Saturday, March 28, 2015

Peter Brötzmann Round-Up

By Martin Schray

When you go to a Brötzmann concert in Germany, they are not really crowded in general. The reason mainly is that he has been touring a lot and many people have seen him quite often. Recently when I spoke after a show with young German drummer Oliver Steidle, I asked him how Brötzmann was doing because at close range he looked a bit rough (on the other hand he had just turned 75 in March). He said that he was okay for his age but had problems with his lungs, blowing out was still alright but breathing in was a problem due to smoking a lot when he was younger. I was a bit worried hearing this but then again it was a very good show although he could only play a one-hour-set plus encore. He seems to have become a bit mellow with age, there is more melancholic bluesy stuff than harsh outbursts which fits his style perfectly, though. And if you have a look at his homepage, the spring is packed with tours and single dates all over Europe and Japan. On top of this there is a steady output of new releases, here is a short overview of the latest ones.

Brötzmann/Edwards/Noble – Soulfood Available (Clean Feed, 2014) ****


Soulfood Available is Brötzmann’s second album with this trio. His ties with Edwards go back a long time and Noble seems to be one of his favorite  drummers recently. When I said that Brötzmann’s tone was a bit mellower lately,  this album could prove me wrong, at least partly. Everything that has made his  latest work so great is presented here: his familiar call to arms (as Colin  calls it), the “Master of a Small House” theme (although barely recognizable  since it is alienated and overblown), the shivering notes, his aggressive  approach to his material. He is supported by Edwards’ and Noble’s city jungle  rhythms, which deliver a dark pulse for Brötzmann’s outbursts as well as for  the quieter moments. A rock solid free jazz album, you can’t go wrong with it.

Soulfood Available is available on CD and can be bought from the label: http://www.cleanfeed-records.com/

Peter Brötzmann/Jason AdasiewiczMollie‘s in the Mood (BRÖ, 2014) ****



When Brötzmann worked  together with Jason Adasiewicz it was indeed his first collaboration with a  vibraphonist and since then (on Going  All Fancy in 2012) he has played with him several times, even in a  quartet with John Edwards and Steve Noble that also released the splendid Mental  Shake.

Mollie’s in the Mood rather shows the new Brötzmann, more placable, introspective, less angry – but still gripping. A perfect example is the  beginning of the title track, one of the most accessible tracks Brötzmann has  recorded in his career. It is a pure jazz ballad that could almost pass as free  cool jazz. Adasiewicz’s style is brittle and crystal clear again, as if his instrument was made of ice. He contrasts Brötzmann in a strange but perfect way, no matter if the old colossus of Wuppertal decides to play in an Ayler-esque or melancholic way.

The album is available in a limited vinyl pressing of 600 copies. You can buy it from www.instantjazz.com or from the label: www.eremite.com  


Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla – Red Cloud on  Silver (Omlott, 2015) ****

Before we start talking about the music on this album, one thing which is hardly mention is the fact that Peter Brötzmann is also a great fine artist. Recently he had an exclusive exhibition of his art in China, I also saw one in Wuppertal once. Like his saxophone/clarinet sound, his visual artistic style is also unique and has a high recognition value. The covers of all the albums reviewed here are designed by Brötzmann himself. So, when you buy a Brötzmann album you get a piece of fine arts as a bonus.

As to the music: Brötzmann  has worked quite often with Swedish drummer Peeter Uuskyla (e.g. on Dead  and Useless) since 1997 and in general the reeds/drums line-up is something he feels very comfortable with. His duos with Han Bennink, Hamid Drake, Paal Nilssen-Love and Steve Noble belong to best releases in free jazz.  Uusklya cannot quite keep up with these drummers because they are able to challenge him. Uuskyla is more the supporting kind of a drummer on this album.

My favorite passage is on side B when Brötzmann plays a particularly tender version of the “Master of  a Small House” theme, one of three or four themes he likes to integrate especially in solo and duo performances, Brötzmann once told me. Uuskyla simply drops out here, then he adds a just a few sparse few sounds, which is just perfect. And then it is him who pulls Brötzmann back to rougher waters. In  general Red Cloud on Silver is a rather  rough, torn and bumpy album.

