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

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

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

Berlin, Kuhlspot, 12/2018

Ayler Xmas: Klaus Kugel (dr); Mars Williams (s); Mark Tokar (b); Jaimie Branch (tr); Knox Chandler (g)

Weikersheim, Club W71, 12/8/2018.

Punkt.Vrt.Plastik: Christian Lillinger (d), Petter Eldh (b), Kaja Draksler (p)

Schorndorf, Manufaktur, 11/22/2018. Photo by Martin Schray

OM: Christy Doran (g), Urs Leimgruber (s), Bobby Burri (b), Fredy Studer (dr).

Schorndorf, Manufaktur, 12/7/2018

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Evelyn Davis, Fred Frith, Phillip Greenlief – Lantskap Logic (Clean Feed, 2018) *****

By Nick Ostrum

I imagine guitarist Fred Frith needs little introduction on these pages. Pipe organist Evelyn Davis and saxophonist Phillip Greenlief, however, may. At least, they were unfamiliar to me before I picked up this fine album. The result of this collaboration is grand and refined. It displays a patience, complexity, unity of purpose, and responsiveness that is quite impressive. And, it is deep. There are myriad threads and twists to follow, tangles to untie. If not careful or if otherwise preoccupied, it can be easy for the listener to get engrossed and lost in Lantskap Logic.

The first track, “Your ever loving arms,” begins with an organ, a swoosh, and a punctured saxophone drone. Greenlief weaves around the steady and welling low-tones as they repeatedly glissando and crescendo. The layers become denser and Davis’s organ comes to provide the steady, though subtly changing thread that provides the base around which Frith and Greenlief meander to powerful effect. Over the course of this track, it opens. The tones elevate. Rather than evoking gloom as some of the albums I recently reviewed have, this one evokes light and elevation. Rather than congestion, one feels space, motion, and, at the end, elation. Listening to this track is like travelling a path towards some abstract state of elation. The textures are deep, varied, and changing.

“With us or without us” begins with a gurgling and whistling, soon accompanied by a distant, repeating bass thump and augmented, metallic sounds. (I am not sure if Frith or Davis is responsible, but Davis is known for playing the interior of the organ as well as the keys.) Frith’s screeching guitar soon enters the picture as Greenlief’s saxophone settles into more idiomatic, elongated notes. These three musicians are conjuring something unique, here. This piece is heavier and more menacing than the first. The background bubbling and thudding lend a layer of portent to the otherwise industrial soundscape. About halfway through, the song approaches a brightness, but a persistent siren halts the progress. A droning hum and pulsing wisps and scrapes steer the track away from dawn, beyond twilight, and towards gloam. The sounds are still dense, however, and I wonder if I this is not also unsettling because of its luridness. This track in particular brings to mind a Utech records aesthetic, albeit not quite as metallic and despairing. Indeed, as the track turns with Frith’s broken trill and a Greenlief’s cavernous horn, Davis introduces a lighter progression of chords that, together, cut the tension. This track does not reach the level of ecstasy of “Your ever loving arms.” Still, it offers a glimmer of reconciliation, whether hope or acceptance, at its end. Absolutely stunning.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

New Monuments – New Earth (Pleasure Of The Text Records, 2018) ***½

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Following you own path is, most probably, the shortest way to become unpopular. It happens in real life and also in the music business. The three musicians that have just released the fourth statement as The New Monuments (Don Dietrich on tenor sax and electronics, Ben Hall on drums and C. Spencer Yeh on violin and electronics) seem to achieve exactly the opposite: making a career by just following their path.

I first listened to Ben Hall through the small rotation of musicians then called The Graveyards. The Graveyards had their moments of brilliance but they seemed determined to record and put out trillions of CDRs, cassettes and some vinyl. I might be a bit picky here, but if only their discography had been minimized to a third or even half, we would now be talking about one of the most important groups in experimental music for the 00’s.

There isn’t much to say about Don Dietrich that hasn’t been said or written. Even though I’m not a big fan, Borbetomagus radicalized free jazz, combined elements of noise with jazz before even the former term existed musically. Altogether they broke all boundaries.

