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Grid Mesh. Frank Paul Schubert (sax), Christoph Thewes (tb), Willi Kellers (dr) and Andreas Willers (g)

January 20, 2018. Manufaktur Schorndorf. Photo by Martin Schray

Anna Webber's Simple Trio: Matt Mitchell (p), John Hollenbeck (d), Anna Webber (s,f)

Winter Jazzfest, NYC 1/12/2018. Photo by Paul

Christian Lillingers Grund: Achim Kaufmann (p), Robert Landfermann (b), Christian Lillinger (d), Jonas Westergaard (b), Tobias Delius (ts), Pierre Borel (as), Christopher Dell (vib)

Schorndorf, Manufaktur, 1/6/2018. Photo by Martin Schray

Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity: André Roligheten (s), Gard Nilssen (d),Petter Eldh (b)

Winter Jazzfest, NYC 1/12/2018. Photo by Paul

Amok Amor: Peter Evans (tp), Wanja Slavin (as), Petter Eldh (b), Christian Lillinger (dr)

Ludwigshafen, BASF-Gesellschaftshaus, 10/22/2017. Photo by Martin Schray

Paal Nilssen-Love (d), Joe McPhee (s)

Weikersheim, W71, 12/7/2017. Photo by Martin Schray

Matthew Shipp (p), Roscoe Mitchell (s), Michael Bisio (b), Newman Taylor Baker (dr)

Carnegie Hall, New York City 1/27/18. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Friday, March 23, 2018

Anthony Braxton - Sextet (Parker) 1993 (New Braxton House, 2018) *****

By Paul Acquaro 

It's difficult for me to imagine 'Jazz' without Charlie Parker. He, along with the likes of Monk, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, etc. re-fashioned jazz with the advanced harmonics, intricate melodies, and asymmetrical syncopation that is typically associated with the genre today. Inventing or discovering how extended scales could be used to traverse and re-harmonize chord progressions is the foundation of modern jazz. At the time, it was revolutionary, and it was quickly taken to the next level by the likes of Ornette Coleman and, of course, John Coltrane.

For me, Parker's music was a gift from my high school jazz band director, Paul Larson. We played a chart of 'Now's the Time' and it seemed simple to my naively adolescent mind, but I did register how Mr. Larson was not letting us slide on getting it right(er). We rehearsed the deceptively simple melody again and again - I still can feel the finger patterns on my imaginary bass clarinet. Then in my unrelated guitar lessons, I tripped over the fingerings of 'Blues for Alice' until I maybe half got it, however I started seeing the connections between the melodies and the chords. My Parker experience was an torturous gateway to deeper musical thinking. 

A bit later, I discovered Phil Schapp on WKCR, Columbia University, which I could pick up from my quaint little North Jersey hamlet nestled deep in the land of the Sopranos. Schapp drilled into the minutia and importance of Parker in mind boggling detail. Session dates, sidemen, false endings ... another world captivated my mind. Parker had been seeking something with his music, and there was something to seek in it.

In 1993, saxophonist and composer Antony Braxton, who has developed his own pioneering approaches to music, assembled a group to explore Parker's music in depth. With saxophonist Ari Brown, trumpter Paul Smoker, pianist Misha Mengelberg, bassist Joe Fonda, and drummers Pheeroan akLaff and Han Bennink, he embarked on a deep dive with a European tour and studio dates. A double Hat Hut CD was released in 1995 documenting the group, and now this 11 CD box set is a deep dive into the deep dive - all of the music this group recorded between October 18 and 24, 1993 in Cologne, Amsterdam, Zürich, and Antwerp. 

Here, I turn to Stuart Broomer's excellent liner notes accompanying the box set. I'd like to rephrase his opening question "How do you listen to the eleven CDs of Anthony Braxton’s Charlie Parker Project?" with my own simpler minded "how do you start listening to Anthony Braxton?" I explained my way in with Parker, but Braxton had always been more enigmatic. His discography is huge, his concepts beguiling, and his range breathtaking. I caught a large group show at the A 'Larm Festival in Berlin in 2014 and it was a difficult piece to take in at once, yet recent solo shows I've seen have featured moments of Monk and Miles quoted within these beautiful arcs of contemporaneous musical thought. Broomer captures this encompassing approach well:
At the outset of Braxton’s career in the closing years of the 1960s, there was plenty to set him apart, an iconoclast among iconoclasts. There were the unstated rhythms and episodic structures of the Braxton/Jenkins/Smith Trio, a group with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and violinist Leroy Jenkins later called the Creative Construction Company. There was the sheer challenge of For Alto, a two-LP set of solo saxophone music. And, too, there was the expanding collection of reed instruments: contra-bass clarinet, bass and sopranino saxophones and flute...
However, Broomer then notes that in the mid-70s elements of tradition began appearing in his work.

