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Rempis Percussion Quartet - Tim Daisy (dr), Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (b), Dave Rempis (sax), Frank Rosaly (dr)

Schorndorf, Manufaktur, 3/29/2019

Nu Band: Lou Grassi (dr), Joe Fonda (b), Thomas Heberer (tp), Mark Whitecage (ts)

Heidelberg, DAI; 3/21/2019. Photo by Martin Schray

Ken Vandermark (ts), Phil Sudderberg (dr), Magda Mayas (key)

Berlin, ACUD MACHT NEU; 3/18/2019

The Fictive Five: Nate Wooley (tp), Pascal Niggenkemper (b), Harris Eisenstadt (dr), Ken Filiano (b), Larry Ochs (ts)

Manufaktur, Schorndorf, 3/10/2019. Photo by Martin Schray

Schlippenbach Trio: Alex von Schlippenbach (p), Evan Parker (ts), Paul Lytton (d)

Karlsruhe, Jubez, 12/13/2018. Photo by Martin Schray

Nana Pi (ts), Akira Sakata (as), Asger Thomsen (b), Steve Heather (d)

Berlin, Kuhlspot, 12/2018

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Bloor - Drolleries (Astral Spirits, 2019) ****

By Paul Acquaro

'Bast' is a blast - a kinetic opener to say the least - a musical can opener that removes the lid from the Brooklyn based trio Bloor's first recording Drolleries. Sam Weinberg's saxophone playing is fierce and unforgiving, Jason Nazary's percussion work, while at moments feels frenetic, is quite deftly applied, and Andrew Smiley (like Nazary, from the group Little Woman) slashes at the guitar strings more often in a percussive manner rather than acting as a melodic or harmonic partner. A repeated phrase, interspersed with heaving blasts of sax, acts as the handle they use to turn the gears that pry the can open wider. They build momentum and react to each others nudges until they reach a screaming apex - the lid flaps open wide, jagged edges and all.

A short drum solo provides a buffer before the next track, 'Mollycoddled', which is a sister piece to the opener, and I suspect it was recorded in the same go. Smiley is still slashing at the strings and Weinberg has resumed the role of prime agitator, but something happens halfway though - the musicians switch tactics and the frenetic gives away to the exploratory in stretch that does lose any pulse but provides a nice contrast to the full-throttle blast they began on. This lands the listener in the track 'The Croy Hours', which continues in a more reactionary manner, until they collide and the group regroups - Weinberg and Smiley layering thick swaths of notes atop the jagged percussion.

'A1' is a guitar spotlight, leading up to the track 'Defacer', which stands out with a harmonic melody delivered by the drum and guitar, over which Weinberg employs legato notes and caterwauling tones. The contrast between rhythms is disorienting, but also in some inexplicable way, comforting. 'Ending phrase' is a solo sax piece that serves as a transition to the next piece, 'Liber Scivias', which is another overflowing ladle of sound.

The title track begins with a lone guitar carefully picking out legato notes while brushing accompanying strings. The effect is interesting and certainly provides a reflective moment before the closing 'Splice (for Arthur Blythe)'. I am not sure I hear the connecting to the formidable saxophonist, but regardless, it's a strong closer to the recording with Weinberg employing his sax in a more traditional role, playing intervallically challenging melodic snippets in tandem with Smiley. The tune really gets captivating about 2/3 of the way through, where the guitarist deploys thick comping and Nazary provides a complex web of percussive support.

Drolleries is an intense and dense debut that finds these musicians exploring a range of influences and directions, pretty much all at once. It meshes deeply with the fabric of the fabled Downtown NYC sound and is definitely worth a listen.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Drones of Michael Zerang

By Eyal Hareuveni

Chicagoan Michael Zerang is a man of many talents. He is an resourceful percussionist and imaginative improviser who have played with the most innovative improvisers on both sides of the Atlantic, including Peter Brötzmann, Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermark, John Butcher and Sten Sandell. He is also a pianist, producer, painter and great storyteller and singer-songwriter. His two new albums - released on his own Pink Place label - offer more of his talents, now as a drone master.

Michael Zerang - The Shuddering Cherub: For Solo Piano with Vibrating Elements (Pink Palace Recordings, 2019) ***½

 


The Shuddering Cherub is an exceptional exploration of the sonic possibilities prepared piano in the already exceptional school of playing the preparing piano-inside the piano-hyper-piano. Zerang added an array of vibrating elements and controllers to the piano prepared strings in order to create a thick and multilayered densities and timbres that according to him, “simultaneously drone and dance”. 

