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In Order to Survive: Cooper-Moore (p), William Parker (b), Hamid Drake (d), Rob Brown (s)

Shapeshifter Lab, Brooklyn, NY. July 2017. Photo by Paul Acquaro

KALABALIK: Raoul Bjorkenheim (g), Gerald Cleaver (d), Anders Nillson (g)

Downtown Music Gallery. June 2017. Photo By Scott Friedlander

Anthony Braxton

jazzwerkstatt Peitz Nr. 54, Petiz, Germany. June 2017. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Thomas Herberer (t) and Pascal Niggenkemper (b)

jazzwerkstatt Peitz Nr. 54, Petiz, Germany. June 2017. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Ravi Coltrane (s), Matthew Garrison (b), Jack DeJohnette (d)

Jazzfest, Denton, TX. April 28, 2017. Photo by Rick Joines

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sloth Racket - Shapeshifters (Luminous Label, 2017) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

I first encountered baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts when Julie Kjær interviewed her for a series on female improvisers in London, published at British Music Collection’s Sound and Music website. In it, Roberts mentioned her various groups, including the duo Ripsaw Catfish, her large ensemble work for Lancaster Jazz Festival, LUME project with saxophonist Dee Byrne, and of course her group Sloth Racket.

A semi-improvised quintet, Sloth Racket is Roberts’s main group, with Sam Andreae on tenor sax, Anton Hunter on guitar, Seth Bennett on bass, and Johnny Hunter on drums. Roberts creates what she calls “semi-graphic” scores for the band, which direct the group between composed material interlaced with long improvised sections. The result finds the group often headed in surprising directions, with composed themes emerging from hidden edges.

Bennett’s arco opens “Edges” with a sharpness that teases a rip-roaring kickoff which never quite arrives. Instead, Roberts and Andreae enter for a series of chamber-like episodes, and the group very gradually emerges in its full 5-part shape. “Tracking” finds A. Hunter, Bennett, and J. Hunter in a deep groove, with Andreae and Roberts playing off each other with smearing runs. Later in the track, a loping sax melody contrasts J. Hunter’s percussive improvisation. This stretch presents one of the clearest models of the group’s working dynamics, with composed stretches more transparently counterbalanced by solo and duo improvisations.

With “Bark,” Sloth Racket tips over into contemplative abstract territory, which works exceedingly well for a group that’s great at resisting the urge to overcook any one idea. The band simmers along, crafting a really nice tonal exploration, eventually exploding into the opening notes of “Shapeshifters.” Bennett’s a phenomenal bassist, and here, in a trio improvisation with Roberts and Andreae, he absolutely shines. After a lengthy bass solo, A. Hunter and J. Hunter join for a stellar trio improvisation. A. Hunter’s approach seems to take his guitar from idea to idea, rather than note to note, sometimes jumping from a picked line into an effects-drenched wash in a single move. Roberts and Andreae with a composed melody, phasing in and out of group improvisation before the whole unwinds back into more abstract territory.

At the heart of Sloth Racket seems to be something Roberts described in her interview with Kjær, “I see improvisation as instant (usually collaborative) important form of musical communication...and a group making totally improvised music can be like an egalitarian, non-hierarchical social organisation in miniature.” In the shared space of Shapeshifters, everyone has a place and a voice. And in the final stretch, with the band moving in unison along a partially charted route, you can hear this philosophy in all its glorious action.

Available at Bandcamp.

“Shapeshifters” Live at the Vortex, London, May 2016

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

John Abercrombie 1944 - 2017

By Stef

Yesterday, guitarist John Abercrombie passed away at the age of seventy-two. He is one of those musicians who gave my life flavour. How many hours have I not listened to his albums, surprised and excited by his very unique guitar sound? He himself is the musician who could be central to a composition but at the same time he could also take a step back and be as effective in giving color to a piece from the background, interjecting his soft and subdued tones, with precision.

I got to know him from his early Timeless album, released on ECM in 1974, with Jan Hammer and Jack DeJohnette, a "fusion" album that dragged me into the universe of ECM and consecutively to jazz and free jazz. Despite the quality of the album, his fusion sound (think McLaughlin or Jeff Beck) soon made place for his soft-toned and unaltered playing, mostly on guitar, but sometimes on electric mandolin. His collaboration with Jack DeJohnette's New Directions in 1978 was another new listening experience for me, and opened even more doors to his playing: nervous, jubilant, bluesy and always subdued and precise, reaching the right accent and colour to make the overall sound whole and complete, and interesting.

I listened with fascination to his collaborations with Gateway, a super trio with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. It was jazz of a different kind, raw and polished at the same time, authentic and well-balanced, reflective and dynamic, with three musicians who understand each other. A great success, that was repeated later with Gateway 2 and the Homecoming albums.

Add Colin Walcott on sitar to this trio and you get the "new age" beautiful sound of Cloud Dance and Grazing Dreams with Don Cherry, soft-spoken and meditative, intense and beyond any genres, but of high quality and the interaction of sitar and guitar has never been as good as on this album, primarily because of the players' mutual respect, subtle understandings and accuracy in creating their unique sound.

Then listen to Eventyr with Jan Garbarek. Listen how his guitar - with the typical glissandos - acts as a wonderful counterpoint to the soaring sax, and then does what few guitarists would dare to do ... adding single notes here and there, sprinkling them around.