The first Braxton album in my collection was 'Duets 1976' with Muhal Richard Abrams. I loved the deep flatulent tone of the contra-bass clarinet and the adventurous takes on Dolphy's 'Miss Ann' and the 'Maple Leaf Rag'. Braxton's exploration of the past continued through the late 70s and beyond with his various Standards albums, the Thelonious Monk album, Six Monk's Compositions (1987), and explorations of the music of Warne Marsh and Lenny Tristano, and into the 2000's with the more contemporary Andrew Hill. However, it was still that '76 album that unlocked Braxton for me, I was less apoplectic to where to start and less apprehensive as to what I'd find. For what it's worth, the Parker work is just as perfect of an entrance. 

I think what's most important about the music, 25 years old now itself, is how it connects the avant-garde tradition (not sure if that's an oxymoron or not) with be-bop. The renditions are not 'Braxton plays Parker' but 'Braxton Re-contextualizes Parker in the late 20th Century'. At the time, the height of the neo-traditionalists, it seems like Braxton was saying 'you know, you can do more than just copy this stuff'. Of course I have no idea if that is what Braxton was thinking at all, and it would be such a trip to see what Charlie Parker would have said to hearing these versions. As Broomer writes, Parker has been seeking more, prevailing upon contemporary composers to help him push his music past its confines. Braxton also seems to not be one to rest easy with tradition. He explores, assimilates, absorbs, and transforms. 

Take 'Confirmation' the first track of the first disc, the opening is Parker's blizzard of notes over a tricky circle of 5ths chord progression. Braxton doesn't change the melody - it's as toe-tapping as it was in 1946 in all of its glorious be-boppiness - rather what the listener is treated to is a complete overhaul of the improvisational dimensions. The first saxophone solo begins immediately following the head and it starts Parkerishly with a quick descending line, but then it starts to smear, tonality gets fuzzy, Mengelberg's piano accompaniment, before dropping out all together, advances far beyond the confines of 1946. When the group re-groups on the theme at the end, we are delivered back on solid ground and one is left thinking "could this be what Parker was seeking?"

The next track is 'Quasimodo', Parker's rewrite of 'Embraceable You’. It swings, the head is pretty straight forward, but just wait for Smoker to enter. His solo begins with brief bursts of melodic phrases and lots of space between them, the bursts grow longer and the spaces shorter until he is delivering a blur of notes smeared across the changes. It's intense, it's searing, and when he ends, Mengelberg answers in a similar manner: starting spaciously and melodically, he then drops some lovely passages before going full on Monk with delicious shards of phrases, small clusters of sharp chords and jerky syncopation. It's a joy and a great set up for Braxton who then delivers his own jarring lead. Just when you've figured it's done, the three of them begin soloing in tandem, a colorful finale to the individual fireworks. 

akLaff is the star early on the tune 'Klaktoveedesteen'. A pulsating and rolling drum solo kicks off the track, soon the piano starts littering notes about, while Fonda's bass can be heard buzzing in the background. Here, Braxton has abandoned the original structure of the song, opting for pure deconstruction. The melody does eventually return, but only towards the end. It's uptempo, it's upbeat, and it's only ever a beat away from pure disintegration, which it does occur a few times. Interestingly, a later take of the same tune drops the early drum solo in favor of an extended passage of free playing by the horns. 

So, this is just three tracks off the first of 11 CDs. Like Phil Schapp, I've been obsessing over Parker - I mean Braxton - or whomever. What may seem like a straightforward take on the venerable Charlie Parker catalog is really something much more. This box set is a treasure chest whose depth of riches will take a long time to be revealed.

Finally, going back to Broomer's question in the liner notes: "How do you listen to the eleven CDs of Anthony Braxton’s Charlie Parker Project?", hell if I know. I haven't gotten past the first half of the first one yet!

I'm happy to say that this weekend, Tom Burris and Lee Rice Epstein will take us much further and competently into this stunning collection.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Large Unit - Fluku (PNL, 2017) ****

By Martin Schray

Actually, the Large Unit is a band you have to see live. At the beginning of March they were in Schorndorf, in the Manufaktur, one of my favorite venues. I set forth early to secure a seat in the front row, precisely in the middle, right in front of the horn section and the guitar amplifier, exactly between the two drum kits. In one word: In the eye of the hurricane.

Large Unit, Manufaktur, Schorndorf, 3/3/3018. Photo by Martin Schray

I’ve seen them live before and they’ve always knocked me out, which is why I’ve purchased all their albums: the Erta Ale box set, 2015, Ana, the EPs Rio Fun and First Blow, the compilation Selected Tracks as well. Even on CD/LP you can feel their intensity, their unpredictability, their outstanding soloing, and how they deal with silence. It’s the experience of something primeval, a force of nature, something that resonates in your guts. The Large Unit is about immediacy and purity, they’re like the ugly twin of comparatively high-gloss large ensembles like Fire! Orchestra or the London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra (I don’t mean that in a negative way). The music reminds me of very early recordings of Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet, when they used to work with preconceived material (like on 1/2/3, their 1998 release on Okka Disc, for example).

Compared to its predecessor Ana, which incorporated an expanded line-up of Brazilian musicians, Fluku, Large Unit’s latest album, finds the band reduced to a 12-member core. Of course, the recording cannot quite reflect the captivating atmosphere of a show (although it was recorded live at Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene in Oslo), but it gives you more than just a glimpse of what the band is capable of. Like on their other albums, the Large Unit interlaces tutti riffs with free, blurred and smudgy solo passages, guaranteeing the soloists a lot of freedom by a minimum of organization, which leads to maximum effectiveness.

The title track serves as a perfect example here. It’s a 25-minute monster, from which numerous concertinos are culled. The heads cleanse the ear of the listener for the bustling and complex small ensembles battles (duos, trio, quartets) and sharpen the attention for the improvisational intelligence, the organization of freedom in the music, its brilliance and sensibility. The track begins with a typical Large Unit fanfare-like riff, contrasted by sizzling electronics, white guitar noise, and ruthless drumming. Then the first part just ebbs away and opens the door for one of these reed discussions mentioned above. With the attack of the drums the band stumbles back to the next riff making room for a solo by Mats Äleklint, one of the most intriguing moments on the album. A drum solo heralds the last part, a silent passage, which enables the piece to breathe. The sound here is translucent and quiet, drawing on the power of a chamber aesthetic rather than on unleashed emotionality, mainly when Ketil Gutvik’s guitar crawls in, rounding the piece out with reminiscences of the late great Sonny Sharrock.

Fluku is a superb album, dynamic, adventurous, colorful and innovative. If you have the chance to see the band live, don’t miss it.

The Large Unit is Julie Kjær (alto saxophone, flute), Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (Bb clarinet, alto and baritone saxophone), Kristoffer Berre Alberts (alto and tenor saxophone), Thomas Johansson  (trumpet), Mats Äleklint  (trombone), Per Åke Holmlander (tuba), Ketil Gutvik (electric guitar), Tommi Keränen (electronics), Jon Rune Strøm (electric and double bass), Christian Meaas Svendsen (electric and double bass), Andreas Wildhagen (drums and percussion), Paal Nilssen-Love (drums and percussion) and Christian Brynildsen Obermayer (live sound).

Fluku  is available on Bandcamp:

Watch an extract of “Fluku“ live:

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Andrew Drury's Content Provider - Try (Different Track Recordings, 2018) ***½

By Brian Kiwanuka

In the sophomore album by Andrew Drury's Content provider, Try, the drummer continues his habit of being involved in quality experimental jazz. Drury, who handles all of the compositions, is joined by musicians who are also mainstays in the New York avant-garde music scene: Ingrid Laubrock (tenor and soprano saxophones, autoharp), Briggan Krauss (alto saxophone, guitar) and Brandon Seabrook (guitar). Though Content Provider can be quite abrasive, and thrives in that energy, the record also has very well played atmospheric moments. This is notable on "Cassandra", the sole track that features Krauss on guitar.

"Cassandra" is the only non-composed number of Try. Both guitars are key to the eerie atmosphere of the improvisation, Seabrook providing ominous tremolos and chords and Krauss sliding through warped waves of sound. This, plus Drury's subtle, often cymbal focused approach works wonderfully with Laubrock's long and solemn sax lines, making "Cassandra" a highlight of the record.

"Diving Into the Wreck", is another standout, but unlike "Cassandra", the track begins with intensity. The end of long, rising alto saxophone lines are met with explosions of energy from the rest of the band before Drury's powerful drumming pushes the quartet into a strong storm of instrumentation. The tenor saxophone is particularly impressive - Laubrock's ferocious soloing is a great match for Seabrook's erratic style of comping.

The Seabrook and Laubrock combination is effective again on "I'm Doing My Job. Are You Doing Yours?." The track begins with a couple minutes of a surprisingly catchy groove that forms the basis for quick spurts of improvisation from Drury's bandmates, Krauss being in top form here. The second half of the tune features a skillful conversation between tenor sax and guitar that ranges from rigid and harsh to light and spacious. As Laubrock's sax softens, Seabrook switches his guitar from its usual forceful attack to an uncharacteristically airy tone.

Throughout the album, it's clear that Drury has provided another solid example of his talent as a drummer, composer and bandleader. Those who have the privilege of seeing Content Provider live are in for a good show.


Andrew Drury - drums, compositions
Briggan Krauss - alto saxophone, guitar
Ingrid Laubrock - soprano and tenor saxophones, autoharp
Brandon Seabrook - guitar

*Note: there will be release show on April 13th at the Sound It Out series at Greenwich House in New York City.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Naked Wolf - Ahum (Clean Feed, 2016) ***½

When Charles Mingus released his classic album Ah Um almost fifty years ago it was perceived as homage to the elders of jazz. In a similar way, the Amsterdam-based international quintet Naked Wolf’s sophomore album follows Mingus legacy. Not only because of its title or a song that quotes a seminal composition from Mingus’ album. More due to the untamed, creative manner that these Naked Wolf blends the free jazz spirit with catchy and open song structures, twisting the eccentric Zappa meets Captain Beefheart humor with raw, primitive riffs and balancing between free-improvisation and fragile lyricism.

Naked Wolf was formed by ex-The Ex's acoustic bass player Luc Ex, the only native Dutch in this group, and features Australian trumpeter-vocalist Felicity Provan, who also sings in a combination of commanding phrasing and a spoiled-melodic Australian accent; Finnish guitarist-vocalist Mikael Szafirowski, whose also sings but his voice sounds as surfacing from inside a dark and smoky bar; Brazilian reeds player Yedo Gibson, and Austrian drummer Gerri Jäger. All five musicians contributed songs to Ahum, two with the help of former vocalist Seb el Zin.

Naked Wolf’s versatile, open interplay enables the quintet to jump fast between different, eccentric poles. Naked Wolf feels at home with the playful and dadaist “Wugiwoo”; the urgent and dramatic “School Der Poëzie”, based on the poem of Dutch avant-garde poet and political activist Lucebert; the chaotic, punkish roll of “Trust Don’t Rye”;  the poetic, spoken-word of Provan on “Coloured Gold” or the catchy “Herrie van de Schonenberg”, where Provan shouts for and seeks a “trick to insanity”. All these pieces enjoy enough room for expressive, immediate solos, mainly by Provan, Gibson and Szafirowski.

Other instrumental pieces like “Untuna but Still Shark”, the funky “Nudge” and the title-piece stress Naked Wolf affinity for free-improvisations and experimenting with free-formed, fast-shifting settings. “Erik Wolfy” may summarize best Naked Wolf aesthetics. It borrows the catchy riff from Mingus’ “Fables Of Faubus” (from the Ah Um album), letting Gibson and Provan pay the obvious debt to Mingus’ close partner Eric Dolphy influential sound, but Naked Wolf charges the catchy theme with tons of electricity and punkish-funky rhythm.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York - Fukushima (Libra Records, 2017) ****

By Martin Schray

Satoko Fujii is a phenomenon: in 2018 she has embarked on releasing an album a month celebrating her 60th birthday, and in 2017 she released several albums with her different projects, e.g. Aspiration with Ikue Mori, Wadada Leo Smith and husband Natsuki Tamura, 如月 = Kisaragi, another duo recording with Natsuki Tamura, Neko with Gato Libre and finally Fukushima with her Orchestra New York. This ensemble has been together since their 1997 debut South Wind (Leo Lab/Libra) and has recorded ten albums so far, most of them containing excellent music like Summer Suite (2008, Libra) or Fukushima’s predecessor Shiki (2014, Libra). Fujii keeps several orchestras all over the world, in Berlin, Kobe, Nagoya and Tokyo, all of them including tremendous musicians, but the Orchestra New York is her oldest and most spectacular large ensemble. It’s a super group by any standards, it has remained largely intact over the course of twenty years - around longstanding members like Dave Ballou (trumpet), Ellery Eskelin (tenor sax), Herb Robertson (trumpet), Natsuki Tamura (trumpet), Joey Sellers (trombone), Joe Fiedler (trombone), Curtis Hasselbring (trombone), Oscar Noriega (alto sax), Stomu Takeishi (bass) and Tony Malaby (tenor sax). New on this album are guitar mastermind Nels Cline and drummer Ches Smith, and they really make a difference.

Fukushima is a suite about the nuclear accident in 2011, the five pieces are simply named “Part 1 - 5“. “Part 1“ opens with the simple sound of air passing through instruments, resembling the sound of human breathing, creating a sense of the fragility of human life, before Nels Cline's guitar and Andy Laster’s baritone saxophone entangle each other. Then Ches Smith’s percussion crawls in, preparing the way for the other reeds, the whole piece increases in intensity. The transition to “Part 2“ is seamless, and you can immediately hear the difference to the other albums of the orchestra: With Cline and Smith there’s a greater focus on rock structures and heavy sounds. In the middle of the track, when majestic, elegiac and highly emotional themes are contrasted by litanies of dissonance, warped guitar sounds and the relentless rock grooves we become aware of the full power of the orchestra. “Part 3“ includes the use of electronics reminiscent of Geiger counters, the breathing from “Part 1“ is also back. Moanful duo performances - trumpet and trombone, sax and drums - are interspersed amid anxiety and darkness. “Track 4“ quotes the opening of the album again - just to be followed by shock. Cline shredders his guitar sounds, they are contrasted by monstrous horn statements. The tenor saxophone and trumpet dig their way out of the chaos with a melancholic melody, but their is no sweetness, the straight rock rhythm prevents it. The final three minutes of the 17-minute-track are the most structured ones. A series of fanfare-like themes emerge, Japanese folk tunes are processed, heavy metal riffs are propelled by Stomu Takeishi’s bass. Oscar Noriega is responsible for the epilogue in “Part 5“, its beauty seems to offer closure and a certain degree of hope, although we’re very well aware that the world will have to live with the consequences of the disaster for a very long time.

When the orchestra had a dress rehearsal in Brooklyn’s i-beam in May 2015, I was lucky to be there. Listening to the performance (which was a bit shorter than the ultimate recording) the music first sounded programmatic, but Satoko Fujii said that it was nothing like that at all. The music is to reflect the feelings she has about everything that happened in Fukushima that day - anger, frustration, grief, desparation, disappointment, helplessness. It took her five years to process all these emotions, the music is her internal response. The result is this hour-long-suite, moving, tight and expressive.

Fukushima is available as a CD. You can buy it from or from the label

Listen to “Part 1“ here:

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Cannibal – s/t (ultra eczema 2017) ****

By Daniel Böker

At the Sonic City festival in Kortrijk in Belgium I bought an album from the band Cannibal. The band consists of Dennis Tyfus, Cameron Jamie and Cary Loren. The first two did a set of 20 minutes at the festival and I was rather impressed by the intensity with which they performed.

On stage it was their voices and some electronic devices to loop and change the things they sang, said and shouted. On the album they are a trio and are more instruments: at the start there is a slide guitar, and in the middle of side A, I believe I hear percussion and flute, though they might be sampled or realized with some kind of electronics. At the center of the two tracks, simply called A and B, the voice is predominant, and electronics and sampling are used to exploit all of the possible sounds.

Track A begins with some guitar tones, no chords just single distorted notes supported by some sampled trumpet sounds after a minute or so. Then, in comes the voice: at first it is just voice, which means there are no words or lyrics to listen to. The voice accompanies the guitar as a very fine match. Single tones screamed into a microphone are changed and distorted after a few moments. As the guitar changes into an undistorted manner, the voice also gets clearer and they (all three of them are vocal artists.) start to tell a little story in a spoken word manner.

During the third part of track A, the musical possibilities of Cannibal come together: the instruments and the electronic sounds are back (as I said in the beginning, there might be some percussion or some sampled percussion and flutes.), the voices sing, shout, speak words and get changed and looped by all the electronic devices Cannibal has at hand.

Track B opens with electronic sounds. Listening to it, it might be based on vocal sounds. They almost create some kind of beat or at least rhythm with these sounds. The voices are the main instruments,  without telling a story in words. This track is the more uneasy track, there is a tension and a restlessness in the music that Track A didn't have. After five minutes the mood changes completely: A kind of piano sound comes in and the voice (again I don't know whose) starts to sing with only a little alienation.

Sounds like from a computer game of the nineties come in and the different voices sing and shout with more changes to them. Again some kind of percussion complements the sound. Change after change. It is not easy to listen to it as a "song". It is rather a kind of live compilation of a lot of different ideas. The listener is often taken by surprise. These changes create the tension I mentioned before. But while listening to it I realized that this tension finds its relief in a kind of humor the music of Track B carries with it.

So especially the second track brings something into the improvised music (and this is what it is - improvised music, recorded live in Brussels) which is, in my opinion rare to find: a solid kind of humor. It is not subtle, it is not just some kind of fine irony (you can find that more often I suppose.) That does by no means say that the music is easy or unintentional. But I found a humor in that music I really enjoyed.

Listening to the music of Cannibal on track B, I almost can see the three of them smile and laugh. Which does not mean that they don't take their art seriously. Because they do. That's what I saw on stage. But there is fun in the different ideas and the surprising turns they take.

Maybe you won't listen to it every day or in every mood. But it is a great album to listen to in a light mood. It is a great album if you are ready for some humor.

Here you can see them at work:

The Rubik's Cube is not just a forgotten toy from the 80's. The fact is that it's even more popular than ever before. You can play with this great puzzle on this link.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Terror and the Beauty

By Eyal Hareuveni

Two releases of European groups that redefine 'free-improv meets free-jazz' as a brutal and noisy genre that matches sonic terrorism with rare beauty.

FS Massaker - s/t (Interstellar Records, 2017) ***½

The origins of the Austrian trio FS Massaker (no connection to the legendary Massacre trio of Fred Frith, Bill Laswell and Charles Hayward) can be traced in the sonic terrorism of local, infamous groups Sex On The Beach and Regolith. These groups of drummer Werner Thenmayer and analog synth player and label owner Richie Herbst focused on harsh walls of noise. The current phase of FS Massaker - with the addition of sax player Michael Masen - expands the raw aesthetics of former groups and suggests dense improvised soundscapes that blend the powerful, Ayler-ian school of free jazz with dark, deep drones.

The self-titled debut full-length of FS Massaker is released on cassette with a Bandcamp download option. The first improvisation is dedicated to Nigerian visual artist and actor Masai Bolaji Badejo, best known for his role of the alien in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film by the same name. This 30-minutes piece stresses the new phase of FS Massaker as a unit that can shifts quickly from delicate, lyrical segments to a brutal flow of raw noises, then explore super-fast, intoxicating tribal pulse and still manages to charm the frightened listener despite the urgent, electric storms and toxic sonic bites. The second improvisation is dedicated to another cinematic hero, the late Eddie Powell, a regular stunt for Christopher Lee and an actor who played Dracula and the Mummy. This improvisation offers a looser structure that highlights the emotional, powerful sax flights of Masen above the robotic drumming of Thenmayer and the windy synth noises of Herbst. But, as on the first improvisation, FS Massaker still feels at home when it is crisscrosses some turbulent storms and fuses occasional blasts, even if it is doing it in much more civilized manner this time.

Boris Hauf / Martin Siewert / Christian Weber / Steve Heather - The Peeled Eye (Shameless, 2016) ****½

This pan-European supergroup also adopts its own aesthetics of sonic terrorism, inspired by the late guitarist Sonny Sharrock who wanted to “find a way for the terror and the beauty to live together in one song”. This, unfortunately, only release of the doom-jazz, noise-core The Peeled Eye - first issued as a limited edition of 300 yellow vinyls, then later on disc and as a Bandcamp download option - featured four unique, experienced improvisers: British, Berlin-based, baritone sax player Boris Hauf, known from his Chicagoan group that released Next Delusion (Clean Feed, 2012) and who also runs Shameless Records; Viennese guitarist Martin Siewert, known from the groups Radian, (Fake) the Facts (with Mats Gustafsson), and Trapist, and who has played with Hauf in the minimalist electro-acoustic group efzeg; Swiss electric bass player Christian Weber, known as a double bass player who collaborates with American sax players Oliver Lake and Ellery Eskelin or Swiss Omri Ziegele but also experiments with German turntables player Joke Lenz or Viennese vocal artist Christian Reiner; and Australian, Berlin-based drummer Steve Heather who also played in efzeg and recently in Ken Vandermark’s Shelter quartet.

The interplay of the democratic The Peeled Eye is urgent, dense and heavy, bursting with impossible rushes of intensity and sheer power, as if all four musicians had tons of ideas too little studio time. Still, the frequent confrontational, violent onslaughts of Hauf, Siewert, Weber and Heather flow with great focus and tight coherence, sometimes even enjoying massive, addictive pulses, as of Sharrock’s supergroup Last Exit and often its raw interplay brings to mind the naked brutality of Sharrock’s Last Exit partner, reeds player Peter Brötzmann. But this quartet can do even more. “Heavy Quarters” suggests a threatening, enigmatic soundscape that can fit easily in a gory horror film. “Diiiiisko” matches organically skronky noise rock with screaming free jazz and “Nog” offers a delicate guitar solo between the explosive, distorted eruptions. Real shame that this is the only release of this great quartet.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Ian Brighton/Henry Kaiser – Together Apart (Fractal, 2017) ****

By Chris Haines

This is an interesting album, and good to see (and hear) Ian Brighton on another recording after his comeback album Now and Then from 2016 after a nearly forty year lay-off. On this release each player recorded their parts individually, sending them to one another so that they could then overdub their parts over the existing track, with Henry Kaiser being solely responsible for mixing together the final product.

For an album of improvised duets, it actually starts with two solo pieces, ‘In Memoriam – Jack and Rose Brighton’, and ‘Spoonful’. Brighton’s dedication to his late parents is a beautiful piece full of bell-like harmonics, sustained tones, ethereal sounds and sharp attacks that gradually fade away. This is followed by Kaiser’s solo contribution, the blues piece ‘Spoonful’, which I had doubts about on seeing it in the track listing and on hearing the all too familiar opening strains. However, throughout the course of the piece Kaiser juxtaposes the prominent riff against more angular and fragmented phrases that just about pull the piece in line with the rest of the album.

So to the duets, starting with the aptly titled ‘Getting Started’, a tour-de-force of string harmonics creating an intricate web of rhythmic interplay involving hocketing lines moving from one part to the other. Other highlights for me out of the nine duets include, ‘Sounds of the Soil Pt2’ (dedicated to Tony Oxley, the legendary British jazz and improvising drummer/percussionist) a piece exploring noise based materials such as scraping, rubbing, tapping, and buzzing strings, creating a very direct sounding piece. Then there’s the resonant ‘Cathedral Voices’, with a nod towards ‘The Chapel of Splintered Glass’, a track on Brighton’s first album Marsh Gas from 1977 that also exists within it’s luscious reverberations, although this time utilising studio effects to create the sustained delay and not being recorded in-situ like ‘Splintered Glass, which was recorded at Chelmsford Cathedral. Also, ‘175 & H’, (a reference to the Gibson ES 175 guitar that Brighton uses) a sparring piece that is characterised by it’s cutting attacking notes and sounds, which nearly slips into a fragmented melody with chordal accompaniment structure for the middle section.

One would think that with two very different guitarists that have highly distinctive individual styles the pieces might jar or at best be reduced to a collage only texture, especially due to the way it was recorded. But actually for most of the recordings the individual parts are sympathetic towards one another and blend well as would be hoped for within a duet context. Only the final track ‘In the Last Place’, for me, fails to work as a coherent piece, with Kaiser’s trademark distorted guitar, full of dive-bombing notes, and rock tremolo arm histrionics sitting uncomfortably against Brighton’s much cleaner, direct and honest style. Overall Together Apart is a success with it’s swirling menagerie of harmonics, dissonant fragments, volume swells, and twanging strings that have been freely utilised, mainly within an empathic and sympathetic set of pieces that work, most of the time, with each other’s playing.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sylvie Courvoisier Trio - D’Agala (Intakt, 2018) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier is back with her trio, Drew Gress on bass and Keith Wollesen on drums. Courvoisier has been on a roll these past couple of years, with a number of superb partnerships, numerous supporting roles, and many collaborations. D’Agala is only the second album with this trio, following 2014’s Double Windsor. When she released that album, on Tzadik, Courvoisier wrote, “John Zorn had been asking me to do a piano-trio record for ages, but I always felt the great history of the piano trio was so intimidating.” This time around, she digs deep into her personal history and turns out a dramatic and sensitive album, filled with emotional and uniquely thoughtful music. This is due, in part, to the way Courvoisier, Gress, and Wollesen each seem to draw music music out of, rather than playing music on, their instruments. It’s a subtle difference, but the opener, “Imprint Double (for Antoine Courvoisier)” showcases this beautifully: Courvoisier begins in a stride mood, a nod to her father who plays piano and taught her to play boogie and shuffle. It’s not long, however, before the trio goes to some very different, inspired spaces beyond dixieland.

I have no theories on why this is, but it seems like some of the best tributes to Ornette Coleman recently have come from piano players, ironically, since he eschewed the instrument for most of his career. Aki Takase released her great double-album with Silke Eberhard a few years ago, and on “Éclats (for Ornette Coleman)” the trio pays tribute to Coleman with a brisk head-improvisation-head structure referencing much of his earliest work. Gress, and Wollesen dive headfirst into a blues, something that always lay at the heart of Coleman’s work. Gress and Wollesen open with more of a Haden/Higgins feel, but channel Izenzon/Moffett during an extended free workout in the latter half, before Courvoisier circles back to the melody. Throughout the album, there’s a lightness and humor that brings the whole performance to life.

“D’Agala,” the title track, is dedicated to Geri Allen and is an incredibly evocative, dynamic performance. Courvoisier and Gress double on the melody, as Wollesen plays a soft, percussive textural pattern. Gress takes the first solo, an emotional, thoughtful reflection on a great artist lost. Courvoisier’s solos for a short while before imperceptibly sliding back into the melody. The somber, reflective mood is revisited on the finale, “South Side Rules (for John Abercrombie),” another tribute to a master who recently died. Gress opens with incredible runs, accented by Courvoisier’s searching lines. Wollesen keeps the whole piece moving forward with nicely harmonic cymbal playing. He’s mostly off the drums, proper, throughout the piece, instead mixing sticks and wire brushes on cymbals to great effect. In the final seconds, the whole trio rapidly comes together for a dramatic punctuation mark of a riff.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Thurston Moore / Adam Gołębiewski - Disarm (Endless Happiness, 2017) ***½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Iconic experimental guitarist Thurston Moore explained recently what is his own Rock n Roll consciousness, the title of his recent solo album (Ecstatic Peace, 2017). Rock n Roll consciousness is actually about sex. When Moore’s defunct group Sonic Youth visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, he learned that the term Rock N’ Roll was an African-American slang for having sex. It took Moore some time to absorb this kind of realization and in a recent interview to Rolling Stone he already identified with this kind of logic: “sex is nature, and nature is everything, and then rock & roll is everything.”

Moore brings this kind of Rock n’ Roll consciousness to a series of free-improvisations with Polish experimental drummer Adam Gołębiewski. Indeed there is no doubt that they were channeling the passion, emotional intensity and the totality of the experience in the halls of Warsaw and Gołębiewski’s hometown, Poznan, in May 2014, when these sessions were recorded.

Moore and Gołębiewski met and played together for the first time in 2013, in a trio with Yoko Ono. Gołębiewski had already played with innovative improvisers as reeds player Ken Vandermark, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj and Moore’s frequent collaborator, sax titan Mats Gustafsson. Like Moore, Gołębiewski seeks to extend and expand the sonic possibilities of his chosen instrument.

Moore sets the atmosphere of the first piece “Disarm” with free-associative, series of thorny, feedback-laden sonic collisions. All Gołębiewski attempts to discipline this abstract flow of fast-shifting collisions with some loose, rhythmic coherence fail and this improvisation heads into more physical and more brutal confrontations. But Moore and Gołębiewski did not lost faith in each other. Soon on the following “Distend” both calibrate on an immediate, noisy frequency and act as one wild, freakish entity that threatens to crash all on its way. The short and sparse “Disturb” serves as a suggestive, teasing interlude before Moore and Gołębiewski race after each other in another set of intense physical collisions, some explosive ones, others surprisingly comforting and caressing, all totally exhausting. The last piece, “Dislodge”, summarizes the essence of Moore and Gołębiewski's interactions - stormy, dissonant and noisy but at the same time attentive, curious and urgent.