His acoustic piano is transformed in this monolith piece to a totally new sonic entity, a kinetic machine that sounds as have originated in a nightmare of sculptor Jean Tinguely. A machine that has a manic mind and mood swings of its own. The transformed piano becomes much more than a vibrating entity. The strings not only vibrate and obviously, resonate, but rattle, clash, storm and moan in this uncompromising, brutal drone. Slowly more abstract themes surface and shape the dense, resonant energy - reflections of brief, lyrical melodies, playful gamelan-like gongs, industrial rhythmic patterns and cryptic, ceremonial hammering of the strings, until it ends with a quiet and peaceful buzzing sounds.  



SILT Ensemble / Michael Zerang - Follow The Light (Pink Palace Recordings, 2019) ***1/2

Follow the Light is a collaboration of Zerang with the SILT Ensemble - viola players Johanna Brock and Julie Pomerleau and double bass players Anton Hatwich and Jason Roebke. Zerang plays the custom-built Queequeg’s Coffin, a drone, coffin-shaped string instrument, titled after the colorful tattooed harpoonist from Herman Melville's Moby Dick (who, at the end of the novel, foresees his death and builds a floating coffin, later converted into a life buoy that eventually saves Ishmael after Moby Dick sinks the ship), and designed by Eric Neumann for a theatrical version of Moby Dick, in which Zerang played this instrument for the first time. The Queequeg’s Coffin has the scale length of a full size cello, with four strings that are vibrated by a circular, wooden wheel - the same mechanism that makes the Hurdy Gurdy's sound.

Follow the Light is Zerang’s first composition that features the Queequeg’s Coffin with this unique SILT string quartet. It is a 43-minutes rich and powerful drone, recorded at the Chapel, Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago and dedicated to Zerang’s early collaborator, late violinist Daniel Scanlan. This drone investigates methodically nuanced resonating and vibrating layers of the five deep-toned, string instruments. Slowly the SILT Ensemble and Zerang draw the listener into their deep seas of sounds. These sounds are highly disciplined and always unified, with no solos but with assorted extended bowing techniques, and offer different dynamics and movements. Follow the Light moves the most serene, ethereal and fragile ripples to the most dense, tense, brutal and chaotic waves, and ends in an abrupt manner. Like life itself, in its most vulnerable or excruciating times.



More on Soundcloud.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Robin Hayward, Hilary Jeffery, Elena Kakaliagou - Words of Paradise (Edition Telemark, 2019) ****

 By Keith Prosk

Words of Paradise is a graphic score composed by Robin Hayward and documented here with a 2016 recording lasting 40 minutes and featuring Elena Kakaliagou (horn), Hilary Jeffery (trombone), and Hayward (microtonal tuba, tuning vine), a working group also known as Zinc & Copper. This trio has recorded before, on at least Ellen Arkbro’s For Organ and Brass, and Hayward and Jeffery have recorded together frequently in the last few years on Burkhard Beins/Clayton Thomas’ Rhythm Complication, Tonaliens’ eponymous release, and Splitter Orchester’s outings.

This composition is part of the trio’s Tubes of Babel project, in which they explore the parallels of the acoustic structure of brass instruments and the physiological structure of the human vocal mechanism. So, fittingly, Words of Paradise is inspired by Dutch linguist Johannes Goropius Becanus’ writings, which postulated that the Dutch dialect Brabantic was the language spoken in paradise, because the most ancient language must be the simplest language, Brabantic has a higher occurrence of simple syllable words than Latin, Greek, or Hebrew, and the most ancient language - the Adamic language - is used to confer with God. Continuing the theme of paradise, the seven circles of the graphic score see the harmony drift from unity in the central circle to disengagement in the outer circles, a metaphor for leaving paradise.

Words of Paradise sonically manifests both Bacanus’ linguistic progression and leaving paradise by using partial-valve and muting techniques to replicate simple syllable words similar to Brabantic that become increasingly complex, loud, and disengaged from the other harmonic lines. The whole performance features a faintly modulating electric hum or drone created by Hayward’s tuning vine, a software interface for exploring just intonation. The players start out with muted, short calls and responses that are quieter than the drone. A lot of breathy valve work. Inhalation. Lip smacking. Purrs. The hiss of breath like a valve releasing steam. Suction like tape pops. Embouchures like blowing raspberries. They are acid heralds. A bit earlier than halfway through the performance, Hayward’s tuba begins to resonate so deeply and forcefully that it feels like thousands marching ‘round Jericho. Soon, all players are blowing longer, then more complex, then louder lines. Each instrument phases in and then out of sync with each other, creating howling resonances and then disintegrated orchestral swells. By the end of the performance, it sounds like Babel.

