Sun of Goldfinger - Quinns, Beacon, NY, July 2015

David Torn, Tim Berne, Ches Smith. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Simon Nabatov & Gerald Cleaver, Spectrum, NYC July 2015

artists: Gerald Cleaver Simon Nabatov
Photo by Peter Gannushkin.

Yoni Kretzmer 2Bass Quartet

Yoni Kretzmer 2Bass Quartet w/ Sean Conly, Reuben Radding, Mike Pride.
Muchmore’s Brooklyn, July 2015.
Photo by Paul Acquaro

Schlippenbach Trio

MIR, Oslo, August 2015.
Paul Lovens, Evan Parker, Alexander von Schlippenbach.
Photo by Peter Gannushkin.

Frank Gratkowski Trio

Studio 8, June 2015, Berlin. Frank Gratkowski alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, Richard Scott – analog synth, Michael Vorfeld – percussion.
Photo by Paul Acquaro

Monday, October 5, 2015

Walabix Invite Bart Maris (Becoq, 2015) ***½

By Stef

The French quartet Walabix consists of Quentin Biardeau on sax, Gabriel Lemaire on sax and clarinet, Valentin Ceccaldi on cello, Adrien Chennebault on drums, and on this album they have Belgian guest trumpeter Bart Maris to join them. The music by this French quartet starts with composed and structured pieces, that become more and more open and free form with each performance, giving an overall result that sounds like free jazz, but is actually quite anchored. The result is fascinating and fun.

The sound of the band is extremely rich and sumptuous, grand and expansive, offering many different approaches to each song without losing the overall coherence, giving the impression that the album is one long suite, accessible and free. It is a real find, this band. I will try to unearth more of their albums.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Available from Instantjazz.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ken Aldcroft & Scott Thomson – Red & Blue (Trio Records, 2015) ***½

By Chris Haines

It occurred to me the other day that much of the music that I have been listening to recently has included the instrumental combination of guitar & trombone, whether within a larger ensemble or in a more smaller and intimate setting.  Either way, and including a variety of other combinations, I personally find the two instruments very complimentary in sound, so it was with pleasure that I then received the album Red & Blue to review, an album of freely improvised guitar & trombone duets.

Both musicians are well known to each other with Scott Thomson having played in Aldcroft’s Convergence Ensemble and it is clear on first listening that the instrumentalists are very comfortable in each others company.  There are four tracks in total, two named ‘Red’ and two ‘Blue’, with one of each of the colour pieces being a longer extended workout.

Aldcroft has established over the years a rich vocabulary to his free playing and has produced some excellent music such as the album One Sunday, a set of duets with William Parker.  Again he doesn’t disappoint here and flurries of rapid notes mix it up with more percussive sounds and atonal melodies.  The trombonist, Thomson, is as equally free in his playing bringing a wealth of playing techniques and sounds to the table, such as growls, muted timbres, vocalisations and more standard sounding tones.  Much of the music contains a busy and bustling feel to it with the two musicians entwining and interweaving their musical material around one another.  There is great consistency to the music that they conjure-up between them, although personally I would have liked a bit more diversity between the pieces, as a rich sonic palette, which then stays that way, can quickly become less bright and lively to the ear.  However, that’s not to take anything away from the playing on offer, and there are gradations and subtle inflections within each track. 

On the whole this set is a great workout between the two instruments, which are freely engaged in open form dialogues throughout.  They certainly have a lot to say, which in turn demands careful listening for the complexity of musical information that is being delivered.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Stephen Haynes - Pomegranate (New Atlantis, 2015) ****½

Deep Listening: a Double Review by Eyal Hareuveni and Stef Gijssels

Cornetist Stephen Haynes' new album Pomegranate is a natural expansion of his work with his core trio, debuting in The Double Trio Live at the Festival of New Trumpet Music and continuing with Parrhesia (Engine, 2008 and 2010). It is also a tribute to Haynes’ mentor and about 40-years collaborator, master trumpeter Bill Dixon (Haynes played on Dixon last albums: 17 Musicians in Search for a Sound: Darfur, Aum fidelity, 2008; Tapestries for Small Orchestra, Firehouse 12, 2009; Envoi, Les Disques Victo, 2011). Dixon left specific instructions with regards to tributes: “If you want to pay tribute to me, you should (be) do (ing) your own works”. And as in the major works of Dixon it is mainly a communal, poetic sonic reflection about creating sound and feeding from sound; sound as an ever-changing, elusive entity; sound as something that resonates deeply in our souls open us to new experiences and sensations.

Haynes relies on the immediate interplay that is already have been solidified with his trio - guitarist Joe Morris and percussionist Warren Smith and augments the trio with double bass player William Parker and tuba player Ben Stapp. The addition of Parker and Stapp deepens the low end sound of the quintet, still, the percolating percussive touches of Smith, the subtle, muted blows of Haynes and Morris wise, angular lines keep it light and dynamic, defying any attempt to categorizes it. Haynes set the atmosphere for this new formed quintet to play as a democratic unit, with enough freedom to any musicians to alter the course of the music.

Pomegranate is developed as suite. It opens with the slow “Sillage” where Parker's dark bowed bass envelops the investigative, contemplative dynamics. It is followed by the African-tinged “Mangui Fii Reek (I am Still Here)”, where the unique telepathic understanding between Haynes and Morris shines, both continuing each other ideas even before they are fully formed. Later on the title piece Haynes and Parker share a dense, conversational interplay, beautifully intuitive and open-ended, shifting fast between moods and colors. The 17-minutes “Becoming” is a communal meditation on sounds and shifting dynamics, even Gamelan-sounding ones. The group returns to an African dance mode on “Crepuscular”, anchored by Parker and Smith hypnotic pulse. Only on the closing “Odysseus (Lashed to the Mast)” the accumulated energy of the group explodes with fast, fiery playing of all, transforming sounds into a means of release and freedom.

Highly recommended.

- Eyal Hareuveni

Stephen Haynes - Pomegranate

Trumpet and cornet player Stephen Haynes is one of those highly under-recorded musicians, but also a person who has great admiration for many other musicians, and lots of performance activities in various bands, and possibly all this leads to a humility which reduces his own published output. But when he does release music, it is of the best possible kind : high quality, strong musical vision and always in the company of great musicians. That was the case with "The Double Trio" from 2008, and "Parrhesia" from 2010, two easy to recommend albums.

On "Pomegranate", we find him again in the presence of Joe Morris on guitar and Warren Smith on drums and marimba, but with the addition of Ben Stapp on tuba and William Parker on bass. Quite a band!

Like in "Parrhesia", Haynes creates very light textures, with one or two instruments interacting, with precision and attention to the quality of the sound, with attention to little details. The musicians use their instruments also in a very sparse way. No sound is superfluous, no sound is a commodity, but they are all valuable elements in setting up the larger picture, a picture that is profound, both spiritually and emotionally, and a picture that despite its high level of improvisational abstraction is still extremely lyrical. And even when the trio has added bass and tuba to anchor the sound a little bit more, this does not increase the density of the sound, and at times even accentuate its apparent weightlessness.

The album is dedicated to Bill Dixon, Haynes' teacher, mentor and friend for many years.

"Sillage" starts with a deep almost primeval sound of bowed bass, tuba and drums, conjuring up sounds that defy categorisation, non-linear, dissonant, a-rhythmic, yet organically growing towards each other, growling as if something is coming to life.

"Mangui Fii Reek" is based on an African rhythm, solidly anchored by William Parker's bass, joyfully joined by sparse and fresh guitar chords and piercing trumpet tones, supported by rhythmic little percussion by Smith, but all of this in a very soft-spoken way, almost without weight despite the explicit rhythm, flowing forward naturally and gently.

"Pomegranate" is clearly written with Bill Dixon in mind, Haynes' long-time teacher and musical colleague and friend, with trumpet blasts that are short and determined, opening up the music to new possibilities also from the other musicians, leading to free form intensity. Bill Dixon had a certain austerity in his tone, which Stephen Haynes doesn't have.

"Becoming" a long and meandering song, with some trumpet sounds that are reminiscent of Lester Bowie, as is the case on "Crepuscular", which sounds again quiet and African, with William Parker Parker playing a steady vamp, supported by Smith on marimba and the trumpet sounds just marvellous, as is Joe Morris' precise playing.

"Odysseus" is intense, evocating the struggle of the Greek hero tied to the mast of his ship upon his own request so that he can listen to the sirens without risking his life.

Wow, I listened to this album a lot, and I will continue to do so. Its approach is innovative because of its highly open-textured and lightfooted nature, the tight interaction between five musicians who know exactly what do in this specific context, demonstrating the versatility of their skills, yet the real kudos should go to Stephen Haynes himself, not only for his superb playing but for his musical vision, which is all his own - despite the Bill Dixon tribute aspect - and his skill to have the other four musicians on the same wavelength to deliver this vision with such clarity and beauty.

- Stef

Friday, October 2, 2015

Tom Prehn Quartet - Axiom (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2015) ***

Homer’s epic poem ‘The Odyssey’, my tenth-grade English teacher explained, begins ‘in medias res’ - into the middle of things. So too does Tom Prehn’s Danish quartet on Axiom, originally recorded in 1963 and unissued until 2015 on Chicago’s art-house imprint ‘Corbett vs. Dempsey’. Two side-long tracks were produced in Copenhagen for the Swedish Sonet label, and test pressings including finished artwork were sent to the musicians. For whatever reason, the project stalled. Whether it was ultimately the musicians or the label who nixed the release isn’t clear. Prehn himself notes, “The music already seemed old to us. And as it were, not arranged or meant for the traditional record media.”

It’s entirely possible that neither the group nor Sonet wanted the music commercially available. Yes, Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz had already hit the racks, but Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity wouldn’t be recorded until halfway through 1964, and John Coltrane’s Ascension was still two years away. Perhaps taking a chance on Prehn’s bold new language didn’t feel economically viable at the time? The Tom Prehn Quartet displayed here is a young one - the four were in their early twenties at the time of recording, and it shows. Tenor saxophonist Frits Krogh sometimes appears to be playing more than he’s listening, and it doesn’t help that this release is sewn together from two of the remaining ‘seldom played’ test pressings. Sonically, Krogh often drowns the others out, and coupled with Finn Slumstrup’s tinny drum kit, one can’t readily decipher Poul Ehlers’ bass or Prehn’s delicate clusters of chords. Thankfully, sax and drums lay out seven minutes into “Axiom 1”, allowing Ehlers and Prehn to bloom.

Both tracks ignite in medias res, Krogh frantically summoning shades of later period Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins. The second track, “Axiom 2” is a natural continuation of the first. The third piece, “Percussive Anticipations”, was recorded for Swedish radio in 1966 and fares much better in terms of fidelity and structure. The band has clearly matured in three years time, and converse with increased sensitivity. Tom Prehn’s Axiom gives us a rare glimpse into the early days of free jazz in Denmark and is housed in a beautiful cardboard LP-style sleeve. Historical significance aside, it doesn’t really beg repeated listenings, nor offer extraordinary engagement with the listener. This is a group still learning to speak among themselves.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Garrison Fewell, Roy Campbell & Luther Gray - Invisible Resonance Trio (Creative Nation Music, 2015) ****

By Stef

It's wonderful to hear another album, albeit sadly a posthumous one, with Garrison Fewell and Roy Campbell, two of my favorite musicians who sadly passed away this year and last year respectively, and we hear them here in the presence of Luther Gray on drums.

Fewell is a phenomenal guitar-player, somebody who does not need many notes to set an atmosphere or come to the sonic point that really matters. I've also always appreciated his humility in making the other musicians shine rather than putting himself in the spotlight. No doubt his buddhist views play a role in this. The advantage of this more limited line-up, is that his guitar can be heard at all times, and it sounds as can be expected: clear-toned, jazzy, supporting the trumpet, accentuating, and then soloing with incredible precision and accuracy for the right notes, the ones that contain this emotional delivery, offered to you with beauty.

Campbell is a very soulful, or even bluesy trumpet-player, also a man of deep humility, and in that sense a perfect match for Fewell, and someone who cared more about his music than about himself.

The role of Luther Gray is less dominant, but he equals the subtlety of the two other musicians, accentuating, emphasising, supporting and driving forward.

The music itself is light-textured and varies between experimental pieces, such as "Mystery Intention", on which the trumpet growls, the guitar is played with a bow, and the drums offers a myriad of little beats, to more thematic compositions, such as "Invisible Resonance", on which Campbell shows his admiration for middle-eastern sounds, as he did before on his "Akhnaten Suite", but here it shows his technical limitations within the typical arabic scales, and Luther Gray seems a little bit at a loss here. Anyway, this is but a minor thing, because most other tracks are of a high level, both in terms of technical quality and emotional power, with my preference going to the opening track "Something Will Come Of Everything".

Soulful trumpet, precise and emotional guitar-playing and effective percussion is what you get, and in spades. All three musicians shine on this album, and the more adventurous, the better they get.

Fans of Fewell and Campbell should not miss this one.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Raphael Rogiński - Plays John Coltrane and Langston Hughes. African Mystic Music (Bôłt, 2015) ****½

By Eric McDowell

Readers of this blog may know Raphael Rogiński for his justly celebrated treatments of Jewish and Eastern European music, including his Shofar trio (with Mikolaj Trzaska and Macio Moretti) and his work with Wacław Zimpel (Music of the Yemenite Jews, Hera’s Seven Lines). Though these and related projects are important to Rogiński’s ambitions as a guitarist, composer, and activist, his interests and influences range widely—see for example his collaboration with DJ Lemar (also reviewed on the blog) or his recordings of Bach. In his latest solo guitar effort, released earlier this summer under the Polish label Bôłt’s Populista series, Rogiński turns his attention to one of the giants of the jazz canon, John Coltrane.

On African Mystic Music, Rogiński reworks eight Coltrane compositions and offers up two of his own as accompaniment for text by Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes (sung by Natalia Przybysz). But “covers” would certainly be the wrong word here. Rogiński’s interpretations of Coltrane, compared for instance to Mary Halvorson’s new Meltframe, are at times quite abstracted from their source material. While the purists may be disappointed, though, the rest of us will marvel at Rogiński’s musical alchemy.

The opening rendition of “Blue Train” sets a very high bar for the tracks to follow. Eschewing the self-possession of the original, Rogiński builds his take from starts and feints, gaining momentum with gorgeously elastic and permutating finger-picked arpeggios that dig down, rise up, and then resolve into perfect gifts of sound. The balance Rogiński cultivates is expert—the music manages to be light but not delicate, dense but not muddled, intense but not frenzied. And because of the intimacy of the recording itself, the friction of the guitarist’s fingers on the strings and the sounds of his breath become complicit in the devastating beauty of the playing. The ultimate result is more head-nodding than foot-tapping as we find a center in the nest of rapidly woven notes.

Track by track Rogiński redeploys variations of this same basic strategy, but the effect across the album is unity, not repetitiveness. After versions of “Equinox” and “Lonnie’s Lament” (appropriately plaintive), “Walkers of the Dawn” introduces a new element as Przybysz delivers Hughes’s poem over an almost mbira-like guitar. Again, rather than any performative extroversion, it’s the closeness of Przybysz’s singing, as if we were overhearing a prayer, that lends intensity to the performance. Together with the darkly manic “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” Przybysz’s contributions offer a worthy complement to the Coltrane interpretations and qualify among African Mystic Music’s several highlights—two of which round the album out. “Seraphic Light” matches the agitation of the original, the guitar somehow capturing the blistery, stuttering quality of Rashied Ali’s drums. And “Naima” closes the album, sublime melody intact, a dynamic meditation full of bent notes and pregnant hesitations. It’s obvious that Rogiński knows just where to stop, but as the final notes fade it’s hard not to start the whole thing over.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Darius Jones Quartet (featuring Emilie Lesbros) - Le Bébé de Brigitte (Lost In Translation) (AUM FIDELITY, 2015) ***½

By Joel Barela

This record may be destined for greatness. Perhaps in an era where every album wasn't immediately available for streaming; perhaps where we had a little more time to fall in love before the next something else. For now, its arrival is still pending. It's not from fear. For anyone familiar with Darius Jones, think Little Women. The man is not afraid. In fact, the album's title alone makes reference to Brigitte Fontaine and, in doing so, shows his hand before you hear a single note. The quartet is joined by French vocalist Emilie Lesbros. On the slow but hopeful opener, 'Two Worlds, One Soul', it might seem a mistake, her inclusion. By the time the song gives way to 'Chanteuse In Blue' however, Lesbros has thoroughly poisoned such doubts. More on that in a bit.

'Universal Translator' stumbles pleasantly and sticks to a morphing rhythm section. Its nod-ability is important, as 'Beneath the Skin (We Are Already One)' returns to the silkiness of the opening piece, pleasing, if uneventful. 'I Can't Keep From Weeping' shifts its initial sonic deployment to match Lesbros's devastating vocal conclusion before the album finishes with 'Quand Vient la Nuit', a Lesbros pinned track and one that returns the record to the singer's smoky and twisted blasts. Which brings us back to 'Chanteuse In Blue'. It isn’t often that a nine-minute freight train of a track begins with a bassline that walks around simultaneously dipping its toes in playful cliché and something sinister enough that it reminds us that this form of music largely originated in brothels. By the two-minute mark however, Lesbros’s vocals turn from the incantations of a bouncy temptress to a hybrid scream/retch, at once furious and in absolute despair. Jones’ saxophone returns the noise with a solo like a bid to win her heart back. She eventually responds with her own “solo” of sorts, a series of spoken blasts that seem to reduce the evolution of human language to one fantastic leap from primal, stone age grunting to the cadence of malfunctioning robots. At the seven-minute mark, Lesbros returns with another retch before the band launches into a jackhammer funk that sees the track to its swaggering, sweltering close. It is one of my absolute favorite musical moments of 2015 thus far. And it almost rescues the aforementioned slower moments of the album. Almost. That it exists at all makes this album worth listening to. Jones is on the brink of something, composing without restrictions to defined form, without haste, and absolutely without fear.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Otomo Yoshihide – Guitar Solo 2015 LEFT (Doubtmusic, 2015) ****

By Chris Haines

In 1982 Masayuki Takayanagi, one of the greatest free jazz/improv guitarists, released an album of mainly covers played on solo electric guitar.  Unlike many solo jazz guitar albums Takayanagi did not employ the chord/melody technique, where the guitarist can play a tune whilst accompanying themselves with chords giving a full harmonic rendition of a piece.  Instead he recorded it just using the single melodic line of the tunes he chose to cover without any accompaniment, with this approach being used as the format for the whole album.  The album being discussed, Lonely Woman, took its name from the classic Ornette Coleman tune that was the opening track on the album.  Now a classic work in it’s own right the pieces that were covered (also including Charlie Haden’s “Song for Che”, another tune by Lee Konitz, a piece by Lennie Tristano, a folk tune and an original) were used as vehicles and jumping off points for Takayanagi’s spontaneous and extended melodic improvisations on solo electric guitar.

Now thirty-three years later Otomo Yoshihide releases Guitar Solo 2015 LEFT as a tribute to the great Takayanagi.  Having acquired the guitar of his former teacher, Yoshihide pays honour to him by not only using this historic guitar to produce an album of solo improvisations but also taking in two of the pieces originally included on the Takayanagi album, both “Lonely Woman” and “Song for Che”.

Guitar Solo 2015 LEFT is anything but a re-hash of Takayanagi’s Lonely Woman, and although a former student of the great master, Yoshihide has taken his own course over his career path so far and he continues with his own style and way of playing throughout the six tracks on this album.  On “Lonely Woman” he immediately takes more liberties with the tune, ornamenting it with improvised angular phrases and allowing the guitar to feedback on the long sustained tones, which he extends even further by allowing them to ring on.  Utilising what some would consider a weakness of the Gibson archtop guitar, (it’s frequency to easily feedback), and turning it into a strength for his interpretation of the Coleman tune.  On “Song for Che” he incorporates a low open string to act as a drone for the tune, therefore giving it a simple harmonic accompaniment, and carefully uses effects such as reverb and overdrive each time round on the tune to add a different colour to the sound.  Yoshihide also utilises ringing chordal passages in his improvisations, which at times turn into noise based materials giving a much fuller sound spectrum than just the single melodic line.

