Survival Unit III

Fred Lonberg-Holm, Joe McPhee, Michael Zerang.
Weikersheim, Germany, October 2015. Photo by Martin Schray

Sylvie Courvoisier, Nate Wooley, Chris Corsano

IBeam, September 8, 2015. Photo By Peter Gannushkin


Olaf Rupp and Rudi Fischerlehner
Manufaktur, Schorndorf, Germany, September 2015. Photo by Martin Schray


Art Bailey, Kirk Knuffke, Michael Wimberly, Michael Bisio
October 2015. Zurcher Gallery, NYC

Monday, November 30, 2015

Matthew Shipp Quartet: Declared Enemy – Our Lady of the Flowers (Rouge Arts, 2015) ****1/2

By Joel Barela

Down here, we wait.

For many things, we don’t have to. The sun shines a lot. It almost never gets too cold. It might just be a product of our history, and the fact that we don’t answer to that coastal pace, that now now now. We wait for the peaches. For the corn to come in season. And, maybe our most favorite (some of us anyway): we wait for the bourbon. Yeah, you can drink it at five years, but at ten … Damn. This is the talk of grandfathers.

My parents didn’t listen to Matthew Shipp in his early years. And I wasn’t around for it. But you don’t have to be there on the day it’s barreled, just as long as you’re there when it peaks. These may not be the days of Shipp’s absolute classic records. Time alone will tell us that. But damn, if listening to 'New Tension' isn’t the sonic equivalent of breaking the seal on an aged bourbon beauty, I really don’t know what is.

But first, there’s the white dog of 'Atomic Note', the album’s opening cut, and before that a 2006 RogueArt released record called Salute to 100001 Stars: A Tribute to Jean Genet. Aside from Denis Lavant (recruited to add spoken word components - culled from Genet’s work - to the project), Shipp enlisted the same quartet that we find here. The pianist was/is joined by William Parker on bass, Sabir Mateen on reeds and Gerald Cleaver on drums. In the same “spirit of the underdog” so prevalent in Genet’s writing, Shipp called the ensemble Declared Enemy. That the basis for the original album’s invention centered around Genet’s novel Our Lady of the Flowers being one of Shipp’s favorite books makes this record especially momentous. And if Shipp is still in the process of peaking in his dexterity and creativity as both player and bandleader, then it is little wonder that his second Genet tribute took so many years to materialize. As I said, you can drink it at five years, but at ten …

For the all the metamorphosis in improvised music in recent years, and for all Shipp’s remarkable invention, 'Atomic Note' sees the record into a very standard introduction - at least structurally: Cleaver leads for a few measures, followed by Parker, Shipp and then Mateen. Drums, bass, keys, horn: quartet. It's a locomotive piece for certain, but its title suggests an eruption that stays pocketed for its full seven minutes. The liner notes comment on "fission & fusion ... notes blending and melting together, flying and condensing ..." The point could be that despite all the aforementioned tweaks to this form (in process), this is a jazz record: now outplay it. I like to think, however, that Cleaver's bookends - the measures to begin and the sticks' solo final minutes following Mateen's faded blow - aren't mere coincidences or a simple follows of the jam. What with Shipp is anyway? But if it's Cleaver who's meant to shine through, he does. His hat tap to finish the track on a clean stop then becomes the note referenced in the song's title. And his playing throughout the entire album is some of the finest I've heard all year. It mediates well but asserts when it must. It asks the hard questions at times. In short, Cleaver's playing is everything that the moderators in the current U.S. presidential debates have not been.

The aforementioned 'New Tension' follows. It's one of two duets on the album - to go with one trio, one solo effort and five songs featuring the full quartet. It finds Shipp and Mateen - on clarinet - in a meticulous musical conversation; its complexity - a blend of "Euro-Classical and African-American stylings - eased into the ears by the skill and familiarity of the players. It's hard not to reference Mateen's musical beginnings. A percussionist before his switch to reeds, the rhythmic independence from Shipp's own insistent patterns is a delight, and one that speaks to the prevailing rhythmic pulse throughout the record. This whole band has an ear to the ground, feeling the sound in a very literal way, the entire operation a rhythm section of sorts.

'A Different Plane' is another full quartet number, and one that feeds a nice transition from 'Atomic Note' to the madness of 'From the Beyond'. The liner notes reference the a "id of darkness" to the piece and a structure to Shipp's playing that falls "somewhere between Paul Bley and Bill Evans" causing the piano to "bleed prism-like harmonies". The oscillation between broken and block chords shows up all over Shipp's contributions to record. That said, that fact that his virtuoso eruptions are largely contained is slightly odd given that the record is named after a novel that Jean-Paul Sartre once dubbed “the epic of masturbation". The lack of these sonic ... indulgences .... may largely be attributable to Shipp's recent claim that he is "truly finding [his] voice in ballads". On 'A Different Plane', Shipp's balladry is seen out by Parker's rocking lifeboat pizzicato.

