Click here to [close]

Matthew Shipp (l) and Ivo Perelman (r)

The Stone, NYC, July 2016. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Georg Wissel, Achim Tang and Simon Camatta (WisselTangCamatta)

at Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe. June 2016. Photo by Martin Schray

Susana Santos Silva Group

Silva (trumpet), Pascal Niggenkemper (bass), Carlo Costa (drums), Frantz Loriot (viola). May 2016. 65Fen Music Series, Brooklyn. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Jürg Wickihalder (saxes), Barry Guy (b) and Lucas Niggli (dr)

May 2016. Schorndorf, Germany at the Manufaktur. Photo by Martin Schray


May 2015. Paul Hubweber (tb), Paul Lovens (dr), Jonas Westergaard (b) and Shelley Hirsch (voc). Photo by Martin Schray

Fire! Orchestra

June 2016. Zurich, Switzerland at Rote Fabrik. Photo by Martin Schray

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Frantz Loriot Systematic Distortion Orchestra – The Assembly (OutNow Recordings, 2016) ****½

By Eric McDowell

At the risk of beginning with a cliché, there’s an organic quality to the music on the debut album by violist Frantz Loriot’s Systematic Distortion Orchestra. Developing with tectonic stateliness and glacial patience, the four compositions that make up The Assembly evoke natural phenomena—storms and swarms, cycles of life and breath. The playing has a physicality that suggests effort and sweat. The beauty of this music is not only in its sheer intensity but also in the details of its incremental escalation. So get out your headphones and close your eyes.

The Systematic Distortion Orchestra is a twelve-piece group with a line-up not terribly far removed from Carlo Costa’s Acustica. But by doubling and tripling some of the instrumentation, Loriot tailors his ensemble to the specific needs of these compositions, especially their timbral richness and complex layering. The Systematic Distortion Orchestra is: Loriot on viola; Nathaniel Morgan on alto sax; Brad Henkel and Joe Moffett on trumpets; Ben Gerstein on trombone; Sam Kulik on bass trombone; Sean Ali and Pascal Niggenkemper on double basses; and Carlo Costa, Devin Gray, and Flin Van Hemmen on drums and percussion.

Establishing a reliable structural principle, the album’s first track, “Echo,” begins quietly, with spare, disparate sounds not yet assembled: clattering percussion and sputtering brass, bowed bass warming up. A slow melodic phrase weaves in and out of the gradually accumulating morass of noise. I can’t help envisioning a seascape in tumult—drums sloshing and crashing over the terrible dark depths of arco string textures. The turbulence heightens and heightens until the only way to add to it, around the sixth minute, is for someone to scream. Not long after this climax, things begin to calm down and thin out. The deceleration is as masterful as the acceleration that made it necessary. And it would be irresponsible of Loriot not to take us back down to the ground carefully and safely.

Even if for my money “Echo” packs into ten minutes what other albums struggle to achieve in an hour, it’s worth moving on to the three remaining pieces. My only misgiving about the follow up title track is that it seems to try to replicate the experience of the opener. But even if the grammar is the same, the language is new. The
single epic breath of “The Assembly” is achieved not by the weighty sounds of “Echo” but by a fresh lightness. Pizzi bass replaces arco, kisses and whispers on the horns replace expansive grave melodies.

Next, opening with a long poem by bassist Ali, “…Maybe…Still…” changes direction more drastically. Little by little small sounds begin to infiltrate the space between Ali’s measured words; when the poem is over, the sounds continue, not mounting as in the previous pieces but creating an eerie, static atmosphere full of phantom groans and whines—this time I can’t help picturing an abandoned theme park, the amusements left creaking in the wind.

The final and longest track is called “Le Relais,” and the group delivers on the promise of that title—a thirteen-minute musical relay that puts Loriot’s novel line-up to new use. Still, within this system, the familiar pattern of rise and fall plays out—first in the percussion, then in the strings, and finally in the horns. Each overlapping leg of the relay is a master class in technique, control, and listening. As a whole, the piece forms an incredible triptych.

