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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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Catching up with Küchen

By Eyal Hareuveni

Swedish sax player Martin Küchen moves freely between free jazz projects, with his groups Angles 9, All Included and the Trespass Trio, to free-improvised, experimental projects where he explores new sounds and textures. His recent releases highlight his free and always searching spirit.

Trespass Trio - The Spirit of Pitesti (Clean Feed, 2017) ****½

This is is already the fourth album of this Swedish-Norwegian trio, featuring Küchen on baritone, alto and sopranino saxes, fellow Swedish veteran improviser, drummer-percussionist Raymond Strid, and Norwegian double bass player Per Zanussi. The Spirit of Pitesti was recorded in Oslo on November 2015 and tells the story of the Romanian city Pitesti, known for its notorious local prison that was used during the early fifties, at the time of the totalitarian communist regime, for re-education experiments of political prisoners In that brainwashing process of the prisoners, violence between the inmates was common and even encouraged by the Securitate secret police. The procedures got so out of hand that the communist authorities stopped everything after five years. The prison staff was pardoned, but 16 inmate collaborators were sentenced to death penalties.

“The experiment is not over”, Küchen writes in the liner notes. “A dry, hot and edgy wind that leaves you every time you feel it coming - and yet it comes again, with new promises, with new procedures how to tackle the now unspirited spirit”. Trespass Trio transform this sad story of Pitesti into a highly cinematic, emotional journey of resistance and defiance, charging the painful memories from that dark era with disarming compassion and tenderness. The interplay of the trio is telepathic, full of emphatic, gentle passion that brings to mind some of Charlie Haden's most spiritual, bluesy ballads. These melancholic, fragile ballads are delivered with a rare economic restraint for such a powerful free jazz unit, except for the playful, rhythmic “Fri Kokko (Free Retardo at the Koko Club)”. Only 36 minutes long, but every second radiates with profound beauty.

Küchen & Müntzing Scheibenhonig ‎– Rop På Hjälp (Inexhaustiable Editions, 2015) ***½

Küchen Scheibenhonig's duo with former electric bass player Herman Müntzing, today a teacher of improvisation at the Academy of Music in Malmö, plays on many things. All these things are spread on the studio floor - kitchen gadgets, strings and sticks, old harmonium case, toy electronics, metal, various wood and plastic things, megaphone, toy synth, mandolin and “failtronics”, begging for Küchen and Müntzing attention. Küchen occasionally plays also on the sopranino sax and Müntzing plays also on the flexichord, a 12-stringed electric instrument made out of strings and pickups from 2 electric guitars, built especially for him by his brother, and contact mics.

The duo was formed in 2010 and Rop På Hjälp is its debut recording, released in a limited-edition of 100 copies (plus a download option), with paintings by Tímea Ferth. It was recorded in Küchen's home town, Lund, during June 2014. The two pieces are free-improvised following Küchen and Müntzing associative train of thoughts. The first track is a busy one, gravitating around a mechanical, toy sounding pulse, ornamented by imaginative yet cacophonic rattle of weird sounds and noises that stress the duo great sense of invention, playfulness and clever drama building. The second, shorter piece suggests a sparse, naive texture that touches and goes a game-like rhythmic pattern, still, captivating with its amusing, sometimes bewildering sonic inventions.

Martin Küchen / Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga ‎– Bauchredner (Cathnor Recordings, 2015) ***½

Küchen's meeting with Greek, London-based Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga, who plays the amplified, stringed zither, was recorded in a studio in Lund on September 2013, following two previous sessions, the first at Lazaridou-Chatzigoga's home in London and the second in a galley in Malmö, the night before the recording. Lazaridou-Chatzigoga is theoretical linguist and an experimental improviser who employs ebows and objects on her old German zither resonance box to produce sustained or granulated sounds. She has collaborated before with other sonic explorers such as trumpeters Nate Wooley, and Axel Dörner, clarinetist Xavier Charles, and violinist Angharad Davie. Küchen plays on this recording the alto and baritone saxes, muted most of the times, and radios.