The sense of balladry born out is grown in the opening bars of 'From the Beyond' by Mateen's tenor. Before long though, Parker's relentless bow has quickened the song's pulse, invited a hammering Shipp and induced Mateen in screams, it seems, just to be heard. Cleaver enters, and his trot is just as brisk. There is a particle-colliding other-worldliness to this mauling. Then Shipp pulls his hands off the keys ... Mateen pulls his mouth off the reed ... And for about two-and-a-half minutes, Parker's bow rides Cleaver's gallop. In the final few measures, the drums drop, Parker jumps and sees the journey out alone, faded, without a clean stop, into silence. A traditional arco generally follows a tight script, and this seems a tad more instinctive (if not impulsive). Proof? The fact that the track not only lacks definite punctuation to close but is immediately followed by Parker's lonely plucks in 'Silence Blooms'. However you view it, there is little to debate in this: Parker's bow takes what came 'from the beyond' and carries it back home.

'Silence Blooms' is the lone solo piece on the album. Shipp demonstrates his continued growth as a bandleader by not only allowing a masterful player to take over an entire track on an album - something he did earlier this year on To Duke with Michael Bisio's 'I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good' - but by giving said player a simple directive. When Parker asked what he should play, Shipp responded: "[Play] Silence Blooms." Given From the Beyond's fade into this piece and how Silence does indeed flower as the track progresses, I'm reminded of George Clinton's note to Eddie Hazel as they tracked Maggot Brain: Imagine that your mother's just died. Play that. Parker's interpretation of Shipp’s note is flawless.

The liner notes nail the paradox of Irrational by striking at the oddity that a song of said name would be so "rational, beautiful and beatific". For Shipp's part, he said of the piano and drums duet, "Each note is in harmony and has a weight and volume unto itself.” We've all heard Shipp fight his way out of confinement. It's what he does, blows up his keys and rises. This is different. This is Shipp as explorer. So often his phrasing has that cornered animal feel. Here he maps a cave. He overturns stones for us, and a builds a bridge across a bottomless pit as he crosses it. If you think I've forgotten Cleaver, I'll admit, on my first listen, I did. But Shipp, in another deft turn as bandleader, pulls back at the end to fully reveal Cleaver's kit and how well it's spiced the piece the entire time. It begs for relistens to unlock all of the drum patterns below Shipp's purposeful notes. Remarkable.

After 'Irrational', the title track arrives. As for the novel for which it was named, that book was written in prison, in secret, destroyed once and rewritten. 'Our Lady of the Flowers', the song, shares a similar intimacy and determination, but it's far from quiet. The full-quartet piece best exemplifies the possibilities of concurrent conversations. Each player isn't always interacting with the entire ensemble but they aren't exactly competing either. The conversations are intelligent but not without humor and sweat and fist-slamming. Hear Shipp crunch his keys and know this. And like any setting among old friends, eventually someone says something forceful enough or interesting enough or - in the spirit of Genet's novel - provocative enough to convene the attention of all. Shipp's exclamations are especially important as he sits out the subsequent piece. Gasp owe's as much to Cleaver and Parker's bouncing groove as it does to Mateen's stabbing tenor. In the literal sense, the trio allows the song to evolve over the course of eight minutes but the phrasing of each player makes it sound as if the piece is constantly on the brink of running out of air. That the sound consistently regenerates helps Gasp maintain its suspense. Not a note or strike seems "drawn out" for more than a blasted quarter.

'Cosmic Joke' concludes the album. It begins in trio, Cleaver's percussion not so much dainty as cautious: a peak from around the wall, while Parker and Shipp state their cases in more disagreement than harmonious conversation. Eventually, Mateen enters and the quartet sees out Shipp's inspiration. Says the pianist: "If you take away the word GOD and replace it with IT as a sustaining generating power source, any finite structures that IT generates and subsumes into itself would, at the end of time, whatever time is, have to be a joke if the generating source is truly OMNIFICENT and OMNIPOTENT."

In case it isn't abundantly clear, this record has affected me. I'd even say it's left me exposed. Often, people view those who review records as "critics". But I’m not so into the judgment thing and this record exposes me as what I've always been: a fan. Of course, I'm not a fan of everything I come across here, but, I admit, I don't generally commit words to projects that don't interest me. If I write about it, I generally do so to share it. This is different. This is one of those records that makes me want to write ecstatically. I've heard Shipp play his take on a New York sound, and yeah, this was recorded in Brooklyn, but this record has a different pace to it. It's aged and matured. It's as earthy as it is cosmic. It reminds me of home. This is the talk of grandfathers. Sure, I wasn't there when Declared Enemy was conceived and barreled, but I was here when the seal was cracked. And so are you. So pour a glass, friends. It was worth the fucking wait.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Irène Schweizer & Han Bennink - Welcome Back (Intakt, 2015) *****

By Lee Rice Epstein

This one tested my personal arbitrary star rating. Another 5-star album, so soon? Why not? It’s two giants of free jazz performing together in a rare duo setting. What’s not to like? Irène Schweizer has had an epic run of piano-drums duo albums in recent years, pairing with Han Bennink, Pierre Favre, Günter Sommer, Louis Moholo, and Andrew Cyrille. As others have noted, this is amazingly only her second album with Bennink, the two sound so good together.

