Monday, October 20, 2014

Marc Ducret - Tower-Bridge (Ayler Records, 2014) ****

Review by Joe

For all of those who haven't heard Marc Ducret's Tower series, now is maybe the time to start. This record represents the last instalment of an incredible journey through many musical territories, yet with one musical thread tying them together, that of Marc Ducret's original musical thinking. Tower-Bridge is the fifth, and supposedly last part of the series (see below) which took as its inspiration Vladimir Nabokov's novel Ada. There are copious liner notes - as liner notes throughout the various volumes - which give some explanations to the connection between the music and the book, but for this short review it is suffice to quote the Ayler Record's presentation which states, "[t]he music [is] composed to convey Nabokov's text complex structure and writing process"¹.

Although I reviewed several albums from the series - digital versions sent by Ayler records - so I haven't seen the covers.  However, I did get a hard copy of this latest record. I'll mention the music shortly but the packaging of this disc merits a detour. The album is made up of double CD, with triptych folding sleeve, a small booklet with extracts from Nabokov's Ada, and an interesting fold-out with some notes from Ducret - which include a score of his composition Real thing #3. A last bonus is quite a crowd draw, access to exclusive video content, a 23 minute film by Sylvain Lemaire titled Tower in the Mist. I won't tell you what's on the film, after all that would only spoil the surprise! So, what can I say except buying a 'physical' copy is well worth the money.

The music on the album is taken from two live concerts recorded in Strasbourg in 2012, producing around a 100 minutes of music over the two CDs. Like the previous albums, this recording re-examines pieces from the 'tower' series. An example such as sur l'électricité (tk1 CD1), has been presented in two formats. The first time was on volume two with Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Dominique Pifarély: violin and Tom Rainey on drums, along with Ducret on guitar. The second time was on volume four (an excellent album), where Ducret performed a selection of these pieces in solo format on acoustic guitar.² The appeal of Tower-Bridge lies more in the extended performances of these pieces, and of course the line extended up that performs them. The musicians, 12 in all, are the sum of all the albums in the series, forming a sort of mini big-band. This produces plenty of sparks and some fine music with powerful solos supported by tight ensemble playing.

If you haven't heard Marc Ducret's music before and you're open to rock meets free-jazz meets Zappa meets contemporary classical music, then you'll love this. There's plenty of dynamic interaction between the musicians. Ducret has a knack in providing action-packed pieces, his rhythmic concept often develops around tight interlocking contrapuntal lines to produce long melodies which have a logic of their own. He also loves to use dissonance as a tool, combining it with rhythm in a powerful combination.

There is so much on this record it would be impossible to delve into each piece. A few highlights include Tim Berne's inimitable alto leading the way on sur l'électricité (tk1 CD1). This track has a lot of information, a great theme, and plenty of muscular interludes with several gripping solos. The fantastical atmospheres conjured up in Real thing #1 (tk2 CD1) builds around a succession of duet/trio sections leading gradually to feature for the violin of Dominique Pifarély. Track 3 (CD1), real thing #2 has a wonderful strident solo from Kasper Tranberg (trumpet) who manages to ride over the heavy rocking ensemble, punctuated by powerful piano chord clusters. Softly her tower crumbled into the Sweet Silent Sun (tk1 CD2) flies out of the speakers like an angry neighbour shouting. The final track of the album L'Ombra di Verdi (tk3 CD2) produces a mysterious theme in the closing half which hangs somewhere between a film noir theme and a 6/8 rock ballad.

What else can we say about such a great record? I guess that if you haven't heard Ducret before this is a good place to start, there's fine compositions and performances all here. And, if you like this then you'll need no encouragement to look into his work even further. As for Marc Ducret fans, if you haven't got this one, buy it!

The website says this is a limited edition of 1000. 

Here's a video of the group live. The recording is more 'centred' sound-wise, but here you get some idea of the groups sound, and size. If you look for Ducret's Tower-bridge project on Youtube you'll find plenty of other examples. 