Bauchredner refers to a 1923 painting by Swiss-German Paul Klee, Bauchredner und rufer im moor (Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor), that is used for the cover of this limited-edition release of 150 copies (plus a download option). One of the interpretations of Klee painting suggests that the little, imaginary creatures inside the ventriloquist may symbolize the odd noises and voices that seem to emanate from him. The atmosphere of this album is indeed focused on such odd noises and voices, delivered in an enigmatic, intimate atmosphere. Küchen and Lazaridou-Chatzigoga patiently weave layers of static noises, noisy breaths and whispers, raw feedback and resonant metallic sounds. Both distill these weird sounds into a meditative storms that suggest, in their turn, disturbing dream-like states, but full of psychedelic colors.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Amina Baraka & the Red Microphone (ESP-Disk, 2017) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Poet and activist Amina Baraka, has just released, I believe, her first recording on the storied ESP-Disk label. Her album of spoken word and inside/outside jazz is a spot-on debut, drawing deeply on her life, culture, and politics. Baraka is the widow of writer, activist, and music critic, Amiri Baraka, mother of current Newark, NJ mayor Ras Baraka, and has a lot to talk about.

It starts with a simple melody on piano, then sax, propelled by a straight-ahead drum beat, Baraka lets out a blood curdling scream matched tonally by the flute and sax, who help her land on the phrase 'Mama cries time step’. He words are sharp and clear, and her tone somewhere between scolding and excited. I still haven't figured out what all the words mean on this one, but I don't mind, the words fly by, syllables to be savored, and meanings to mull. The gun-slinger metaphor for Billy Bang’s playing in 'The Spirit of Billy Bang’, however, I get. Along with the spare accompaniment from bassist Laurie Towers, it's a parable about the late violinist - or maybe it is about the woman playing the bass - or maybe again its about the free associations and sumptuous imagery that end up meaning more that way, anyway.

The rest of the band re-joins on 'Things I Like', woodwindists Ras Moshe Burnett and Rocco John Iacovone (also on piano), drummer John Pietaro and Towers start in on a relaxed lounge number as Baraka cites things that she likes: a Monk tune, Albert Ayler's Ghost, Henry Fonda, a People's War, a Revolution, and sushi, among life's other pleasures. Later, over a caressing blues, Baraka reminisces about growing up on 'Afro American Child'. It's a tribute to the past and the hard truths of growing up, going from memories of “men in striped suits and big country hats” to “women standing over the stove frying chicken, one hand on the small of they back” but as time moves on, the music grows wilder, and memories turn to “growing up, taking rides in rich people’s neighborhoods” and then to “we grew up without civil rights … marching with Dr. King … knowing we couldn’t turn the other cheek”. This is a twenty minute free associative tour de force of American history, through the words of someone who lived it. It’s a reminder of where we have come from, and how much further there is to go. The music and words mix and feed off each other, reflecting each other's intensity and meaning, a quote from a Monk tune or the C-Jam blues may suddenly appear, and so may a passage as free as it comes.

While I’ve only made it about halfway through the album here, perhaps a little more, there's more to take in, especially later as the past turns to the present on 'Fascists'. With her sometimes acidic, sometimes sweet, but always on point lyrics, Baraka and her band of like minded travelers have delivered an unexpected gem.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Elliot Cardinaux - American Thicket (Loyal Label, 2016) ****

Pianist and poet Elliot Cardinaux floats into this set of music and poetry quietly and when the first track ’Thicket’ ends on the phrase "There never were any Indians in Columbus’ America" you know something is happening, even if you don’t know exactly what it is. Though it took me a while to get to this album, when I finally dove in, I soon found myself enjoying the unexpected moments when surreal snippets like "I’ve ruined all my life but I’ve got nothing to show for it – teach me how to ask a question, any question" jumped out at me. Yes, I thought, as I trudged to the train on my daily commute, what are the questions that I do not know how to ask? The ambiguity allows meaning to form from a multitude of angles.

Just as important, though, is the music. The line-up speaks volumes: violist Mat Maneri, bassist Thomas Morgan, and percussionist Flin van Hemmen help Cardinaux in creating an abstract yet supportive environment for his words. The music is thick and buzzing on ‘Thicket’, it is 10 minutes of fractured rumbling that reaches a ruminative peak towards the end, which finds Morgan and Van Hemmen digging deep into the pulse and Maneri adding an affective shimmer to Cardinaux’s introspective playing.

Cardinaux has a flat affect to his voice. On ‘Questions (to the Thought)’, in a highly effective, near monotone, he recites the aforementioned words about life, before Morgan’s walking bass line forms a musical spine around which tendrils reaching out from the viola wrap around. The pianist lays down crisp tonal clusters and arpeggiated lines, and as Maneri starts digging in, van Hemmen responds, and they start building to an apex that only lightens up at the end with a series of drum rolls and a final decisive pluck from Morgan.

