Friday, April 18, 2014

Frode Gjerstad-Hasselt (NotTwo, 2014) ****½

By Ed Pettersen

I’ve been following Norwegian reed man Frode Gjerstad for years, even collaborated with him a few times but Hasselt, his new disc recorded live at the Hasselt, Belgium Cultural Centre in 2006 is perhaps his meatiest and most lyrical work to date.  Simply put, this album is a powerful statement far exceeding the scope of a simple live quartet recording.  Sabir Mateen’s sax work proves the perfect counterpoint and foil for Frode’s muscular, multi-timbre explorations and the two sound like they practically read each other’s minds in their taut interplay on the album’s five tunes.  It is so well executed it leaves you wanting more hoping maybe more was played at the concert not included here (which is kind of the point isn’t it?).

Drummer/percussionist Paal Nilssen Love who has worked extensively and sympathetically with Mr. Gjerstad before is on skins again here and truly shines and holds it down keeping the bold improvisations grounded and, dare I say, rocking and solid.  To me he’s sort of, for the rockers among us, the Keith Moon of free jazz.  He swings, propels, titillates yet keeps perfect time (the last not necessarily something Mr. Moon was known for alas…).  The real surprise for me here is Danish bassist Peter Friis-Nielsen.  He squeezes every bit of funky goodness and growl out of his double bass while still retaining a strong pulse and never losing his intonation.  No small feat.  This is expansive work by all involved.

My wife has read some of my reviews and given me a hard time for using too many superlatives and fluffy journo-speak to describe the music so here’s what I would tell my best friend: When you first put this disc the opening song feels like your first gulp of strong coffee in the morning only to realize you want more and more which invigorates your system but somehow leaves no jittery buzz but simply fuzzy, bouncing warmth and pure energy.  I’ve listened to it five times already start to finish and could easily put it on again without feeling like I’ve heard it before at all.  To me there’s no stronger recommendation than that.  In fact, I’m so taken my this record that I almost forgot to write about it because each time I think about it I had to put it on again and I drifted off again with its thundering, exhilarating storm.  Not a bad island to be stranded on for a good while.

Highly, highly recommended stuff.  If this is your first introduction to Frode Gjerstad’s work there could almost be no better place to start but don’t stop here.  He rarely repeats himself and has a vast catalog well worth researching.  His work on this recording includes sax, flute and occasional clarinet and he’s highly proficient on each.  Kudos to the entire unit on this record.  They could well be considered a classic line up in years to come whether they record again or not.  That’s how good they sound together here.  I could prattle on and on and wax more poetically but it wouldn’t add anything more to this gem without ruining your own discovery of this set and possibly overstating it.  Simply, check it out.  I think you’ll dig it.  As we Scandinavians say, “Skol!”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord – Liverevil (Hot Cup, 2014) ****½

By Chris Haines

This live double album not only shares a similar title to the famous live Miles Davis album, by all but one character, but also has that sort of exploratory fusion vibe to it at times. As the title suggests it certainly whips-up a potent brew that goes down well.  However, there’s no copying going on here and Lundbom’s clear musical vision continues to make him the original artist that he is.

The sound of the band is top notch and the tunes are played well throughout. The pieces are allowed to breathe in the live environment and the creative musicianship from all the band members gives the well-known tunes a new lease of life.  Lundbom’s playing is excellent and his smooth legato work nestles alongside more angular passages and mazey runs where free playing and more traditional jazz forms meet.  On occasion the music feels barely contained by the structures and the playing threatens to burst the forms wide open.

Great moments and interesting sounds keep appearing throughout the album such as the mash-up between electric piano and drums, multiphonic punctuations and nasal tones from the saxophones, ‘On Jacation’ sports its John Scofield-like guitar sound, which Lundbom wields extremely comfortably, and ‘Bring Forth The Battalions’ with it’s dirge-like feel, which Lundbom excels on.

There’s a buzz about this album and the excitement in the atmosphere comes across in the recording, and not just from the whoops and calls from the audience, but tangibly, so that it’s very presence can be felt within the music itself.

This is a great album and although some live albums can be for completists or die-hard fans this is not one of them.  This double-album contains a couple of great tunes from his studio albums, several new tunes and a suite of Wiccan prayer songs previously unrecorded.  This album could also serve as a good place to start for those wanting an introduction to his music, in fact, this is highly recommended for anyone wanting to hear great music!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Boots Brown - Dashes to Dashes (Häpna, 2014) ****

By Stef 

Boots Brown is a different kind of band, maybe also of brand. It consists of musicians we know from different contexts and different sounds. Mats Gustafsson on alto, David Stackenäs on guitar, Magnus Broo on trumpet, and Johan Berthling on bass. 

The four musicians interact with short phrases, with single note responses, in a murmur of dialogue, soft-spoken and intense, open-ended and surprised at each other's interjections, yet sufficiently interested to add some of their own. But it is more than call and response. The four create something together, something spontaneous, with instant lyricism, like birds of different breeds celebrating the first light of day. It is gentle, a celebration of sound, somewhat abstract and also intimate co-creation, agitated at times but never for long, fragile in the lightness of its overall texture yet solid in the conviction of each instrument to let its voice be heard. Despite its lightness and lack of density and low volume, this is not minimal music, there is a lot happening actually, many things that are inventive and fun and a pleasure to the ears, even if these ears get stretched a bit at times.

