On his previous solo albums—More Is More, Nature/Culture, and Beyond Civilized and Primitive—Peter Evans has seemingly stretched and distorted the trumpet beyond its logical sonic boundaries. I spent about five minutes on Google, perusing lists of extended techniques, before I decided that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. Partly, this is because Evans himself is on record as disliking the descriptive “extended techniques,” and partly because I feel his approach breaks down some technical barriers between what’s extended and what’s simply playing the horn. The techniques are simply Evans’s mode of expression, his language for saying everything he wants to say. As Evans has noted, “All the chops in the world don't mean anything if there aren't real ideas and emotions behind them.”
Lifeblood is his first solo album in 5 years, and at nearly two hours, it’s a bold, massive statement. He’s been steadily playing solo throughout that time, and the pieces here were recorded throughout 2015 and 2016. There’s connective tissue in the form of motifs and echoes of ideas, snippets of melodies, and rhythms scattered amongst the whole. The album is bookended by long-ish suites, “Lifeblood” and “Prophets,” and a dedication, first to Rajna Swaminathan, “Pathways,” and later a dedication to Roscoe Mitchell, “Abyss.” Mitchell is one of the patron saints of the solo expression, along with Evans’s friend and mentor Evan Parker, and both of their influences are felt on the album.
“Lifeblood,” recorded in early 2016, opens the album with a richness and urgency that seems to distantly echo Mitchell’s epochal 1977 recording of “Nonaah.” Perhaps it was the dedication that sparked my thinking here, but there’s a starkness to Evans’s playing in the opening that strongly reminded me of that particular performance, the way there’s a challenge issued to the audience contrasted by the daring nakedness of the artist.
The middle of the album is made up of shorter pieces (videos of which have begun to appear online). “Mirrors of Infinity”, “Humans!”, “How Demons Enter”, “Pneumata”, “Night, parts 1–3”, and “Abyss (for Roscoe Mitchell)”. The videos are a nice complement, highlighting the very human side of Evans’s playing. Around the halfway mark of “Abyss,” Evans plays a brief run that involves holding the trumpet away from his mouth, while blowing into it. The result is a softness that’s something of a cross between humming and whistling. On the album, it’s a stunning moment, but seeing Evans perform it in the video, there’s a captivating tension.
The final suite, “Prophets,” takes up 40 minutes of the album’s runtime. From bright, brassy tones to a fluttering, lumpy run in the third part, Evans traverses just about every corner of his imagination. You can almost hear him shoving his own brain around, telling himself to keep going, keep questioning, keep pushing. It’s impossible to guess where he’s headed, but there’s real delight in that unknowing.
Playing alone might be the most difficult option in improvisation. Even Derek Bailey, one of the great solo improvisors, said that though there were advantages, it lacked the more essential and magical side to improvisation: an intuitive and telepathic exchange, which can only be enjoyed in a group context.
At their worst, a solo performance can amount to not much more than a catalogue of personal clichés and crowd pleasing moments. A soloist can also lose any proper critical distance, missing the point to finish, or move on, sounding tedious and self-indulgent. On the other hand, playing alone can be a useful means of analysing and assessing style and vocabulary, putting them under the microscope. Another important feature is that good solo improvisations often have a plan, a notion of where things should go. Some good examples of the genre produced recently are Pascal Niggenkemper’s Look With Thine Ears, Peter Brötzmann’s Münster Bern, Eve Risser’s Des Pas Sur La Neige, Nate Wooley’s (9) Syllables, Matana Robert's Always, and Paal Nilssen-Love’s Cut and Bleed.
This week we‘ll be reviewing a bunch of recent solo albums, some by well-known artists, others lesser known but equally deserving of attention.
Thessaloniki-born percussionist Yorgos Dimitriadis is one of the most prolific members of Berlin’s Echtzeit network, where he has played with Frank Paul Schubert and Mike Majkowski (in the excellent Fabric Trio), Miles Perkin and Tom Arthurs (as Glue). Kopfkino (a German expression for “film in your head“) is his first solo effort. Listening to it, you might be surprised this is a live recording with barely any electronics. Dimitriadis plays a very ordinary, small drum kit, in a conventional way, using sticks, mallets and brushes, but only with his right hand. In his left is a microphone which he uses to generate sounds reminiscent of large singing bowls - aural landscapes that rustle, fizzle and hiss. Dimitriadis alternates between introspective passages, in which his music displays wide spaces, and hectic video game sounds, where the music pants and moves forward in a jerky and twitchy manner. An unusual approach, he keeps his performance short and tense.