The musicians on this record are: Kasper Tranberg - trumpet; Dominique Pifarély - violin; Tim Berne - alto saxophone; Matthias Mahler - trombone; Fidel Fourneyron - trombone; Alexis Persigan - trombone; Frédéric Gastard - bass saxophone; Antonin Rayon - piano; Sylvain Lemêtre - percussion,vibraphone, xylophone, marimba; Tom Rainey - drums; Peter Bruun - drums and Marc Ducret - electric guitar

Other albums in the Tower-bridge series:
Tower, vol. 1, Tower, vol. 2, Tower, vol. 3, Tower, vol. 4

¹, accessed Sept. 6, 2014.
² It's interesting to add that volume four is the only record that has pieces unique to that record. There are a few pieces which are re-examined from the other volumes, however, tracks: From a Distant Land; Sisters; Ada; ... A Distand Land; Sybil Vane, and Electricity (by Joni Mitchell), are to be found only on this album.  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Max Johnson – The Prisoner (NoBusiness, 2014) ****

Deep Listening Weekend - Day 2

By Dan Sorrells

Looking back, Patrick McGoohan’s TV classic The Prisoner marked the point where the anti-establishment rebelliousness of 60s counter-culture started to sour into the paranoia of the 70s. Over the decades the show has remained tremendously influential, while the sort of surveillance society that it railed against is increasingly realized in our current hyper-digital, globalized world.

The concerns of The Prisoner are interesting in the context of Max Johnson’s namesake tribute album, performed by a quartet of Johnson, Ingrid Laubrock, Mat Maneri, and Tomas Fujiwara. As our anxiety grows about a modern culture that’s slowly warping into The Prisoner’s Village, we also live in a world that allows improvising musicians unprecedented means for inspiration and collaboration. As websites subversively build detailed profiles of all our likes and movements, The Prisoner’s musicians and I can go online and easily enjoy the cult British series made before any of us were born. As the NSA presses Google for warrantless information, Max Johnson can effortlessly send a promotional copy of his album to my GMail, and I can download it onto my computer within seconds.

But whatever the conditions for its conception, the music is what’s important. What makes The Prisoner a remarkable album is that Johnson’s loose compositions convey a certain narrative and drama all on their own, regardless of whether you’re familiar with the show that inspired them. And—just like the show—what they ultimately do best is imbue the listening environment with a sense of the uncanny, the queasy feeling that nothing is quite what it seems.

 “No. 6 Arrival/No. 58 Orange Alert” begins in a tentative, exploratory manner: low in volume, the music feels its way through unfamiliar territory, with long tendrils of strings reaching out through Laubrock’s hazy tenor and Fujiwara’s delicate percussion. It’s uneasy yet beautiful, slightly claustrophobic even as it picks up in volume and texture.  But before the piece comes to a close, the Orange Alert: Laubrock sounds a chiming alarm, and the music comes alive. It’s busy but short-lived, much like McGoohan’s first scuffle with the eerie Rover that can be seen chasing him across the album sleeve.

Elsewhere, “X04” has the jaunty swagger of the show’s jazzy interludes, while “No. 24 Hammer into Anvil” builds to a marching crescendo that erupts into a free improv workout. “No. 48 Living in Harmony” flirts with Alice Coltrane-style spiritual jazz, with some beautiful saxophone playing that calls to mind Pharaoh Sanders. Bolstered by Johnson’s thick, bowed double stops and Maneri’s skittering lines, the piece perfectly conveys the paranoid, suspicious nature of the show: beneath the placid melody, a dark undercurrent surges, the deep, uncertain flow that threatens the outwardly normal surface.

The Prisoner showcases music of many influences, but never blatantly declares itself to be any of them. The uncanny pseudo-familiarity is part of the fun. However untrusting No. 6 may have been of the others he enlisted in his escape attempts, Johnson can be assured he has a rock-solid crew of co-conspirators for his realization of The Prisoner. He’s proving to be a brilliant and surprising frontman as of late. To him I’ll simply say:

“Be hearing you.”

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Max Johnson – The Prisoner (NoBusiness, 2014) ****½

Deep Listening Weekend - Day 1

By Martin Schray

The Prisoner was a cult British TV series created by Patrick McGoohan, which has inspired metal and punk bands as different as Iron Maiden, XTC or The Clash. The plot is about a secret service agent who finds himself a prisoner in an isolated village after he decided to resign. The village, in which the individual is reduced to a number (the protagonist is No. 6), is controlled by a mysterious No. 1, although nobody gets to see him. The village is guarded by an elaborate surveillance system, including security personnel and a mysterious balloon-like device that recaptures – or kills – those who try to escape. The village administrators are various No. 2s, who are replaced constantly because of their futile attempts to find out about No. 6’s real reasons to resign. Aesthetically the series is a weird stylistic mix of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451, Orwell’s 1984 and James Bond films, but even 45 years after it was created you can still feel its claustrophobic and Kafkaesque mood.