Red Cloud on Silver is available on double vinyl. It’s an edition of 300 only, so you better be quick.

You can buy it from www.instantjazz.com.

Peter Brötzmann/Keiji Haino/Jim O’Rourke – Two  City Blues 2 (Trost, 2015) **** 


Looking at Brötzmann’s career and at the people he played with you might think that he had played with  almost everybody who has a name in improvised music. In this context it’s interesting that he has chosen two guitars, an instrument he seems to have a  particular interest in lately (have a look at his website www.peterbroetzman.com and you’ll see that he plays with this group in Japan in April and with pedal steel guitarist Heather Leigh in Glasgow). Haino is one of his long time companions, and here you find the Japanese madman on guitar and vocals, although he is rather barking than singing. As usual he is the good old thirsty animal you either love or hate. Jim O’Rourke adds some wonderful Ry Cooder-like slide guitar  riffs which make the whole brew sound like Captain Beefheart. It’s surprising how the three get along together, there are moments of immaculate intimacy. In the huge Brötzmann discography this is an interesting new color.

Two City Blues 2 is available on CD only. You can buy it from www.instantjazz.com

Peter Brötzmann/Keiji Haino/Jim O’Rourke – Two  City Blues 1 (Trost, 2015) **** ½


Interestingly enough Two City Blues 1 was released after Two City Blues 2. The recordings were taken from the same tour but part 1 is even a bit more interesting than part 2. Keiji Haino is only on guitar here, there are no vocal eruptions, O’Rourke’s slide guitar is wilder and more ecstatic, it is rather contrasting Haino’s staccato style – including some high pitched frequencies that could make glass burst. Brötzmann seems to wrestle with the guitars, especially when they try to push the performance into calmer, more  melodic waters. Usually he doesn’t allow this, and he tries to undermine their  attempts relentlessly. Only at the very endings of the two tracks, the mood is more conciliable. In the title track Brötzmann leaves this part to the guitars,  in “Eyes Stay the Same” he joins them – vulnerable, crying, desperate.

Two City Blues 1 is available on vinyl only. You can buy both –  vinyl and CD – from  www.instantjazz.com or directly from the  label http://www.trost.at/.

Listen to it here:



Summary:

Six weeks after the show with Olli Steidle I saw Brötzmann playing with Steve Swell (tb) and Paal Nilssen-Love at the Manufaktur in Schorndorf – and it was a fascinating performance. The trio played as if they had been together for  years (albeit it was only their fourth gig). Brötzmann was in perfect shape and after the show we sat together with some people and he was telling stories,  joking, he was witty – and he looked much better than some weeks before.

On our way home my friend Riccarda (who booked Brötz’s tour with Swell and PNL with her partner Ralf) checked her facebook account and somebody asked  her if she had some recommendations as to Brötzmann’s albums. The guy said that  he had seen him twice but he didn’t have any of his recordings. He could start with any of the albums mentioned above (or with one of the classics), he wouldn’t be disappointed.

Peter Brötzmann keeps on touring – and he keeps on releasing excellent stuff. I hope he will be able to continue for a long time.

.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Rob Mazurek Round Up

By Matthew Grigg

Rob Mazurek is a busy guy. Whilst his annual output has not quite reached the Vandermarkian levels of his Chicago neighbour, here are a few releases which slipped out during the closing weeks of 2014. 

Rob Mazurek - Alternate Moon Cycles (Waxing Crescent) (International Anthem, 2014 LP/DL) ***½

Alternate Moon Cycles (Waning Crescent) (International Anthem, 2014 Cassette Only) ***½



