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Gebhard Ullmann's Basement Research

Pascal Niggenkemper (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums), Steve Swell (trombone) and Gebhard Ullman (sax). Alte Hackerei, Karlsruhe. Feb 2016. Photo by Martin Schray

Gold Sparkle Trio

Charlie Waters (sax/clarinet), Adam Rogers (bass), Andrew Barker (drums). 65Fen, Brooklyn, NY. February 2016

Phil Minton and Roger Turner

Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe. January 2016. Photo by Martin Schray

ROVA Orchestra

Performing Electric Ascension at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC. January 2016

Ken Vandermark & Paal Nilssen-Love

Performing at the Stone, NYC. January 2016.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Common Objects - Whitewashed with Line (Another Timbre, 2015) *****

By Stefan Wood

Common Objects is a group comprised of John Butcher (saxophones), Angharad Davies (violin), Rhodri Davies (harps), and Lee Patterson (amplified devices and processes). Their double-disc album, "Whitewashed with Lines," is taken from two performances, a year apart; "Cup and Ring," from The Mining Institute, Newcastle upon Tyne in 2014, and "Repose and Vertigo," from Tunstall Chapel, University College, Durham in 2013.

This is some of the most gorgeous abstract music I have heard this year. There are two approaches on this album. "Cup and Ring" is a Davies composition, based on European primitive art forms of marked cups and rings for notes. By using this method Davies builds on the model established by composers like John Cage, where compositions are built by chance methods or notations, playing between rigid forms and personal expressions. "Cup and Ring" is a 57-minute masterwork of atmospheric sounds, punctuated by designed notations of winds, strings and electronics, and above all, leads the listener on a journey that builds slowly but is rewarded throughout by textures, movements, and flavors. "Repose and Vertigo" is alternatively an improvised work, with similar sounds, but more interactive, less designed. Butcher's staccato like sounds really penetrate the smoothness of the electronics. Silence provides key breaks, like pauses from movement to movement. It is a great testament to the musicians that the sounds are always consistently engaging and builds upon itself to create a unique whole.

Excellent work; one of the finest releases of the past year.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Otomo Yoshihide - Guitar Solo 2015 RIGHT (Doubtmusic, 2015) ****

By Nicola Negri

Last year Otomo Yoshihide released Guitar Solo 2015 LEFT, in which he paid tribute to his former teacher Masayuki Takayanagi, one of the most important figures of the Japanese free music scene from the Sixties onward. In that album, among original compositions and improvisations, Otomo revisited two free jazz classics closely related to Takayanagi (“Song for Che” and “Lonely Woman”), and played the very same guitar, a 1963 Gibson ES-175, that his teacher used for a large part of his career, and with which he recorded such masterpieces as the album “Lonely Woman” in 1982.

Guitar Solo 2015 RIGHT can be considered a sort of a twin release, with an almost identical title and cover art, in which Otomo uses the same guitar, even if the material is totally different.
In this case we have a “reconstruction” of a piece that was originally created for the exhibition "Otomo Yoshihide: Between MUSIC and ART", that was held in Tokyo between 2014 and 2015. For that occasion, the musician recorded a total of 123 takes ranging in length from a few seconds to a minute. After the recording the material was given to Akihito Matsumoto, that used it to feed the sound system at the exhibition, controlling the output through a computer program that mixed the fragments in always changing configurations.

Even in this aspect the connection with Takayanagi is strong, with a work that has a deep resonance of the "automated" experiments that the guitarist explored in his later years, as in "Action Direct". The strategies employed here, and the resulting sounds, are very different, though.

Consisting of a single piece over sixty minutes in length, this record has no defined identity. The opening is reminiscent of the free improvisation language pioneered by Derek Bailey, with short bursts of sound intersecting and overlapping through the sound field. Soon the atmosphere changes and ghosts of melodies emerge, in contrast to the previous samples. This dialogue continues throughout the entire track, with ever-changing patterns and sounds, but always keeping a relaxed approach that creates an apparently static, hypnotic environment, even if the music is in a flux of continuous transformation and the guitar is explored in all its sonic possibilities.

