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Angelica Sanchez and Wadada Leo Smith

Greenwich Music House, New York, New York. March 2017. Photo by Bart Babinski

Julie Kjær 3: Steve Noble (d), John Edwards (b), Kjær (s)

Club Manufaktur, Schorndorf, Germany. March 2017. Photo by Martin Schray

Ballister: David Rempis, Paal-Nilssen Love, Fred-Lonberg Holm

Dialograum Kreuzung an St. Helena, Bonn. March 2017. Photo by Martin Schray

David Torn

Howland Cultural Center, Beacon, NY. March 2017. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Louis Belogenis & Joe McPhee

Alan Krili's Loft, NYC. February 2017. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Michaël Attias Quartet - Nerve Dance (Clean Feed, 2017) ****½

By Derek Stone

For more than ten years now, Michaël Attias has been a steady contributor to Clean Feed’s veritable treasure trove of contemporary jazz - beginning with 2005’s Credo, he has, time and time again, proven himself to be one of the finest bandleaders around. On his most recent effort, the evocatively-titled Nerve Dance, Attias is joined by Aruán Ortiz on piano, John Hébert on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums. Needless to say, it’s a noteworthy list of names, one that is likely to make the ears of many of this blog’s readers perk up with interest. And lucky for them, Nerve Dance delivers in all the ways that matter - compositionally, melodically, texturally. While I’d stop short of calling it a “Grade-A, 100% masterpiece,” it certainly floats to the top of the pile of jazz recordings released this year - and I use the word “float” quite intentionally, as the eleven originals here (nine from Attias, two from Hébert) often have a sort of airy, dream-like otherworldliness about them, ensuring that the “dance” referenced in the album’s title is perpetually carried out just a few centimeters above the ground. That’s not to say it’s all lightness and cherubic charm, however; there’s a darkness here too, like the disquieting rustle of wings in a pitch-black forest. In other words: this thing has got atmosphere, and lots of it.

Look no further than the opener. “Dark Net” storms right out of the gate with its elliptical swing; Nasheet Waits is the structural backbone of the piece, offering jarring rhythmical changes and busy, rolling frills that keep the composition in a perpetual state of motion. Ortiz makes reference to Monk and Hill with stretches that are often laconic, but sometimes trip over themselves in complex rounds. Hébert, as always, is a pleasure - he’s not the flashiest player around, but his workmanlike dedication to producing “the bass-line of best fit” is admirable. Finally, composer Attias brings a full-bodied warmth to the alto sax that belies the topsy-turvy, serpentine nature of the compositions - while he could easily get away with ear-piercing squeals and guttural honks (à la perennial avant-garde altoist Braxton), he instead settles on an approach that is deep, rich, and melodic, with occasional forays into the blistering altissimo register. That’s not to say that he’s straight-laced or boring, however. On “Le Pèse-Nerfs,” witness his wild, breathless runs and frantic shrieks. It speaks to Attias’s versatility that the opening of the very next track, “Rodger Lodge,” sounds like something you could hear being played in an upscale jazz lounge.

While the first few pieces are jaunty, uptempo numbers, the album eventually takes a turn towards compositions that are more subdued. “Moonmouth,” for instance, rides on a simple and alluring melody from Ortiz, one that ascends the scale in a tentative, measured way. “La Part Maudite” is similarly understated, with Hébert bowing out gruff notes, Ortiz working in fits and starts, and Waits encircling them both with his limber patterns that always seem to be in a searching mode. The opening of “Dream in a Mirror” is something of a low-key showcase for Hébert - here, his solo does indeed sound like something plucked out of a dream. Once the others join in, the dream solidifies and we’re left with a piece that alludes to late-period Coltrane in the way it blends Waits’ billowing percussion, Ortiz’s intoxicating clusters, and Attias’ near-mystical presentation of the main motif. If “Dream in a Mirror” is the initial burst of ecstasy, then the following piece “Ombilique” is what happens when your spirit re-enters your battered, exhausted body: a slow return of consciousness, with all the lumbering movements and half-formed thoughts that that entails. By the time “Nasheet” rolls in, you can’t help but imagine that you’re nearing the end of a journey, even if it was just a journey to some other mental state. Considering it carries his name, you’d expect “Nasheet” to be where Waits finally lets loose and blows us all away with his manifold techniques. He does, somewhat, but it’s in the form of a slow burn - he’s too good to be showy, so he instead regales us with his loose-limbed rhythms, clattering patterns that, thanks to the exceptional way in which this album was recorded, move fluidly back-and-forth in the mix.

