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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

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

10 YEARS!

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.






Filling the Void

By Paul Acquaro 

Jed Gottliebs' article "Curtains fall on arts critics at newspapers" in the Columbia Journalism Review from earlier this month really got to me. Having grown up in New Jersey reading the arts and leisure section in the Star Ledger, I learned a lot about the arts, music reviews, concert listings - basically all of the things that are still important to me. So, when I read a paragraph like "critics at newspapers are dying off even faster than print journalism. Theatre critics, film reviewers, A&E editors, and arts writers of every kind have been stripped from dailies and weeklies around the country", it's deflating.

I became involved with the Free Jazz Blog six years ago. It provided a creative outlet and welcome distraction during a trying time, and introduced me to a world of music that I had only dreamed about. Through the blog, I've met creative people and have been exposed to ideas and sounds that I wouldn't have otherwise encountered.

Over the years, as Stef  has pointed out, the blog has grown in terms of members and readership, and we've seen incredible developments like Martin's Freejazzblog on Air - an occasional series on public radio in Germany (SWR2), and a social media presence run by Dan and Antonio that has been key in bringing our readership to over 150,000 views a month.

However, I still find myself taken with this statement from the same article:
Blogs and niche arts websites thrive (if not economically, certainly in terms of traffic). But they can do great work, gather thousands of readers and still not plug the hole newspapers have left by pulling arts pages. Niche sites cater to niche audiences. They ghettoize content ...
True. The blog solution is not perfect - it's piecemeal, it's subjective, it's driven by passion, and there is always so much more to know about - like that there are a thousand more albums a year that we can possibly get to! However, it's what we can do, with the tools that we have, with the passion that the music invokes, and the duty we feel to share it.

Anyway, so here we are, the Free Jazz Blog at 10 years and still running strong. I want to express my thanks to Stef for starting this blog and then, when the time came, opening it up to the collective, and to the collective for selflessly contributing and making it strong. I'm also grateful to all of the musicians, promoters, organizers, labels, DMG, Instant Jazz, and the readers who keep the creative music world running.  

In the end, perhaps it is a niche, but regardless, it is a really important one. Simply being able to play a part in this community keeps me going when it's late, I'm tired, and we still need to post a new review for the next day.  I suspect it's something similar for all of us in the collective, and for our colleagues who run concert series in their cities, neighborhoods, or even their own homes, and/or spend hours writing their thoughts and spreading the word about music and art because of their own intrinsic motivation. It's the only way it works, and it is more important than ever. 

Ok, now back to work everyone!


Friday, January 13, 2017

New Old Luten Quintet - Krawall! (Euphorium Records, 2016) ****


By Martin Schray

In my review of Tumult!, the New Old Luten Quintet’s previous release, I wrote that the improvisation “Lutens Letzter Tumult!“ (Luten’s Last Tumult!), suggested we might not hear East German free jazz legend Ernst Ludwig “Luten“ Petrowsky in such energetic surroundings again, but I hoped we would. My wish has come true: Krawall! is another excellent recording.

The band remains Petrowsky (saxophone, clarinets), Elan Pauer a.k.a. Oliver Schwerdt (piano, little instruments), Christian Lillinger (drums) and John Edwards and Robert Landfermann (basses). As before, their music contains multiplicities, if not exactly oppositions: East German improv; the more boistorous West European tradition, itself rooted in US jazz (Petrowsky’s lush Charlie Parker-influenced phrases); and more fragile instant composing – Lillinger and Landfermann studied at conservatories in Dresden and Cologne.

Krawall!, German for “riot“ or “ruckus“, implies a certain aggression and yearning for destruction (as Günter “Baby“ Sommer puts it in his contribution to the wonderful liner notes), as in the early days of European free jazz when Peter Kowald coined the phrase “Kaputtspielphase“ (blowing to pieces) when the music was often associated with a destructive iconoclasm.  But Krawall! is much more than displaying current individual moods, it’s no barometer of an imaginary emotional state of mind. The word has pejorative overtones, but in this context it suggests expressive power. It’s not all energy playing, however: the Quintet creates a carefully balanced improvisation.

