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Julie Sassoon (p) & Willi Kellers (d)

Jazzwerkstatt55, Peitz Germany, June 2018. Photo By Cristina Marx

Evan Parker

Jazzwerkstatt55, Peitz Germany, June 2018. Photo By Cristina Marx

Eli Wallace (p) & Sandy Ewen (g)

Spectrum, NYC, May 2018. Photo by Peter Gannushkin

Friday, August 17, 2018

Re-examining the 70s

By Paul Acquaro

My first realization that the 1970s was an unusual time for jazz came when I discovered Pablo Records. I had just started listening to and collecting jazz recordings, and at the time CDs were expensive and records were really really really cheap, so I picked up a lot of them. One was Dizzy’s Big Four with Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Joe Pass, and Mickey Roker (check out the first track, Frelimo, this one killed me). Why, I thought, were these heavyweights on what seemed, to me, a indie label? Having no idea of the history or the personalities, I assumed it was because jazz had fallen out of favor and was being dropped, from what I considered at the time, to be the major labels. (To give you some context, please understand, this was the late 80s, the internet was in its Gopher stage, and no one I knew told me otherwise.) Over the years I’ve of course learned that the real story is much more complex. Regardless, I think it is safe to say that the era does occupy a special place in jazz history, and a number of recent releases excavating and re-examining the era have come out recently.

Michael Heller - Loft Jazz: Improvising New York in the 1970s (University of California Press, 2017) ****

The 'Loft Jazz' era in New York City is nearly mythic. Obviously, it's real, it happened, and there are survivors, but it has become something of legend, marking a time in the life of the city that is long gone. Researcher and author Michael Heller takes a serious and methodical approach to his study of the era, which makes sense as it had its roots in his doctoral dissertation. In this slim, dense volume, he explores the conditions that created the loft scene using overlapping frameworks to view and analyze the rich source materials he’s collected. Essentially, it was a time when opportunities to play were scant and labels weren't interested in boundary pushing music any longer, but rents were cheap in Manhattan, so musicians seized the opportunity to create their own ecosystem, and the creativity exploded.

Throughout the book, Heller is quite aware of the mythology and his own assumptions, and in good ethnographic fashion, documents it carefully. For the most part, he eschews deep dives into particular artists or their catalogs and offers a history of the scene from its early points with Ornette Coleman’s loft on Spring Street and the reaction to the Newport Jazz Festival's move to New York in the early part of the decade, to the scenes ultimate disintegration under the pressure of gentrification and development. The backbone of his research is the curation work that he partook in with the bassist Juma Sultan on the creation of his archive (, and when he gets into the chapter speaking about this work, he does describe the music from the players as they pertain to the archive. For example, he discusses how Sonny Simmons and Sultan’s work and music had intertwined and leads the reader through their music. This part is as nicely written and descriptive as his earlier analysis of communities, spaces, pay, and politics. His primary sources are excellent as well. In one passage, pianist Cooper-Moore remarks how much of his time, during the loft era, was actually spent trying to keep the loft building running! 

So, the loft scene has passed into the history of jazz kind of like Woodstock did for rock (and Juma Sultan was a part of both, as Jimi Hendrix’s bassist), and Heller's book can be read nearly as a how-to manual for constructing a vibrant musical scene. It's an examination of a treasure trove of archival materials and primary source interviews, and a smart read. 

Alan Braufman - Valley of Search (1975 / 2018) ****

Valley of Search is a re-release of an India Navigation record from 1975, and it was born from the very loft that Cooper-Moore mentioned above: 501 Canal St. Released under saxophonist Alan Braufman’s name, who was also a resident in the building (which according to Clifford Allen’s excellent line notes cost $140 a month per floor - let that sink in for a moment), the album is a savory time-capsule. The loft was home to a number of Boston (from Berkeley) transplants, such as saxophonist Dave S. Ware, with whom Cooper-Moore played with in Apogee. The band on Valley of Search is Alan Braufman on saxophone, Cooper-Moore on piano, dulcimer, and recitation, Cecil McBee on bass, David Lee on drums, and Ralph Williams on percussion. 