There are also three originals and a reflective and introverted version of the anti-war song “Kyokun I” (translating as “Lesson One”) by Japanese folk singer Kagawa Ryo.  “The Blue Kite”, a Yoshihide original, starts with a simple traditional style melody, using sustained tones, which gradually develops into something more ferocious and complex, with slashing chords and discordant notes.  The other two tracks are short pieces, “Sono Machi No Kodomo” (The Town’s Children) a simple chord/melody piece, and “2020 Tokyo” a wild frenetic burst of feedback and activity.

There is a sentiment about this album that is partly a memorial for the late great Masayuki Takayanagi, whether through the choice of the covered tunes, the inclusion of extreme noise-based sounds, or the simple pieces that reflect the complexity of the majority of the music on the album.  However, there is also a continuation, a will to carry on and forge something new, through the use of this historic guitar, the established forms that can be used for fresh ideas, and the simpler themes that present a strong contrast to what has gone before.  Yoshihide’s Guitar Solo 2015 LEFT not only provides a meaningful homage to Takayanagi, but is also a musical critique on one of the most important past masters of free jazz guitar.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ben Goldberg - Let's Cool One

Ever curious what it would be like to pack a small room with Ben Goldberg on clarinet,  Steve Cardenas and Liberty Ellman on guitar, Trevor Dunn on bass, Ches Smith on drums and Rob Sudduth on tenor saxophone and then play a Thelonious Monk song so slow that a single 4/4 measure takes almost a minute?

Yes, of course you were, and you will not be disappointed with the results. Check out this gift from Ben Goldberg from his residency at The Stone last winter. It's a free download on Bandcamp.

Evan Parker, Joe Morris and Nate Wooley – Ninth Square (Clean Feed, 2015) ****

With two grizzled veterans of free music, Evan Parker and Joe Morris, working alongside one of the “young guns” of the genre, Nate Wooley, this recording looked on paper to promise a stimulating hour or so of creative, expertly-played improvisations.  And it doesn’t disappoint.

From the album’s opener, “Temple Elm” onward, these guys display the confident assurance of knowing what they’re doing, and trusting in their chops, to allow them to establish conversations in which each can contribute as he sees fit, without trying to dominate the music.  And that’s saying something, because each of these musicians is an outsized presence in free improvisation; for the three to work so well together, really as a unit, is indeed noteworthy.  If the moment calls for Parker to take an extended turn, whether on tenor or soprano sax, Morris and Wooley are content to let him have it; and the same goes for the others.  And it’s just as likely for two of the three to collaborate for a stretch, while the third conceives of a way to join in the conversation, eventually taking the result to another level altogether.  And there are some truly striking moments on this disc: when Parker engages in a sustained solo bout of circular breathing on the fourth track, “Grove State,” for example, it’s an effective example of what his fans have come to love about his music: potent, searching, technically brilliant.  But when Morris and Wooley then join in, three minutes into the cut, the effect is bracing.  They enhance the power of Parker’s already-formidable playing, vividly revealing the potential of what all three are capable of producing together.

Of course, Morris and Wooley are no slouches either, to put it mildly.  Wooley utilizes his usual arsenal of smears, sputters, and other breathing techniques on the trumpet to generate surprise and dynamic flexibility, with frantic flurries of notes alternating with long, sustained tones.  Morris has a wide range of effects and stylistic devices he uses to draw out different sonic textures from his guitar, helping to give a different feel to each of the record’s six tracks.  And the recording quality is quite strong, with Morris in the left channel, Parker in the right, and Wooley in the center, allowing for easy recognition and appreciation of each player’s contributions.  The clarity of the recording is especially striking given that it’s a live performance – one recorded at Firehouse 12 in 2014, in fact.  Really the only thing missing from the recording is the audience, and I’m sure there was a good deal of genuine enthusiasm in the room as these three masters of free improvisation dazzled with their respective talents. 

Yet another exciting recording in the Clean Feed catalogue, highly recommended.

Available from and Downtown Music Gallery