines and childlike, often wordless singing over marching beats or repeated bass notes with free-form trio interjections. Asylum Seeker and Economic Migrant are poignant dirges, the solo saxophone intro to Priest alternates between the two personal perspectives on the unfolding situation, Weapons is suitably cataclysmic, while Peace Process reflects some of Aylers joyous, uplifting hope. Not an easy listen, as if its subject matter would allow that, but certainly a hugely rewarding one, even for those who do not share its political concerns. Released through www.jazzcds.co.uk.
Simon Adams

[October 2003]


16/06/0009 Chris Parker

Singers/chanters Sonja Morgenstern and Lizzi Wood may be asserting the objective truth of science one minute (albeit also underlining the truism that it's responsible for both medicine and nuclear war) and exploring rhe concerns of conceptual neon artist Bruce Nauman the next, but fundamentally, this is a pretty straightforward funk album, peppered with characteristically vibrant trombone solos from Annie Whitehead, some powerfully throaty tenor playing from composer/leader James Tartaglia and bright, sassy trumpet solos from Ben Thomas.

With keyboardist Matt Ratcliff, bassist Jennifer Maidman and drummer Mark Huggett providing exemplary, solid rhythmic support, a nuanced understanding of the dark metaphysicians or hermeticism (or even the disrespect shown to jazz improvisers in recording studios) is thus not indispensable to appreciation of this album, which in Tartaglia's words hopes to 'do for metaphysics what Sun Ra did for outer space', although admirers of the great Saturnian will no doubt have a head start on those who stubbornly persist in regarding the late bandleader/composer merely as Herman Blount from Birmingham, Alabama.



10/01/0009 Ian Mann www.thejazzmann.com

The music and lyrics on “Dark Metaphysic” all come from the pen of London based tenor saxophonist Tartaglia. His Herefordian roots give him local hero status as far as the Jazzmann is concerned. It’s always good to see one of our own doing well.

“Dark Metaphysic” is a most unusual funk record. It is inspired by Tartaglia’s fascination with figures such as Eduard Von Hartmann, F.W.J. Schelling, and Arthur Schopenhauer the “Dark Metaphysicians” of yore who, as far as I can tell, explored the murky areas where science meets philosophy. It’s certainly not the usual “get down, lets party” fluff.

Tartaglia cites John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman as key influences but there is also a surreal humour in the music and lyrics that owes something to both Frank Zappa and the more English Django Bates.

Not that the music sounds like any of the names mentioned above. Most of the album is full of big fat funk grooves courtesy of Huggett, electric bassist Jennifer Maidman and keyboards man Matt Ratcliffe. These provide the platform for powerful riffs and solos from the horns-Tartaglia, trumpeter Ben Thomas (from West Wales, now based in Hereford) and high profile guest Whitehead on trombone. Most of the seven tracks also incorporate vocals, delivered in the main in tandem by singers Sonja Morgenstern and Lizzi Wood.

The opener “Priests In White Coats” explores the idea that the modern belief in science is akin to religious faith by comparing the white lab coats of scientists to the vestments of priests. The propulsive grooves frame solos from pretty much the whole band i.e. Whitehead, Thomas Tartaglia, Ratcliffe and Maidman. The two singers sing/chant Tartaglia’s lyrics with glee and the whole thing makes for an attention grabbing opener.

The lengthy “Rhythm Pitch” is an instrumental based around funk rhythms but with sudden changes of pace and with a more avant garde contribution from the horns. Tartaglia’s tenor squeals and shrieks, Thomas plays in a more exploratory way than I’ve ever heard him before (usually I see him playing standards at local gigs) and Whitehead is immense as usual. Ratcliffe adds colour and texture and the rhythm team pack a mighty punch.

“Silent Soliloquy” temporarily abandons the funk idiom. Featuring wordless vocals and the pinched tone of the leader’s tenor it’s the nearest the album gets to a ballad. Thomas also solos gracefully.

“Tribute To The Artist Bruce Nauman” is inspired both by the conceptual artist and by the music of Anthony Braxton. With driving rhythms, wailing saxophone and bizarre lyrics Tartaglia sees this as the centre piece of the album. It’s certainly easy to get caught up in this synthesis of the arty and the earthy with Thomas and Whitehead both delivering major solos.

Tartaglia describes “Pornographer Scum” as a “disco number” but at eleven minutes it’s more of a dance marathon. It’s a major feature for Whitehead and the singers get to simulate orgasm to the backdrop of Tartaglia’s dirty tenor.
“Hermetic Emanations” summons the spirit of the black magician Hermes Trismegistus. It’s probably the most bizarre track on an already perplexing record with Morgenstern’s unsettling vocals adding to an already deranged atmosphere.

“That Boy Were Going To Play A Solo” closes the album and almost comes as a bit of light relief.
It’s bossa rhythm conceals a bitter jibe at the jazz establishment delivered by Lizzi Wood. Tartaglia’s album notes make it clear that the story related in the lyrics is a true one but he doesn’t name names and doesn’t appear to be one of the protagonists. The tenor man certainly gets to solo here.

“Dark Metaphysic” is a highly distinctive record; funk music doesn’t normally deal in such esoteric subject matter. There is some great playing on these idiosyncratic tunes with some fine horn solos and a pulsating groove from an exemplary rhythm team.

It’s an interesting project and the presence of Whitehead gives the album a major boost. It would be interesting to hear this stuff performed live.


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