The music is fun and genuine, and there is a pure joy of playing and exploring together that captures the ethos of the time and the spirit of the loft scene. When Cooper-Moore recites the Bahá’í prayer in “Chant,” it is like a perfectly crafted prompt to transport you to a more innocent and exciting time (oh crap, there is that mythologizing again). Leading up to the chant is the short ecstatic track “Rainbow Warriors” which sets the stage for the woolly album that follows. On the follow-up “Thankfulness”, we hear the first theme of the album, which along with the figures on “Ark of Salvation” and “Little Nabil’s March”, provide a solid foundation for the recording. The splashy cymbals and insistent pulse of Cooper-Moore’s piano drive the music along, and on “Love Is For Real”, Braufman digs in with intensity, delivering a stunning solo over the colorful impulse of the piano, and a little too-eager athletic whistle. McBee is featured on “Miracles”, on which he delivers an intricate pizzicato solo. “Little Nabil’s March's” however, with it’s Ayler-esque martial theme and exuberant delivery is the hit, and the closing “Destiny” offers a lovely, accessible and aching melody.

This re-release was made possible by Braufman's nephew, Nabil Ayers, the namesake of "Little Nabil's March". His recollections of 501 Canal St. recently appeared in the New York Times and captures the atmosphere of the loft in wonderful non-varnished detail. From the decrepit steps to the plastic sheets in the window to jamming with his uncle, Ayer's article gives this re-release some proper context:
"So 501 Canal existed in quiet isolation in the midst of one of the biggest, most vital cities in the world. This was, and will always be, my New York. And in fall 1974, this is where Alan Braufman recorded his debut album, “Valley of Search,” a free jazz offering that embodies the city during this time."
Be sure to check out Ayer's piece and enjoy the music. Overall, a very welcome re-discovery!

Michael Cosmic / Phill Musra Group – Cosmic Paradise: Peace In The World / Creator Spaces (Now-Again, 2017) ****

While the folks at 501 Canal St. left for New York, there was a still world of music being made in Boston. This triple CD release from Now Again records, re-issues what were only private press releases. The work of twin brothers, Phill Musra and Michael Cosmic, are searching spiritual recordings that breath with passion and earnest intensity. Finding inspiration in the likes of Coltrane, Ayler, and Pharaoh Sanders, their music was loose, but with an ear tuned into the zeitgeist. Two of the three albums re-released here are Michael Cosmic's Peace in the World and Phill Musra Group's Creator Spaces. The brothers were also a part of the World Experience Orchestra, a collective out of Boston whose own private press albums were considered to be something of a holy grail to collectors (they were re-released by Now-Again a few years ago as well). The third CD is a track from the WEO, however the 1972 concert recording precedes the brothers' involvement.

The first disc, Cosmic's Peace in the World, kicks off with "Arabia", which also makes an appearance on the Musra Group recording. The depth of the sax, basically in conversation with the piano, is pretty grabbing. The following title track features a wrenching bass solo and suspenseful piano work. 'Space on Space' would seem to be this album's hit - its repetitive and punchy melody serves as a base for some tough soloing. Of these two efforts, this is the more 'polished' one, but as you may imagine, both have a wonderful DIY spirit and free approach. 

On Creator Spaces, Musra wears his heart on his sleeve with song likes "The Creator is So Far Out" and "Egypt". The music follows the spiritual jazz modal template and it's at times a bit gangly. The title track is pretty free blowing, with simultaneously intense sax work and a rousing drum solo, even though the primitive organ playing is a bit jarring at times. Overall, he recording contains some excellent and intense playing. 

Aside from the exploratory, non-commercial nature of the recordings, also connecting both this release with Valley of Search is the involvement of jazz historian and writer Clifford Allen who contributed thoughtful and well researched line notes for both recordings. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Yunohana Variations (YoshimiO / Susie Ibarra / Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe) - Flower of Sulphur (Thrill Jockey, 2018) ****

It’s a common enough event, a group of accomplished improvisers and experimental artists get together to make uncommonly excellent music. In this instance, the collective (now performing as Yunohana Variations) consists of YoshimiO, Susie Ibarra, and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. All three have a rich history of making experimental music with each other and other notables, but Flower of Sulphur marks the first time they performed together as a trio.

