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Angelica Sanchez and Wadada Leo Smith

Greenwich Music House, New York, New York. March 2017. Photo by Bart Babinski

Julie Kjær 3: Steve Noble (d), John Edwards (b), Kjær (s)

Club Manufaktur, Schorndorf, Germany. March 2017. Photo by Martin Schray

Ballister: David Rempis, Paal-Nilssen Love, Fred-Lonberg Holm

Dialograum Kreuzung an St. Helena, Bonn. March 2017. Photo by Martin Schray

David Torn

Howland Cultural Center, Beacon, NY. March 2017. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Louis Belogenis & Joe McPhee

Alan Krili's Loft, NYC. February 2017. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Friday, May 26, 2017

Noah Kaplan Quartet - Cluster Swerve (HatHut, 2017) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Shapeshifter Lab, tucked away in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, is an impressive 4,200 square foot venue. The stage area alone is the size of most venues catering to experimental music. The area is gentrifying quickly - in the few years I've been attending more and more bars and coffee shops have been opening up and I am pretty sure there was some sort of dance party happening at a self-storage place along the canal.

I arrived at the same time as the Noah Kaplan Quartet. Kaplan, who lives nearby, and currently studying composition at Princeton University, just released his second recording for HatHut records, Cluster Swerve, this was the release show. The rest of his long standing quartet, guitarist Joe Morris, bassist Giacomo Merega, and drummer Jason Nazary, were now at the small bar outside the music area, getting our hand stamps and what not.

I grabbed a drink, found a good vantage spot, and watched as the group set up as an intimate crowd filtered in. The group was relaxed though the leader paced about a bit - Morris and Merega sat opposite each other with Nazary recessed between them. Kaplan took a spot center left and began to play. His sound was tempered, soft but not smooth, with a pensive and somewhat vulnerable tone. Morris joined next, throwing out a mix of chords and legato phrases. Nazary then introduced some electronic textures, a crackly fizz, to the atmosphere and Merega started to lay some foundation. The drummer picked up his sticks, a propulsive pulse gripped the group.

As Kaplan picked up the pace, his dark tone filled in the remaining space between his taut microtonal phrases. Moving in a blur of melody and motion, he pushed the sound further and further. Morris jumped in as Kaplan dropped out, beginning with spaciously articulated notes before ramping up the speed and density. Merega responded with with a punchy walk, while Nazary kept up the pace. Coming down from a early peak, Morris and Kaplan engaged in a quiet, but tense duet, the electronics (perhaps a bit too loud, but not overpowering) provided a cushion of sound while Merega shifted the slabs of bass about.

Kaplan's music is an intriguing mix of classic free jazz with bits of rock, sometimes ethereal, sometimes driving. The breadth of musical elements and contrasting styles - moments of intense groove, musical searching, and then enthralling peaks - kept it compelling from start to finish. All but one song that night was improvised (an utterly transformed version of 'Stella by Starlight') and there was nary a dull moment.

On Cluster Swerve, it is obvious that the spirit on display at the show was not a one time event. The album opens with 'Clinamen', the historic name given to the swerving motion of atoms, and in this case, perhaps its also related to the unusual movement of the melody. Kaplan utilizes to great effect the aforementioned clustered notes, craftily swerving around the pulse and accompaniment. The second track 'Entzauberung' - the German word for disenchantment, is actually quite energizing. There is a fascinating passage where the electronics and drums blend into a thick sonic texture, and the song builds to a climax that is not unlike the concert experience - an intensity grips and holds the listener close, until it finally decides to let go.

The version of 'Body and Soul' on the album is like the experience of hearing 'Stella by Starlight' at the concert - unless paying close attention it is easy to get lost in the music without realizing you've heard it so many times before. The kinetic swirling of sound the group achieves on the fourth track, 'Sphex', is the best example of the group's power. The full effect of the kinetic bunching of phrases from both Kaplan and Morris is felt as they reach a fevered pitch. In support, Merega's plays in strong parallel with Morris, at once reactive to his musical directions and at the same time quite independent. Sometimes silent, other time upfront, Nazary's playing is strong throughout, whether reacting to the or helping wind things down with a more straight ahead beat like a the end of 'Virago'.