I really enjoy C. Spencer Yeh’s denial of letting himself being confined to one genre or sound. First listened to him through his work will the mighty Flaherty-Corsano duo, but since then he has easily defied any categorization. Call it noise, jazz, electronic experimentalism, whatever you want.

All the above have delved deep into the New Monuments’ all-is-possible sound approach. This time, through Nate Wooley’s Pleasure Of The Text label, they put their electronic side up front and leave not so much to all of us sax aficionados. Do not get me wrong though. New Earth is, first and foremost, a free jazz blowout of high energy and pathos. Ben Hall struggles to follow the pace of the other two. His work on the trap set seems amazing to my untrained ears, a barrage of polyrhythmic mayhem equal (and that is something) to the saxophone of Dietrich. Maybe judging more from my jazz perspective I enjoyed all his gestures. His playing is certainly jazzy but in the loose way the free jazz tradition managed to liberate all percussionists. It sometimes seemed that there wasn’t enough room for him to breathe musically, so he constantly tried to make something of his own.

Knowing that this is an antithesis to their collective playing, I must comment that Yeh and Dietrich seemed to be the leaders in New Earth. They tend to dominate the trio’s sound with great use of electronics, which, to be totally frank, is to me the only disadvantage of this excellent recording. Sometimes the sound of New Earth is all electronics and drums, losing the organic unity they have achieved in previous recordings. Maybe it’s a new path they try to experiment with. We’ll just have to wait and see. Until then I really enjoyed New Earth, especially the parts were they seem totally loose, free and aggressive with their instruments and less with electronics. The parts, like most of the sixteen minutes of the opening track Old Monuments (now that it think of it, is this track a way to wave goodbye to their old sound?), were Hall’s percussion is matched with Dietrich’s tenor sax and the struggling screeches and noises of Yeh’s violin, are utterly satisfying.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Don Cherry Trio - Studio 105, Paris 1967 (Hi Hat Records, 2018) ****

By Kat Whatley

I dare you to listen to this record and not smile at least once. This record is light, enjoyable and full of Don Cherry. Just like Cherry at his best, it is fun, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is wonderfully free.

This record showcases Cherry at a point of change. He’s transitioning from the US to Europe—from the free jazz element to something approximating free, improvised world music. Spiritual jazz as some people have called it. His cornet playing is spot on, but so are his other more eccentric musical instrument choices. (Though I’m always cautious of the gong, its use in 'Infant Happiness', followed by a killer coronet performance is spot on).

This record is a veritable time capsule. It’s Paris in 1967 and Cherry and his trio are performing on French radio. A young Karl Berger, who would later become well known for his role in starting the Creative Music Studio, is playing vibes, marimba among other percussion instruments. Drums are performed by Jacques Thollet, known more for his work with the Palm record label, based in France, founded by Jef Gilson and active in the 1970’s. They are all at the peak of their game, laying the groundwork for the spiritual, otherworldly jazz that is to come a few years later. The pieces sometimes have an unfinished feeling, probably because it is a radio recording, but also because this is just the start of the inventive music to come in the years to follow.

The record is classic Don Cherry—fast, eclectic, with hardly any moment of rest. This performance’s music is bright, vibrant and full of fast paced texture. Though at times the coronet provides moments of solemnity, it’s invariably followed by a joyful explosion of colorful sound. And if there’s anything to criticize about the music, it’s that. The record could have had a few more moments of silence, quiet in amidst the frantic rhythms. But perhaps that betrays the music’s origins as a radio broadcast; it might have been easier for audiences via radio to have listened to a fast-paced piece, instead of a more contemplative textural drone, as some of Cherry’s later music is. And, the performance is a laboratory of sorts—the musicians are trying to get out everything they can.

Though I normally only listen to music at home, this time I happened to start listening to this record while wandering around the city, taking the train and walking around. Without even noticing, I had a kind of bounce, a skip in my step. It was the perfect music for a bright and sunny day, full of potential. It’s enjoyable and approachable and doesn't take itself too seriously. A wonderfully Cherry album.

