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Switchback. Mars Williams (saxes), Waclaw Zimpel (cl), Hilliard Greene (b) and Klaus Kugel (dr).

W71 in Weikersheim, Germany. Oct., 1st. Photo by Martin Schray

Charles Gayle Trio with Ksavery Wójcinski (b) and Max Andrzejewski (dr)

Schorndorf at the Manufaktur, Germany 10/21/2016. Photo Martin Schray

"Tribute to Johannes Bauer" by Erwin Ditzner (dr), Sebastian Gramss (b), Lotte Anker (sax) and Louis Rastig (p)

Alte Feuerwache in Mannheim, Germany 10/17/2016. Photo by Martin Schray

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Meet the experimental vocalists

By Eyal Hareuveni

Three distinct female vocalist who have developed their own highly personal languages - Israeli Anat Pick, Austrian Agnes Hvizdak, and Norwegian Eldbjørg Raknes.

Anat Pick / Jean Claude (JC) Jones - Sick Puppies Inlove (Kadima Collective, 2016) ****

Anat Pick is one of the most experienced vocal artists working in the small and familiar Israeli scene of free. She has developed a poetic aesthetic, mixing phonetics from imagined Oriental and Western languages, dadaist syntax and colorful sounds. She has collaborated before many times with Jean Claude Jones, when his MS disease still allowed him to play the double bass, but Sick Puppies Inlove, is the first document of their work.

Pick connected immediately with Jones and liberated him from any need to attach his instincts as an improviser to any instrument. The two recorded seven free-improvisations in Jones living room using whatever was at hand, mundane objects, their voices and even sudden coughs, a Spanish guitar that was used to generate weird sounds and Jones computer to process some of the live sounds. These improvisations sound urgent and fresh, flowing with joyful, anarchist inventions. Pick and Jones tempt each other with strange, colorful stories, articulated in a secretive lingo full of ridiculous pathos. These improvisations stress their rare, telepathic affinity. Both sound happy as innocent, playful puppies.

Demi Broxa - Zakeri (Listen Closely, 2016) ***½

Demi Broxa is the experimental duo of Oslo-based Agnes Hvizdak, the newest member of the experimental Norwegian group Nakama, and fellow-Austrian bass and electronics player Jakob Schneidewind, member of the avant-techno trio Elektro-Guzzi. Hvizdak brings to this duo her “abstract vocal music”, an idiosyncratic delivery of minimalist and quiet, alien-sounding percussive utterances, later developed by the subtle electric bass pulses of Schneidewind and enhanced by his clever usage of assorted effects, extended techniques and preparations.

Zakeri, the duo debut album, suggests different strategies of merging Hvizdak delicate vocal art with Schneidewind multi-layered, detailed rhythmic patterns in a manner that transcend both sonic norms. On “Fetida” Schneidewind mirrors and resonates Hvizdak vocals in the recording space; “Brikka” melts their aesthetics, encrypted and distorted as sonic transmissions from faraway, extraterrestrial origin; “Habit” offers an hypnotic-minimalist outline for a dance act, while “Konstrukt” cements this vein in a skeletal, abstract, techno-dance pattern; The title-piece and “Clinch” flirts with sounds that imitate talkative birds and “Gyng” sketches an atmospheric, cinematic soundscape. These improvised pieces often sound as imagined in a very vivid daydream.

Eldbjørg Raknes - Hitchhike (MY Recordings, 2017) ***½

Eldbjørg Raknes is one of the most creative artists in a scene that keeps offering more and more innovative vocalist every year. She is a singer-songwriter, free-improviser, musicians who writes songs for children and performs before babies and an associate professor at the NTNU University in Trondheim. Her new EP, Hitchhike, continues her work from last year live album, Possibly In Time, with the collaborative trio of fellow vocalist and former student Kirsti Huke and guitarist Nils-Olav Johansen, known from the group Farmers Market. All add electronics to their arsenal.

Each of the four new songs offers a distinct sonic experiences. The vocals of Raknes and Huke are only one ingredient in the urgent and noisy “Kaedeåværlik?” soundscape, distorted, processed and multiplied. Raknes dark, evocative delivery is at the center of the gentle, suggestive “Did you hitchhike with an eagle?”. “I need new fingerprints to could call me me” highlights Raknes and Huke chanting the song title as kind of cryptic mantra amid an electric, disturbing storm. “Do you have something nice to tell me?” expand this vocal strategy, this time as an innocent, touching plea. Provocative and beautifully strange.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Aram Bajakian – Dolphy Formations (s/r, 2016) ****

By Eric McDowell

What to expect when Aram Bajakian puts out a new album? While fans of the shape-shifting guitarist should know better than to be surprised, little of Bajakian’s work—whether with his groups Kef and Abraxas or on recent albums like there were flowers also in hell, music inspired by the color of pomegranates, or Dálava—predicts the direction he takes on Dolphy Formations, self-released late last year. In place of the rhythmically energetic virtuosic playing I often associate with Bajakian’s playing (not to mention Eric Dolphy’s), on his latest album he presents an hour-long meditation built of overlapping long tones, rich textures, and patiently sustained sonic tension.  Low on pyrotechnics, high on nuance, Dolphy Formations is one of those magic albums that warp the listener’s sense of scale, turning details as tiny as a single plucked guitar string into surprising, centering events.