Loss has been the creative catalyst shaping some of Mazurek's recent output, the sudden death of his mother yielding both 'Return the Tides' and 'Mother Ode' in 2014. Upon the passing of his mentor and colleague in 2010, Mazurek conceived a tribute entitled '100 Cs for Bill Dixon', re-imagined here as a minimalist work for trio comprising the cornetist alongside Matt Lux (Bass Guitar) and Mikel Patrick Avery (Collapsible Pump Organ). Released by Chicago's new International Anthem Recording Co. on LP/DL and cassette (which features an alternative performance to the LP), both variations consist of music which is almost entirely harmonically static, occupying a space somewhere between the drone of LaMonte Young, the grand vistas of post-rock's sweeping landscapes, or even a somnambulant beat-less Krautrock. Nuance and detail derive from the subtle delay and phasing of the bass' throbbing pulse, the changing oscillations of the pump organ, and the cornet's deft investigation of the tremulous margins which skirt pure tone. Whilst there is little to recommend one version over the other, the cassette come in a handsomely carved wooden case, whilst the LP takes a more expansive musical approach on the B side, all three musicians pushing at the bounds of their minimalist confines. 




Novellino/Rosi/Mazurek/Barnes - Objects in Mirror are Closer than They Appear (Discreet Records LP/DL, 2014) ***½


This Electro-Acoustic LP features field recordings of Italy's oldest operational wool mill captured by Attilio Novellino and Saverio Rosi. The pair subsequently processed them to create a foundation upon which a myriad of analogue and digital, acoustic and electric instruments were added, resulting in two side long suites. Mazurek (Cornet & Electronics) and Tim Barnes (Percussion & Objects) then added their contributions which were subsequently edited, processed and entwined with Novellino and Rosi's contributions. The resultant LP comprises two densely constructed pieces, rich in texture and detail, with melody occasionally punctuating the grinding abstractions. Such is the level of processing and manicuring of both source material and instrumental overdubs that the boundaries between the 'Electro' and the 'Acoustic' become blurred. The resultant sound world is awash with ambient timbres, drones subsumed by industrial clatter and densely woven sonance; soothing, jarring but never less than fully engaging.  


Bill Frisell - Richter 858

Well here's a treat - the slideshow that accompanied Bill Frisell's Richter 858 recording has been made available on YouTube. The slideshow was originally included on the enhanced CD that came out in 2005. Time moves on and formats change, but happily the Gerhard Richter slideshow is now ready for you to blow up full screen to watch, listen and enjoy. The music? A mix of Frisell's more adventurous compositions that follow the contours and lines of Richter's squeegee paintings. Performed by Bill Frisell (guitar), Jenny Scheinman (violin), Eyvind Kang (viola) and Hank Roberts (cello).






Thursday, March 26, 2015

Orange The Juice

Orange The Juice – The Drug Of Choice (CD/DVD, For Tune, 2014) ***½ 

 Orange The Juice - The Messiah is Back (Self Produced, 2014) ***½


By Eyal Hareuveni

The Polish sextet Orange The Juice redefines the concept of eclecticism. This group is not only genre-blind, but its hyperactive post-modernist aesthetics transforms each of its pieces into a colorful pastiche of colors, dynamics and moods. The group that began working in 2005 can blend what may sound as conflicting, even alienating elements, as surf music with metal, angelic choir singing with aggressive free improvisation, often in the same music sentence, moving organically between styles in lighting speed and millisecond precision.

Orange The Juice is not shy from stressing its obvious influences. The dark sense of humor of Frank Zappa bands, the references to John Zorn work - the concise, tightly dense sonic mayhem of Naked city; lead vocalist Konrad Zawadzki performs with the same manic intensity of Naked City guest vocalist, Yamatsukea Eye, and gifted with charismatic theatrical personality similar to the one of another Zorn associate, Mike Patton; sax player Mariusz Godzina even quotes some of Zorn sax licks when he plays the alto sax; and guitarist David Lewandowski sound owes much to Marc Ribot sound in Zorn’s The Dreamers and Electric Masada. But Orange The Juice musical stew by no means an updated replica of Zorn’s bands. There are many more ingredients in its musical stew, from atmospheric prog-rock to intoxicating Balkan brass band songs, jumping between a mockery of the apocalyptic nightmares of death metal bands as fellow Polish Behemoth to festive ska anthems, Chopinesque keyboard intervals and electronic, lounge-techno beats, spicing it with a disturbing fascination with the Daleks, the notorious extraterrestrial mutants from the TV science-fiction series Doctor Who.