And I think that's Abercrombie's most amazing feat, apart from his pure technical skills as a guitarist, he could play with musicians as diverse as Lonnie Smith and Charles Lloyd, Henri Texier or Kenny Wheeler, Jan Garbarek or Joe Lovano, he still made it work, fitting perfectly within the idiom of the leader, and without relinquishing his own style and approach to the instrument and to his own sound.

His own music as a leader moved more into mainstream modern jazz, carefully crafted and balanced pieces, often in combination with his favorite musicians such as DeJohnette, Adam Nusbaum, Marc Copland, Drew Gress, Joey Barron. His music was no longer mine, in the sense that it was too controlled, too contained, but I guess that this was exactly what he was looking for: superb musicianship, tight compositions, and joyful interplay with a wonderful focus on the music itself, putting his own instrument fully in the service of the band.

Despite the fact that I somehow lost track of his recordings over the year - I guess my tastes changed moving away from the mainstream and so did his, moving more into the mainstream, he made a great impression on me as a musician, as composer and as the member of so many bands.

Without a doubt he changed the role of the guitar in modern jazz. He was a true innovator and an artist with a wonderful empathy for the band members and listeners alike. And his precision on the instrument is unparalleled.

Our feelings are with his family and friends.

John Abercrombie, Deer Head Inn, July 2016
By Paul

The news that John Abercrombie had passed away yesterday came as real surprise. My mind went to a night approximately a year ago at the Deer Head Inn in Pennsylvania where Abercrombie was playing with an ad-hoc quartet. I recall sitting out on the porch before the show and his group was gathered around a table pouring over the New York Jazz Record commenting on the passing of trumpeter Paul Smoker. Abercrombie commented on how they had met years ago but that Smoker was always more out with his music. 

The snippet of overheard conversation stuck with me as a friend and I sat at the inn's stately wooden bar and took in the effortless fluidity pouring from Abercombie's small headless guitar. He was such a lyrical and melodic player and his fire was of the blue flame variety - burning hot at its core, unconcerned with spectacle. There was always a moment or two on his later recordings where this heat built to searing flame, but most of the time, it just burned consistently, flickering between warm and cool, perfectly situated for his long association with ECM. 

My interest in Abercrombie's work started with the album he made with John Scofield, Solar, but was quickly was followed by his early fusion statement Timeless, then his work with Ralph Towner, the excellent fusion/world music of the group 'Gateway' with Jack DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland, and his sharp organ trio work with organist Dan Wall and drummer Adam Nussbaum. His discography is rather lengthy and from the early Friends recording from the WKCR studies at Columbia University to his last date on ECM with Up and Coming, along with an impressive listing as a sideman on dozens of albums, he leaves a robust and influential body of work. 

While, by his own admission on that warm night in Water Gap, PA, he wasn't an out player, but his music transcended such fuzzy boundaries as his gentle yin-yang and laser precise use of distortion never failed to excite. Elements of free playing, modern jazz, and the timeless standards co-existed peacefully in John Abercrombie's music. 

Rest In Peace, John, thank you for the wonderful music, you will be missed. 

Roscoe Mitchell - Bells for the South Side (ECM, 2017) ****½

By Martin Schray

At the end of the 1960s the situation for the publishing and production of avant-garde jazz music was very difficult, since the major labels were still reluctant as to signing artists and support them for a longer period of time, although there seemed to be an audience for this kind of music.  At that time Manfred Eicher, a jazz bassist and up-and-coming producer in his mid-twenties, decided to found a new label, ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music). Eicher’s plan was to establish a new approach by introducing a new way of high-class recording and presenting contemporary jazz. More so, he wanted to work with young musicians who were interested in uncharted fields of improvisation.

However, ECM was not the only German label which was initiated with this special intention. The same year Eicher started ECM in Munich (1969), Free Music Production (FMP) was founded in Berlin by a collective of musicians - mainly Jost Gebers, Peter Brötzmann and Peter Kowald. Although these two record companies represent two separate artistic ideas and producing values in terms of their approach to make music available, there is also an inevitable intersection as to their work. While FMP’s philosophy was focused on sonic condensation and piling up sounds in the style of Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, ECM’s line was more closely connected to the more open music of the Jimmy Giuffre Trio and Lennie Tristano. And there’s another difference: FMP recorded many of their albums live, Eicher wanted to use modern studio equipment to develop a distinctive sound, an idea incredibly crucial.

Eicher has often been criticized for this ideology (e.g. when Peter Brötzmann said that he cut off the balls of powerful groups for his productions) but it seems to be important to keep in mind that his ideas aren’t based on artistic poshness but on the plain fact that inventive and challenging music should be presented with the best possible production standards.

Finally, let’s not forget the complex and experimental albums ECM has published during the years by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Dave Holland, Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, Joe Maneri, Barre Philips, Craig Taborn, and Roscoe Mitchell.

With Mitchell’s new album Bells for the South Side, Eicher combines both approaches mentioned above. It’s a live recording of an artist representing both the compact, uproarious side and the spacious, decompressed one, recorded with the best possible equipment.What is more, Bells for the South Side is the result of a performance premiering at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition "The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to now" displaying the history and legacy of Chicago’s "Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians" (AACM). For the first time, Mitchell combines his four trios, juxtaposing and re-organizing them into larger formations, and by that, exploring and surveying not only his own music, but the musical history and legacy of both the AACM and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In two pieces the musicians use the percussion instruments of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (Don Moye’s and Malachi Favors’ set-ups, Lester Bowie’s bass drum and Roscoe Mitchell’s percussion cage) - an army of gongs, bells, rattles, sirens, hand drums and more of what the Art Ensemble called little instruments, which refers to the African tradition of this music. But that’s only one side of the coin.

