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Julie Sassoon (p) & Willi Kellers (d)

Jazzwerkstatt55, Peitz Germany, June 2018. Photo By Cristina Marx

Evan Parker

Jazzwerkstatt55, Peitz Germany, June 2018. Photo By Cristina Marx

Eli Wallace (p) & Sandy Ewen (g)

Spectrum, NYC, May 2018. Photo by Peter Gannushkin

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Latest Collaborations of Electronics Player Ikue Mori

Japanese, New York-based electronics player Ikue Mori  (she uses only her laptop) is an exceptional collaborator. She enriches any musical meeting, thoroughly composed or totally improvised, with her remarkable sensitivity and highly personal aesthetics. No other electronics player sounds like her and no one has collaborated with so many distinct musicians like her. Her recent collaborations with Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and Danish sound artist Christian Rønn emphasize her idiosyncratic sonic language.

Mahobin - Live at Big Apple in Kobe (Libra Records, 2018) ****½

Mahobin is a new group from the prolific pianist Sakoto Fujii and its debut album documents the first ever performance (actually, the second set of this performance) at the Big Apple club in Fujii’s new hometown, Kobe. The quartet features Fujii on the piano, her partner, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, Mori on electronics, and Danish sax player Lotte Anker. These four musicians shared the same stage for the first time on February 2018, but all have collaborated with each other before. Fujii hosted Mori during her residency at New York’s The Stone in 2013, and Fujii and Anker joined Mori during her residency at The Stone in 2016. In 2017 Anker toured with Fujii and Tamura in Japan.

Mori recorded last year with Fujii, Tamura and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith the album Aspiration (Libra, 2017) and recorded with Anker and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier the album Alien Huddle (Intakt, 2008) and participated in Anker’s What River Is This (Ilk Music, 2014). So it was only a matter of time before Fujii would ask all to participate in another of her Kanreki (還暦), her 60th birthday celebrations projects. Moti suggested the group’s name, Mahōbin (魔法瓶), a thermos in everyday Japanese, but the literal meaning of the ideographic characters mean magic bottle.

And Mahobin does offer many kinds of hot magic, sustainable adventures and wicked games and spices, all spontaneously improvised. The title of the first, 42-minutes “Rainbow Elephant” is another pun, this time on a famous Japanese brand of thermos bottles, Zōjirushi (象印, literally: elephant brand). This intense improvisation is the most free-formed piece Fujii has ever played, at times even abstract one filled with enigmatic silences. But “Rainbow Elephant” flows with a natural ease, with no attempt to gravitate towards any pulse or a clear narrative, but with a truly democratic interplay. Mori’s sparkling electronics extend the extended breathing techniques of Anker and Tamura and resonate Fujii’s prepared piano timbres. There is no redundant note or sound in Anker’s playing and she sound as navigating calmly the busy commotion, saving all from diving into unnecessary pits. Mid-piece Fujii intensifies its dramatic progression and towards its end she weaves a beautiful melodic undercurrent to the abstract interplay and concludes it with a touching coda. Throughout the many, sudden sonic detours, the four musicians never lose sight of the big picture and always introduce more delicate nuances and subtle colors to its overall, fluid texture. The second, shorter “Yellow Sky” sketches a darker texture, full of restless, claustrophobic tension. Anker again sounds as leading the conflictual interplay and with few gestures marks the contours and the spirit of this wild sonic journey.

Magic did happen on that night and now it is bottled in this great album, the eight in Fujii's Kanreki celebration.

Listen on Soundcloud.

Ikue Mori & Christian Rønn - Chordis et Machina (Nische Records/Resipiscent Records/Tonometer, 2018) ***½

Danish, Copenhagen-based composer-sound artist Christian Rønn is known from his electronic and organ improvisations as well as from his solo project Ganga. He has collaborated before with Anker, minimalist American composer Rhys Chatham, and singer-songwriter-poet Ingrid Chavez. His duo with Mori was recorded in Stockholm, but later they kept refining the basic tracks at their respective homes in New York and Copenhagen. Chordis et Machina is released as a limited-edition of 300 vinyls by Rønn’s label Nische Records, together with San Francisco’s Resipiscent Records and Copenhagen’s Tonometer.