There’s a recurrence of words and phrases that follow these two around, things like effortless and comfortable. But it’s important to remember how much Schweizer absolutely dominates her instrument. She’s a classically expert improviser, and Bennink is a superb partner. His long history in duet, including pianist Misha Mengelberg, serves him well in this setting.

Schweizer displays her usual light touch, which often leaves me wrongfooted (in a good way) when she caps on a dissonant chord after a breezy run, or contrasts her right- and left-hand runs, as she does midway through the opener, “Welcome Back.” That’s followed by two raucous, free tracks credited to Bennink, “Kit 4” and “Trap 5.” On the former, Bennink opens on muted drums, playing against Schweizer’s brisk riffs. As Bennink opens up the drum sounds and brings in more cymbal crashes, Schweizer continues filling in the space between riffs, nailing some classically Taylor-esque runs before Bennink comes to the fore in the final minute. By contrast, “Trap 5” begins with Schweizer alone, until Bennink comes in with brushes, and the piece finds its rhythm.

There’s no one centerpiece to this album, but the sequence of “Verflixt,” “Rag,” Bleu Foncé,” and “Apus Melba” is a superb example of free interplay at its finest. Within about 15 minutes, Schweizer and Bennink seem to breeze through swing, boogie, stride, all filtered through the lens of collaborative free jazz. “Apus Melba,” credited to Bennink, is a tune constantly on the move, rarely settling in one place for more than a few seconds, and the duo play off each other throughout the duration, taking and giving brief hooks to respond to.

As with their last album, a selection of covers demonstrates the pair’s love of jazz history. Their “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland” is sturdily faithful on the surface, with subtle tweaks from Bennink that remind you this isn’t an austere salute. Later, the duo tackle Dyani’s “Ntyilo, Ntyilo.” Again, Schweizer takes the lead, while Bennink adds percussive commentary. There’s a very slight mournful edge to the performance, a reminder of Dyani’s gentle, quiet vocals from the original. At album’s end, Monk’s “Eronel” brings the album to a natural and buoyant close.

Video of Schweizer solo in 2008:

And on Bandcamp:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

John Butcher - Nigemizu (Uchimizu, 2015) ****½

By Stef

John Butcher is unique and incomparable. He's is the sculptor of sound on saxophone, whether on tenor or on soprano. The music on this album was performed on two nights in Japan, two years ago, and consists of three tracks.

The first, "Enrai", is played on tenor, and you get a twenty-six minute long discovery of sounds and their gradual evolution, from primary sounds over multiphonics to rhythmic moments, quiet passages and outbursts of constrained power, and despite its length, there is never a dull moment. Butcher takes you along on his own improvisation, which is at the same time as much a musical journey as it is a spiritual and emotional one, and the result is mesmerising. As a listener, you get sucked up in his universe, and wonder at its depth and clarity, you wonder how with some few strokes of sounds, he manages to create a picture that is both simple and profound, that is uplifting and deep.

On "Uchimizu", he switches to soprano, and the tone becomes almost naturally more joyful, with long bouts of circular breathing, more playful, as we know him, trying to emulate the song of blackbirds or other birds who sing their odes to the sun and to life in general, yet then it suddenly evolves into moments of distress and even darkness, with somber whispering sounds chasing away the birds.

The album ends with the shorter "Hamon", yet still more than six minutes, with multiphonic circular breathing starting full force from the very first notes, gradually changing the overall coloring and timbre, often at breakneck speed, and the intensity does not dissipate until the last few notes, which end the piece with a question mark.

Again, Butcher captivates us with his skills and his musical vision, his uncompromising approach, and his talent to maintain tension in three lengthy improvisations, offering listeners both musical and human purity.

Don't miss it!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Kid Millions & Jim Sauter - Bloom (Astral Spirits, 2015) ****

By Joel Barela

Let's try and contextualize the rhythm a bit: Earlier this year, John Colpitts, the superhuman drummer known simply as Kid Millions, released an album called The Sanguine Cadaver.  Released on cassette, each side supported a single track; and while Side A's piece is definitely worth checking out, it's Side B's For Jerry that makes the cassette worth parting with some of your money.  It's something that many of us have yet to hear on record: Kid Millions obliterating his kit, in complete solitude.  And the 24-minute solo drum bombardment would be more than enough, but add to this the fact that the Kid begins to moan along with his spastic and serpentine patterns, creating a listening experience that is - in every sense of the word - quite spiritual.  I bring this piece up for two reasons.  One, I'm assuming that if you're currently viewing this site, you hunt for more in music than radio force-feedings and streaming comps.  And two, as I mentioned above, acquiring this bit of homework - aside from being an ear's delight - helps to better appreciate the following.