The Drug of Choice is the group first live recording. It is a double Disc/DVD that documents the group performance in Teatr Rozmaitości in Warsaw in October 2012, augmented with three horn players (on most of the songs but excel on moving, poetic arrangement of “Sabat Mater”) and the Voice of Poland finalist Ida Zalewska (on the schizophrenic soul-metal “I Was Wrong”). If one can not experience this group alive, the best alternative is to watch it perform on the almost 80-minutes DVD (the set list is identical to the disc), showing the group as photographed by seven cameramen. The limited-edition (comes with a special cover full with Polish toffee candies) The Messiah is Back is another live recording, this time in the band hometown Stalowa Wola, again with guests, among them sax player Maciej Obara, Zalewska and the local Cantus Choir. It feature the same songs (except the brief “A body without A Head” and a hidden instrumental, loungey bonus track) in similar yet expanded arrangements.

These two live recordings take the listener/watcher into a joyful roller coaster ride. Orange The Juice is a group that feels natural on stage, before an audience, often one that can or does not expect its full palette of sounds, Only on stage the group full potential is realized. The reckless energy, wild intensity, impressive sense of drama, the commanding technical skills of all group musicians and fascinating stage presence of frontman Zawadzki (who seem as totally possessed by higher powers) justify the immediate invitation of this fascinating group to any major rock or jazz festival.     






Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Piho Hupo - Foump (Indigo, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Piho Hupo, is a quartet based in Hamburg, Germany - a beautiful city, that as far as I know, isn't as known for avant-garde jazz as it is for the lovely Außenalster, the lively Reeperbahn, a renowned opera house, the early Beatles, and the sprawling Elbjazz festival. But, that's as far as I knew, until bassist John Hughes informed me about a series in Hamburg he’s curating called ‘Multiphonics’. So this, along with the work of Piho Hupo, and at least some of the gaps in my knowledge are filling in. 

The group is comprised of saxophonist Rolf Pifnitzka, keyboardist Jörg Hochapfel, percussionist Chad Popple, and the aforementioned Hughes. More importantly, Foump is a true group effort and there are few times when there is a 'soloist'. The album starts of with 'Angustura Rags', with all hands on deck as a frenetic melodic line whirls about. The percussion cuts through and leads a transitional moment where the energy shifts and the rhythmic textures become one with the melodic lines.  Oh, and when it sounds like there are two horns playing but only one person credited, that is exactly the case. Then it shifts again - the piano at first a dominant voice but soon superseded by an aggressive sax. This in the course of one track! The next song, "Somebody Say Tennesee" begins on a much darker note - lurching and lurking, the sax and insides of the piano providing atmosphere.  Muffled speaking rises out of the back as the tension mounts. The piano and sax battle it out on the track 'Roland Grave' and 8-bit electronics and sound effects make up the cord of the ambient 'Mause Anmalen'.

I'll stop here, half way through, the variation and imagination on Foump makes it a solidly interesting listen and one that can really withstand being in your CD player for a long long time.

Check out the video below:



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Emil Strandberg - More Music For Trumpet, Guitar And Bass (Bandcamp, 2014) ****

By Stef

A trio with trumpet, guitar and bass is a rare thing, strangely enough, and only the following albums come to mind : the Ruby Braff trio with "Me, Myself & I" (Concord, 1989), or Chet Baker with Philip Catherine and Jean-Louis Rassinfosse on "Crystal Bells" (LDH, 1983), and - of a totally different nature - the A Trio's "Live In Nickelsdorf".

Braff and Baker set a typical cool atmosphere, creating a nice chamber feel without the drums, intimate, playful and technically superb music, entertaining and inventive at the same time.

It is almost in that tradition that you can listen to this wonderful album with Emil Strandberg on trumpet, David Stackenäs on guitar, and Pär-Ola Landin on bass. With a tune by Paul Desmond and one by Monk, tradition is also served, but their own compositions and improvisations beautifully merge with tradition without actually copying it. They keep the atmosphere but give it a very refreshing open approach, full of joy and incredible accuracy, not only technically but especially improvisationally.