This heady collaboration relies on Mori’s delicate electronics, blended immediately and with great precision with Rønn’s resourceful electro-acoustic sounds. His sonic palette embraces psychedelic-spacy trips, almost transparent and silent sine-waves, grit distortions and prepared piano. Mori and Rønn let their free-form, free-improvised interaction to settle naturally, attune and resonate to each other’s personal manipulations of machine-made sounds and their senses of time and space.

Both allow “Beyond the Forest” to dance around a twisted, fragmented pulse until its otherworldly groove is lost in a thick forest of out-of-tune, sudden sounds. “Loch Ness” follows the elusive character of the imaginary creature and suggests a fragile and cryptic cinematic soundscape. “Primordial Chaos” floats between dissonant-resonant piano hammering and its subtle, electronic reflections, sketching a nuanced, labyrinthine texture where sparse sounds are mirrored, shaped and morphed into newer, weirder ones. “The Path” surprises with its innocent, joyful spirit before its loose groove of white noises spirals and leaps into deep space.

Listen on Soundcloud.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Mette Rasmussen &Tashi Dorji (Feeding Tube Records, 2018) ****½

By Nick Metzger
This record compiles two performances from the duo of saxophonist Mette Rasmussen and guitarist Tashi Dorji. Recorded in Montreal, the first four tracks were laid down at Thee Mighty Hotel2Tango, with the last track capturing a live performance at La Sala Rosa. Rasmussen has been involved in some of my favorite recordings of the past 5 or so years. Her playing on collaborations with Chris Corsano, Paul Flaherty, Alan Silva and of course the acclaimed Tashi Dorji/Tyler Damon combo is inventive, precise, and powerful. Likewise, Dorji is one of the most multi-faceted improvising guitarists of our time. His playing is unique and captivating whether electric or acoustic, through effects pedals, clean, and/or with preparations. His duo albums with Tyler Damon (Both Will Escape and Leave No Trace) have been among the most enthusiastically received by the writers of this blog, and his immense solo guitar back catalogue is filled to the brim with innovative playing and timbral concepts. Here we find the duo settling into a series of texturally rich and fiery improvisations.
Cattail Horse gets the duo started with Rasmussen’s burly honking and squeals blasted out over Dorji’s metallic slashing. The saxophone runs pristine scales and patterns over the manic guitar work. Dorji then loops a rhythmic figure which segues into Bull Rush, over which he weaves deep-toned notes with pointillist and trebly shapes. Rasmussen is brilliantly lyrical over the din until roughly the midpoint, at which point the pair delve into a rapturous segment of free playing that spans the remainder of the track. As Affinity begins Dorji rolls back the distortion but not the intensity, providing a wiry bed of fretwork for Rasmussen who augments her timbre with preparations, making her lines crackle and sizzle. The piece grows more restrained towards the end, with chiming prepared guitar and quiet sax hissing. Tall Grass begins with Rasmussen utilizing extended techniques and vocalizing through her instrument which imparts an almost vocoder-like effect. Dorji offers complex ringing veils of textural thunderclouds under which the saxophone whispers and whimpers. The live piece, Liberty, is the longest of this set and finds the duo playing off each other in an animated tapestry of controlled power. Dorji explodes into wailing tremolo picking and Rasmussen meets him in unison, rupturing like a tidal wave on the break wall. The playing takes on tremendous intensity and they ride out the momentum until it dissipates into a spectral landscape of soft sax trills and sinewy guitar noise. Dorji then imparts a reprise of the looped figure from the first track as Rasmussen blasts forceful figures over top, both players stopping on a dime to well-deserved applause.
Duo albums can sometimes feel quite sparse, but this is full of texture and activity. And while it is pretty noisy it never becomes too cacophonic to be enjoyable. The density of the improvisations isn’t of the overlapping non-communicative variety, but is rather sympathetic and well timed. When one provides hard lines, the other provides color.  Their excellent rapport makes for a very compelling listen; let’s hope we hear a great deal more from this duo in the near future.
Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Rassmussen/Dorji Duo at Brooklyn Steel, NYC:

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Torben Snekkestad, Agustí Fernández, and Barry Guy - Louisiana Variations (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2018) ****

By Derek Stone

Torben Snekkestad and Barry Guy first worked together on 2015’s impressive Slip, Slide and Collide - that recording, with its labyrinthine improvisations and near-feverish eruptions, proved the duo to be fiercely attuned to one another. Now, on Louisiana Variations, another voice is drawn into the fold - that of Spanish pianist Agustí Fernández, a long-time collaborator with Barry Guy and an excellent composer/improviser in his own right. On this release, the trio lose none of the intensity previously kindled by Snekkestad and Guy; if anything, the fire is stoked, the coals are prodded, and the improvisations whip out wilder and further than before.