Check out the Noah Kaplan Quartet. Cluster Swerve captures an exciting group for whom form, melody, and contrast are never neglected, and any given approach seems to last the right amount of time, leaving the listener both satisfied and maybe wanting just a little more.

Here's an older video of the group at work:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Jaimie Branch - Fly or Die (International Anthem, 2017) *****

by Tom Burris

Much has been made of Jaimie Branch's move to NYC from Chicago a couple of years ago – especially about the fact that her new city quickly became the birthplace of her long-overdue debut album as a leader. Whatever NYC had to do with inspiring this thing, THANK YOU BIG APPLE. But make no mistake, this record is still the sound of Chicago. It's a sharply focused work that moves from one great idea to another quickly and – while retaining its originality - is also very representative of the last 20 years of a certain Chicago sound, with its musical precision and post-production work in the electro-acoustic realm of Tortoise or Rob Mazurek's many projects.

What you're getting here is 35 minutes of compacted and refined hyperactivity that is also highly sensitive, a bit stormy, and completely brilliant. Textures are extremely important, as Branch casually uses reverb to widen and deepen the landscape, or as in perfectly placed overdubs – like the dubs of Tomeka Reid's cello on “theme 001,” which build tension and add richness to the mix. Of course, before you can play with texture you have to have the goods – and with the lock-in-groove between Reid, bassist Jason Ajemian, and drummer Chad Taylor, the goods are definitely in supply. Then there's Branch herself. She plays the trumpet with skill and purpose, and her approach is both passionate and cerebral. No note is wasted. She knows what to do with every bit of space. I think her days of being a ridiculously underrated musician will be officially over once this record takes off. And there is every reason to expect that it will.

A real standout track is “leaves of glass,” on which Branch is joined by guests Josh Berman and Ben Lamar Gay on cornets. The opening chords are almost unbearably mournful and gorgeous, then the mix goes crazy as the horns start melting all over themselves in multiple washes of echoey effects. This track is followed by “the storm,” where things really get surreal as Reid and Ajemian make rain and Taylor thunders. Branch provides the lightning. Then echoed brass ghosts dance on the plains as the storm passes overhead.

The record is definitely a suite. Branch seems to turn over ideas until every workable outcome has been been revealed, and a suite is the perfect outlet for her writing and arranging methods. And for as much of a Chicago-comes-to-NYC vibe the group presents, I'm reminded as often of big open Midwestern spaces like Kansas or Nebraska – and even the Southwest. Seriously, it sits nicely as a companion piece to Jimmy Giuffre's Western Suite or Neil Young's Zuma.

I have to talk about the magnificent “theme nothing.” Taylor wallops out a horse clomping rhythm that indicates we may be headed toward the Southwest. Ajemian's bass rumble propels the music forward. The way Branch and Reid wind around each other is spellbinding. The melody will stay in your head forever – and not in an annoying way. I think it's my favorite track of 2017 so far.

And then there's the oddity at the end, which is called “...back at the ranch,” Guest musician Matt Schneider plays a freestyle campfire acoustic guitar for a minute and a half. It doesn't sound like a tag to me, although the liner notes call it an epilogue. It sounds simply like we have arrived at a new and different place where anything is possible. So is it jazz? The only answer to that question is “Who gives a shit?”

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Matthias Müller - Solo Trombone (Mamü, 2017) ****

By Martin Schray

In his book Into the Maelstrom David Toop claims that there is no solo. "Every sound meets the flaring acoustic space, encounters its own shadow in the higher-pitched resonation of electronic feedback, communes with ensembles of the multiple self, doubles back into its own maker even in the moment of its emergence, cries out to the listener who is performer and the hypothetical listener, the invisible ear which will at some point absorb and decipher the mystery, the arresting physicality, of these concise but strange communications."