As a unified statement, Nerve Dance works wonderfully. Not only are the compositions top-notch, but the players themselves have a telepathic understanding of when to “show their cards,” so to speak, and when to lay low. Not to mention, the sheer range on this thing is appreciable: there are tracks that swing, tracks that float, tracks that partake in rapturous dances, and even tracks that howl in pain. I recently came across a quote from Robert Penn Warren; when talking about poetry, he noted that it “demands participation, from the secret physical echo in muscle and nerve that identifies us with the medium, to the imaginative enactment that stirs the deepest recesses where life-will and values reside.” I couldn’t help but relate the quote to this album, and jazz in general. When the music is good, and when you are truly engaging with it, it feels like every nerve in your body is indeed activated, spiralling and spinning and whirling. This “nerve dance” is one of the reasons we love free jazz, and anyone who gives Nerve Dance a shot will get to experience it in full.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Oliver Lake & Flux Quartet - Right Up On (Passin’ Thru Records, 2017) ****½

By Jonathan Brokenbrow

The new release on Passin’ Thru Records shows the perfect subtleties and energy that can be achieved between a leading free jazz saxophonist and one of the most exciting contemporary classical quartets at present.

Oliver Lake has an impressive solo output, as well as being a founding member of Trio 3 and The World Saxophone Quartet. His back catalogue has shown him to be a consistent and invigorating force within jazz and the new release doesn’t show any sign of him slowing down. Right Up On is a beautifully crafted collection of Lake’s compositions for string quartet, with Lake only present himself on 3 of the albums tracks (5 sisters, Hey Now Hey and Disambiguate). The presence of Lake on only 3 of the albums tracks allows the Quartet to interpret free jazz and improvisation within the realms and context of a contemporary string quartet.

The exploratory nature of the Flux Quartet (Tom Chiu, Conrad Harris, Max Mandell and Felix Fan) is something that has aided them throughout their career. Their back catalogue is a rich and varied curation, including highly praised performances of Morton Feldman’s string quartet compositions, and a list of collaborative artists that show their diverse musical interest. Right Up On shows the skill that the quartet possess and reveals the opportunity for further exercise between the contemporary classical and free jazz spheres.

The Flux Quartet sound throughout the recording that they are immersed and excited by the music they are playing. On a personal note, one of the aspects I love about jazz music in its broadest terms is the passion of the players. No group of musicians look or sound as if they are having as much fun performing as a collection of jazz players who are completely lost in the music. Through the quartets performance of Lake’s composition the players have indeed found this thrill. 

Oliver Lake – Auto Sax
Tom Chiu – Violin            
Conrad Harris – Violin
Max Mandell – Viola
Felix Fan – Cello

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Necks - Unfold (Ideologic Organ, 2017) ****½

By Philip Coombs

As we northern Canadians have finally stopped shoveling and started mowing our lawns after another long and dark winter, one can hear summer music blasting our of cars still riding on snow tires out of fear of a relapse. I can very clearly remember back when my band mates and I were starting to get our first taste of summer driving. We had an old beater of a car that worked fine except for the cassette deck. It had enveloped and held hostage the album Shaved Fish by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band so whether we wanted it to or not, that was the soundtrack of that summer.

I stumbled on that memory as I was driving to work and realized that I had been playing Unfold by Australian heavyweights The Necks for quite some time now and was becoming the soundtrack of this summer, albeit by choice this time.

I have fallen into the well-orchestrated trance of this group before, usually, a 45-50 minute single track ebbing and flowing and eventually releasing you only to realize that you had arrived at work largely by muscle memory.

The one major difference with Unfold is the number of tracks. This time around, instead of expanding on one central idea, they have given us four. The reason for this is the decision to release Unfold on vinyl, thus based on the restraints of the medium, four unnumbered sides were written to be listened to in whatever order strikes you. I was not one of the lucky ones to get in on the vinyl before the first pressing sold out but my digital download proved to have the same effect. Unfold became the album without a sequence.