“LV #1” gets things off to an inconspicuous start, with the players circling one another tentatively. Snekkestad employs a number of extended techniques - wheezing exhalations, conch-like sputters, and the like. When he does transition to more traditional tones (as he does on the latter half of the track), his runs are almost serene. It speaks to Snekkestad’s talent as a saxophonist and improviser that both approaches suit the piece well. Barry Guy is as interesting as ever, moving from arco to pizzicato with aplomb; it’s unfortunate that the bass is mixed a bit too low here, but the distinctly tactile tones that he produces nonetheless help to color the improvisation and lend it a sense of aggressive urgency. Fernández, with his rapid, percussive attack, matches both Snekkestad’s timbral explorations and Guy’s raw physicality. As the improvisation winds down in the last few minutes, Fernández (by way of omission) introduces a sense of space into the piece that, gradually, starts to crack at the seams - his notes begin to bunch up and cluster, buoyed by Guy’s distended groans.

In “LV #2,” the lightfootedness that Fernández displays on the first piece is uprooted entirely - instead, he utilizes various extended techniques that engulf Guy and Snekkestad in an outpouring of creaks, scrapes, and wind-blown acoustic effects. Eventually, these harsh tonalities give way to a hellish choral section: the three players each release a stream of notes that, taken together, seem like approximations of some infernal inversion of glossolalia. After the somewhat harrowing abstractions of “LV #2,” the third improvisation, though carrying a seed of foreboding, is rather contemplative and mild.

The final two improvisations are the longest and, perhaps, the most exploratory. “LV #5” opens with unnerving sheets of sound from Fernández and Guy’s rumbling cascades. Guy and Fernández have worked together for a long time, in various contexts, but to hear them engaged in such raw expressions of physicality together will never not be invigorating; when Snekkestad joins in with his sinewy, serpentine runs, it’s as if an insect were alighting on the face of a monolith. On “LV #6,” the final piece, Snekkestad opens with a solo that, despite its relatively straightforward development, carries shades of the enigmatic. Underneath, Guy traces out fragments of arco that emerge, surge, and dissipate. By the improvisation’s midpoint, Fernández inserts himself into this disquieting space, employing various extended techniques that serve to prod both Guy and Snekkestad into a kind of feverish abandon. In the last few minutes, Fernández returns to the percussive style of “LV #1” - rapid-fire clusters and pounding repetitions that, along with Guy’s turbulent bowing, bring the piece to its climax.

Fans of the esteemed Aurora Trio (Barry Guy, Agustí Fernández, and drummer Ramón López) might find Louisiana Variations hard to stomach; unlike that trio’s more melodic and composed approach, the trio of Snekkestad, Fernández, and Guy make music that is uncompromisingly bleak, and there is a little in the way of a melodic “thread” to grasp onto.  Nevertheless, for those who are drawn to this kind of raw, unfettered interplay, Louisiana Variations is likely to be a treat. These three players are masters at carving out a sonic space (and then filling that space with all manner of tonal and timbral mutations). It’s an adventurous release from an adventurous trio of improvisers - what more could you ask for?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

ZKKP - 12354 (Červený Kůň, 2018) ***

By Stef Gijssels

We have not reviewed much Czech music lately. I was in Prague some weeks ago but with no real time to dig the local music scene. A record worth finding is this one, performed by the quartet of Pavel Zlámal on sax and clarinet, Tomáš Vunderle Koudelka on bass guitar, Jiří Kalousek on guitar, and Petr Ptáček on drums. They call their brand of music 'free fusion', and that's a good description: the rhythm section lays down a funky groove for the first track, reminiscent of some Miles Davis tunes in his later period, but with less of the showmanship, and luckily so, because the fusion is on the good side of taste on this album: no ambitions to be stars or superheroes, just the one ambition of making great music and having fun in the process.