It’s hard to discuss Dolphy Formations without invoking themes of meditation. Indeed there’s an element of ritual or ceremony to the album. For me it starts with the process of clearing some time, finding a place to sit still, and setting up my headphones—all this necessary, I think, to appreciate the subtlety to the music. The regularity and duration of the three Variations, with each coming to rest between 19 and 20 minutes, suggests a calm, measured exercise of attention. The improvisations themselves are based on Dolphy’s “synthetic” scales, passed from their originator to Yusef Lateef to Bajakian in a lineage of masters.

If meditation extends into the actual listening experience—I won’t try to speak for all listeners—it may be in the way the playing leads the ear without really taking it anywhere. Despite its three-part structure, this isn’t music of beginnings, middles, and endings, but a perpetual present continually refreshed. In achieving this remarkable effect, Bajakian is aided by cellist Peggy Lee and trumpet player JP Carter (together forming the Handmade Blade trio). Unlike more stereotypically monolithic drone music, here each instrument slides into prominence in relatively short cycles, creating gently sinuous patterns of rise and fall. While timbral intensity and tonal complexity make for moments of great tension, terms like climax and resolution don’t apply. Each new color, texture, or micro-event in the slowly unfolding process is just enough to occupy the attention without keeping it from letting go. None of this is to say that Dolphy Formations can’t bear a whole other, purely musical perspective of appreciation. Bajakian is a dedicated educator, and however you like to look at it, his music has plenty to teach.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Where darkness, doom and despair reign ...

By Stef

Music is about mood. And some music is designed by its composers/improvisers to create dark atmospheres or to reflect emotions of deep sadness and agony. This may be soothing at times, to know that others share the same sentiments and are even able to express it in a way that you never thought possible. It can also create the mood and drive the listener into deeper despair than before. We go a little beyond our usual "jazz" influenced genres in our review, illustrating some strong likeness in other areas of avant-garde music.

If today, for one reason or another, you might feel depressed, this is the best music to emphasise your sense of total desolation and despair. But it's comforting to know that there is beauty to accompany you.

Totenbaum Träger - Ouverture Du Cadavre De Sade (Tour De Bras, 2016) ****½

To be honest, I had never heard of either Dominic Marion (guitars & effects) or Philippe Battikha (trumpets & effects), both from Canada, but what I hear is really strong. The music is hard to qualify. They themselves call it post-rock, noir ambient melancholia, noise art, with lots of drone elements. The atmosphere is darker than dark, with a band's name that means as much as "the coffin carriers", and the music is inspired by a work by the French Marquis de Sade, the man who gave his name to the word sadism, and then especially his book "Cent vingt journées de Sodome" (The 120 Days Of Sodom).

The music accompanies a book with illustrations by Mivil Deschênes, and I can recommend the over 18-year-old among our readers to visit his website to see the illustrations.

As you might expect, the music is not very uplifting, yet it is carefully crafted with arpeggiated guitar chords, sad trumpet and eery effects, and it must be said, the overall result is quite a listening experience. Especially the longer pieces "Dies Irae" and "Agnus Dei" are hair-raising and terrifying.

Can be purchased from Bandcamp.

Im Wald - Orion (Wide Ear Records, 2016) ****½

One of my favorite albums of last year is short, only 35 minutes worth of music, but what kind of music! The liner notes guide us to music history, through concepts of beauty and form and boundaries. This Swiss quintet brings their vision of music, and it is a compelling one.

The band are Tobias Meier on alto, Matthias Spillmann on trumpet, Frantz Loriot on viola, Nicola Romano on cello and Raffaele Bossard on bass. Their approach to music is quiet, deliberate and organic, it flows out of the initial few sounds and spreads out with precision as each musician adds tones and withdraws, creating an eery tension that stays for the entire album, a tension that seems to be living from the paradox of the minimal and the universal, the tiny and the grand, the single note and the total experience. Why is it dark? Because the sound is mysterious. It could be the soundtrack for space travel as much as it is for dark woods in a horror movie. You cannot grasp what's happening, no quite the opposite, the music grabs you and does not let go. It's easy to be hooked on this one.

Listen and buy from the label.