Highly recommended for listeners that enjoy the heady, conceptual, yet emotive work of other Splitter alumni.

Words of Paradise is available digitally and on LP, which is a picture disc displaying the circular graphic score.



Monday, April 22, 2019

DKV Trio & Joe McPhee ‎– The Fire Each Time (Not Two, 2019) ****½

By Stef

If you like dancing to free jazz, I can recommend this album. If you don't like dancing to free jazz, I still recommend you buy it. It's the kind of object every free jazz lover should have. Not because the music is ground-breaking by itself, not because you've never heard these guys play music before, but only because it's such a great testimony to their combined skills and because every single second of it is enjoyable. All in a little black box.

There is a lot of music, six full CDs, with almost six hours of improvised live performances by Ken Vandermark on sax, Joe McPhee on sax and pocket trumpet, Kent Kessler on bass and Hamid Drake on drums, or the DKV Trio with Joe McPhee.

Each CD brings us one show, spread over concert halls in Europe and the United States (see list below), and the title is aptly chosen: you get the same level of energy and 'fire' for each performance. It swings, it sings and it dances, creating the wonderful combination of Vandermark's rhythmic improvisations and McPhee's more soulful sound, adding colour and dimension to the trio's known albums. While on some albums with a two front men playing sax, you can wonder and guess who is actually playing, it is quite easy to identify which sax is Vandermark and which one is McPhee.

All the music is improvised, often around some of the typical sax vamps by Vandermark, highly rhythmic and uptempo, the ideal power engine for Kessler and Drake to show their skills, and as said, you get a lot of ear candy. Hamid Drake is definitely one of the most 'lyrical' drummers around, with the skills to embellish rhythms in a way that's difficult to describe, adding flourishes and complexities seemingly without effort.

At times, McPhee gets the lead role, and his approach is slower, soulful, bluesy,  playing improvisations on his own "Nation Time" (from Nation Time, 1971), "Circumstantial Evidence" (from Dream Defenders, 2013), "Old Eyes" (from "Old Eyes, 1980), "Knox" (from Tenor, 1977), but also taking on standards such as "Summertime", "Ol' Man River" or Ellington's "Come Sunday". Like with Trio X, McPhee brings these tunes with the emotional and spiritual depth to the high level that you can expect from him, and they function as the perfect balance for the high energy playing that makes the bulk of the improvisations. Sadness and joy are equally represented.

The fun part is that this is really a performance by equals, all fully comfortable in the performances they create, fully comfortable with each other's skills, and having sufficiently performed together in the past in various ensembles and line-ups, also fully comfortable with how the other three musicians will interact and drive the sound forward. Both Kessler and Drake get their solo spaces once in a while, never too long, and mostly quite compelling, and very often one or two musicians take a step back and for solo or duo performances, mostly during the quiet and sensitive moments, yet these are usually interludes or launching platforms for all four have a go at it, full of joy about the music itself, making it sing and dance and jubilate.

And then Vandermark and McPhee take turns in making this an amazing experience. Even with their distinct voices, McPhee can be violent in his solos and Vandermark sensitive. They easily change roles, as they do with instruments, with McPhee switching to pocket trumpet, and Vandermark to his clarinets, adding variety in the long improvisations. Yet they are really at their best on tenor, both of them, working the tone and timbre of their instrument to maximum effect and expressivity.

Other tunes include the circular theme of Don Cherry's 'Brown Rice', which - as usual - turns into a rhythmic improvisation of the other shows.

Listening to all CDs in a row is a little bit much, and because many of the improvisations - regardless of their location - are built around similar themes and structures, it may become a little repetitive and confusing, yet that's only a minor comment because the quality of all performances, including the sound quality of the recording itself, are excellent throughout. We would already cheer for a single album with this music, and we now get six of them. That by itself makes it something to take in house.

The music is dedicated to James Baldwin, the American author, to whom Joe McPhee wrote poetry in the accompanying booklet.

The total experience is rich, balanced, and relatively compact despite the amount of music you get. And because these are all live performances, you get very enthusiastic crowds at time, adding to the fun.

Not to be missed!