Recorded live at Roulette in Brooklyn, New York, in December 2016, Flower of Sulphur documents an hour-long improvisation, with YoshimiO on drums and vocals, Ibarra on drums and percussion, and Lowe on electronics and vocals. There’s a noticeable balance in the way YoshimiO and Ibarra complement each other’s percussive styles, Lowe and YoshimiO’s vocals blend and/or clash sympathetically, and Ibarra and Lowe ring vivid resonances from various percussion and electronic effects. The overall sound lands somewhere at the intersection of free improvisation and noise, interwoven with echoes of trance, ambient, and rock.

“Aaa” begins in a ceremonial vein, with bells, toms, and whole tones calling the room to attention, focusing the energy to a fine point that’s first drawn out by Lowe. All three excel in explorations of space and time, and the gradual blossoming of “Aaa” provides plenty of room for the trio to bend and warp both. “Bbb” features a dramatic, searching solo from Lowe, as he takes various ideas and pushes them up against one another. YoshimiO and Ibarra riff on his rhythms and ideas, before shifting into a percussion-centric middle section. As “Bbb” fades out, “Ccc” rapidly builds in intensity, before morphing into an extended wordless vocals feature. “Ddd” again begins moving in one direction before shifting dramatically in tone and rhythm. After a rock-influenced opener, drums completely fall away around the 10-minute mark. Lowe and YoshimiO perform a brief vocal duet that also signals the final stage of the performance. A counterpart to the opening, the final section of “Ddd” has an equally cosmic, reverent vibe with lovely, almost yearning, vocals. Yunohana Variations has been touring this year, so I hope we’ll see a follow-up album from them very soon.

Yunohana Variations live at Supersonic Festival 2018

Available on CD, digital, and lavender vinyl

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Martin Küchen & Anders Lindsjö - The Stork and the Chimp (Konvoj, 2018) ****

By Nick Metzger

Saxophonist Martin Küchen and guitarist Anders Lindsjö are from the prolific Swedish free improvisation scene which consistently produces excellent new collaborations and releases. Küchen is an abundant composer, improviser, and bandleader who is a member of Heat Death, Trespass Trio, and leads his various Angles combos and has also worked with Joe McPhee, Steve Noble, and the Fire! Orchestra. Anders Lindsjö plays in the groups Maxcolic, Or Never, the Artfarmer, and his free guitar trio Halster. This album, and Happi from the Tatakai Trio (reviewed the other day), find them teaming up for duo and trio sets with Küchen on sopranino and soprano saxophone as well as snare drum and Lindsjö on (mostly) acoustic guitar.

In ‘is it?’ the duo start off moderately then quickly accelerate into a dynamic interchange that’s percussive and fiery. Lindsjö’s stable guitar playing provides a platform for Küchen to throttle his saxophones over. On ‘art thou’ the wiry guitar work is peppered with violent spittle-pocked squawking and agitated squeals. ‘why’ offers more variety in terms of pace and timbre. The piece begins with guitar that’s percussive and plucky over which the muted saxophone takes on a vocal, kazoo-like quality. Lindsjö utilizes his wah-pedal to good effect on ‘tat twam asi’. The result is subtle and provides a bit of color to the piece. Likewise, Küchen many times plays both the soprano and sopranino at once, powerfully blasting them like a grotesque party favor. In ’it is our’ the duo engage in dialogue that feels reflective. The saxophone almost sounds bluesy and lamenting at times while the guitar playing is melancholic and sparse. ‘how is it?’ closes out the album finding Küchen trying to simultaneously play his snare and two saxes while intermittently producing vocalizations that would blend right into the background noise of a George Romero film. Lindsjö provides his most rhythmically diverse performance of the set, alternating scattered fingerpicking and choppy chords to ground Küchen’s paint peeling warbles and honks.