The tracks, some instrumental, some with short surreal verses interspersed, and at least one with a delightful parable ('Angel'), flow quietly from one to the other, often reaching muted climaxes that help round flesh-out Cardinaux's intriguing imagery. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Miriodor – Signal 9 (Cuneiform, 2017) ****

By Chris Haines

Maybe in part due to the amazing amount and quality of new improvised music that I had the privilege of listening to and writing about over the last year, I have recently been revisiting old albums, many from the seventies and eighties, some of which I probably haven’t listened to since then. Much of this music could be said to come under the umbrella of progressive rock, which in some ways has enabled me to ‘clean my ears’ in a way that Murray Schafer might approve of before I reconnect with the wealth of improvised music that is continuing to be released, with the audience interest for it also gaining momentum at present. One of these groups, Miriodor, is still going strong and far from reforming to hash out old favourites to a worn-out audience, as many progressive rock bands have, their music is still fresh and vibrant having recently released a new and interesting album in the form of Signal 9.

This is the ninth studio release from the avant-rock group who have been steadily releasing an original catalogue of work over the last thirty-odd years. A group that is also recognized and linked with the Rock In Opposition movement, and although they weren’t one of the original groups in that loose collective, there are sounds and structures in their music which are reminiscent of bands such as Henry Cow. Originally hailing from the French Canadian province of Quebec, the group has had many line-up changes over the years, with the current formation consisting of Pascal Globensky (keyboards), Rémi Leclerc (drums), Bernard Falaise (guitar), and Nicolas Lessard (bass, keyboards). Signal 9 is also dedicated to one of the founding members of the group, François Émond, who sadly passed away during the making of the album.

Miriodor’s music is often comprised of complex composed structures with sudden switches between a variety of stylistic themes and genres, making for a colorful and interesting heady mix of diverse musical moments. If I were to pull out one track off the album that defined the group’s sound the most, the piece ‘Portrait-robot’ would probably be it. One of the longer tracks on the album it starts with a motorik bass and drums rhythm, which is joined by an angular keyboard melody before the guitar comes in signaling an immediate change of melody. This gradually builds and builds in typical rock fashion, which then collapses into ambient and electronic sounds. After a while the music regains the strong rock rhythm section backing topped by mellotron sounds that quickly give way to a humoresque and circus-like music. Without any musical theme wanting to outstay it’s welcome it quickly proceeds into a final thematic section that is a development of the ambient and electronic passage. As mentioned previously it is these many changes in stylistic musical material, incorporation of humour and whimsy, classic rock backing, fragmented/angular melodies, and experimentation with sound, which are either all incorporated into the longer tracks or are shorter tracks juxtaposed alongside one another in the running order, that characterizes the musical mission statement of the group.

The album is excellently arranged and the clear structures define and shape the wealth of musical information that is being communicated to the listener in an ordered and resolute manner. Miriodor seem to find a way to keep an originality to their music without doing anything radically different from album to album. For me this is the essence of good musicianship and artistic vision, which they encapsulate in the cocktail of sound that they have consistently produced over the life span of the group. In this respect Signal 9 is a rewarding album for their many fans and as good a place to start for any who are unfamiliar with their enjoyable brand of progressive music.

Here’s the opening track off the album, Venin.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Toshimaru Nakamura and Martin Taxt - Listening to the footsteps of living ones who are still on the ground (Ftarri, 2017) ****½

By Connor Kurtz

In this reviewer's extremely biased eyes, Toshimaru Nakamura is one of the most important electronic musicians of the 21st century. Toshimaru Nakamura is best known as the man behind the no-input mixing board[1], and one of the earliest and most prolific names in onkyo-style improvisation[2]. What might be easily glanced over on the packaging of his new full length collaboration with Martin Taxt, Listening to the footsteps of living ones who are still on the ground[3], ends up being the most important aspect of what makes this a standout in Nakamura's recent discography: Nakamura is not credited on no-input mixing board, but simply credited on mixing board[4]. I'll explain the importance of this shortly. Martin Taxt is a young Norwegian tubist, best known for his work on the SOFA label which he co-founded. Earlier this year he performed as a member of the excellent EAI trio Muddersten, where he unleashed a huge array of electroacoustic tuba goop.

Although Nakamura began in the historically quiet onkyo music scene, his recent music has been taking a surprisingly unsurprising turn towards the noisy. On his most recent solo album, No Input Mixing Board #8, a duo with saxophonist Katsura Yamauchi and one previous duo with Taxt[5], Nakamura has made this stylistic turn obvious. These albums were certainly an enjoyable disturbance of the ears, but Listening feels like a step forward, perhaps a culmination in this maximalist style. Not just is the music harsher[6] than any of these earlier albums, but it is also more dynamic, more exciting and more progressive.

Let's get back to Nakamura and his mixing board. When they say that he is performing on a mixing board rather than a no-input mixing board, one would think that he must be using a some-input mixing board, which is indeed the case; and that some-input is nothing other than the tuba of one Martin Taxt[7]. What this means is that Taxt improvises live, and his output is then manipulated by Nakamura live with his some-input mixing board[8]. A wonderful idea – and what makes it even better, is that the dry single of Taxt's tuba is completely absent (meaning that we exclusively hear the output of Nakamura's mixing board).

The system for improvisation that these two have constructed is wonderful, because it completely changes around how duo improvisations are meant to work. They typically work by having both performers listen closely to each other, and basing what they play off of that. There's an element of counterpoint. One school of thought is to pay attention to nothing and play solely what your heart says to play. Either way, the name of the game is intuition – but the listener will always listen to the two performers separately, and try to understand them as a whole (and the performers are aware of this). In this new system, intuition remains king, but the context is completely different. I see there being two different ways of this being performed: 1) Taxt's tuba is led into Nakamura's mixing board which is led into headphones which Nakamura wears. In this system, Nakamura can only hear what's coming from his mixing board and Taxt can only hear what's coming from his tuba, so they can only respond to their own outputs, although Nakamura's is still determined by Taxt's. 2) Taxt's tuba is led into Nakamura's mixing board which is led into an amplifier. In this system, both performers can hear Nakamura's amplified mixing board and Taxt's live (acoustic) tuba, so Taxt can improvise off of how his Tuba sounds after manipulation and Nakamura can improvise off of what Taxt is currently playing. Another possibility in the second situation is that the amplifier could be turned up loud enough to provoke feedback from however Taxt's tuba is mic'd; this could explain some of the album's harshness. Either way, the listener exclusively hears the output of Nakamura's mixing board. So, to us, Taxt's improvisation is lost and only becomes used as a source for Nakamura's. Then an easy question occurs – is this really still a duo album? Well, I'm not sure, but I do know that I like when an album leaves me with a question that I don't know how to answer.

Taxt's improvisation is something that I have little to say about, simply because it's mangled beyond recognition before it even reaches my ears. Sometimes we get glimpses of the loud, full and deep sound of the tuba bursting through the electronic glob of noise, but more often than not we're stuck with something that I doubt even Taxt could identify as a tuba. So then, what of Nakamura's improvisation? Well, I'm glad to state that he is in top form here. On albums like Good Morning, Good Night and Between[9], he mastered a minimal style which was focused on analog electronic snaps, crackles, and pops, as well as simple drones resembling test tones. Even before that, he experimented with simple IDM-lite rhythms and melodies on his early solo albums which would make up the earliest entries in his No-Input Mixing Board series. As I previously said, his style here is blatantly maximalist, and perhaps takes from the rapid-fire madness of Japan's own noise scene. Sounds are distorted and pushed deep past the thresholds of clipping, and they're constantly mutated in high enough speeds that it will sound constantly moving[10].

It is generalizing to say that Nakamura's improvisations are always like that, this is just where they are most easily memorable (read: shocking). The album works in three tracks: two 10 minute pieces sandwich a 16-minute centerpiece. They are all named after the Japanese cities in which they were recorded. The tracks all have their own improvised themes and modes, making them all delightful distinct from each other. On Osaka, the opening track, Taxt's acoustic tuba can most easily be heard. He operates in slow but full patterns and rhythms as Nakamura gradually adds noise and pushes the track closer to clipping and eventually past it. The track is very linear, making it easy to take in and follow, but on Kagoshima things lose all predictability. It kicks off with some light percussive sounds. Feedback grows and noise overcomes, and the listener is dropped face first into a maze of electroacoustic textures and walls of electronic noise. Album closer Okinawa is an even deeper dive into the harsh noise maelstrom. In this track, it's often hard to tell that there was ever even a tuba at play, as the listener is lost in the void of sheer hellish miasma[11]. The album ends with a tuba howling like a foghorn before a full fade to black.

So all in all, this album thoroughly subverted all of my expectations in a way which I find to be both interesting and a joyous pleasure to listen to, and that's exactly what I want from this kind of album: it's one thing to give the listener something that they want, but it's another thing to give them something that they didn't know they wanted. There's an immediate level of novelty that the album grants from its pure noisiness, but there's deeper levels of enjoyment as well that keep me coming back over and over. The three track structure works flawlessly, allowing the listener to directly juxtapose the three. What we're left with is a great noise album that doubles as a great free improvisation album, and one that I'm certain will end up as a highlight of Nakamura's 2010's discography.

[1] No-input mixing board refers to when a musician plugs a mixing board's output into its own input, rather than connecting to any outside sources. This creates an internal feedback loop, which can then be manipulated with the levels on the mixing board.
[2] Most notably, Nakamura was involved on the now infamous, although in my opinion quite lovely, 2004 Erstwhile Records double album Good Morning, Good Night alongside Sachiko M and Otomo Yoshihide.
[3] The title is so lovely that I almost feel bad that I'll simply be referring to it as Listening from now on.
[4] This is so easily glanced over that Nakamura is still credited with no-input mixing board on the album's RateYourMusic entry at time of writing.
[5] Nakamura and Taxt's Pan on Fire, released on Monotype Records only a year and a half prior, could easily be seen as a precursor to this.
[6] There are moments on Okinawa where this music could be mistaken for the soul-shaking electronic noise of Incapacitants or Merzbow!
[7] If you are anything like this reviewer, you should be bouncing in your chair in joy at this realization.
[8] Some-input does feel more realistic than just-input, because I am very confident that the mixing board's output is still being processed by itself to construct feedback loops.
[9] Between is another Erstwhile Records double album, this time from 2006, by Nakamura and Keith Rowe. I personally consider it to be the masterpiece of the 00's EAI scene.
[10] This is assisted by the fact that there are two improvisers moving at once, so this ends up sounding like double speed.
[11] I wouldn't usually make a note to point out a reference, but the situation here is slightly different. Sheer Hellish Miasma is a famous album by American noise titan Kevin Drumm, and if you can make it through Okinawa with a smile I'd highly recommend that album.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Russian Connection: the Latest from Mikroton

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Moscow-based Mikroton label specializes in experimental, free-improvised electroacoustic music. Mikroton latest release offer challenging yet highly gratifying listening experiences.

Cilantro: Angélica Castelló & Billy Roisz - Borderland (Mikroton, 2017) ****½

Cilantro is the Viennese duo of Mexican Angélica Castelló, who plays here on paetzold, ukulele, organ, tapes and electronics, and Billy Roisz, who plays here on electric bass, organ, tv, piezzo, computer and electronics, and on live performances adds her video art. Castelló and Roisz collaborated before in a quartet with fellow Viennese guitarist Burkhard Stangl and turntables master Dieb 13 (Scuba, Mikroton, 2014), and are involved in many other like minded project. They have worked under the moniker Cilantro for the past six years. Borderland was recorded n a basement in the resort Austrian area Podersdorf am See.

The demanding, enigmatic music leaves no time for mind numbness. Cilantro, like the spicy herb, thrive on intense borderlands, between the ones who can’t have enough of this herb and those who can not stand its taste or smell. Castelló and Roisz play wisely on the contradictory sonic terrains. Their nuanced, labyrinthian soundscapes can sound sensual, fragile and and delicate and almost on the same time can be chaotic, mean and cryptic. Both move instantly between control and total freedom, evoking suggestive human, very emotional textures with their varied arsenal of noisy, feedback-laden and processed, electronic devices and sampled, fragmented vocals. Pieces like “Oruga” and “Skrimslo” navigate in stormy and hazy, hallucinogenic oceans while other pieces like “Whales on Wheels”, “Prinz Wompe” and “Lullaby For A Ghost” suggest delicate, meditative rituals. 

Beautiful and strange.

Ease: Klaus Filip / Noid - No No No, No (Mikroton, 2017) ****

Ease is another Viennese duo comprised of sine-wave explorer Klaus Filip and free-improviser cellist Noid (aka Arnold Haberl), both playing here on laptops equipped with the freeware audio-visual software ppooll. Ppooll is a project driven by Filip with contributions from many users, including Noid, Christoph Kurzmann (who plays it in Ken Vandermark’s Made to Break) and Christian Fennesz. Filip and Noid work together also in the Sonic Luz duo, exploring DIY optometric synthesizers. No No No, No celebrates the ten year anniversary of Ease. It offers two live recordings - the first, “Never”, from June 2014, captured at the Teni Zvuka Festival in St. Petersburg and the second, “Ever”, from January 2015, at the musicians-cooperative (sounds weird in German) annual festival in the Brut hall in Vienna.

Filip uses the ppooll software to generate pure sine wave synth sounds, while Noid employs the software to manipulate field recording as noises from various mechanical devices and recordings of wind, geysers and water revealing only microscopic traces of their origin. “Never” distills Ease aesthetics to its musical atoms. Its fragile narrative is comprised from abstract, transparent sounds, often reduced to almost absolute, still silence, leaving only fragmented contours of imaginary, stormy sonic events. “Ever” is more tense and raw, still, exploring surprising, more deeper and dynamic aspects of an elusive silent soundscape , sometime with noisy edges. Both pieces suggest a unique, hypnotic listening experience.