How would The Necks navigate these parameters? Why, quite well, thank you. Chris Abrahams (piano and Hammond Organ) takes the liberty of driving 'Overhear' with his Hammond and on 'Rise' he shows his searching side with the piano. Lloyd Swanton (electric and double bass) and Tony Buck (drums and guitar) surround Abrahams like the outside of a puzzle and the more they squeeze inward, the more the piano responds to the claustrophobia.

The other two tracks, 'Blue Mountain' and 'Timepiece' are stomping grounds for the rhythm section. Buck and Swanton blast their way with what seems to be a full attack but only to realize soon enough that there are still layers that can be found. A refreshing approach for a group that has 19 records under their belt.

Here I am again sitting in my car, parked outside a grey building wondering if I can finish this track before I have to off the ignition and walk out into the morning sun and the only thing I can think of is I hope all my Australian friends are enjoying winter.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sexmob - Cultural Capital (Rax Records, 2017) ****

By Paul Acquaro

For some reason, I lost track of Sexmob after 2003's Dime Grind Palace, and so after catching a show by another long-standing Steven Bernstein group "Spanish Fly" a couple of months back, I wondered why this was. Diving back in with Cultural Capital had me instantly a bit nostalgic for the late 90's/early 00's in New York when there were groups like Sex Mob, MMW, and Groove Collective mixing up off kilter grooves and stylistic mashups. This brings it all back, with Steven Bernstein's humor and musicality very much intact. 

Kicking off with 'Street', each member of the band is quickly re-introduced starting with the slick and subtle beat from drummer Kenny Wollesen, and the tandem melodies of trumpeter Bernstein and saxophonist (and guitarist) Briggan Krauss. Tony Scherr's bass is not far behind (musically speaking, its right on!) and at times Krauss' guitar adds a bit of bite. The song is a quick introduction to the recording and they are soon into 'Step Apache' in which Bernstein and Krauss play an infectious melody and counter melody over a sly mambo like rhythm. 

The short tunes come in rapid succession, each one distinct and tightly composed. For example, the mood become spiritual on 'Helmland' as Bernstein plays a heartfelt tune over forlorn accompaniment. '4 Cents' which begins with a wash of cymbals slowly picks up, turning into a pulsating groove. The next song seamlessly segues into some buzzing saxophone work, its sweet flow befits the name 'Syrup'. The rapid succession of songs keep the album moving along and pack in an incredible assortment of ideas and expression. 

Not exactly free jazz, but surely freeing, Bernstein and his crew in Sex Mob have dropped a fun and invigorating album with Cultural Capital. I'm happy I checked back in after so many intervening years!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Leap of Faith Orchestra – Helix (Evil Clown, 2017) ****

By Troy Dostert

One thing you can say for sure about David Peck (PEK), the founder and inspirational force behind the Leap of Faith Orchestra: he’s on a mission.  A relentless mission, if the ever-expanding discography of the group is any indication.  A quick glimpse at Leap of Faith’s bandcamp page reveals dozens of recordings made within the last few years alone—and eight already in 2017.  A good number of the group’s releases are live recordings, such as Helix, recorded at Third Life Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts in March of 2017, and released the day after the performance, with PEK using a portable recording set-up he describes in a post to a previous review on this blog.  There is a classic DIY ethic to the group’s approach, equally evident in the making, producing, and selling of the music.  While the cumulative effect of this strategy can be a bit overwhelming for the listener/consumer—how exactly does one choose from this bewildering array of releases?  Where even to begin?—you have to hand it to PEK for utilizing all the resources at his disposal in pursuing his musical calling with fierce independence and tenacity.  This is no-holds-barred improvisation in its most challenging, uncompromising form, and it takes a special kind of resilience, determination and, perhaps, quixotic idealism to forge ahead with such an endeavor as long as PEK and his comrades have been doing it.

So what’s particularly interesting about this recording that might help distinguish it from the myriad other releases in the Leap of Faith catalogue?  It’s really a “double” release, in the sense that the first half of the recording is comprised of four roughly 15-minute improvisations played by “sub-units” of four members each from the larger orchestra, while the second portion consists of a longer, 50-minute improvisation involving all thirteen members of the orchestra.  While there have been plenty of performances with larger groupings of the orchestra, PEK points out in his notes on the recording that this is the largest assemblage of Leap of Faith to date in which the goal is (almost) totally unstructured improvisation.  In the past he’s used various scripts and rules to prevent the larger group from falling into chaos during unfettered improvisation, but here there was only one constraint: that every member of the orchestra had to lay out for twenty minutes of the performance.  (Leap of Faith typically uses a large digital timer in its performances to allow for rules like these to be followed.)  So with Helix, then, we get to hear the musicians in both formats: the smaller-scale, more intricate improvisations made by just four members at a time, as well as all the power and (semi-) controlled cacophony the larger group can offer.

