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Alexander von Schlippenbach (Piano) & Dag Magnus Narvesen (Drums)

Soweiso, Berlin. July 16, 2016 Photo by Paul Acquaro

Snakeoil in the Palmengarten 8/4/2016

Tim Berne (as), Oscar Noriega (cl), Ryan Ferreira (g), Matt Mitchell (p) and Ches Smith (perc). Frankfurt, Germany. Photo Martin Schray

Flin van Hemmen Drums of Days 6/18/2016

FvH (piano/drums), Todd Neufeld (acoustic guitar), Thomas Morgan (bass) Firehouse Space, Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ian Brighton – Now and Then (Confront, 2016) ****

By Chris Haines

Now and Then is Ian Brighton’s second solo release in just under forty years! His first album Marsh Gas being released way back in 1977 is currently unavailable and commanding high prices as a collectable rarity. So it is with great joy that Confront recordings have issued the guitarist’s latest set of pieces, including a piece from the archives recorded over 30 years ago. Ian Brighton’s style is similar to that of Derek Bailey’s, having originally taken some lessons from the past master. However, Brighton’s playing is not a pale imitation and he does bring his own personality to the music. Whereas Bailey’s technique with it’s ‘Webernesque’ influenced fragmentations works towards a collage of alternating sounds, the complexity of which adds to heighten the abstraction, with Brighton it appears that he is more interested in blending the sounds, which is particularly noticeable when collaborating with others.

The first track ‘A Voice You Left Behind’ starts with a sound bite of Derek Bailey philosophising over the tricky subject of recorded improvisation before Brighton enters the sound space with a very creative and colourful improvisation for solo guitar. The album is a combination of solo’s, duo’s and quartet configurations with collaborations from half a dozen guesting musicians including Philipp Wachsmann (violin) and Brighton’s son Paul (electronics). Another notable mention is the track ‘Percussion Discussion’ with Brighton’s guitar blending with the percussive and resonant sounds with subtly different reverbs (and some electronic manipulation of the percussion) providing extra depth. An excellent and interesting album.

Here's a video posted by Prepared Guitar, Bulrushing 1977 (Brighton - Mattos) from Marsh Gas:

Duck Baker – Outside (Emanem, 2016) ****

By Chris Haines

Outside is an important release of Duck Baker’s free jazz guitar solos. As a guitarist that plays using a fingerpicking technique and draws from the styles of blues, gospel and ragtime among others it’s not surprising that most of his recorded output is what would normally be considered to fall within the mainstream variety. The only other album that documents his more abstracted playing is Everything That Rises Must Converge, which makes this current release all the more significant.

This compilation of material was recorded from three differing periods spanning the years 1977 to 1983, with some overlap in pieces. Ornette Coleman’s ‘Peace’ gets two outings as does some of Baker’s own material. His style is fluid and there is plenty of rapid twisting musical lines that tumble over one another in what at times sounds like a stream of consciousness. Baker’s technique is excellent and he incorporates more percussive playing (body sounds etc) into the pieces such as on ‘Klee’ and more reflective chord-melody approaches as demonstrated on ‘Like Flies’ and the ol’ standard ‘You Are My Sunshine’. As well as the solo pieces the last two tracks are a duet with Eugene Chadbourne, which are slightly less in sound quality but not so that it spoils the enjoyment of them. This is an important release from Emanem and one we should be grateful for.

Tim Stine Trio – Self-titled (Astral Spirits, 2016) ****

By Chris Haines

Featuring Frank Rosaly (drums), Anton Hatwich (bass) and Tim Stine (acoustic guitar) this trio play a music that includes angular melodies, varying time signatures and phrases, dissonant chords, and complex textures which are delivered in a musically creative and integrated way within the natural flow and ebb of the music that at times has a real groove to it.

The individual playing is excellent and the trio as a unit has good cohesion, with Frank Rosaly’s percussive work often a highlight with it’s skittering rhythms, bombshell punctuations, delicate nuances and overall rhythmic drive which teams up well with the loping bass lines. Stine’s guitar is right up front on the recording delivering a good balance between the musical themes and his ‘out-there’ licks which are executed with great sincerity and expression. The chromatic melodies that he comes up with are both inventive and exciting to listen to. As with all good music this album seems to get better the more you listen to it, but more so, this one’s a little gem!