And that's what you get: a little less than fourty minutes of unadulterated fun, that shifts between the rhythmic and completely free, highly enjoyable throughout.

Other worthwhile Czech music to check out:

DalavaThe Book of Transfigurations
Miroslav Vitous: Remembering Wheather Report 
Jiří Stivín & Rudolf Dašek - System Tandem

The video below gives some idea of their music, but then without the written parts:


Friday, August 17, 2018

Re-examining the 70s

By Paul Acquaro

My first realization that the 1970s was an unusual time for jazz came when I discovered Pablo Records. I had just started listening to and collecting jazz recordings, and at the time CDs were expensive and records were really really really cheap, so I picked up a lot of them. One was Dizzy’s Big Four with Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Joe Pass, and Mickey Roker (check out the first track, Frelimo, this one killed me). Why, I thought, were these heavyweights on what seemed, to me, a indie label? Having no idea of the history or the personalities, I assumed it was because jazz had fallen out of favor and was being dropped, from what I considered at the time, to be the major labels. (To give you some context, please understand, this was the late 80s, the internet was in its Gopher stage, and no one I knew told me otherwise.) Over the years I’ve of course learned that the real story is much more complex. Regardless, I think it is safe to say that the era does occupy a special place in jazz history, and a number of recent releases excavating and re-examining the era have come out recently.

Michael Heller - Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s (University of California Press, 2017) ****

The 'Loft Jazz' era in New York City is nearly mythic. Obviously, it's real, it happened, and there are survivors, but it has become something of legend, marking a time in the life of the city that is long gone. Researcher and author Michael Heller takes a serious and methodical approach to his study of the era, which makes sense as it had its roots in his doctoral dissertation. In this slim, dense volume, he explores the conditions that created the loft scene using overlapping frameworks to view and analyze the rich source materials he’s collected. Essentially, it was a time when opportunities to play were scant and labels weren't interested in boundary pushing music any longer, but rents were cheap in Manhattan, so musicians seized the opportunity to create their own ecosystem, and the creativity exploded.

Throughout the book, Heller is quite aware of the mythology and his own assumptions, and in good ethnographic fashion, documents it carefully. For the most part, he eschews deep dives into particular artists or their catalogs and offers a history of the scene from its early points with Ornette Coleman’s loft on Spring Street and the reaction to the Newport Jazz Festival's move to New York in the early part of the decade, to the scenes ultimate disintegration under the pressure of gentrification and development. The backbone of his research is the curation work that he partook in with the bassist Juma Sultan on the creation of his archive (, and when he gets into the chapter speaking about this work, he does describe the music from the players as they pertain to the archive. For example, he discusses how Sonny Simmons and Sultan’s work and music had intertwined and leads the reader through their music. This part is as nicely written and descriptive as his earlier analysis of communities, spaces, pay, and politics. His primary sources are excellent as well. In one passage, pianist Cooper-Moore remarks how much of his time, during the loft era, was actually spent trying to keep the loft building running! 

So, the loft scene has passed into the history of jazz kind of like Woodstock did for rock (and Juma Sultan was a part of both, as Jimi Hendrix’s bassist), and Heller's book can be read nearly as a how-to manual for constructing a vibrant musical scene. It's an examination of a treasure trove of archival materials and primary source interviews, and a smart read. 

Alan Braufman - Valley of Search (1975 / 2018) ****

Valley of Search is a re-release of an India Navigation record from 1975, and it was born from the very loft that Cooper-Moore mentioned above: 501 Canal St. Released under saxophonist Alan Braufman’s name, who was also a resident in the building (which according to Clifford Allen’s excellent line notes cost $140 a month per floor - let that sink in for a moment), the album is a savory time-capsule. The loft was home to a number of Boston (from Berkeley) transplants, such as saxophonist Dave S. Ware, with whom Cooper-Moore played with in Apogee. The band on Valley of Search is Alan Braufman on saxophone, Cooper-Moore on piano, dulcimer, and recitation, Cecil McBee on bass, David Lee on drums, and Ralph Williams on percussion. 