A follow-up to last year's Fountain (released on Family Vineyard), Bloom, once again, unites Millions with the fire-lunged Jim Sauter.  To start, it must be noted that this release is yet another gem from Austin-based Astral Spirits.  Seriously, I can't heap enough praise on this "tiny" tape label.  For an operation with, no doubt, limited means, they manage to continually dole out quality releases that have blood to spare.  Bloom is no exception.  In fact, it is, in my opinion, the duo's finest release to date.  As Matthew Grigg mentioned in his review of Fountain earlier this year, the record "never [felt] consistently as revelatory as the duo's debut; something possibly attributable to the former's higher risk live concert setting vs. the higher fidelity/lower risk nature of [the] studio session."  Bloom suffers none of these pitfalls.  For one, much of the material was recorded live.  In addition to which, the duo has simply tightened as band and, with the acquired intimacy that comes from more and more sessions and shared stages together, has grown in ambition to match an already stratospheric scope to the music.  Also, whereas on Fountain, Millions could at times "[pull] the sax along with excitable eagerness" (noted by Grigg), on Bloom, the drummer's tornadic approach to his kit serves more to levitate Sauter's expressive horn than simply drag it into the inferno.  Much of this may also owe to how the recording is mixed.  More on that in a bit.

Regarding the songs:

Ram Wing leads you into the album like its guiding you into a nightmare, quietly.  Its pace and volume startle.  Sauter blows long, sonorous notes: the path through the mountains.  Millions stings his kit: the stones tumbling from the rock faces.  Hombre Secreto finds Sauter expanding and scarring the road.  I could never convince my mother that this was beautiful music, but perhaps you'll follow me through this imagination.  Millions distorts a brief pattern and Sauter follows with two quick eighths, a 'Let's go,' in exhales.  All of a sudden, you're surrounded by something more primal, a series of notes like protectors of these mountains, heavily armed, and they're not quite certain they want you there.  Millions elevates Sauter by mostly laying off his snare.  Toms and cymbals raise the saxophonist and embolden him.  The lack of threat from his counterpart allows Sauter to expand and darken.  Relistens invite changes of volume here.  At a more normal, less earsplitting setting, Sauter's ferocity materializes but the aforementioned beauty remains.  With the sound cranked, Millions' patterns are more easily distinguished but Sauter's parts may begin to task your nerves.  The thrill becomes the duo's invitation: you, the listener, are allowed to become a member of the ensemble.  It's a Choose-Your-Adventure luxury that many albums don't cultivate nearly so well.  And it's fleeting.  Two-thirds of the way in, Millions finds his entire kit and the duo makes the decision for you.

Annapurna is longer than the previous two tracks combined.  It's also the song that unleashes the duo's real furious momentum - especially concerning Sauter's use of amplified saxophone, to which he adds a multitude of effects.  Says Millions of Sauter: "I think Jim's playing is in a class of its own.  There's nobody out there who can can touch what he does.  It's [actually] very refined.  Hopefully, I'm a good foil for him."  In an interview earlier this year, Millions went on to say that, " ... it's very hard to keep up with Jim's energy so I'm [on Bloom] just trying to bring as much energy as I can to the project.  Whenever we play, I have to be at the top of my game.  I can't really be too intellectual when I [play] with Jim.  I just need to be as aggressive as I can, but keep it musical."  That's Annapurna.  Period.  It's not that it lacks or defies intellect.  It just doesn't become academic.

A third of the way through Cock a Snook, the Kid ignites his cymbals, pushing Sauter's fully-effected horn further skyward.  Later, when Millions' kit attempts to ambush and overwhelm Sauter's attack, the elder player responds with a series of notes so shrill and intense - nevermind the patterns - it approximates the sound of a violin dying in a fire.

Black Swallower mounts another intense rush and One for Diz takes us home with a tasty "groove."

In an interview with the Houston Press, Millions described the music:
"I think Jim and I are playing improvisation.  High-energy improvisation.  It's different than free jazz, but clearly takes cues from it."
Odd to say this following so many spins of this furious album, but it's refreshing.  Refreshing not only to hear a musician downplay his music's niche, but refreshing to hear him downplay (see above) its general intellect.  And certainly some jazz purists will wonder if it's "jazz" enough.  But no one should wonder about its freedom.  While the Kid and the elder Sauter may not take themselves too seriously, it is some serious and seriously good music.  Serious music fans take note.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Premature Burial - The Conjuring (New Atlantis, 2015) ****

By Paul Acquaro

With the three unusual musical thinkers involved in the group of 'Premature Burial' you can be quite well assured that their music is nothing typical.

The folks at work here are Peter Evans on piccolo trumpet, Matt Nelson on saxophone and effects, and Dan Peck on tuba and effects. Evans' work is well known to readers of this blog (we most recently covered his hard hitting Pulverize the Sound), Nelson is a member of the unique Battle Trance tenor saxophone quartet and Peck had been delivering outstanding tuba to free jazz efforts with increasing frequency.