New York-based bassist Max Johnson, a man who has collaborated with artists as various as Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, The Butthole Surfers, Vernon Reid and several bluegrass (!) bands, has been fascinated by this series since he was a kid. But when he decided to compose a suite based on the series he was obviously not interested in interpreting or using the original score, which rather reminds of classic 1960s spy movie soundtracks. Instead Johnson tried to capture the above-mentioned atmosphere.  Even structurally he tried to transform the concepts, the “intricate webs weaved throughout the show, [the] loose ends that never get tied up, and huge questions that are never answered” into music. The music has an episodic character: Johnson said that “some of the tunes represent little moments or episodes, while the beginning and end of the suite signify bigger parts of the story.”

And the album is indeed bookended by the longest tracks, “No. 6: Arrival/No. 58: Orange Alert,” and “No. 2: Once Upon a Time/No. 1: Fallout.”  The first one introduces us to the world of the prisoner and sets the tone for the album – it is a gloomy and oppressive world and the musicians use long, deep and dark tones to illustrate this. The long and almost ethereal beginning is destroyed with a siren-like call by Laubrock’s sax which forces the group to test out the boundaries of the composition – just like No. 6 trying to escape from the village. The latter closes the album with a two-part finale (like the series). Part one begins almost melancholic, as if there was a certain nostalgia in the face of the near end, but the final part (like the episode) flows into chaos with Laubrock and the strings battling wildly and Fujiwara soloing (one of the great moments of the album, since it represents the brutality and action of the last part of the show as well) before the whole piece evolves into a funeral march meandering in a classic bebop improvisation – a final hint to the series when the protagonists finally manage to leave the village.

These two tracks are like blueprints for the other compositions. “No. 12: Schizoid Man/Gemini,” an episode when No. 6 is replaced by a spooky look-alike in order to crash his self, focuses on Maneri’s viola and Laubrock’s sax stalking each other mysteriously. And one of the more brutal episodes – “No. 24: Hammer Into Anvil”, in which a paranoid, sadistic No. 2 has taken over – begins with a painful sax call, before there are high-pitched scratching and straining tones from the viola, which leads to a pure free jazz fight in its last few minutes. It’s my favorite part on the album.

One of the most famous quotations of the show—“I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered”—is like a motto for Max Johnson’s music: It is hard to pigeonhole this music, it is programmatic and notated yet free and excessive at the same time. And with Ingrid Laubrock on tenor saxophone, Mat Maneri on viola and Tomas Fujiwara on drums, he simply has a great band.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Solo Bass

Bass player on the way to play at a village festival, Serbia, 1965 
(by Henri Cartier-Bresson)
By Stef

The bad thing about being a fan of solo bass albums, is that I wait to long to review them, trying to bring them all in one article, but of course that doesn't work well, probably not doing service to the musicians, yet the good thing is that within the strict limits of this unwieldy instrument variation, beauty and adventure resides, depending on whose magic is at work.

Peter Jacquemyn - Dig Deep (ChampdAction, 2014) ****

The first musician on the list is Belgian sculpture, visual artist and bassist Peter Jacquemyn, who is a force of nature when you see him perform live, as the video below will testify. His playing is physical, direct, revealing an immediacy of thought and emotion, that is the foundation of further expansions, as if pushed by the moment itself. He himself uses the Spanish palindrome 'La ruta nos aportó otro paso natural', used by the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela : 'the road offers us the natural next step'.

The first track is a short introduction, but with "Low", a lengthy piece played arco, Jaquemyn demonstrates his skills and musical vision, evolving from intense repetitive bowing over deep drone-like scrapings to sensitive pizzi work.  On "Lower", he accompanies his playing by deep throat-singing, resonating with the bowing that keeps circulating around a low tonal centre, then the intensity increases with a more heavy attack on multiple strings, repetitive and hypnotic.

The music starts calmer on "High", in an amazing duet between bass and overtone singing, a sensitive and gentle exploration of timbre and glissandi, yet the rest of the track offers a contrast of noise and string multiphonics, possibly the result of two bows or prepared strings.

Peter Jaquemyn is the real thing, an artist without compromise, with a sound and a musical 'voice' that is incredible authentic and true to itself ... a thing of value, and great listening.