The sub-unit performances are quite strong overall, with each offering distinctive possibilities through intriguing instrumental groupings.  PEK, who plays a sizable assortment of horns, as well as tube-o-phone, slide whistles, and many other items, is featured on the first, “Arc,” along with long-standing Leap of Faith member Glynis Lomon (cello), Matt Scutchfield (violin), and Matt Samolis (flute).  Lomon and Scutchfield define a lot of the terrain, as Lomon’s huge, extravagant sound is a constant dominant presence, with Samolis and PEK offering their own multifarious explorations, PEK in particular drawing from the astonishing array of sounds his range of instruments can create—and yes, manic vocalizations are also present.  Sub-unit #2’s performance, “Torsion,” showcases the guitar of Grant Beale and guitar synthesizer of Chris Florio, along with Zach Bartolomei’s own menagerie of horns (including not only alto and soprano sax but melodica and slide whistle as well) and Kevin Dacey’s drums.  Dacey’s percussion provides a somewhat more cohesive feel to this track, generating periodic bursts of collective fire, although with plenty of room for the others to maneuver as they see fit.  Sub-units #3 and #4 are similarly varied in both instrumentation and dynamics, with creative touches throughout, especially in percussive effects, something that Leap of Faith uses extensively; many members of the group have a range of options (glockenspiel, crotales, various metal objects, etc.) that they can use to complement their primary instrument(s).  This is critical to the anything-can-happen aspect of the group’s identity.  The listener has to be prepared at all times for bizarre juxtapositions and anarchic flourishes when listening to this music.

As for the 50-minute improvised extravaganza with the entire orchestra, “Helix,” it begins with what PEK calls a “wood cloud texture,” with most or all of the group members employing a barrage of percussive implements, before the piece starts to assume a shape formed around musical fragments introduced by several of the players.  The overall mood of the first section is a reticent one—perhaps conditioned by the 20-minute rule mentioned above, which would seem likely to subordinate individual self-assertion in the interest of maintaining group cohesion.  Witness the dusky, chamber-like segment between pianist Eric Zinman, cellist Lomon and guitarist Beale about ten minutes in, with plaintive phrases from PEK riding overhead, for example.  But it doesn’t take too long for the intensity to build, and as Dacey’s drums begin filling the room one senses the surging power waiting to explode.  It never quite does completely, and things do generally stay under control—perhaps a bit too much, in fact, as at times the performance does seem to lose energy—although there are some hair-raising moments along the way capable of startling and challenging even the most experienced listeners of freely-improvised music.

“Helix” is a striking example of what can be done by larger ensembles within the realm of free improvisation.  Perhaps PEK will soon give this a try with even larger permutations of the Leap of Faith Orchestra.  Given the group’s trademark spirit of intrepid risk-taking, it’s hard to imagine he won’t.

Note: the following YouTube links include the entire recording, and they really are valuable in shedding light on the group’s music.  Especially with the frequent switching of instruments, having a visual referent adds another level of interest to this fascinating ensemble:

(Sub-unit #1 – “Arc”)

(Sub-unit #2 – “Torsion”)

(Sub-unit #3 – “Curvature”)

(Sub-unit #4 – “Tendril Perversions”)

(Leap of Faith Orchestra – “Helix”)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Thollem | Mazurek - Blind Curves and Box Canyons (Relative Pitch, 2017) ****

By Philip Coombs

There were so many images swirling around my head as i first listened to this I really had a hard time beginning this review. I knew once I got started I would be fine but the first words were tough.
What was getting me was a feeling of the familiar, and strangely enough, it was not a musical one. (Turns out it was evoking images of Bolaño’s 2666.)