The absence of any real development may well be the defining trait of this record, but the end result is far from boring, and demonstrates once again Otomo's ability in creating a rich structural arc through seemingly distant musical fragments, and his mastery in using both a vast vocabulary of extended techniques and more traditional approaches on the guitar.

A fascinating blend of improvisation, randomness and precise compositional logic, this record is a major addition to Otomo's discography.

Highly recommended.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Jorrit Dijkstra, Pandelis Karayorgis, Nate McBride and Curt Newton – Matchbox (Driff, 2015) ****

By Troy Dostert

Labelmates Jorrit Dijkstra and Pandelis Karayorgis, who have been at the helm of Driff Records for a few years now, delight in creating structured improvisations that are challenging and demanding while still retaining a strong melodic foundation.  In this respect they clearly owe a good deal to the inspiration of artists like Steve Lacy, to whom they’ve paid tribute on three records now with the group the Whammies (on their most recent release, see Stefan Wood’s review).  Here they are joined by bassist Nate McBride and drummer Curt Newton, both of whom Karayorgis has worked with extensively, and as a rhythm section open to fluidity while still remaining well-grounded in pulse and meter, they’re hard to top.  The results are impressive, with ten enjoyable vehicles for post-bop exploration.

Dijkstra is a dynamic voice on alto sax, as he amply demonstrates on the record’s hard-charging opener, “Fourteen Squares,” or later on the record, with “All For It,” offering impassioned flurries of notes and incisive rhythmic conversation with Karayorgis.  He also brings a sensitive temper to some of the less aggressive tracks, including the loping “Drooze,” constructed around an almost danceable melody that Dijkstra establishes with grace and subtlety.  Somewhat less effective are the tracks on which he plays something called a “lyricon,” an electronic wind synthesizer that Dijkstra has been introducing into his music for some time—but here it tends more to distract than to complement the music.  I could only detect it on a few of the tracks, however, and for the majority of the album Dijkstra sticks to the conventional alto, on which he definitely shines.

Pianist Karayorgis’s debt to Monk has long been noted, and it’s clearly evident here in his quirky melodic and off-center rhythmic imagination.  But he’s also got a much more powerfully percussive side to his playing—a bit of Cecil Taylor shines through on the suitably named “Entanglement,” and it’s a lot of fun to hear him roam the piano with cascading clusters of notes, as Dijkstra joins in enthusiastically, contributing to the surging power of the track.

As for McBride and Newton, they bear out the advantages of their frequent collaborations, as they are highly skilled in supporting these intricate compositions and keeping things just under control, even during the more adventurous moments on the record.  This release is a very fine one, and more evidence that Driff is becoming a strong conduit for a terrific partnership of like-minded musicians.

Matt Lavelle, Jack De Salvo & Tom Cabrera - Sumari (Unseen Rain, 2015) ***½

By Paul Acquaro

I first put on Sumari while I was driving through the Catskills in New York State over the summer, little did I know how geographically apropos it was. The trio on Sumari has its roots in the Hudson valley, going back over 20 years, and the inspiration of the name has something do with a series called the Seth Books, a study of paranormal experiences by Jane Roberts, who happened to be from the Albany area (just a bit north of the Catskills). I’m not sure there is anything to it, but it seemed somewhat interesting.

The musicians on Sumari are Matt Lavelle on trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, pocket trumpet, alto clarinet, Jack De Salvo on cello and mandola guitar, and Tom Cabrera the dumbeq, rik, frame drums, bass drum, percussion. The number of instruments between them leads to a wide array of musical combinations.

The album starts off with ’Seth Dance', and as the bass and drums get into a looping groove, Lavelle comes in on trumpet with a slightly sourish tone. The song has a hypnotic effect, the choice of timber is quite interesting, and there is an air of mystery to the track. The next track, 'Counterparts Are Comparatively Encountered’ is a bit more stream of consciousness. The track, which is the longest on the album, never quite 'takes off' however the tension that builds is quite palpable. Track three, 'Scientific Cults and Private Paranoias’, like the first, is built on a repetitive groove, however, this time, Lavelle employs a brighter tone on the trumpet and DeSalvo creates an earthy rhythmic texture on his mandola guitar that lends an exotic flavor to the track.