Don Cherry: Cornet, piano, bamboo flute, gong
Karl berger: Vibes, marimba, paiano, cleste, percussion
Jacques Thollet: drums, bell, timbales

Monday, February 18, 2019

Three (more) from Christopher Hoffman

By Keith Prosk

Christopher Hoffman had a productive 2018. The cellist recorded on Henry Threadgill’s Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus and Dirt… And More Dirt as well as his own Multifariam and Arrow Of Light and Josh Sinton’s making bones..., the latter three of which are covered here. He’s already back at it in 2019, appearing on Anna Webber’s Clockwise.

Christopher Hoffman - Multifariam (Asclepius Records, 2018) ***

Multifariam is 16 vignettes across 37 minutes featuring the large cast of Aaron Kruziki (flute, bass, clarinet, loops), Tony Malaby (tenor sax), Christina Courtin (voice, violin, loops), Michael Bailey (synths, loops), Michael Pitt (voice), Frank Locrasto (Rhodes, Juno, Arp, Panther), Jeremiah Cymerman (clarinet, loops), Ari Chersky (guitar, loops), Craig Weinrib (Drums), and Gerald Cleaver (drums) alongside Christopher Hoffman (cello, loops, bass, keys). Explicitly influenced by MF Doom, Miles Davis, Terry Riley, and John Carpenter, these electroacoustic sketches utilize loops and tone rows to approach a result that in turns resembles hip hop beat tapes and action film scores, or sometimes a jazz-rock that reminds me of Face Ditch and Caveman Shoestore. It’s a fun collage. But its glossy production aesthetic that sometimes sounds like bad blockbuster narratives read might be too cheesy for some listeners. I’m a sucker for the stereotypical cathartic end of films - that feel-good moment after the storm - and tracks like “A Ghost,” “Frontier Surgeon,” and “In Higher Frequencies,” with their delicate, lullaby-like melodies and minor-key drones and bowed strings, fit that mood perfectly. Another standout is “The Upper Chambers,” where a flute drowned in delay and chorus effects is met with Hoffman’s bowing, like an espionage flick in the near east. Given that Hoffman is an aspiring film-maker and making headway into the realm of film (touting relationships with Martin Scorsese and Michael Pitt, whose voice appears on “Quieting”), this is an interesting and worthwhile step towards what will undoubtedly be an increased emphasis on film scoring when he’s not playing premier jazz ensembles.

Multifariam is a digital-only release available here.

Christopher Hoffman - Arrow Of Light (Asclepius Records, 2018) ***

Arrow of Light is a short (4 tracks, 18 minutes) acoustic trio with Adam Hopkins (bass) and Craig Weinrib (drums) accompanying Hoffman (cello). It almost feels staid. Hoffman’s often soloing over a fairly static rhythm section. “The Purge” and “The Election” are nearly head-improvisation-head structures. And the latter is an improvisation on “Oh! Susanna” teetering on the edge of feeling like a sterile Ayler take. However, the recording is nearly all bowed cello - pretty satisfyingly emotive bowed cello at that - which is a treat considering Hoffman more often plucks the instrument on most other recordings. And, despite my reservations previously stated, I find myself enjoying the “The Election” and “The Purge” most. The latter begins with Hoffman and Hopkins plucking a harmony and then some almost-eastern cello soloing over the rhythm section before moving to Hoffman and Hopkins bowing a harmony that transitions to bowed counterpoint before closing out with the plucked head.

Arrow Of Light is a digital-only release available here. Purchasing Multifariam from Hoffman’s site gets you a free copy of Arrow Of Light.