Kurt Liedwart / Andrey Popovskiy / Martin Taxt - Hjem (Mikroton, 2017) ***½

This trio also investigates quiet terrains. Mikroton boss, Moscow-based Kurt Liedwart plays the ppooll, using sinewaves and quiet noises; Saint Petersburg-based Andrey Popovskiy plays violin, electronics and objects and Norwegian, Oslo-based Martin Taxt, who runs the Sofa Music label and plays in the microtonal tuba trio Microtub, plays the tuba.

Hjem was recorded in Moscow on September 2015, later mixed and mastered by fellow sonic sculptor Toshimaru Nakamura (who plays the no-input mixing board). The 28-minutes piece offers a surprisingly organic, restless drone that dismisses any distinctions between the acoustic, manipulated, processed and electronic sounds. The patient, careful approach of all three musicians blend wisely clouds of microtonal sounds, continuously sustained and resonating into this arresting, twisted sonic organism.

Burkhard Beins / Lucio Capece / Martin Küchen / Paul Vogel - Fracture Mechanics (Mikroton, 2017) ***½

Fracture Mechanics is a European quartet of sonic sculptors - experimental German percussionist Burkhard Beins, who plays here on hand oscillator, monotron, e-bowed zither, snare drum and objects; fellow Berliner, Argentinian soprano sax player Lucio Capece, who plays here also on sax samples and on wireless speakers; Swedish sax player Martin Küchen, known from the Angles 9 band and the Trespass Trio, who plays here on tenor sax, flute, radios, ipod and speakers; and Swiss-Irish clarinetist Paul Vogel who plays here on “air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware” transform the concept of Fracture Mechanics into a unorthodox but highly inventive sonic texture.

By definition, Fracture Mechanics is a scientific field focused on studying the cracks in any form of material. This metaphor is used for a careful, alchemical process of creation and investigation of sounds - in all its forms and manifestations, their ever-evolving elastic shapes, and their noisy breaking points. The quartet was recorded on October 2014 at Radio Student in Ljubljana. After a short vocal introduction that suggests the coming dynamics the quartet offers three extended improvisations. “Pebble Snatch” is the most engaging one, obviously, in its own weird manner. It is a quiet, colorful and highly cinematic soundscape, that may depict a lone journey in a deserted, icy scenery where the senses of time of space are almost frozen, turning into abstract yet tangible entities. The following “Pendentive” dives even deeper into minimalist oceans, where all stands still, except ritualistic, exotic oscillation of distant sine-waves and radio stations. The last, 30-minutes of “Transmogrification” expands the the methodical investigation of ultra-minimalist, static sonic terrains into a dreamy, meditative soundscape.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Spunk – Still eating ginger bread for breakfast (Rune Grammofon, 2016 ) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

A few years back Maja Ratkje (a member of Spunk experimental quartet along with Lene Grenager, Hild Sofie Tajford and Kristin Andersen), when asked why she was making 'Noise', she replied “ in order to forget all the noise of everyday life”. Maybe I’m a bit paraphrasing here, but you get the picture.

My first impression, when I read that, was not exactly understanding. Time has passed and I’ve come to terms with what, at least in my opinion, this anathema was. Music – art in general – has numerous functions. Personal, social and political. Music has powers. It really, as Ratkje clearly stated, has the power to make us forget, to eliminate the vulgarities of everyday life, to provide a safe zone from the evils of the world. Since you are reading these lines, I guess you are pretty aware that there are a lot of them.

The democratic procedures of Spunk’s music (as presented also in a live setting) oppose, again, the functions of a society of hierarchy, sexism , patriarchy and racism. Before you comment on all this, just think of how many women are there in the music world of Noise, of experimental music? Of the avant-garde as a whole? Not many I’d say. Here we have a quartet of women trying to find their way in a male dominated but so called free thinking genre. It must be pointed out.

Spunk’s music has always been, at least in my perception, about process. I guess the collective way of thinking and reacting is transferred to the ways they present their material too. This also applies to their live recordings. This CD is a live recording too, a 20th anniversary concert held in Oslo in December 2015. The two tracks that comprise the bulk of this release are built layer-by-layer and follow a gradual process. Both tracks certainly fall into the category experimental, one which by now, of course, includes a trillion different sounds…

Their main sound generators (I do not say 'instruments' on purpose) are a cello, a trumpet, a French horn, a theremin, various electronics and the voice. Ratkje’s voice, following her solo experiments with her voice, seems to take a bigger part in the recordings that previous Spunk’s albums. I do not hear any preconceived ideas, just a general plan of how they react to each other attempts. They are freely improvising in real time. After so long of playing and most importantly, interacting together, they manage perfectly to combine their unique musical voices into a collective improvisation.

The gradual procedures they follow build up as time passes by into a less complex but more loud and noisy trajectory that, at times, become more and more chaotic. Do not think you have it figured out though… Although on the second track the climax reaches an apex when it’s time to end, on the first track things are different. Like a snake trying to devour it’s own tail, every time you think it’s coming to end by a catharsis of free noise, it comes back to haunt you with another audible gesture of four individual instrumental voices. They follow parallel lines conjuring something new and unexpected every time. I strongly believe that this is the core of Spunk’s collective improvisation.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Blindflug - Without Doubt (Self Produced, 2017) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Blindflug (blind flight in German) is the new trio of American, Tübingen-based vocal artist Lauren Newton, known for her ongoing collaborations with innovative improvisers like double bass masters Joëlle Léandre and Tetsu Saitoh and composer and reeds player Anthony Braxton, with young Swiss reeds player Sebastian Strinning, who collaborates with drummer Gerry Hemingway in a new trio, and drummer Emanuel Künzi. The trio's debut album was recorded live at Jazz Ghet Baden in Baden, Switzerland, and at a Swiss studio during 2016.

The title of this album, Without Doubt, captures faithfully the atmosphere of this set of free improvisation. Newton sets the tone with her imaginative stream of wordless vocalization that deconstructs and reconstructs, again and again, any common syntax, offering enough room for Strinning and Künzi to contribute colorful sounds until all three form a fragile, sometimes turbulent texture. On “Ways”, she suggests a brilliant interpretation to Strinning extended breathing techniques and Künzi fragmented percussive sounds, forming an enigmatic narrative, deciphered even deeper with her intuitive language. “Sphärischefische” (spherical fish in German) is a fantastic game-like play with language and sounds. Newton juggles with the title phonetic syllables, morphing it constantly until it becomes totally unintelligible and having its own volition and rhythmic drive, but sometimes sounding similar (or not) to other German words as “creative”, “heavy”, “research” or even “Hellenism”.

The studio pieces, “Baden Part I-IV” focus on extended, yet more abstract and free-associative sonic searches. The last one is the most playful one. Newton plays with the German word “kuh” (cow), charging the beast noun with surprising, new nuances, while Strinning and Künzi add the sounds of a hyperactive, vocal cow with a resonant cowbell. These improvisations suggest an egalitarian dynamics that cements the organic, fearless interplay of this trio, always delivered with an arresting sense of elegance and reserve.

Blindflug may not be headed to any known, chartered destination but Newton, Strinning and Künzi collective flight offer many magnificent sonic visions.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tony Malaby, Mat Maneri & Daniel Levin - New Artifacts (Clean Feed, 2017) ****½

By Derek Stone

To those familiar with the work of Tony Malaby, it’s no secret what his primary thematic concerns are: as the abundance of Spanish titles and themes suggest, and as Malaby himself states, he’s interested in the “feelings, flavors, scents, panoramas and such” that he experienced growing up in the American Southwest. From the sun-baked soundscapes of Paloma Recio, to the occasional hints of exoticism found in Tamarindo, Malaby has shown that he’s more than capable of bringing those sensations to life. Despite his fascination with the cultural and physical worlds of the Southwest, however, Malaby’s projects have largely remained embedded in jazz tradition; for the most part, the references to Native American culture have been oblique, revealing themselves through atmospheric evocations rather than through any direct embrace of traditional native music. On New Artifacts, that doesn’t really change, but Malaby’s meeting with Mat Maneri and Daniel Levin has shaken things up a bit - the pieces here are wispier, more formless than usual, and often leave jazz tradition behind completely in search of something more elemental and ineffable.

The title track is a fine introduction to the trio’s inimitable approach. Malaby moves from warm, honeyed tones to snarling rasps, from richly melodic lines to raucous ululations. Meanwhile, acting as the ground to Malaby’s shape-shifting figures, Maneri and Levin show why they form one of the greatest partnerships in improvisational jazz today - their playing runs the gamut from densely physical to tremolously quiet, and they are capable of both speedy runs and calmer, more subdued stretches. Some of the best moments on “New Artifacts” occur towards the end, when all three players seem to be pushing themselves to their limits. In these final moments, the creaks and moans that Maneri and Levin produce combine with Malaby’s hoarse calls to form a venomous, whorling stew.