In spite of Toop’s statement, Matthias Müller calls Solo Trombone his first official solo album. Like many solo albums Müller’s performance is an oscillation between his band efforts (e.g. with Foils Quartet) and the evolution of his very own introspective vocabulary. Here he crosses different borders than with his groups and tries to map territories he hasn’t been before in these environments. Particularly with his use of extended playing techniques he has developed a spare yet eloquent language.

Müller transforms the fragility and vulnerability of the solo situation into excitement. "Bell", the first piece, is an exposure of pure trombone sound in all its varieties, there is no electronic manipulation. However, Müller does alienate his lines, he delves in hissing, spitting, agonizing, squeaking and he implements the sound explorations he’s developed with his trios Trigger and their performances in show-caves and their surroundings. No traditional trombone sound is audible, only in the last four minutes of the 17-minute track Müller switches to circular breathing and throws in a funky riff he playfully dances around.

Moreover, Solo Trombone is also Müller’s way back to the roots. The album was recorded at St. Lambertus Church in the small village of Kirchtimke, located between Bremen and Hamburg, where Müller comes from and where he learned to play the trombone. "Valve" the second piece, symbolizes this way back, he pays tribute to Johannes Bauer (with whom he played in the Posaunenglanzterzett). Recorded only three months after his death Müller uses lines Bauer could have played, as if it was a last sad reference to the great German trombonist.

In the closing track, "Slide", Müller combines the two different approaches from the aforementioned pieces, sound in all possible varieties disperses in the church. Short shots ricochet through the room, answered by mournful groans. Listening to this piece, David Toop has a point. Müller is in a permanent dialogue with his instrument, he absorbs the atmosphere and vice versa, he listens and responds.

Is this a solo album? Who cares if the music is that good.

You can listen to an excerpt of“Valve“ and buy the album here:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Jeph Jerman / Giacomo Salis / Paolo Sanna - KIO GE (Confront Collectors Series, 2017) ***½ ​

By Eyal Hareuveni

A free-improvised meeting between three musicians who blur the distinction between experimental sound art, minimalist percussion music and field recordings. KIO GE documents 12 short and untitled improvisations of prolific American sound artist-percussionist Jeph Jerman and the Italian percussion duo of Giacomo Salis and Paolo Sanna, who already have released a debut cassette (My Problem Child, Gravity’s Rainbow Tapes, 2015).

These short pieces offer abstract atmospheres that do not rely on any pulse, suggestive in their inventive, mosly organic sounds, and surprisingly characterized with strong storytelling qualities. Jerman, Salis, and Sanna know how to develop tension and sketch a dramatic texture with only homemade objects such as metal lids, brass bowl and brushes, creating a ritualistic ambience that balances between sudden radio waves noises and static silence or devling deeply into the sounds of skins and wooden objects.

Patiently, the three musicians experiment with a richer palette of sounds and delicate, cryptic textures. The later improvisations suggest some strangely beautiful moments when the prepared instruments, extended bowing techniques, and various field recordings lead to an exploration of new, imaginary sonic environments. Some of these otherworldly sonic environments are even charged with an exceptional urgency and a sense of disturbing playfulness. The last improvisation is the most radical one. It re-contextualize cheery Far-Eastern voices and a brief song in a chilly, distant drone.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dálava - The Book of Transfigurations (Songlines, 2017) ****

The core of the group Dálava is the husband and wife team of vocalist Julia Úlehla and guitarist Aram Bajakian. They released the first Dálava album in 2014 and like The Book of Transfigurations, it is an exploration of Moravian folk songs collected by Úlehla’s great-grandfather, sung in Czech, and set to the more contemporary downtown NYC sound cultivated by Bajakian. The care and concern put into crafting the music, stemming from Úlehla family roots, plus the adventurous compositions from Bajakian (who worked with Lou Reed, the rambunctious group Abraxas, as well as created the meditative Dolphy Formations) make for a potent combo. 