I genuinely enjoy the approach both of these musicians have to their instrument on this album. The spare instrumentation creates a good deal of contrast between the two players which is further highlighted by the superb recording quality. The guitar remains quite clean throughout the record and provides terrific rhythm and texture. The saxophone is unhinged all the way through and it’s satisfying to hear the higher pitched saxes being pushed and punished like this. You get the sense that conventional conversations between Lindsjö and Küchen might yield similar dynamics.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Peeter Uuskyla/Tellef Øgrim/Anders Berg - Oslo Hærverk (Simlas, 2018) ****

By Nick Ostrum

I first heard Peeter Uuskyla on the album Live at Nefertiti. I was first drawn in by Peter Friis-Nielsen’s frenetic bass and Peter Brötzmann’s balance of sheer force and energy with, at times, acute tenderness. (Actually, this recording might have been my first exposure to all three musicians.) As I listened more attentively, I grew attracted to Uuskyla’s loose but steady, rock-styled drumming. Simply put, it fit.

And here we are, 19 years later, and Uuskyla is party to another live, freely improvised trio recording. This one was recorded in Oslo’s Kafé Hærverk, just 200 miles due north of Gothenburg, home of the aforementioned Nefertiti club and the eponymous Brötz, where the trio captured here recorded their first live album, LAIV, in 2016. The connections run deep. That said, beyond the physical continuity of a shared drummer, this trio bears little resemblance to that led by Herr Brötz.

On this album, Uuskyla teams up with bassist Anders Berg and guitarist Tellef Øgrim. The result is alternately in line with and a departure from what one might expect from this power trio. Oslo Hærverk flows in a way that, for instance, the studio release Ullr (FJB review here ) does not. In doing so, it sacrifices some of the intensity and chaos of the group’s prior output for a single itinerant, improvised track broken into five parts that methodically builds and fluctuates over the course of the 48-minute performance.

Uuskyla’s drumming reminds me of what drew me to him in the first place. It is inventive and varied, simultaneously calculated and unfettered. He provides a foundational groove through most of the album. Berg’s bass is heavy. Largely eschewing the rapid pizzicato flourishes he has worked into previous recordings, he opts for a propulsive drones and undulating pulses that, at times, evoke, Bill Laswell. Øgrim, meanwhile, bobs in and out with atmospheric, feedback-heavy guitars. The unquestionable primary influence, here, is Jimi Hendrix. More contemporary and maybe even more meaningful parallels, however, can be drawn between Øgrim, Raoul Björkenheim and Anders Nilsson. All three draw inspiration from Hendrix’s freer playing while avoiding the onanistic traps that so many guitarists inevitably fall into during extended improvisations.

What is most striking about this album is the way in which the musicians anticipate and respond to each other. They sound like they have worked out at least a roadmap beforehand. Some of this may come from the fact that no single member outshines another. They seem less concerned about virtuosity than effect. They seem less focused on novelty than on balance. The tracks flow steadily, though creatively, from a forceful but measured free rock jam (“Tlaxkon”) to a funkier, more meditative track (“Stay Peaceful”) to the deconstructed blues number (“Ofilikki”). The fourth cut, “No Temple No Homes”, returns to improvisatory rock of the first track and the final track, “Close to Closed,” slowly crescendos from a flittering guitar run to an utterly satisfying noise-rock jam.

With the proliferation of live releases concomitant with the advent of digital music, I often wonder whether so many performances really need to be documented and presented to the public. Then, I find an album like this that clearly caught a special band on a special night. And, I start to allow space for
the exceptions.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Tatakai Trio (Küchen, Lindsjö, Strid) - Happi (Relative Pitch Records, 2018) ****½

By Nicholas Metzger

The Tatakai Trio finds Küchen and Lindsjö joined by Stockholm local Raymond Strid (who is a member of Maxcolic with Lindsjö) on drums. Strid, also a regular contributor to the Swedish free improvisation scene, has collaborated with the likes of Mats Gustafsson, Barry Guy, and Marilyn Crispell among others.