The music is fun and genuine, and there is a pure joy of playing and exploring together that captures the ethos of the time and the spirit of the loft scene. When Cooper-Moore recites the Bahá’í prayer in “Chant,” it is like a perfectly crafted prompt to transport you to a more innocent and exciting time (oh crap, there is that mythologizing again). Leading up to the chant is the short ecstatic track “Rainbow Warriors” which sets the stage for the woolly album that follows. On the follow-up “Thankfulness”, we hear the first theme of the album, which along with the figures on “Ark of Salvation” and “Little Nabil’s March”, provide a solid foundation for the recording. The splashy cymbals and insistent pulse of Cooper-Moore’s piano drive the music along, and on “Love Is For Real”, Braufman digs in with intensity, delivering a stunning solo over the colorful impulse of the piano, and a little too-eager athletic whistle. McBee is featured on “Miracles”, on which he delivers an intricate pizzicato solo. “Little Nabil’s March's” however, with it’s Ayler-esque martial theme and exuberant delivery is the hit, and the closing “Destiny” offers a lovely, accessible and aching melody.

This re-release was made possible by Braufman's nephew, Nabil Ayers, the namesake of "Little Nabil's March". His recollections of 501 Canal St. recently appeared in the New York Times and captures the atmosphere of the loft in wonderful non-varnished detail. From the decrepit steps to the plastic sheets in the window to jamming with his uncle, Ayer's article gives this re-release some proper context:
"So 501 Canal existed in quiet isolation in the midst of one of the biggest, most vital cities in the world. This was, and will always be, my New York. And in fall 1974, this is where Alan Braufman recorded his debut album, “Valley of Search,” a free jazz offering that embodies the city during this time."
Be sure to check out Ayer's piece and enjoy the music. Overall, a very welcome re-discovery!

Michael Cosmic / Phill Musra Group – Cosmic Paradise: Peace In The World / Creator Spaces (Now-Again, 2017) ****

While the folks at 501 Canal St. left for New York, there was a still world of music being made in Boston. This triple CD release from Now Again records, re-issues what were only private press releases. The work of twin brothers, Phill Musra and Michael Cosmic, are searching spiritual recordings that breath with passion and earnest intensity. Finding inspiration in the likes of Coltrane, Ayler, and Pharaoh Sanders, their music was loose, but with an ear tuned into the zeitgeist. Two of the three albums re-released here are Michael Cosmic's Peace in the World and Phill Musra Group's Creator Spaces. The brothers were also a part of the World Experience Orchestra, a collective out of Boston whose own private press albums were considered to be something of a holy grail to collectors (they were re-released by Now-Again a few years ago as well). The third CD is a track from the WEO, however the 1972 concert recording precedes the brothers' involvement.

The first disc, Cosmic's Peace in the World, kicks off with "Arabia", which also makes an appearance on the Musra Group recording. The depth of the sax, basically in conversation with the piano, is pretty grabbing. The following title track features a wrenching bass solo and suspenseful piano work. 'Space on Space' would seem to be this album's hit - its repetitive and punchy melody serves as a base for some tough soloing. Of these two efforts, this is the more 'polished' one, but as you may imagine, both have a wonderful DIY spirit and free approach. 

On Creator Spaces, Musra wears his heart on his sleeve with song likes "The Creator is So Far Out" and "Egypt". The music follows the spiritual jazz modal template and it's at times a bit gangly. The title track is pretty free blowing, with simultaneously intense sax work and a rousing drum solo, even though the primitive organ playing is a bit jarring at times. Overall, he recording contains some excellent and intense playing. 

Aside from the exploratory, non-commercial nature of the recordings, also connecting both this release with Valley of Search is the involvement of jazz historian and writer Clifford Allen who contributed thoughtful and well researched line notes for both recordings. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Yunohana Variations (YoshimiO / Susie Ibarra / Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe) - Flower of Sulphur (Thrill Jockey, 2018) ****

It’s a common enough event, a group of accomplished improvisers and experimental artists get together to make uncommonly excellent music. In this instance, the collective (now performing as Yunohana Variations) consists of YoshimiO, Susie Ibarra, and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. All three have a rich history of making experimental music with each other and other notables, but Flower of Sulphur marks the first time they performed together as a trio.