The performances recorded:

CD ONE : Instants Chavirés, Paris, France on November 13, 2017.  
CD TWO : Klub Dragon, Poznan, Poland on November 15, 2017.  
CD THREE : Divadlo 29, Pardubice, Czech Republic on November 16, 2017.  
CD FOUR : The Sugar Maple, Milwaukee, USA on December 27, 2017.  
CD FIVE : Elastic Arts, Chicago, USA on December 28, 2017.  
CD SIX : Elastic Arts, Chicago, USA on December 29, 2017.  

Watch a show in Krakow, Poland, in 2017


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Tony Buck & Massimo Pupillo - Time Being + Unseen (Trost, 2018) ***½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Australian, Berlin-based drummer-percussionist Tony Buck and Italian electric bass player Massimo Pupillo are restless musicians who are always ready to explore new sonic frontiers. These masters of all aspects of rhythm, pulse, and groove are members of now legendary and seminal trios - Buck for more than thirty years with the Australian experimental, free-improv The Necks, and Pupillo for twenty years with the Italian power-punk-jazz trio Zu. Both are busy with many other projects. Buck works with partner Magda Mayas in the Spill duo, released a solo album (Unearth, Room40, 2017), and collaborated in recent years with Fennesz, John Butcher and Frank Gratkowski. Pupillo has worked in recent years with Oren Ambarchi and Stefano Pilia, Alvin Curran and Cindytalk (aka Gordon Sharp). Time Being and Unseen are the compact vinyl and the extended, disc versions of Buck and Pupillo collaborative, haunting ambient work, recorded in Berlin on August 2017 and wrapped by the suggestive artwork by Sara d'Uva.



Time Being begins with the mysterious, atmospheric soundscape of “Strange Luminant” that slowly drifts into a deep, quiet space, but is still attuned to the subtle and delicate rhythmic patterns of the electronic noises of such journey towards new sonic frontiers. The longer “Exhale” deepens the absorbing, atmospheric vein and dives into more sparse and ethereal regions. This piece produces dark, threatening tension as the ringing vibes and processed, abstract electronic sounds float in thin air but carefully envelope the unsuspecting listener.




  
The pieces of Unseen are much longer, denser, and richer. The 22-minutes “Psithurism” offers an urgent and volatile atmosphere, constantly distracted by waves of cryptic noises. These noises produce in their turn a claustrophobic feeling, but one that is layered with slow, monotonous yet highly addictive groove that only gets more distorted, more sinister, and stronger. The 46-minutes “Entrainment” expands the disquieting, dramatic spirit, and is comprised of fast but delicate percussive noises and electronic treatments, which blend in a dark and impressionistic drone. Slowly this drone evolves into a sonic monolith with many nuanced and darker morphological layers of minimalist, delicate sounds and pulses. Later this drone morphs again into an intense detour into deep space of clattering, pulsating noises, adding to its dense mix of clashing pulses a new layer of distorted and mutated tough bass line, and finally drown within quiet and surprisingly peaceful, symphonic ripples.



Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Comet Is Coming - Trust In The LifeForce Of The Deep Mystery (Impulse, 2019) ****

By Sammy Stein



The Comet Is Coming are a UK group who have previously released on the Indie label Leaf but now make their Impulse debut with Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery. A band which defies genre definition, this is spiritual music, modern yet old and with more than a smattering of Mr Herman Blount. Impulse's president, Danny Bennett has said when he first heard the group he knew he was 'in the presence of greatness that was bound to shake the foundation of music. ' Label speak maybe but there is definitely something unique about this group. They fit with Verve ( Impulse's parental home) well because Verve seek to push boundaries in music - and they do. The music is co-written by the three musicians and the composition has a structured yet spiritual bent to it. King Shabaka of the band says, "We are able to catch glimpses of this life-force energy during our music-induced trances, and in doing so can contemplate our position as a human species in the context of the vastness of space and the epic scale of its workings."

'Because The End Is Really The Beginning' is synthesised atmospherics to begin before the oft- repeated 5 note riff dominates and the percussion introduces swellings of cymbal and rhythmic under currents. All is gentle and quiet with sax adding its own melody, while the percussion increases the intricacy of rhythm, particularly under the higher notes. ' Birth Of Creation' works around a repeated theme, with synthesizer picking up the bass melody which is worked around across the track, and returned to frequently. Deeply resonant synthesiser notes emphasise the middle section, whilst the saxophone creates scaled lines in the background and the drums maintain a relentless rhythm, until the final section when sounds merge, the sax squeals its protest and a chaotic momentum with an off kilter beat from the percussion and sax is maintained to finish the track. ' Summon The Fire' is interesting with echoed sax over double time percussion. The theme is strong, repeated again and again and the sense of speed in this track is engaging as it builds and drives forward. This is intense, high-energy, gender defying music.