Jeremiah Cymerman's Bloodmist - Sheen (5049 Records, 2016) ****½

I know the album has already been reviewed before. As Dan wrote "abstract ... suggesting an ominous narrative—it has a cinematic quality that’s easy to imagine driving a moody storyline". Bloodmist are Jeremiah Cymeran on clarinet and electronics, Toby Driver on bass, and Mario Diaz de Leon on guitar. They call their genre "dark experimental" music, working with effects and electronics to create total listening experiences that go beyond genre, or that is a genre by itself. The sound is slow, relentless, with single voices of agony multiplied in various layers, with electronics and bass adding arrhythmic counterpoint. 

Almost exactly three years ago, I gave "Pale Horse" a 5-star rating for the total devastating and destabilising listening experience. Here we have the same sense of desolation, a whole musical universe created by three musicians who share a common vision and maintain the same high quality throughout the album. This is not uplifting music, it's terrifying. And that's why you should listen to it. 

Listen and buy from the label

Alex Zethson - Pole Of Inaccessibility (Thanatosis Produktion, 2016) ****

The only reference I have for Swedish pianist Alex Zethson is his participation in Martin Küchen's "Angles 8" and "Angles 9" bands, but that is possibly the most misleading reference possible from a musical perspective: this music is as slow and as dark as the music of Angles is dynamic and infectious.

On this album, Zethson creates gloomy piano soundscapes, exclusively played in the lower registers and with a slow, insistent repetitiveness. It is full of drama and the resulting effect is somber and strange at the same time ... and you get almost two hours worth of this, on two lengthy improvisations. This will not cheer you up, yet it's aesthetic power is unmistakable.

Zethson describes his art as "generated by the conventional connections fingers-keys-hammers-strings. however, the piano of pole of inaccessibility appears as a multifaceted sound source, rather than as a distinct, exterior instrument, easily identified. the synthesizer, piano and the listeners are moving within the same cloud of sound, within which they reshape and expand the sounds in the specific (sound)rooms. which also means that their boundaries seems flexible. the pianoness of the piano appears and disappears".

Listen and buy from the label

Torstein Lavik Larsen & Fredrik Rasten - Pip (Creative Sources, 2016) ****

On "Pip", we get another fabulous performance, now by Norwegians Fredrik Rasten on guitar and Torstein Lavik Larsen on trumpet. Their acoustic music is minimal, repetitive, slow and with an eery intensity.  It is less dark than some of the other albums, with Lavik Larsen's trumpet once in a while, as on "Park", even giving joyful phrases somewhat reminiscent of Rob Mazurek, yet these are more contrasts that do not change the overall tone of inevitability, doom and agony that permeates the music. Dissonance is searched for at other times, as in the weird "Habitat", sounding like animals screeching in the bush, more in distress than enjoying nature.

It isn't cheerful music, but the simple quality of the compositions/improvisations and the control in the delivery are absolutely excellent. It's amazing what you can do with two acoustic instruments. That by itself is part of the listening experience.

Listen and buy from Bandcamp.

Nate Wooley - Polychoral (Mnóad, 2016) ****½

In April 2015, Nate Wooley created an 8 channel installation, and invited fellow trumpeter Peter Evans to join him. They made their improvisation loop and return and amplify in almost endless layers of sound, for one piece of fourty-five minutes, once in a while recognisable as originating from a trumpet, but mostly not, as if one tone was split to deliver several polyphonic voices gliding in different timbres along each other. Things start shifting after ten minutes when additional sounds converge, the strange and powerful deep rumbling, over which a beautiful, and almost jubilant trumpet solo sings in the distance, like a ray of light piercing through the complete darkness, accentuating it, until indescribable noises dissipate the beauty, but some feeling remains, a feeling of brightness, high-pitched but turned into a haunting and apocalyptic sonic wave, accompanied by weird electronic oscillations and industrial noise. The trumpets resonate in the distance.

It is fascinating, bewildering, extraordinary. Even if Nate Wooley and Peter Evans are "jazz musicians", there is no jazz to be heard here. This is ambient music, dark and horrifying, solemn, majestic and overpowering. And uncompromising.

Ernesto Rodrigues, Abdul Moimême & Antez - Basalto (Creative Sources, 2016) ****

Aptly called "Basalto", the black rocks resulting from lava, the music is hard, organic, ungiving, harsh and structured around a tonal center without much variation except for the timbral shifts grinding like tectonic plates under severe pressure, yet without any hope to get release from the relentless tension. Ernesto Rodrigues plays octave viola and baritone viola, Abdul Moimême is on electric guitar and Antez plays percussion, although it is hard to identify what sounds come from which instrument on the two long tracks. The music creates a sonic universe that is broad and deep, giving something fundamental and strange, like the status of our planet even before life came to be, when only rocks and water and air and fire were fighting slowly and majestically and unavoidably for their own space.

Rodrigues has become a real advocate for his kind of music, creating exceptional listening experiences to open-eared audiences, working to give other musicians the chance to release like-minded electroacoustic and avant-garde music on his Creative Sources label.

Lustmord ‎– Dark Matter (Touch, 2016) ***½

Dear jazz friends, bear with me for a moment. This is not your genre. This is music from the master of "dark ambient", British sound sculptor Brian Williams, who later changed his name into Lustmord (almost Dutch for "lust murder"). He has been working on this project for decades, collecting material from the audio library of cosmological activity collected between 1993 and 2003. It was gathered from various sources including NASA (Cape Canaveral, Ames, The Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Arecibo), The Very Large Array, The National Radio Astronomy Observatory and various educational institutions and private contributors throughout the USA. Yes, I thought there were no sounds in outer space because sound doesn't travel in a vacuum, but that does not appear to be true. 

Anyway, Lustmord brought all these sounds together into one flowing movement of multilayered noise, without any other instruments or voice. The effect is perplexing. It is foreboding, immense, bounderless, and it's easy to imagine that you're travelling alone through endless dark eternity, for ever. 

MMMD - Pekisyon Funebri (Antifrost, 2016) ***

Formerly known as Mohammad, the Greek chamber doom trio, consisting of Nikos Veliotis on cello, Coti on bass and Ilios on oscillators, has reduced its name after the departure of Coti. The hearse on the cover already sets the tone, as does the title. The two musicians create deep endless sonic laments with deep reverberations and resonance. The low-toned dark sounds shift quietly and ominously, without apparent change and chance of relief or redemption, and it is especially that heavily concentrated approach, without compromise that gives the album its strong unity and listening experience, as the press texts says, "unfolding earthly murmurs and ghostly chants over their distinctive seismic diapasons". 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Orthodox - Supreme (Utech, 2017) ***

'Orthodox' are Marco Serrato on bass and Borja Díaz on drums, two Spanish musicians whom we know from their duo album "Arconte", and from the Hidden Forces Trio with their albums "Topus" and "Crows Are Council". Already on these albums, doom and despair are the key ingredients, and now they are joined by Achilleas Polychronidis from the band Skullfuck (yes, Skullfuck) on sax, who adds some further rage into the madness. They categorise their own music as 'doom jazz' and this is very correct. 'Supreme' consists of one 37-minute track that starts from the deepest abysses of this earth, with eroded rumbling and unidentified growls, gradually shifting in the soundtrack for armaggeddon, or the accompanying track for a guided tour of hell, or any other place where compromise and silken sentiments are unheard of. I am not familiar with all the various subgenres in death metal ('death doom', 'death core', 'core grind', ...) but it will certainly appeal to fans of the genre.  

And even if you're no fan, which can be excused, you can only admire the single-minded vision of the three musicians to go that far and to really shy away from any concept of compromise. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Ben Zucker - Confluere (No Art Records, 2016) ***½

The Ben Zucker's album 'Confluere' is a light desert in this series. Zucker is a multi-instrumentalist, playing trumpet, piano, vibraphone, percussion and several other instruments, and he describes himself as "sound designer", active in many genres, from classical over songwriting to acapella groups and jazz. With "Confluere", he actually brought several improvisations on his various instruments together on one album, without editing them, which results in quite some unexpected changes in the build-up, although it is obvious that there is a common vision behind all. The album clocks at a little over half an hour. Its slowness, the eery interaction and the shifting focus between foreground and background sounds give the feeling of foreboding and dread.

Free Jazz on Air - January 27th

Free Jazz on Air, co-hosted by our very own Martin Schray, returns next Friday, January 27th at 11 p.m. CET to German public radio station SWR 2 (Südwestrundfunk 2).

Martin will be joining host Julia Neupert on air for another hour of Free Jazz talk and music, this time on the phenomenon of the top ten list and trying to figure out if they really matter!

A link to the show is available for on-demand listening for a week after the broadcast.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Motif - My Head Is Listening (Clean Feed, 2016) ***½

By Derek Stone

Scandinavian group Motif released their last record for Clean Feed, the wonderfully-titled Art Transplant, around five years ago; their newest release, My Head Is Listening, sees them expand from a quintet into a sextet, thanks to the addition of clarinetist Michael Thieke. As for the older players, there’s Ole Morten Vågan on double bass, Håkon Mjåset Johansen on drums, Håvard Wiik on piano, Atle Nymo on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, and Eivind Lønning on trumpet. Like their previous effort, My Head Is Listening strikes a fine balance between knotty, obtuse moments of improvisation, and more structured segments that display the group’s tight interplay and excellent melodic sensibilities. In short, there’s something for everyone!

The title track brings both of these elements together in a magnificent way, with Håvard Wiik’s jaunty piano lines suggesting a kind of art-damaged swing. The piece keeps the listener on his or her toes, swaying wildly between bursts of melodicism and dark, meditative stretches that are largely lacking in percussion - Atle Nymo tackles both of these with gusto, employing his tenor saxophone for the wilder moments and his bass clarinet for the more pensive sections. On the next piece, “Beams, Dreams, and Automobiles,” newest member Michael Thieke has his time to shine, with a frantic, forward-tumbling solo on the clarinet that belies the instrument’s rather staid reputation. Here too, Motif show just how well they can adjust and manipulate the intensity of the music - from the breakneck pace of the opening, to the roiling disquietude of later parts, this track reveals a group with a firm grip on the sonic pressure-valve.

Motif seem to be at their best when they take this chiaroscuro approach; at least one of the pieces, “Little Cage,” relies almost completely on skeletal, shapeless atmospherics - this track, while somewhat interesting, fails to capture the controlled chaos that the group excels in, and is too monochromatic for its own good. Thankfully, Motif never get stuck in that mire for too long: tracks like “Jazz Composition XKY53” are slow-moving without being slogs to get through, and “The Guns of Amarone, Episodes 1 & 2” is a ten-minute exercise in excitement, with drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen and bassist Ole Morten Vågan pushing the piece ever-forward with restless, shape-shifting patterns that help ground the serpentine movements of the soloists. As with fellow Scandinavians Cortex, the best moments on My Head Is Listening are those during which the raw physicality of the rhythms meets the brain-melting abstractions that the reeds and brass conjure up.

My Head Is Listening is a great record, and one that fans of Cortex or Friends & Neighbors, or even similarly hard-driving free jazz like Ornette Coleman’s first quartet, would be wise to pick up. Available now via Clean Feed!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo ‎– Peace (Tribute To Kelly Churko) (Libra, 2016) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Japanese pianist-composer Satoko Fujii and her partner, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, returned recently to Japan after spending the last few years splitting their time between Berlin and Tokyo. Fujii's fifth recording with her Orchestra Tokyo already introduces newer European aesthetics to this strong 15-musicians orchestra which hosts two of her and Tamura closest collaborators, French drummer Peter Orins and trumpeter Christian Pruvost from the Japanese-French quartet KAZE.

Peace is dedicated to the late Canadian, Tokyo-based guitarist (1977-2014) Kelly Churko, a member of Orchestra Tokyo since 2009 (he played on the Orchestra’s last album, Zakopane, Libra, 2010) and on Fujii and Tamura short-lived quartet First Meeting's only album (Cut the Rope, Libra, 2010). Fujii describes Churko as a “guy who was very peaceful and loved peace”, even though he was known as a noise musician who loved metal music.

The opening, 33-minutes “2014”, the year when Churko died of cancer, already merges the open, experimental spirit of KAZE with the Orchestra Tokyo varied dynamics. Fujii employs the orchestra as a painter who uses a large musical canvas, sketching weird and sudden sonic events, first created by Pruvost's extended breathing techniques and Orins' pulse-free drumming, slowly pushing up the energy level as more and more players join, then cutting to a funny, talkative trumpets chatter of Tamura and Toshihiro Koike before the augmented orchestra jumps to a series of wild, funky full Orchestra blasts. Fujii's second, shorter piece dedicated to the memory of Churko, “Peace”, ups the stormy, explosive interplay of the full orchestra even further, pushing the trumpets and sax section into dense and manic extremes, encapsulated in a commanding, passionate solo of baritone sax player Ryuichi Yoshida.

Tamura's “Jasper”, titled after a Bostonian cat that was his close friend, highlights the emotionally-charged soprano sax playing of Sachi Hayasaka, one of the closest musical partners of Fujii and Tamura, while the orchestra gently and patiently contrasts her lyrical playing with an intensifying yet highly disciplined energetic blows. This spectacular ride concludes with a much structured and conventional piece, Beguine Nummer Eins”. This piece reflects on the period that Fujii and Tamura time spent as residents of Berlin, uses the full orchestra in its most melodic, even swinging mode to abstract classical dance moves, enjoying a beautiful trumpet solo of Yoshihito Fukumoto.

What a beautiful, wild ride.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Han-earl Park, Dominic Lash, Mark Sanders, Caroline Pugh - Sirene 1009 (Buster and Friends 2017) ****½

By David Menestres

Sirene 1009 is a newish band featuring Han-earl Park (guitar), Dominic Lash (double bass), Mark Sanders (drums), and Caroline Pugh (voice and tape recorder). Their first album is being released at the end of January through Park’s Buster and Friends label. If you don’t want to read the rest of this review, the short version is: buy this disc. Now.

There are few bands that cross as much territory as this one does. From thrashing, spastic aggressive riffs that put most punks to shame to explorations of the quietest of spaces in-between thoughts, Sirene 1009 is a fierce, adventurous band that goes where most bands don’t: into the unknown, fearlessly in search of the new.

Park’s guitar is a central component of Sirene 1009’s sound, sounding less like a typical guitar and more like the inner monologue of a cyborg slowly coming to terms with having a consciousness. Lash’s bass provides a firm counter-point to the proceedings. Rarely assuming a traditional support role, making extensive use of what many would consider extended techniques (though they are such a normal part of Lash’s arsenal it seems strange to refer to them as extended), and a wonderful sense of dynamics Lash is a supremely engaged participant. Sanders drums like an octopus, one with great ears and extraordinary taste, squeezing through the gaps left by the other members. At times, it is almost incomprehensible that he only has four limbs.

Despite the excellent contributions of the other three, the stand out star is Caroline Pugh. Vocals in free music are notoriously difficult to pull off successfully, perhaps more so than any other instrument. Her vocalizations run the gambit from simple syllabic squeaks to animalish noises to full sentences. Pugh is radically aware of the microphone and how her voice interacts with it. Her tape recorder/electronics are used rarely (I think) but to great effect, most obviously in “Cliodynamics II.” A veritable master class of what the human voice can contribute to this kind of music.

My favorite tracks are the middle three, “Cliodynamics I-III”, which, together with “Hopeful Monsters,” was recorded live at the venerable Cafe Oto in London. The first and last tracks were recorded in a studio in Birmingham.

Don’t expect the band to hold your hand. There isn’t any way off once they take flight. Go along for the ride. If you bail out mid-flight you’ll just end up another D.B. Cooper, lost to time, never to be found again.

Pre-orders come with an equally interesting, through fairly different, album. Kuramoto Synchronization features the trio of Park, Lash, and Pugh. Recorded live at University College Cork, this album alone is worth the price of Sirene 1009. Think of it as a twofer: two great albums for the price of one. An exquisite exploration of space, time, nightmares, and dreamscapes. I like this one even more than I like Sirene 1009.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Dave Burrell & Bob Stewart – Play the Music of Jelly Roll Morton and Dave Burrell: The Crave (NoBusiness, 2016) ****

By Eric McDowell

Dave Burrell will always be a marker of my first flirtations with the world of free jazz. Having seen the pianist’s 1969 Echo on a list of essential albums, I spent months haunting the corners of my local record store, foolishly hoping to come upon an errant copy. Even though I finally gave in and downloaded the album on Amazon for less than the price of a cup of coffee (my introduction to one of the free jazz world’s more disconcerting aspects), and even though the album didn’t end up speaking to me the way some of the other early classics on the aforementioned list did (Noah Howard’s Black Ark, say)—Echo is still an album I use to measure out the distance I’ve traveled as a listener. Which is part of the reason I’ve so enjoyed the chance to cover The Crave, released this past year on NoBusiness and miles away from Echo. Yet as I take a new step forward with Burrell, he’s in a sense looking back: The Crave is a swinging, swaggering, and singing set of tunes, three by Jelly Roll Morton, three by Burrell himself. Joining Burrell in the fun is Bob Stewart, whose tuba not only bolsters the New Orleans flavor of the music but also speaks in its own equal voice.

When Burrell and Stewart recorded these tracks, way back in 1994 live at the Kölner Stadtgarten, Burrell had already spent some time dabbling with Morton’s music, in particular “The Crave”—notably on 1991’s The Jelly Roll Joys, a solo album—and would again later with David Murray on Windward Passages (1997) and bassist Tyrone Brown on Recital (2001). Listening to Burrell and Stewart’s interpretation of “The Crave,” it’s no wonder the pianist can’t help coming back to the piece. With Burrell’s delicately tantalizing right-hand work underpinned by Stewart’s push-pull bass line, Morton’s tango is every bit as moody and seductive as it should be. If the album’s remaining two Morton compositions, which occupy side B entirely, don’t quite match the opener in infectiousness, they certainly do in listenability—the moseying “New Orleans Blues,” featuring a colorful and nimble solo by Stewart, and the dark closer, “Spanish Swat.”

Burrell’s original compositions complement Morton’s nicely, adding variety while maintaining a playfulness and melodicism. “Popolo Pianolo” oscillates rapidly between jagged unisons and half-time plods before launching into an uptempo swing, the tuba grounding each new shift. On “I Am His Brother,” meanwhile, it’s Burrell who lays the foundation, a restlessly drifting fog through which Stewart’s lyrical lead cuts. And with “Pua Mae ‘Ole” Burrell returns to Hawaii, again handing the melody over to Stewart, who delivers it in all its heart-aching beauty.

Whether you’re a fan of Echo or Burrell’s later work—or especially if you’re both—The Crave is a delight well worth visiting and revisiting.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Brötzmann - Graphic Works, 1959-2016 (Wolke Verlag, 2016) *****

By Eyal Hareuveni

How can you summarize a life work of an artist who is still very much active when at 75 years old shows no sign of slowing down?

In the last few years, a couple DVD’s and at least one book attempted to capture the uncompromising spirit of German reeds titan Peter Brötzmann. The DVD’s Soldier of the Road - a portrait of Peter Brötzmann, directed by Bernard Joose (Cinésolo, 2011) and Brötzmann, directed by René Jeuckens, Thomas Mau and Grischa Windus (Siegersbusch, 2011) and the book Brötzmann: We Thought We Can Change The World - Conversations with Gerard Rouy (Wolke Verlag, 2014) suggested insightful perspectives on his busy, stormy life.

The new book, Graphic Works, 1959-2016 - presented first in an exhibition, Brötzmann Graphics, that was held at the Amsterdam club Bimhuis on September 2016 - adds another, crucial dimension to these documents. This book focuses on an essential part of Brötzmann life and assembles a remarkable body of work covering now more than five decades. Brötzmann began to work as a graphic designer in an advertising firm and supported himself as a young artist pursuing free music by working in his father-in-law ad agency. Already as a young man in art school in the late fifties he invented the now so familiar, brutal yet playful, block letter typography and later kept refining a direct and raw, almost functional aesthetics that never ceases to impress with its earthy sensibility, consistent with his music.

The book collects the posters that Brötzmann did for the now legendary Total Music Meetings and Workshop Freie Musik performances in Berlin, posters for his own groups and obviously many outstanding artwork and covers for albums that already have become iconic, first for the Berlin-based label FMP (Free Music Production), his own label Brö, and for many other musical endeavors of him. Short essays by FMP’s Jost Gebers, Rouy, John Corbett who curated exhibitions of Brötzmann and produced albums of him, noise master and fellow designer Lasse Marhaug and journalist Karl Lippegaus offer illuminating stories and thoughts on Brötzmann history and work.

Anyone who is familiar with the history of European school of free jazz-free improvisation-free music will recognize Brötzmann's graphic works instantly. His hand-made images are already an integral part of this kind of music, framing and conveying its immediate, irreverent and liberating spirit. Brötzman'sn covers for his iconoclastic album Machine Gun (1968), his trio with pianist Fred Van Hove and drummer Han Bennink or his groups Last Exit, Die like a Dog, Chicago Tentet, Sonore or Full Blast are by now an essential part of any decent discography. These memorable images speak volumes, sometimes much louder than the music itself. Brötzmann matter-of-factly honesty and dry humor correspond and present this kind of music in the most faithful, deepest and inspiring manner.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Wow! We're 10 years old, today.

On January 14, 2007 I wrote the first review for this blog, not knowing whether there was anybody out there who might be interested. Probably I did not even care about it either. The story of how I started was that my sons challenged me. They were in their teens then, indeed the right age to challenge dad a little. They said I was a digital illiterate and they said nobody else liked the music I liked. In their view that was inconceivable! I wanted to prove them wrong. So, thanks guys for the challenge.

So I kept writing furiously. Thanks to a very long commute to work, I was able to listen, and every night I wrote a new review, or almost. I was then a member of the largest music library in the world, organised by the French-speaking community in Belgium. You can check here, and type any name in the search bar at the top under the "noms" (name) section, and you can understand what a treasure was right there at my fingertips. I guess they have more than 200,000 jazz albums, even the most obscure or difficult to find albums, both old and new. Borrowing on average 10 CDs a week, I listened like a madman, and I wrote like a madman. Every day. Not hindered by too much knowledge, but in a very passionate way. And somehow people started reacting: I was not alone on the world listening to this kind of music! Readers commented positively. Some musicians started sending material. Some labels starting sending music. To be more concrete: the first CD I received was from Satoko Fujii, all the way from Japan. I couldn't believe my luck. The first label that sent me promo materials was Clean Feed. I was in heaven.

On January 2, 2011, we announced that our team was expanded by other fans of free jazz : Paul Acquaro joined, together with Joe Higham, Guy Peters, Stanley Zappa, Tony Medici, Bryan McAllister, Ananth Krishnan. That was an amazing moment. Each came with their own writing style, and their own music preferences. And they knew more about it than I did. Quite some improvement!

In the meantime, we have had offers to merge with other music blogs. We had to fight other blogs who just copied our reviews. We tried to set up agreements for translations in other regions, but that never worked out. We had commercial proposals. We received advertisting proposals. Somehow we always refused any financial interest and links. Just some guys being passionate about their music, was already fun enough.

Then new people joined over the years (in random order): Martin Schray, Troy Dostert, Dan Sorrells, Colin Green, Derek Stone, Eric McDowell, Lee Rice Epstein, Tom Burris, Chris Haines, Antonio Poscic, Nicola Negri, Eyal Haruveni, Stefan Wood, David Menestres, Fotis Nikolakopoulos, Julian Eidenberger, Peter Gough,  Paolo Casertano, Matthew Grigg, Hugo Truyens, Joe Barela, Josh Campbell, Monique Avakian, Filip Bukrshliev, Philip Coombs, Brian Questa, Alfonso Lex, Ed Pettersen, Steve Mossberg, JA Besche, Gregory McGreevy, Sam, Joris De Roy. They all come from the US and Europe, with different interests and views. Some dropped off after some reviews for a variety of understandable reasons. Some kept writing and contributing. I want to thank them all, because they have made this blog what it is today. They are the "Collective". I wish we had more diversity in our team - we're all forty or fifty year old white males - luckily with open minds and ears, but still ... some diversity is more than welcome!

Then came a time when it all became too much for me, and Paul Acquaro agreed to take over the day-to-day management of the blog. He has done this now for four years, and our impact and influence has only increased thanks to him.

Over the past ten years, we posted approximately 3500 articles, possibly reviewing some 4,000 albums, of which almost 350 received a five-star rating. We tried to keep it simple and easy to navigate. Readership increased over the years, from  64,000 views in the whole of 2007 reaching 163,000 views in December 2016. Quite a change. Thank you readers, for your ongoing support and interest.

I also want to thank the music labels, and their agents for the materials we receive. The last ten years has seen the further expansion of the existing labels Clean Feed, Not Two, Tzadik, Leo Records, Intakt, Pi Recordings, Cuneiform, Delmark, ECM, Jazzwerkstatt, Songlines, Amirani, Ayler, Ilk, TUM, AUM Fidelity, Red Toucan, Emanem, Creative Sources, Kadima, FMR, Firehouse 12, Rune Grammofon, Family Vineyard, Kilogram, 482 Music. The last ten years has also witnessed the emergence of many new adventurous labels, such as NoBusiness, Cipsela, Relative Pitch, Fundacja Słucha, Otoroku, Multikulti Project, Trost, Improvising Beings, Dark Tree, Corbett vs Dempsey, ForTune, Ftarri, Fou, Omlott, RogueArt, Bolt, Astral Spirits, Bocian, PNL, Becoq, El Negocito, Fataka, Firehouse 12, and probably some more.

We've seen the arrival of Bandcamp, Soundcloud and other digital ways of publishing music without requiring a label, which offered new possibilities for musicians to share their music in a direct way.

I also want to thank our structural partners InstantJazz and Downtown Music Gallery for their support and collaboration.

And what about the music? How did that change in the last ten years? Well, it's a little difficult to enumerate all the musicians who really made a difference in the last decade. There are probably too many of them. What we can say, is that free jazz, avant-garde and improvised music is thriving. At least when you just assess the musical output, the number of albums we receive every year, the concerts that take place around the world (but mostly in Europe and the US), the new names of young artists who delighted us with new sounds and musical experiences, while many of the established names kept going strong. And as we would expect, boundaries and forms are being destroyed along the way, and as can be expected of the musical vanguard, influences are picked up left and right, minimalism, electronics, classical, sonic explorations.

I tried to capture some trends in music in the quadrant below. This is maybe a futile exercise because the criteria are subjective, and the music shifts all too easily from one category to the other. But it helps to identify what else you might like if you know some of the bands. And it's another way of presenting the musicians that come to mind while writing now.

One evolution - bottom right - went into more intimate, personal and precise music, where every sound is carefully crafted and nurtured (AMM, Dans Les Arbres, Mural, Skogen, ). The music is intimate, calm, built around silence and a collective exploration of timbre. Even if acoustic, the overall sound is not about the voices of the different instruments, but rather on the collective, total sound. It is at times even hard to assess which instrument produces which sound.

On the other side - top left - we witness the continuation or even the revival of the joyous and infectious music of larger bands, that blow the listener away or carry her or him into a world of exuberance and festive feelings of community (Bill Dixon, Angles, Fire! Orchestra, Ken Vandermark, William Parker, Resonance Ensemble, ...). Rhythm plays a role and the jazz heritage is obvious.

In the top right quadrant, we get improvised music where "flux" and intimacy is more important than rhythm. The music is all improvised, without any arrangements and the band dynamics and collective coloring of mood and sphere are essential. Bands that come to mind in that space are Other Dimensions In Music, The Nu Band, RED Trio, Lotte Anker.

In the bottom left quadrant, we find sonic innovators, who are digging and digging into sounds, not looking for gold nuggets, but for some as yet unknown sonic quality, acoustic or electronic, that is both surprising as it is moving, mostly by individual artists (Okkyung Lee, John Butcher, Magda Mayas, Nate Wooley, Angharad Davies, Jeremiah Cymerman).

And then you have the musicians who try to integrate everything into something totally new (Wadada Leo Smith, Bill Dixon, Rob Mazurek, Satoko Fujii, ROVA Orchestra, Anthony Braxton).

Anyway, I don't want to pigeonhole music. But I want to thank all the musicians and the bands for all the great listening experiences that we have had in the past decade. In fifty years from now, people will look at your music like they look today at abstract paintings: full of enthusiasm, admiration and respect. It takes time before new musical vision gets appreciated. We hope to be able to contribute to this. I hope we also made a difference for them.

PS. Today my sons think otherwise.