Most engaging is hearing hear how closely the musicians listen to each other, the other tracks that follow have varying approaches, but across all, it’s the interplay that really comes through. From the modes and scales Lavelle uses, to the stringed instruments that DeSalvo chooses, to the various percussion instruments Cabrerea plays, there is a strong interconnectedness in their playing, and the mix of instruments with the free form improvisation touch on something felt rather than spoken.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Meet The Danes

A few recent releases led by Danish musicians who suggest updated perspectives - sometimes bold, sometimes provocative, sometimes twisted - on the future of jazz and improvised music.

By Eyal Hareuveni

Kasper Tom 5 - I do admire things that are only what they are (Barefoot Records, 2015) ****

Aarhus-based drummer and composer Kasper Tom Christiansen is one of the members of the Copenhagen-based musicians collective and label, Barefoot Records. His sophomore release with his international quintet, following Ost Bingo Skruer (Barefoot Records, 2013), offers his challenging compositions, employing wisely the individual voices of this group. The quintet feature the same line up of the debut album - experienced German clarinet player Rudi Mahall, known from the Globe Unity Orchestra and his work with pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and Aki Takase who also plays in another Christensen-led group, FUSK quartet; close collaborator of Christiansen in few other outfits, Polish, Copenhagen-based trumpeter Tomasz Dąbrowski; Swedish trombonist Petter Hängsel and Danish bass player Jens Mikkel Madsen, now residing in Malmö, Sweden.

The architecture of Christiansen compositions and his tonal language does not attempt to follow conventional jazz sensibility. The seven new compositions, recorded live when the group was in top form, develop along loose outlines, based on fleeting melodies, patiently constructing and reconstructing the shifting, complex dynamics. The quintet alternates organically  between imaginative sonic searches to a clever exploration of the rich spectrum of the horns voices, articulating the melody from different angles and constant changing pulses, never settles on a conventional mode. The charismatic, commanding solos of  Mahal and Dąbrowski charge these pieces with poetic intensity and profound emotional appeal.  Their intertwining solos on “Play or Die” and the closing “Vranjo” are the highlights of this warmly recommended album.

Lars Fiil - Frit Fald (Fiil Free Records, 2015) ****

Copenhagen-based pianist Lars Fiil pianist began his career in a storm. In 2010 he won the prestigious Young Danish Jazz Comets with his quartet, and his quartet debut, Reconsideration (Fiil Free, 2011) featuring bass player Madsen (with whom he play in Madsen’s I Think You're Awesome),  was nominated for the Danish Jazz Award. But since then, unfortunately, his recorded output was quite limited. Fortunately Frit Fald (Danish for Free Fall), his sophomore album, justifies the waiting. It features his trio - saxophonist Lis Kruse, who played on his debut, and drummer Bjørn Heebøll, who collaborated before with pianist Agustí Fernández reeds titan Peter Brötzmann, three strong individual voices.

Fiil compositions have an elusive quality. All unfold slowly and gently as if following a highly personal logic and a unique sense of time and space, each one emphasizes different dynamics and atmosphere and all sound as challenging complex musical dilemmas but do not attempt to resolve it, but let it linger on long after the piece is over. The interplay is lyrical and intimate most of the time, stressing every breath, move or pulse of the fragmented melodies, enjoying the contemplative, highly poetic exploration of abstract, improvised  passages. Even when the trio interplay adopts a more playful mode as on “Afbryd Venligst Aldrig Altid”, or a searching one on “Improvisation #3” and “Improvisation #2”  it keeps its close and balanced chamber-like highly attentive dynamics.

Lars Fiil is a unique composer and improviser. Hope that he will not keep us waiting for his next release too long. .

Thomas Albæk Jakobsen's Flux - Voyager (Self Produced, 2015) ***

Aalborg-based drummer Thomas Albæk Jakobsen's sextet Flux's sophomore album, following Relationships (2013), feature almost the same lineup. Prolific pianist Søren Møller replaced Johan Aaen, but the rest of the group is the same one that recorded the debut album - reed player Ole Visby, bass player Kenneth Dahl Knudsen and guitarist Michael Møller Porsborg.

Voyager offers a mature but a very solid journey of the updated version of Flux. Jacobsen explains that his new compositions are informed by the constant touring experience. Eventually this experience led him to write more open-ended pieces, not binded by jazz legacy, each one alludes to the next, and all suggest an emphatic atmosphere of an inspired jam session. Flux charges his strong themes with clever interpretations, highlighting the individual voices of Møller, Porsborg and especially Visby, all three enjoying the tight rhythmic support of Jacobsen and Knudsen. The most interesting composition is the last one, “Long Johns”, spare yet highly cinematic piece, with haunting, melancholic tone.

Television Pickup: Music for Runners/We Take the Bikes and Head Home (Boogie Post Recordings) ****


For Copenhagen-based composer and keyboards player Katrine Amsler the terms jazz and rock are simply four-letters words from a bygone era. She describes her Television Pickup band as an “android cinema orchestra playing songs from films you wish you had seen” and as a “Nightmare cocktail lounge, dystopian disco, a whimsical carnival from a William Gibson future”. She likes to experiment with sounds outside of their context, playing with counter-melodic and counter-rhythmic segments, clashing programmed instruments and preset MIDI sounds with live ones.

The double album offers Television Pickup in two incarnations. The current Music for Runners incarnation feature Amsler partner-guitarist Swedish Samuel Hällkvist plus guitarist Stephan Sieben, Swedish bass player Johannes Burström: and drummer Knut Finsrud. It offers a set of futuristic, kaleidoscopic sonic cocktails where you can taste almost anything- fat and poppish synthesizers lines, fusion virtuoso guitar solos, brief and chaotic improvisations and vocal art, all wrapped in tight, playful songs. These multi-layered songs manage to blend the almost-industrial, otherworldly electronic keyboards sounds with the technical wizardry of Hällkvist and Sieben, all spiraled by the tight rhythmic drive of Burström and Finsrud. The cinematic pieces have a lasting haunting emotional impact despite its programmed, distant and claustrophobic mix of sounds.

The 2010 We Take the Bikes and Head incarnation (released before as a limited-edition book in 2012) feature German sax player Thomas Backman, instead of guitarist Sieben, and drummer Michala Østergaard-Nielsen plays along Finsrud, augmented by vocalists Qarin Wikström, Erika Angell and Mike Højgaard. This album stresses another side of Amsler compositional ideas with a much warmer vibe. Her sonically hybridized compositions are based on evocative poetic stories and spoken word passages and wordless voices, offering a more structured narrative and accessible, rhythmic, song-like textures. These short songs have strong melodic themes, using much less programmed sounds., still, all suggest the highly idiosyncratic and iconoclastic language of Amsler.

Laser Nun (Insula Music, 2015) ***

If Television Pickup challenges modern jazz aficionados snobbism in elegant, tempting manner, the Copenhagen-based duo Laser Nun invites these snobs to a take-no-prisoners street fight. Guitarist Lars Bech Pilgaard, known from the free-noise-improv group Svin, and drummer Anders Vestergaard, who plays in like-minded trio Yes Deer, but also plays with more jazz-oriented musicians as pianist Jacob Anderskov (on his recent trio album, Kinetics (The Path) [Habitable Exomusics Volume], Ilk Music. 2015)

The duo itself testifies about its music: “ear-piercing feedback performed with a mix of omni-religious transcendence and laser-like stupidity”. True to its mission. the duo debut is released in a limited-edition cassette. The two sides, titled “A” and “B”, offer a highly inventive and quite varied torrent of noisy feedbacks, intensified by manic, massive drumming, and surprising by the powerful rhythmic drive of “B”. Both Pilgaard and Vestergaard keep pushing to the utmost climatic extremes and then some more, creating intense, ear-piercing textures of nuanced noises.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Spinifex - Veiled & Maximus

To celebrate their 10-year anniversary, Dutch shape-shifters Spinifex have released two new albums—Veiled, from the core quintet, and Maximus, with seven guests from around the globe. (They’ve also released a 5-disc set packaging these two with Triodia and last year’s Hipsters Gone Ballistic, their first two albums, plus a live compilation—quite a good deal if you want to buy in bulk.) What’s exciting—and impressive—about Spinifex’s music is the way the group manages to absorb and synthesize a variety of influences (jazz, punk, metal, Indian, etc.) and then produce something greater than a simple grab-bag of styles. A parallel feat, they’re also able to foreground technical mastery via incredibly tight, complex structures and at the same time leave room for freer play and discovery. If you haven’t heard Spinifex yet, now is the perfect time to dive in.

Spinifex - Veiled (TryTone, 2015) ****

Veiled is the group’s second record as a quintet, with Tobias Klein on alto sax and clarinet, Piotr Damasiewics or Gijs Levelt on trumpet, Jasper Stadhouders on guitar, Gonçalo Almeida on bass, and Philipp Moser on drums. The album opens with “Don’t Feed the Fox,” whose looping odd-meter groove lays the groundwork for some high-octane horn and guitar soloing. From there things darken with the grim metal feel of “Palinka Express,” before “As Above, So Below” shifts gears again, closer to the jazz mode. The title track keeps the cycle of genres turning, as Hindustani singer Priya Purushothaman, a collaborator on the group’s Bollycore project, adds her vocals to the mix—a perfect addition to the piece’s atmospheric first half, though unfortunately she’s missing in the hard rocking second half. Later, the group revisits their Indian influence with “Brindavana Saranga.”

As tight and disciplined as a group like this needs to be in order to do justice their wide-ranging influences, Spinifex aren’t afraid to explore unmapped territory, either. “Bamlib” and “Bilmab,” two short pieces at the very center of the album (note the palindrome), tread the border between composition and improvisation, a balancing act kept up by “Knoest” and “Vibrate in Sympathy.” While the freer passages themselves on Veiled are often wonderfully chaotic, for better or worse we never quite lose the sense that the ultimate destination is predetermined. The longest track and closer, “Particle R,” develops from tense ambience into a bouncy groove—grounding another strong trumpet solo—and from there into a darkly funky drum feature, Moser whipping polyrhythms over the hypnotic guitar/bass ostinato. As if all the album’s disparate voices had finally caught up with each other, Veiled ends with a moment of grand fury, well worth listening up to.

Recommended—especially for fans of technical, adventurous, hybrid jazz.

Spinifex – Maximus (Trytone, 2015) ****½

But it would be a shame to stop short of Maximus. Truly earning the album title, here the quintet is augmented by six—yes, six—bonus horns (plus another drummer). The group certainly doesn’t fail to make good use of its guests, putting them to work and showcasing them at the same time. These compositions can’t be easy to learn, but the added players go beyond following along to indeed “maximize” the potential already well established on the above album. The guests, an international assembly, include: Bart Maris on trumpet, Matthias Muche and Jeb Bishop on trombones, Pascal Rousseau on tuba, Edoardo Marraffa on tenor sax, Josh Sinton on baritone sax, and Onno Govaert on drums.

For my money, the six additional horns overload the music in the most wonderful way. Where Veiled seemed perhaps a little too controlled at times, the tunes on Maximus are bursting with a multiplicity of competing voices. The second drummer creates the effect of just a touch of welcome and inevitable looseness as the super-group navigates the labyrinthine compositions. Listening to the exuberance of the playing, somehow always escalating, you get a sense of mutual egging-on, of a well-met challenge to go all out. Everyone here seems to bring out the best in each other, perhaps even things otherwise inaccessible.

To mention only a few highlights… “Ost,” the opener, gives three and a half minutes to the horns—cinematically melodic and freely improvising by turns—before rocketing into Spinifex’s familiar brand of complex ensemble playing, only to fall apart and then reassemble into a lumbering groove that wouldn’t be far out of place on an early King Crimson record. The reprised “Knoest” offers a chance to compare the two line-ups side-by-side, and “Mongibello” features a nice imitation Threadgill melody. “Stupid Neckchain” is another technical showcase, as voice by voice the horns trade phrases: slurring, muttering, whispering, growling—as if to throw off the titular restraint. And “Birch,” punctuated again and again by a series of accelerating stomps of sound, is an 18-minute monster. We get everything from snaking unisons to free-form blowing—a bountiful piece from a bountiful group of musicians.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Nate Wooley & Ken Vandermark Duo - All Directions Home (Audiographic, 2015) ****

Recorded last summer at The Sugar Maple, in Milwaukee, the latest release from Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley, All Directions Home, wastes exactly no time getting going. The opener, Vandermark’s “Another Lecture (For Walter Benjamin),” is a hearty, up-tempo blues that absolutely swings. Vandermark and Wooley trade solos woven between unison lines. They rapidly bound ideas back and forth, with Vandermark on baritone sax and Wooley playing to the middle. About a minute in, they lock into a fantastic melody, with Vandermark bounding through a deep bass-like riff, followed by a return to the playful start-stop of the opening. Later, Vandermark forcefully propels Wooley’s “Lutoslawski,” filling in for an absent rhythm section. He fully owns the lower register, scattering notes across the spectrum during his solos. His second, about two-and-a-half minutes in, takes on the entire breadth of the instrument, and is one my favorite solos on the album. “Battle Piece C,” presents a very different view of Wooley’s Battle Pieces project, which was documented last year in a quartet setting (and was one of my personal favorites of 2015). Here, Vandemark lays out a series of pops and squeaks, while Wooley slowly fades in with breathy solo. There’s no tape deconstruction, and the whole track ends after only a couple of minutes. It prompted me to wonder about a future duos-trios-quartets Battle Pieces set, really pushing the limits of that compositional framework.

“Calling (For Elfriede Jelinek)” is the intensely meditative centerpiece; a showcase for extended techniques from both Vandermark and Wooley, it’s also the most emotionally demanding piece on the album. Knowledge of Jelinek or her work as a novelist and playwright certainly isn’t required, but Vandermark has composed a piece that nicely echoes themes found in her writing. His yearning extended solo towards the end is buoyed by Wooley’s near-silent flutter. Patiently, the two fade to silence, before jumping right into Vandermark’s fantastic “Such Science (For Duke Ellington and Muhammad Ali).” I don’t know if it’ll happen, but I would love to hear an Audio One or Resonance Ensemble take on this. Towards the end, Vandermark and Wooley layer contrasting solos, then abruptly restate the theme in the final 10 seconds. It’s a thrill ride, start to finish.

There are two covers, Ornette Coleman’s “I Heard It Over the Radio” (also covered by Aki Takase and Silke Eberhard on their duo outing) and ‘Mississippi’ Fred McDowell’s “Done Left Here.” On “I Heard It Over the Radio,” Vandermark and Wooley’s approach draws out the blues that’s always at the heart of Coleman’s music, slows the tempo slightly, and packs a lot of space around the melody, which doesn’t appear until about a minute in. Wooley plays a sprightly, singing solo at the midpoint, before the two return to the melody. There’s an apt playfulness to the arrangement, and a really heartfelt, brief solo from Vandermark caps a year of tributes to the great Coleman. Closing the album, “Done Left Here” is presented as a fairly straightforward cover, the duo laying its contemporary sound atop a foundation of McDowell’s hill country blues. Wooley screams a high register solo, while Vandermark plays a churning take on McDowell’s slide-guitar run. Then comes a lengthy fade, during which the two quietly trade off the melody, before ending on a unison line, echoing the very first notes of the album.

Unfortunately, All Directions Home” is yet another release that dropped late in the year and was mostly passed over, save perhaps those following Vandermark and Wooley’s career very closely. The pairing is a fruitful one, with two bridging their deep interests in jazz history and tradition with their equally unique talents using extended techniques and crafting avant-garde compositions. In just a few years, we’ve already had two albums, and I really hope this pace continues. Highly recommended.

Video of the two at Issue Project Room (looks like a 9-part series)

Ken Vandermark - Site Specific (Audiographic, 2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Site Specific is a neat entry in the Ken Vandermark oeuvre: a minimalistic, beautifully bound book packed with two CDs capturing live solo field performances in '14 and '15, showcasing Vandermark's photographs taken as he has toured the world. It's not a travelogue or tour documentary, it doesn't capture people, or landscapes, rather it's images of very specific objects at sites arranged suite like. Time and place take a back seat to imagery, textures and emerging themes.

For example, an image from Wormer in 2014 with prominent san-serif lettering is placed on a facing page with an image from Omaha (also from 2014) also with the bold lettering but now getting more textual, which becomes the stronger theme in the image from Chicago with raised block letters on the next page. The images are appealing as the attention to the colors, shapes, and framing is quite intriguing.

The whole project is about the environment - not in the green sense but in the where you are now sense, and the four sets of recordings that make up these two discs are recorded in different places, in the field, with the sound of the instruments intimately linked to nearby objects and features. Throughout the tracks, Vandermark switches between clarinet, tenor, and baritone sax.

Music-wise, the first set begins with a knotty muscular theme that teeters on the edge of rambunctious for the duration. You can hear the implied rhythm section, feel the pulse, and may even be tempted to try to nod along. The first sequence of tracks are spacious and light, but much like the images, the sequence builds from track to track, and by the seventh, the music has developed into dense and elliptical patterns that seem like burlap sheets of sound. Track eight inverses the dynamic, instead of the low rumble, Vandermark works the high register. The second set begins with a warmer sound - recorded under a train trestle in Louisville, Kentucky.  The final most extreme environment is on Disc two, beginning with track six, with a series called "Pipe", recorded at a Louisville, Kentucky Skate Park (I assume in, around, or quite near a half-pipe).

Site Specific is a coffee table book that physically fits a small coffee table but really fills up a lot of aesthetic space. The photography is worth a purposeful viewing as you listen to the accompanying sounds.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rara Avis - Rara Avis (Not Two, 2015) ****

By Derek Stone

Ken Vandermark (baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone, bb clarinet)
Stefano Ferrian (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone)
Simone Quatrana (piano)
Luca Pissavini (double bass)
SEC_ (treatments)

Here, Ken Vandermark is joined by Italian musicians Stefano Ferrian (tenor saxophone), Simone Quatrana (piano), Luca Pissavini (double bass), and SEC_ (Revox tape recorder, instant sound treatment). This album was recorded live on May 5th, 2013, at the Dragon Club in Poland, and it highlights the superb interplay and improvisational skill of the Rara Avis quintet.

Rara Avis documents a relatively brief performance (just over 40 minutes), but the members make good use of that time, offering expressive and knotty improvisations that run the gamut from riotous and unrestrained (“Improvisation #1”) to glacial and tense (“Improvisation #9”).

In the first improvisation, they don’t waste any time. It begins with the instruments testing the waters, so to speak, but it quickly increases in both volume and tempo, eventually reaching a white-hot zenith; Bassist Pissavini bows the bass in wild flurries, and the others keep up with aplomb.

“Improvisation #2” opens with Vandermark on the bass clarinet. As the piece picks up pace, he veers off into the higher registers of the instrument, but he eventually withdraws, giving more space for Ferrian’s full-bodied tenor lines. The bass here is thick and effervescent, weighty bubbles that rise to the surface - Pissavini is a powerful player, and his robust lines act as an anchor to the comparatively protean productions of the reeds  In addition, SEC_ applies generous amounts of static to the underbelly of the piece. His contributions are never overwhelming, however, and they don’t drown out the work that the others are doing. The effect is that of a tape that has gotten stuck in the recording equipment, then subsequently chewed on, slightly damaged, and spat back out. I wouldn’t say that these sound treatments are integral to the flow and coherence of the improvisations, but they give one the feeling that the pieces are about to fold in on themselves at any moment. In some places, it’s unnerving, and in others, absolutely thrilling.

The third improvisation is a sparse and somewhat skeletal piece, with pianist Quatrana dictating the pace of the first half. By the mid-point, the others have joined in, and it soon erupts into a delirious, writhing mass of static, frenzied altissimo lines, and the clamorous tumult of the piano.

The sixth improvisation is something of a tone-poem, with each member contributing to the oppressive and disconcerting atmosphere. Ferrian produces a sporadic string of notes, while Vandermark plays a circular and manic melody that gets quicker and more tangled with each iteration. As Vandermark’s output quickens, so does Ferrian’s, and they are soon locked together in a fierce and sympathetic dance. In the seventh improvisation, SEC_ employs the method of recording a player and applying live alterations to the recording - as they continue to play! It’s quite effective, producing something akin to a ghostly after-image, one that has been distorted and stretched in peculiar ways.  In the next piece, Simone Quatrana produces a succession of rattling, clanking notes that are soon followed by extended wails from both saxophonists and persistent blotches of static from SEC_.

The final improvisation finds Vandermark on baritone saxophone, emitting guttural reverberations that eventually reach a fever-pitch; SEC_ layers the piece with static and tape effects, and Quatrana alternates between clean piano-lines and the clanking and clattering of the prepared piano. As on the rest of the improvisations here, when all of the members contribute to the tumult, an ecstatic whirlwind of sound is produced, one that is easy to get swept away by. On the other hand, the players are equally adept at forming more restrained and menacing sounds, relying on texture, timbre, and the space between notes to create the desired effect.

All in all, this is a fine release by Rara Avis, and it shows how fruitful the results can be when jazz incorporates elements from outside of its “realm,” so to speak. I’m really looking forward to the next recording by this group!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Audio One - What Thomas Bernhard Saw (Audiographic, 2015) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Audio One is a continuation of Ken Vandermark's work with large groups, beginning with the now defunct Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet and his own Territory Band (in its different incarnations) and the still active Europe based Resonance Ensemble. The 10 piece Audio One is a Chicago-based ensemble featuring long-term musical partners of Vandermark - trombonist Jeb Bishop, sax player Dave Rempis, and drummer Tim Daisy (all three played in the Vandermark 5), reeds player Mars Williams (who played in Chicago Tentet and plays with Vandermark in Rempis’ Chicago Reeds Quartet), alto sax player Nick Mazzarella (who also plays in the Chicago Reed quartet), vibes player Jason Adasiewicz (who played on Vandermark’s Impressions of PO Music, Okka Disk, 2013) and bass player Nick Macri and viola player Jen Paulson (who play with Vandermark in The Margots).

This local ensemble allows Vandermark to work on a regular basis, rehearsing, performing, and exploring new compositional ideas, unlike his other groups and ensembles, which often feature international personnel. Audio One incorporates inspiration from the modern and free jazz legacy of Chicago, corresponding with seminal work of AACM artists as Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, with funk and African music, and especially an Ethiopian influence.

Audio One's third album was recorded live at the Constellation and the Sugar Maple clubs in Chicago on two consecutive nights in August 2014. As on many Vandermark projects, the album title, as well as his compositions, are musical homages, reflections of other artist's work. The album is named after Austrian writer and poet Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989), one of the most important German-speaking authors of post world war II. The first extended piece “Doble Negacion” is dedicated to American artist Michael Heizer who specializes in large-scale installations and earth art. This piece gains momentum - power and magnitude - patiently, transforming from atmospheric vibes and strings into a skeletal, infectious pulse and then a choir of reeds erupts and sings the call-and-response theme. Mid-piece it changes course with an open-ended and chaotic reeds interplay before the group resumes its playful and rhythmic mode. The second piece, “Boxers and Dancers”, is dedicated to the great Ethiopian sax player Getatchew Mekuria and to dancer and leader of the Fendika band Melaku Belay, with whom Vandermark toured and recorded. This is a funky piece that revolves around tight, addictive bass line, and its African-tinged theme is expanded and explored by the reeds choir, feeding the propulsive pulse in its turn.  

The third piece, “Uitgraving” is dedicated to the Dutch-American abstract expressionist artist Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), and actually is an abstract, free-associative piece. There are few segments where the powerful drumming of Daisy dictates its contemplative, fast shifting course, but mostly is is fractured between quiet, introspective solos from all the musicians, dissected by brief chaotic interplay. The fourth and last piece, “Tape”, is dedicated to painter and installation artist Robert Irwin. It begins with a massive, Ethiopian-tinged reeds fanfare, soon transformed into rhythmic exploration of its moving theme, highlighting Adasiewicz's crystalline vibes sounds. When the reeds choir returns in full power, Vandermark and Bishop exchange commanding, fiery solos throughout its coda.  

Strong, interesting compositions. Excellent, opinionated musicians. Passionate, committed playing, full of energy. Brilliant album.