‘Cheerful’ starts out with Lindsjö’s clean guitar tones riding on Strid’s rhythmically probing structures. Küchen’s sax starts out inquiringly with clean tones which increase in intensity, reaching full skronk by the 2 minute mark and blazing through to the end of the piece. ‘Grinning’ finds the group dynamics more active early in the track, with the trio quickly establishing their relationships and direction. Lindsjö hits the overdrive pedal shortly after the initial passages, while Strid provides a bed of angular percussion. Küchen spits fire throughout; this cut finds him utilizing his extended techniques to great effect. Lindsjö throws off bits of guitar skree and crunch towards the end while Küchen’s bleating reduces to a whimper. ‘Sunny’ starts off with introspective guitar playing and active drum clatter. The sax joins in in earnest around the one minute mark spurring an increase in intensity from the group which rises and falls over the course of its five and a half minutes. Küchen offers up some seriously vigorous timbres here (and the album as a whole), often times giving his lines a resonating sizzle by blasting his horns into a snare head. ‘Exhilarated’ finds Küchen playing plaintively over Lindsjö’s alternating chords. You can almost discern bits of a 4/4 beat in Strid’s drumming that disappear as quickly as they bubble to the surface. Küchen continues his elegiac statements (which occasionally sprout fangs) over this percussive backdrop. The track ‘Smiling’ starts off at high intensity which almost instantly unravels into slower, more nuanced and sensitive playing by the trio. A dialogue forms by means of Lindsjö and Strid providing porous formations for Küchen to navigate. In the background an electronic cat mews. ‘Joyous’ is a short romp in which Lindsjö’s guitar serves as a sort of lumbering metronome for Strid and Küchen’s rattling percussion and rawboned saxophone wailing. ‘Pleased’ builds to an ecstatic crescendo from its clattering start and finds the trio displaying some new twists to their collective language. The album rounds out with ‘Jolly’, maxing out the energy level at the start of the last piece with extremely physical playing on the part of the trio. Around the half way mark the background clatter reduces and Küchen is left to screech and squawk over the interlude. The trio returns to a more contemplative approach for the balance of the track, with chimes signaling an end to our good time.

This album benefits from a near pyramid-shaped arrangement, with the two longer, more texturally dynamic pieces sandwiched between the shorter, higher intensity ones. This sequencing provides an energetic, engaging overture that sets you up for the more subtle and lengthy pieces before again turning the energy back up to finish things off. Combined with the excellent group rapport and tremendous playing the result is infectious. This is one of my favorites of 2018 so far, highly recommended.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Irene Aranda / Johannes Nästesjö / Núria Andorrà - Inner Core (Relative Pitch Records, 2018) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Spanish, Barcelona-based trio of pianist Irene Aranda, Swedish double bass player Johannes Nästesjö and percussionist Núria Andorrà has nothing to do with the jazz piano legacy. These resourceful improvisers are connected to master Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández. Aranda, who comes from Andalusian musical family, has performed in a piano duo format with Fernández and extends his approach of playing the piano as a huge sound generator. Fernández has recorded one of her compositions with his trio with master double bass player Barry Guy and drummer Ramón López (A Moment’s Liberty, Maya Recordings, 2013). Inner Core is her third album and was recorded on December 2016 in Barcelona. Nästesjö has recorded two free-improvised meetings with Fernández (a self-titled debut and Like Listening with your Fingertips, both released on Konvoj Records, 2014 and 2018). Andorrà has released recently a solo album (Kokoro, 2018) on the Sirulita Records that Fernández promotes.

Still, nothing prepares you for the sheer physical power and intensity of this trio. The titles of the improvised pieces borrow ideas and concepts from geothermal physics, capturing the seismic dynamics of this experimental trio. The 16-minutes opening piece, “Planck Mass”, sound like the translation of physicist Max Planck’s theories about quantum mechanics into a heavy storm of energy and sounds - all become one. The trio moves fast and freely, sounds all over the place, exploding with urgent, brutal motifs. Suddenly this piece changes course and the trio explores a meditative, almost microtonal soundscape comprised of carefully resonating sounds produced from the piano strings, bowing of the bass strings and the scraping the cymbals surfaces.