Mike Majkowski - Why Is There Something Instead Of Nothing (Bocian, 2014) ****

When playing this vinyl LP very loud on the turntable, my wife came running in wondering what was happening. The intense monotonous sound that shook her came from Australian Mike Majkowski's arco bass, who, on the first piece, manages to play a single note for twenty minutes, with slight variations that are sometimes deliberate, with the occasional plucked string in between the drone-like sound, but that are also less deliberate, as the result of sheer physical necessity to change the position of the wrist or the angle of the bow, and the amazing thing is that despite this narrow angle of approach, the music does change, and it is captivating and mesmerising.

The B-side is even more beautiful, with two repeated bowed notes piercing through a sea of silence, to be replaced in the second part of the improvisation with sparse but powerful plucked notes.

Margarida Garcia - The Leaden Echo (Headlights, 2014) ****

Of a totally different nature is this little gem by Portugues bassist Margarida Garcia, a 200 copies one-sided LP of seventeen minutes. The sound of her bass resonates like I've rarely heard a bass resonate, filling the space completely, with long bowed tones that make every nerve in your body vibrate in harmony, whether very deep or very high, it is sad, eery moaning and terrifying at the same time, hard to capture in words (luckily!). The second piece is played pizzi, but with the same calm and sober power, creating a desolate sonic universe that is compelling and unique.

I really and truly wish this album was longer, yet at the same time it creates a great sense of anticipation for more.

Tom Blancarte - The Shortening Of The Way (Tubapede, 2014) ****

Bass players apparently are into vinyl these days, and so is Tom Blancarte, who kicks off the first side with some ear-piercing ferocious bowing, that keeps its dynamics from beginning to end, relentlessly, resulting in an obsessive trance-like incantation, with deep undercurrents of pain and distress, creating wild multiphonics on the strings like several voices screaming to get some relief, to get some rest, to get some resolution, but guess what, they're not getting it at all, transposing the sense of anguish on the listener whose nerves become the instrument of the artist.

The second track is easily as intense, constructed out of quick bursts of sound, like furious scratches of pencil in a sketch, direct transposition of emotion to sound, without preconceived notions, without polishing, without ornaments, just the immediacy of sound as sound, abstract and tense, almost percussive at times, fast and hard-hitting.

Louis-Michel Marion - 5 Strophes (Kadima, 2014) ****

French bassist Louis-Michel Marion is possibly less known, and maybe because his art is a quiet one, an art of precision of sonic quality, of sensitivity to sound, of opening space for sound, yet in a gentle, elegant way. There is no screaming, no extended techniques, nothing obtrusive, no, you get well-paced bowed sounds, circling around a tonal center, with quiet repetitiveness, and intense deepening of the universe created. Even if he gives Joëlle Léandre and Barre Phillips as references, his music is something else entirely, often closer to modern classical music and minimalism than to jazz or free music. 

Ryan McGuire - Civilian (Bandcamp, 2013) ***½

Avant-metal bassist Ryan McGuire surprises with this solo double bass album, offering twelve tracks each with their own character and approach, played both plucked and bowed, and in contrast to what you wold assume, his style bears no relation with the avant metal of Ehnare. The music is varied, lyrical even at times, such as on "At Night", or on "Delicate Creatures", and especially in the middle of the album does he increase his explorations, as on "Quicksands", and "The Speaking Tree". I wish he would have given us some more of that. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Then there are some albums that were released in the past years, and which could also be of interest to fans of solo bass performances. 

James Ilgenfritz - Compositions (Braxton) 2011 (Infrequent Seams, 2012)

This album by James Ilgenfritz only now came to my attention. He transposes material from Braxton to solo bass, not a minor feat by itself, "integrating integrating well-known materials from Braxton’s quartet repertoire, trumpet cadenzas from Composition 103 (for 7 trumpets) and orchestral parts, with some of his numerous improvisation and structuring systems, including the Ghost Trance Music, Coordinate Music, Pulse Tracks, and Language Musics"

Shayna Dulberger - The Basement Recordings (Self, 2011)

Same thing with this Shayna Dulberger solo album, which is now available via Bandcamp.

The album brings us a lot of varied and fresh sounds, with lots of interesting ideas, one or more for each of the tracks, which remain somewhat undeveloped, making the total package sound like the nicely prepared ingredients for a sumptuous dish which you do not get, or just like here, the ingredients can be eaten separately as finger food, and will taste as delicious. 