Ross Hammond & Vinny Golia – Self-titled (Prescott, 2016) ***½

By Chris Haines

The Sacramento based guitarist teams up once again with the woodwind player Vinny Golia (having played together in Hammond’s Quartet) for a very pleasant sojourn through some largely emollient improvised duets. As one would expect Hammond tends to produce the harmonic grounding for Golia’s flights of fancy. The roles of the instruments within the music could be likened to those in Indian classical music, with Hammond’s guitar taking the part of the tambura, often producing inventive and musically fluid drone-like playing (enhanced all the more by the choice and resonance of a 12 string), whilst the various wind instruments that Golia deploys exploits or contrasts with the rhythmic pulsations of the guitar.

Having an overall vibe somewhere between a modern folk music and a lost indigenous music which contains subtle changes in colour from Hammond utilising a bottleneck slide at times on his guitar, to the alto flute, bass clarinet and soprano saxophones that Golia deploys from track to track. Amongst the sublime reflections there are more energetic passages that whip-up into a frenzy with both musicians completely committing to the cause and seemingly getting lost in the whirl of sound.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Fred Frith Trio – Another Day in Fucking Paradise (Intakt Records, 2016) ****

Fred Frith’s latest record for the Swiss Intakt label finds him looking to the past: “I appeared to be channeling some of my earliest rock and roll experiences,” he remarks, dropping names like David Gilmour, Muddy Waters, and John McLaughlin. But it’s important to note that this is an assessment made retrospectively, after the music had taken shape, rather than a driving conceptual motivation. “When I proposed this trio I had nothing in mind beyond getting together with a couple of formidable musicians who I love and respect and seeing what would happen, which is pretty much the way things go in my world.” So don’t come to Another Day in Fucking Paradise expecting anything cute or clever—nostalgia, homage, pastiche. Instead, prepare to hear the veteran guitarist take the power trio into the future with two relatively younger players, both former Mills College students: Jason Hoopes on electric and double basses, and Jordan Glenn on drums and percussion.

Though the album is broken into 13 mostly-short tracks, each one communicates fluidly into the next like a series of open doors, from the gloomy chimes of “The Origin of Marvels” to the propulsive brushwork of “The Ride Home.” This continuity invites the listener to experience the music in its broader structural shape, vaguely narrative, as the first several tracks sketch the introduction of conflict. The above-mentioned “Origin,” for example, leads into “Dance of Delusion,” upbeat and punchy, which leads into the oddly plaintive vocals of “Poor Folly,” which descends into the aptly titled “La Tempesta.” While Hoopes and Glenn are responsible for much of the character of these early tracks—springy electric bass and trashy cymbals—it’s Frith’s layered guitar wizardry that defines the sound of the more abstract middle tracks. At over 11 minutes by far the longest piece on the album, “Yard With Lunatics” is a landscape of spare, eerie noise, from tinny remote strumming to warning-siren wailing. Several more tracks of distorted ambience climax in “Schlechtes Gewissen” (that is, “bad conscience”), where Frith’s torture-device guitar effect bristles antagonistically up against Hoopes’s feverish bowing. The album ends back on the firmer ground of meter and groove, though as the title of the penultimate track, “Phantoms of Progress,” warns us, we would do best to keep our guard up.

Rez Abbasi & Junction – Behind the Vibration (Cuneiform, 2016) ****

By Eric McDowell

Following up last year’s Intents and Purposes, an all-acoustic album of jazz-rock covers, Rez Abbasi is back with a new quartet for his Cuneiform debut, Behind the Vibration. Along with Abbasi on electric guitar, Junction includes Mark Shim on tenor sax and MIDI wind-controller; Ben Stivers on keyboards, Hammond B3 organ, and Fender Rhodes; and Kenny Grohowski on drums. In Abbasi’s own words, “Junction is where it all meets”—the breadth of traditions and genres each member brings to the quartet. “It is my most inclusive project to date in terms of engaging diverse musical influences and technology. For me, this is ‘music of now.’”