The album consists of a single 30-minute piece – “Letzter Krawall“ – divided into three parts, distinguished by contrasting dynamics and instrumental breaks. After hectic and intense passages, characterized by Petrowsky’s harshly overblown melodies and Schwerdt’s Tayloresque runs and chords, they often drop out to give the music time to breathe. The two basses and the drums maintain a frenetic velocity, it’s as if carried along in one another‘s wakes. At one point, the piano hammers a single note repeatedly, like a manic stopwatch, while Lillinger rattles and fizzles and Petrowsky throws in short bebop licks. After ten minutes things become gloomier, verging on dissolution, but the basses pick up the loose ends and rethread them. Schwerdt plays inside the piano and Lillinger uses all kinds of assorted percussion, augmenting the spooky atmosphere. A tuned down string on one of the basses sets your teeth on edge. The last five minutes revert to the tumultuous beginning, with the whole band going wild again. Finally, the music comes to an abrupt end with two notes on harmonica.

For Luten Petrowsky free jazz is an encouragement to combine Parker with Ayler, Coleman Hawkins with Ornette. He claims that avoiding conventions means ignoring history, being thrown back on yourself instead of creating something new on the shoulders of giants. For him, free improvisation is a kind of truthfulness. He says in the liner notes that he was very pleased with the gig as the quintet had performed as a real unit, and he was almost “high“ when he drove home.

And more good news: there’s nothing “last“ about this recording either – the band plans to release another album called Rabatz! a word with similar connotations to “Krawall“. Can’t wait to listen.

Krawall! was recorded at naTo Leipzig on December 7th, 2014, three days before Luten Petrowsky’s  81st birthday.

You can order the CD directly from Oliver Schwerdt.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

DKV/Thing Trio – Collider (Not Two Records, 2016) ****½


By Troy Dostert

Fans of the Thing and DKV Trios have been hoping for a joint project for a long time.  Despite the fact that these musicians have collaborated in various permutations on a host of recordings, the two trios had yet to appear together as a group on any records that I’m aware of.  We came close a few years ago with the outstanding Schl8hof, which comprised all of the DKV Trio (Ken Vandermark, Kent Kessler, and Hamid Drake) and two-thirds of the Thing (Mats Gustafsson and Paal Nilssen-Love), with Massimo Pupillo instead of the Thing’s Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass.  But here we have all six, and they are indeed in top form throughout.  This record gives us three extended, high-energy, in-your-face collective improvisations that manage to remain both fluid and open-ended yet at the same time grounded in addictive rhythms and grooves.  It’s just what we expect from each trio individually, of course, but with the “collision” between the two referred to in the album’s title we get even more of it.  And that’s cause for rejoicing.

The music was recorded live at Manggha Hall in Krakow in November 2015.  The crowd is barely audible (I can only hear the audience, very faintly, on a couple brief moments of the record), which is too bad, as it’s hard to imagine any audience sitting still or remaining silent during music this forceful.  I’m sure those lucky enough to see this performance were blown away by it.  From the opening few seconds of the first track, “Cards,” which charges right out of the gate, Vandermark (who plays tenor and baritone sax, as well as clarinet) and Gustafsson (who also plays tenor and baritone) provide a sonic blitzkrieg, with Vandermark’s penchant for short, jazz and funk-inflected phrases running up against Gustafsson’s irrepressible effort to push his instrument to the breaking point.

There are a few stretches of relative calm—but those often seem present merely for biological necessity, as Gustafsson and Vandermark save their physical energy for the next onslaught, which is never long in coming.  Meanwhile, Håker Flaten and Kessler complement each other perfectly in holding down the bass duties, consistently avoiding redundancy, sometimes with one going to arco while the other uses ostinato phrases to keep the pieces moving and to give them melodic direction.

And as for drummers Drake and Nilssen-Love, what can be said that hasn’t already been mentioned about their ability to combine freedom with rhythmic structure?  Each is a master at maintaining steady pulse and creativity, and to hear these guys side-by-side is a treat.  Like Håker Flaten and Kessler, they avoid cluttering the music, managing to stay in close rapport while making room for the other to contribute equally to the collective sound.