The Assembly comes highly recommended and is available from the OutNow Bandcamp page.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Claudia Quintet – Super Petite (Cuneiform, 2016) *****

By Troy Dostert

Although John Hollenbeck’s versatility as a drummer and composer has led him to pursue a wide range of projects over the years, it’s his work with The Claudia Quintet which arguably is the best vehicle for his idiosyncratic style. With this ensemble, he’s got the perfect mix of instrumental textures, technical expertise and devil-may-care flexibility needed to pull off these ten tricky, yet undeniably fun, pieces. The result is a superbly enjoyable and addictive record, a release sure to end up on a lot of “best-of” lists for the year. 

With the exception of accordionist Red Wierenga, who replaced Ted Reichman for its 2013 release September, the rest of the personnel have remained unchanged since the band’s inception in 2001: Matt Moran (vibes), Chris Speed (tenor sax and clarinet), and Drew Gress (bass). This is essential to the success of the music, as Hollenbeck’s vision seems particularly driven by the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Each of these musicians is an outstanding contributor in his own right, but Hollenbeck requires them to subordinate their individual offerings to his unique compositions, which have always been the centerpiece of the group’s music. 

Okay, so how do the compositions stack up? Really well, unsurprisingly. Take “Nightbreak,” for instance, the delicate opening track, which features a beautiful melody from Moran and the perfect support from Wierenga and Speed, and as the track gradually becomes more intricate the initial feeling of wonder and mystery remains, even as Hollenbeck and Gress take on a more prominent role and the rhythm emerges more fully. There’s also plenty of the Claudia Quintet’s stylistically adventurous trademarks: the rock-influenced pieces, like the infectious “JFK Beagle,” animated by some especially spirited playing from Speed, or the propulsive “A-List,”with insistent chords from Wierenga fueling the beat; the intricate pyrotechnics of “Philly,” a fast post-bop extravaganza; or the danceable groove of “Rose-Colored Rhythm,” built upon a figure from Senegalese drummer Doudou N’Diaye Rose that practically dares you to sit still while hearing it. 

At just over 45 minutes, the record is noteworthy for the relative brevity of the tracks, something Hollenbeck has endeavored to hone over the years, as he argues that “when tunes are longer, there tend to be moments when not a whole lot is happening.” One certainly can’t say that about these pieces, where there simply aren’t any wasted notes: it all counts. And while that sometimes can be a bit disappointing, as you could easily imagine the group stretching out and continuing the groove (witness “Rose-Colored Rhythm” in particular), there’s an easy solution to this problem. Just play the record again. And again.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Jonas Cambien Trio - A Zoology of the Future (Clean Feed, 2016) ****½

By Derek Stone
Jonas Cambien is a Belgian-born, Norway-based pianist who has here joined with two native Norwegians (André Roligheten on reeds and Andreas Wildhagen on drums) to produce an exciting, concise recording that draws from the well of free jazz’s past and present, that rummages through the box of available sounds and methods and combines them to form something decidedly unique. While other groups might try to mask the seams, however, attempting to lump all the disparate elements together into a fluid whole, the Jonas Cambien Trio make no such pretensions: in fact, they revel in the ramshackleness, producing an album that is absolutely infectious in its wild, wide-eyed exuberance. 

 The first track, “Gulf,” is something of a teaser - an appetizer, so to speak, and an atmosphere-builder. When “We the King” kicks off with Wildhagen’s martial, no-frills percussion, we start to get a sense of what this trio is all about. While there are moments of relative complexity and virtuosity, the group seems to be more devoted to the rhythmic, the repetitive, and the exultant. Wildhagen’s drums clatter, clink, and clang, a veritable junkyard of sound, and Cambien never strays far from the central melody. As the piece progresses, the structure gets more rickety, but it never changes its shape, and it never falls apart. The next piece, “Clap,” tosses the melody out altogether: it’s almost purely driven by stark rhythms from Wildhagen and Cambien, as well as exhalations from Roligheten’s saxophone. Here, the group toy with the idea of the piano trio, working together in ways that deliberately subvert their roles - as these deliriously wonderful noises suggest, the point is not to fulfill a role, to do everything “by the book,” but to simply come together and create. That’s not to say they are not capable of producing accessible melodies. Take “Times,” for example: the main figure is a lovely, circular one, and it boasts a timelessness that links it to some of the most memorable pieces in jazz history. 

 “Frosk” carries hints of minimalism, with spacious, repetitive rhythms that gradually accrete and build. At one point, Roligheten takes a cue from Roland Kirk and plays two saxes at once! A word on Roligheten: he’s a reedist of the highest order, but that commendation isn’t just deserved because of his technical skill. It’s because he’s not afraid to take risks, to reject the typical notion of what a saxophone should “sound” like. While that’s not an entirely uncommon approach in the world of free jazz, Roligheten does more than just bleat or blow maniacally - he’s always aware of what’s going on around him, and he integrates himself accordingly. In “Sing,” for example, he barely rises above a bloated whisper, and the notes he does produce are terse and rough. However, his rhythmic sense is impeccable; for him, the saxophone is just as much a percussion instrument as anything else. The same could be said for the leader, Jonas Cambien. He’s not a showy pianist, and he takes a simple approach to the way that the melodies unfold: in short, maintain them, throw in some frills whenever you get a chance, but, above all, make sure that the rhythms are firmly in place. It’s this simplicity, though, this reduction of the piano to its core components, that makes his compositions so exciting. These pieces are “free” not because of how much complexity they add, but because of how much they strip away. 

If this album represents the sound of the future (as its title suggests), I won’t complain. It’s three men, a pile of instruments, and an aversion to musical convention. Mix those all together, and you get the wild racket that is A Zoology of the Future. Highly recommended! 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Brad Shepik & Ron Samworth – Quartet 1991 (Songlines, 2016) ***1/2

By Chris Haines

Having been recorded back in 1991, hence the title, the quartet of Brad Shepik, Ron Samworth (guitars), Phil Sparks (bass) and Michael Sarin (drums) were rushed into the studio off the back of a lone gig. It seems that the performances had been thought of as not up to scratch and the project has laid in the vaults ever since. That is until now, and with a bit of digital editing the project has finally seen the light of day. With covers of Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin”, and a piece by Robin Holcombe called “Nightbirds” the rest of the album is made up of originals.

The first track “Confluenza” starts with a Middle Eastern sounding theme played by both guitars, which dissolves into a freer solo after a simple but effective bridging passage, with the two themes and variations of them recurring throughout. “Terrestrials” contains the sort of freer solos that I would die for, walking the line between tonality on one side and the chromatic disregard for it on the other, the improvisation weaving it’s silken thread between the two fabrics creating a clear but wavy melody that is just as elusive rhythmically. “Circa” starts with a theme that wouldn’t be amiss off a Pat Metheny album, but then continues with a wandering melody line full of chromatic interest, the like of which I can’t get enough of at the moment. “Plaw” starts with interweaving guitars playing chromatic lines accompanied by drum rolls and percussive hits with the intensity gradually coming to a point where the music takes a more laid back approach with a fusion feel to it. This then continues for a short while before the knotty sounds of the dual guitars become abrasive in character once again ending on a short tumbling unison phrase. “Bent House” with its tango feel is one of the weaker pieces and unfortunately to these ears sounds a bit twee, and wouldn’t have gone amiss if it hadn’t been included.

Throughout the album there is a looseness between the two guitars especially noticeable when playing in unison, which for me is a big part of the attraction of these recordings, a stylistic trait that goes right back to the beginning of Jazz history, particularly New Orleans music with the collective embellishments of a single line. The structures of the pieces are relatively simple allowing for the soloists to gleefully stretch the music creatively, which is where for me the interest lies, although I get the impression that this is where the bone of contention is. However, it all sounds remarkably fresh by today’s standards and seems like it could have been recorded later than the original date.

It’s great that these recordings have finally been released, and I’m sure that there are many of us out there, myself included, who might wish that we could play that ‘badly’.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mette Rasmussen/Paul Flaherty/Chris Corsano – Star Spangled Voltage (Hot Cars Warp, 2016) ****

By Martin Schray

Chris Corsano, one of the most interesting drummers on the scene, is a specialist in sax duos. Among others there have been excellent collaborations with Joe McPhee, Virginia Genta and Paul Dunmall. His most long-lasting collaboration is the one with Paul Flaherty (since 1998), with whom he has released great albums like Low Cost Space Flights (FTR, 2014), for example. For this new trio project he has chosen Mette Rasmussen to support them, with whom he had released the very recommendable All the Ghosts At Once (Relative Pitch) in 2015. The Danish sax player is able to add substantially to the duo format, contributing a new layer of expressivity and complexity. Flaherty and Rasmussen haven’t worked with each other before, however there is an almost telepathic understanding you hadn’t necessarily expected from players of such different generations.

Star Spangled Voltage is the recording of a 2014 show at Never Ending Books in New Haven/CT. Three of the five tracks on this album present the two saxophones weaving wild lines around Corsano’s percussive outbreaks, there’s plenty of brutal high-energy playing with breath-taking and aggressive solos. Often it seems as if the three are chasing each other relentlessly through the free improvisations.

Then again, Star Spangled Voltage consists of obvious contrasts and similarities. On the one hand there are crisp articulations and clear sounds, circuitous “melodic“ arcs are confronted with short, sharp and abstract notes, hectic and nervous lines foil relaxed, vibrato-laden blues patterns. On the other hand the musicians often agree easily on common topics, exploring fields of sounds and structures in a similar way - as if they had been playing together for years.

A good example of this is the five-minute-explosion “c. 800 BCE (Hit the Ground Running)“, which starts with a high-speed drum solo before the saxophones drop in with dissonant and atonal outcries. Very briefly they accompany each other but then Rasmussen’s ultra-high pitches provide an alternative draft to Flaherty’s approach, it’s like a fight between the two of them, which is additionally fueled by Corsano’s drum attacks. The piece bursts of extreme intensity, it reminds of Arthur Doyle Plus 4’s classic Alabama Feeling from 1978.

And even as to the structure of the album there is a contrast: The pieces which are the exception to the rule are “Salt“, a duet between Rasmussen's prepared-sax and Corsano's bowed metal, and “In the Light of Things“, a conversation between Rasmussen and Flaherty. In the first one Corsano and Rasmussen use extended techniques compared to the rather classic playing on the rest of the album. Rasmussen contributes overblown, shivering sounds which are backed by Corsano’s fragile textures. The piece is divided into two parts, the second one is almost balladesque, a complete contrast to the first part. The latter one, the last track on the album, is a duo by Rasmussen and Flaherty, which draws a bow to “Salvaged“, the first track, with its extensive and bluesy phrases.

Star Spangled Voltage is an excellent album full of old-school fire music, a real feast of the senses for fans of classic free jazz.

It’s available on vinyl.

You can buy it from and

Watch parts of the concerts here:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Thank you, Paul and Dominic

By Stef

The news about Paul Smoker passing away in May only reached me recently, and coincided with the news about Dominic Duval passing away too on July 22nd.  

I did not know them enough to feel entitled to write a real obituary. I can only say their music has given me incredible moments of delight, and they will continue to do so. At this very moment I am listening to "Duocity In Brass & Wood 2", a recording of a duo performance of both artists, and a sequel to "Duocity In Brass & Wood 1", that features Smoker with Ed Schuller. 

They share the same qualities, a deep-rooted sense of soul, a warm lyricism and a great comfort and expressivity in free contexts, even if both liked the more rhythmic or structured or bluesy anchoring once in a while. Their technical mastery was always at the service of their emotional authenticity. 

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of Trio X, in which Dominic Duval played a key role with Joe McPhee and Jay Rosen. CIMP recently released the Trio's latest recordings, actually a series of four live albums, which I can highly recommend. 

I want to thank them for the great music and uncompromising art they offered us. It was a great gift they have given us. We will continue to listen to their music with joy and sadness, as they would have wished. 

Our thoughts go to their families and friends. 

Twenty One 4tet - Live at Zaal 100 (Clean Feed, 2016) ****

By Derek Stone

Located in Amsterdam, Zaal 100 is a venue that has hosted a number of notable figures in the world of improvisational music: John Dikeman and Luis Vicente, for instance, who appeared there in February of 2016 (along with George Hadow, Dirk Serries, and Martina Verhoeven) and later released an album documenting the performance. Well, Dikeman and Vicente had actually done a prior performance at Zaal 100, in September of 2015, with Wilbert de Joode on double bass and Onno Govaert on drums. On this newest release, we can hear that first performance in full. Govaert, Dikeman, and Vicente first met during the course of Jasper Stadhouders’ International Improv Ensemble. Finding they had “developed a strong rapport,” they decided to carry on their acquaintance, eventually choosing Wilbert de Joode to fill out their small ensemble. Of these four musicians, Vicente is the only one not currently residing in Amsterdam - considering most of his shows seem to happen in Portugal, it’s a treat to hear him with these Netherlands-based players. Why such a treat? Well, just listen to the sense of interplay they exhibit on Live at Zaal 100: it’s phenomenal, and shows them to be among the finest musicians in the world of contemporary free jazz.

“Red Moon” gets things off to a fine, albeit lurching, start - there’s a sense of haphazardness, of loosely-held-together structures that are always on the verge of collapsing. It’s this “looseness” that distinguishes the Twenty One 4tet as such a fine outfit; they may sound like they are about to disintegrate completely, but they never do.

The next piece, “Rising Tide,” begins with Wilbert de Joode’s delicately-plucked bass, followed by Govaert’s clattering percussion. When Luis Vicente comes in, it’s with a rather straightforward solo, but one that soon unspools itself, sending threads in every direction. That’s one of the joys of listening to him play: he’s got an undeniable ear for melody, but he’s also not afraid to draw all of the primal physicality out of his horn - sometimes he sputters, sometimes he spits out lines with acerbic intensity, but he always keeps your attention. The same can be said for Dikeman. His solos are, at times, downright harrowing - his playing calls to mind Albert Ayler, tossing tortured warbles, dense multiphonics, and screeches into a boiling cauldron. Likewise, the rhythm section doesn’t disappoint. Onno Govaert is a dexterous and acrobatic drummer, moving from taps to thumps to veritable bombardments, all without sacrificing the elasticity that lends his playing such an unpredictable, natural quality - hearing him construct his patterns is akin to watching a master tailor make a garment, with complex filaments weaving in-and-out of the compositions. Wilbert de Joode is the Gary Peacock to Dikeman’s Ayler, shifting easily from arco to pizzicato whenever it suits him, and producing rotund, dense lines that positively pulse through your speakers.

The final piece, “Vesuvius,” is the longest and most fiery one. Here, Dikeman drops the vibrato for an exuberant, impassioned style of playing that more accurately calls to mind Pharoah Sanders. While the Twenty One 4tet aren’t explicitly playing “spiritual jazz,” there is a core of religious fervor buried in these tracks - each player seems to be wrapped up in their own fever-dream, their own torrid world of searing visions and prophetical howls. Miraculously, though, they manage to reach across the gaps and truly connectwith one another, thus realizing one of the ideals of free jazz: creative expression that simultaneously marks out the boundaries between players (each player, after all, has their own unique style), and obliterating those boundaries completely. Perhaps that’s the real meaning behind the titles here - “Red Moon,” “Rising Tide,” “Undertow,” and “Vesuvius” - titles that imply submersion and annihilation. It’s in this same destruction, however, that the Twenty One 4tet find the “spiritual unity” referenced by Albert more than fifty years ago.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Luis Lopes – Love Song (Shhpuma, 2016) ***1/2

By Chris Haines

Released on Clean Feed’s sister label Shhpuma, this collection of solo improvisations shows a more intimate side of Luis Lopes’ guitar playing.  Better known for his work within his groups the Humanization 4tet and Lisbon-Berlin Trio, apparently after a concert the guitarist’s music was criticised by a female fan for being too ‘masculine’.  Whether this remark was the catalyst for this reflective approach found on Love Song or just a candid soundbite, it nevertheless illustrates the difference in approach from the complex, dense and knotty phrases that he wields so expertly within the aforementioned groups.

Although this set of solo pieces shares the concept of love throughout, what it gives us are the more punishing aspects of this emotional web.  The reflective nature of these pieces explores the pain of love, with titles such as “Ever Eternal Loneliness” and “The Sadness Of The Inevitable End” highlighting the way, if it needed it.  The nine pieces are all played on electric guitar using a fairly clean sound but with an edge.  Ranging from two to nine minutes a piece the mood and style has a consistency of melancholy and contemplative desire that hangs like a cloak over the whole proceedings.  Far from the happy bubblegum pop or schmaltzy ballads of many musical interpretations on this favourite of themes, Luis Lopes tries to delineate the complexity of the interpersonal attraction between people and almost creates an essay on the mixture feelings that it brings to bear for us.

This is certainly something different in his canon of works, thus far, and it will be interesting to see if he continues to develop this side of his playing further, maybe incorporating it more into some of his already existing projects.  Having stepped away from the machinery of these, Luis Lopes has examined his feelings in the moment and laid them bare for all to hear.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Santos Silva/Wodrascka/Meaas Svendsen/Berre - Rasengan! (Barefoot Records, 2016) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

An ad hoc group assembled for opening night of last year’s Blow Out! festival at Oslo’s Café Mir, Rasengan! is a fiery session in the European free jazz mode. A straightforward acoustic quartet of trumpet, piano, bass, and drums, they really lean into the European creative-music lineage of which they’re a part. For one thing, I really dig the FMP-throwback aesthetic of the cover. Can we call that color “Follies orange”?

All four members of the quartet—Susana Santos Silva, Christine Wodrascka, Christian Meaas Svendsen, and Håkon Berre—are well-established in the European jazz scene. Santos Silva has been covered extensively on the blog (though, as I admitted in a comment last fall, I had completely missed out on her music for years). Wodrascka’s solo album Linéaire was featured on the blog. And Meaas Svendsen latest solo bass recording was reviewed earlier this year. Berre is relatively underrepresented here, but as a founder of the Barefoot Records collective, I expect that will change shortly. I’m not sure how these four decided to assemble, but the result is magnificent. They waste absolutely no time. From the outset, all four members are going at full blast. Seriously, Rasengan! is a half-hour of fire.

“Sweatshirt” takes up the bulk of the album, at 25 minutes. Opening with everyone in staccato, the shape of the piece rapidly assembles. Berre keeps up a brisk undercurrent, countered by Meaas Svendsen’s lively bass. Something of a call-and-response motif emerges from Santos Silva and Wodrascka’s early explorations. About four minutes in, “Sweatshirt” is swinging. As soon as it opens up, however, the group pulls back, setting the stage for a ferocious solo from Wodrascka that’s backed by a chaotic soundscape of Meaas Svendsen’s extended arco, Berre’s assorted percussion, and the barely-contained howls of Santos Silva’s trumpet. Each member, in turn, takes a moment at the lead. But in the spirit of collective improvisation, the entire quartet is in constant motion, playing off each other’s ideas and urging on their collaborators.

“Death by Candiru” opens in a somewhat meditative state, with airy work from Santos Silva, punctuated by Wodrascka’s restrained piano. Meaas Svendsen gradually fills in, leading to a thoughtful duet with Wodrascka. When Santos Silva returns on muted trumpet, Berre joins on bowed percussion, his metallic drones heightening the tension in a piece dominated by space. “Death by Candiru” (and the album) ends abruptly, leaving many ideas unfinished, many emotions unfulfilled. But isn’t that what separates a great free session from a merely good one, leaving the door wide open for more?




Saturday, July 23, 2016

Introducing the French label Circum-Disc

By Eyal Hareuveni

One of the advantages of a label that relies on a local collective of musicians as the French, Lille-based Circum-Disc is the freedom to experiment. Circum-Disc was founded in 2004, enjoying the work of about 30 musicians of the Muzzix collective. The collective members include the French half of the quartet KAZE - drummer Peter Orins, who runs the label, and trumpeter Christian Pruvost, and the label offered orchestral and smaller groups projects with composer-guitarist Olivier Benoit, now the artistic director of the Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ). Since 2007 Circum-Disc began to offer a new series, Helix, specializing in free improvised and experimental music.

Bi-Ki ? - Quelque Chose Au Milieu (Circum-Disc/Helix. 2016) ***

The alto saxophone duo Bi-Ki ? -Sakina Abdou and Jean-Baptiste Rubin,  has been working since 2012, investigating the sonic parameters of a meeting of two highly personal sonic identities, both playing the same instrument. Both Abdou and Rubim aim to explore different aspects of the timbral range of their instruments: the density, fragility and elasticity in different spaces, with an open, intuitive approach.

Quelque Chose Au Milieu (Something in the middle) documents the duo collaborative work with fellow French sound artist, sax and keyboards experimental player Jean-Luc Guionnet. Guionnet recorded the duo improvisations in five urban spaces and noteworthy architectural buildings - “listening stations” -  in the suburban town of Lille, Lomme. Each of these distinct spaces subjected its own unique sonic qualities on the duo playing and forced the duo to adapt its playing. Guionnet used these recordings as sound material, mixed and edited them into 12 pieces that often sound as a quiet, almost silent, sometimes windy and sometimes even dreamy soundtrack of a very calm and peaceful town. Only on pieces as “C3/C5/∞”, recorded at the Église Notre Dame de Lourdes, and on “SIb” and “C3/C5/∞”, both recorded at the Marché Min Zamin, this town sound as charged with busy, stressful  urban action.

Jean-Luc Guionnet - Plugged Inclinations (Circum-Disc/Helix. 2016) ***

Guionnet often alternates between many left-of-center courses, all suggesting his unique conception of sound. Sound is as an elastic, fluid material that he can alter, sculpt and manipulate. Plugged Inclinations focuses on the bare basics of playing different electric keyboards, reducing the sonic output to mere electric current. Somehow it is an extensions of his approach to playing the church organ which he began to develop since 1993.

Guionnet compares the electric keyboards, mainly organs, to a “ship, a barque, a boat, a building within building”. He reconfigures the electric keyboard's stream of sound and its loose architecture as a pure and endless electrical current, of which he manipulates its blasts and peaks intuitively. He even compares this process to going back “in the machine as we go back in a train of of thought”.

The 57-minutes piece offers a weird feeling of being lost in waves of white noises that on one hand are so familiar from our home environment and daily life that we are hardly pay attention to them. But on the other hand the manipulated arrangement of these noises charges these sounds with a claustrophobic quality that is getting deeper and deeper, full of existential stress.

Jérémie Ternoy / Ivann Cruz / Peter Orins – Qeqertarsuatsiaat (Circum-Disc, 2016) ****½

The trio of pianist Jérémie Ternoy, guitarist Ivann Cruz and drummer Peter Orins, known in its electrified version as TOC, decided to unplug and to go opposite to all characterized it before, i.e. energy, density, volume, excess, channeled into a twisted mix of post-punk-post rock-post jazz. This time the trio opted to explore the timbral range of their acoustic instruments in a minimalist, sparse and spontaneously improvised interplay. To add an exotic flavor to this album, the title is the name of small settlement in the southwestern Greenland, while the other pieces are titled after remote towns in Algeria, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Mongolia, Hokkaido, and Okrug, Russia.

The established interplay of the trio, solidified on previous three albums of TOC, as well as the extensive experience of the resourceful Ternoy, Cruz and Orins in many other projects contribute to the success of this sonic adventure. The trio knows how to sketch multilayered and intriguing textures that flow organically by their inner logic. Pieces as the atmospheric “Djanet”, “Gilgit”,  the mysterious “Wakkanai” or the weird, hypnotic rhythm of the title piece, dissolve any attempt to distinguish such improvisation from a written, well-crafted composition. All these pieces sound fresh, eccentric with its inventive approach, but surprisingly coherent.

TOC - Haircut (Circum-Disc, 2014) ****

The third album of TOC - following their debut, a soundtrack to a wildlife documentary, Le Gorille (2009) and the sophomore work for a dance company, You Can Dance If You Want To (2012) -  is focused on different forms and levels of energy. Haircut is built as two consecutive pieces, and is an insistent, sometimes repetitive research of different modes of highly energetic interplay, built on the spur of the moment. The two pieces, “Half Updo” and “Updo”, do not settle on any pulse or structured progression, but developed as in waves and storms of effects-laden energy.

There are moments when TOC sounds as locking on a distinct form, as on the third part of “Half Updo”, in a heavy, spacey groove, almost with a dance-like pulse, or in the infectious, noisy beat on the beginning of “Updo”. But soon TOC transforms these muscular outpours into another sonic adventures that has an altogether different rhythmic characteristics, still charged with high-octane energy. Eventually all the energy is channeled towards the ecstatic climax at the end of “Updo” where TOC explodes in a fast, reckless and wild mode.

Sakay - Antipodes (Circum-Disc, 2015) ***½*

The Sakay quartet was born of an impromptu meeting in Lille on December 2013 between trombonist Jérôme Descamps who lives in Tahiti and the label regulars- double bass player Nicolas Mahieux and trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins.

Antipodes documents the quartet in the studio. The quartet experiments with different improvised forms of interplay, explores extended techniques and investigates their instruments timbral ranges. All is performed in an unassuming, open-ended approach, with no attempt to commit to any specific narrative or approach, and often within two-three.minutes pieces that suggest multifaceted exploration of a single sonic idea When the quartet stretches its sonic searches a bit longer as on “Architecture du Besoin”, “Distribution des Cartes” or “Bille en tête”, it sketches organically, arresting, eccentrically textured, full of invention, and rich with detail.

Quartet Base - Le Diapason (Circum-Disc, 2014) ***½

Quartet Base is one of long-lasting outfits of Lille, though La Diapason is only its sophomore album. This quartet is actually a quintet now, led by guitarist Sebastien Beaumont and featuring trumpet players Christophe Motury, who also sings, and new addition to the group, Christian Pruvost, who also plays the saxhorn, double bass player Nicolas Mahieux and drummer Peter Orins, who also adds electronics.

The eclectic repertoire references British, Canterbury-scene art rock groups as Soft Machine and Henry Cow, Frank Zappa groups, nineties incarnation of King Crimson, experimental and free jazz improvisation and clever pop songs sensibility. Quartet Base mixes such diverse elements into a wild ride, wrapped by the group tight and playful interplay, Moutry amused and often eccentric pathos is delivered with clever sense of humor and sharp sense of drama. Quite often Quartet Base sound as a French variation of the seminal great prog and fusion groups, especially on the demanding and wild virtuoso pieces as “That Too Much Hurts Me/Part 3”, but fortunately it lacks the pretentious approach these groups and it is much more open to sonic experimentation, as the impressive double solo on “Changes of Love/Part 1”..