On the one side, pieces like 'Spatial Aspects of the Sound', 'EP7849', 'Bells from the South Side', and 'R509A Twenty B' are programmatic and typical for ECM recordings. Mitchell’s musicians analyze the essence of their musical material and its spatiality, letting the music breathe by using long notes and well-chosen breaks, they work with the reverberant museum space. There are floating moments which are reluctantly wrapped around by figures that seem to appear from out of the blue and then vanish into the depth of the museum.

However, this is not euphonic and complacent, the compositions continually change colours and textures, for example in the lyrical, yet gloomy bass guitar feature for Jaribu Shahid in 'EP7849', Hugh Ragin’s extended and shrill trumpet solo in front of a myriad of bells in the title track or Mitchell's and Fei’s sharp-edged shouts in 'R509A Twenty B'.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of music based on the layering of sounds, compact and immensely tight. Music that displays Mitchell’s roots in the 1960s, wild and rampant. Especially the trio with Fei and Winant on 'Six Gongs and two Woodblocks' and the one with Taborn and Baku in 'Dancing in a Canyon' are rough rides on free jazz waves. The most prominent example is 'Red Moon in the Sky', the last but one track, a 17-minute cacophonous orgy including all twelve musicians, that’s built up slowly just to transcend the emotional spectrum displayed up to that moment.

The performance is concluded with 'Odwalla', the Mitchell-composed 1973 theme song of the Art Ensemble, the last reference to the history of Mitchell, the Art Ensemble and AACM.

Bells for the South Side is celebration and reinterpretation of Roscoe Mitchell’s work, but it is not self-satisfied, it’s ambitious and innovative, created by a then 75-year-old man (the album was recorded in September 2015), who’s still full of energy and looking ahead. It’s two hours of cutting edge avant-garde, finely conceived, mature and honed, cut to the chase. One of the best releases of 2017 so far.

The musicians:

  • Roscoe Mitchell - sopranino, soprano, alto and bass saxophones, flute, piccolo, bass recorder, percussion
  • James Fei - sopranino and alto saxophones, contra-alto clarinet, electronics
  • Hugh Ragin - trumpet, piccolo trumpet
  • Tyshawn Sorey - trombone, piano, drums, percussion
  • Craig Taborn - piano, organ, electronics
  • Jaribu Shahid - double bass, bass guitar, percussion
  • Tani Tabbal - drums, percussion
  • Kikanju Baku - drums, percussion
  • William Winant - percussion, tubular bells, glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, roto toms, cymbals, bass drum, woodblocks, timpani

Watch “Spatial Aspects of the Sound“ here:

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Vlady Bystrov, Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky - Annäherungen (Fancymusic, 2016) ****

The duo setting in jazz and improvised music has a long tradition, and is often especially valuable for the possibilities it offers – an intimate dialogue where ideas can be easily traded, where any digression has the power to completely reconfigure the musical development on the spot. Of all the possible instrumental combinations, however, the pairing of trumpet and woodwinds is one of the rarest. Maybe is too risky, not only for the obvious absence of a strong harmonic dimension, but also because in less capable hands it tends to set on predictable, and boring, patterns – usually with the musicians alternating as rhythmic accompanists to each other’s melodic excursions.

Bystrov and Guyvoronsky are skilled improvisers, veterans of Russia’s new jazz scene, but they also have strong connections to classical music, evident in the chamber-like approach to their improvisations. The combination of technical facility and improvisational creativity allows them to take on the duo setting with a relaxed attitude, calibrating their interventions in an effective dialogue enriched by unusual melodic sensibilities and a strong sense of structure. Annäherungen consists of a single track, roughly fifty minutes in length, organized in different sections that start with simple musical gestures, gradually increasing in complexity, finally reaching a musical climax that promptly leaves space to the next development. This dynamic elasticity, where idiomatic concreteness and unorthodox techniques are equally important, creates an engaging listening experience. All the usual suspects are still present – the exchange of melodic ideas, the harmonic framings, the rhythmic support – but everything is approached with the right balance of looseness and restraint, letting the music evolve in spontaneous configurations, where half-valve notes on the trumpet leave space to imposing staccato declamations, where the dark textures of the alto clarinet naturally flow into the lyrical flourishes of the alto sax.

Annäherungen is a fresh take on a seldom explored group setting, where the language of jazz is just the starting point for a charming, unpredictable musical encounter, unfolding before our ears with deceptive simplicity.

Vlady Bystrov: alto and soprano saxophone, alto clarinet.
Vyacheslav Guyvoronsky: trumpet, whistle


Monday, August 21, 2017

Nate Wooley - knknighgh (Clean Feed, 2017) ****1/2

By Daniel Börker

It starts with a bang. Six seconds. Then silence for a second or two. Then the next bang. And so on, for the first minute. Before I started writing this review, I had several different ideas on how to approach it. First there is the title "knknighgh (minimal poetry for Aram Saroyan)". Aram Saroyan is a poet and writer who is well known for his minimal and concrete poetic work. The title knknighgh (pronounced knife) is a reference to some of his short poems, which I learned from an article about the poet, since I had never before heard of him. He plays with the spelling of words, and some poems are comprised of only one word with a changed spelling: "laughgh."

Nate Wooley dedicates his new album to this poet and his approach to poetry. So what are the connections? Can I hear them? Is the connection within the way the four musicians use their instruments in slightly “incorrect“ ways, like Saroyan does with the letters in his words? The surprises he creates through his unusual manner? (And yes there are a lot of surprising moments created in the music). This answer would work with me but it does not sufficiently reflect the album.