“Creation Story” picks up this same frayed thread, but here Malaby’s switch from tenor to soprano allows for a wider, more versatile performance. He sputters, spits, and squeals his way across the jagged terrain that Maneri and Levin lay at his feet, and the lyricism of the title track gives way to an unsettlingly diverse array of timbres and tones. Similarly, the strings employ a rapid-fire sautillé technique to great effect, thereby pushing Malaby on to even more breathless exertions of strength. The third track, “Freedom from the Known,” is a bit of a respite, with Maneri bowing out long, funereal notes, Levin providing strongly-plucked accents, and Malaby returning to tenor sax for a series of wounded shapes that lend the piece a feeling of world-weary resignation. The “freedom” here is less the exhilarating freedom of discovery, and more the freedom of finally accepting some torturous fate - that of dying of thirst in a desert, perhaps. Finally, “Joe” is the concluding track, a quick burst of nervous energy that wraps up the album nicely.

New Artifacts is an excellent collection of improvisational jazz, one that benefits greatly from the lack of rhythm instruments. How, you might ask? Well, because the players are not “tied down” by percussion, they are free to move about in a world that is, in some ways, “timeless” - they can sprint wildly, crawl around, or stretch out in languorous arcs. 2015’s The Transcendent Function had already familiarized me with Levin and Maneri’s mastery of these kinds of nebular, beatless sound-worlds, but I wasn’t quite sure if I would appreciate Malaby working in such a context. Needless to say, I’m kicking myself for doubting him, because his contributions here are absolutely thrilling.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

David S. Ware Trio - Live in New York, 2010 (AUM Fidelity, 2017) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

I've had this new release from the David S. Ware Trio on heavy rotation for the past week. I do have a pile of other new records and a bunch of CDs sitting on my coffee table, plus several digital albums to contend with too, but they're going to have to patiently wait their turn - this one is just too good to interrupt. Recorded at the Blue Note in NYC at a one-night engagement in early October 2010, the occasion was a concert celebrating the recent release of Onecept, which featured this same piano-less trio of Ware on stritch (a straight alto sax) and tenor sax, William Parker on bass, and Warren Smith on drums. 

The music comes to us as a part of the ongoing archive series from AUM Fidelity. Diagnosed in 1999 with kidney failure, Ware had received a transplant in 2009, and passed away in 2012, but in the years between delivered several powerful recordings. While the album's liner notes mention the hardship that Ware endured to play, his music transcended any physical limitations. 

Two of the most striking elements of the double CD set is, first, the piano-less setting: Ware has a lot of space to fill, and many directions in which he can go, and second, the heavy use of the stritch. The horn has a reedier, more constricted sound than the typical alto and Ware uses its sound to great effect, creating an atmosphere laced with middle eastern modalities. The opening moments of disc one finds Ware introducing the evening's music, solo. Building layer upon layer, he takes the music from a spacious and lonely opening figure to a drenching downpour of notes. The impact is palpable when Parker and Smith join in after about five minutes. Ware has drawn the audience in, focused solely on his lone sax, and when the sonic pallette opens up, it is a thing of pure joy. Parker's confident and supportive bass along with Smith's tuneful percussion ably fills the space, lifting Ware even higher on a musical tide swelling from below. 

The sets are broken down into a total of 7 tracks with several sub-parts to many of them. The aforementioned first track set the night's adventurous tone, it is an effective introduction with moments of both gathering storm and meditative calm. By the time the group begins the second track, the atmosphere is charged and ready. After a restrained, albeit tense, build up the music is soon on an exhilaratingly tumultuous roll as waves of energy pitch the music forward and then pull it back with a sweeping undertow. Ware additionally switches to the tenor sax and the instruments' full bodied sound brings on a bolder musical persona. 

The second CD, presumably the second set of the night, kicks off with Ware back on the stritch and solo, exploring again more exotic melodies. A crash of cymbals and a rumble from the bass ratchets up the intensity as Ware elaborates on his mysterious melody. Parker's solo, about eight minutes into the third track is a captivating tapestry of doublestops and frantically bowed passages, the energy and simplicity is genius (the audience agrees as they burst into applause). Ware soon rejoins, matching Parker's intensity, delivering a wild coda with technique and velocity that boggles the mind. '#4' opens with a solo from Smith, playing with a wide range of rhythmic ideas, eventually leading Ware into some of his most emotionally intense playing of the night. 

Before Ware passed away, he released Planetary Unknown featuring long-term musical acquaintance pianist Cooper-Moore. Prior to the release of this trio's Onecept was the quartet outing Shakti with guitarist Joe Morris. So, this archive recording one of the few recordings feature this lean trio. It's a treasure trove of music - highly recommended.