Why is it called "More Music For Trumpet, Guitar and Bass"? Well, because the other album "Works", released in 2013, has the same line-up and overall feel.

And if you're still not convinced that it's good, please read Eyal Haruveni's review for Allaboutjazz.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


PS: Suggestions for other trumpet, guitar and bass trios are welcome! Please add them in the "comments" section below.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Myra Melford - Snowy Egret (Enja, 2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Sitting at a bar stool in a crammed West Village club during Winter Jazz Fest this year, I knew I had a dilemma on my hands after only the first few minutes of Myra Melford's appearance with her group Snowy Egret.  The trouble, I reckoned, would be that I would want to write about the group's upcoming release for the Free Jazz Blog, and while we have covered several other of Melford's projects through the years like the great Trio-M, this effort really seemed to have a strong compositional slant to it, as much as an improvisational one. I thought, maybe I should run it by the legal department or something first, but then on impulse, I decided to risk it all...

The group is impressive, and it was the their collective sound that besotted me right away. Melford of course is on piano; on guitar, Liberty Ellman; bass guitar, Stomu Takeishi; cornet, Ron Miles; and drums, Tyshawn Sorey. At this particular show, clarinetist Ben Goldberg subbed for Miles, but on record it's Miles' lyrical tone that helps round out the group’s edgy but restrained tone and energy.

Besides the group's well rounded sound, there is also a great deal of improvisation that flows seamlessly in and out of the written material. Ellman’s fretwork really shines on the recording, from the syncopated blast of energy of the opening track, to the gorgeous chordal solo on “Night of Sorrow”,  to the rock solid delivery on “First Protest” and beyond. Takeishi’s takes full advantage of the sound of his acoustic bass guitar, as opposed to the electric or upright bass, and he uses it to make the bass lines a real melodic presence. He fills in and around the spaces, for example, playing wonderfully off Melford’s bluesy references on tracks like “Night of Sorrow”. I have yet to encounter a recording - or show - where Sorey doesn’t impress in some way, and it’s no different here, his work on the kit throughout is never dominating and always spot on. Miles’ playing is a highlight on “Promise Land”, between the interplay with Melford during the track’s opening and his solo during the song, it is a treat.

As Melford explains in the liner notes, the music was initially inspired by author Eduardo Galeano's 'Memoria del fuego', a collection that mixes fiction and history to tell the story of the New World. From this, the music mixes in rhythms and textures evocative of the America's, while creating something else entirely. Snowy Egret is a really beautiful album - and though it somewhat expands the ‘free jazz’ definition of the blog, it would be a terrible shame not to rave about it a bit.

Here's a snippet of the band from a 2013 show ...


Snowy Egret is performing during Melford's residency this week at the Stone in NYC. They perform on Saturday, March 28th.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bande à Part - Caixa-Prego (Creative Sources, 2014) ****

By Stef  

To co-create improvised music that is not only coherent, but that is also captivating and beautiful, remains an amazing thing of magic. And here we can listen to this musical magic from a Portuguese trio that deserves wider attention : Joana Guerra plays cello, Ricardo Ribeiro bass and soprano clarinets, and Carlos Godinho objects (wooden boxes, plates, a bicycle bell, balloons, billiard balls and sticks).

Their music is measured and open-ended. One instrument takes the lead, and when the others join they add color, depth and expand. As simple as that. Or not? The result is intimate and restless, calm and intense, familiar and unsettling, moving between odd sounds and sometimes repetitive phrases as the backbone for the piece, as on the haunting "Chapa 3", the centerpiece of the album.

The trio manages to create a very warm and surprising album, elegant and gentle but with strong character, less focused on individual sounds than it is on group exploration of atmosphere and texture, skilfully navigating between lyricism, silence and adventure.

Listen and buy from Bandcamp.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Got them Istanbul Blues

Konstrukt ‎– Live at Tarcento Jazz (Holidays Records, 2015) ****

Konstrukt & William Parker ‎– Live at NHKM (Holidays Records, 2015) ***½



By Colin Green

Istanbul lies on the Bosphorus, -- the strait that links the Aegean and the Black Sea –historically, the boundary between Europe and the East with Istanbul the meeting place of two cultures. Musically, there are links between East and West that go deeper however, and to appreciate this one must look further West than Europe, to America and the blues.