The second approach was on the relationship between composition and improvisation. That's a field I'm rather curious about because I still find it hard to grasp. Today I read an article in the German weekly "Die Zeit" about Jazz in Germany. The author Ulrich Stock visited a concert at the Loft in Cologne by Pablo Held, and as he watched them play, they unfolded long music sheets and he stated: "So there are compositions." (As I would translate it.)

I noticed a link between the two approaches as I read the information about “knknighgh“ on Clean Feed's homepage. I quote a few sentences, for otherwise I would just rewrite them:

"The band uses short composed materials written by Wooley and those fragmented materials are looped and pushed to the limit, triggered by any of the players in whatever order chosen in the moment. At first, the procedure seems to adapt some of the repetitive strategies of minimal music, and yet again, it doesn’t sound like minimalism, and neither it is a crossover between free jazz and minimal music."

The question is can you hear and recognize it  while listening to the record? I honestly don't know. I think I realize patterns and composed parts in the music but that might be because I read about it. Perhaps a more trained ear would find it a lot easer to point them out. But then again, maybe the whole thing isn't about finding composed or improvised parts. It's about listening to the sound that was created on the way the musicians took. Which leads me to my third approach.

Listening to the album as it is.

Nate Wooley on trumpet, Chris Pitsikos an alto sax, Brandon Lopez on bass and Dre Hocevar on drums play 5 pieces, all named knknighgh, numbers 3,4,6,7 and 8.

(What brings me back to my second approach for a sentence or two: Is there a number 1? A number 2 or 5? Didn't they like the result? Or are the numbers also dedications to Aram Saroyan?)

So the first track 'knknighgh 3' starts with a bang and then silence and back again. I listened to the album in different situations and it made different impressions every time. I couldn't really get a hold of the music until I sat down with nothing but the music. And then it took me (almost by surprise).

The way I interacted with this album depended very much on the setting I was in. While I was doing something else like reading (about Aram Saroyan for example) or taking notes, I skipped in and out of the music. Though I still liked it I felt a little lost these times. But listening to it with open ears and nothing else on my mind, it really got me. Maybe it is all about short pieces like the poems of Saroyan. Maybe it is all about the relationship between composition and improvisation.

For me it is all about my listening habit and about commmunication. It felt as if I was witnessing an intimate conversation.

A few minutes into 'knknighgh 3' something like a first solo by Chris Pitsikos begins, out of which a dialogue or rather a quatrologue emerges. You can hear the four individuals listening to each other, reacting and opening the space for one another. Then come silence and very quiet and intimate parts, and the communication especially between Pitsikos and Wooley shape the first track. This is not said to diminish the part of Lopez or Hocevar. But the sound of Wooley and Pitsikos in the first track was it that brought the thoughts of dialogue to mind. In these interactions, I hear sequences I think were part of the composing work that Wooley did before the recording began, but one way or the other, it wouldn't change my joy while listening. It's an amazing work of music.

'Knknighgh 4' widenes the range of conversations. There is more of Lopez and Hocevar in the interaction. And still it all sounds very lyrical and intimate (another connection to Saroyan maybe. To poetry). 'Knknighgh 6' intensifies the communication. There is a long and strong beginning with all four voices taking part at the same time. But without ever stopping to listen to another. More than in the first two tracks, you hear Hocevar using his snare, tom, and bass drum.

With all respect to the differences between the five pieces, it is a very lyrical and intimate collection of music. I recommend to listen to it in whole. You will experience a beautiful set of improvised and composed music, dedicated to and inspired by the poetry of Aram Saroyan. Regardless if you pick out all of the composed parts or some of it or none at all, or if know and like the poetry of Aram Saroyan or not, this album is a beautiful piece of art that you should listen to carefully, maybe with your earphones on and a glass of wine at your side.

It's great.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Matt Piet Deep Dive (Day 2 of 2)

By Philip Coombs

Part Four - The Swim in New Waters

Matt Piet and Paul Giallorenzo - Wood, Wire and Steel 2017

Matt himself describes this record as “pianistic ear candy” for those who care to listen. I care to listen and it is just like candy.

This album forced me to really sit and think about what goes through a musician’s mind when he sits down at a piano and looks across the stage to see only one other person sitting down at a piano. Obviously there was something that brought them together such as a mutual respect or an insane challenge. So as the first notes are struck and the musician’s put their heads down, what are they hearing?

Is it an extension of their fingers, or their ideas that are one step ahead of what we can hear?
Wood, Wire and Steel is split into three parts with titles chosen to emphasize the fact that there are only 2 voices here. (1+1, Two, and Too) The first track is a feeling out process and the title kind of alludes to that 1+1, still individuals playing together. This all changes in a hurry on the follow-up track, Two.

This is an example of two musicians getting so comfortable with each other that it becomes impossible to tell them apart. Are you finishing your thought or are you finishing mine? Did I just play what you thought or are you reading my mind? As Matt alluded to in the Bandcamp notes for this recording, it has a lot to do with instinct which is demonstrated on the closer Too. It can sometimes get a little overwhelming when 2 great players hammer idea after idea at you so the last track is really refreshing as the tempo slows to a pace where there is nowhere to hide. This results in pure beauty and a tangible respect for each other and the instrument.

Part Five-  Tim Daisy and the March to the Future. 