Let's jump right in on track three, 'Dyž sem já šel pres hory / The rocks began to crumble'. The words, translated are of a young man’s heartbreak, being torn away from the woman he want’s to marry because he’s being drafted to war … 
Get married my girl, my golden heart,
I am not allowed to take a wife
I received a note, a little note, note
I must go to war.
Úlehla’s voice is haunting, there is a compressed urgency and a folksiness that doesn’t quite settle into, or leave, your ears. Bajakian delivers slashing guitar work that captures the internal tearing apart by conflicting romantic and patriotic loves. On the next track, 'Co ste si mamičko za dům stavjat dali / Iron bars, iron lock’, Úlehla’s voice is front an center, while an accordion provides appropriately forlorn accompaniment:
What kind of a house did you build for yourself, mama
Neither windows nor doors, only walls
On a later track, 'Okolo Hradišča voděnka teče / He's bringing something for me’, the music swells from quiet reflection into a wrenching explosion of sound. Such contrasts of old and new, and stylistic juxtapositions make the album compelling, while the language leaves many listeners simply hanging onto the expressive emotion of Úlehla’s voice rather than the meaning - the translations, invoking timeless themes, are provided within the accompanying booklet. 

The Dálava band is comprised of Vancouver musicians: cellist Peggy Lee, bassist Colin Cowan, accordionist/keyboardist Tyson Naylor, and drummer Dylan van der Schyff. This isn’t the group that recorded the first album, which was drawn from the guitarists New York City groups. Bajakian and Úlehla have been living in BC for the past several years. While the downtown vibe was mentioned earlier, it is a not omnipresent, rather a calm, assured, expressiveness permeates the album. Check it out - listen closely and let time collapse around you.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

FMP. The Living Music; Munich 3/10/2017 - 8/20/2017; The Concerts

Part Two: The Concerts (Brötzmann plus …)

By Martin Schray

On the occasion of the exhibition Free Music Production / FMP: The Living Music, Haus der Kunst, in collaboration with Peter Brötzmann, planned two evenings with concerts trying to recall the spirit of the legendary Total Music Meeting and the Workshop Freie Musik. Over the course of three decades, Jost Gebers and the musicians continually developed new formats with surprising combinations of line-ups, structures, and durations, especially for the Workshop Freie Musik.

On May 5 and 6, 2017, the parameters were at least similar. In the run-up to the shows only the musicians were published: Brötzmann (saxes, clarinet, tárogató), Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano), Toshinori Kondo (trumpet), Joe McPhee (tenor sax, pocket trumpet), Heather Leigh (pedal steel), Marino Pliakas (electric bass), Michael Wertmüller and Han Bennink (drums), the actual line-ups were chosen ad hoc.

Brötzmann, Kondo, Schlippenbach and Bennink
The intriguing questions were if the concerts could evoke the magic of the old days and if the chosen collaborations would match, especially whether a rather rock-orientated rhythm section fits with the free jazz warhorses. The answer to both questions is: partly. Veterans in the audience who regularly attended the Berlin concerts agreed that the atmosphere and the podium reminded them of the 1980s and 90s, although the line-ups were already fixed then. Here, curator Markus Müller announced the program of the evening. When the first band - Brötzmann, Kondo, Schlippenbach and Bennink - hit the bandstand in the dim light, they appeared like ghosts from the past. Having played together in various combinations, this could have been a rather experienced set but it turned out to be a really adventurous and exciting tour-de-force. Schlippenbach rejected playing his beloved Monk phrases and used propulsive clusters instead, which were chopped by Brötzmann’s outbursts and Bennink’s rolls. This was topped by Toshinori Kondo, whose distorted trumpet contributions seemed to come directly from outer space.

Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh
That Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh would play a duo set was no surprise. However, at last year’s A’Larmé festival in Berlin and at the Enjoy Jazz Festival in Heidelberg they could not convince the audience for various reasons. But in Munich they did a good job. In general, they seem to work through an established set of themes, things they know will work together, varying their order from performance to performance. That night Leigh alternated between echoey tones, sustained notes, and distorted parts, while Brötzmann concentrated on insistent howls close to the threshold of pain.