Black Pus, Brian Chippendale’s drum project (but with the addition of electronics and voice) came to mind when I first listened to Kopfkino, In comparison, this album is more subtle and relaxed, less energetic.
Some listeners might be skeptical when it comes to drum solos. This album could prove them wrong. Kopfkino is available on CD.
Watch three minutes of the performance here:
Steve Swell - The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Improviser (Swell Records, 2015) ****
While Yorgos Dimitriadis is a new name to many, Steve Swell needs no introduction, one of the leading trombonists in free jazz today (along with George Lewis and Jeb Bishop). His trio with Paal Nilssen-Love and Peter Brötzmann is superb, as is his quintet on Soul Travellers (with Jemeel Moondoc, Dave Burrell, Gerald Cleaver and William Parker). Interestingly, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Improviser is the first solo album in the long career of the 61-year-old. (The title, taken from Alan Sillitoe‘ book The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, might be a nod to trombonist Paul Rutherford’s solo classic The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie, whose title references Luis Buñuel’s film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.)
In brief: a very good album. Over the fifteen pieces you can hear intermingling voices from the long history of jazz: musicians like Roswell Rudd and Rutherford. Swell’s playing is wide-ranging and articulate, an effortless blend of timbres, techniques and means of construction.
As befits the trombone, there are blues roots together with more modern work. Jumping from circular breathing (“Bubbling Quantum Novas“) to staccato salvos (“Sequences“), alienated sounds (“Cogitation“) to beautiful lines (“For Kenneth Patchen“), Swell murmurs, pants, sneezes and grumbles. My favorites are the more conventional “Tongue Memory“ and “Blue Spirit“, the last two tracks on the album, swinging numbers, as if Swell wants to give good old New Orleans a more contemporary feel. Feel free to click your fingers.
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Improviser is available on CD.
Florida-based drummer, composer, Buddhist, and martial artist, Abbey Rader earned his avant-garde creds coming through the late loft scene in New York City, then through an extensive tenure playing and teaching in Europe, and back in the US since '89, playing and touring with musicians including David Liebman, Frank Lowe, and Billy Bang. He recently has released a string of recordings on his own label, working with a range of musicians including Peter Kuhn and Kidd Jordan.
Abbey Rader West Coast Quartet - First Gathering (ABRAY Productions, 2015) ****
As an introduction to Rader, 2015's First Gathering is a good place to start. Here we have Rader's West Coast Quartet which includes woodwind player Kuhn, bassist Kyle Motl, and saxophonist Drew Ceccato. It's a dense and intense affair, that comes out swinging.
On the opening track 'Foreign Dust', the two saxophones clash and chatter over Rader's precise and efficient stick work. Motl's bass playing is strong, adding heft to the pulse, but also shading in key moments with pizzicato fills, both melodic and textural. The second track, 'Inward Light' starts with a dissonant searching melody, moodier and darker than the preceding one. The sound of a sax rises above the shifting pallets, keening and forlorn. The chatter from working increases as the group digs deeper. The energy cannot be contained and track explodes about two-thirds of the way through. The final track is the most contrasting of all, 'Realization to Truth' starts with bass harmonics, breathy sounds from the woodwinds and no percussion at all. At over 20 minutes, there is little need for haste, and through the slow layering of legato lines, the group lays the foundation for the excitement that builds and eventually boils over, with Rader's percussion work a driving force.
2016 saw the release of a Reunion which features Rader with bassist Motl, saxophonists' John McGinn, Noah Brandmark, and the renowned Kidd Jordan. The reunion referenced by the title is with Jordan whom Rader had played with at the dawn of the aughts, when the drummer was on tour with Billy Bang and Frank Lowe. The recording is culled from a live date in south Florida in October of 2012 and its release is a welcome one - it's unfair for anyone to squirrel away such remarkable music!
Leading from behind the kit, Rader demonstrates his sound judgement and improvisational prowess kicking off with the track 'New Found Spirits'. The drummer begins with a solo passage setting the expectation with a taught but spacious pulse and drive. Then one of the saxophonist joins, and begins laying down an intricate and lively lines. This is followed by yet a different saxophonist, who delivers an more acerbic but still spritely solo, and as he plays the others start creeping in, filling gaps, and slowly growing louder. This is then followed by a third sax solo, all of which happens over the tight/loose interplay of Rader & Motl. However, it's when all three saxes collectively solo over that power of this quintet is revealed.
On 'Facing the Wall', the next track, again it is Rader who kicks things off, but with a more deliberate pacing. Somewhat martial sounding with the use of the floor toms, as he adds more elements of the kit, the feel turns to hearty, driving, classic free jazz. A single saxophonist jumps in and delivers a beautiful solo, but what happens next is worth the listen: Motl and multiple saxes get into an sparring match where their instruments seem to blend into a single voice, crying and laughing and everything in-between. 'Talking, Burning, Praying' closes the album with a strong ascending melodic statement that introduces the 20-minute improvisation, rising and falling with musical depth and breath. Following a similar arc to the other tracks, the switch between individual and collective playing provides a nice contrast in energy, density, and approach.
Simply an excellent album, and when combined with the 2015 date, a true gift for the free jazz fan. Creative, varied, and crafted, the music is a treat. Both albums are available at Downtown Music Gallery. Get 'em both, you won't be disappointed.
It has all the makings of biopic: Peter Kuhn, a promising young musician in the late 1970s living in New York City and taking part in the vibrant downtown loft scene - friends and collaborators with Billy Bang, Lester Bowie, Frank Lowe, William Parker and many others - plunges into the depths of addiction...
"The loft I had on Prince Street was a dump. No insulation, broken windows, and on a block that was entirely burned out except for my building and the corner bodega" writes Kuhn in the liner notes to No Coming, No Going.
Speaking frankly about his descent into addiction and the friendships that still mean a lot to him, Kuhn writes "he [Frank Lowe] came over one day when I strung out like a dog on heroin and pretty sucked up from not eating. All my money went to drugs; food was not an essential. Frank pulled me up and schooled me that I have to take care of myself for the music and any longevity."
Before moving back to the west coast in '81, Kuhn cut the ironically titled but deeply moving Livin' Right. After having some additional success in California, touring, and recording for Hat Hut and Soul Note, he hit rock bottom, and started working on getting clean, but in the recovery process dropping out of the music scene.
Thirty years later, through hard work, a turn to Buddhism, and a desire to reconnect with music, Kuhn has reemerged a prolific player, picking up virtually where he left off.
Peter Kuhn - No Coming, No Going: The Music of Peter Kuhn 1978-79 (No Business, 2016) ****
Kuhn's first album, Livin' Right was released in 1978 and featured William Parker (bass), Dennis Charles (drums), Arthur Williams (trumpet), Toshinori Kondo (trumpet) and Kuhn (clarinet, bass clarinet). Here it is disc one in the double CD No Coming, No Going: the Music of Peter Kuhn (1978 - 1979).
The tandem melody by clarinet and trumpet that kickstarts the album has the feel of an Ornette Coleman theme, delivered in dry urgent tones, though it soon gives way to a long drum passage. The second track is a half hour long and seems to package several tracks of the original release as one. 'Manteca, Long Gone, Axisential' begins with 'Manteca' (not the Dizzy Gillespie tune), which sees a great deal collective soloing over a driving pulse. The intensity grows throughout the track and Kuhn's clarinet work glistens throughout. What I assume is 'Long Gone' is a captivatingly slow and brooding affair, and 'Axistential' picks the pace back up and features an intense trumpet solo. Musical ideas that appear here resurface in some of Kuhn's recent work, revealing a certain vision and maturity already.
The second disc is a woodwinds and drums duo with Denis Charles recorded at a concert in Worcester, Massachusetts during the fall of 1979. This is a sick show in the best way possible. Charles is an unrelenting task master - but a compassionate one - the pulse and textures he plays act as both support and lead. Kuhn's work is fiery right from the start. A cascading melody starts 'Stigma,' Kuhn is locked in with Charles who is following the melody with his rhythm, but then the clarinetist breaks free into a wide-ranging solo that covers every inch of the clarinet. A solo passage during the final third of the passage is eviscerating and beautiful in its starkness and precision. With little place to hide, the whole concert offers such moments of pure, earnest musicianship.
Though recorded thirty eight years ago, the music is still fresh and exciting - except for maybe the squeeky toys on Livin' Right that have aged a little less well than the rest of the album (some ideas are definitely of the time). There is a lot to recommend on these two discs and we owe No Business a big thank you for releasing this retrospective.
Now, onto the new...
Peter Kuhn Trio - The Other Shore (No Business, 2016) *****
A big leap forward to 2016 and a trio recording, also on No Business, featuring Kuhn with a trio consisting of Kyle Motl on bass and Nathan Hubbard on drums.
Happily, after 30 years since dropping out of music, The Other Shore is a return to form and over the decades, the emotional quality of Kuhn's music has deepened. Whereas on the duo recording with Charles he charged out of the gate, here, the trio takes its time to build. Not to say that there is a wasted moment during the opening 'Is Love Enough' - every second is festooned with fresh ideas. Kuhn's tone on the bass clarinet is sumptuous and the unhurried improvised melody that he starts with is as composed as one he could have worked on for days.
The track 'Causes and Conditions' is a stand out - it begins with some tonal smears and short tense phrases from Kuhn on the clarinet. A rattle from the percussion and coarse bass accents undergird the saxophonist, and as they gain momentum, the ferocity picks up along with the velocity. The title track delivers measured exuberance, and a long 'everybody solos/nobody solos' passage in the middle highlights the subtle interactions that glues this trio together.
'Not Two' has the most decidedly free-form approach on the album, with the trio extending the technique of the song, while staying relatively inside the lines with their instruments. The impact is gripping as the bass clarinet is stretched across the tempo-less time, while bowed bass lines fill in the rest with crosshatch.
The 'Other Shore' quickly and insidiously infiltrated my playlist and is quickly becoming a favorite of the year.
Peter Kuhn / Dave Sewelson - Our Earth / Our World (pfMentum, 2016) ****
The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center located in the Lower East Side was founded in the early 1990s when the Lower East Side was still far from being yet another trendy hot spot for Manhattan real estate. The building is a lovely Dutch Neo-Gothic block-long former school building and is a much needed refuge for the artists being displaced by high rents and endlessly numbing luxury condos. On an upper floor of the building, Arts for Arts, the non-profit responsible for coordinating the Vision Festival, and much more, runs occasional performance series like the one that this recording was made.
In April 2015, Peter Kuhn and an ad-hoc group comprised of drummer Gerald Cleaver, saxophonist Dave Sewelson and bassist Larry Roland, hit the floor with a screaming set of improvised music that re-united Kuhn and Sewelson (who's association goes back to when Kuhn was walking these very different streets in the late 70s) and introduced them to Cleaver and Roland.
The concert recording starts off with a bang - like the aforementioned duo from '79 - however, this time it's Kuhn and Cleaver who engage in a high-speed chase, with interjections from Roland and Sewelson. After an extended drum led section, Sewelson comes in with a distinctively melodic solo that turns in parts to Ayler-esque outpourings ... and when both of the woodwinds team up, an amazing squall ensues. Midway through 'Our World,' a calamitous woodwind solo reaches a feverish pitch and extended drum, bass, and baritone sax passage follows, casting a spell over the track.
Though they started off in fiery dialog, where they end up is somewhere completely different. Roland starts the track with a long solo bass introduction. After a stretch of searching and re-calibrating the group settled into a satisfyingly yet obtuse pocket. The two winds stretch notes and dig deep and create something special.
The No Business (re)release is a welcome (re)introduction to Kuhn, which captures an exciting start to a too quickly curtailed musical career, however, the music of The Other Shore and Our Earth / Our World finds him making up for lost time with real purpose.
Today we wrap up our update on the prolific Peter Brötzmann, may the creative juices keep flowing! By Martin Schray
Defibrillator & Peter Brötzmann: Conversations About Not Eating Meat (Border of Silence, 2016) ***
Defibrillator is a project by the Polish brothers Artur and Sebastian Smolyn on electronics and e-trombone, and German drummer Oliver Steidle (of Soko Steidle and Die Dicken Finger fame). Steidle has been a frequent collaborator with Brötzmann recently, mainly as a duo. Using a quartet is new and even for those well-acquainted with his music, there’s much to discover. On “Uterine Prolapse“, the best track on the album, (opening again with the call to arms) there’s a short Kim Fowley quotation (“Nutrocker“). On the whole, the music resembles Brötzmann’s work with Full Blast or Keiji Haino. On occasions, his saxophone has difficulty projecting over with the heavy electronic debris of the Smolyn brothers, trying to maintain a distinct voice and not be drawn into maelstrom. Conversation About Not Eating Meat is available on CD.
Black Bombaim & Peter Brötzmann: Self-Titled (Clean Feed, 2016) ***½
Brötzmann’s contributions on this album are different to his other appearances in this round up. Black Bombaim are an instrumental psychedelic hard rock band from Portugal (who have also worked with Rodrigo Amado) and it seems that Brötzmann has finally answered Bill Laswell’s prayers. In the 1980s, when the Wuppertal beast played with the famous producer and bassist, Sonny Sharrock, and Ronald Shannon Jackson in the free rock formation Last Exit, Laswell wanted him to join metal bands like Motörhead, but it never came to be - thank God (although I like Motörhead). Brötzmann said that for him such music "got too boring (because) the rhythmic conceptions of the band" soon loses its interest. However, listening to this album is proof that sometimes there‘s only a thin line between improvising jam bands and free jazz. Brötzmann simply adds his typical sound to Black Bombaim’s monochrome and monolithic excursions. The result is a pure rock album, with straight ahead drumming, distorted bass, wah-wah guitar solos, reverberant sound and a wild, angry, and uncompromising Brötzmann as the icing on the cake. As if Queens of the Stone Age were going ballistic. Black Bombaim & Peter Brötzmann is available on CD.
Paal Nilssen-Love/Claude Deppa/Peter Brötzmann - Cafe Oto London, 9th April, 2013 (Self, 2016) **** ½
Last but not least, there’s Brötzmann’s trio with Paal Nilssen-Love and South-African trumpeter Claude Deppa, who has worked with Chris MacGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath and Louis Moholo's Dedication Orchestra. Deppa’s music includes African, world, and Afro-Cuban jazz elements, as well as soul, funk and European chamber music. In the free jazz sector recordings with him are rare, which is a real pity since he is the actual sensation on this album, recorded when Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love were a long-standing team. Deppa adds fresh colors and ideas to the duo. In the first (and longest) track he growls and gnarls in the background, then buzzes like a bee while Brötzmann casts wide, elegiac lines. Deppa has an excellent technique which reminds me of great bebop trumpeters, and a lush and pungent tone. The duo passages with Brötzmann are beautiful. One wonders why they hadn‘t played together before. The album is marked by enthusiastic playing, and it’s also great fun.
Brötzmann and the other musicians sell the album at concerts. I’ve included it for the sake of completeness (and I like it a lot). It might seem hard to get but wherever you find a copy don’t hesitate to buy it. Cafe Oto London, 9th April, 2013 is available as a CD.
A round up of the latest releases by the remarkable Peter Brötzmann, day two of three. By Martin Schray
Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla - A Crack To Beauty (Omlott, 2016) ***½
For almost twenty years, Peter Brötzmann and Swedish drummer Peeter Uuskyla have been playing regularly together as a duo and in a trio with Danish bassist Peter Friis Nielsen. Brötzmann’s collaborations with drummers are many, but the duo with Uuskyla represents an alternative to those with, say, Hamid Drake or Steve Noble. Uuskyla’s style is jagged, full of twists and turns. Brötzmann adapts by harking back to his sound of the 70s and 80s. Straight free jazz, less vibrato and overtones, no pity, sounding angry, brittle and uncompromising. Notwithstanding its coherence, A Crack To Beauty can also seem a little redundant here and there. All in all a good album though.
A Crack To Beauty is available on vinyl in a limited edition of 500.
Listen to a an excerpt here:
Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla - Holy Drinker 7’inch (Omlott, 2016)
Holy Drinker contains two tracks from the A Crack to Beauty album, “Holy Drinker“ and an excerpt from “Cracked Way Out“ (rating see above). It’s a 7’inch limited to 150 copies. For die-hard collectors only.
Brötzmann’s trio with Borah Bergman and Frode Gjerstad is a recording from the Molde Jazzfestival in 1996 and can be seen as a tribute to the late great New York pianist (the cover shows just Bergman). Brötzmann has released two albums in a similar formation with Bergman and Thomas Borgmann (Ride Into the Blue and Blue Zoo) and with Bergman and Anthony Braxton (Eight by Three), all of them recorded around the same time. Again, he‘s on tenor, clarinet and tárogató here while Gjerstad can be heard on alto saxophone. The album’s interest lies mainly in the contrasting sounds: Bergman emphasizes the extreme registers while the two saxophones dance like hummingbirds around a flower (“Left Hand“). There are also some awesome solo moments where melodic elements shine through (“Left Us“). The album presents Brötzmann as a disciplined team player, and Bergman steers the ship with firm, stoic chords providing a foil for the saxophones. Left is a solid date, with three distinctive stars of the scene.
Left is available on CD.
You can listen to the complete album here:
Laboratorio Musicale Suono C + Peter Brötzmann: DEComposition (Setola Di Maiale, 2016) ****
In contrast to the albums reviewed so far, in the next three (continued in the next installment) Brötzmann is the guest in established formations. His role is to add something different and prompt them into discovering new aural landscapes. Laboratorio Musicale Suono C, a project by Italian musicians Gianni Console (alto, electronics), Giuseppe Tria (drums), Walter di Serio (bass), Donato Console (flute) and Giuseppe Mariani (trumpet), invited the German fire breather to be part of their auditory world, which works quite nicely as the ensemble’s music is diverse. The principal goal is a compromise between differences; the band’s music incorporates dub reggae, various electronic textures, cool jazz fragments, techno beats, and rock/fusion. Brötzmann’s saxophone adds a more natural sound to the rather artificial soundscape, providing a welcome contrast. The tracks, simply called “Decomposition 1 - 6“, are good examples of deconstruction and reassembly. Brötzmann’s sound is harsh, which fits perfectly with the brutal beats created by the band. Music for a gloomy science fiction movie.
"Will Brötz ever stop going, on and on?", my friend Peter, a dedicated Brötzmann fan, asked me when I told him that there was another release by the great saxophonist on Holiday records (Eklisia Sunday, a vinyl release of a 2013 Not Two CD). He had to have it, even though he knew there have been more than a dozen new releases and reissues this year (and it’s only October) such as Songlines and Beautiful Lies, his album with the ICI Ensemble, and Risc, a recent album with Full Blast. But there are also negative voices. Julia, the host of the SWR 2 Freejazzblog On Air radio show, said she was puzzled by all these albums, that Brötzmann’s output was simply too much. It might seem a glut, but Brötzmann is as close to a guaranteed seller as it’s possible to get in free jazz, and it’s primarily labels and other musicians who decide to release these recordings of his performances. Brötzmann is also keen to support other ensembles. And, along with the touring, the answer might have something to do with the absence of pensions in free jazz.
Given the number of releases, we will spend the next three days covering them mostly in shorter reviews though some certainly deserve closer attention...
Brötzmann/Parker/Drake - Song Sentimentale (LP and CD) (Otoroku, 2016) ****½
When Brötzmann started out in the 1960s, he was trying to find a language that could express what he felt conventional music was unable to do. In his attempt to find something new Brötzmann was standing on the shoulders of other giants who had asked themselves similar questions, though his early involvement in art exposed him to certain non-musical solutions, like the German Dadaist Richard Hülsenbeck, for whom the language critique of Dada started like any other critique - with doubt. Like them, Brötzmann asked himself if the continued use of existing modes could accommodate the kinds of things he wanted to say. And so he left conventional paths and started to express himself by ignoring the usual structures, looking to find fresh ways to address issues of modernity. In a career that’s spanned fifty years, Brötzmann’s playing has changed. It now has a more nuanced vocabulary, aware of the simple but potent locutions at the core of the jazz tradition, combined with his own articulations – playing that is recognizably his own.
Song Sentimentale documents parts of a Café OTO residency with his longtime collaborators William Parker (double bass) and Hamid Drake (percussion). OTO’s own Otoroku label has released the music in split format, with different music on the LP and CD, using the same title and cover art. The music on these nights can be heard as the quintessence of Brötzmann’s oeuvre. The best example is “Stone Death”, Everything is in here: the opening call, songlike phrases, folk song allusions, the angry do-or-die improvisation, crassly overblown parts, relentless in their intensity. Initially, there‘s the old mad dog of the early days, grounded by a rhythm section that moves with the elegance of a ballet dancer. Parker and Drake shuffle and swing like hell, and adjust the temperature by speeding up or decelerating. Drake even throws in a rock groove used by Brötzmann to let loose. The last six minutes present the “new“ Brötzmann, knee-deep in melancholy, playing of pathos which can almost bring a tear. Notwithstanding the album title, short, harsh outbreaks ensure that poignant doesn’t become sentimental.
“Dwellers in a Dead Land” presents a different Brötzmann, employing oriental and African rhythms, with Drake singing and finger-tapping on a frame drum, while Parker plays the guembri. Brötzmann is on tárogató, and as often when he plays the instrument, his lines sound closer to African and Far Eastern harmonies. In the middle of the track he drops out and returns on clarinet, dueling with Parker on shenai, a reed instrument similar to the oboe - European free jazz iconoclasm meets Indian trance.
The LP‘s a good example of what has become a typical Brötzmann’s performace (although his health is sometimes not the best these days). The set begins with his familiar call to arms, followed by variations on tárogató with Drake delivering a polyrhythmic salvo while Parker’s bass supports with a pungent pulse. It’s a pleasure to listen to a group able to submerge so deeply in their music. The structures are similar to the CD performances. After a take-no-prisoners intro, it’s time for the blues. Brötzmann’s sad melodies are soon replaced by a rough tone but Parker and Drake keep the blues fire burning.
In the twilight of his career, Brötzmann seems to be fully conscious of his art, and its potential, drawing on the language he helped invent and what he considers to be the essential elements of jazz history. Even when things seem more accessible, they’re far from being convenient. This is powerful, invigorating, challenging music. Both releases are among his best in recent years. They are a must for Brötzmann fans and a good entry point for newcomers.
Portuguese guitarist Luís Lopes is often characterized - even marketed by his labels - as a musician that focuses on the terrains of extreme electric guitar, producing noise blasts and muscular free jazz that is close in its spirit to punk and rock, especially since he released his first solo album Noise Solo (Lpz Records, 2013). But his latest releases feature Lopes as a much more resourceful musician who can accommodate his idiosyncratic vocabulary into different free-improvised settings. Lopes released earlier this year his second solo album, Love Song, a set of touching, fragile improvised ballads dedicated to his partner, Magda (Shhpuma, 2016). His duet from last year with French experimental alto sax player Jean-Luc Guionnet, Live at Culturgest (Clean Feed, 2015) stressed the organic manner that he adapted to the free associative discourse of Guionnet while confronting Guionnet with his reserved, still masculine guitar attacks.
The Portuguese free-improvising trio featured on Garden highlights Lopes' versatility and resourcefulness even more. This trio suggests that opposites do not only attract to each other but also may deepen and expand the other’s sonic aesthetics, vocabularies and techniques. This trio is comprised of highly distinct voices. Besides Lopes, there is sax and clarinet player José Bruno Parrinha, who studied jazz but is now committed to a very refined idea of free improvised music. Parrinha collaborated before with Lopes in a short-lived trio with double bass player Hernani Faustino (of RED Trio, on the digitally-released self-titled album, UNLOAD, 2013). Finally, there is the experimental cellist and electronics player Ricardo Jacinto, a sound sculptor whose work, including sound installations, focuses on the relation of sound and space.
The trio's debut album succeeds to distil the contrasting discourses of the three musicians into a collective sonic approach. Surprisingly, this approach sound natural, almost unassuming, but, obviously, it demanded focusing on concrete, idiomatic phrasing and delicate balance between these strong-minded personalities. Such approach also demanded a great sense of discipline and control to the highly nuanced yet minimalist textual development of the improvisations. What is even more surprising is that this disciplined approach liberates the three musicians from former, well-practised strategies.
Parrinha, Lopes and Jacinto articulate their sounds in a very economical manner. Just a few notes, simple and long breaths, distorted bowing, or scarce, noisy electric drones. All these sounds may sound random, sometimes even unintelligible, but soon emerge and morph into detailed, dark textures. In each piece the trio searches for new ways to intensify and enrich the collective sonic unity, while keeping its loose, open-ended course. The second piece, “1402”, manages to bind beautifully the distorted, feedback and effects-laden guitar of Lopes, the processed, tortured cello of Jacinto and the extended breathing techniques of Parrinha into a highly seductive, cinematic narrative. The fifth piece, “1030”, weaves the contrasting electric and acoustic sounds into a much more complex, arresting texture. Here a gentle bowing reconciles naturally with a noisy feedback, soft breath assimilates immediately into electronic processed, otherworldly sound, and all these weird sounds accumulate into an intriguing, multi-layered and dark sonic journey. Only on the sixth piece, “744”, the contrasting voices sound stormy and violent, but even on this intense improvisation all three musicians agree on a collective course.
American saxophonist and trumpeter legend Joe McPhee met by chance French guitarist Raymond Boni and sound engineer and analog synthesizer explorer Jean Marc Foussat at the American Center in Paris in 1975. McPhee was enjoying, at that time a timely, a justified acknowledgment of his creative powers in Europe. During the same year, Werner X. Uehlinger founded the Swiss label Hat Hut, also after a chance meeting with McPhee, with a declared goal of documenting his work.
This meeting of McPhee with Boni and Foussat led to a long and deep friendship between these unique musicians. McPhee kept playing and recording with Boni throughout the years in different configurations. The first recordings were for the Hat Hut label, with Boni and fellow French sax and clarinet player André Jaume (Old Eyes & Mysteries, 1979; Topology, 1981; Tales and Prophecies, 1981; Oleo & Future Retrospective, 1982) . Foussat recorded McPhee music and the two performed together.
The Paris Concert celebrates the 40th anniversary of the chance meeting at the American Center (now long gone) in Paris. Boni, Foussat and McPhee performed at a private house in Paris before 15 invited guests on May 13, 2015. A lot has changed since the first meeting and as McPhee said: “‘The City of Light’ strives for a new meaning in a time of great challenge. The world has changed and we all walk naked on a razor’s edge”. This recording is released as limited-edition of 400 vinyl copies, with download card the features the encore that is not featured on the vinyl version (but is seen in the video below).
Obviously, all three musicians are experienced free-improvisers, but all three offer highly personal approaches to this kind of music of the moment. Boni's guitar lines are rooted in the jazz tradition, angular and sensual, marking possible textures architectures. McPhee's playing is totally free, more provocative, sketching short, poetic ideas, each one can elaborated to an entire composition. Foussat links all with his otherworldly, vintage electronic sounds and noises or his imaginative usage of processed voices, often sounding as a tortured horn. The emphatic, slow-cooking interplay intensifies and gets rougher, even violent, on the second extended piece, “Paris 2”. Boni's guitar lines now sound spiky, distorted and fractured, McPhee's fiery blows are fast and dense and Foussat charges this tense commotion with alien, industrial atmosphere. But as the three musicians reach the short, final piece their deep understanding and friendship shines through the music. “Paris 3” still sounds strange, but strange and arresting as a song of some mysterious, rare species of birds. Beautiful and surprising, innocent and frightening, profound but light and rhythmic. Great music of the moment.