I went hunting for a digital image of the cover to place in this review while trying not to read anything that was written about it before but in this case I stumbled across a little of the back story of why this record came to fruition. It all started in a small Texas town called Marfa, an artist hideaway about an hour away from the Mexican border. (I read most of 2666 in Mexico.) It was here that Rob Mazurek had a residency which ultimately led to a showing of his art, an exhibition that was called foreshadowingly enough, Rob Mazurek: Marfa Loops Shouts and Hollers, as the three tracks on the record are Shouts, Hollers, and Howls.

So instead of writing this review, I became absorbed in the newly revealed visual art dimension of this musician that I have followed and admired for years. Some of his work can be seen in the background of the album art. Also worth looking up his work to give you a better idea of what the title, Blind Curves and Box Canyons, means.

This recording was created to commemorate and celebrate the culmination of his residency. Along with Thollem McDonas, (modified electric piano and analog effects) they create the perfect backdrop to walk around a gallery and study all things painterly but also a stand alone piece of music that will resonate with fans of Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra’s work but on a more personal level.

The record starts with Shouts, and with comes bells, a twisted manipulated musical statement until Mazurek (cornet, voice, bells, modular synth, and sampler) gives a guttural shout, (a reoccurring element of the album) and there is a slight pause as Mazurek’s horn blast through letting you know that it’s not all about the artwork. Let’s also not think it’s all about Mazurek either. Thollem has not only a great ear to keep up with some of the chants and yells, he also has an understanding of the goal at hand here, often times it jumping into the rabbit hole and the rest of the time it’s climbing out of it.
Hollers is a very melodic interlude of sorts as electric piano and cornet tangle themselves around each other until sample after sample join the soup. One of the greatest wins in this 21 minute track is the sonic shifting between ideas, instruments and samples. With Thollem hammering the keys and Mazurek’s voice rattling around the bandwidth, it produces a new joy every 15 seconds or so.

The album closes out with a great sounding electric piano with plenty of stops and pauses almost taunting other instruments to join the epilogue. Mission accomplished as a cacophony of drums and rattles and synthesized noises completely drowns it out. Howls, in turn become a fitting 6 and a half minute closer when Thollem plays a repetitive descending line until the track fades off into the West Texas night.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Angelica Sanchez Trio - Float the Edge (Clean Feed, 2017) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

When I first heard Angelica Sanchez was releasing a new trio album, I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of grouping we would get. An inveterate experimenter, Sanchez has led a long-time quintet with an unusual sax/guitar/piano lineup, co-led a trio with husband Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey, recorded a solo album featuring toy piano, and also appeared in duets with Wadada Leo Smith and Kris Davis, on the latter’s excellent Duopoly.

On her new trio outing, Sanchez brings in two players she has a long history with, though this is (I believe) the first time they appear on record together: bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. All three are exceptionally non-idiomatic, their styles revealed through approach and expression than specific motifs, tones, or timbres. As such, Formanek’s playing is in something of a Henry Grimes style, melodic and emotionally rich, accentuated by sudden leaps and lively arco. Sorey emphasizes his cymbal work, creating a metallic thread that’s woven through Formanek and Sanchez’s duelling improvisations. That’s not to imply there’s a clash, but rather to express how their ideas are constantly in response to each other, the collective alive with the thrill of collaboration.

“Shapishico” opens with Formanek on bass, before Sanchez’s walking melody comes in with a slanting counter-rhythm that takes the group straight into a long improvisation. At the center of the album is a trio of songs that provide extensive solo room for each member. On “SOWF (Substance of We Feeling),” Formanek sets the tone with a two-minute solo, in which he previews some of the motifs Sanchez and Sorey will develop throughout the rest of the track. “Hypnagogia” opens with Sorey, on mallets, creating an open rhythm that gives the piece some John Luther Adams-like undertones. Sanchez takes a languid solo to begin “What the Birds Tell Me,” laying out a curious theme that gets picked up by Formanek and Sorey. It’s a relaxed, abstract piece in which the trio plays with silence, crafting a kind of meditation.

The quality of the mix is worth hearing on a great set of speakers. Like a film using deep focus, there are endless details to explore, and the depth captures a richness emanating from, especially, Sanchez’s piano. I was so taken with the sound that I looked up who worked on this, and it was Joe Marciano and Max Ross, who, it turns out, are responsible for some of the best sounding albums of the past decade (and then some). Sanchez’s voice is crisp and her vision feels particularly focused in this trio setting.