A special acknowledgment should be made of Rafal Drewniany, recording engineer for Not Two Records, who did an outstanding job documenting this performance.  Although I would have loved to hear more of the audience, one can’t fault the clarity of the music itself.  With the Thing Trio arrayed in the left channel and the DKV Trio in the right, it’s the perfect opportunity to hear the trios working individually and in tandem, and it’s easy to pick each musician out of the mix to hear their distinctive roles.  An especially fine recording for headphones!

A staggering, often exhilarating record: it’s wonderful to finally hear all six musicians together at the height of their powers.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Radian - On Dark Silent Off (Thrill Jockey, 2016) *****


By Eyal Hareuveni

There is a something highly addictive in the music of the Viennese trio Radian that compels you to listen again and again to the new pieces of On Dark Silent Off. Radian may never really finishes the meticulous process of “constructing” these pieces, juggling with an alchemical juxtaposing of layers upon layers of subtle sonic extremes that offer an arresting map of timbral contrasts between lightness and darkness, sound and silence.

Drummer, vibes and electronics player Martin Brandlmayr and guitarist, lap steel, guitarrón and electronics player plus processing man Martin Siewert begin this process by experimenting, editing and transforming these pieces, sometimes for years. Both sculpt incidental sounds and abstract noises, beginning with samples of studio byproduct sounds - a cable entering the socket of a guitar, a switch, hums, fingers tapping on the string of a bass or the pads a saxophone or a hand gliding between two chords of a guitar; then interact these sonic elements with more physical, free-improvised, individual dynamics - including the ones of third member, Swedish bass player John Norman - into the suggestive - rhythmic soundscapes that await to burst into your ears.

You can still identify the personal voices and the distinct aesthetics of each of the musicians through these rich, otherworldly palette of fractured sounds - the urgent, laconic guitar attack of Siewert, the fragmented noises on the snare skin of Brandlmayr and the heavy, distorted bass of Norman. All three move organically and freely like tangent circles, each expands and refines his own sonic universe, suddenly these circles consolidate for a brief, powerful pulse that surprises you with its deep emotional impact and soon all recede to their distant universes, as it happens again and again on the opening “Pickup Pickout”. This working process asks you, the listener, to take an active role, to engage in this never-ending construction process, to fulfill the supposedly unfulfilled messages of these pieces.

On Dark Silent Off is titled after a quote of American painter Ad Reinhardt that somehow fits the album spirit of playing with contrasts. The title-piece follows this spirit, flirting with gentle yet broken atmospheric, acoustic soundscapes and an intensifying, massive pulse. The work on this album began already in 2012 when Radian accompanied the film Outer Space (1999), Peter Tscherkassky masterful black and white collage of found footage of a horror films. This mysterious-tempting experience originated the nervous “Scary Objects”. “Blue Noise, Black Lake” transforms a short sample of Mats Gustafsson playing the pads of his saxophone (Siewert plays with him in Fake The Facts Trio and recorded and mastered some of Gustafsson recent albums) into a recurring, rhythmic element that awaits to explode in a concise, cathartic eruption. “Rusty Machines, Dusty Carpets” distills this pendulum move between exploration of subtle, microscopic sounds and tough, distorted groove into a perfection.

One of the greatest albums of 2016.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Richard Pinhas, Tatsuya Yoshida and Masama Akita - Process and Reality (Cuneiform, 2016) ****½


By Derek Stone

Process and Reality is the latest release from three titans of experimental music: Richard Pinhas, French guitarist and founder of the 1970’s electronic-rock group Heldon; Tatsuya Yoshida, who is best known as the percussionist, vocalist, and core member of the revolving-door bass-drums duo Ruins; and Masama Akita, more easily recognizable under the moniker Merzbow, and often considered to be the “grandfather of noise.” While Pinhas has worked with each of these artists before on various occasions, Process and Reality marks the first time that they have performed together - and, after listening to this swirling, delirious slab of textures and rhythms, one can only wonder why they didn’t come together sooner.