Matt Piet & Tim Daisy- strike one; strike too (s/r, 2017)

So after a week of listening almost exclusively to Matt Piet, I was looking forward to listening to this one as Tim Daisy, one of my favourite percussionists gets tom play with Piet one on one. So, what happens when the piano gets played hard and heavy like a drum with Daisy sitting next to you? The result? Well, you are not bored, that’s for sure. Piet opens the lid and with the inside and outside of the piano top work with, he develops a new language for himself which in turn becomes a different type of agitator for Daisy. As you would imagine, not a problem for him.

Daisy has been working on a new language for a while now himself and some of that makes an appearance here. Not that he needed any help as his formidable expressive language was powerful enough, radios and loops and other creative uses for his kit add plenty of spice to this record.

At the 12 and a half minute mark of the opener, laissez-faire, the roles are reversed. Piet supplies the percussive elements to the narrative as Daisy melodically makes his way around his set up.
Track 2, the empathy and the entropy, starts with the least amount possible. In a good way. Its a slow build. Then out of nowhere, Piet comes at you with a killer passage followed by another killer passage. This get Daisy really going and the rest of the track is just magic.

Part Six -  Matt goes to Amsterdam and, you know, makes a great record.

Matt Piet, Raoul Van Der Weide, Frank Rosaly - Out of Step (s/r, 2017)

You can tell from the opening notes that there is a new world vision happening here. Van Der Weide is a monster and if there is anyone who can match that intense beginning, its Frank Rosaly. Its like when you stick your face out the window of a fast car and you realize that it is more difficult to breathe than you thought. Rosalyn and Weide hit the groove halfway into Step to the Music giving Piet a chance to carve out a few frequencies of his own.

The 25 minute track, However Measured or Far Away, allowed me some time to think about why a like this music so much. I think its about the discovery. I’ve joked about how I am saving classical music until I get a little older so I will have something to look forward to. Looks like I may have to be pretty old if I keep finding gems like Matt Piet. And it just goes to show, if it wasn’t for my history with Tim Daisy, I wouldn’t have found Matt Piet, and you can see where that got me. Now, i can say, if it wasn’t for Matt Piet, I wouldn’t have found Raoul Van Der Weide, who just took me head first out of my contemplation by trying to rip the strings off the bass. First he treats his bow like a light sabre and now you can hear the wood from his bass cry.  Rosaly rolls in the thunder and the storm continues.

The music here is now music. It resonates, it sings, its enjoyable, its complex and with Piet getting better with every release, the future is, well, nobody knows, because it will be created in the present on a stage with a man sitting behind a piano looking up and seeing other musicians and wondering, so, what are we going to do next???

Learn more here:

See Day 1 of the Matt Piet Deep Dive.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Matt Piet Deep Dive (Day 1 of 2)

By Philip Coombs

Part One - Out of the studio and into the spotlight

Chicago born pianist Matt Piet has been on my mind a bit lately. Ever since I reviewed the record Hit the Ground Running that he did with Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy, Piet has reinforced the wonderment of discovering something new and forcing you to take the time to go back and find as many records as you can.

Piet studied piano at a young age and was classically proficient before too long. His travels to Berkley opened his ears to improvised music and it was there that he decided to move back to Chicago to pursue it head on. He spent many days by himself locked away in a studio tuning his ear and putting the touches on what would become the style that inspired me to delve deep into the Matt Piet variations. If you want to go back even further, some of these solo piano improvisations can be found on his record silent moves, unseen.

The opening shot has been fired. Citing Paul Bley’s Footloose! as the inspirational jumping off point to how he wanted his debut musical statement to feel, Piet releases Of Sound Mind.


Matt Piet Trio- Of Sound Mind (Amalgam, 2016)

He wanted to utilize Albert Widman on bass and Julian Kirshner (Drums who you will see a lot more of later) as they were the ones he trusted to give a very important recording the best possible chance to match his vision.

Matt Piet - Piano
Albert Wildeman - Bass
Julian Kirshner - Drums

The final product is a success. It bounces between nods to the players who influenced him and to wholly original ideas that are fully realized; rare for a debut trio band leader. As much as his chosen rhythm compliment his style, they are just as important in their antagonistic role. On 'Mood Swing' for example, Kirshner swings the hell out of the kit and Wildeman jumps in right alongside luring Piet in to swing with them only to give him just enough rope before loosening the screws and throwing daggers for him to get around.

This sits as an amazing fully improvised debut which may as well be his calling card for the records to come but it does require multiple listens as layers upon layers will present themselves.


Part Two - Matt Piet invites two Chicago heavyweights to record an album and in true united Chicago fashion, they said yes. 

Dave Rempis, Matt Piet, Tim Daisy - Cure for the Quotidian (Amalgam, 2016)

In my estimation, this would be the equivalent of me asking Ali to hit me on the chin a few times just to see if I have any staying power in the ring.

Not only is Piet up to the task, he contributes in such a powerful way that this trio is slowly becoming one of my top musical moments of the year. Lets face it, Rempis and Daisy are going to be great. They have a rich recorded history that has documented their progression into true masters of their instruments. They know by now what the other is thinking. The true magic here is Piet who steps in a spars with both of them. It is also fun to hear a piano get between Rempis and Daisy. The opening track, Red Glare, is a 37 minute burner where they feel each other out, quickly realize the strength and power of what each of them bring to the table and then spend the rest of the track just going for it. No Jazz, is time to experiment with extended technique, and as the shortest track creeps into the finale, Cerebral Pulse in Hi-Fi, you can feel something brewing and by the 2 minute you start to get a small taste of what it is. Daisy takes the edge off by switching to mallets and Piet plays around with repetitive phrases, while Rempis blasts off into the either.  As the track approached the conclusion, and you realize that you are drained, you think to yourself that Matt Piet has made another powerful statement. Now he knows what can be, and how to get it.

Part Three - The New Matt Piet Trio is born

Matt Piet Trio - Live at Constellation 2016
Matt Piet Trio - At the Hungry Brain 2017
Matt Piet Trio - Live at Elastic Arts 2017

And here he gets it. Piet brings drummer Julian Kirshner back into the mix and adds bassist Charlie Kirchen to the roster for these three live gigs. To be honest, I have not enjoyed a piano as much as this since I was a kid and I stumbled across the Chick Corea Akoustic Band. I had a part time job working in a bookstore one summer and I could play whatever music I wanted. I had the cassette and whenever I opened the store and got past the security code, that tape went in the player.  Understandably, their approach to the piano trio is very different, but that feeling of being in the presence of something special is still the same. 

Matt Piet has so much to say and this becomes the perfect vehicle for it. 

In a new jazz world of huge orchestras and electronic experimentation, Piet manages to carve out three amazing records full of fresh ideas. A new message in an old medium. Everywhere throughout these records you can hear the influences from the players he studied like Misha Mengleberg, Crain Taborn and Cecil Taylor, but when he ditches the past and allows his muscle memory control the proceedings, his classical flares and acute improv senses take over and the real magic happens. There is an obvious progression both in execution and flow of ideas from Of Sound Mind to here. It really is everything you could want in a forward thinking trio.

Live at the Constellation begins with the fitting song title 1. The statement. It is full of arcs and quieter moments where the three players demonstrate their abilities to listen and talk. The record expands on moments that cook and when a heavy hand is needed to pound out a repetitious phrase, it appears. Real attention grabbing work. 

At the Hungry Brain a more mature still version appears. It starts with a bass and drum line and before Piet attacks it with precision ivory strikes, you are already a part of this exciting world. The rhythm section is a little more prevalent on this one as they are given a little more space to stretch their ideas.

As if we have gone full circle, Live at Electric Arts begins with a track called 1. This record delves back into the long form as the group who are full of gas, explode out of the gate with speed and nimble fingers but soon changes gears with a bowed bass and a very expressive piano narrative. Three very solid records to establish this trio as a new force.

Learn more here:

See Day 2 of the Matt Piet Deep Dive

Friday, August 18, 2017

Ryoko Akama - places and pages (Another Timbre, 2017) ****

By Connor Kurtz

Rating or reviewing conceptual music raises a difficult question: and that is, what am I really rating here? Should I ignore all conceptual context and rate the music on its own, in terms of how it affects me as a listener, or should I think of the concept and score and how it intrigues and inspires me? I'm brought to Alvin Lucier's 1981 conceptual classic I Am Sitting in a Room, which consists of nothing more than Lucier playing back a voice recording into a room, recording it, and repeating until nothing more than the natural resonance of the room is heard. What interests me most, something that Lucier mentioned in his book, is that he decided to use text of him describing the experiment, rather than a poem as initially planned – this was so that the listener would gather no artistic power from his words and would simply focus on the concept. What is left is a wonderful concept resulting in a slightly boring album which I'll likely never revisit – and this seems to have been Lucier's intention. Now the quandary – how do I rate an album like that?

places and pages is a massive work of contemporary conceptual music, reaching nearly 3 hours over 50 tracks. [Only 45 of the tracks could fit on the 2 CDs, so the remaining 5 are made available for free download here: – for those of you who would like to view these as 5 sample pieces, let me remind you that there was a reason that these were the ones left off of the album…] Many potential listeners may be deterred by this, I'll admit that I nearly skipped this one myself, but please hear my argument before you close the tab. places and pages was initiated by composer Ryoko Akama and Chilean guitarist Cristián Alvear, who are both members of the wonderful ensemble which I will get to soon. Akama explains the concept underlying the composition as follows: "a score that would concern location, situation, time and environment in terms of performance, and that somehow would erase a boundary between 'performance' and 'installation'." [Source:] The score takes the form of 50 pages in a notebook, each with their own brief text score which is equal parts simple, cryptic and concise.

When I listen to avant-garde music, I typically prefer longer tracks – I like to submerge into a soundworld, and stay for a prolonged period of time. places and pages contains fifty tracks, ranging from a few seconds to 9 minutes, so this becomes a much more difficult listen than other similarly long releases. Each track requires heavy concentration; otherwise you may miss what makes them so enjoyable. When I first heard the album, I planned on doing some reading while listening, but to my surprise I was constantly distracted from my book and looking at the tracklist. My advice for listeners is to take this in in several sittings. The tracks all exist as their own independent statements, and there's little to be gained from hearing them in a row.

places and pages is performed by a wonderful international ensemble, which includes the composer, Cristián Alvear and four members of the Swiss INSUB. music collective. The tracks use many different combinations of performers, creating a vast range in the possibilities for realization of the score. All 50 tracks are really quite diverse, so I've decided that the best way to detail this music would be to take the microscope to just a few tracks – those being the five which I've seen the scores of.



'none to six'"

#6 was realized by Ryoko Akama, Cyril Bondi and Christan Müller, and is 1:13. The piece was performed by the trio all standing around a bass drum, which they create a simple rhythm on with their hands (a picture is included below). They seem to all try to stick to the same rhythm, but it's very sloppy – and that slop is what I like about this piece. Certain hands strike the drum milliseconds after others, so rather than creating a bang-bang-bang rhythm, it sounds more like petite bang clusters in sequence. It sounds like a malfunctioning delay effect; it's broken in a very human way.