Angelica Sanchez, Brandon Ross, and Chad Taylor at Arts for Art 2016 Evolving Fest “Not a Police State/Justice Is Compassion,” January 22, 2016:

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Stephan Crump – Rhombal (Papillon Sounds, 2016) ****

By Troy Dostert

Here’s a little gem that almost fell through the cracks from late last year.  Stephan Crump, one of the most in-demand bassists of the moment (and a fiercely-skilled improviser: check out his recent session with Ingrid Laubrock and Cory Smythe as an example), put a band together in 2015 comprised of veterans Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax, Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, in order to perform compositions Crump wrote to come to terms with the death of his brother, Patrick.  Although the somber occasion of the music’s writing is reflected in some poignant emotional moments, the overall mood of the record is positive and life-affirming, as the irrepressible spirit of these four outstanding musicians rises to the surface again and again during the album’s nine expansive, well-constructed tracks.

The two-horn harmonies for O’Farrill and Eskelin are delightful on tracks like the opener, “NoD for Nelson” and “Grovi,” the former drawing inspiration from the Blue Note sound of the early/mid-60s and the latter having more of a laid-back, 70s funk-jazz feel.  The warmth of Crump’s buoyant bass and Sorey’s active but never excessive drum parts give each cut an inviting, approachable aspect; there’s a lot of generosity in the sound of this group.  Eskelin’s sinuous tone and just-so-slightly relaxed delivery contrasts perfectly with the clarion precision of O’Farrill’s lines, and there’s plenty of room in the music for each horn to complement the other during their respective solos.

Most of the tracks have a straightforward rhythmic sensibility, keeping the groove consistently at the forefront.  But there are some opportunities for some interesting departures, fueled by the creativity of Sorey and Crump.  Listen to the way the third cut, “Skippaningam,” which starts as a pretty conventional up-tempo piece in straight swing time, undergoes a gradual transformation as Sorey brings down the tempo and Crump follows him, allowing for the horns to meander independently for a while in loose time before Sorey and Crump re-establish the pulse and lay down another groove.  An even better example may be “Birdwhistle,” perhaps the strongest cut on the record.  Anchored at first by a loping, four-note ostinato line from Crump, a subtle shuffle from Sorey on brushes, and some avian-like darting interjections from the horns, the piece gradually opens up as Sorey and Crump loosen and stretch the rhythm while raising the intensity level; by the time Sorey switches to sticks and Crump locks in behind him with a driving fervor that Eskelin amplifies with a scorching solo, we’re given an exhilarating example of the fire these musicians can generate, even on a record that generally refrains from fanning the flames.

The record’s closer, “Pulling Pillars/Outro for Patty,” is the perfect finish to what is an engaging and uplifting set of music.  Although the track begins with an unmistakably mournful aspect, with the hymn-like opening from Crump’s arco setting the mood, it ends with an almost dance-like coda, as the horns sing over a jubilant, bouncy accompaniment from Sorey and Crump that reminds us of the hopeful spirit that permeates this music.

A welcome release from a fine group, and one especially suited for displaying Crump’s emerging chops as a writer.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Marginal Consort - Diplarios School, Athens, 4-23-2017

Marginal Consort at Work (Photo by Kiki Papadopoulou)

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

While the crisis is spreading like a virus in every social and everyday aspect of life in Greece, there seems to be no room and, accordingly, no funding for experimental arts. However, the Borderline Festival, now in its seventh consecutive year and probably the leading organisation for experimental music in Athens, is a welcome exception. Hosted by the Onassis Cultural Center, this year it actually expanded its list of venues, reaching out even to the port of Piraeus and re-familiarizing us with places of Athens’ recent history like the old school of Diplarios, where the Marginal Consort performance took place.

By making general assumptions you only get parts of the picture and never the whole truth, but when it comes to Japanese music - be it psychedelic rock, noise and of course free jazz - are but a few constants that provoke my senses. Anarchic, often wild, ritualistic music is, among others, what you may find from this country with such a long tradition in music of many varieties, and tradition is not always a bad word if you know how to make it beneficial for the present.

Photo by Kiki Papadopoulou
A few years back Marginal Consort (the quartet of Kazuo Imai, Kei Shii, Masami Tada and Tomonao Koshikawa) released an amazing four LP set on PAN records. I consider this release on the best of the 00’s, but still, something was missing in action. Well, after watching for three whole hours those four non-musicians (as they call themselves), performers and improvisers, the missing element was exactly this: the live experience.