“TVJ 00 (Intro)” doesn’t waste any time, propelling the listener into a sound-world that is somewhere between a tribalistic freak-out and a post-apocalyptic cityscape - the droning, raga-referencing guitar and urgent drumwork lend it the former aspect, while Masama Akita’s occasional infusions of ear-scraping static tip it towards the latter. Compared to the introduction, “TVJ 33 (Core Track)” is considerably more relaxed and atmospheric; Yoshida’s rhythms are as frenetic as ever, but they’re submerged beneath swirling, trance-inducing layers of noise and Pinhas’ effects-laden guitar sound. The interplay between the busy percussion and the time-stretched ambience is absolutely stunning, and it suspends the listener in a curious realm where constant forward movement and absolute stillness are mixed and melded - although “TVJ 33 (Core Track),” the ostensible centerpiece of the album, is more than a half-hour long, it speeds by like a composition of half that length. Much of that is due to the attention to detail that Pinhas, Yoshida, and Akita have provided; though first impressions might paint the piece as an indistinct wash of sound, subsequent listens reveal the throbbing, ever-moving life underneath - gorgeous melodies rise out of the maelstrom, pass through your attention nearly undetected, only to become subsumed again. Likewise, Yoshida’s percussion-work is fluid and supple, but never limp - into a composition that might otherwise be an extended ambient piece, he injects wild vigor. When he does drop out of the mix, however, around the twenty-five minute mark, Pinhas and Akita more than make up for his absence: they offer a brief, cosmic interlude that gives the listener time to breathe before the trio carry the track to its roiling conclusion.

“TVJ 66 (Non-Sens)” is quite similar to what has come before, but Masama Akita sends the group’s hitherto dreamy, ecstatic sound down the warped and wobbly conveyor-belt of his imagination, slathering on his trademark layers of harsh noise. As its name suggests, “TVJ 77 (Quiet Final)” closes the album on a softer note, with gentle pulses of sound that steadily multiply and encircle one another, all until Yoshida’s hyperactive drumwork pops up to lend the throbbing, alien electronics a dash of stone-cold groove. It’s a fitting end to an album that thrives on contradictions: between ambient expansiveness and tightly-wound rhythms, between warm melodicism and steely slices of noise, between digital and analog. Process and Reality is an incredible display of what can happen when three musicians who have run the gamut of experimental music come together to create something new - it’s not quite like anything the individual players have made, nor is it a complete departure. It’s simply three guys, playing to their strengths, and making one of the finest records of 2016.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Introducing Violinist Irene Kepl

By Eyal Hareuveni

Austrian, classically-trained violinist-composer Irene Kepl defies any attempt to categorize her work. Her music navigates freely between contemporary music, free improvisation, modern jazz and “groove based music”. Kepl has recorded duo albums with German tuba player Carl Ludwig Hübsch and American, Vienna-based drummer Mark Holub (the bandleader of Led Bib) and performed with innovative improvisers as Joëlle Leàndre, Tristan Honsinger, Mats Gustafsson and Joe McPhee.

George Cremaschi / Irene Kepl / Petr Vrba - Resonators (Another Timbre, 2016) ****


Kepl initiated the trio with American, Prague-based, double bass player George Cremaschi and Czech trumpet player Petr Vrba (who have worked together as the Los Amargados duo and in a trio with Berlin-based contrabass clarinet player Chris Heenan), organizing a series of concerts in a Viennese church with unique acoustics. The trio decided to continue investigating how the timbral qualities of their acoustic instruments, enhanced by subtle amplification and feedback devices, evolve in similar highly reverberant spaces.  

Resonators was recorded in unusually resonant, old stone buildings in the Czech Republic on a four-days tour in June 2015. Each of these spaces - The small, 13th century St. John Baptiste church in Prague, The 14th monastery in Roudnice nad Labem and the 15th century monastery in Bechynět and the 17th century hall in the former summer palace of a royal family, Valdstejn Loggia in the Jičín region - had its distinct acoustic characteristics, critical to the use of amplification and feedback. The four pieces on Resonators emphasize patiently different musical ideas - vibration, duration and resonance,, enabling the three musicians to to abstract these ideas with their own personal languages.

