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Susana Santos Silva Group

Silva (trumpet), Pascal Niggenkemper (bass), Carlo Costa (drums), Frantz Loriot (viola). May 2016. 65Fen Music Series, Brooklyn. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Jürg Wickihalder (saxes), Barry Guy (b) and Lucas Niggli (dr)

May 2016. Schorndorf, Germany at the Manufaktur. Photo by Martin Schray

PaPaJoSh

May 2015. Paul Hubweber (tb), Paul Lovens (dr), Jonas Westergaard (b) and Shelley Hirsch (voc). Photo by Martin Schray

Fire! Orchestra

June 2016. Zurich, Switzerland at Rote Fabrik. Photo by Martin Schray

Friday, July 1, 2016

Geißler, Seely, Punkt, and Scholz - awa (otherunwise, 2016) ****

By Paul Acquaro

awa is the meeting of three Leipzigers and a lone New Yorker in a freely improvised setting. Comprised of Gustav Geißler (Alto Saxophone, Leipzig), Zach Seely (Guitar, New York), Noah Punkt (Bass, Leipzig) and Philipp Scholz (Drums, Leipzig), the quartet tends to rely on a light touch, with bursts of concentrated energy that shows each musician carefully taking clues from each other. The end result is a recording that is as sensitive as it is energetic.

Clocking in at 30 minutes, the first track 'Frowin' features the group running the gamut from quiet textural playing to kinetic flights. Halfway into the track there is a passage where everything exciting about awa is summed up: light precise drum work punctuates the fragmented musical sentences from the guitar, while the saxophone delivers a spritely and complex line of melodic reasoning.

Connected by the short track 'onno' the third track, 'rowena', is a 19 minute improvisation that builds from the piercing scrape of the cymbal and the forlorn blues steeped moan of the sax to an intense peak mid-track. The track is a gradual crescendo, the sax driving the first half, until a delightful extended passage where the guitar takes the lead with a rhythmic percussive exploration. Then a melodica or small accordion appears, bringing a new feel and flavor to the closing of the album.

Engaging and filled with new ideas, Geißler, Seely, Punkt, and Scholz's awa is a patient and enjoyable journey through the MBTI of musicality - sometimes introverted and sensitive, sometimes extroverted and intense.



Thursday, June 30, 2016

Lean Left, KSET, Zagreb, Croatia; 6/1/2016

Photographer Bruno Vunderl
By Antonio Poscic

Terrie Hessels crumples a plastic cup over the neck of his guitar. Andy Moor gingerly scrapes the strings with his fingertips before grinding them with a brush, producing barely audible sparkles and squeaks. Ken Vandermark whispers and rustles through the mouthpiece, gently hissing and spurting half-formed phrases from his saxophone. Paal Nilssen-Love gnashes drumsticks against the rims of the snare and cymbals as he articulates abstract silhouettes of some undefined rhythm. This is how Lean Left tune themselves in and stretch out during the first minutes of their performance. They show us only rough glimpses of what’s to come.

Standing in the back of the stage, Vandermark is the first to attack. He leaves behind the initial contemplative and exploratory phase as he starts pushing out recognizable, bursting and fluid phrases. Nilssen-Love follows
suit, switches into a supple yet energetic style and ventures towards grooves and funky rhythms not far removed from disco. It’s then that the frontline guitar duo Hessels/Moor, from Dutch anarcho-punkers The Ex, go off. While Moor, the most reserved of the four musicians, starts strumming frantically and toying with mock-tremolos, Hessels appears to exist in his own time and space. As if in a fit of possession, he intentionally misconstructs tappings, knocks and grazes strings with a drumstick, swirls the guitar strap… “Eclectic” and “unconventional” are euphemisms when trying to describe Hessels’ playing which acknowledges no “right” and “allowed” ways or rules.

Still, while the first part of the concert is captivating in its own right, there’s something amiss. Unlike during my earlier encounters with the band, the foursome struggles to fully interact during the quieter and improvisationally nuanced passages and dialogs. It’s especially Vandermark, never hiding his fondness of emerging structures and cleverly ordered ideas, that appears a bit lost in the chaotic chemistry of the group. Meanwhile, Hessels continues to build through destruction, perpendicular to the endeavors of the other musicians, as he follows the flow instinctively rather than programmatically, and even veers the improvisational trends ever so often. In these attempts at establishing a protocol, possibly through an expression of frustration, the band finally frees itself and begins entertaining long-lasting, audaciously loud and eruptive moments. The two guitars create droning noises, Nilssen-Love’s drumming varies from the jaunty style reminiscent of Hamid Drake in DKV Trio to firm rock rhythms, whilst Vandermark digs into melodic segments infused with lyricism, simultaneously immersing himself and negating the pandemonium around him. They sound powerful and liberated.