The highly evolved dynamics of this trio are further investigated on latter pieces. “Nucleation” suggests an industrial texture that blurs any distinction between the sonic languages of the piano, double bass and the arsenal of percussion instruments and objects. The sounds of these instruments collide, repel and coalesce all the time like rogue practicals but somehow manage to maintain a delicate equilibrium. The title-piece continues this vein but dives deeper with a quieter yet dense and enigmatic narrative of tense and disturbing, metallic sounds. Nästesjö’s pattern-free rumblings on the bass strings and later his extended bowing technique are at the center of “Allotropism”, triggering minimalist, gentle comments by Aranda and Andorrà. The last “Zeldovich Factor” is the only piece that comes close to the terrains of avant-free-jazz with its push and pull, volcanic power. It is also the only piece where Aranda plays the piano in a more conventional manner.

Heavy, addictive stuff. Run for it.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Sara Serpa - Close Up (Clean Feed, 2018) ****½

Although vocalist Sara Serpa has been around for a while, I hadn’t encountered her until she joined Mycale, the a capella quartet that recorded two volumes for John Zorn’s Book of Angels. After, I caught up with All the Dreams, Serpa’s 2016 album with guitarist André Matos, and worked backwards through her fascinating back catalog. There’s a clear through line of experimentation in Serpa’s approach, from multitrack harmonics to clever instrumentation, and she thrillingly pushes some new boundaries on her new trio album.

For Close Up, Serpa brought in cellist Erik Friedlander and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, two of the finest players. In the same way Serpa approaches vocals as an instrumentalist, Friedlander and Laubrock naturally play with a kind of vocal-harmonic approach to their instruments. The result is an utterly enchanting knitting of cello, soprano and tenor saxophones, and vocals. Take “Object,” the album opened, where Friedlander and Laubrock play a hocket-like exchange, which Serpa wordlessly bounces off, guiding the trio into a bright fugue. Occasionally, as on “Storm Coming,” Serpa’s compositions shift in small but effective ways, subtly upending the emotional timbre. The song opens with Laubrock evoking the delicate buzz of the natural world soon to be interrupted. One of the lengthier tracks, “Storm Coming” highlights the trio’s patient, painterly approach through long tones, using pauses to bring breath-like life to the composition. Again, Laubrock and Friedlander are perfect for this kind of setting.

On “The Future” and “Woman,” Serpa uses texts by Virginia Woolf and Luce Irigaray to channel her explorations of contemporary womanhood. As a member of We Have Voice Collective, Serpa’s taking an active role in “creating equitable and safe(r) workplaces in the performing arts.” Her thoughts and concerns seem foregrounded on “The Future,” which uses a passage from Woolf’s diary, one of the most potent records of an artist’s personal meditations. Following Friedlander’s intoxicating solo, Serpa intones, suggesting ominousness, “the future is dark.” Yet in the final minute, as Friedlander gradually slows the pulse, Serpa sings the notable second half of Woolf’s line, “which is the best thing the future can be, I think.” Delaying the conclusion of the thought enhances the drama, yes, but it also gives Laubrock plenty of space to scribble contemplative notes in the margins. Later, on “Woman,” Irigaray’s text provides Serpa a lens through which to radically explore motherhood. Her approach here would sit comfortably next to Kaja Draksler’s bold experiments with her octet, as the trio glides through the affecting verses with a sharpness that amplifies their meaning, separated a dense improvised interlude. “Woman” is one of the most captivating songs I’ve heard this year, rewarding multiple listens with new lines to think about and new interactions to explore.

Closing with “Quiet Riot” and “Cantar Ao Fim,” Serpa, Laubrock, and Friedlander seem to have found new avenues of interplay. Their improvisations wind ever more tightly around each other, with cello and saxophone exchanging phrases and places effortlessly with Serpa’s wordless vocals. More albums like this one, please, and soon.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The International Nothing - In Doubt We Trust (Ftarri, 2018) ***½

By Martin Schray

For 18 years now The International Nothing, a Berlin-based psycho-acoustic clarinet duo consisting of Michael Thieke and Kai Fagaschinski, have been dealing with silence and how to fill it. John Cage once said that silence was a state of consciousness and that it had nothing to do with the absence of sound in a certain space because there is no such thing as absolute silence. The reason was that we lived in an urban space which was full of sound (even in a dead room we hear the sound of our heartbeat, our blood circulation, our nervous system).