The four musicians stood in the four corners of the big room, seemingly disinterested in each other or anything outside of their small warzones. They made noises of all kind with found objects, really everything you could imagine (hell, it must be a drag to set up all these things). To listen, it seemed more appropriate and fitting not to choose one place but rather walk around the space. For me it was by following the energy flow - and, please, do not call me a hippie of some sort. Others preferred to stay at one place with eyes closed or wide open glancing at all the amazing things that were taking place in all corners of the room. The sheer force of their performance was capable of making you stop, unable to move. It happened to me a few times, while at other times I was so thrilled that I thought I would burst open and cry, or yell, or whatever the fuck else I could do at the moment.

Photo by Kiki Papadopoulou
After three hours I did not feel tired at all, even if their battle, of giving life to seemingly dead objects of capitalist consumerism, was gradually becoming our battle as well. Moments of calmness were followed by minutes (it could be hours) of intensity by drumming metallic surfaces and mesmerizing effects. They used the powers of their bodies (in a ritualistic mode) to bend objects and use amplification to reveal the hidden audio nature of them and alternate the character of them by articulating a fresh new language between sound and image.

Alternating might be the key word for this performance: as they slipped between the roles of the performer, musician and, many times while staring the actions of the other three, the audience, they succeeded in making our anticipation grow bigger and bigger (three hours and not a boring second…).

Marginal Consort presented a live performance that is the core and real meaning of d.i.y. aesthetics, practices and artistic choices and, at the same time, they stayed humble and not alienated from us. On the contrary, they well integrated within all of us, around us, together.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tiziano Tononi and Southbound - Trouble No More... All Men Are Brothers (Long Song Records, 2017) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

A founding member of Italian Instabile Orchestra, drummer Tiziano Tononi has a knack both for re-arranging songs to adapt to his diverse ensembles, and his Southbound octet is no exception. In addition to Tononi on drums and percussion, there’s Emanuele Passerini on soprano and tenor; Piero Bittolo Bon on alto, bass clarinet, and flutes; Emanuele Parrini on violin and viola; Carmelo Massimo Torre on accordion; Joe Fonda on both acoustic and electric bass; Pacho on congas, bongos, and percussion; and Marta Raviglia on vocals. Any tribute to the Allman Brothers needs to bring a mighty rhythm section, and Tononi, Pacho, and Fonda sound tremendous here, driving the band through a woolly, funky take on Allman’s blues-rock. Torre fills in the chordal middle on accordion, and Passerini, Bon, and Parrini play lead on most of the album.

Trouble No More… All Men Are Brothers opens with a stellar, genderbent take on two Allman Brothers classics, “Whippin’ Post” and “Midnight Rider.” Raviglia sings lead. In addition to being a woman singing lines written by and for a man, she flips the phrasing on a lot of signature lines, giving a fresh reading to lyrics I’ve heard dozens upon dozens of times. “Whippin’ Post” is atmospheric and rich, and “Midnight Rider” is barely recognizable. The band takes most of the trademark elements, the guitar riff and shuffle beat, and replaces them with an arrangement that highlights the weariness of rebellion.

Tononi composed three songs for the album, including “Requiem for Skydog,” a folkish tribute to guitarist Duane Allman, whose professed admiration for John Coltrane and Miles Davis (particularly, Kind of Blue) creates an interesting feedback loop, with his music now re-arranged for a jazz ensemble. Fonda takes a solo near the end that starts as a duet with Tononi, before the drummer gently drifts away in the final minute. It’s a lovely moment, providing the slightest of breaths before the final burner of a trio: “You Don’t Love Me,” “Soul Serenade,” “You Don’t Love Me (Glorious Ending).” Raviglia returns, again bending the lyrics to her style and Tononi’s hard-driving swing. Fabio Treves guests on harmonica, giving “You Don’t Love Me” one of the more traditional-sounding interpretations on the album, until the bottom drops out midway through and Passerini and Bon take an improvised sax-only duet that leads into a Dixieland coda.

I started this review a couple of weeks before Gregg Allman died, unexpectedly, in May. As with his tributes to Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Tonini’s celebration of the Allman Brothers Band’s music is joyful, sincere, and revelatory, and with the recent loss of Allman, suddenly timely.