'Blood Of The Past' is a pulsating, spiritual, energy encapsulating delivery with Shabakah leading on sax over a swelling and receding rhythm, the sax speaking loose-reeded and persuasive musical volumes but then is usurped by guest vocalist Kate Williams as she delivers a state-of-the-universe-address that summons up the spirits of the past and the potential mistakes of the now and future, the essence of innocence in her delivery contrasting with the mature, well honed music behind. The sax is at times unhinged in the best way and verges on the anarchic over a steady and entrancing beat pounded out by the drums. Glorious.

'Super Zodiac Comet is Coming' begins with synthesiser, soothing and blissed out before any sense of peace is destroyed gleefully by the rapidity of the rhythmic emphasis changing and the temp is upped. Suddenly we are on a hell-for-leather driving, helter skelter, chasing the vivid textures of the sax which, though repeating the riff many times, each delivery is emphasised slightly anew. Best track yet.

'Astral Flying Comet is Coming' starts with the final note of the last track and eases into a different and spirit-led exposition of musical dialogue, with the synthesizer at its heart, ' The last minute has deep throated sax over light, free flowing synthed notes and offers a cool contrast to the first two thirds. 'Timewave Zero Comet is Coming' is a bit of a genre mash-up with wonderful percussion supporting syrupy sax which works in and out, until the gloriously beautiful central section of just sax and percussion, which is a delight. ' Unity Comet is Coming' is weirdly disconcerting with its interplay of rhythms provided by sax and percussion over flitting, jittery synthesisers and a Caribbean feel to the rhythm - you can even hear cymbalic waves in the background if you listen and harmonics introduce almost a vocal choral line at one point. '

'The Universe Wakes Up Comet Is Coming' is a full blown narrative in itself with a slow yawning opening, a slow burning middle section with sax melodies singing over steady synthed chords before the sax goes spacial and off unto a world of its own making - beautiful riffs, short melodic plays on the key notes and finally a repeated, repeated (repeated) sequence of notes delivered at mad-cap velocity.

I was not sure what to make of this album even on the second, third listen and it is difficult to say whether all the hype is justified. It is good - it is just not sure of what it wants to say. The PR notes tell you that on track 4 Kate Tempest delivers an address that evokes the 'gone-but-not-forgotten spirits of William Blake, Ian Dury, Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, space travelers all' - it doesn't for everyone. There is also the message their music is redolent of John Coltrane, Sanders and Alice Coltrane - not really, apart from the fact they are on the same record label now and there are some familiar essences but really, this is pure The Comet Is Coming. The vague and disjointed titles do nothing to explain the music and in many cases is hard to relate to at all. However, what this is, is original and they should go with that. There is here a divine combination of spirit-led imaginings with superb musicianship and for this alone, the album is worth everything. It is great to hear them not adhering to any genre entirely but introducing elements of African, Latin and classic jazz beats. The music is predictable to the extent that there is scaffolding of oft-repeated riffs and melodies but it is how they alter the delivery and build around the framework which is impressive.

Descriptions of the band in the PR material includes lines like , "'The Comet Is Coming' are here to apply a salve to the wounds of the world and offer succour to the spiritually deprived. To do so they have delved into their collective sub-consciousness during months of studio experimentation to bring back these souvenirs of astral and auditory travel. " There is much talk of the intergalactic connection, astral planes and their mission statement is " The Comet is Coming to destroy illusions. It will manifest new realities, perceptions, levels of awareness and abilities to coexist. It is a musical expression forged in the deep mystery. It is the overcoming of fear, the embracing of chaos, the peripheral sight that we might summon the fire. Through the transcendent experience of music we reconnect with the energy of the Lifeforce in hope of manifesting higher realities in new constructs. Because the end is only really the beginning." Really? Far better is when Shabakah describes the album simply as, 'an acknowledgement in the midst of all the darkness we see of those who trust in the imagination". Aaah...

The originality is great and the music is superb, the sax driving and completely engaging whilst the percussion and synthesiser control and create guidelines ( actual musical ones). This is interesting - and at times, quite beautiful.

Personnel: King Shabaka ( Shabaka Hutchings) : saxophones; Danalogue (Dan Leavers): keys/synth; Betamax ( Max Hallett) : drums; Kate Tempest: spoken word on track 4.