The International Nothing fill this space with their multilayered sound sculptures using multiphonics, beat frequencies, scratching, clapping of the keys, microtonal shifts and dark drones. All these elements are integral parts of their musical syntax.

Both musicians are well known as improvisers in Berlin’s prolific Echtzeit scene, but in this project all you hear is two clarinets (Fagaschinski on the right channel, Thieke on the left) – no overdubs, no electronic manipulation and no improvisation! In Doubt We Trust is a through-composed piece of art.
Additionally, if it comes to sound, dynamics seem to be important to Fagaschinski and Thieke: the pulse of the sounds, the crescendo and decrescendo in the room, the overlapping of voices, volume, timbre, the same notes with a different focus and harmonics. As to the structure the music doesn’t have a real beginning or end, it’s process-like. The composition’s not an object which is the sum of its single parts, it’s a continually moving complex unit.

In Doubt We Trust, a 37:37 pulsating, shivering, quicksilvery wave of muted clarinet noises, creates liquid sound columns, you can hear the breathing, the very nature of the production of music. Just recently a group of scientists found out that bowhead whales serenade each other with improvisations from a vast repertoire of song. The diversity and variability in these songs are rivaled only by a few species of songbirds, their songs are complex musical phrases that are not genetically hard-wired but must be learned. I imagine the sounds of The International Nothing quite close to those of these fantastic animals.

So, close your windows, pull down the shades, imagine you’re under water and experience this wonderful trip of tone and timbre.

In Doubt We Trust is available as a CD and a download, a vinyl release will follow with some delay.

You can listen to the complete album and buy it here:

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Twig Harper & Bill Nace - Live at Dreamland (Open Mouth, 2018) ****

By Nick Metzger

Live at Dreamland is a writhing, oozing, viscous specimen of electronic free improvisation by two of the Northeast-US’s true maestros. I first became aware of guitarist Bill Nace through his Vampire Belt collaboration with Chris Corsano. YouTube videos of their early shows prompted me to mail-order their first two self-produced CDRs and I’ve been a fan of their post-Blue Humans style clamor ever since. Besides Vampire Belt (and various Vampire Belt + 1 configurations), Nace has worked with a diverse cast of talent ranging from his collaborations with the Italian psych jazz powerhouse Jooklo Duo to Body/Head, to his free guitar duo with Kim Gordon, to his collaboration with the poet and writer Charles Plymell on Apocalypse Rose. He also runs Open Mouth Records, which has released fantastic music in ultra-limited editions for well over a decade now. Contemporary psychonaut Twig Harper (formerly of Nautical Almanac) is originally from the same 90's noise/total music scene that produced Wolf Eyes and Andrew W.K. among others. Following his relocation to West Baltimore he established Tarantula Hill which hosts local bands and serves as the headquarters for his isolation tank business. If you’re not familiar with Harper’s work, his Intuitive American Esoterica trilogy is a great place to start. The two men toured together last year, this record being a documentation of their performance at Louisville’s sadly-since-closed Dreamland venue (recorded by the most-affable Tim Barnes).

The piece begins with a swelling tape loop over which percussive noises and disembodied moans intermingle. Bowed guitar joins as the vocalizations intensify and are stretched out and modulated via Harper’s homemade electronics into an impenetrable kaleidoscope of sound. About half way through the first side the piece slows and becomes more introspective, alternating between drone and silence. Nace then goes in a more direct path, providing metallic popping noises and string scrapes. Harper runs eerie swells over which his electronics jot out their weird logic. Low tones close the first side over a wash of tape delay and feedback. The second half finds our heroes beginning with what sounds like tape loops of breaking glass being eaten by the tape machine. Shaking bells create a ritualistic vibe over which Harper pushes the delay feedback into the red. All of this action throws up a miasma of residual sounds that builds up into a din before succeeding into a section of contemplative drone and scattered echoing horrors. The guitar scrapings coalesce with the specters that Harper has conjured, whirring and humming into silence. Harper provides aftershocks in the form of several jarring electronic spasms, bringing the set to a close.