The inspiration for this particular trio is drawn from an Edgar Allen Poe story whose narrator suffers from a fear of being buried alive, and the title of the album, Conjuring, in reference to a recent psychological horror movie of a haunted house. The music, accordingly is meant to (and successfully, I believe) evoke stages of paranoia and the feeling of entrapment, helplessness and futility.

The music - if that's an appropriate term - is more an onomatopoetic dissection of the psyche than a set of songs. Electronics blend and twist the three wind instruments and the combined sound is used to describe the mental state of the protagonists. What could also be easily, if judging by the cover and title, confused for a hardcore album however is considerably more musically nimble. Eschewing a sludgy and distorted approach the trio uses the sounds of their instruments to evoke the chatter of the mind, and the terror of these cataleptic condition. At times the sounds mimic the human voice or like R2D2 being hit by a laser beam, while at other times clear melodic statements rise to the top. Through contrast and careful construction, their sound sculptures are captivatingly menacing and beautiful.

The Conjuring is not for the listener who wants an obvious melody or even a well formed Ayler-esque cathartic scream. This is something new, different, and mesmerizing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Le Rex – Wild Man (Cuneiform, 2015) ****

By Eric McDowell

Swiss quintet Le Rex brings their music to the people—literally. According to their website they like to record in public places like “department stores, farms, construction sites,” and even “scrap yards.” This preference seems in keeping with the spirit of their low-maintenance and portable all-acoustic set-up. From the top down we have Benedikt Reising on alto sax, Marc Stucki on tenor, Andreas Tschopp on trombone, and Marc Unternährer on tuba, plus Rico Baumann on drums. Having recorded their first two albums all over Corsica and Switzerland, the group followed up their US tour with a sojourn in one of the centers of free jazz, Chicago, to make Wild Man. The music on this latest effort bears the stamp of a wonderful variety of influence and inspiration, from New Orleans second-line and the AACM to Swiss clockmakers and alpine dwarves. There’s even a track in celebration of Richard Kiel, the actor who played Jaws in the James Bond movies. All this is to say we get everything we’d expect—and more—from a band called Le Rex on an album called Wild Man: playful, energetic music free of self-serious pretentions. Or as they themselves describe it, “a kind of cunning adventure jazz.”

Piece by piece, and even within individual pieces, the adventure unfolds as a series of constantly shifting stylistic strategies, with a dedication—and ability!—to groove that both grounds the listener in each moment and dramatizes each redirection. In other words they keep us on our toes, mixing things up just as we’re getting comfortable. Naturally a lot of this work falls to Baumann, who’s more than up to the task. Take for example “Home Alone,” which spends its first half pushing and pulling us back and forth from full to half-time feels without falling out of the pocket and then launches into a slow, snare-dragging march—all in two minutes. Or “Don’t Lean on the Case!,” inspired by the words of a docent at the Art Institute of Chicago, which somehow takes us from a driving sixteenth-note hi-hat groove into a sort of Afro-Cuban 6/8. In other places we find hard-swinging second-line just shy of overdone (“Dwarf”), festive calypso with some infectious unison playing (“Riff Raff”), or flirtations with tender balladry (“Hymn to the Cold”).

The overall effect is surprise that comes off as both sure-footed and spontaneous. This requires planning and a kind of selfless submission to the chart, but don’t think that Wild Man doesn’t give each member of the quintet the liberty to stretch out and explore. “Anchor” starts off with a moderate finger-snapping swing that gradually frays apart underneath a marvelously slurred and breathy tuba solo by Unternährer—but it doesn’t end there: over an accelerating rhythm section in the second half of the tune, Stucki pushes a furious solo into the upper registers. “Le Clic” showcases some more nice sax work, as well as a tasteful drum solo à la Roy Haynes. The album features Tschopp’s excellent trombone playing throughout; see the dueling solos on the free-leaning title track, or the open-ended introduction to the leaden swinging final cut, “Be in Shape!,” one of my favorite moments on Wild Man. They aren’t afraid to bury it late in the album—knowing, I suppose, that we won’t be able to stop listening before the whole thing’s over.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Left Exit - Mr K (Clean Feed, 2015) ****½

By Stefan Wood

Let's be clear: this is not the group Last Exit. There's no Peter Brotzmann, no Bill Laswell, no Sonny Sharrock. No ear splitting music, no shredding nor thunderous pounding of the senses. This is Mr. K's Left Exit, Mr. K being the duo of Karl Hjalmar Nyberg (sax) and Andreas Skår Winther (drums). Joining them on this album are Michael Francis Duch (bass), and Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (sax/clarinet). Their music is minimal, using silence as it's fifth group member, hovering close to the bottom register and at low volume, tense and atmospheric, with only a few moments of high pitched bursts that are satisfyingly climatic.