Paul Rogers -  Solo (Bootleg, 1986)

One of the real masters of solo bass performances is Paul Rogers, whose playing stands on its own, in a different category of music. This bootleg was recorded at Tony Levin's home  15 September 1986, and can be downloaded for free from "Inconstant Sol". Even if sometimes meanders a bit, other pieces are absolutely stellar. He is inventive, lyrical, generous, warm, adventurous, deep, moving, complex, authentic, straightforward, sensitive, intense, ...

Yoni Kretzmer - Protest Music (Out Now Recordings, 2014) ****

By Ed Pettersen

This is the second record I’ve been asked by the FJB to review this month where I knew absolutely nothing about the artist beforehand but yet again it’s a revelation.  Every track bristles with verve, passion and creativity and Protest Music is the perfect title for it as each track urges you to feel something, asks you make a stand without making you angry or agitated.  Call it compassionate provocation.

Yoni Kretzmer is an Israeli saxophonist who currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.  He began practicing his particular blend of classical and free jazz in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and studied at the American School of Modern Music in Paris.  The band is only bass, drums and sax yet is excellent on this record and you’d think they had been playing together for ages though they’ve only been working for a short time (Mr. Kretzmer has a few units he works with since his move to the U.S.).  They are seamless and the interplay between them stellar, evocative and inspiring.  They sound like much more than just three pieces.  It strikes me that Mr. Kretzmer is probably highly influenced by Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and a bit of Sam Rivers but explores the lower registers of his sax more than those legends which is a good thing in my mind.  It would be too easy to mine the same territory in this style yet I found this music wholly original. The songs on Protest Music - This, Is, Our, Very, First, Album, Together - have a lot of variety for such a small band and though a lot is going on to propel the songs there’s plenty of room to breathe too.  None of the songs are very long, the longest is just over 9 minutes, but they hold your attention at every note and leave you wanting more.  Perfect.

The group is Mr. Kretzmer on sax, Pascal Niggenkemper on double bass and Weasel Walter on drums.  It was beautifully recorded at Park West Studios in Brooklyn by Jim Clouse.  Due to his classical studies he brings a unique sensibility to his craft and I think you’ll hear that classical influence in his songs.  He’s obviously found some very sympathetic players to his compositions.  This is terrific stuff.  I look forward to hearing more from this terrific young instrumentalist and composer.  I listened to this album at least four times while writing this review and will go back to Protest Music a lot more in the future.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask - Bite My Blues (Clean Feed, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

The second track, 'What?!' is a heart-stopping, hard-hitting, kind of feels-good-even-though-it-kind-of-hurts type of thrash-jazz-rock, which is all fine and good if you have stuck around after the first track 'Chained' peeled some skin off your face. It's Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask - a heavy jazz trio from Berlin and their latest album, Bite My Blues, recorded mostly live, has been burning holes through my earbuds for a while now. It seems that each time I press play, powerful blasts of energy jolt me anew.

While Van Huffel's alto sax channels fiery from the gut playing most of the time, there is also a great deal of melodicism in his playing. Between the typically short and catchy heads, his fierce playing arcs with electricity. The track 'Fast and Furious' is a good example - a couple of minutes into the tune there is a pause and drop in volume that gives the track a chance to change gears from blistering to reflective only to quickly return to even more blistering.

Van Huffel's band mates are Roland Fidezius on bass and Rudi Fischerlehner on drums. Their accompaniment is an indispensable element to the album - the energy and forcefulness is kept in check by a mindful and subtle restraint that helps focus the lightning strikes. They have an extended interlude on 'Skunk' that showcases their rapport and a good display of their power can be seen in the track 'Z'. The track's stuttering rhythmic drive propels Van Huffel's slightly overblown lines further and further, while at the same time holding it all back just enough to make the release mid-way all the more satisfying.

My only complaint, if you can call it a complaint, is that this is a beast of an album, it's a thrill to take in all at once, but it may leave you a bit fried! Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Zion 80 - Adramelech - The Book of Angels vol. 22 (Tzadik, 2014) *****

By Ed Pettersen

Based in New York City, Zion 80’s mission is to expand the scope and framework of Jewish music and lead it into the 21st Century while paying homage to its forefathers.