Joe McPhee (mainly on pocket-trumpet), Toshinori Kondo,
Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller
The sensation of the first day was a quartet of Joe McPhee (mainly on pocket-trumpet), Toshinori Kondo, Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller, the latter known as Brötzmann’s backing band in Full Blast. Pliakas and Wertmüller had no intention to swing, instead they delivered gloomy drones and extremely loud walls of sound, and McPhee (with The Thing) and Kondo (with IMO) have proved that they can cope with such contexts. The set was an emotional rollercoaster ride with the two trumpets challenging each other in the first piece including a dramatic crescendo towards the end. When McPhee picked up his tenor, Kondo’s electronically-abetted Wah-Wah phrases contradicted and fleshed out his blues-drunk phrases in the slow part of the second track. Kondo built on McPhee’s multiphonics in icy, propelling punches before the band drowned in an electronic maelstrom.

The second day started with Brötzmann/Leigh/Pliakas/Wertmüller, a band picking up the thread from the night before. Pliakas, Wertmüller, and Leigh were weaving a dense sound carpet that allowed Brötzmann to concentrate on concise contributions. When he dropped out in the middle of the first piece, Pliakas set his electric bass thrumming at speed metal velocity, immersing into a dark drone - clearly in the tradition of Bill Laswell. The second piece was actually just Brötzmann on tárogató, sparsely accompanied by Leigh. It unfolded a subtlety in his presentation, a beautiful monochrome aspect that he tends to display in his solo performances. Here Pliakas and Wertmüller just listened - only to return even more forceful, since the set ended with a classic Full Blast speed metal piece, a study in increasing tension and density, collapsing and re-building.

Notwithstanding the fine performance, some people in the audience complained that a real jazz bassist, who was also able to swing, was missing.

Han Bennink and Alexander von Schlippenbach
They were partly compensated with the next collaboration - a duo of Alexander von Schlippenbach and Han Bennink (since there was no swinging bassist at hand). Schlippenbach saluted Monk and Ellington, culling the feel and melodic shapes of the music but also using it for free rides (mainly around Monk’s “Green Chimneys“ theme). Bennink enjoyed this a lot, swinging, pushing and - at the end of the set - indulging in his typical clownery.  He, Schlippenbach, and the audience had their fun.

Heather Leigh and Toshinori Kondo
Kondo and Brötzmann
The second part of the evening was reserved for surprises. It was only announced that Heather Leigh and Toshinori Kondo were to start, a very organic combination, their similar approaches created ambient soundscapes. In its spaciousness, the set could apply for an ECM album. Then they were joined by Joe McPhee and Pliakas/Wertmüller -  and here there were the first obvious friction losses. Leigh and Kondo continued with their concept and the rest of the quintet couldn’t fully adapt. Only when Kondo and Leigh left the stage, McPhee, Pliakas and Wertmüller managed to create a bluesy version of the Full Blast approach, with McPhee’s typical voice contorted with pain. The next to come was a drum-and-bass-less trio with McPhee, Kondo and Brötzmann, another proof how well Brötzmann’s variations of themes he often uses (“Master of a Small House“ again), Kondo’s aloof lines and McPhee’s blues exegeses go together. Like wise zen masters, they were singing almost forgotten tunes, telling from old times, however, especially Kondo’s effect orgies offered a solution to combine these tunes with contemporary approaches. The 17 minutes were at least the highlight of the day, if not the whole festival.

After this set, a quintet with Alexander von Schlippenbach, Joe McPhee, Toshinori Kondo, Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller was announced, and here it became difficult. Schlippenbach decided not to leave the jazzy paths and Pliakas and Wertmüller couldn’t find a suitable answer - although they really tried. Wertmüller played much more silent and even used a jazz pattern here and there but Pliakas seemed to be really lost. Joe McPhee once shook his head, obviously realizing that this band doesn’t work.

The festival was concluded by a short set of Brötzmann, Bennink and Schlippenbach, a natural way to end the evening. Again, Schlippenbach consequently played his Monk phrases and Brötzmann tried to respond, but one could see that he had his difficulties with it.