If you’ve ever listened to traditional middle-eastern music and thought it had a slightly bluesy feel you’d be right, but in a sense it’s the other way round, and not a coincidence. By way of background to this review, I thought it might be interesting to join some musical dots – with illustrations taken from YouTube – so if you’ve got time, follow them through. It’s not necessary for the purpose of the review however, so you don’t have to listen to them in their entirety, and skip them altogether if you’d rather check your email. I’ve also provided links to a number of occasionally shaky videos of Konstrukt’s performances, some of which can be found on their albums, though in significantly better sound.

The blues has its musical (rather than social) roots in certain features of Eastern music – which for current purposes includes parts of Africa – that were used by plantation slaves in their work songs and other music making, such as a fondness for flattened thirds, fifths and sevenths (the “blue notes”). But it’s not just certain shared harmonic features: there’s a common vocal technique known as melisma – moving rapidly between two or more notes on the same syllable – as well as sliding between notes for expressive effect, which can be traced back to the piquant harmonies of Byzantine Chant and can still be heard in Turkish-Hungarian folk music. Melisma was a powerful expressive device in the baroque period, particularly in the music of Monteverdi, possibly reflecting the strong cultural links between Venice and Constantinople. It’s also an instrumental technique on wind instruments – the sound snake charmers make in old movies (real footage is rather scary) – and sliding and trills (a very fast melisma) are also features of string instruments.

Indeed, some have suggested that there’s a common musical ancestry that accounts for the more than passing resemblance between the chant of the Muslim calls to prayer and vocal phrasings in blues and gospel music, such as the Levee Camp Holler and the inspirational singing of Mahalia Jackson. You can hear sliding between notes, as well as melisma in voice, harmonica and guitar in Levee Camp Moan by the great Son House (who claimed to have taught Robert Johnson to play guitar).
These and other associations between African music and the blues have been known for some time (Alan Lomax’s The Land Where the Blues Began is well worth watching) and have cropped up in some unlikely places. On a break between Led Zeppelin tours, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page visited Morocco, whose influence can be heard clearly on Zeppelin’s Kashmir (Zeppelin were always more of a blues band – the tail end of the British Blues Boom – rather than metal merchants). Some years later Plant and Page returned in less bombastic mood (and with less visible chest hair) and recorded with local musicians: note Plant’s subtle use of melisma in City Don’t Cry.

And of course, the harmonic and rhythmic framework of jazz is derived from the blues, even for many free jazzers. It remains central to the work of William Parker and the circle of New York based musicians with whom he plays – the “jazz licks” that Peter Kowald admitted he’d never learned to play in Europe. Peter Brötzmann, who grew up listening to the early jazz men, makes extensive use of melisma and his playing is soaked in the blues, which is probably one of the reasons he describes himself as a bit of a traditionalist.

All of which is a rather roundabout way of getting to Konstrukt, a group of Turkish musicians based in Istanbul, whose music is a pungent mix of free jazz, scraps of the blues, and traditional music, criss-crossing seamlessly between these genres by virtue of some of the common denominators mentioned above, but never sounding self-conscious or derivative. They had a flexible membership until a few years ago when they settled into the quartet of Korhan Futacı (reeds and woodwind), Umut Çağlar (keyboards, electric guitar, woodwind) Korhan Argüden (drums) and Özün Usta (double bass; but he also plays a mean electric bass as can be seen when Konstrukt plus three guests were firing on all cylinders at the Istanbul Ekspres festival in 2013). Stef reviewed Bulut (Sagittarius A-Star, 2014) – Konstrukt’s first vinyl release – as part of a three LP set of Turkish Free Music, but it’s also available separately.