Friday, April 19, 2019

John McCowen - Mundanas I-V (Edition Wandelweiser Records, 2019) ****½



By Keith Prosk

We’ve covered composer and clarinetist John McCowen’s Solo Contra and 4 Chairs in Three Dimensions, noting his awe-inspiring approach to multiphonics, dimensionality, and resonance with the clarinet family. Mundanas I-V is five compositions for two clarinets that further explore those elements, performed by McCowen and Madison Greenstone across 33 minutes. Greenstone is a promising, newer voice that appears to mostly dwell around the sphere of avant-garde classical performance for the moment and can also be heard on Morgan Evans-Weiler & Michael Pisaro’s Lines And Tracings. McCowen has doubled down on his multi-faceted mode before, with the sublime Clarinet Quartets nos. 1 & 2, which is more traditionally, beautifully musical but seems less skilled in technical performance and extended technique as well as sound engineering than this recording - it feels as if what two could do in the quartet is done by one in this duo. Additionally, McCowen has recorded a “Mundana no. 2,” appearing on HUMANA/MUNDANA, but this is a separate solo composition that is not the “Mundana II” intended for duo performance found on this recording.

The word mundana refers to Boethius’ De institutione musica, in which the Roman philosopher outlined musica instrumentalis, musica humanas, and musica mundanas. Instrumentalis refers to music as we know it, from both tools and the voice. Humanas is the unheard harmonious spiritual vibrations between people. Mundanas is the inaudible vibrations and resonances of the natural world. It makes sense then that the complex close-mic’ing to capture otherwise unheard vibrations and resonances of a vessel with wind blown through it might be closer to mundanas than instrumentalis. And this duo might be closer to two trees communicating through a mycorrhizal network than two musicians improvising with each other.

Much of “Mundana I” and “Mundana V” sounds like sine waves shifting in and out of sync, amplifying and resonating, like staring at a ceiling fan in and out of focus; this is cut by multiphonic, tense, glassy purrs that also phase in and out with each other. They are both multi-tiered, complex commentary on counterpoint and harmony, as every composition here seems. “Mundana II” switches out the synthesizer-like sound waves for an alien melody and “Mundana IV” is exotic bird calls and responses and warbles and gurgling. “Mundana III” is contrasted against the drones and dense sonic spaces of the other pieces by utilizing pronounced rests, silence, though every piece is so quiet that the steady streams of circular breathing and key clicks are part of the music. It’s more cognitive than body music, but it’s deeply resonated with my spirit. Absolutely enchanting.

Mundanas I-V is available digitally and on CD.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

William Parker – Flower in a Stained Glass Window/The Blinking of the Ear (AUM Fidelity, 2018) *****


By Nick Ostrum

William Parker is a composer and bassist of incomparable skill. (OK, that may sound either self-evident or trite, but the accolade fits.) When he releases a new album – especially one of the many boxed-sets that he has been producing lately – I am always tempted to listen. I am never disappointed. To reference a brief conversation in the comments section of an earlier post , Parker ranks among Hamid Drake and Joe McPhee as one of the most soulful artists in free jazz today. And, much like those two musicians, his music is somehow always a welcomed surprise, whether because it is so innovative, or just because it is so damn good.

This double album is fittingly a departure from his previous efforts. At the same time, however, it fits beautifully into his oeuvre. Moreover, it is laden with soul, albeit in differing articulations.
The first disc, Flowers in a Stained Glass Window features Steve Swell on trombone, Abrahama Mennen on tenor sax, Isaiah Parker on piano, Kesivan Naidoo on drums, Dave Sewelson and Nick Lyons on alto sax, William Parker on bass and drums, and the inimitable Leena Conquest on vocals. As much as Parker’s presence, both in composition and playing, make this recording the unique object that it is, Conquest’s vocalizing of Parker’s poems lends Flowers its potency. (NB: I am not always a fan of Parker’s poetry, at least when written. These words, however, work perfectly in this context.) Composed in homage to Martin Luther King, Jr., these tracks examine the history of race relations, war and peace, capitalism and democracy, and the myriad shortcomings in the contemporary quest for justice and equality. The music is powerful and Parker and his band are in top form. Conquest, however, plays a singular role. Even when quiet, she makes Parker’s words resonate throughout the mournful and hopeful improvisations that follow.

This disc consists of a satisfying balance of shorter pieces - including a particularly moving wherein the name of “Emmet Till” is repeated over a discordant tapestry of wailing horns and eerily calm bass and piano progressions – and longer instrumental tracks bookended by poetry. For their part, “Children” and “What is That About?,” resemble Parker’s Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield project in their energy, melodicism, and emotive effect. One of the most surprising standouts is “I Had a Dream Last Night,” a longer, bluesy, borderline imagist meditation on a dream about a feminine Jesus’s second coming in the present day, backed only by rhythmic claps and what sounds like tambourine.

The second disc, The Blinking of the Ear, takes a completely different tack. Along with long-time collaborators such as Daniel Carter (trumpet and saxes), Steve Swell (trombone), and Eri Yamamoto (piano) and a newer musical comrade, Leonid Galaganov (drums), The Blinking of the Ear also features the mezzo-soprano AnneMarie Sandy. This produces an unconventional marriage of downtown jazz and classical that affirms the classicality of the former and emphasizes the spirituality and continued poignancy of the latter. Parker himself dubs this the achievement of “universality tonality.” I find this description quite appropriate.

In “Meditation on Freedom,” Sandy makes her first, unannounced but absolutely gripping entrance just over six minutes into a driving post-bop track. Her first words, “freedom, freedom, freedom,” unlock a meditation that had hitherto been entrancing, but meandering. The rhythm then slows; the melodies elide and quiet. The track takes shape as the groove slows and continues, without Sandy. The next track, “Without Love Everything will fail,” begins with Sandy and Yamamoto, soon accompanied by Parker, Swell, Galaganov, and, eventually, Carter on trumpet. Melodies float on, along, and through each other in a soothing but irregular interweave. “Dark Remembrance” begins as a hymn with the plea, ”Lift my soul up into my heavenly, heavenly home.” Several minutes in, the lyrics take a jarring turn to describe a lynching. The melody, progression, and description evoke an abstracted “Strange Fruit” and, in the process, draw an unsettling connection between the past and present, and provocative links between blues and classical traditions. The two-part “Heavenly Home Meditation on Peace,” however, is the heart of this album. These pieces sound at times Ellingtonian and composed, at others dark and Weberian, at others liked a pared-down Mahler, at still others lyrical and post-bop or abstract collective improvisation. (For the latter, think of a less groove-driven, progressive Double Sunrise over Neptune or a lost companion to For Those Who are Still .) This, however, is hardly a hodge-podge of musical forms. Instead, each element is cleanly integrated into an effective, narrative whole. Regardless of the moment’s inspiration, the pieces are bound by an arc of moods, textures, and feel that is utterly compelling. This, of course, is not Parker’s first attempt at grand scale compositions. His experience and vision, as well as those of his fellow musicians and the stunning Sandy, shine.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Marion Brown/Dave Burrell: Live at the Black Musicians' Conference, 1981 (NoBusiness, 2018) ****


By Kian Banihashemi

When thinking about Marion Brown and Dave Burrell, I rarely gravitate to anything of this period. In fact, there isn't much of it even recorded or issued; compared to the fire music of the 60s. So, my lack of listening experience with this musical period resulted in mixed emotions, mainly excitement and worry that it would not live up to my expectations for these artists. Dave Burrell has always served as a very capable sideman, and his leading role on the BYG actuel released album Echo was where I first became engulfed into his skillful musicianship. Echo is a large outing with some of most well-known and respected names in free jazz at the time, and it really is no surprise that the album is quite difficult to get into. The musical partnership between Burrell and Brown was revealed to me through some of Brown's first releases, including Juba-Lee and Three for Shepp. While their previous musical partnerships had been rewarding and unique, I never saw their connection at a level of say that between Coltrane and Tyner. I’m glad that this performance displays the closer and more dynamic sides of Burrell and Brown, isolating them from other musicians’ input of ideas. While their relationship is not completely equal, I believe it’s important that the playing not be so leveled out. Having music contain various dynamics and narratives makes it much more interesting and democratic. Even if it can sometimes be individualistic in what directions are taken, there’s a clear sense of collaboration and conciseness in the music.

The setting itself seems to be very intimate, a respectful crowd and varied set list makes this performance a standout in the catalogs of both artists. A couple pieces composed by Brown, three by Burrell, and interestingly enough, two Billy Strayhorn covers. I noticed that there was a tendency for the composer of their respective pieces to be the leader as well, guiding the other musician by setting a well-crafted stage to jump off. The recording quality can be shoddy at times, but never gets in the way of the emotional outpour that this album is able to muster up. Brown and Burrell have gone past their fiery walls of sounds that was sometimes present in their earliest recordings. The passion in Brown's playing cuts through from the first few seconds of the opening track, "Gossip / Fortunado", and continues throughout the rest of the near eighty minute performance. Each note blown is carefully chosen and carries a great weight with it; Marion Brown shows that even in his middle ages he is able to push forward and successfully play "in" and "out" of the pocket. A lot of these songs are in the ballad vein with a clear soulful and bluesy influence. Brown is the elder statesman, showing off his experience while staying true to the tradition. Most of the tunes end up having a clear melodic theme that is easily hummed and remained in my head throughout the day, and while he goes on during his fluid outward playing, Burrell keeps that theme in check for when it's time to come home.

Dave Burrell is much more on the conservative side for the majority of this album, with his compositions taking on a noir atmosphere, without any of the perceived pretentiousness that may accompany such a description. One of the beautiful aspects of Burrell's playing is the diversity he maintains within it. Whether it be the early swingers, or Lennie Tristano and Cecil Taylor; Burrell can establish himself using the variety of the jazz world around him. In this recording he leans on his more traditional learning, taking Brown along with him for the ride. All three of his compositions play one after the other, these being "Punaluu Peter", "Pua Mae 'Ole", and "Crucifacado". These three songs grant a change in pace that is not only interesting but comforting, like meeting a long-lost friend. On the flip side, the weakest portions of this performance are within the two Billy Strayhorn covers, "My Little Brown Rock" and "Lush Life". There's some interesting moments and it stays very warm and true to form, yet it loses some of its memorability and impact on me. Even though these couple of tracks cut through the flow of what's going on, their inclusion provides a look inside the unbothered and loving minds of these two free jazz giants.

This album has taught me a couple things; first, that I should be on the lookout for more recordings of piano and saxophone duos (a couple of my favorite instruments) and second, to explore and enjoy the later works of jazz musicians. This may be a great place to start within the discography of these two artists, as it mostly increases in intensity the further back you dig. The interplay between them is strong, yet kind and gentle. Brown and Burrell show a definite sense of respect and restraint around each other; their decades of working together accumulate here to create something truly wholesome and gorgeous. Those at UMass Amherst were lucky to able to witness such a musical partnership, and although it only reaches us now through this imperfect recording, this album still feels like a surprise gift that you never knew you wanted. There's a sentimentality in the playing that becomes more familiar as the music progresses, especially if you're already familiar with the music of these artists. This may not be my go-to album for these artists, but it serves as a great reminder of what they're capable of and how well they aged during their tenures as some of the world's greatest musicians.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Anthony Shadduck - Anthony Shadduck Quartet/Double Quartet (Big Ego Records, 2019) ****

 By Lee Rice Espstein

Bassist Anthony Shadduck’s new album presents itself with a kind of low-key humility. Aside from the nod to Free Jazz in the title, there’s a straightforwardness to the album that belies the depth of cleverness and delight hidden within. Of course, my “local boy makes good” spin on this album, recorded at and released by Long Beach’s own Big Ego, might be seen as a brag (only a bit), but I’m always keeping my eye on the SoCal scene, which is filled with magnificent players.

The first half, recorded with a first-rate quartet, features three covers (by Ornette Coleman, Paul Motian, and Chris Schlarb) and one original. On the opener, Coleman’s “Law Years,” Shadduck pairs pianist Cathlene Pineda and guitarist Jeff Parker on a radical re-voicing, doubling chords where Coleman often removed them completely. The group slows the tempo and lowers the fever, but Pineda and Parker are dynamite improvisers. Where Shadduck seems to be channeling Charlie Haden, Pineda provides a Don Pullen or Anthony Davis–like voicing, with drummer Dylan Ryan at times channeling Bobby Battle. If it sounds like this quartet is a loving callback to 1980s DIW and Black Saint/Soul Note sessions, that seems to be what’s happening here (which is meant as a compliment, naturally).

On the flip side, a double quartet goes full tilt on a pair of uptempo swingers. The lineup has Shadduck and David Tranchina on bass, Danny Frankel and Chad Taylor on drums, Alex Sadnik and Phillip Greenlief on woodwinds, and Kris Tiner and Danny Levin on brass. Shadduck has the writing credit for “One” and “Two,” but, as with side one, it’s his subtle direction on the improvisations that gives the pieces their structure. The tracks are brisk, totaling 20 minutes, but there is room enough for each player to take centerstage. And really, that’s the most notable element. Shadduck’s been leading a Ornette-inspired double quartets for nearly a decade , so he has a clear vision for how to arrange and balance these groups.

Available on limited-edition vinyl and digital at Bandcamp