 Throughout the eight tracks on the album, the group effectively paints an abstract canvas of sonic gestures and modes, building compositions that emphasize a sparseness and economy of voices that are quite beautiful. Nyberg and Holm are practically breathing into their instruments, like crickets. Duch has a hypnotic rhythm to his bass playing -- a low, faint register that is nevertheless insistent and penetrating. Winther's percussion shimmers like light on a rippling ocean -- again, not pounding, and not soothing, but atmospheric, accenting the overall tone of the music. 

Left Exit may not be earth shattering like Last Exit, but it is no less compelling. Fine abstract compositions, excellent improv. Recommended!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Brötzmann/Van Hove/Bennink – 1971 (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2015) ****

By Martin Schray (with some help from Colin Green)

Peter Brötzmann’s seminal trio with Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove and Dutch drummer Han Bennink, which ran from 1970 to 1975, is well-documented. There are four albums by the actual trio (Balls, FMP 130, Outspan No. 2 and Tschüs) and four more if you also count the albums on which Albert Mangelsdorff augments them on trombone (Outspan No. 1, Elements, Couscouss de la Mauresque and The End). Is there a good reason for a further album from that period? Well, it‘s always great to get “new“ material of one of the best European free jazz trios of all time, and the album‘s a missing link between Balls and FMP 130 (the 1971 albums Elements, Couscouss de la Mauresque and The End include Mangelsdorff).

1971 is a compilation of a 26-minute live track recorded at the legendary Burg Altena festival, hitherto only available on a hard to find LP sampler: 2. Internationales New Jazz Meeting Auf Burg Altena (JG-Records, 1971) and two previously unreleased tracks from recordings made shortly before the festival gig at the Radio Bremen studios.

It‘s also an albumtypical of the trio, whose governing dynamic was three very different musical temperaments clashing into each other. In particular, “Just For Altena“, the live track, is classic, iconoclastic, played-to-pieces stuff with all its advantages and disadvantages (for example: it was difficult for Van Hove to prevail against the two power players). Bennink proves he is a drummer who‘s not interested in smooth transitions but in abrupt interruptions, definite solutions and harsh accents. He structures the piece with abrupt stops and sudden changes, from massive cymbal work to his huge additional set of percussive instruments. At that time he was famous for his varied arsenal with all kinds of flotsam and jetsam augmenting his traditional kit – including the floor and the walls of the room – quite literally, his playing was off the wall. He‘s not preconceived or arbitrary, however. His distinctive qualities are intensity and quick, accurate responses to the contributions by Brötzmann and Van Hove. But despite Bennink’s brutal eruptions and the fact that there‘s still a lot of thickly textured power playing, the track still leaves considerable space for Van Hove’s delicate and harmonically intricate work. In contrast to earlier recordings by European free jazz bands, this trio opened up for a number of solos and duos, especially between Bennink and Van Hove. Although Brötzmann is better known for introducing the “aesthetic of screaming“ into free jazz (as Ekkehard Jost puts it in his very good book Europas Jazz (Fischer, 1987)) he was also a mediator between the two extremes Bennink and Van Hove represented. Of course, there are his notorious overblown passages and his emotional outbursts,  sometimes at the threshold of pain, but there are also almost hidden, blurred quotations of shanties, military marches and traditionals (“When the Saints Go Marching In“) and even some tender moments - something more to the fore in his current playing. In general, you can recognize a tendency to transparency, contrast, respect and structural distinctiveness in the trio’s playing,  despite the collective ecstasy and emotional intensity: In other words, the band developed its own distinctive style.

This development is even more apparent in the two studio tracks “Filet Americain“ and “I.C.P. No. 17“. “Filet Americain“, a Van Hove composition, is more a sound excursion by the band’s standards. Van Hove at the prepared piano comes to the fore and includes new music allusions, delicately supported by Bennink on all kinds of additional material. Then again, after a short Brötzmann interlude, the Dutch eccentric is ready to end the piece with a hefty drum solo on his regular kit. It’s a different version compared to the one the trio recorded on Balls but there are similarities in the sound and form of the piece, and is further proof that free jazz can be well structured in spite of its focus on improvisation.

“I.C.P. No. 17“ starts with a reed battle between Brötzmann and Bennink, another distinctive feature of the trio (Bennink is an amateur on these instruments and approaches them with a musical curiosity he regards as perfectly legitimate). The track also highlights a more sonic side to the trio – again with Van Hove playing very melodic lines to contrast with the reeds’ abrasive sounds.

In a nutshell: the album fills an important gap in the Brötzmann discography, looking back to where he started and forward to some of his current playing.. It‘s also a very good, rock-solid, classic European free jazz album, to be enjoyed by anyone interested in this kind of music.

1971 is available on CD and you can buy it from and

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The various faces of Susana Santos Silva (Day 2)

By Stef

Susana Santos Silva - Impermanence (Bandcamp, 2015) ****

"Impermanence" is a hard to categorise album. It brings composed pieces, with strong themes and arrangements, yet it also deliberately colors outside the lines, disorienting listeners who thought they were on an easy ride, and obviously also offering a lot of space for improvisation.