"two leading objects and

eight following objects"

#28 was realized by Ryoko Akama, Cristián Alvear and d'incise, and is 8:23. This piece was performed on droning instruments, which I assume to be Akama on an electronic instrument and Alvear and d'incise on bowed percussion instruments (there may be a melodica in there somewhere). The three drones always move together, creating sparse pulses where one introduces and the other two follow. The three drones are all distinctive enough that no natural harmonies are created, so it feels more like being serenaded by three sources at once (as these drones are quite beautiful).The piece is one of the album's longest cuts, and the longest of which I'll discuss, and it seems to be the perfect length – longer would certainly become tedious, as it is such a simple idea, but it is nearly awe-inspiring, and even relaxing, at its current length.


"thirty-nine (systems) (sticks)"

#39 was realized by Cyril Bondi, and is 0:53. This piece is a very brief performance on snare drum, with two drumsticks. Bondi plays single notes, short sequences and tiny rolls. What this piece makes me think of more than anything else is the uniqueness of the snare drum. There are few instruments with a more succinct sound than a snare drum; the instrument's decay is nearly immediate, but the voice is rich and complex. All sound, and all evidence, of the instrument fades in an instant, so even when a couple of seconds are left between sounds it feels like ages. The piece feels like a lowercase composition on an incredibly small scale.




#44 was realized by Stefan Thut, and is 1:38. This piece is an outdoor field recording, where
deceptively little is happening. It feels like any day in the city, but it's texturally rich and full of humanity and personality. We hear birds, a garbage truck filling up, conversations in the distance and people walking. It's no surprise that this piece was a realization from one of the Swiss performers, as the album was recorded in Switzerland and this feels like a document expressing love of one's home.


"fifty overlaps"

#50 was realized by Ryoko Akama and d'incise, and is 6:24. This piece is an electronic duo, where the two performers play sine tones and noises which overlap over each other to create complex harmonies. The piece is surprisingly fast moving, making it sound much shorter than its relatively long runtime. It's hard to say what's more surprising: the size of the arsenal of sounds, or the high pace and absence of silence. In seconds the piece will move from comforting to alarming, and it's all surprisingly shocking and exciting.

Each of the album's tracks could be looked at and enjoyed on their own. What we're left with is 50 bite-sized scores, concepts and realizations, each one thoroughly enjoyable, and each one carrying a distinct message. Listening to the entire album feels more like a slideshow than an individual film: several wonderful photographs which are held together quite arbitrarily. The individual power of the tracks is likely the album's best quality, but its inability to exist as a single artistic statement, as all albums should, holds it back from being a truly great album.

The album does have its own over-arching conceptual questions though, what is the role of the composer in contemporary music, and what is the role of the performer? The composer gives little more than instructions, and I'm often praising the performers for their intuition, rather than their ability to follow instructions. However, it is the scores and the work of the composer which inspired these realizations – they would not exist without the composer. This brings me back to my initial question: am I rating the concept, or the outcome? The album gives no answers, but it provides me the tools to enjoy both simultaneously.

places and pages is an album that requires patience and attention, containing at least 50 complex concepts which will surely take multiple listens to absorb and understand. What results from this is a wonderful multifaceted release, which gifts something new to be heard on each consecutive listen. The fifty pieces all carry their own intrigues, all present their own sound phenomena and all influence in distinctive ways, but when the listener looks at the bigger picture they will find even bigger questions. It's easy to look at Ryoko Akama as a child of the Japanese Onkyo movement and the international Wandelweiser movement but, places and pages confirms her as a unique creative being.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Big Bold Back Bone - In Search of the Emerging Species (Shhpuma, 2017) ****

By Derek Stone

How does one come to appreciate, let alone enjoy, a new genre of music? Despite the cries that ring out from some musical essentialists, it is my belief that the enjoyment of new, as yet un-grappled-with types of expression can be developed. As many of the writers and perusers of this site will tell you, a love of free jazz didn’t just spring out of the soil one happy day - it took considerable time and effort, an investment of interest and a willingness to occasionally put oneself at the mercy of tones, timbres and textures that were often downright ugly. But soon, the effort paid off; familiarity helped round the edges, so to speak, and the oblique, forbidding architecture that makes up so much of free jazz began to slope and curl its way into shapes that could arrest us, captivate us, leave us foaming at the mouth in anticipation of more. The critical viewpoint played its role as well. While much of free jazz is seemingly senseless on first listen, the astute observations of many a free jazz critic were instrumental in giving us a foothold, so to speak - by fixing a grid atop the swirling chaos, we suddenly had some coordinates with which to find our place. The development of enjoyment doesn’t just move in one direction, either; doubtlessly, some of our readership started with the strong stuff, imbibing Sun Ra, Coleman, or late-period Coltrane before eventually working their way back through the ‘60s and ‘50s to arrive, like battle-hardened generals returning to the scene of the first fight, at the earliest jazz recordings of the ‘30s and ‘40s. And, once again, enjoyment didn’t just spring up. After a diet of fiery, intense free improvisation, the bouncing sounds of Duke Ellington and His Orchestra are like another planet, with all of the dread and uncertainty that that implies.

The reason I make this preamble is that I, personally, have not yet found a good entry-point into electro-acoustic improvisation (often simply called EAI). While I’ve been exposed to a fair number of the genre’s respresentative recordings, there has been nothing to grab me and give me that “aha!” moment - that split second when everything falls into place and the sounds begin, little by little, to open up and make themselves known. Big Bold Back Bone’s debut on Clean Feed, In Search of the Emerging Species, while not explicitly an EAI record, has enough stylistic overlap with the genre to have been a cause for concern for me - would I have anything meaningful to say about it? Would it just be wind in my ear? In any case, I decided that the path to enjoyment had to start somewhere, and it may as well start here.

A quartet, Big Bold Back Bone features Marco von Orelli on trumpet and slide trumpet, Sheldon Suter on prepared drums, Luis Lopes on electric guitar and other objects, and Travassos on electronics. One thing to note when going into this recording, however, is that Big Bold Back Bone approach their instruments in the same way that I once heard Derek Bailey approached his guitar - as an alien artifact, a found object without context or connotation, a tool with which one could experiment freely. As such, the focus here is not on making “music” in the traditional sense of the word, but on exploring the sounds that can be constructed when a certain group of people come together at a certain time, in a certain room, with certain instruments and objects at their disposal. As the title suggests, In Search of the Exploring Species is an investigation of possibilities, a circuitous trek, rather than a direct route to some predetermined destination.

At an unbroken 43 minutes, it might be feared that the sole piece here, “Immerge,” is a slog to get through, but that’s not true at all. If anything, because of the lightness (volume-wise) of the textures and the relative lack of structured movement, it seems to speed by. It opens with a tentative series of knocks from Suter’s kit, some hard-to-pinpoint rubbery scrapes, von Orelli’s metallic gurgles, and the softly roiling static of Lopes’s electric guitar. Meanwhile, Travassos provides some high-pitched tones that, due to their relative faintness, fall somewhere between bird-song and the whine of drills. From this initial setting, deviations seem to occur in imperceptible waves - notably, von Orelli treats his trumpet as an open canvas of sorts, extracting all manner of timbres from its body: hollow sussurations, watery burbles, dry crackles. At some point, Suter moves from the more forceful pops and taps of the opening to cymbal-work that casts an uneasy shadow over the entire piece, and Travassos follows suit with cavernous electronics that open up the bottom and threaten to submerge everything. Lopes is ever-subtle, preferring to use his guitar as a textural device - from staticky drones to unsteady scrapes, he’s continuously in service of the overall tone of the piece. In fact, one of my abiding impressions of “Immerge” is that no single player seems to dominate the proceedings; in the spirit of the best free improvisation, the individual sounds bleed into each other, mixing and melding in ways that help to elevate the whole. Interestingly, the final ten minutes of the track find some of the musicians getting close to something that might be called “traditional music-making.” Lopes produces open notes that ring out with astounding clarity after the muffled drones of the preceding half-hour, and von Orelli emits a series of, well, trumpet-like tones. Suter engages in glacial, abstract percussion-work, and Travassos murmurs quietly in the background, a constant presence that never makes itself unduly felt.

By the time “Immerge” comes to a close, I feel that I have gotten ever closer to understanding the world of electro-acoustic improvisation - if I’m not yet putting every release from the Erstwhile label in my Discogs shopping cart, I’m at least considering the possibility. At a brisk 43 minutes, and with a variety of textures and sounds to keep your ears busy, In Search of the Exploring Species is a better place than any to get started on a new journey of musical enjoyment. And as a selfish addendum - feel free to post recommendations for more of this type of music in the comments below!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Peter Brötzmann / Steve Swell / Paal Nilssen-Love - Live in Tel Aviv (Not Two, 2017) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Live in Tel Aviv is the third live album of the powerful trio of German reeds player Peter Brötzmann, American trombonist Steve Swell, and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love since its formation in February 2015. It follows live documents from Krakow, Poland and Copenhagen, Denmark (all released by Not Two). Live in Tel Aviv was recorded at the Levontin 7 club, the same club where Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love recorded their previous duo performance.

This album is more concise than the previous live ones, only 43 minutes long, but captures the trio energetic dynamics at its best (I can testify to that as I was sitting in the first row). It opens with the 31-minutes “The Greasy Grind”. The first sounds come from Brötzmann, his typical, muscular sax roar. Swell and Nilssen-Love join immediately and charge the stormy intensity with the power of a hurricane. Both criss-cross Brötzmann's muscular cries and eventually release the cathartic tension with moving melodic lines, and light infectious rhythmic detours. This play of building and releasing tension continues along a massive, propulsive grind, and stresses the role of Nilssen-Love as the beating heart of the trio.

Nilssen-Love shifts the storm dynamics with masterful, totally natural leadership. He constantly varies and colors the pulse with imaginative bare hands drumming that suggest new, exotic scales, scratches of the drum skins and cymbal surfaces with varied objects, and dances with inventive cymbal touches. Nilssen-Love knows when to push Brötzmann or to offer fresh rhythmic ideas that highlight his strong bond with Swell, as they explore different sonic avenues. Inevitably, he directs this muscular grind towards another ecstatic tour-de-force that ends with an emotional duet of Brötzmann and Swell.

The second piece, the shorter, 13-minutes of “Ticklish Pickle”, solidifies Swell masterful exploration of sonic ideas. Swell transforms these abstract sounds instantly to rhythmic patterns that correspond with Nilssen-Love's drumming. Soon both lay a light, free-associative pulse that accommodates Brötzmann's lyrical and gentle cries on the clarinet. Both comment on these tender cries with brief emotional blows and delicate cymbal touches, patiently concluding this inspiring performance with a surprising, peaceful, and compassionate coda.

[See also Derek Stone's review of Live in Tel Aviv.]