Josh Sinton’s Predicate Trio - making bones... (Iluso Records, 2018) ****

Josh Sinton’s Predicate Trio features the multi-reedist (on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet here) alongside Hoffmann on cello and Tom Rainey on drums, and it debuts on making bones, taking draughts, bearing unstable millstones pridefully, idiotically, prosaically . It’s 47 minutes across 9 tracks, recorded in single takes on a single day at Buckminster Forest. Sinton and Hoffman have recorded together before, on at least Yoni Kretzmer’s Months, Weeks and Days and The Tri-Centric Orchestra’s Agora, Questions of Transfiguration, Vogelfrei, and the synergy shows, with Hoffman often complimenting Sinton’s space when he’s not harmonizing with him. That harmonizing, like on “bell-ell-ell-ell-ells,” “unreliable mirrors,” or “propulse,” recalls the way harmony was used in the music of Steve Lacy, of whom Sinton is a disciple, except it will fluidly transform from and to counterpoint. Though it often seems Hoffman is playing with Sinton more than Rainey, rhythmic interludes on “bell-ell-ell-ell-ells” and “propulse” cast away any doubt that Hoffman/Rainey are a powerful rhythmic unit by the time Sinton returns to the fold. But the stand-out moments, of which there are several, most often come when the trio is playing all together or alone. Like the syncopated sax, punctuating bass drum, and bowed cello vamp recalling “Dogon A.D.” on “taiga” and hissed air notes and gurgling, bass rumbling, and plucked cello sounding like an insect crawling on “unreliable mirrors.” Or the sultry, multiphonic Sinton solos bookending the album - “mersible” on clarinet and “plumbum” on sax - and the fragile, plucked Hoffman solo beginning “a dance.” And, though complex compositions and bravura are present, the emphasis is always on emotivity. A very solid recording for each musician and the trio. Here’s to hoping the collaboration continues.

making bones is available digitally and on CD.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Universal Eyes/Wolf Eyes – Two Civilized Centers (Lower Floor, 2018) ***½

By Nick Ostrum

What can one say about Nate Young and John Olson, the binding elements of this split recording? Readers of these pages might recognize their duo (formerly a trio with Aaron Dilloway) Wolf Eyes through their 2006 collaboration with Anthony Braxton Black Vomit or their devasting 2004 breakthrough Burned Mind. Others who are more hardcore or just more informed than I might even recognize Olson and Dilloway’s work with Gretchen Gonzales Davidson in Universal Indians from the late 1990s. Two Civilized Centers is less aggressive than those releases, but, I think, nearly as potent.

It begins with a steady pulsing beat. Electrified sax and synth effects slowly build around the baseline palpitations and gradually layer into a surprisingly rhythmic piece of music reminiscent of early Krautrock a la early Sprung aus den Wolken or, in the periodic muted vocals, some of the more minimalist Sonic Youth side-projects. As has been customary with more recent Wolf Eyes output, the tension bubbles just under the surface. The overall effect is entrancing, until it disintegrates into a demented circus of fragmented techno beats at its end. Solid, compelling Wolf Eyes all the way.

The other side to this cassette and digital release is occupied by Universal Eyes. Two parts Wolf Eyes (Young and Olson), one part Dilloway, and one part Davidson. One can hear the similarity between this configuration and Wolf Eyes. Indeed, both sound as if they are writing a soundtrack for some desolate, postindustrial landscape. That said, the aesthetic effect is quite different. The first Universal Eyes track, “Civilized Two,” has no traceable rhythm or recurring beat. Rather, the backbone of the piece is a stream of interlacing hums. Partial melodies, electronic hisses, pumping gears, and electro-metallic echoes fade in and out of perception. “Civilized Three” consists of similar elements and evokes similarly bleak environs. The music is somewhat softer, but just as disturbing. One hears howls and fog-horns, metal clanks and various other drips, hums, and clangor. It is difficult for the listener to find consistent threads to latch onto. But, maybe that is the purpose. One must wander in search of something familiar on which to fixate. In this soundscape, however, one only finds the whisper of a melody, the remnant or premature abandonment of a steady beat, and the ghosts of a freshly departed (or at least unrecognizable) civilization. Then again, one also gets the sense that all of this is also a celebration not necessarily of that barrenness, but of the those who stayed behind to revel in the newly open musical space. In other words, this is not just noise. It has real nuance and vision, as one might expect from this seasoned group of musicians.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Universal Eyes – Four Variations On Artificial Society (Lower Floor Music, 2018) ****

When you look up on discogs for Four Variations On Artificial Society, you find it categorized as noise, industrial, free improvisation, free jazz and ambient. By immediately discarding the latter two musical styles, you definitely get an idea of what you are about to listen.

A few months back I attended the three day Wolf Eyes/Universal Indians and friends residency at London’s Café Oto and I must remind to all of you (like me) suffering from reviews overdose, that most of it was a blast. The line-up of Nate Young, John Olson, Aaron Dilloway and Gretchen Gonzales-Davidson (the same on this recording as well) put on a performance of industrial beauty more than once. I found Young’s surrealistic poetry a key element to all this, an element truly missing from Four Variations On Artificial Society.

I have to be honest and admit that since I’m a fan of Eyes’ music, it’s difficult to make truly subjective thoughts about their music and its impact and aesthetics. But, by watching them live for the first time, I realized that their lyrics play an integral part to what they do, a part missing from this recording. So, in case you missed it, I was being ironic and skeptical when I mentioned, in the beginning of this piece, that the music on this recording can be easily categorized.

Thankfully it’s not that simple and this recording, after repeated listening, has a lot more to offer. The cd contains of five tracks (unlike vinyl which has four side-long tracks), all of them named after their length. The first track, the longest one, marks a lazy start for the album. Its noisy atmosphere sounds like an aggressive power electronics group trying to imitate the Wolf Eyes sound. Sixteen minutes of atmospheric murk made by all sorts of electronic devises. As the tracks progress, the quartet seems more focused and relaxed. John Olson’s sax presents itself as a key element of their current sound. I hear harmony and melody in reverse. Another attack on normality maybe or even on categorizations.

A lot of feedback consists their current mood, while rhythmic machinery constitutes one of their most industrial releases in their entire career. On track three reverb takes over to alienate the listener from the warmth (i must remind you that I’m a fan) of their music. On track four rhythms coming from the early days of industrial music dominate over some distant dystopian voices and a sax struggling to be heard. But on track five the saxophone takes over completely, followed by reminisces of their early cheap electronic equipment (and they sound it produced) days.

I started this review by implying that this album sounded like a summary of their sound. Those were my early thoughts when I first listened to it. I felt disappointed. By the time I started to listen over and over I found myself in a position of realizing that their vision has not yet waned. It has just simply mutated into something else, a new vocabulary that consists more aesthetic choices than noise even though back then noise was urgently needed. Just put on more Young’s cut-up like lyrics please guys.


Friday, February 15, 2019

Steph Richards – Take the Neon Lights (Birdwatcher Records, 2019) ****½

By Troy Dostert

Fullmoon , last year’s formidable debut release from trumpeter Steph Richards, turned a lot of heads with its audacious concept and Richards’s stunning technique. Though barely over 30 minutes in length, that album, which featured Dino J.A. Deane in electronic dialogue with Richards in making sonic landscapes both transfixing and forbidding, put Richards on the map alongside some of the superior trumpet innovators of our day—musicians like Susana Santos Silva, Peter Evans, and Nate Wooley.

As good as Fullmoon is, it is perhaps an easier album to respect and to appreciate than it is to love; it has a very experimental aspect, and although it’s well-crafted and impressive in its execution, and even offers some fleeting moments of beauty, the overall mood of the record is rather cold and austere. All of which makes Richards’s sophomore release, Take the Neon Lights, so astonishing. For this music exudes a warmth that makes it a much more inviting record, even on the first listen. But the fact that it’s a more accessible recording takes nothing away from Richard’s artistry; indeed, what’s notable about this album is the way in which her creativity and imagination as a composer complement her fearsome instrumental technique so effectively, making music that is both virtuosic and beautiful in equal measure.

Richards draws deeply from her love of poetry here, and she’s taken inspiration from Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and Allen Ginsberg among others for each of the album’s eight pieces. The title of the album and its opening track, for example, is taken from Langston Hughes’s “Juke Box Love Song.” Richards decided to use a quartet for this record, with conventional “jazz” instrumentation: pianist James Carney, bassist Sam Minaie, and drummer Andrew Munsey. Although Carney uses a bit of prepared piano on a couple of the tracks and Richards employs a prepared trumpet on “Brooklyn Machine”—really effectively, I might add, as you will listen to this track at least two or three times in disbelief that there’s no overdubbing on it—that’s about the extent of the technical curveballs here. The bulk of the album is simply superb, top-shelf improvising around Richards’s fluid, open-ended compositions.

Some of the tracks jump right out at you: “Take the Neon Lights” and “Brooklyn Machine” at times possess an irresistible rhythmic momentum. But even these pieces don’t rest on melodic foundations as much as fragments and structures that can remain as malleable as possible: ostinato figures and thematic motifs come and go, rhythm and tempo contract and expand, and the result is music that is continually in motion, continually evolving. You won’t find yourself humming along to these pieces, but you will go back to them again and again to appreciate new dimensions of their engaging complexity.

Other tracks are just as riveting, albeit using a less direct approach to make their presence known. “Time and Grime” stays at a low simmer, with Minaie and Munsey keeping a loose pulse going as Richards and Carney exchange ideas back and forth, while the haunting “Rumor of War” is much more abstract, with Richards’s emotive trumpet floating ominously above the rest of the quartet’s elusive surface. But the lengthiest pieces, “Skull of Theatres” and “Stalked by Tall Buildings” are especially captivating, each at over ten minutes, giving the four musicians plenty of room to explore Richards’s capacious creations. They both have the feel of a long, winding journey, taking the listener through a range of emotional and rhythmic registers that never fail to sustain interest, and in which the four players work wonderfully together as a finely-honed unit.

Making quite clear that she is not merely to be regarded as an “experimental” musician, Richards’s Take the Neon Lights is sure to garner wider interest and visibility, and that’s all to the good, as her music has so much to offer.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

freejazzblog on air: One World, Many Visions. Jazz als Global Music

freejazzblog on air, the creation of Martin Schray and Julia Neupert is on air again - on SWR2 in southern Germany, broadcasting 11 p.m. CET on Friday the 15th, and online for the following week.

"One world, many visions. Jazz as global music". It includes music by Don Cherry, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Joshua Abrams' Natural Information Society, Karkhana, Konstrukt, Gato Libre (feat. Satoko Fuji), Okkyung Lee and Switchback.

Listen now online here:

Heaven - IAPOE (Clean Feed, 2018) ***½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Heaven is the duo of Danish tenor sax player Henrik Pultz Melbye, known from the avant-rock group SVIN, his experimental solo projects, and his free jazz trio, and Norwegian powerhouse drummer Ole Mofjell, member of the Scandinavian supergroup The Big Yes and a collaborator of Danish pianist Jacob Anderskov, Dutch sax player Tobias Delius, American guitarist Thurston Moore and various projects of vocalist-partner Natalie Sandtorv.

Heaven's debut album, IAPOE, titled as an abbreviation of the first letters of the five pieces - Is-A-Place-On-Earth (a title that echoes Laurie Anderson’s opening lines of her iconic song “Language is a Virus”: Paradise / Is exactly like / Where you are right now / Only much much / Better”), was recorded in Copenhagen’s district Vanløse in September 2017. IAPOE presents the first phase of this working duo while the duo is preparing its next one, a Scandinavian tour with trumpeter Nate Wooley in the beginning of 2019.

Heaven's music, as you may expect, is fast, dense and super-energetic, rooted in old and newer schools of free-jazz and free-improv from both sides of the Atlantic. But Heaven adds an interesting twist to the sax-drums format, introducing a sensual, playful Ethiopian vein to its muscular and urgent interplay, and intertwines fierce, powerful attacks with melodic call-and-answer themes. This kind of Ethiopian singing vibe sneaks naturally into Heaven’s explosive energy and spin the restless, in-your-face Albert Ayler-ian love cries back to Eastern Africa and back again to Northern Europe.

Pultz Melbye sets the tone of all the pieces with an authoritative and articulate flow of ideas and gestures, while Mofjell plays all over, often sounding like he's tapping into the infinite energy fountain of fellow Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. The two best pieces here are the quiet and lyrical “Place”, which sounds like a humble homage to to the irresistible, big and warm singing sound of late Ethiopian sax player Gétatchèw Mèkurya, and the 15-minutes free-jazz piece “On”. The latter piece has uncompromising Brötzmann-ian manic qualities, pushing tougher and wilder and then some, as this duo proves again and again that it is well-versed with the fast lane to the earthly heaven. 

And some more here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Joe McPhee & Hamid Drake - Keep Going (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2018) ****

Keep going.
If you’re tired, keep going.
If you’re scared, keep going.
If you’re hungry, keep going.
If you wanna taste freedom, keep going.

Quoting these words by legendary political activist Harriet Tubman, Joe McPhee introduces this album and announces the direction of the music. This is a political statement. He quotes these words in a quiet but firm voice and then his saxophone sings a lament, a heart-felt blues, that emanates black history. In his typical way McPhee raises the level of anger and frustration with torn lines, then he literally shouts “Keep going“ three times, as if he wanted to encourage his brothers and sisters not to lose hope. But Tubman’s words are not just a political statement, they also describe McPhee’s music. Whenever he seemed to be stuck, he tried something new, he has believed in the idea that there are musical areas that still have to be explored, that the boundaries have to be expanded. This has to do with a memorable incident in the past: John Coltrane’s funeral. McPhee was there, it was a horribly sad moment, but the service was also a glorious affirmation of everything Coltrane was - for McPhee the funeral was a celebration of life, in which Ornette Coleman’s classic trio of the Golden Circle period and Albert Ayler's band played. This experience - that even if something wonderful has ended, something new will arise - has influenced his music to this day.

In November Joe McPhee is going to celebrate his 80th birthday. If you see him, you think he’s just 65. The man is full of energy, mentally and physically. I will never forget a scene from a gig in Weikersheim two years ago, when he took a short run and jumped onto the stage. These days he's making more music than ever before, he seems to be on a never ending tour and he releases new albums constantly. One of his preferred contexts is the sax/drum duo, for example with Paal Nilsson-Love, Chris Corsano and Eli Keszler. That’s why it's strange that he has only worked once with Hamid Drake, obviously an ideal comrade-in-arms - on Emancipation Proclamation: A Real Statement Of Freedom (Okka Disk, 2000) -, although the two have played in Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet. In February 2018 they finally found some time to record something new, and the new collaboration shows what we have missed. Keep Going combines the drummer's warm approach and unique sense of free swing with the saxophonist’s/ trumpeter's musicality and quest for social justice again. Five of the eight tracks directly refer to prominent figures of African-American history, social rights activists and politicians: the pieces are dedicated to Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Lucy Stone, John Robert Lewis and Barack Obama.

Keep Going
displays everything which makes Joe McPhee’s music so great. “Keep Going“, the title track, is the only one that highlights McPhee’s roots in blues and gospel so prominently. Pieces like “For Don't Let 'Em Drop Them Goddam Nukes On Us Lord“ and “Morning Star (for Lucy Stone)“ reach back to a 1960s- and 70s-tradition of free jazz, to musicians like Albert Ayler, Frank Lowe and Noah Howard. In these pieces McPhee hurls out angry, convulsive riffs, blurred, overblown messages, which are propelled by Drake’s nervous drum rolls. On three tracks, “Medgar / Malcolm / Martin“, “Makes Me Wanna Holler (For Representative John Lewis)“ and “Time Was (for Barack Hussein Obama)“ McPhee is on pocket trumpet. At one point in the latter piece he plays into an open gong, which adds otherworldly overtones to his music. This is the other side of his music, the introspective and meditative one, which is rather interested in sound excursion. All this is accompanied by Hamid Drake’s subtle and emphatic percussion, as usual deeply rooted in a black jazz tradition. On the one hand it perfectly supports McPhee’s traditional side, on the other hand it contrasts the experimental approach telling a very old story from a different angle.

Keep Going presents an attitude, it shows that free jazz can still be a political comment. It evokes the days of Sonny Rollins’s “Freedom Suite“, Charles Mingus “Fables of Faubus“ and John Coltrane’s “Alabama“. In these days, in which the situation of African Americans in the US seems to have become worse, it’s necessary.

Keep Going is available as a CD.

You can buy the album here.