The first track, "Many Worlds" is a good example of this, the angular theme is soon disrupted by electronic sounds, and then the whole carefully organised edifice collapses for some undefined music, with a moaning trumpet leading the way into this wonderful universe of strong contrasts, because before you know, you're listening to some post-boppish rhythmic band interaction, only to end with electronic high-pitched tones. "Many Worlds" indeed, and it also give a good idea of the album's title "Impermanence", the common ground of shifting sounds, changing ideas and life that floats through multiple forms, from solid tangible ground to ephemeral abstractions and everything in between, never repeating itself, always re-inventing itself, and so is this music.

The band are Susana Santos Silva on trumpet and flugelhorn, João Pedro Brandão on alto and flute, Hugo Raro on piano, Torbjörn Zetterberg on double bass, Marcos Cavaleiro on drums, and Malle Colbert offers field recordings for two tracks.

"Obvlivious Trees" starts with a very intense and in-your-face dialogue between muted trumpet and arco bass, as if both are arguing or quarreling or even fighting each other, yet then the plucked bass takes the lead position, guiding us into more boppish territory with a flute solo, supported by percussive piano chords, then again shifting into a disciplined drums solo to end the piece.

"Imaginary Life" is playful, starting with unison horns supported by light piano arpeggios and sophisticated percussion and when the band stops, Santos Silva's trumpet takes over for a unaccompanied solo that is full of contrasts between ferocity and gentleness.

In contrast, "Geringonça" is wild and energetic, starting like mayhem, yet gradually the band folds into patterns and even quietens down a bit as if collecting their thoughts for the unison theme that only emerges in the last seconds.

One more track that really stands out is "Sound Of Thought", a piece that starts with what could be an impression of my own thought processes, full of chaos, darkness and opacity, yet halfway these various conflicting and contrasting sounds coalesce into one, resulting in a lightly boppish song, in which the alto plays a beautiful solo, before being joined by the trumpet, and all's well that ends well.

In short, the most accessible of the albums reviewed here, with often beautiful themes and heart-rending solos, even if the band does not shy away from adventurous moments and even daring conceptual ideas.

Susana Santos Silva & Kaja Draksler - This Love (Clean Feed, 2015) ****½

This is by all means a recommended album, if only because we have a wonderful duo by two of Europe's most promising female musicians, Susana Santos Silva from Portugal on trumpet and Kaja Draksler from Slovenia on piano. The album is quite balanced in terms of compositions : two tracks by Draksler, two by Santos Silva and two joint compositions, organised in a circular way on the album, bookended by the improvisations and with Santos Silva's composition at the centre.

The opening track, "Laurie", is playful and fresh in the beginning, opened by the trumpet, with a strong entry by Draksler with some fast right hand runs, suggesting it as a kind of theme full of suprise and wonder, echoed immediately by the trumpet, then the intensity increases, driving the discovered material into denser and more hectic territory, without losing the playfulness, taking it to quieter moments with the occasional pause, then up again moving it into darker realms, with growling multiphonics and dramatic piano-playing.

"This Love" is a quiet ballad, lead by the piano, gentle and mysterious, reinforced by the warm tones of the flugelhorn, deepening the emotional power of the piece, that is at the same time open-ended and determined, a strange kind of paradox that gives the music a special quality, as if certainty and uncertainty are both at play.

"Hymn To The Unknown" is dark and brooding, a typical Santos Silva composition, on which the eery trumpet tones are supported by deep rumbling in the piano's interior, a piece that keeps evolving in tone and nature, with open spaces, small percussion by Draksler on the strings, evolving into lightness and quiet beauty.

"Foolish Little Something" is a playful unison high tempo piece with rhythmical complexities thrown in to increase the fun, with an atonal chaotic middle part, a nice collision of ideas, and quieting down towards the end.

"Forgotten Lands" I would call a typical Draksler composition, clever and disciplined and fresh, built around arpeggio chords for the left hand, and post-boppish phrases with the right, sweet and somewhat nostalgic, and again the trumpet's deep tones add a wonderful addition to the composition, making the piece both jubilant and solemn.

"You Persevere" ends the album with again an open duo improvisation, one which uses more extended techniques on both instruments, more adventurous in nature, and really strong, with Santos Silva demonstrating her incredible sonic skills on the trumpet, not to show off, but to create an uncanny and eery soundscape, supported by a piano that produces apparently endless sustained notes and percussive scraping.

I would suggest you listen for yourself. Both young artists have produced an album worth looking for, with music that is on the one hand balanced and controlled, and at the same time adventurous and exploring, and in doing so creating strong musical and emotional contrasts, often within the same composition of improvisation, taking the listener by surprise, but then surprises of the pleasant kind.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Susana Santos Silva - Exclusive Interview

Free Jazz Collective : A few years ago you were mostly known in Portugal, now you play all over the world and in different bands. How do you explain this difference? What changed everything? 