Brötzmann, Bennink and Schlippenbach
All in all, it was a very fine festival. The organizers managed to bring back at least an echo of the Workshop Freie Musik feeling, nostalgia was all around and the audience was grateful. When the exhibition will be presented in Berlin next year, there are rumors of a larger festival (maybe three days) and at the old homestead the spirit might be even more alive than in Munich.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

FMP. The Living Music; Munich 3/10/2017 - 8/20/2017; The Exhibition

Part One: The Exhibition

By Martin Schray

When Markus Müller curated the ECM exhibition at Munich’s Haus der Kunst in 2012 there were no plans for a similar one for FMP (Free Music Production). However, Müller has always claimed that when it came to art and cultural politics, FMP was Western Berlin’s most important contribution. Müller is an expert on the cult label, he wanted to write a book about it and constantly nagged Okwui Enwezor, Haus der Kunst’s director, about the project. Eventually, Enwezor suggested that Müller should organize an exhibition - and FMP - The Living Music is the result.

On the one hand, the exhibition highlights both the record production and samples of FMP’s most famous and often copied concert formats, Total Music Meeting and Workshop Freie Musik including all posters and unique photos. On the other hand, less well-known projects like FMP’s collaborations with dancers like Pina Bausch, visual artists like the recently deceased A.R. Penck, and famous writers like Günter Grass are also on view.

The exhibition is mainly presented in two rooms. After a video of the Globe Unity Orchestra in the entrance hall (s. below) Room 1 shows three of FMP’s most important special editions in vitrines: FMP 0030/0040/0050 with the music of Peter Brötzmann’s group (Fred Van Howe and Han Bennink including guest star Albert Mangelsdorff), then limited to 200 copies; the double LP Snapshot - Jazz Now/Jazz aus der DDR, which was issued in a limited edition of 800, and finally the Cecil Taylor in Berlin ’88 box set, produced in an edition of 1000. All these albums are out of print and if you haven’t had the chance to see the extensive and excellent booklets before, they alone are worth watching the exhibition (if you want to listen to excerpts, check out:

Another vitrine documents FMP’s collaboration with women, starting with pianist Irène Schweizer and singer Maggie Nichols. As member of the Feminist Improvising Group they both played with Corinne Liensol, Lindsay Cooper, Sally Potter, Annemarie Roelofs and Georgina Born at the TMM in 1979. There are hardly any documents of this group, it’s a rather unknown chapter of free music, which is why this is one of the most insightful parts of the exhibition. Moreover, the label’s collaboration with musicians from the German Democratic Republic plays an important role. Apart from Snapshot - Jazz Now/Jazz aus der DDR you can study contracts between label boss Jost Gebers and GDR government agencies, in which they set out in detail that the label has to make the albums available in other socialist states like North Korea, Vietnam or Cuba. Authentic testimonies of the Cold War en miniature.

In room 2 the exhibition displays several videos of concerts and recording sessions in the FMP studio from the 1980s and 1990s, some of which have never been shown before and can be watched here for the first time - certainly not only for fans the most interesting part. There is footage from the 1984 Workshop Freie Musik showing Brötzmann as part of a septet with Phil Wachsman, Francois Dreno, Peter Kowald, Kent Kessler, Tony Oxley and Garreth List, a very unusual line-up worth listening to. In another video Brötzmann joins Butch Morris and Garreth List, a context in which he shows his introspective side.

Another important part of the exhibition explores Peter Kowald and his various steps across borders, as well as the numerous collaborations between FMP and artists like A.R. Penck, Martin Kippenberger, Günther Förg and Albert Oehlen. Kowald’s and Cecil Taylor’s collaborations with dancers like Pina Bausch, Min Tanaka, Cheryl Banks, Kazuo Ohno and Christine Brunel are also part of the show, as well as Günter “Baby“ Sommer’s recording with Günter Grass. Grass, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999, even supported some FMP projects.
The show ends with a presentation of various solo projects from the FMP complex. The work of the sound avant-gardist and instrument maker Hans Reichel is represented by the tongues of the “daxophone“ and a never before shown video of him recording.

In a nutshell, the exhibition concentrates on the most important FMP musicians and co-founders, only Alexander von Schlippenbach is a bit underrepresented. Markus Müller mentioned that it was a real piece of work to put the exhibition together, he actually spent years in Jost Gebers’s archive. Gebers, who worked as a social worker, did all this tremendous work in his free time. And - as a good German public servant - he daintily archived everything. Thanks to that we are able to watch an extraordinary exhibition, for free jazz fans it’s certainly a must.

FMP - The Living Music ends at 8/20/2017. The good news is that it will be presented in Berlin at Haus der Kulturen next year (probably in March) with a greater focus on the women in free jazz and hopefully with another row of concerts.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Evan Parker & RGG – Live@Alchemia (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2017) ***

On June 12, 2016, Evan Parker joined RGG (Łukasz Ojdana on piano, Maciej Garbowski on bass, and Krzysztof Gradziuk on drums) for a 70-minute set of improvised music at Alchemia, in Kraków, Poland. So, what happens when a paragon of free jazz plays with a young trio who usually play a sort of meandering, lyrical, romantic jazz?

“Part One” makes a promising start. Parker, under the dreamy influence of RGG, dispenses with his usual fast-layered harmonics and instead plays a style reminiscent of West Coast Cool Jazz. Gradziuk, freed from the chore of merely keeping time, joyously plays every bit of his drum kit. Ojdana comps and echoes Parker’s riffs. As Parker plays, he draws lines of laid-back beauty with the artful distinctiveness of Picasso painting on glass. Here, as with Picasso, we witness the art and the man creating it at once. Ojdana’s melodic piano solo feels out of place, but he comes alive for a moment at its end, chording aggressively. The highlight is Garbowski’s bass solo. He strums dissonant dyads to accompany his own runs up and down the neck. This catches Parker’s ear, for he picks up Garbowski’s lines, echoing and complicating them.

“Part Two” is the most exciting part of the set. Odjana repeats a four-note melody and creates harmonics inside the piano. Parker enters, holding notes, growling and fluttering a little. Garbowski bows in, filling the air with the sound of long, plaintive cries. Again, Parker follows Garbowski. They play together for a bit, as the piano and drums drop out. During Parker’s solo, he seems to get stuck on a thought until Ojdana interrupts with his most assertive chording of the night. His comping becomes clusters; his chords no longer in major keys. For nearly 7 minutes of the 18-minute piece, everyone on the bandstand plays with one mind, driving the music past the limits of form. Gradziuk plays without inhibition. Parker’s fast, staccato runs skip like a small stone over water. There is even some call-and-response playing between Ojdana and Parker. Then Parker steps away, and RGG plays free jazz on their own . . . for a moment, until they fall back to earth and their wonted prettiness.

When Martin Schray recently reviewed another Evan Parker live collaboration on this blog, he rightly mentioned the “deep affinity, a shared consciousness” in that group’s playing. This occurs for a moment in “Part Two”; however, in the final two parts it disappears. Even in the freest of free jazz, one detects a conversation among like-minded people about some unifying ideas or elements, but not here. Parker drops out more frequently in the second half; it is as if the trio is not listening to him nor to each other. Ojdana perseverates on a handful of notes. Gradziuk’s drumming becomes distracting. Garbowski’s playing continues to be interesting, but in the last in the 37 minutes, their ephemeral concord is gone.

When I listened casually to this album, getting to know it, it was rather enjoyable. It was when I began to listen more closely that the shortcomings of this experiment revealed themselves. Evan Parker’s playing is intriguing because it is so different from what one might expect from him, but RGG feels out of its element—but, of course, getting out of one’s element from time to time can be valuable. If this were a 35-minute album of the first half of the set, it would have been stronger and might have ended on a much higher note than it does.

Some of this set is available on a series of videos, starting here:

Available here:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Devin Gray - Fashionable Pop Music (s/r, 2016) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Drummer Devin Gray's quartet with guitarists Ryan Ferrier and Jonathan Goldberger, and bassist Chris Tordini is a potent post-rock explosion - at least that how it begins. 

The two guitarists twist distorted sounds around like they are sculpting with sheet metal. Legato melodies are stretched over the sharp angles and effect laden structure of 'Antiplutocracy'. As the long form improvisation unfolds, the electric guitars and acoustic drums and bass mix with the electronics in a textural and exciting way. The drums lead for the first half of the 20-minute track, guiding the hands of the artists as they twist the sounds into new shapes. Then, it stops. A few rattles of the drumsticks and a gathering of thoughts ensures, then the sound of electric guitar with a good deal of crunch begins to cut a meandering path. The music builds up a dramatic and ambient hellscape (I mean that in a good way) as it builds to the much anticipated climax. 

The other track 'Sowieso' means 'anyhow' in German, but more importantly it is the name of a sehr wichtig venue for improvisational music in Berlin. The track starts quietly with blips of electric guitar and some percussive chatter. Tordini does a walk on the bass and the acoustic/electric sounds slowly hush from an acoustic clatter to an ambient silence. The small sounds are eventually met with a driving rock beat and some straight ahead instrumental rock improvisation that would sound out of place on a Nels Cline Singers epic, with Goldberg and Ferrier trading sonic swaths. The last third of the track finds the group dissipating into the ambient again, having had made their point. 

This album reminds me of some of the music that the blog turned me on to a while back, like that great first Lawnmower album. I regret that somehow this excellent album languished on my iPod for such a long time. It came out about a year ago and I've listened to it repeatedly since, and suspect I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Yeah, totally recommended.  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A.R. Penck 1939–2017

By Lee Rice Epstein

Best known as a leader in the Neo-Expressionist movement, of which I am, admittedly, less familiar with, artist A.R. Penck also had a long career in free jazz. As a drummer and pianist, his music tended towards free, featuring long experimental improvisations that seem to barely hold together moment to moment, revealing themselves best at the macro level. There’s a rough beauty to a lot of Penck’s playing, a kind of raw and unfiltered play that isn’t always driving forwards. Penck primarily recorded with Frank Wollny as TTT (Triple Trip Touch). With TTT, Penck and Wollny recorded albums with, among others, Frank Wright, Lawrence “Butch” Morris, Jeanne Lee, Alan Silva, Billy Bang, Frank Lowe, Louis Moholo-Moholo, and Peter Kowald. Penck’s paintings serve as cover art for every album, gorgeous images going from dense, colorful pictorials to spare lettering on a plain background. It’s a fine metaphor for the playing itself, but there’s no one-to-one correlation with the art. Some of the sparsest covers decorate jam-packed material.

Although most of the recordings and sessions are undated, Penck and Wright’s dynamic partnership developed throughout the 1980s, after Wright had recorded his best-known albums. (Interesting side note, I’ve seen several comments over the years about whether or not these recordings are from the 1970s, likely because that decade is seen as the high water mark for free improvisation. But just based on the overall timeline, it’s almost certain that most of Penck and TTT’s output began in the ‘80s and continued on.) Their collaboration resulted in some of Wright’s most compelling playing. On Run With the Cowboys, Wright and Kowald join TTT for an outstanding firestorm of a session. And Concert In Ulm! with Wright, Penck, and Wollny is weird and wooly thing, with the trio breaking into a late take on Wright’s classic “Jerry.”

Likewise, the albums with Butch Morris showcase Morris’s playing more than his conduction, acting as something of a b-side to Morris’s main output. A 1991 triple-album—Hollywood Blvd. Concert: Holywood Blvd 89, Malibu-experiment, and Frank Wright—features both Wright and Morris in separate performances with Wollny and Penck. Recorded in 1989, shortly after Morris’s Conduction #11, Where Music Goes and just before Dust To Dust, the small groups with Morris captured on Holywood Blvd 89 and Malibu-experiment are outrageous in the best possible way. Wholly unpredictable, after a full album of breakneck improvisation, the opening of “Malibu Experiment,” with painter Markus Lüpertz guesting on piano and flute, features a gorgeous Morris melody that slowly gets chewed up and swallowed by Wollny and Penck’s absurd rhythms.

For anyone interested in free expression and abstract improvisation, you can fairly easily track down some of Penck’s albums. Although most of his music is now out of print, all the ones I mentioned, and many others, have been uploaded to the inconstantsol blog.

Stargarder 18, 1993