A few days after this concert, Vandermark will recall quotes by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp and characterize himself as a musician whose main goal is to find solutions to problems of interactions and musical creativity in an improvised, spontaneous context. He’s both restricted and inspired by his principles, pushed to the outer edges of creativeness while trying to find meaning and composition in entropy. On the other hand, Terrie Hessels doesn’t solve problems because he doesn’t even acknowledge that there are any. Music for him is an empty canvas on which he scribbles with sounds in an expressionistic, unbidden manner, not afraid of spraying paint outside the canvas. The contrast between these two currents in Lean Left makes for a band of interesting aesthetics and dynamics, a band that’s in a constant state of conflict: tidy spontaneous compositions, jazz sensibilities, developing grooves, and elements of funk on one side and the irrepressible, uncompromising punk presence of The Ex on the other.

Lean Left’s performance reminded me once again that, like with most improvised music, they are really best experienced live. Even very good records such as Live at Area Sismica will ultimately fail to capture the tangible energy and unspoken synergy. It’s something that’s in the air while the audience cheers and whoops, as if confronted with rock stars. Suffice to say, even after three encores, we were still ready for more.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tyshawn Sorey – The Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi Recordings, 2016) ****½

By Troy Dostert

Tyshawn Sorey needs no introduction to the readers of this blog, as he has for several years been firmly at the forefront of creative jazz and improvised music.  He is the antithesis of the showy, extroverted drummer, as for Sorey the stress is always on the beauty of the collective music made by his groups rather than the chops of the individual players.  This aspect of his craft, combined with his unique compositional style, distinguish him as an independent and fiercely visionary musical force on today’s scene.

This extraordinarily ambitious two-disc release will certainly add to Sorey’s growing legacy.  Comprised of six pieces, all but two over twenty minutes in length, it gives Sorey and his counterparts plenty of room to develop their expansive palette.  Sorey’s established trio partners Cory Smythe (piano) and Christopher Tordini (bass) are joined by a string section including Fung Chern Hwei (violin), Kyle Armbrust (viola), and Rubin Khodeli (cello).  I should say right off the bat that the musicianship here is impeccable: precise and expertly played by all, these are virtuosos at work.  Sorey’s choice of string players was excellent, because they each have the flexibility and range needed to embody his distinctive musical ethos.  And the recording quality is also first-rate, with all of the nuances and subtleties of each instrument coming through clearly and effectively.

As for the music itself, it definitively straddles the two worlds of improvisation and composition, making it almost impossible at points to discern the difference between the composed and improvised sections of the pieces.  Sorey has spoken before of his indebtedness to Lawrence “Butch” Morris, who honed the approach he termed “conduction,” wherein improvised sections of a work would be guided or cued by the leader (http://jazztimes.com/articles/123065-tyshawn-sorey-remembers-butch-morris).  One can hear Sorey’s reliance on that influence here, especially on the third track, “Movement III,” which is made up largely of short musical vignettes, often involving just a couple of the musicians, in what sound mostly like freely-improvised segments, without a clear theme or melodic structure.  But if one listens to the second track, “Movement II,” one is struck by the beauty and elegance of what sounds to be a thoroughly-composed piece, largely showcasing the gorgeous work of the string players.  These examples aside, most of the music is less easy to parse, and hence it is best enjoyed by simply taking it in.  (Although it would be fascinating to watch this music performed live, as I do think it would be quite illuminating to observe Sorey’s role in “directing” the performance.)

Especially with two full discs of music, it does demand patience and concentration on the part of the listener.  But the rewards for doing so are many, as there are stirring surprises to be found throughout.  For instance, the opening of the second disc, “Reverie,” is comprised chiefly of Sorey’s sparse work on gongs and cymbals for the first several minutes, before he is eventually joined by the strings and piano, coming in individually and collectively with long, drawn out notes.  The emphasis here is on sound and texture, and the overall effect is meditative and reverential—until about three-fourths of the way through the track when the strings launch into a vigorously jarring closing burst that is gripping and stunning in its power.  In “Movement III,” we are treated to a funky, rhythmically complex opening that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a Steve Coleman or Steve Lehman record, before the strings are allowed their freedom to explore completely different ideas; and then it’s on to another improvisational segment after that one.  While some of these concepts take perhaps too long in their development (my endurance was admittedly tested a bit during some moments of “Reverie”), the overall bounty of musical figures and stylistic juxtapositions on these two discs is impressive, and there’s more than enough fascinating music to warrant repeated and close listenings, as new dimensions of the pieces emerge upon each hearing.  And for those who like a bit more conventional post-bop, yes, that’s here too: a really catchy seven-minute Middle-Eastern-influenced portion of “Movement IV,” where Sorey proves that yes, he can certainly generate a groove when it’s called for!

This is one of those rare releases where one can say with confidence that something new and exciting is taking place.  Sorey is fast becoming one of the most intriguing musicians and composers of his generation, and if this music is any indication, it signals the opportunity for more creative work to be done in bringing the worlds of classical and improvised music into closer contact.  Truly a recording to be celebrated.

Tyshawn Sorey, Julia Bullock, ICE - Josephine Baker: A Portrait (World Premiere, Ojai Music Festival, 2016)

Tyshawn Sorey*
By Lee Rice Epstein

Although this blog only occasionally dips into new music, I did want to share some thoughts about Tyshawn Sorey’s world premiere from this year’s Ojai Music Festival. The festival itself takes place every June in the rural town of Ojai, California, about 20 miles inland from Ventura. Alex Ross has written about the festival in The New Yorker and on his blog a few times, and it’s worth looking up those articles to get a sense of the artistic scope and intimacy of the performances. There have been a handful of intersections with quote-unquote jazz over the years, and in 2017 Vijay Iyer will be music director, and he’ll bring both his trio and sextet out for the festival, tweaking the format considerably. If anyone wants to meet up, my wife and I are already planning to attend.

Sorey’s discography is probably well-known to readers of this blog, but his chamber work has not yet been recorded, even though you can find plenty of videos online. Still, this was an exciting event for me, a chance to see a brand new Sorey composition that combined elements of chamber music, improvisation, spoken text (written by Claudia Rankine, author of the critically-acclaimed Citizen: An American Lyric), and rearrangements of songs notably performed by Baker:
  • “Bye Bye Blackbird”
  • “Sous Le Ciel D’Afrique” (“Under the African Sky”) 
  • “Madiana (Mélodie Antillaise)” (“Madiana (West Indian Melody)”)
  • “C’est Ça Le Vrai Bonheur” (“That’s It, True Happiness”)
  • “Si J’etais Blanche” (“If I Was White”)
  • “C’est Lui” (“It’s Him”)
  • “Terre Séche: Negro Spiritual” (“Dry Earth: Negro Spiritual)”
The performers included members of ICE, with Claire Chase on flute, Rebekah Heller on bassoon, Ryan Muncy on oboe, Jennifer Curtis on violin, and Daniel Lippel on guitar. Sorey switched between piano, percussion, and drums. Julia Bullock, at center stage on a raised platform, inhabited the role of Josephine Baker, reciting portions of Rankine’s text between each song, singing in both English and French, and, during one captivating interlude, dancing, in a duet with Sorey on drums.

Sorey, who hasn’t recorded much as a pianist, has a light, open approach to the instrument. Early on, he played ringing chords and sustained notes, typical of his compositions. Then, drawing out the tension in a later passage, he played the piano strings with a small mallet and did some light preparations, holding strings while he played single notes. Bullock was simply incredible. The piece, which premiered late Saturday night under heavy cloud cover, was absolutely stunning, in both conception and execution. Sorey, Bullock, and Rankine have created an incredibly powerful statement on art, race, gender, and sexuality. Typically, some parts of the festival are available to stream online, and I highly recommend seeking this out.

* Photo from: http://www.berkeleyside.com/2016/06/16/shes-the-boss-ojai-at-berkeley-celebrates-amazing-women/

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Warped Dreamer - Lomahongva (Rat Records, 2016) *****



It is tempting to describe the Norwegian-Belgian supergroup Warped Dreamer as an extension of the Norwegian Supersilent legacy. Warped Dreamer also operates as a free-improvising unit, enabling its four musicians to rediscover and reinvent their sonic universes all the time. As Supersilent, Warped Dreamer refuses any attempt to lock it in any genre or style convention, but Warped Dreamer has already has an independent, highly unique sound stamp of its own.

From the Norwegian side the quartet feature trumpeter-vocalist Arve Henriksen, a founding member of Supersilent (when it was still an acoustic trio called Veslefrekk in the late nineties) and guitarist Stian Westerhus, who often performed with Supersilent. The Belgian side adds Jozef Dumoulin, a Fender Rhodes magician who transforms this vintage instrument into an infinite sound generator; and drummer Teun Verbruggen, who leads, among other outfits, The Bureau of Atomic Tourism, (BoAT) a sort of international jazz supergroup, featuring French guitarist Marc Ducret and American trumpeter Nate Wooley. All four adds electronics and live manipulations to their instrumental palette.

The tireless Verbruggen, who collaborates with Dumoulin in BoAT and recorded before with Henriksen (Black Swan, Rat, 2012) convened this quartet. The band name is borrowed from a composition of another Verbruggen experimental bands, Othin Spake (taken from Child Of Deception And Skill, RAT, 2008), that also featured Dumoulin. The title of the quartet debut album is a name in the Native-American Hopi language meaning ‘beautiful clouds arising’. An impressive, suggestive painting of renowned Belgian painter (and filmmaker) Michaël Borremans is used for the cover. Warped Dreamer debut album was recorded live during a short winter tour in Antwerp, Belgium, and released through Verbruggen independent label.

Already on the opening “Kenda” Warped Dreamer sketches a vast and colorful ocean of sounds - otherworldly, atmospheric noises, fractured-ceremonial pulse, distant-poetic trumpet, and deep-toned, resonating metallic guitar lines. Still, it all sounds organic, as if all four musicians navigate according to a mysterious, inner sonic compass, exploring shiny labyrinthine horizons and intense, terrifying storms. The joyful sense of exploring new sounds and texture, with the immediate need to charter new aural terrains is commanding. The following “Nahimana” is a minimalist, intricate sound poem that patiently structures a claustrophobic drama that may happen in some freezing landscapes. “Sahpooly” expands this claustrophobic vein, now from a more close angle, noisy and erratic, but suddenly dismantles the tension and shifts it into deep and clear ambient soundscapes. “Odahingum” goes even deeper, an almost silent texture that occasionally disturbed by otherworldly, manipulated and processed sounds, patiently suggesting an isolated, faraway, monochromatic scenery, pierced only by the emotional trumpet of Henriksen who drives the quartet into a gentle, optimist coda. The last “Tehya” builds again the tension, juggles with disparate, lost sounds from Warped Dreamer astronomic sonic puzzle, patiently structures its road-map. It is still a tense texture, even intense and furious, but rich and dense with foreign sounds, nuances and overlapping layers, until it consolidates and erupts with boundless energy.  

Waiting anxiously for Warped Dreamer next album.  


Monday, June 27, 2016

Sebastian Lexer & Steve Noble - Muddy Ditch

By Antonio Poscic

There’s an insatiable curiosity burrowing in the mind while listening to the freely improvised, deviously abstract outing of German pianist Sebastian Lexer and English drummer Steve Noble, Muddy Ditch. Robbed of the tangible, explanatory presence of a live performance, with all the small gestures and physical synergy lost to the medium, one needs to entertain what-ifs and conceive new contexts and narratives around this sparsely layered, idiosyncratic playing and interactions. In return, their music will bring enlightenment by means of sensory deprivation and by asking the listener to become an active participant in the unfolding soundscape.

Muddy Ditch documents two concerts that Lexer and Noble performed at London’s Cafe OTO in 2011 and 2014. From end to end of the two tracks, “Pool” and “Loess,” the duo’s basic language remains unchanged. Resorting to a dialect nourished by sequential superimposition and counteraction of alien, nigh impossible noises, they spawn incongruous yet mesmerizing musical patterns. To achieve this, Lexer closely amplifies his piano and feeds it through live processing and effects, creating feedbacks and mutating sounds beyond what should be acoustically possible. Contrary to appearances, it’s a reductionary process with the help of which Lexer tries to understand the instrument’s pieces while he subverts them, dissolves them into mere tones, and then builds new structures, augmented with electronic processing and abrasive resonances.

At other times and especially during the second tune “Loess,” he dives into rumbling, heady sections, as if punctuating thoughts and introducing creative conflict. But the rumbles are as abstract and diffuse as the improvisational conversations with Noble, quickly retreating and receding, avoiding any semblance of conventionality. Noble responds with measure, bouncing ideas and teasing his partner through dialogues. He approaches the drumset and various percussion instruments as a child might approach a glass bottle. As he explores, in amazement, the sounds that he’s able to produce, he tintinnabulates and crashes on the cymbals and rolls his sticks against the drum heads, mouthing tumultuous roars.

There’s not much difference in mastery between the two pieces presented here, with “Pool” being the more relaxed cut, anchored to lulling segments, while “Loess” is, conversely, nervous and spirited, with reduced space for the digitally enhanced phrases and with a preference towards analog verses. Throughout, both players seem concerned and intrigued by quaint textures and shapes of individual sounds, rather than burdened by trying to fit them into compositions. Thus Noble’s rubbing, sawing, and grating will come into contrast and clash stochastically with Lexer’s prolonged piano tones, drones, and ominously deep key blows to generate a sort of a faux electronic, deranged ambient scenery. On the rare occasions when the duo does subside into unpredictable call-and-response patterns—a snare scratch might or might not be answered with a hard stomp on the piano keys—it’s only to feel each other’s pulses, preparing for the next lunge into the esoteric and abstruse.

There’s communication and there are lone amplitudes, textures expanding and contracting, but there’s always and foremost flow—from piercing fortes to soft, gentle individual noises and silences—that makes Muddy Ditch a dynamic, engaging listen that doesn’t seem to stop to contemplate for too long even when diminished to whispers. No climaxes. No themes or motifs. Only raw artistry.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

LUME - Xabregas 10 (Clean Feed, 2016) ****½

By Derek Stone

What do you get when you mix improvisation, noise, plunderphonics, big band theatricality, and the mad-dash orchestrations of “Looney Tunes” composer Carl Stalling? Some might say that you get a “disjointed mess,” which would probably be true in most cases. There are ways of making such a diverse heap of ingredients work, however, and the Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble (LUME) has seemingly stumbled upon the recipe.

In 2010, LUME released their debut album. With its ever-shifting, fun-house approach to genres, it remains an astoundingly fresh and unique recording. With such indefatigable inventiveness, however, the question had to arise: how can LUME move forward? Being such a progressive-sounding group is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, there are no expectations and no limitations, and you’re free to switch gears without any forewarnings or fare-thee-wells to the experiments you leave behind. On the other hand, there is often the crushing pressure for a progressive band to actually, well, progress - if you stick around in the same place for too long, you’re bound to get accused of creative stasis.

With Xabregas 10, LUME defy these accusations and soar over the heads of anyone waiting with land-locked eyes for them to crash or stall. They don’t do this by ramping up the insanity, however, or layering on more samples, or increasing the rate at which their manic melodies unfold themselves. In fact, they do the exact opposite - they dial it back. They lock into grooves. They open their arms to repetition. Don’t take this as a sign of slowing-down, though; LUME haven’t slowed down so much as become more focused, more deliberate, and more steady-handed in their approach.

The album opens strong with “Astromassa,” which owes as much to final-boss video-game music as it does to Frank Zappa’s Uncle Meat. That’s to say: it’s compositionally inventive and occasionally veers off into mad-cap melodicism, but is (at heart) a drama-filled rave-up. A lot of credit has to be given to LUME’s primary composer, Mário Barroso; while there is a sense of underlying mayhem that sometimes rears its head, the myriad instruments and electronic elements that occupy “Astromassa” are largely kept in-check, wrapping around each other in both precise lines and wild (but contained) zig-zags. “Sandblast” is similarly structured, but replaces the histrionics of the previous piece with something more eminently danceable. The bass-line that drives the composition is straight out of the James Brown playbook, and André Sousa Machado’s percussion is a pulsing ode to Afro-Cuban polyrhythms. Interspersed throughout all this funk are bursts of improvisation, with José Menezes (on tenor sax) and a trombone (although I don’t know whose) both taking wild, energetic solos.

“Polén” slows things down a bit, but it’s every bit as exciting as the pieces that came before. Once again, the rhythm section occupies a central role, Miguel Amado’s bass and Machado’s drums providing a solid back-bone for the swirling, heaving waves of sound that the other members of LUME produce. This composition is more indebted to developments of the slow and textural sort, avoiding the twists-and-turns of “Astromassa,” “Sandblast,” and, well, the vast majority of LUME’s previously-recorded output. That’s not a bad thing, though; it shows that they are well-equipped to handle a more restrained approach, and it shows that composer Barroso doesn’t shy away from stuff that might be outside of his comfort zone. At its conclusion, “Polén” gives way to a dense, chaotic wall-of-sound that eventually dissipates, leading to the final piece.

“LSW” begins with a vocal sample in Korean, one that marks the return of LUME to the manic, endlessly-allusive style of their debut recording. After that, there’s very little in the way of rest: there are snatches of familiar melodies, snippets of conversation from old television programs and movies, and explosive outbursts from the band itself, all wound together in a tight package that has the kinetic force of a hand grenade. After the halfway point, the composition dips again into the “wall-of-sound” technique that marked the end of “Polén,” but now it’s even thicker and more disorienting. By the time this wall is abruptly removed, the listener is left in an ecstatic daze - not just because of the pyrotechnics they have just heard, but because of the effect of the album as a whole. Xabregas 10 is a glorious mess, and one that I can highly recommend to anyone on the look-out for music that simultaneously batters the senses into the ground and sends them spiraling into space.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Ron Stabinsky - Free For One (HotCup, 2016) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Ron Stabinsky, a pianist from Pennsylvania, has been working in recent years with jazz upstarts Mostly Other People Do the Killing, debuting on 2013's excellent Red Hot. Not only is he from the state that is band leader Moppa Elliot's source of inspiration, but his approach to playing contains the sly and subtle irreverence that has so successfully fueled the group over the years. He is heard solo on Free For One, where all of the musical ideas that make him a fit with the band are channeled into a more personal and expressive vein.

Beginning with 'After it's Over,' the eight improvised tracks all are of a piece, yet have their own logic and feel in a way that makes each one unique and part of an exciting collection of improvisations. Deliberate single note lines from both hands counter each other, their flow punctuated by bluesy passing tones and jolting chords. Not as violent or stabbing as say Cecil Taylor's approach can sometimes be, the feel though is hardly placid. On the second track, '31', the approach changes, not as sparse, but yet not dense, there is a great deal of motion and rhythmic ideas happening. The track 'Viral Infection' begins with an almost catchy melodic hook while bright and arresting chords pop out sporadically. By the time we're at end, 'Not Long Now Long Now' and 'Rapture', the attack on the keyboard has intensified and we are very much - and wonderfully so - in that aforementioned Taylor territory.

Throughout the album, the energy and pulse keeps the music flowing and the changing textures and volume of ideas keeps it engaging. Beautifully recorded and austere in its red and green package, Free For One is an excellent new addition to the solo piano oeuvre.

*******

I had an idea to present the solo efforts from MOPDtK in a series with some clever title, but the title never quite came to me. Instead, here are links to the other recordings that could have been in this series so far:



Friday, June 24, 2016

Mats Gustafsson and Friends - MG50: Peace & Fire (Trost, 2016) *****

 By Eyal Hareuveni

About two years ago the director of the Viennese acclaimed club Porgy & Bess, Christoph Huber, succeeded to convince Swedish sax titan Mats Gustafsson, now resident of the Austrian town Nickelsdorf, to change his plans for his 50th birthday. Gustafsson wanted to spend the day with his wife and three daughters eating his favorite dish - reindeer steak with black trumpet mushrooms, mashed potatoes and lingon berries. Huber had a better offer, a celebration, 3-day festival with friends and comrades from the States and all over Europe that will celebrates what Gustafsson stands for, Peace & Fire.

Peace, for taking Gustafsson multiple and multi-faceted projects and as standing firmly against the greedy, capitalist order of music business that sterilizes creativity and individuality; for suggesting a better alternative - one that shares, open-hearted, communicative and conscious. And Fire, referring to his fiery dedication, playing in an intense and passionate manner, as serious as his life (following his hero Joe McPhee's solo album title, HATology, 1996. McPhee borrowed the title from Valerie Wilmer book from 1977).

Andrew Choate, who wrote the illuminating liner notes, emphasizes that the keyword of this festival was “primal”. The insistent raw and primal force that pervades the music of Gustafsson, but also the sense of ancient, essential, communal activity. Gustafsson, in his notes, insists that it is all about sharing - the music, beliefs, ideas - “open communication and interaction in free collective group settings”, adding in his opening statement of the festival that “this is the music we need in these times and in future times”. But Choate has a point. As he concludes his notes: “Gustafsson’s music embodies that desperate guttural need to speak and communicate when we don’t even know what language is, and he creates a new language for us”.

The festival took place on October 26-28, 2014, and featured solo or duo performances dedicated to Gustafsson in the upper smaller hall of Porgy & Bess and larger outfits on the bigger stage, downstairs. The first three discs in this remarkable box-set document each the performances of every night at the larger space, while the fourth documents the one from the upper hall, all together more than four and half hours of music. This box also offers two booklets with insightful photos of Slovenian photographers Žiga Koritnik and Petra Cvelbar.

Disc 1: The first night began with a hyper rhythmic and muscular short free improvisation of Gustafsson and Austrian drummer Didi Kern, titled “Peace” and “Fire”. Both fed each other with surprising, eccentric ideas, pushing each other to the extremes. The Austrian duo RISC - electric bass and electronics player Billy Roisz and turntables master dieb13, followed with an abstract, almost ethereal drone-based soundscape dedicated to the “Birthday Boy”. Legendary Swedish drummer Sven-Åke Johansson, a seminal influence on young Gustafsson (check the trio Gush with Johansson, Tjo och Tjim, Dragon, 1990), followed with three short solo pieces, dadaistic in spirit, drumming on the first one on phone books with sticks, rubbing on the second soda lids on his drums heads and concluding with a song: “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was”.

Gustafsson closed the night with his Swedish Azz quintet, dedicated to an updated interpretations of Swedish Jazz classics, and featuring tuba player Per-Åke Holmlander, vibes player Kjell Nordeson, dieb13 on turntables and drummer Erik Carlsson. Swedish Azz played with a characteristic reverential disobedience, introducing to the classics pieces of Lars Gullin, Bo Nilsson and Jan Johansson excerpts from Albert Ayler’s first recording, since Swedish drummer Sune Spångberg played on it, and a riff taken from Quincy Jones piece, because he had a Swedish wife.

Disc 2: The trio Fake the Facts - Gustafsson on saxophones and electronics with local Austrians Martin Siewert on guitars and electronics (who also mixed and mastered this box-set) and dieb13 on turntables, augmented by drummers Martin Brandlmayr (of the Radian trio) and British master Paul Lytton opened the night with a stormy, yet methodical sonic searches, patiently gravitating into a cohesive, manic and intense.

The duo of Swedish vocal artist Sofia Jernberg and Austrian electronics player and vocalist Christof Kurzmann followed with a fascinating, extended and quite weird adaptations of Robert Wyatt’s “Alifib” and Joe McPhee’s “Song for Beggars” (the latter was released in a different, short arrangement as a single on Trost Jukebox Series #2, Trost, 2014). The minimal, abstract arrangements of these songs with the fragile delivery of the lyrics by both Jernberg and Kurzmann intensified the arresting spirit of this performance.

Gustafsson returned with an extended version of the Fire! Trio - with bass player Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin, augmented by vocalists Jernberg and Mariam Wallentin (the vocalists of the Fire! Orchestra), Hungarian bagpipes player Erwan Keravec and Catalan Agustí Fernández on the vintage Crumar organ. This odd outfit began with eccentric sonic searches before settling on slow and heavy riff. Things get much hotter, on the second piece, “Exit Part Two”, now the encore of the Fire! Orchestra performances, and on the final “Would I Whip” (taken from the Fire! fourth album (Without Noticing, Rune Grammofon, 2013), both based on thunderous, repetitive riffs, expanded by the wordless vocalizations of Jernberg and Wallentin, Fernández psychedelic organ flights and Keravec bagpipes sirens.

Disc 3: The new music ensemble Klangforum Wien with Gustafsson opened the third night with compositions by composer Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, featuring Gustafsson on flutephone and the the slide sax, exploring different sonorities of the saxes, and another one by Gustafsson himself. His piece, featuring also contrabass sax player Gerald Preinfalk, dived into deep-toned breaths, howls and blows, building its tension carefully.

As a present birthday Gustafsson reunited TR!O - himself, German cellist and trombone player Günter Christmann and drummer Paul Lovens (who released a self-titled album on FMP, 1995, re-released on 2005), but this time + 1, analog synthesizer pioneer Thomas Lehn. The two pieces were masterful free improvisations, focusing on different manifestations of sound, stressing restraint, imagination and great focus on detail.

The final set was, as expected, by The Thing, one of Gustafsson’s long-standing groups, this time augmented by close friend and collaborator, sax player Ken Vandermark. This quartet stormed with “punk rock free jazz at its finest, a fat sloppy drunk wet kiss that turns into everlasting love and the subtlest emotions you never knew existed at all”, as Choate described it. The Thing concluded with the inevitable, sing-along “Happy Birthday” (captured on a video clip below).

Disc 4: Percussionist Kjell Nordeson, a collaborator of Gustafsson since both were teenagers living in Umeå town in Northern Sweden, opened the festival with a vibes solo, literally sending good vibes for the festival. His second piece, “Summer with M.” was a variation on a piece that he and Gustafsson played 33 years ago, already stamped with a typical rhythmic intensity. Fellow Swedish tuba master Per-Åke Holmlander followed with the humorist and inventive weird sounding breaths and gurgles on “Fifty is just the beginning…”.

Agustí Fernández opened the second night with a brilliant, extended solo piano, “MatsMatMaM / MatsAtsTsT”. He played inside the piano, on his strings, on its wooden body, emitting a clever flow of eccentric hammering, resonating and rubbing sounds that were compared by Chaote to “lovers suctioned lips” and “phantom of a fretless bass”. Erwan Keravec intense bagpipes solo, with its continuous torrents of resonating overtones, filled the small room with guttural, primal and archaic energy.

Kurzmann and Vandermark, half of Made to Break quartet, opened the third night with a beautiful, suggestive soundscape, “Vienna Upstairs”. It is a cinematic piece that balances wisely Kurzmann hyper-realist, alien and urban sounds with Vandermark emotional sax and clarinet playing. Young Swedish sax player Anna Högberg. Member of the Fire! Orchestra, manages to distill Gustafsson's seminal influence on her and her generation in the less than 3-minute happy birthday blessing, “Ha den äran”. A passionate, original and inventive piece, fully committed to keep sharing the fire.

Gustafsson concludes his notes, after thanking all, with some words of wisdom that he has picked along the years. Somehow these words describe himself, his attitude and aesthetics better than any scholastic attempts to do so. Among these wise sayings are the following ones: "A bird can’t fly on one wing"(Joe McPhee); "One vinyl per day keeps the doctor away" (Olof Madsen, sound engineer and producer) and "Fight y(our) stupidity" (Lennart Nilsson, producer of Nya Perspektiv festival in Västerås, Sweden).







Swedish azz med wänner & Gilbert Holmström Sextett – Fåglarna (NotTwo, 2016) ****

By Martin Schray

Mats Gustafsson’s and Per-Åke Holmlander’s Swedish azz was founded in order to celebrate the great Swedish jazz era of the 1950s and 60s. It’s a project which covers compositions of this period and integrates them into a contemporary context using live electronics and different structures without neglecting the original. This time they have chosen a piece by Gilbert Holmström, whose music is influenced by classic early American free jazz.

His composition “Fåglarna“ (“The Birds“) is inspired by Alfred Hitchcocks legendary movie from 1963 and especially by Oskar Sala’s disturbing soundscapes. Hitchcock was fascinated by Sala’s invention, the so-called mixtur trautonium (an early synthesizer), and wanted him to create neither a traditional soundtrack nor natural bird sounds - he wanted to have something artificial to increase the horror. Four years later Holmström realized a graphic score for his sextet without any electronics, just for acoustic instruments.

In “Fåglarna“ the piano arpeggios at the beginning symbolize the peaceful atmosphere in Bodega Bay, where the story in Hitchcock’s film takes place. This changes quickly when the reeds come in, their wild and free improvisations represent the sudden attacks of the birds. Especially Holmström’s crystalline saxophone imitates the fierce cries of the animals. At the end of the piece the tension has ebbed away, the arpeggios are back, yet some dissonant elements indicate subliminal danger.

The icing on the cake of the Swedish azz line-up are 79-year-old Holmström himself and 72-year-old trumpet legend Bengt Ernryd. Compared to the original, Swedish azz’s version is much gloomier. Kjell Nordeson’s vibraphone illustrates an insecure atmosphere, then Ernryd’s trumpet in combination with the other reeds increases the tension before the piece turns to a violent free jazz orgy, in which any order seems to have gone overboard. All instruments struggle with each other, there is absolute turmoil. It is interesting that in contrast to other Swedish azz pieces the electronics are hardly audible. All in all, Swedish azz have adopted the structure as well as the focus on the acoustic instrumentation of the original.

Both Swedish azz’s new version and the fact that they have made the original available again make this 12" a real treat.

Fåglarna is available on vinyl, it can be purchased from the label: http://www.nottwo.com/#!mw926/nrszy

You can listen to a different live version of “Fåglarna“ here (with a different Swedish azz line-up):