Recorded live at Roulette in Brooklyn, New York, in December 2016, Flower of Sulphur documents an hour-long improvisation, with YoshimiO on drums and vocals, Ibarra on drums and percussion, and Lowe on electronics and vocals. There’s a noticeable balance in the way YoshimiO and Ibarra complement each other’s percussive styles, Lowe and YoshimiO’s vocals blend and/or clash sympathetically, and Ibarra and Lowe ring vivid resonances from various percussion and electronic effects. The overall sound lands somewhere at the intersection of free improvisation and noise, interwoven with echoes of trance, ambient, and rock.

“Aaa” begins in a ceremonial vein, with bells, toms, and whole tones calling the room to attention, focusing the energy to a fine point that’s first drawn out by Lowe. All three excel in explorations of space and time, and the gradual blossoming of “Aaa” provides plenty of room for the trio to bend and warp both. “Bbb” features a dramatic, searching solo from Lowe, as he takes various ideas and pushes them up against one another. YoshimiO and Ibarra riff on his rhythms and ideas, before shifting into a percussion-centric middle section. As “Bbb” fades out, “Ccc” rapidly builds in intensity, before morphing into an extended wordless vocals feature. “Ddd” again begins moving in one direction before shifting dramatically in tone and rhythm. After a rock-influenced opener, drums completely fall away around the 10-minute mark. Lowe and YoshimiO perform a brief vocal duet that also signals the final stage of the performance. A counterpart to the opening, the final section of “Ddd” has an equally cosmic, reverent vibe with lovely, almost yearning, vocals. Yunohana Variations has been touring this year, so I hope we’ll see a follow-up album from them very soon.

Yunohana Variations live at Supersonic Festival 2018

Available on CD, digital, and lavender vinyl

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Martin Küchen & Anders Lindsjö - The Stork and the Chimp (Konvoj, 2018) ****

By Nick Metzger

Saxophonist Martin Küchen and guitarist Anders Lindsjö are from the prolific Swedish free improvisation scene which consistently produces excellent new collaborations and releases. Küchen is an abundant composer, improviser, and bandleader who is a member of Heat Death, Trespass Trio, and leads his various Angles combos and has also worked with Joe McPhee, Steve Noble, and the Fire! Orchestra. Anders Lindsjö plays in the groups Maxcolic, Or Never, the Artfarmer, and his free guitar trio Halster. This album, and Happi from the Tatakai Trio (reviewed the other day), find them teaming up for duo and trio sets with Küchen on sopranino and soprano saxophone as well as snare drum and Lindsjö on (mostly) acoustic guitar.

In ‘is it?’ the duo start off moderately then quickly accelerate into a dynamic interchange that’s percussive and fiery. Lindsjö’s stable guitar playing provides a platform for Küchen to throttle his saxophones over. On ‘art thou’ the wiry guitar work is peppered with violent spittle-pocked squawking and agitated squeals. ‘why’ offers more variety in terms of pace and timbre. The piece begins with guitar that’s percussive and plucky over which the muted saxophone takes on a vocal, kazoo-like quality. Lindsjö utilizes his wah-pedal to good effect on ‘tat twam asi’. The result is subtle and provides a bit of color to the piece. Likewise, Küchen many times plays both the soprano and sopranino at once, powerfully blasting them like a grotesque party favor. In ’it is our’ the duo engage in dialogue that feels reflective. The saxophone almost sounds bluesy and lamenting at times while the guitar playing is melancholic and sparse. ‘how is it?’ closes out the album finding Küchen trying to simultaneously play his snare and two saxes while intermittently producing vocalizations that would blend right into the background noise of a George Romero film. Lindsjö provides his most rhythmically diverse performance of the set, alternating scattered fingerpicking and choppy chords to ground Küchen’s paint peeling warbles and honks.

I genuinely enjoy the approach both of these musicians have to their instrument on this album. The spare instrumentation creates a good deal of contrast between the two players which is further highlighted by the superb recording quality. The guitar remains quite clean throughout the record and provides terrific rhythm and texture. The saxophone is unhinged all the way through and it’s satisfying to hear the higher pitched saxes being pushed and punished like this. You get the sense that conventional conversations between Lindsjö and Küchen might yield similar dynamics.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Peeter Uuskyla/Tellef Øgrim/Anders Berg - Oslo Hærverk (Simlas, 2018) ****

By Nick Ostrum

I first heard Peeter Uuskyla on the album Live at Nefertiti. I was first drawn in by Peter Friis-Nielsen’s frenetic bass and Peter Brötzmann’s balance of sheer force and energy with, at times, acute tenderness. (Actually, this recording might have been my first exposure to all three musicians.) As I listened more attentively, I grew attracted to Uuskyla’s loose but steady, rock-styled drumming. Simply put, it fit.