Cremaschi “Affective Labor” stresses the kinetic and elastic qualities of the amplified sounds,  enhancing the acoustic instruments resonating qualities in the reverberant space, creating continuous layers of multiplied, interlaced overtones that become deeper and deeper. Kepl “Soma” employs the trio loose interplay to suggest gentle waves of sounds, patiently echoing each musician gestures. Vrba “Locus Resonatus” is the most intense piece. Each sound is mirrored in the other musicians output, methodically reflected and multi-layered in the room ambiance while the trio interplay gains more momentum, density and powerful, almost orchestral, intensity. Kepl short “Pirol” is the only piece that highlights the trio immediate, free-improvising sensibility as all three musicians explore parallel ideas in the resonant space.

An arresting musical journey that keeps resonating on and on.



Irene Kepl - SololoS (Fou Records, 2016) ***½


Kepl adopts American post-modernist choreographer-dancer Trisha Brown advice to frame her own aesthetics: “Dancing on the edge is the only place to be”. Kepl debut solo violin album explore edgy terrains of playing the violin or playing with violin. Kepl summarizes on SololoS her past years experiences of the of playing solo violin performances - interpretations, composition and free-improvisation. Kepl follows, even loses herself, within the violin timbral colors, uses her voice to enhance the instrument colors, plays, game-like, with subtle feedback, conquers the space, feels the resonating sounds of the violin in her body and creates multi-layered overtones.

The 12 pieces of SololoS were recorded on one day on March 2016 in the Northern suburb of Paris La Garenne-Colombes, offer her highly-personal, rich and commanding language.. She investigates the timbral spectrum of the violin with extended bowing techniques on “Here Is the Thing” or the effect of repetitive-minimalist texture on “AmiNIMAL”; searches microtonal sounds on “Move Across”; explores how the intense bowing or scratching the strings correspond with the recording space on “Lucid” or how her voice extends the violin and vice versa on the quiet “Candid” and stormy “Apogee”. She even sketches playful songs on the twisted “forget-me-not” and the ironic “Walzer On The Roof” and revisits her musical roots on “Bacino”.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Onno Govaert, Marcelo dos Reis, Luís Vicente, Kristján Martinsson – In Layers (FMR, 2016) ****


By Dan Sorrells

Reading deeply into album titles may not be the strongest critical practice, but there surely are resonances between the music, titles, and art of In Layers. Luís Vicente and Marcelo dos Reis have cultivated an aesthetic across several groups – notably Fail Better!, Chamber 4, and FRAME Trio – with a strong sense of space, evoking both openness and an awareness of form, of how each musical layer coheres into larger conceptual structures. There’s more than a glimmer of that aesthetic here, though In Layers also pushes into regions of tension and density, spaces closing rather than opening, tightening into tunnels of sound.

Much of this energy and intensity is brought by Amsterdam-based musicians Onno Govaert (who plays with Vicente in Twenty One 4tet along with Cactus Truck cohort John Dikeman) and Kristján Martinsson (a pianist who has led both Icelandic and Dutch versions of his K tríó). Though far more subtle than Cactus Truck, the music on In Layers is often driven by Govaert’s direct drumming style, which even in nuanced moments has a rock ‘n’ roll sure-handedness. Tracks like “Fresco” and “Pentimenti” build and sustain crescendos, alive with the no-hesitation forward motion of juggling or walking across beds of coals. These are some of the most restless contexts in which we’ve heard dos Reis, and on “Fresco” he locks into a repeating figure that becomes the pivot the rest of the band surges around. In nearly every situation, what’s most refreshing about dos Reis is that he never sounds like a “free improviser”—his musical decisions are considered, even simple, willing to risk one bold note rather than twenty unconvincing ones.

Thrilling as the more energetic pieces are, the moody, introspective tracks are In Layer’s strong point. Opener “Glaze” eases into being, Vicente as quiet and intense as a held-in scream. He has become a player of truly formidable technique, his granular, textural palette recalling players like Nate Wooley or Peter Evans. Elsewhere, “Varnish” is an antique shop in the dark, all dampened piano and guitar strings, gonging cymbals, and Vicente’s creaking muted trumpet. “Underdrawing” closes the album in the same unbounded mode as “Glaze,” somehow both open and claustrophobic, centering on some bluesy guitar as the other instruments begin to thin, layers peeled back one by one, or, as in a vast desert, strata of dust being stripped by the wind.