If you’re not well versed in Jewish music its melodies have been prevalent in popular music maybe even without you consciously knowing.  Songs like “Nature Boy” and “Strange Fruit” for example are not only written by Jewish writers but contain key elements and structure of song passed down for generations.  What makes the Book of Angels vol. 22 so exciting is that Zion 80 carves out its own identity and territory while at the same time paying respect without hitting you over the head with it and the results are exciting and addictive.  This may be the best played, produced, arranged, conducted, mixed and recorded album I’ve heard in the last ten years.  I’m not kidding.  It’s that great.  Each song will make you tweak your head to one side, enticing you to listen closer, to think you’re hearing something, a note, a phrase, you might have heard before then takes you in a new direction that will both make you smile and titillate the mind at the same time.

For someone like myself, who is ¼ Jewish (yes there are Norwegian Jews; 892 were shipped from Oslo in 1940 to concentration camps by the Nazi’s.  Only 9 survived and returned after the war) these themes have been swimming in my soul for my whole life but you don’t need to be Jewish or have some ancestry to enjoy this work.  Do you like Indian music?  Do you relate to Middle Eastern scales?  Well then, that’s precisely what this is seen “through the lens of Afrobeat” (according to their website).  How this pertains to us here in Free Jazz land is that it’s completely original, wildly inventive, exciting, brilliantly played, passionate and filled with joy.  Lots of joy.  I’ve listened to it three times already for this assignment and I will listen many more times after my fingers are done typing.  I did not know of this group before being asked to write this review so maybe my exuberance is in direct relation to a new discovery but I think not (Disclaimer: I worked with Ms. Lurie on Giuseppi Logan’s 2013 release “And They were Cool…” but didn’t know she was part of this group until I researched them for this piece).

Nothing is perfunctory or forced on this record and the songs, 8 of them in total and perfectly sequenced, are not indulgent with the longest clocking in at just over ten minutes.  They are tight, taut, superbly crafted and endlessly thrilling.  No one takes a solo just because it is time.  When member Brian Marsella takes a superbly creative keyboard turn during the song “Kenunit” it’s not a jazz convention; it takes the song someplace new and ends the song perfectly.  The horns make you want to believe they are improvised as they grunt and howl but in the most musical fashion so it can’t be, can it?  They are too together!  I had a huge smile on my face during all three spins of this record and my wife laughed at me as she found me bopping across our living room floor with the volume cranked.  As a guitarist myself Jon Madof (the leader of Zion 80) and Yoshie Fruchter are my new heroes.  The interplay between them is brilliant and the solos and their tone are out of this world and the bass playing is tremendous.  Shanir Blumenkranz knows just when to kick on (and step off) a fuzz pedal and use phasers judiciously and they add quite a lot to those songs without being distracting or getting in the way.  For an album with so many players and complexities it’s a wonder that there is also a good deal of space on this record.  Nothing feels crammed in nor cramped ever.

If you can’t tell by now you really must get this.  You will not be sorry.  Hopefully, like myself, it will stick with you long, long after the music stops playing.  I can’t recommend it enough.

If we could give an album six stars this would be it.

Zion80 is:
Jon Madof – guitar
Frank London – trumpet
Matt Darriau – alto sax
Greg Wall – tenor sax
Jessica Lurie – bari sax
Zach Mayer – bari sax
Brian Marsella – keyboards
Yoshie Fruchter – guitar
Shanir Blumenkranz – bass
Marlon Sobol – percussion
Yuval Lion – drums

Videos and more here:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead (WARP/Rough Trade, 2014) ****½

By Martin Schray

Every now and then the mainstream media ask the question how it is possible to make jazz more attractive for a younger audience. Usually the answer is to integrate more pop music into jazz and/or to mix pop and jazz acts at festivals. In my opinion this is the wrong approach. You cannot make people listen to a certain music – but it might interest younger people what the music they normally listen to is based on or in this case what kind of music it is the artist has used as samples.

With his last albums Cosmogramma and Until the Quiet Comes Flying Lotus has become the new darling of the pop avant-garde, the first one a crude bastard of drum&bass patterns, fusion bass guitars, hip hop and jazz jingles, the latter a deeply relaxed “jazz album” full of Fender Rhodes cascades, psychedelic flutes and spacey vocals. Moreover, Steven Ellison (Flying Lotus’s real name) is Alice Coltrane’s grandnephew and songwriter Marilyn McLeod’s grandson (she worked for Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross). Among his fans are Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Herbie Hancock, who allegedly said that – if he had been still alive – Miles Davis would have hung out with Ellison, and “Miles always hung out with people who took jazz on the next level”. Hancock is one of the many guest musicians on this album, by the way.