Susana Santos Silva : It's kind of a normal development, though I also think that, on the one hand I was a bit lucky and, on the other hand, I really went for it at some point! 

There were a couple of things that helped a lot. One of them was to be part of the European Movement Jazz Orchestra in 2007, where I met Kaja Draksler, someone I've been connected since then. It was the first time I went to play abroad with musicians from other countries whom I met for the first time then. Until then I had only been playing, since I was 17 years old, with the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos in Porto (OJM). 

The other important step in my musical life was to move, for a little while, to Rotterdam in The Netherlands, where I met Gonçalo Almeida. When I arrived in town he put together the band LAMA. Later on we released our first album, Oneiros, on Clean Feed and this was probably the biggest step for me to get out in the world. 
The 12 Points Festival in Dublin, for emerging young musicians, at which I played with my quintet in 2011, was also a important event, I believe. 

This was the lucky part of it all. The other reason was that a very important change in my life happened a bit more then three years ago. A change at many levels and from then on I'm really living accordingly to what I believe and who I really am, as a human being and as a musician. I stopped trying to be what I thought I should be and I started to truly speak my heart out. For me music is a strong passion and a way of living and I think that I've kind of started to get all that I give back from the world. 

Free Jazz Collective : Your three latest albums "Impermanence", "If Nothing Else", and "The Paradox Of Hedonism" are completely different in nature and in style. Does the style make a difference to you? Which do you prefer naturally? Will you ever make a choice among these approaches or are they all valid for you? Improvised vs composed?

Susana Santos Silva : Styles don't make any difference. The important thing is that the music is well played, sincere, honest, with an open heart and mind. I also like playing without a safety net, which means that risks are taken and boundaries and limits are pushed continuously. Right now I have an inclination to prefer improvised music in general because it's so much more "authentic" somehow, I feel so much freedom … Anything can happen, there are no "shoulds" or "musts", and there isn't  that thing of getting a bit stuck on what is written… I can let myself go completely, and that feeling has no comparison whatsoever with anything else. When expectations disappear, when time gets suspended and space is not a place anymore and all there is is nothing… except for that musical communion… it's truly magic, beautiful stuff!

But all music is valid, of course, and I do like to play written music. The "Impermanence" project is all music written by me for this specific band. It was recorded within a Jazz Association in Porto, Porta-Jazz, and except for Torbjörn Zetterberg, all the musicians are living in Porto and are part of this association. There's also a lot of improvisation and I've tried to find open spaces within the structures so everyone could express themselves freely. It's not easy to find this balance between composition and improvisation and for me it's just a work in progress so far.

"If Nothing Else" is an album I really enjoy listening to, which is normally something hard for me to do! It's improvised music but with a great sense of structure and development within each song. And that's what can be so beautiful in an improvised piece of music, that all the notions of composed music, like the development of an idea, theme and variations, counterpoint, leitmotifs, dynamics, question-and-answer phrasing, different layers, textures, and so on, can just happen spontaneously, in the moment.

Free Jazz Collective : You seem to like duets, as with Torbjörn Zetterberg or with Jorge Queijo. And we look forward to your new album with Kaja Draksler. What is so special about the duet for you? 

Susana Santos Silva : A duet is a one-on-one conversation type of meeting, that's quite special and intimate. It's two people discovering one another in a very direct and beautiful way and with no one else in between, so there's nowhere to hide. It's also very challenging musically and technically. I like to connect that way with other musicians and I like the challenge.

Free Jazz Collective : Who were your role models in music/trumpet-playing? And what are the key learnings you have from them?

Susana Santos Silva : This is always a tough question to answer… There are too many to name, and for so many different reasons, that I always skip to name any. But what I learned with all of my favorite musicians through history, is that what is really important is that I tell my own story. As a musician I'm a mix of many different influences from all kinds of music and musicians, as well as from life itself and everything that surrounds me. But when it's time to step on stage to tell my story it's my voice that comes out of my horn. I could never tell someone else's story.

Free Jazz Collective : What would you like to achieve? What is your ambition with your music and with your trumpet playing? What would you like people to say about your music in 2115? 

Susana Santos Silva : I'm a perfectionist and very ambitious, two things that might work against me and the relaxed life I would like to live. I would like to do so many things, there's one million projects in my mind all the time. 

Yet I don't feel like I need to achieve anything specific really. I'm living an amazing life right now. I'm playing, I'm living from it. I am meeting wonderful people around the world and I can live from my passion! It's not easy, don't get me wrong! It's often hard and complicated but at the same time it's really beautiful! I want to keep doing my thing, experimenting and exploring new paths, new ways of telling my story. 
I don't have any wish whatsoever for people to listen or to talk about my music in the future, honestly. But on the other hand, if people listen to it, now or in 2115, and if I touch people in any way, if my music heals their pains, even for some minutes, if I bring people some joy or hope, or even just a smile, if my music makes someone think out of their ordinary system of thoughts, if my music makes any difference in this world, then I will be extremely happy to be able to give something meaningful back to society!