And here we are, 19 years later, and Uuskyla is party to another live, freely improvised trio recording. This one was recorded in Oslo’s Kafé Hærverk, just 200 miles due north of Gothenburg, home of the aforementioned Nefertiti club and the eponymous Brötz, where the trio captured here recorded their first live album, LAIV, in 2016. The connections run deep. That said, beyond the physical continuity of a shared drummer, this trio bears little resemblance to that led by Herr Brötz.

On this album, Uuskyla teams up with bassist Anders Berg and guitarist Tellef Øgrim. The result is alternately in line with and a departure from what one might expect from this power trio. Oslo Hærverk flows in a way that, for instance, the studio release Ullr (FJB review here ) does not. In doing so, it sacrifices some of the intensity and chaos of the group’s prior output for a single itinerant, improvised track broken into five parts that methodically builds and fluctuates over the course of the 48-minute performance.

Uuskyla’s drumming reminds me of what drew me to him in the first place. It is inventive and varied, simultaneously calculated and unfettered. He provides a foundational groove through most of the album. Berg’s bass is heavy. Largely eschewing the rapid pizzicato flourishes he has worked into previous recordings, he opts for a propulsive drones and undulating pulses that, at times, evoke, Bill Laswell. Øgrim, meanwhile, bobs in and out with atmospheric, feedback-heavy guitars. The unquestionable primary influence, here, is Jimi Hendrix. More contemporary and maybe even more meaningful parallels, however, can be drawn between Øgrim, Raoul Björkenheim and Anders Nilsson. All three draw inspiration from Hendrix’s freer playing while avoiding the onanistic traps that so many guitarists inevitably fall into during extended improvisations.

What is most striking about this album is the way in which the musicians anticipate and respond to each other. They sound like they have worked out at least a roadmap beforehand. Some of this may come from the fact that no single member outshines another. They seem less concerned about virtuosity than effect. They seem less focused on novelty than on balance. The tracks flow steadily, though creatively, from a forceful but measured free rock jam (“Tlaxkon”) to a funkier, more meditative track (“Stay Peaceful”) to the deconstructed blues number (“Ofilikki”). The fourth cut, “No Temple No Homes”, returns to improvisatory rock of the first track and the final track, “Close to Closed,” slowly crescendos from a flittering guitar run to an utterly satisfying noise-rock jam.

With the proliferation of live releases concomitant with the advent of digital music, I often wonder whether so many performances really need to be documented and presented to the public. Then, I find an album like this that clearly caught a special band on a special night. And, I start to allow space for
the exceptions.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Tatakai Trio (Küchen, Lindsjö, Strid) - Happi (Relative Pitch Records, 2018) ****½

By Nicholas Metzger

The Tatakai Trio finds Küchen and Lindsjö joined by Stockholm local Raymond Strid (who is a member of Maxcolic with Lindsjö) on drums. Strid, also a regular contributor to the Swedish free improvisation scene, has collaborated with the likes of Mats Gustafsson, Barry Guy, and Marilyn Crispell among others.