The most amazing thing is that this sound is created by these musicians in particular. Possibly it is closest to Stackenäs' usual idiom, but even then. This is not your usual Gustafsson or Broo or Berthling, and still despite the know voice of each of these musicians, they manage to create something this different, so quiet and human and abstract. A great demonstration of versatility, band coherence and open-mindedness .


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A couple solo piano discs: Kris Davis and Myra Melford

In the spirit of the recent set of piano related reviews, Troy Dostert digs deeper into Kris Davis' and Myra Melford's recent solo efforts.

By Troy Dostert

Here we have two outstanding contemporary pianists, each with a distinctive vision.  Of the two, Myra Melford is the veteran, having been around since the mid-80s, and recording with her own groups since the early 1990s.  Her Alive in the House of Saints (HatHut, 1993) remains, in this reviewer’s opinion, one of the finest live piano trio recordings of the last few decades, a masterful record that manages to be sublimely lyrical, technically dazzling, and irresistibly accessible, with a dynamic groove established by Lindsey Horner (bass) and Reggie Nicholson (drums) that works perfectly with Melford’s compositional approach.  

Kris Davis is the (relative) newcomer, although the list of noteworthy recordings she’s released over the last few years is impressive, many of which have been reviewed on this blog.  (Listen to her Paradoxical Frog release, Union, with Tyshawn Sorey and Ingrid Laubrock, for an especially strong glimpse of what she brings to the table).

Both players are highly adventurous in their own way, with Melford generally choosing a more melodic approach to her compositions, although not without freer moments of abstraction and dissonance.  Davis, on the other hand, is in some respects the more challenging composer, with pieces that are alternately dense, complex, and minimalist, sometimes all within the same piece.  She is certainly the less accessible of the two pianists, but the rewards of persisting with her music are substantial.  Okay, so much for the preliminaries: let’s get to the records at hand!

Kris Davis – Massive Threads (Thirsty Ear, 2013) ****

Davis’s playing on this record is especially intriguing for the diversity of styles it showcases.  The first cut, “Ten Exorcists,” is a stunning and captivating track, which relies for much of its seven or so minutes on just one or two notes, struck rapidly in a minimalist technique that Davis then gradually develops into more complex passages, all while keeping the simple tonal center at the core of the improvisation, and with independent ideas explored with each hand.  From the very start, Davis is letting the listener know that this isn’t going to be an “easy” record; it’s going to challenge and confront, rather than drawing in, her audience.  But the brilliance of her technique on this track signals that there will definitely be some memorable moments in the process.

With the second track, “Desolation and Despair,” Davis shifts gears radically, going to a much more spartan musical vision, getting the most musical value possible from just a few notes, using space and silence to great effect, and as the title of the piece suggests, it’s a haunting and bleak musical statement.

The centerpiece of the record is really the fourth track, “Massive Threads”: it’s the longest of the eight tracks, at over 10 minutes, and it perfectly illustrates the way in which Davis embodies a technically sophisticated but austere, demanding approach to her instrument.  It’s also another example of Davis’ astonishing ability to develop separate ideas with both hands simultaneously, as she does at the opening of the track.  Then, as the piece develops, Davis gravitates toward the lower end of the piano, using progressively stronger and weightier chords, eventually building to a powerful two-handed workout in the bass register.  It’s almost overwhelming: relentless, and pummeling (“massive” threads indeed!), until finally retreating a bit, giving the listener some mercy, as she explores a lighter theme before going back to more tension and power with driving chords in the bass register and then, finally, diminishing, with a few spare interjections at the upper end of the keyboard to bring things to a close.

The rest of the tracks are similarly distinctive and imaginative; Davis has clearly planned this record carefully, offering unique statements with each track.  And each track is well-named also: yes, the fifth track, “Dancing Marlins,” really does remind one of spry, exuberant fish, full of life and surprise!  And there’s even a great Monk cover (“Evidence”).  True to form, Davis develops it in a careful but abstract manner.  Although it takes a while for the tune’s melody to come into focus, it does emerge, and Davis displays her distinctive voice wonderfully as it unfolds.

It’s a fine recording, and especially strong in revealing Davis as a terrific improviser and one whose compositional approach is both forceful and intriguing.  If I had to offer a quibble with it, I’d say that at times Davis’s concept strikes me as a bit cold and severe.  While I’m certainly not averse to being challenged in my musical explorations, I did at times struggle to find an emotional core in the music that would allow me to enjoy it on a less cerebral level.  Davis does what she does really well; but this might not be a record I’ll come back to listen to as often as others that have left a stronger emotional impact on me.

Myra Melford – Life Carries Me This Way (Firehouse 12, 2013) ****

Just as Davis’s opening track on her record signaled what was to come, Melford’s “Park Mechanics” will sound familiar to those who know her music: it’s animated by a jaunty, rhythmically buoyant ostinato, with a strong melodic feel.  Melford’s ability to get the toes tapping is evident on a number of cuts; “Attic,” the sixth track, offers a rather funky flavor at points, even while the tune at its core is rhythmically complex.  There’s a subtle blues voice that colors a lot of Melford’s playing; this is the more “jazz”-oriented of the two records, without a doubt.

With eleven tracks to work with, Melford doesn’t offer any marathon-length performances, but there’s a lot of stylistic variety, especially on the first half or so of the record.  I hear some Keith Jarrett influence on “Red Land,” with another compelling left-hand use of ostinato, with ringing chords in the right hand; and Melford’s oft-cited debt to Cecil Taylor is apparent on “Piano Music,” where her technical skill with percussive flourishes and powerful note clusters is truly attention-grabbing.  In addition to the more up-tempo tracks, where Melford is often at her best, she also has a way with more reflective pieces, as on “Red Beach” the second track.  It’s a ruminative, melancholy statement, with a somber but also uplifting delicate melody she explores as the piece develops.

It’s an excellent recording overall, although the last half of the record does meander a bit; Melford’s compositions were somewhat less successful on the final few tracks, and they lacked the more convincing sense of purpose established earlier in the record.  The last track, “Still Life,” offers a charming little tune, but it wasn’t quite enough to rescue the more lackluster tracks that preceded it.

For fans of solo piano records, both of these recordings are definitely worth checking out.  While Davis’s is the more imposing record, it’s got a lot to offer; and although Melford is just as technically brilliant, she is a bit more willing to let loose and dance from time to time.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Christine Wodrascka - Linéaire (Mr Morezon, 2013) ****

By Stef 

Sure, I did not include all solo piano albums in yesterday's marathon review for the simple reason that I wanted to give one specific album more attention, and because I forgot to add this one, which now gets a preferential treatment.

Christine Wodrascka is one of France's most daring improvisers, approaching her instrument in its entirety and in a very physical manner, as some of you already read in the review of "Grey Matter" some months ago. She has played with many musicians well known to the readers of this blog, such as Joëlle Léandre, Paul Lovens, Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Ramon Lopez, Xavier Charles and Ivo Perelman.

On "Linéaire" - which means, yes, Linear - the music is anything but linear, in the sense that the ten tracks - which by the way all start with an "L" in the title - lead us to a variety of settings and moods and styles, ranging from playful inventive interaction between left and right hand, as on "Luci Polari" which is close to modern classical music over the slow and dramatic minimalism of "Lupercales" to the percussive muted noises of "Lady Sarah B", played directly on the strings, and the almost industrial "La Machine Du Vieux Kamaji".

Whatever the approach, her playing is inventive, clever and compelling. The music is spontaneous and fully improvised, yet she manages to keep her ideas focused on the core concept of each piece, playing it with careful attention and precision.

She clearly deserves wider recognition.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Solo piano ....

By Stef 

Here is some great stuff from piano-land, lying here in sober notes, tinkling away in quiet solitude, filling space with sounds of deep emotions and abstract notions, of fierce inventiveness and magic peacefulness, of traditional masteries and of breaking boundaries. One instrument, for a world of sound. We had some great examples already earlier this year, with Kaja Draksler's "The Lives Of Many Others" and Alexander Hawkins with "Song Singular" and Agustí Fernandez with "A Trace Of Light". And here are some more, to enjoy at times of agitated musical searches, or in moments of calm reflectiveness.

To make things easier in classifying the twenty-albums reviewed here, I tried to put them in boxes, which is of course always the wrong thing to do, but it will help guide readers in the broadest possible way :
- the jazz innovators
- jazz!
- the experimentalists
- classical
- the romantics.



Matthew Shipp - Piano Sutras (Thirsty Ear, 2013) ****½

First and foremost there is Matthew Shipp's "Piano Sutras", a wonderful album that real music lovers have already spotted for many months, but that deserves attention. Matthew Shipp's piano playing is something special, with a deeply ingrained lyricism mixed with abstract structures and unpredictability of an improvisation's development. Tradition is his playground, as in the odd "Cosmic Shuffle", which is a shuffle somewhat turned upside down, or just the pretext to explore some different journeys suggested by the initial idea, never to return, or on "Blue To A Point", with indeed bluesy references, or on "Uncreated Light", where nuances of Gershwin shimmer through. And then of course there are his very personal renditions of "Giant Steps" and "Nefertiti". If ever an article should be written about the link between physics and music, Shipp should be at the centre of it, because his music, and possibly his mind, is both mathematical, as in heavy equations needed to understand particle physics, while at the same time spiritual, as in some foundational sentiment that links us all to the universe. His music is small, intimate, grand and gloriously expansive too.

His music is one of wonder, of lightness with gravity, of deep things with question marks, possibly also surprising himself while playing at how the music evolves under his hands. You will obviously recognise the artist's "voice" from his ensemble playing with the late David S Ware for instance, yet here he can show his art in a more unique format, full of freedom to move around, to let his ideas and spontaneous constructs flow with changing colors and shifting rhythms. His music is abstract, in the sense that repetitive melodies are hard to find, yet equally warm in the depth of the emotions expressed.

A great artist. And great music too.

Pat Thomas - Al-Khwarizmi Variations (Fataka, 2013) ****

British pianist Pat Thomas, who released no less than seven albums last year, uses the 9th Century Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi as his inspiration for his fourth solo album. Al-Khwarizmi is the man who gave us the decimal system based on earlier Indian number systems. He is considered the father of algebra and the word "algorithm" is based on his name. As for Pat Thomas, his music is not at all the result of mathematical equations or algorithmic patterns, quite to the contrary. The musicians explores, he uses his instrument in his totality, from powerful playing on the keys, to quiet rumblings of the strings and even harder to detect places of sonic birth. 

Yet is is great. It is fun. Like his rhythmic development inside the piano on "Variation 3", on which harplike sounds on the strings and percussive use of the wood creates a recognisable pattern then gets deconstructed again. He has a similar approach on "Variation 8" on which muted strings conjure up a hypnotic and minimalistic sequence of shifting rhythms. When he is playing in the expected fashion, sitting on his stool and using the keyboard, the music sounds unpredictable yet coherent, open-ended and energetic, full of dramatic moments and grand story-telling without actually resorting to identifiable patterns. Sometimes, as in "Variation 4", some jazzy phrases shine through the avalanche of notes, yet mostly his playing is beyond genre. Classical influences are at times present, but then more of the modern kind, as in "Variation 9", which is a quiet piece, with spacious chords interrupting silence. 

Thomas never takes the easy route, even quite to the contrary, he shows us new possibilities, even the harsh ones, even if it means to go well beyond what a listener might expect, yet it is not alienating, it is not shocking, but a genuine search for sound, offering the listener a quite novel listening experience at time, and the fact that he introduces fun elements demonstrates his focus on the audience. An album with vision and character. 

Joana Sá - Elogia Da Desordem (Shhpuma, 2013) ****

I like those young pianists who really go in new directions. So is Portuguese Joana Sá, and not only has she studied the piano at various schools in Portugal, and not only is she enrolled in a doctoral programme on music, she is not a technician on her instrument, or a high-brow theoretician, no, she is a musician with a voice, one that goes beyond her instrument, with lights and visuals and words and sound collages adding dimensions to her rich piano-playing, that is beyond genre, but abundant, evocating the theme of this piece of art, Elogia Da Desordem, or In Praise of Disorder, reflecting the chaos in our brains, the non-stop eruption of images, feelings, thoughts, sounds maybe, fragments of memories and maybe even moments of quietness, and also the demons that haunt you in the background. Is this neuromusic? I'm not sure, but it is really worthwhile listening to. And yes, it is not a "real" solo piano album, as there are passages of poetry recited by Rosinda Costa, well done and kept to the minimum that this reviewer still finds acceptable. This is music with character and vision.

Otomo Yoshihide - Piano Solo (OTOroku, 2013) ***½

A solo piano vinyl 45 rpm album? By a guitarist? Yes, indeed. And you can imagine the Japanese composer approaching the piano in a different way. I even doubt that the keys have been used, thinking that Yoshide saw the potential of sonic magic in the entire instrument, from the legs up to the wooden boards and the strings, and the result sounds like ... electronics, with big washes of sound pouring over silence, with industrial violence tearing through slow drones, with organ-like sustained notes making you wonder if there is any future, with velvety feedback noise as the only sign of warmth.

Johanna Borchert - Orchestre Idéal (WhyPlayJazz, 2012) ****

A little older than the other albums in this review list, but worth pointing out. A solo album by German pianist Johanna Borchert, but then one on which she also plays harpsichord and autoharp, adding a few overdubs too. There is loots to hear, from impressionistic intimate improvisations, over modern classical to very dramatic pieces ("Der Königliche Schlafgang") to dissonant avant-garde on "Zitterpartie".

She describes her own music well on the liner notes: I am interested in the tension between clarity and abstraction. I am inspired by concerts that make you wake up. Where elements transform themselves or are put into a new light, thus changing the perspective, even while the position remains the same. I try to surrender myself completely to the unpredictable reality of the moment. This is the greatest happiness and deepest satisfaction that music can give to me. And I think that it also infects the listener.


Kris Davis - Massive Threads (Thirsty Ear, 2013) ****

Kris Davis starts Massive Threads with prepared piano with several muted strings creating a maddening and hypnotic rhythm over which the right hand adds some fresh accents, in a style that you will recognise from Benoît Delbecq. The piece is called "Ten Exorcists", and you almost wish it would never end. It is fun, it is creative and utterly compelling. "Desolation and Despair", the next track, is more quiet, minimal and introspective, with isolated notes floating in a sea of silence, gradually coagulating together as silence gives way to the gravity of "despair". The title track starts with highly percussive chords, louder than in the previous pieces, with heavy thumps leading into silence and more intimate impressionistic phrases, which grow denser and denser, into full chords, and the volume and tension increase again to madness and back to silence.

"Dancing Marlins" is more playful and lighter in tone, creative in its rhythmic complexity and development. She brings one cover, Thelonious Monk's "Evidence", which is played in a slow and impressionistic way. "Leaflike" is again intimitate and subtle, as is the closing track.

Her music has been reviewed often on this blog, and her "Rye Eclipse" is still one of my favorites.

Marc Hannaford - Liminal (Marchon, 2013) ***½

Australian pianist Marc Hannaford's first solo album leaves me a little bit non-plussed, and it took me some time to understand why. The music is good, the playing is excellent, and each composition and improvisation is worth listening repeatedly. The thing that bothers me a little bit is the lack of coherence in the overall approach. Yes, his endeavour was to "document (his) interest in musical connections between Carlo Gesualdo, Bach, Messiaen, Scriabin, Elliott Carter" and his own language of improvisation, but these composers by themselves already span a broad range of approaches. The result is that you have a dark opening piece "I Die" with electronic reinforcement, brilliant and ominous. It is followed by "For D.T." a minimal piece, quiet and eery, a mood which is continued on the long "Arnons", in my opinion the best piece of the album, with its slow and well-paced development. And then we get four classical compositions, by Messiaen, Händl, Gesualdo and Bach, played as if Hannaford wants to take them to his territory of music, to an updated, fresher sound, and even he achieves this, the contrast with the excellent start of the album is too great in my opinion. Sure, the playing is still excellent, and his skills are fantastic, yet I would have preferred the entire album to be his own, and in my opinion even better than the classical shoulders he's standing on.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Myra Melford - Life Carries Me This Way (Firehouse 12, 2013) ****½