The Holidays Records website describes Konstrukt’s music as “Cosmic-Turkish free jazz” and on Discogs both albums are listed inter alia, as “Space-Age”. Such terms normally conjure up the musical equivalent of Plan 9 from Outer Space, but in this case I think they’re a reference to other elements that make up Konstrukt’s very individual style.  There’s the sound of Miles Davis’ electric period: echo effects and music that seems to float, with no clear beginning, middle or end but which, when it gets funky (one of music’s great cul-de-sacs) can easily become static – locked in a groove – and slip into a jam session and directionless noodling. (Miles and his producer, Teo Macero, solved this problem by splicing together the best bits, sometimes reusing sections, which is one reason why Miles’ studio albums of the period are generally preferable to his live performances.) Unsurprisingly, this aspect of Konstrukt’s music is most apparent when Çağlar uses the swirling clouds of an electric piano, as in their performance at Nickelsdorf last year

There’s also the influence of Sun Ra, both in the open ended structures and Çağlar’s b-movie electric organ and micro-moog, which have a distinctive timbre reminiscent of the slightly cheesy keyboards favoured by Sun Ra (and as noted by Stef, early Soft Machine). Perhaps it’s no surprise that Konstrukt have had successful collaborations with Marshall Allen -- leader of the Arkestra since Sun Ra’s death – who continues this tradition with the Casio pocket organ and EVI (an electronic wind instrument). He can be heard on Vibrations Of The Day (Holiday Records, 2014 - the CD is Re:Konstrukt, 2011) and on side 2 of Live At Sant'Anna Arresi Jazz Festival (8mm Records, 2014), from which: Toprak.

This confluence of musical cultures and colours, as well as free jazz flexibility, makes for an immediately recognisable style: a carpet of sounds woven from many strands, which when it hits its stride – like Turkish coffee – can set the pulse racing. The stylistic references can be specific – as when members of the band create a chattering melisma on zurnas (a Turkish double reed instrument) – and multifaceted, as at the beginning of their performance at the Tarcento Jazz Festival where Futacı plays a melody on tenor that could have come from Congo Square in New Orleans or a market square in Turkey, set against Çağlar’s gutsy electric guitar.

The Italian label’s website describes Live at Tarcento Jazz as a “multi-channel recording” which “captures their whole performance”. Obviously, the LP has been mixed down into the usual two channels (and very nicely too) but it’s not the whole performance. As can be seen in the footage below, Konstrukt’s set lasted about an hour, and the LP is about 45 minutes. It seems that apart from a minute or so of tuning at the start the missing 15 minutes occurs when flipping the record over, and I suspect this is not due to editing à la Miles but the simple fact that it’s impossible to squeeze 30 minutes of music onto each side of an LP without a deterioration in sound quality.

As Stef mentioned in his review of Bulut, at times there’s a chaotic feel to the music, as if everything might fall apart, but this contributes to its raw and edgy feel. Things are usually kept together by Argüden’s beautifully fluid drumming, a lightweight sound reminiscent of not only the best jazz drumming but the subtle inflections of Eastern percussion. Transitions can also be a problem when playing a continuous set, and they’re often handled by a change of pace after a solo, such as Usta’s carefully sculpted figures on double bass. Futacı is also impressive on tenor: a full-bodied sound, sometimes skipping and dancing around phrases, other times building tension by stretching out to create interlocking phrases with Çağlar’s guitar or keyboards. When he plays alto, it takes on a definite Ornette-like tinge (another great bluesman, who also made an important visit to Morocco) to the extent of even producing what sounds like a quote. 

Good as Konstrukt’s performances can be, one feels that their music really takes wing when collaborating with others. In addition to Marshall Allen, they’ve played with Peter Brötzmann on Dolunay, (Re:Konstrukt, 2011) and Eklisia Sunday (Not Two Records, 2013), Evan Parker on Live At Akbank Jazz Festival (Re:Konstrukt, 2011) and Joe McPhee on Babylon (Roaratorio, 2014) – one of my albums of the year (from which: Involution). In January they performed with Akira Sakata and are due to re-join forces with both Brötzmann and McPhee at the end of March.