But is “You’re Dead” even jazz? Can music which is completely generated at the computer be jazz? Can computer music be improvised? Is it even original? Actually, it doesn’t matter, “You’re Dead” is simply spectacular. It is a melting pot full of drum&bass rattling, howling jazz saxophones, easy listening, hip hop, extreme guitar fidgeting and Sun Ra keyboard sounds, a polystilistic monster as if Aphex Twin, Pharoah Sanders, Nels Cline and Snoop Dogg were composing - simultaneously. Ellison’s music is a postmodern spin cycle of quotes, an experimental arrangement of sheer madness. This reminds of John Zorn’s Naked City, only that it is designed for kids that have grown up with play stations. Ellison is their hyperactive guru who wants to crack the next musical level when he tries to combine the latest hip hop and soul stuff (Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat and Snoop Dogg are guest-starring here) with Atari sounds in a manic hyperjazz universe.

The tracks on “You’re Dead” are hardly longer than two minutes (there is a punk approach to it as well), it is full of references, musical U-turns and flashes of genius – and only 38 minutes long!

Frank Zappa once said, that jazz was not dead, it just smelled funny. I don’t know how it smells – but if something can convince a very young generation that jazz is alive, as fresh as a daisy, adventurous and mind-boggling, it’s “You’re Dead”. One of the most innovative albums this year – whether it is jazz or not.

“You’re dead” is available as double vinyl (!), CD and download. There is even a 4-LP-box set.

Listen to a teaser here:

Free Jazz Blog on Air - Now Online

Free Jazz Blog on Air radio show, featuring Martin Schray in conversation with Julia Neupert, is now available online for a week. Called Trumpets Only, this episode highlights great trumpeters like Bill Dixon, Nate Wooley, Peter Evans and of course the late Kenny Wheeler.  Listen now!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Noah Howard Quartetto - Live At The Swing Club Torino, Italy (Serie WOC Italy, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

The first thing that attracts the eye is this cover – the Jimi Hendrix posture. Noah Howard, one of the great underestimated figures in free jazz, in concentrated rapture. It’s an iconic picture of him which was also used for his 1979 recording “Ole”, on which he presents a fabulous version of the Coltrane composition. All of Howard’s commitment, his ability to listen, his grandeur is expressed in this picture.

Yet, for mysterious reasons Howard (1943 – 2010) has never received the same attention as – let’s say – Archie Shepp, Joe McPhee or Albert Ayler (by whom he was deeply influenced) although he recorded two great albums on ESP (“Noah Howard Quartet” and “At Judson Hall”, both released in 1966) and even one on a major label, the fantastic “The Black Ark” (Polydor, 1972) and my two favorites, “Berlin Concert” and “Schizophrenic Blues” (both on FMP/SAJ), which he recorded after he had moved to Europe. It was in April 1974 when he recorded “Live at the Swing Club Torino, Italy”. The session features Howard (alto sax, bells, tambourine) alongside Michael Smith (electric piano, acoustic piano), Bob Raid (bass) and Noel McGhie (drums). The album was out of print for a very long time and has now been re-released, which is a real moment of happiness for all free jazz fans.

The reason is the wonderful music which is presented on this album. Howard is a true Coltrane disciple and you can hear that in every tone of his alto. From the very first note on the opening track Paris Dreams it is all there: the piano arpeggios, the driving drums and the pulsating bass and Howard’s soulful sound which is firmly rooted in blues and gospel. Howard gives his fellow musicians a lot of space to shine, especially Noel McGhie, who introduces the B-side of the album with a long drum solo before Howard and Michael Smith drop in with a forceful riff that reminds of Joe McPhee’s “Nation Time” phase. The highlight of the album is Lecke, a spiritual ballad that reminds of Coltrane’s Alabama with its deeply moving, irresistible melody and Bob Raid’s lamenting bowed bass.

“Live At The Swing Club Torino, Italy” is a great album, especially for fans of classic free jazz of the late 1960s and early 70s period. It is available on 180 gram high quality vinyl only and limited to 300 copies. You better be quick.

Listen to the second part of ”Mardi Gras“ here: