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Heather Leigh & Peter Brotzmann

The North Door in Austin, Texas, 05/23/2019

VAX: Devin Gray (dr), Patrick Breiner (s), Liz Kosack (sy)

VAX PREBRONO Festival @ West Germany, Berlin. May 2019
After 20 minutes vamping on the first bar of Girl From Ipanema, VAX hit hard with fiery mix of free jazz, skronk, and doom metal.

Philm - Elias Stemeseder (p, sy), Robert Landfermann (b), Philipp Gropper (sax), Olli Steidle (dr)

5/18/2019; Manufaktur, Schorndorf

PUNKT. VRT. PLASTIK: Kaja Draksler(p), Petter Eldh(b), Christian Lillinger(dr)

XJazz Festival, Berlin, May 2019

OHRENSCHMAUS: Lina Allemano(tp), Dan Peter Sundland (b), Michael Griener(dr)

B-Flat, Berlin. May 2019

Monday, July 22, 2019

MoE and Mette Rasmussen – Tolerancia Picante (Conrad Sound, 2019) ****

I picked this album up because I was (and still am) enthralled by MoE’s 2018 release with Lasse Marhaug.  The sardonically titled Tolerancia Picante, however, is a different beast altogether and this beast is punk rock.  The adjective, the attitude, and the aesthetics.  Not pop-punk or post-punk or one of those derivations, but straight-up cacophonous, cantankerous in-your-face aggression…minus the power chords and fueled by free jazz curiosity and musicality.
“Tolerancia Picante” opens the album with a dense fabric of percussion, effects (motors, howling wind, spaceship sounds), and some catchy, but biting sax vamps.  (This style is revisited  near the end of the album on sludgy “The Story of No [Suite Part III].”  “City Boy” sounds like a clarion call for an uprising out of the rubble of a non-descript but all too pervasive postindustrial landscape.  The guitar screeches like frayed wires.  The bass and drum stumble.  Rasmussen’s sax and vocals shout (“City Boy you fucked up your choice of freedom”) over the wreckage. “Crysta! Dancer,” for instance, is somehow even more clamorous and conveys a sense of desperation and confusion.  Rasmussen’s thick Norwegian accent adds to the ominous atmospherics as she elongates and intones phrases in such a way that the lyrics – sometimes barely discernible to begin with – break down into their constituent, syllabic elements.  This piece of dada freneticism is followed by another stand-out, “Introduction,” a rumbling dirge with an Ayler-via-Brötzmann saxophone elegy draped over a dense foundation of heavy strumming, feedback, and percussion.    
The album fluctuates like this – between density and unfettered energy - for the entirety of its 40 minutes.  Some pieces (“Strangle, Strangle, Strangle… “) have a call-and-response, stanza-blow out structure reminiscent of Sun Ra’s work on “The Creator of the Universe.”  Some (“This Is Who We Are”) build from a series of short, declaratory sentences laid over at two-beat vamp into a craggy free-for-fall.  Some (“Shardrach, Meschach, and Abednego”) are full on blow-outs worthy of early Wolf Eyes or (“Violently Passive [Suite Part II]”) doomy, atmospheric pieces that, even with their restiveness, would fit seamlessly into the Utech Records catalog.  Still others (“I carry the Mother [Suite Part I]”) have oddly sonorous and howling vocals, bringing to mind a heavier, feedback-strewn Big Blood.   And, at a pithy one minute and seven seconds with barked vocal sloganeering (“I am no beggar unless you beg me to.  I am no liar unless you lie to me.  I am no sinner, unless you ask me to.  Ask.”) over a simple pounding of bass, guitar, and drums, the concluding track, “Ask”, is as Crass as anything new I have heard in a long time.  

In short, Tolerancia Picante is heavy, abrasive free-noise-punk at its finest.  And, if this album is any indication, this ensemble must be absolutely wild live.  Until they trek through New Orleans, however, I will happily settle for this recording.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Oli Steidle & The Killing Popes – Ego Pills (Shhpuma, 2019) ****

By Nick Ostrum

It begins with a synthesizer imbued with the warmth of pre-millennium Saturday morning cartoon music, but with a deviant twist. What follows is 45 minutes of demented, avant-garde pop, of saccharine bubble gum laced with strychnine.

Oli Steidle and the Killing Popes consists of the eponymous Steidle on drums, Frank Möbus (Der Rote Bereich, Azul) on guitar, Phil Donkin on bass, and Dan Nicholls and Kit Downes on keyboards. Yes, that is two keyboardists.

This is playful experimental music that often goes awry, but in an ultimately gratifying way. Tracks are strewn with video game music, guitars deconstructed into a series of tonal and scalar beeps, heavy distorted bass lines, playfully frantic keyboard effects, and wandering but precise drumming. Think free jazz filtered through the synth-driven, carnivalesque sonic worlds of George Romero and Dario Argento films. Think Goblin crossed with Ornette Coleman with a pinch of fidgety acid-jazz-cum-electroclash-cum-grindcore.

Track titles – “Zombies,” “Isis,” “Nuremberg Heroin Lullabye,” and “Monopoly Extended” – indicate this music has a dark, sardonic side. This also comes through in the sheer freneticism of the music. Because of the musicianship and Steidle’s directive vision, however, Ego Pills comes across not as an unfocused muddle of styles, but a surprisingly tight album with a unique energy flow. (The only song that falls flat is “Speed Junky on Funny Human Darts,” a track that at reminds me of a funky Mike Patton when it works, but of Adult Swim when it doesn’t.) The music is lively and danceable, but the overall theme and mood is menacing and dystopian. It is a slice of the Zeitgeist, and one which captures the sense of disorientation and fracture, the awkward imbalance of progress and dysphoria in a way that only experimental art – whether film, music, or otherwise - can. Most experiments fail. This one succeeds.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Derek Bailey / Han Bennink / Evan Parker - Topographie Parisienne Dunois April 3d 1981 (Fou Records, 2019) *****

We all owe a great debt to the great archival project of French sound engineer-producer-Fou Records label owner (and an explorer of vintage synthesizers) Jean-Marc Foussat's excellent recordings. Thanks to his one-of-a kind archive of live recordings we already enjoyed such milestone gems of free jazz and free improvisation released by Fou Records as Derek Bailey / Joëlle Léandre / George Lewis / Evan Parker - 28 rue Dunois juillet 82 (2014); the Willem Breuker Kollektief - Angoulème 18 mai 1980 (2015) and Daunik Lazro / Joëlle Léandre / Georges Lewis - Enfances à Dunois le 8 janvier 1984 (2016).

Now, Foussat and Fou Records offer Topographie Parisienne Dunois April 3d 1981, a live perspective on one of the defining and most sought-after album of European free-improvisation: The Topography of the Lungs (Incus, 1970), captured during a June 1970 studio session and featuring young British tenor and soprano sax player Evan Parker, guitarist Derek Bailey and Dutch drummer Han Bennink. The seminal album also helped launch the legendary Incus label, co-founded by Bailey, Parker and drummer Tony Oxley. This album’s mystique was enhanced by decades of scarcity (and a famous rift between Bailey and Parker), until reissued on Parker’s Psi label in 2006, a year after the passing of Bailey and in memory of Bailey.

Bill Shoemaker mentions in his insightful liner notes for Topographie Parisienne that Bailey, Bennink and Parker did not perform together as a trio after the recording The Topography of the Lungs and did not record a follow-up album (though, played as a trio in the 1977 Company week, and a five minute clip was captured on Company 6 (Incus 1978)). The three improvisers had only collaborated before and shortly after on recordings by larger ensembles as Manfred Schoof’s European Echoes (FMP, 1969) or Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity 1970 (reissued as Globe Unity 67 & 70 (Atavistic, 2001)).

Bailey, Bennink and Parker met again in April 1981 at Théâtre Dunois, while they were all pursuing different directions. Bailey denounced fixed groups, while Parker and Bailey worked with regular collaborators. But the nine pieces here, spanning three and a half hours and packed in a 4-disc box, mark an evolution and further development of the improvisations strategies and ideas explored on The Topography of the Lungs. Shoemaker mentions the employment of well-timed and laser-accurate disruption as a preventative against style, to which each improviser can answer according to his resourcefulness, push back or stand firm as the shockwaves recede. These subversive means liberated these free, non-idiomatic sessions from the legacy of free jazz.

Topographie Parisienne begins with the three musicians playing an extended, 42-minutes improvisation. It is an urgent and explosive piece that sounds fresh even today, highlighting Bailey’s abstract  guitar lines and exotic sonorities, Parker’s focus on uncompromising exploration of circular breathing techniques and juggling with tones and overtones, and Bennink totally intuitive pulse and dadaist, muscular drumming, with many sudden and ironic and strangely enough, playful disruptions. The interplay is naturally  egalitarian, but Bennink always sounds like he is injecting more and more energy and ready to embrace chaos, even when he briefly plays the piano. Bailey keeps introducing more delicate and eccentric ideas while Parker attempts to bridge between these strong characters. This piece concludes with the trio own abstraction of a free jazz interplay - intense, thorny and rhythmic. The first disc ends with a short conversational, intimate duet of Bailey and Parker, much more sparse than the previous piece and beautifully poetic.

Bailey, Bennink and Parker reunite again for their second and last trio set this evening (and ever), a 46-minutes piece that begins with Parker alternating between fiery, free jazz blows and overtone-throat chants, but soon the trio interplay rolls into a series fast-shifting, intense rhythmic patterns. Bailey often acts here as the subversive agent who injects sharp comments and disrupts the tight rhythmic flow of Parker and Bennink. Later, Parker takes the lead with a fantastic solo comprised of bird calls with circular breathing techniques, wisely abstracted by Bailey and Bennink into another dense rhythmic duet, before all conclude in a chaotic eruption. Parker, who sounds like he has the stamina of a Viking, ends the second disc with a powerful solo sax improvisation, totally possessed in a fast, polyphonic process of spiraling tones and overtones, blows and calls.

The third and fourth discs offer more duets and solo piece from Parker. The second duet of Bailey and Parker is completely different from the first one, tense and confrontational as if both were playing to themselves. Parker second solo improvisation suggests a layered texture of fast, brief and intense calls that patiently surrender to its own inner rational. The third disc ends with an engaging and even funny duet of Bennink - first on clarinet and later on drums - and Parker is quite engaging, even funny. Bennink begins with a brave attempt to mirror Parker’s phrasing and even his circular breathing techniques, forcing Parker to outmaneuver and surprise Bennink all the time. Later Bennink pushes Parker to more playful interplay with imaginative performance on the drums and even blowing a trombone.

The last, fourth disc opens with an extended duet of Bailey and Bennink Bailey is not impressed by the antiques of Bennink, but, obviously, nothing can stop Bennink when he is on a roll. Bailey keeps intervening with more subtle, elusive and enigmatic ideas, but Bennink - on drums, harmonica, piano and trombone, is all about crashing the party, in the most noble sense of this idiom. Bennink - on clarinet and drums - and Parker end this magnificent evening with humorous and eccentric powerful duet. This time Parker outsmarts Bennink tricks and games and eventually succeeds to discipline this wild, dadaist fountain of endless energy into surprising lyrical and emotional coda.

Merci Beaucoup Jean-Marc Foussat!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Two from Joe Morris

By Keith Prosk

Guitarist Joe Morris joins two up-and-comers for two outings of free playing in loose methodologies/thematics, both recorded at Firehouse 12 studios and both released on Fundacja Słuchaj!.

Brad Barrett, Joe Morris, Tyshawn Sorey - Cowboy Transfiguration (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2019) ****

Contrabassist and cellist Brad Barrett plays with Morris and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey for 5 tracks over 53 minutes on his debut as leader. Though Barrett counts Morris as a mentor and has played with him frequently, I believe this is their first recording together. And, to my surprise, Morris and Sorey have only ever recorded together on the monolithic Pillars.

The playing here is completely improvised, though within a vague framework explicitly influenced by the compositional styles of Morris, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor, Webern, Stockhausen, Derek Bailey, and Barry Guy. The way the methodology is described just sounds like good old improvisation, except that it asks performers to “employ small particles of sounds and blend timbres with an awareness of implied pulse and an inclination to disrupt it..”

The result provides a simultaneously fun and frustrating challenge for the listener. The first three tracks feature Morris picking clean, jagged lines with glimpses of the blues, Barrett plucking similarly (with occasional arco), and Sorey providing bubbling, rumbling skins and skittering cymbals. A cursory listen reveals few -possibly no- changes in volume, density, time, or dynamics. Close listening (several times in my case) reveals subtle communications, rhythmic microchanges, and playful subversions. These first three tracks are both easily dismissed as monotonous and the best exhibition of the arcane complexity at work here. The last two lengthier tracks provide a similar complexity but with more obvious dynamic changes at a slightly more relaxed pace. Barrett uses a bit more arco, begins “Requiem for a Catfish” with a timbre that sounds like a detuned, muted guitar, and utilizes some bow tapping at the end of “Slither Cake” and Morris matches these odd textures. Sorey crumples some things, rubs the drumhead in such a way that sounds like a bowed bass in “Requiem for a Catfish,” and bows the cymbals on “Slither Cake.”

A bit abstruse but well worth revisiting repeatedly. Not necessarily texturally exciting but singularly rhythmically genius. I still haven’t decided whether it’s the most annoying thing I’ve listened to this year or the best.

Cowboy Transfiguration is available digitally and on CD.

Ben Stapp & Joe Morris feat. Stephen Haynes - Mind Creature Sound Dasein (Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2019) ***½

Ben Stapp (tuba, euphonium) has recorded with Morris and Stephen Haynes (cornet) before, on Pomegranate with William Parker and Warren Smith. And Morris and Haynes also recorded together on Parrhesia and Sorey’s Pillars. On Mind Creature Sound Dasein, they play for 63 minutes over 11 tracks.

They play freely, though Stapp provided some thematics, presumably in the form of a loose narrative that tethers the sounds to the inventive, playful titles. And the music is as visually stimulating as the titles because each musician’s playing is colorfully exuberant in their timbral adventures.

Stapp plays throaty, baritone foghorns and circularly-breathed, undulating drones (“The Fire Door Opens,” “Climbing the Windy Trees,” “Back into the Fire It Goes,” “Dreams in Dissolving Water”), mimics elephants, owls, and duck calls (“Alebrijes Come For Their Hosts”), beatboxes distorted rhythms (“Giant Unicellular Water Slug Calls”), blows raspberries (“Cutting Up and Filing Away”), and more. Morris matches this timbral diversity with blues and psychedelia, clean picking and distortion, glassy pitches and digital glitches, and by almost mimicking the sound of a piano (“Dreams in Dissolving Water”), violin (“Cutting Up and Filing Away”), and bass (“Epilogue”). Haynes, who’s present for four tracks, adds weezing, hissing, wails, whisps, and roars.

Playful, colorful, fun free playing that makes the hour fly by.

Mind Creature Sound Dasein is available digitally and on CD.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

10 million pageviews

We have reached the astonishing number of 10 million page views since we started counting in 2010. In reality, the number is much higher, because we started with our blog many years earlier in 2007. As you can see from the graph, we're still increasing our readership (Don't be misled by the dropping line at the end, that's because we are just halfway the month of July: the overall trend is moving up, as anyone can see, and it will probably still further increase in the course of the year.)

I hope we have meant a lot to listeners, musicians and labels alike.

10 million page views sounds like a lot, but in reality it's not. I'm sure some blogs make 100 mio pageviews per month. That is a lot. Our fantastic milestone is not very high by the standards of most commercial websites, so some humility is required. But for a non-commercial website, without advertising and promotional investments, and only focusing on free jazz, avant-garde jazz and free improvisation, it is a lot. What is our total "universe", as advertisers would call it, ie the totality of all fans of free jazz across the globe? We do not know, but we are confident that we are very close to reaching this entire small "universe", but as the graph shows, we are still expanding, so either we have not yet reached our potential, or - and this we hope - our free jazz universe is expanding, meaning that more citizens are getting interested in the genre.

Where are all these readers? They are scattered around the world. They don't know each other but they know the music they love, the artists they admire, and they share the same openness for new sounds and new listening experiences.

The ten million pageviews are coming from the following top-10 countries, but of course there are more countries with readers.

It's a milestone for us.

Here is to you, dear reader!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Denzler/Grip/Johansson – Zyklus 1 (Umlaut/SAJ Records, 2019) ****½

“Jazz is certainly a music of perfumes (on and in bodies)”, declares the saxophonist Seymour Wright in the liner notes that accompany some Sven-Ake Johansson’s drawings for this double CD. A joint release of Johansson’s SAJ records and Umlaut records. “And bodies through these perfumes. Cloth, skin wood, seat, spit and smoke” Wright continues. This could be the perfect description for the music of this trio. Bertrand Denzler on tenor sax, Joel Grip on double bass and, ever flexible and kinetic, Sven-Ake Johansson on drums. They know each form the Neukollner Modelle recordings, they have struggled before, so many times, with the pains of using improvisation as a language to communicate.

As many times in Umlaut’s recordings, jazz is the medium. Many times as a basis, other as a way to interact, the jazz tradition seems incorporated in almost all of the labels recordings. This is the case in zyklus 1. The coltraneish tenor of Denzler is the point of departure for the two tracks of the first CD. He struggles and pushes hard to follow the fast delivery of Grip’s bass, while Johansson’s improvisational skills are combined with the ability to maneuver through the tradition of the great percussionists of jazz have created. Of course Johansson is one of the greats…

What always amazes me, and it more clear on the two tracks of the second cd, is the combination of improvisation as a tool to communicate and navigate through a recording combined with the will to use melody (or melodic passages) as a the material that brings everything together. It reveals a higher level of interaction, a sometimes total understanding of each other’s playing. But not just that. An understanding of how the fellow musician, or comrade, thinks or wants to play.

Joel Grip is an extremely subtle presence throughout both CDs. Nevertheless he is the backbone on this release, providing time and space for Denzler to venture into some fierce blowing and Johansson to explore his drum set. I kind of felt, at some points at least, that I was listening to two soloists and a double bassist that took care of everything else. Of course this is only one of the reasons I really enjoyed zyklus 1. On both CDs it is a game of balance, of three people that use their skills and the bodies of their instruments (to recall Wright’s liner notes) as tools for a component power that is this trio. A power based on tradition but always forward looking.

@ koultouranafigo

Monday, July 15, 2019

Christoph Schiller and Anouck Genthon – zeitweise leichter Schneefall (New Wave of Jazz, 2019) ***½

By Nick Ostrum

As the title, zeitweise leichter Schneefall (Intermittent Light Snowfall), suggests, this album is delicate, textured, and punctuated. Christoph Schiller has been experimenting with the spinet for several years now, leading a wave of minimalist pioneers with his Renaissance tools and, more recently, his voice. Anouck Genthon is a violinist and ethnomusicologist who has been involved in the electroacoustic experimental scenes in France and Switzerland (think Insub Records). Both artists show a distinct interest in bringing the old (instruments, sounds) into the present through extended techniques, microtonal variability, and amelodicisim.

Composed of seven tracks ranging from one-and-a-half to seven minutes in length, Schneefall offers Schiller and Genthon numerous opportunities to explore different paths all based around certain elongated tones and their resonances. In this pursuit, Schiller and Genthon pose an interesting contrast to each other. Despite the apparent closeness of the microphones, Genthon’s playing is impeccably crisp, especially compared to the harsher, nonidiomatic techniques she employs in other projects. (There are deliberate exceptions in a few passages, but this trend largely holds.) Schiller’s playing, on the other hand, resolves around the interior of the spinet. One can hear his forceful plucks and hand-muting, just as one can hear the fuzz of his whispers, hisses, and hums. These disparities in tonal quality are all the more striking as they are set against a starkly silent backdrop. And, as one might expect, silence and near-silence play as much of a role in this music as do the traditional instruments themselves. Although it seems little new musical ground is broken, here, much is explored more deeply. Another worthwhile addition to the Schiller catalog and, I imagine, the Genthon catalog, as well.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Ackley/Frith/Kaiser/Shelton - Unexpected Twins (Relative Pitch, 2019) ****½

By Nick Metzger

Now here is a record with a very interesting premise that is also very, very good. It harkens back to a formative time in creative music when Dr. Eugene Chadbourne moved from Calgary to New York City in 1977 in order to work in the artistic foundry of New York’s downtown scene, eventually befriending and working with John Zorn and later releasing Zorn’s first recordings as a leader on his Parachute label. According to Duck Baker’s notes, late in 1977 Zorn and Chadbourne traveled out to the bay area to play some gigs with Henry Kaiser and Bruce Ackley (Kaiser who had recorded with Chadbourne on his first Guitar Trios record and Ackley who Chadbourne had met at Aquarius Records in San Francisco), under the Twins moniker (a pair of guitars and a pair of saxes). Together they produced the first studio session led by Zorn which yielded recordings of his game pieces “Lacrosse”, which was released on Parachute, and “Curling” which was regrettably lost in the mail according to Baker. Citing differences in schedules and impractical logistics the quartet has never reformed in their original manifestation, but in the interest of re-exploring the catalogue and methodology of the original Twins lineup, Kaiser and Ackley recruited their colleagues Fred Frith (electric guitar and piano) and Aram Shelton (alto saxophone) to re-record select arrangements of the ‘77 squad in addition to logging a composition from each participant, a collective arrangement, and a nice rendition of the Steve Lacy piece “Bound”.

Chadbourne’s composition “The Shreeve” begins and ends with a playful figure presented in union by Ackley and Shelton between which a biting section of decidedly dynamic reeds/guitar interplay is sandwiched. The guitar playing is wild and smattered with effects which are applied with marvelous aestheticism. The variety that all four musicians produce in this brief inauguration only hints at what’s to come. The group’s reimagining of the Lacy’s “Bound” is next, and while the essence of the original composition remains, particularly within Ackley’s soprano playing, the group expands the piece into atmospheric jazz noir territory (for lack of a better descriptor). The guitars set up a moody and undulating foundation for the saxophones to abstract the original melodies over, which has the effect of making a very tasty Manhattan from the straight rye whiskey of Lacy’s original. The third track is Ackley’s arrangement “Emit Time”, in which the guitars and reeds cycle through various combinations to play short essays that are by turns melancholic and/or bristly. There’s lots of contrast and variation throughout the piece and it provides for an especially entertaining listen. The next track “Court Music” is penned by Kaiser and pits the probing, despondent saxophones of Ackley and Shelton with Kaiser’s sometimes-sparse-sometimes-explosive guitar heroics all over a flowing bed of Frith’s spare piano figures. What really strikes me here is how Kaiser’s abrupt flare-ups figure into the composition as a whole. Between these relatively brief bursts of intensity the piece induces a trance in the listener, but just as you are on the brink of zoning-out Kaiser erupts and snaps you back to. Shelton’s “This Reminds Me” is an exercise in elegant minimalism, the melody pulled outward and apart in so many different directions simultaneously, yet the underlying sentiment is retained throughout. It begins unassumingly and then expands in dynamics and intensity like the stellar evolution of a star before collapsing back in on itself.

In Frith’s piece “Long Story Short” the reeds play melodiously strands set against a din of guitar squall and/or decaying drone. The saxophones proceed though their harmonies as all around them explosions of scrape or vocoder shaped growl lurch into the mix, it’s over before your realize it. Next is the album’s centerpiece, a 20 minute rendering of John Zorn’s game piece “Curling”. The track begins with vibrato/glissando from reeds and guitar as Frith clanks around on his strings percussively sounding like a tiny horse on a metal table. Some attention is given to long quavering tones, and these give me the impression of heat shimmer conjuring the occasional aural mirage. This is followed by a sparser section of interplay, the quartet utilizing silence masterfully to rebuild the drama. Kaiser summons a swelling reverb-laden din pitted with reverse guitar phantoms whilst Frith adds flat staccato notes and strange, crooked, high pitch shapes with an occasional ultra-slow pick slide. The reeds are active and breathy, almost avian but with misshapen patterns. The quartet abruptly coalesces at the conclusion of the piece, offering a final whimper of smeared half-melody to close a very strange and intriguing piece. The group arrangement “Quads” is similar in its spare trappings but more dynamic, Frith and Kaiser again put on a clinic of wildly creative, stompbox lunacy. I can’t tell if Frith jumps on the organ here or if it’s a pedal effect, wither way it’s very effective and compliments the mile-a-minute playing that Kaiser, Ackley, and Shelton progress into. The final track is the Chadbourne piece “A Special Hell for Shreeves”, which is a thorough reprise of the theme and concepts from “The Shreeve”, finds the group fully fleshing out the possibilities of the arrangement for their final argument.

This is a terrific album that jumped out at me upon my perusal of the upcoming Relative Pitch releases mainly due to the personnel involved (eye-catching cover art notwithstanding). I’m a fan of Zorn’s Parachute releases so I was passingly familiar with the original Twins recording of “Lacrosse” and consequently the back story piqued my interest in this album that much more. For those interested, the original Twins recording of “Lacrosse” is the second disc in both the eponymous Zorn album as well as the Zorn box set The Parachute Years, 1977-1980. Both the album and box set are still easily obtained (I believe Amazon carries both) if you’re so inclined. But even if you don’t feel the need to dig any deeper, this is a fantastic album by four masters of creative music that is by turns musically unique, conceptually interesting, and very, very tasty.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Der Finger - Le Cinque Stagioni (Toten Schwan, 2019) ****

By Stef

Despite the band's German name, and the album's Italian title, this is music from Russia, performed by a band consisting of Anton Efimov on bass-guitar and effects, Evgenia Sivkova on drums and saxophone, and Edward Sivkov on bass clarinet, saxophone and domra, the latter the father of Evgenia. The band is usually a duo, but the addition of an extra saxophone, makes this even for them an unusual album, at the same time lifting the music to a much higher level.

Both bass and drums lay a very dense foundation of industrial doom, with neither instrument clearly recognisable, but still rhythmic enough to become hypnotic. The sax improvises over this never-ending flowing sonic magma. The improvisations of the sax only add to the deep sense of despair, angst and hopelessness.

Unlike our normal four season calendar - and Vivaldi's - they present us five seasons, as described in the "Illuminati calendar", the secret society which fought religiously influenced state power in the 18th century (and maybe still active today, you never know with secret societies). In the case of Der Finger, they also refer to the novels by Robert Anton Wilson, and his "Illuminati trilogy". I have to rely on Wikipedia to know more about him: "Wilson described his work as an "attempt to break down conditioned associations, to look at the world in a new way, with many models recognized as models or maps, and no one model elevated to the truth". His goal being "to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone but agnosticism about everything."

Understanding the context and the intent illuminates the appreciation of the music. The music indeed not only breaks down all conventions, but at the same time - and that's possibly the most fascinating about it - it originates without too many of today's influences in avant-garde music, allowing it to carve out its own space, its own sound, dark and relentless and scary and compelling.

The tracks are named by the original German names of the five illuminati seasons, each consisting of 73 days, "representing the development stages of everything from complete chaos to complete fuck-up (SNAFU) and then again in the eternal cycle". 

1. Verwirrung (bewilderment)
2. Zweitracht (discord)
3. Unordnung (disorder)
4. Beamtenherrschaft (bureacracy)
5. Realpolitik (realpolitik).

I can only recommend this.

Play it loud.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Dave Douglas with Uri Caine and Andrew Cyrille – Devotion (Greenleaf Music, 2019) ****

By Troy Dostert

Perpetually iconoclastic, idiomatically omnivorous, and always surprising, Dave Douglas and Uri Caine have for over 25 years teamed up periodically to merge their prodigious musical minds. Both are first and foremost jazz musicians, but that’s never been a label to limit them, as Caine’s piano recordings have frequently engaged the classical tradition, from Bach to Verdi to Wagner, while trumpeter Douglas has brought jazz into conversation with myriad other musical languages, including recent ventures into electronica (on High Risk, 2015) and the fourteenth century French Ars Nova (Fabliaux, 2015). Although their separate paths have taken them in manifold directions, when they do occasionally converge the results are always worthwhile, as on Present Joys (2014), a compelling document of their ongoing exploration of early American Sacred Harp music. On Devotion, they stick to a much more jazz-focused repertoire, and who better to team up with than Andrew Cyrille, one of the legendary embodiments of creative jazz, and someone whose own discography has been remarkably diverse and accomplished during his late-career renaissance?

Compared to their various boundary-breaking projects, this one allows Douglas and Caine to explore the capacious interior of the jazz tradition itself, and they are adept in tapping into its multifarious riches. Each piece bears a dedicatee, and the range of jazz luminaries represented, from Carla Bley to Franco D’Andrea to Mary Lou Williams, already hints at the panoramic perspective on offer; so too does the range of non-musical inspirations, from Jerome Horwitz (“Curly” of the Three Stooges) to long-distance running legend Steve Prefontaine.

From the opening bars of “Curly,” played as a duet by Caine and Cyrille, one can already appreciate the sympathetic conversation that will unfold on these ten well-crafted tracks. Caine jumps all over the keyboard, with jaunty phrases galore, along the way hinting at his abiding interest in early jazz forms like stride and boogie-woogie, while Cyrille maintains his characteristically fluid, rhythmically adroit commentary, with enough independent interjections to keep the conversation moving forward. Then when Douglas joins in on “D’Andrea,” the trumpeter’s nimble quickness takes center stage, with an insouciant air that keeps the track light on its feet, Cyrille’s expert use of the kit perfect in establishing a dance-like accompaniment. “False Allegiances,” dedicated to Carla Bley, is an even more overtly danceable piece, with a tango structure that continues its subtle momentum even amidst its darker-hued resonances. Then there is the funky “Miljøsang,” with more of Caine’s bouncy exuberance and Douglas’s down-home charm.

Other pieces bend toward the lyrical, especially “Pacific,” a gorgeous ballad played with superb restraint by Douglas, Cyrille’s delicate work on the cymbals ideal in augmenting the emotion of the piece. “We Pray” is just as affecting, with an even more somber texture. And the closer, the album’s title track, is a hymn-like revisiting of the Sacred Harp tradition, and it encapsulates the record’s central theme of homage and dedication, with a wistful spirit of yearning for freedom, expressed elegantly with Caine’s and Douglas’s intertwining expressions and more of Cyrille’s masterfully understated support.

While it may not possess the ambitious concept of these musicians’ more attention-getting efforts, Devotion is all the more effective for what it does offer: imaginative, well-executed jazz that draws out terrific playing from all three participants, forging a shared vocabulary that says just enough to make its collective statement powerfully and memorably.