I hope Myra Melford needs no introduction, as her music has been covered on this blog before, and probably insufficiently - I still have a draft and unfinished review of Trio M's "Big Picture" lying here somewhere - and possibly also under-recorded too. So a solo piano album by her comes as a surprise. I think it's the first one in her career and it is a good one. In contrast to several of the albums in this list, the music is jazz, very much so even, deeply drenched in bluesy emotions, with pulse and harmonics and a left hand that hits a groove, and a right hand that gives you these shivers of emotions and goose-bumps for their accuracy and emotional depth. Yes, that's what you get here. Melford is the queen of jazz lyricism, and even if this album is dedicated to the painter Don Reich, the music is very much Melford's story. At some moments Jarrett comes to mind, in her slow impressionism, often beautiful and accessible, and because of the post-boppish sound.

This is not adventurous music, nor does it fit this blog's profile I must admit, but for those interested, I really wanted to highlight it because of its quality.

Paul Bley - Play Blue - Oslo Concert  (ECM, 2014) ***½

The pun in the title is well-chosen, because Bley offers us some really bluesy playing, freely improvised but digging deep in the roots of jazz, while keeping the form fresh and open. The Canadian legend keeps things relatively low-tempo, with a few exceptions, creating a coherent and strong overall sound. I once fell asleep during a real Bley concert, but he is more than captivating on this one. The performance was recorded live in Oslo in 2008, and the audience's enthusiasm is great, with a full two minute applause at the end. So is the quality of the playing, and of the sound quality too.

Umberto Petrin - Traces And Ghosts (Leo, 2014) ***½

Umberto Petrin is one of Italy's leading jazz pianists, who has played with other great musicians such as Gianluigi Trovesi, Guido Mazzon, Tiziano Tononi and with the Italian Instabile Orchestra, not to speak of collaborations with Amiri Baraka, Anthony Braxton, Assif Tsahar and Jean-Luc Cappozzo. He is as comfortable in modern classical music as in jazz, but I have the impression that his former solo projects, performing the works of Monk and Cecil Taylor, show is preference for improvisation with a jazz signature. 

He is accompanied by u-inductio with "noise" on two tracks and then only for a short while, making me really wonder what the value of it is for the music. 

Petrin makes this a really entertaining performance, with lots of variations in relatively short pieces, some Tayloresque piano hammering being alternated by ballads, or more structured improvisations and compositions, ending with Billy Strayhorn's "Johnny Come Lately". The end result is a highly enjoyable, well-played intelligent piano jazz album. It will not be on the list of the most innovative music, yet it's fun without pretence. 


Gianni Lenoci - Morton Feldman - For Bunita Marcus (1985) (Amirani, 2013) ****½

We've reviewed Italian pianist Gianni Lenoci several times before on this blog, but then always in a more jazz setting, with William Parker on "Serving An Evolving Humanity", with Gianni Mimmo on "Reciprocal Uncles", on "Empty Chair" with his own quartet.

This album is entirely different, as he plays Morton Feldman's second of his three last works for piano. This one called "For Bunita Marcus", who herself is a contemporary composer and student of Feldman.

The music itself is mesmerising, with little clusters of three or four notes played in a slow series, with silence in between. It is repetitive without being the same, resulting in a feeling of hesitation, of somebody cautiously moving forward on tiptoe, of wonder too, of beauty, of calm certainty. Paradoxically so. The music is so fragile that any change, however, minimal, generates attention. The beauty of small changes.

The entire composition lasts more than one hour, and its quiet minimalism is maintained throughout. As a listener, you have to give in. You have to surrender and become part of the music. That's the only way you can listen to it.

The music has been released before, seven times even, by amongst others, Markus Hinterhaüser, by Hildegard Kleeb, and also on John Tilbury's "All Piano". Not having listened to these albums, I am not sure how much Lenoci's album adds to this, or even differs from it, but it is worth looking for.

John Tilbury - Cornelius Cardew - Piano Music 1959-70 (Matchless, 2013) ****½

We find John Tilbury back on this remastered re-issue on Matchless of the earlier 1996 release. Tilbury performs the music of composer/pianist Cornelius Cardew, whom he knew quite well and who preceded him as the pianist of AMM. Cardew himself was an artist fully into the musical vision of Cage, Riley and Feldman, at least in the first part of his career, after which his political ideas drove him away from experimental music. Tilbury wrote Cardew's biography : "Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished".

Album reviews exist of the earlier version, and apart from the great quality of this production, the music is of course identical. The liner notes can be read here.

I just want to highlight one part of it, referring to "Volo Solo", a composition that Cardew wrote for Tilbury, with the following instructions :  "to play as many of the written notes as possible, and to play them as fast as physically possible. The instrument should seem to be breaking apart".  In a letter to Tilbury (March 1965) Cardew suggested another compelling image for the piece: "Aim at low dynamics and in the long passages the instrumental sound will build up to forte of its own accord. In fact that is the way I envisaged the long passages: the piano is playing and you are sitting there holding the terminals and getting electrocuted."

A great album with a virtuoso performance of highly idiosyncratic and unusual modern music.

Eva-Maria Houben - Decay (Diafani, 2013) ****

Eva-Maria Houben is a German composer and pianist. She is part of the Wandelweiser Group, an international collective of modern composers and musicians, all influenced by John Cage. Her music is minimal with ambient influences, and built around silence, forcing the listener to real deep listening. Decay offers an hour-long composition, with some barely audible organ in the background. Sparse piano notes offer a chilling effect.

Here is how the pianist explains it herself, in a poetic fashion :

"What is it about the sound of piano?
The sound of the piano decays.
It cannot be sustained. I let it loose time and again.
It appears by disappearing; starting to disappear just after the attack.
In disappearing it begins to live, to change.
The piano: an instrument, that allows me to hear how many ways sound can disappear.
There seems to be no end to disappearance.
The sound of piano!
I can hear, how listening becomes the awareness of fading sound".

Eva​-​Maria Houben - Piano Music  - By R. Andrew Lee (Irritable Hedgehog, 2013) ****

R. Andrew Lee brings us two compositions by Eva-Maria Houben. Again, you will hear single notes like dots of a canvas of silence, yet after twenty-three minutes in the first track, a series of three notes emerge, resonating until they have come to an end, until absolutely nothing can be heard anymore. She even notates this as such in her compositions, as William Robin explains in the liner notes : "In exploring the acoustic properties of the piano, Houben pays careful attention to the realities of sound. If she wishes a low note and a high note to sound for an equal length, she indicates that the pianist should repeatedly play the higher pitch until the sound of the lower one has fully died out. A more utopian composer might simply indicate that both notes should be held with the pedal, unaware that the higher pitch would fade away much faster than the lower one. Houben resists these unintentional silences. By considering the implications of her notation, she also forces the pianist to pay attention to exactly when a sound ends and a silence begins" . 

A strange musical world, in which every note has value, in which every note is treated like a gem, something to savour and to be looked at from all sides, with concentrated attention, full of a very precious beauty.

Listen and buy from the label.


Marcin Masecki - Scarlatti (ForTune, 2013)  ***½

Giving jazzy renditions of classical music is usually a boring affair for the uninspired, yet Polish pianist Marcin Masecki does not fall into the traps of kitsch. He uses Scarlatti, and some Bach, as the basis for improvisations, after having deconstructed the original first. It is interesting, and the playing is good, but I keep wondering why this approach is needed.

Pi-Hsien Chen - Changes (HatHut, 2013) 

But then there is Pi-Hsien, whose take on Scarlatti is close to the original, so no deconstruction here, yet she uses the Italian composer's short pieces as interludes within John Cage's "Music Of Changes", which offers a strange juxtaposition of styles and musical time zones, yet somehow it works well. She's released albums with music of Bach, Mozart, Pierre Boulez and Schoenberg before, yet this is the first time she mixes the old and new music. Obviously the music by Cage is more interesting for modern listeners, but the Scarlatti interludes are refreshing.

Michael Vincent Waller - Five Easy Pieces (Bandcamp, 2014)

Let's stay in the land of modern classical music for a while, with "Five Easy Pieces" by Italian American composer Michael Vincent Waller, offering us five short pieces performed by Jenny Q. Chai and by Gumi Shibata. As its title suggest, the music is easily accessible, very nice to the ear, yet with not much of an adventurous streak, despite two pieces dedicated to Terry and Morty, whom we expect to be Terry Riley and Morton Feldman. 

Listen and download on Bandcamp.


Aaron Parks - Arborescence (ECM, 2013)

Young American pianist Aaron Parks first solo album is released on ECM no less, a label which is guaranteed to give him a much wider exposure than most other labels. His music is completely improvised, and as its title suggests grows like life out of some initial concepts. The playing is good, melancholy and with a dreamy atmosphere, something to listen to on quiet evenings when the only thing you want is calm, away from the treadmill of life, and keeping some distance from the nervosity and agitation of your usual musical preferences.

Espen Berg - Acres of Blue (Atterklang, 2014)

Norwegian pianist Espen Berg offers us a nice impressionist and lyrical album, quite romantic while remaining open-ended and with room for improvisation. On the other hand, the music is unobtrusive, a nice word to say that it lacks the guts, or character, or adventure that we so much like on this blog. So even if a little out of place here, fans of piano music may find pleasure in Berg's excellent playing, like you could also admire some of Jarrett's solo piano work.

Esa Helasvuo - Stella Nova (TUM, 2013)

From Finland we get Esa Helasvuo, a pianist whose focus has been on composing for the stage, for movies and for children, while at the same time performing in jazz bands. On this solo album he brings us six fully improvised pieces and some composed ones. The mood is nice, calm, soothing, sometimes jazzy, often beyond identifiable genre. 

Fits well in the series of the more impressionistic and romantic albums.

Jacob Anderskov - Impression Of Radiohead (Ilk, 2014)

Pianist Jacob Anderskov received the Danish Jazz Composers Award last year, and co-founder and former chairman of ILK, the now famous Danish record label. Since his graduation from the Copenhagen Conservatory in 2002 he has released no less then twenty albums, some of which have been reviewed on this blog before.

On this album, no compositions of his are to be found, award or not, but he performs Radiohead compositions before an enthusiastic audience. Apologies, but I would not be able to recognise one single Radiohead tune, so I am a little bit at a loss here (my rock music interest ended somewhat in the eighties with The Smashing Pumpkins as the latest band I really followed - shame on me you might say), to tell you what his taking place, or how his "impressions" are just that or something more.

In any case, the music is quiet, all ballads, no real rock tunes, no anger, no shock, just nice and sweet improvisations on the band's hits.

IN SUM, what would I recommend you spend your money on? Shipp and Thomas are a safe bet for those of you with open ears, so are Joana Sá and Johanna Borchert for those interested in accessible genre-bending innovative music, and Melford would be the choice for the lovers of jazz in a highly touching new form. And Lenoci's Feldman rendition is recommended too, if only because of the spectacular composition. And of course you already had the Cornelius Cardew album.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tracy Silverman and the Calder Quartet – Between the Kiss and the Chaos (Delos, 2014) ****½

By Ed Pettersen

Funded entirely by a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012 Tracy Silverman and the Calder Quartet’s new disc succeeds on many levels.  More composed than most records we see here in free jazz-ville it is nonetheless equal measures adventurous, genre-bending and fulfilling at the same time.

The first five cuts are with the quartet and the last four are Tracy alone with his six string electric violin, pedal board and looper.  The project began as an original electric violin concerto composed by Tracy scored for electric violin and orchestra and debuted with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra in January 2010.  I for one am certainly glad for the pairing between Mr. Silverman and the Calder’s so the wider world could hear this beautiful, sneaky work.

There’s plenty to love here for classical fans but the music far transcends it, especially the second half of the CD.  I’ve had the pleasure to work with Tracy on occasion and though we mine a lot of the same territory I almost forget to play sometimes and watch in wonder as he weaves his perfect musical tapestries on the spot.  A lot of guys, including myself, use loopers to varying effects but Tracy is a master and he uses it to compose spontaneously to the point you lose track what he currently playing and what he already laid down.  Genius.

The Calder Quartet, who I wasn’t previously familiar with, are precise yet passionate and I can see why they were chosen for this work.  Tracy’s electric six-string violin is perfectly complimented by the acoustic strings and the result is calming and enthralling at the same time.  The level of virtuosity here is astounding.  No mean feat blending electric with acoustic strings but the album is perfectly recorded and every part and each instrument occupies its own unique space in the mix.

The “Between the Kiss and the Chaos” concerto is designated by five famous painters; Michelangelo, Matisse, O’Keefe, Van Gogh and Picasso and it’s a delightful canvas (and the perfect length as well at approximately 30 minutes).  Tracy ends the recording with four pieces covering approximately 27 minutes by himself that boggle the mind.  Very inspired.

Whether you’re a classical fan or not I think you will find this album rewarding and after three listens I’m still finding new textures and have yet to tire of it.  It’s not hard to see why Terry Riley chose Mr. Silverman (who plays in Mr. Riley’s group) to debut his first concerto in 22 years for electric violin last year.  It was recorded in a few locations, including a radio broadcast at Carnegie Hall, and I for one can’t wait to hear it again over and over (I attended the debut at the Nashville Symphony who commissioned the Riley concerto) but in the meantime you can familiarize yourself with Tracy’s work with this excellent CD.  (the Calder Quartet was in fact introduced to “Between the Kiss and the Chaos” process by Terry Riley himself)  Highly recommended.

Check out some sound clips.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Marco Eneidi - For Our Children (Botticelli, 2014) *****

By Josh Campbell

The 19th century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche once said “Without music, life would be a mistake.

As I sit back and listen to this album for the 5th time in as many days this quote came to mind.  It hasn't mattered what I’ve been doing while I soak this album into every pore of my being, from doing the dish, to the daily commute, this album hypnotizes me. With the front line of horns waltzing together through the 50 minutes of music, you can not help but become engaged. This release, recorded in 1995, with the late Glenn Spearman on tenor saxophone, Marco Eneidi on alto saxophone, Lisle Ellis on bass and Donald Robinson on drums is an absolute gem. Seeing the light of day after almost 20 years, the music sounds as fresh as if it was recorded today.

This is by no means a fire breather season, with the 5 tracks that encompass this album drenched heavily in bluesy notes that will leave you returning over and over. Even with the blues overtones throughout, both saxophones find ample room to search and explore before returning to the given theme. Throughout the album Donald and Lisle lay a foundation that allows Glenn and Marco to paint a canvas of beautiful colors and textures. And while both Glenn and Marco find room to solo on every track, it’s on the closing track where we are treated to the entire collective getting time to shine, and they do not disappoint. Coming in just under twenty minutes, “Rebirth” is the defining song. As we all know, improvised or free music is known to have songs play out over ten, twenty or heck even entire cd’s, but what is amazing is when a song like “Rebirth”, at twenty minutes, feels like it only began when it is ending.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Harry Miller: Different Times, Different Places (Ogun, 2013) ****½

Reviewed by Joe


For anyone who grew up listening to jazz in the UK in the 70s or early 80s then Harry Miller will be a familiar name. His Ogun records was a major part of the UKs vibrant jazz scene and the label hosted some of the top names. Miller was part of the group of musicians who bridged the gap between jazz, rock and maybe even some free elements, his name was synonymous with the vanguard of players pushing at the boundaries of jazz such as Keith Tippett, Chris McGregor, Elton Dean, Louis Moholo, Mike Osborne or Mike Westbrook and of course that of Peter Brötzmann's trio recorded on the FMP label. Before his untimely death in 1983 Harry produced a fine, if small, batch of his own recordings from solo bass on Children At Play (1972), to a duo Bracknell Breakdown (1972?), Harry Miller’s Isipingo: Family Affair (1977), Harry Miller Sextett: In conference (1978) and the Harry Miller Quintet: Downsouth (1984). His music fused elements of South African grooves (he grew up in Cape Town) and strong modal riffs which he combined with the explosive energy of drummer Louis Moholo to produce some very exciting vibrant, swinging, melodic yet edgy music. One could make comparisons such as Dollar Brand meets Cecil Taylor meets Charles Mingus...!

The album....

On this album, released late last year, Hazel Miller has put together live recordings from two concerts, one in London, 1973, and the other from the Chateauvallon jazz festival in France, 1976. Several of the compositions heard here were never featured - to my knowledge - on his previous albums, adding a 'new' element to his recorded repertoire.

The music....

The first track "Bloomfield" is a slow ballad with Mike Osborne's sax playing both melody and achingly heart-wrenching solo that fits his bitter sweet alto sound. After that the heat is on throughout the album. It is difficult to express the energy that comes out of this music, the band plays with such energy - as they always did - that you wonder at times if your speakers can contain them! Chris McGregor plays some excellent fiery solo work on "Quandry" (tk2). It's refreshing to hear him play other peoples music with such pure joy, it's also interesting to hear the contrast between Tippett and McGregor's playing on the two sets. Nick Evans' is his usual adventurous self, his melodic solos are full of ideas on the first set.

Mike Osborne just shines throughout, probably some of his best solo playing I've heard, very (very) intense driving alto. It's difficult to say enough about his playing but here he really stands out, one of the forgotten, or is that undiscovered, greats. If you don't know his playing you should immediately look into Mike's solo Ogun recordings whilst still available.

The second set has the slight edge over the first, due in part to the expanded line-up (see below). "Mofolo" (tk4) comes from the album Downsouth. "Something Like This", a new title, has plenty of driving solos from Harry, Keith & Malcolm Griffiths. It is one of the free-er pieces on the album with the classic ostinato solos moving between the different grooves and idea. The album finishes with "Touch Hungry" (is repeated in both concerts) and "Eli's Song" from the amazing Family Affair album. Both titles feature some strong work from the whole team.

Lastly, it's difficult not to be astounded by the drive and synchronicity of this rhythm section. Harry, Louis and Keith were probably one of the outstanding teams of that period, constantly adventurous yet always swinging, even in the wildest moments.

Very highly recommended.

*= These are live recording which means there's a slight loss in quality, but nothing to complain about. Interestingly a lot of Ogun's albums were live recordings, so this fits nicely into the spirit of the label.

**=  The 4½ is due to the fact that this is a retrospective album, otherwise I'd happily rate it 5 stars.

Musicians -

All tracks:
Harry Miller - bass
Louis Moholo-Moholo - drums
Mike Osborne - alto sax
Tracks (1-3), London, 1973: 
Chris McGregor - piano
Nick Evans - trombone

Tracks (4-7), Chateauvallon jazz festival in France, 1976:
Keith Tippett - piano
Mark Charig - trumpet
Malcolm Griffiths - trombone

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Douglas/Doxas/Swallow/Doxas - Riverside (Greenleaf,2014) ****½

The musical legacy of woodwind player and composer Jimmy Giuffre is one that is deeply intertwined with many of the recordings that are reviewed here on the Free Jazz Blog. Giuffre's album Free Fall from 1962 with bassist Steve Swallow and pianist Paul Bley is often regarded as a seminal moment in the development of free jazz, introducing a subtle chamber music approach to free improvisation. However, in the years leading up to this watershed recording, Giuffre had a trio with guitarist Jim Hall and Ralph Pena that approached jazz with deference to deep American folk and country roots.

So, why all this talk about Giuffre's music? Because trumpeter and composer David Douglas has put together a group that uses Giuffre's earlier music as a jumping off point into an exciting pool of folk and blues inspired tunes that are as unabashedly fun as they are cleverly composed. 

In this group, Riverside, Douglas is joined by Chet Doxas on sax, Jim Doxas on drums and original member of Giuffre's early 1960's Free Fall trio, Steve Swallow on bass guitar. Working mostly off of Douglas' themes, the quartet spins playful melodies over spacious rhythms. The only direct cover is 'The Train and the River', which was a hit for Giuffre in 1956. 

The opener, 'Thrush', is an uptempo romp beginning with a folksy melody that suggests wide open spaces and deep joy. Unison lines and counter melodies between clarinet and trumpet creates a distinct sound and is a feature throughout the recording. Jim Doxas' drumming helps the music float beautifully. Even during the more intense moments toward the track's end, the group is bouyant. 

'The Train and the River' follows, and it's a fine interpretation. Updating elements of the song, for example playing the melodic statement stronger and intensifying the blues elements, highlights the catchy melody. The song is brief here, letting the rhythms and original melody shine through.

Swallow's solo intro to 'Old Church New Paint' is a gentle melody played with deep feeling. When the group joins, they settle into a laid back gospel feel that wrings a certain joy out of the melancholy. Another highlight is the taut 'Back Yard'. At times rollicking, the trumpet and sax bounce lines off of the solid rhythm, countering each other at times and delivering punchy unison melodies. The closing 'Sing on the Mountain High/Northern Miner' builds slowly from a forlorn melody and atmospheric textures to a reserved climax. Douglas' trumpet is bright and singing and sets up Doxas, who delivers a tense saxophone solo.

Overall, Riverside is a great collection of compositions album that is free in spirit and feeling. It's not a tribute album, or an album of covers or interpretations, rather it's inspired by and suggestive of Giuffre's inventive folk-jazz approach. Douglas' gifts as a composer and the group's sympathetic interplay make it something that stands firmly, and wonderfully, on its own.

The album comes out next week, but check it out here.