Live at NHKM is a meeting with William Parker in Istanbul last September.  Being a bass player, it’s initially unsurprising that Parker is less prominent on this date than other guests on saxophone. Usta’s bass is on the left and Parker on the right, with Usta introducing proceedings playing glissandi and melismas, invoking the vocal techniques mentioned above. As matters progress Parker (always a team player) contents himself with repeated figures contributing to a group sound combining dreamy flute and gurgling moog. Notwithstanding a couple of short solos, and odd touches of colour – glassy arco under Futacı’s whistle breaths – it eventually feels as if Parker is working on the periphery. Both basses tend to be drowned out by distortion-laden guitar and gloopy keyboard swoops and echoes. There are some fine moments, such as the whirl of zurna, tenor and drums, but it doesn’t seem as if anyone has given too much thought to how Konstrukt might adjust their sound to give Parker greater breathing space and allow for new areas to be opened up. His most significant contribution is not on bass but with a gralla – a Spanish double-reed – which he picks up towards the end of the performance to join Futacı’s soprano for a rousing finale, supported by Argüden’s nimble drums and elongated power chords from Çağlar. Stirring stuff, but there remains a sense that a performance that looked so appealing on paper was actually something of a missed opportunity, and that a second meeting might produce a greater contribution from Parker and new challenges for the band, something they clearly relish on the evidence of their other collaborations.

It was recently announced that Argüden and Usta have left the band, being replaced by Barlos Tan Özemek on bass and Berke Can Özcan / Cem Tan on drums. It will be interesting to see how they fare with a new rhythm section.

Both albums are vinyl only and limited to 200 copies each. They can be purchased from the Holidays Records website, and the set with Parker from InstantJazz.

Here’s the whole of Konstrukt’s set from Tarcento (the annoying audience chatter is absent from the album):



And the last six minutes from NHKM with William Parker (again, the album has a richness of sound and dynamic range only hinted at here):



Friday, March 20, 2015

Louis Sclavis Quartet - Silk and Salt Melodies (ECM, 2014) ****

By Stefan Wood

Louis Sclavis is one of the premier French jazz musicians over the past thirty years.  From his initial work with the Brotherhood of Breath and the Henri Texier Quartet, to the outstanding African Trio and his quartet, Sclavis consistently has composed and performed at a high level, with musicians both known and unknown.  On "Silk and Salt Memories," he has expanded from his Atlas Trio (with Gilles Coronado on guitar and Benjamin Moussay on piano) with the addition of percussionist Keyvan Chemirani.  This is a tightly knit group where the interactions and reactions are fluid and almost telepathic.

The opening track, "Le parfum de l'éxil," has a strong Middle Eastern feel with gothic overtures, a hypnotic, driving tune pushed by Chemirani, Moussay holding a firm ground with the piano, and Sclavis and Coronado pushing forth with almost synchronized melodies.  "L'himme sud" provides a small showcase for Coronado's guitar work, followed by Moussay, whose playing is reminiscent of Daniel Perez when playing with Wayne Shorter.  It's playing that pushes outside a comfort zone, intelligent risk taking that is clean and elegant.  "L'autre rive" is a somber, meditative piece led by Moussay with a long piano solo, followed by Sclavis.  It has one foot planted in the 1930's French nightclub scene, the other in contemporary improvised music.  "Sel et soie" features some gorgeous clarinet work by Sclavis, a hybrid of Guiffre and Dolphy, and is a high point on the album.

There is a mood established on the album that inhabits old Europe and Middle Eastern worlds, that allows for the group to perform a variety of sounds yet remain consistent in tone and feel, with few exceptions, they stay in a certain range of contemplative expression.  An exception would be "Dance for Horses,"  where they are surprisingly jubilant, energetic and wildly complex.  Moussay unleashes sheets of sound, Coronado aggressive jangly metallic strumming, Chemirani pounding away.  Frenetic and fantastic.  "Cortege" is equally brilliant, part jazz, part prog rock.  "Dust and Dogs" also combines the fusion feel with Moussay providing a mid 70's rock mellotron like sound, Sclavis and Coronado weaving a complex middle eastern texture, tightly woven, and Chemirani on congos.

"Silk and Salt Melodies" is yet another fine album by Sclavis and his group, an elder musician and his younger collaborators pushing each other in ways unexpected and quietly brilliant.  Recommended.