‘Cheerful’ starts out with Lindsjö’s clean guitar tones riding on Strid’s rhythmically probing structures. Küchen’s sax starts out inquiringly with clean tones which increase in intensity, reaching full skronk by the 2 minute mark and blazing through to the end of the piece. ‘Grinning’ finds the group dynamics more active early in the track, with the trio quickly establishing their relationships and direction. Lindsjö hits the overdrive pedal shortly after the initial passages, while Strid provides a bed of angular percussion. Küchen spits fire throughout; this cut finds him utilizing his extended techniques to great effect. Lindsjö throws off bits of guitar skree and crunch towards the end while Küchen’s bleating reduces to a whimper. ‘Sunny’ starts off with introspective guitar playing and active drum clatter. The sax joins in in earnest around the one minute mark spurring an increase in intensity from the group which rises and falls over the course of its five and a half minutes. Küchen offers up some seriously vigorous timbres here (and the album as a whole), often times giving his lines a resonating sizzle by blasting his horns into a snare head. ‘Exhilarated’ finds Küchen playing plaintively over Lindsjö’s alternating chords. You can almost discern bits of a 4/4 beat in Strid’s drumming that disappear as quickly as they bubble to the surface. Küchen continues his elegiac statements (which occasionally sprout fangs) over this percussive backdrop. The track ‘Smiling’ starts off at high intensity which almost instantly unravels into slower, more nuanced and sensitive playing by the trio. A dialogue forms by means of Lindsjö and Strid providing porous formations for Küchen to navigate. In the background an electronic cat mews. ‘Joyous’ is a short romp in which Lindsjö’s guitar serves as a sort of lumbering metronome for Strid and Küchen’s rattling percussion and rawboned saxophone wailing. ‘Pleased’ builds to an ecstatic crescendo from its clattering start and finds the trio displaying some new twists to their collective language. The album rounds out with ‘Jolly’, maxing out the energy level at the start of the last piece with extremely physical playing on the part of the trio. Around the half way mark the background clatter reduces and Küchen is left to screech and squawk over the interlude. The trio returns to a more contemplative approach for the balance of the track, with chimes signaling an end to our good time.

This album benefits from a near pyramid-shaped arrangement, with the two longer, more texturally dynamic pieces sandwiched between the shorter, higher intensity ones. This sequencing provides an energetic, engaging overture that sets you up for the more subtle and lengthy pieces before again turning the energy back up to finish things off. Combined with the excellent group rapport and tremendous playing the result is infectious. This is one of my favorites of 2018 so far, highly recommended.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Irene Aranda / Johannes Nästesjö / Núria Andorrà - Inner Core (Relative Pitch Records, 2018) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Spanish, Barcelona-based trio of pianist Irene Aranda, Swedish double bass player Johannes Nästesjö and percussionist Núria Andorrà has nothing to do with the jazz piano legacy. These resourceful improvisers are connected to master Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández. Aranda, who comes from Andalusian musical family, has performed in a piano duo format with Fernández and extends his approach of playing the piano as a huge sound generator. Fernández has recorded one of her compositions with his trio with master double bass player Barry Guy and drummer Ramón López (A Moment’s Liberty, Maya Recordings, 2013). Inner Core is her third album and was recorded on December 2016 in Barcelona. Nästesjö has recorded two free-improvised meetings with Fernández (a self-titled debut and Like Listening with your Fingertips, both released on Konvoj Records, 2014 and 2018). Andorrà has released recently a solo album (Kokoro, 2018) on the Sirulita Records that Fernández promotes.

Still, nothing prepares you for the sheer physical power and intensity of this trio. The titles of the improvised pieces borrow ideas and concepts from geothermal physics, capturing the seismic dynamics of this experimental trio. The 16-minutes opening piece, “Planck Mass”, sound like the translation of physicist Max Planck’s theories about quantum mechanics into a heavy storm of energy and sounds - all become one. The trio moves fast and freely, sounds all over the place, exploding with urgent, brutal motifs. Suddenly this piece changes course and the trio explores a meditative, almost microtonal soundscape comprised of carefully resonating sounds produced from the piano strings, bowing of the bass strings and the scraping the cymbals surfaces.

The highly evolved dynamics of this trio are further investigated on latter pieces. “Nucleation” suggests an industrial texture that blurs any distinction between the sonic languages of the piano, double bass and the arsenal of percussion instruments and objects. The sounds of these instruments collide, repel and coalesce all the time like rogue practicals but somehow manage to maintain a delicate equilibrium. The title-piece continues this vein but dives deeper with a quieter yet dense and enigmatic narrative of tense and disturbing, metallic sounds. Nästesjö’s pattern-free rumblings on the bass strings and later his extended bowing technique are at the center of “Allotropism”, triggering minimalist, gentle comments by Aranda and Andorrà. The last “Zeldovich Factor” is the only piece that comes close to the terrains of avant-free-jazz with its push and pull, volcanic power. It is also the only piece where Aranda plays the piano in a more conventional manner.

Heavy, addictive stuff. Run for it.