Opener “Holy Butter” provides a ready example, combining influences, according to the label’s press notes, from classical South Indian dance with piping hot guitar lines and irrepressible funk courtesy of Shim’s MIDI wind-controller. Elsewhere Shim’s jazz background comes through his tenor solos, as on the moodier second track “Groundswell” or on the short closer, “Matter Falls.” Though Stivers, who has an impressive pop pedigree, proves adaptable throughout—filling in for bass with his left hand or supplying atmospheric chords—he has no problem stepping into the spotlight. See, for instance, his Rhodes work on “Holy Butter” or his B3 feature on “New Rituals.” Similarly, while Grohowski’s experience in heavy metal lends his playing a certain robust precision that’s essential to Behind the Vibration’s overall power (a good example would be the burning “Uncommon Sense”), on tracks like “Inner Context” or “And I You,” he shows another, more reserved side.

A great album for fans of hard-hitting, rock-leaning fusion and funk.

Chatoyant – Place of Other Destination (Astral Spirits, 2016) ***½

By Eric McDowell

From Detroit comes Chatoyant, an improvising quartet assembled from well-known local musicians Matthew Smith of Outrageous Cherry and The Volebeats on guitar; Jim Baljo, who plays guitar with the noise band Wolf Eyes, on drums; Joel Peterson, whose venue Trinosophes has hosted a range of stellar acts, on Fender Rhodes and double bass; and Marko Novachoff, who has played with LaMonte Young and Frank Pahl, on winds. In March the group played the Big Ears Festival, and in May, they released their debut cassette on Astral Spirits.

The two side-long jams that make up Place of Other Destination are sometimes broody and lumbering, sometimes manic and frenzied, developing in vague patterns of rise and fall. Thanks in part to the live character of the recording—there’s a distant quality, as if we’re hearing instruments played underwater, each voice struggling for distinction—it’s Smith’s guitar and Baljo’s percussion that tend to shape the sound here, at least in its broad strokes. So it’s easy to appreciate Smith’s darkly intense picking and hectic strumming (I’m reminded of some of the playing on Peter Walker’s Long Lost Tapes 1970), or Baljo’s energy on the toms and his judiciousness in when to lay down a beat. Though Peterson’s and Novachoff’s contributions are harder won, for me, they’re no less important. There’s a quiet passage halfway through side A where the group achieve a kind of equilibrium, keyboards and winds weaving hauntingly through a rotten netting of guitar and drums. Side B, “The Secret No More,” with some nice arco work from Peterson early on and impressive blowing from Novachoff later, may be even better for my money than its counterpart—perhaps a tad less exploratory and a tad more surefooted, up to and including the album’s beautifully mellow, almost tender final moments.

Guitar Week

Picasso's Guitar
An occasional feature on the blog, a new Guitar Week starts today (a true guilty pleasure of mine). We ran the last one back in March, and we'll again be covering a wide range of guitar music over the coming days. We begin with Eric McDowell's eclectic collection and you'll be hearing soon from (in no particular order) Martin Schray, Chris Haines, Eyal Hareuveni, Troy Dostert, Tom Burris, David Menestres, and myself.

We hope you enjoy!

- Paul

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Anna Webber’s Percussive Mechanics - Refraction (Pirouet, 2015) ****

Anna Webber is a Brooklyn-based composer and instrumentalist who has been making ever-expanding waves since her 2010 debut as a leader, Third Floor People. Since that time, she’s been primarily associated with two groups: Montreal People and Percussive Mechanics, as well as the trio with Matt Mitchell and John Hollenbeck that produced the wondrous Simple. Percussive Mechanics is an international septet, with players hailing from both the States and Germany, where Refraction was recorded. Their first album together, self-titled, was a tantalizing blend of improvisation, Braxtonesque playfulness, and a rhythmic sensibility that owed more to motorik and Reichian minimalism than to the wilder-and-woollier branches of traditionally “American” jazz. This clean, precise sound has been carried over to Refraction, but not without some fresh touches: this recording surprises and astounds in spots, and it reveals Webber to be one of the most exciting young voices in contemporary jazz - both as a player and a composer.

Opening with a spacious, spare trickle of notes, “Five (Action)” is a tightly-wound opener, one that moves forward with the ineluctable persistence of a mechanical clock. It establishes the rhythmic modus operandi of the group: controlled taps, short bursts of notes that are as efficient as they are energetic, and hefty amounts of space. “Tacos Wyoming” takes this palette as a starting-point, but quickly adds to it an infectious melodic motif that winds its way throughout the piece. By the end, when the reeds, vibraphone, and piano are locked together in a convoluted, ecstatic dance, it’s exhilarating - it sounds like a jazzier reworking of Music for 18 Musicians, with shapes and patterns that shift, fuse, detach, and then go on to form different configurations. There are short instances of improvisation, it seems, but Percussive Mechanics truly shine in their sense of precision and control - with these compositions, there’s little room for error, and Webber has assembled the perfect group to bring her vision to life.

“Theodore,” one of the longer pieces on the album, starts with a series of tentative rustlings; after a few minutes, that formlessness is replaced with a solid groove from drummer Martin Kruemmling. Compared to the pointillistic percussion of the previous tracks, it’s somewhat surprising, but the rest of the septet waste no time in taking advantage of it. Almost as soon as it begins, however, it dissolves in an extended wail from the reeds - and then back again into the abstract sound-world of the beginning, with Max Andrzejewski’s marimbas, Julius Heise’s vibraphones, and Elias Stemeseder’s piano offering soft droplets of color.

“The All Pro 3 Speed” is something of a slow burner at first, with Igor Spallati’s bass providing the firm, rock-steady foundation. Additionally, Anna Webber here plays the flute, improvising with fervid exuberance and showing that her instrumental abilities are just as formidable as her talents for composition. As the piece develops, Wylie (on alto saxophone) joins her, and the two engage in a primal outburst that is rare for the group. While the restraint and exactitude of Percussive Mechanics are admirable, it’s admittedly exciting to hear them go a little haywire. As its name implies, “The All Pro 3 Speed” works in several modes - towards the end, the (two!) drummers approach tempos that are closer to Drum ‘n’ Bass music than jazz, but not for long - soon, we are back to the group’s aforementioned modus operandi: clattering rhythms that intersect and complement one another with machine-like methodicalness.

Anna Webber’s Percussion Mechanics is a joy to listen to, and they provide an interesting take on contemporary jazz, one that is as informed by Reich, Terry Riley, and composer Arvo Pärt as it is by maestros like Braxton and Henry Threadgill. Hopefully, Webber will get involved in more projects soon and release music that is of the same high-caliber as Refraction - I, and many others, will be eagerly waiting for it!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Aardvark Jazz Orchestra – Passages (Leo Records, 2016) ****

Here’s proof that there’s always something new to discover in the world of creative jazz and improvised music. The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, which I hadn’t heard of whatsoever before reviewing this, their most recent release, has been around for decades (since 1973, to be exact), and they’ve released over a dozen albums in that time, most of them for Leo and Nine Winds. The constant presence since the orchestra’s inception has been Mark Harvey, who founded the group and has long been a fixture in the Boston-area improvised music scene. Harvey’s well-honed compositions and adventurous improvisational strategies are what give the group its character, making this an engaging and valuable release.

The record includes four pieces: “Spaceways,” a punchy and dynamically rich Sun Ra tribute that features some especially strong ensemble work from the horns and some delightfully jagged interjections on guitar from Richard Nelson; “Saxophrenia,” a sprawling 18-minute feature for the group’s saxophonists which moves in and out of a catchy Latin-themed rhythmic structure, and which offers terrific use of the orchestra as a whole in supporting each soloist; “Twilight,” a spare collective improvisation that effectively establishes a mood of mystery and introspection; and the album’s centerpiece, “Commemoration (Boston 2013),” a three-part suite in homage to those affected by the Boston Marathon bombing of a few years ago. What is striking about this suite is its emotional range: from the jarring dissonance and turmoil of the first part, “Maelstrom,” we move into the much more somber “Aftermath” and “Elegy,” both of which gain their power not from the orchestra’s physical force but from its more subtle harmonic textures and poignant melodicism. The overall effect is quite compelling, as Harvey refuses to resort to easy sentimentality; there are suggestions of hope by the conclusion of the suite, although they are tinged with a certain irreducible sorrow, as one hears in the stirring flute and arco bass passages at the heart of the haunting “Elegy.”

A very engaging release, especially for fans of creative improvisation with larger ensembles.