Harper and Nace are an interesting pairing given their respective sound palettes, and it’s a little hard to discern who is doing what on this recording at times but that’s not really important. What is important is that it’s a nicely done, well recorded album that documents an interesting coupling of musicians, performing in a fantastic venue, during its final days. RIP Dreamland, you are sorely missed.

Harper/Nace Duo at the Cellar in Greenfield MA 10-13-17:

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Latest Releases from Vocalist Sofia Jernberg

By Eyal Hareuveni

Swedish, Ethiopian-born, Oslo-based vocal artist Sofia Jernberg needs no introduction. She calls herself a “maker of things” and she keeps doing a lot of beautiful things with Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra, and countless free-improvisations meetings. She also did many interesting things with the Swedish-American Seval, with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, and the Swedish-Norwegian-French quartet The New Songs. Jernberg continues to make exciting things with Gustafsson’s new group The End, and with the Norwegian experimental Lana Trio.

The End - Svårmod Och Vemod Är Värdesinnen (Rare Noise, 2018) *****

Take two of the wildest baritone sax heavyweights on our planet - Swedish Mats Gustafsson and Norwegian Kjetil Møster (whose resume spans from modern jazz groups as The Core and Trinity, through punk-jazz Ultralyd and Møster! to glam-rockers King Midas and Datarock); add the adventurous, avant-rocker, Deerhoof’s powerhouse drummer Greg Saunier (who enjoys improvising with guitarist Mary Halvorson and trumpeter Stephanie Richards) and throw into the mix Norwegian avant-noise-metal guitarist Anders Hana (from local groups MoHa!, Ultralyd and, Noxagt), who returned to musical activity after a seven-year sabbatical, and you already have enough ingredients for a super-exciting group, one that can reach apocalyptic climaxes in an instant. Still, the secret ingredient of this new group is Jernberg. Her strong presence seals the masculine maelstroms of fiery jazz, art rock, noise and poetic texts with a much needed feminine quality and emotional authority.

This potent dream team recorded its debut album, Svårmod Och Vemod Är Värdesinnen (in Swedish: dark melancholy and sadness are senses to be valued. This gory, suggestive titled is emphasized with the cover art by Edward Jarvis) in January 2018 in Bergen, Norway, after only three performances. Needless to say, the joint forces of Gustafsson and Møster with the baritone guitar of Hana and the propulsive drumming of Saunier promise raw, low-end onslaughts and boundless energy. Jernberg’s delivery - at times capricious, freewheeling wailing and on other times her one-of-a-kind singing-whispering-reciting charge the explosive mix with an urgent, even rebellious message of The End.

The album opens with two short pieces by Gustafsson and Hana. “Svårmod” offers everything you can expect from such group. Hana’s distorted-dirty, chainsaw guitar is in the center, embraced by the intense, baritone attacks of Gustafsson and Møster and the manic drumming of Saunier, while Jernberg screaming over this primordial lava. “Vemod” revolves around Hana’s hypnotic riff, that sound like a twisting West-African rhythmic rhythmic pattern with something catchy from the Captain Beefheart songbook, but already brings Jernberg wordless wailing to the center.

The End’s epic 14-minute “Translated Slaughter” is a completely different story. Jernberg acts, sighs, whispers and chants Gustafsson’s tortured-claustrophobic, stream-of-consciousness lyrics while Gustafsson and Møster are busy adding noisy, disturbing electronics. Hana deepens the dark atmosphere with assorted effects and Saunier keeps shaking this swampy ground with sudden attacks. Eventually, this pieces closes with a cathartic crescendo. Gustafsson’s “Don’t Wait” has a clearer - obvious - message (“...curiosity is the key, sharing is the key, don’t believe fuckin’ nothin’...”), and a familiar rhythmic structure, bringing to mind The Thing collaboration with vocalist Neneh Cherry (The Cherry Thing, Smalltown Supersound, 2012). The Jernberg thing offers her reciting-chanting the intuitive lyrics as half beat poet-half charismatic shaman, flirting majestically with the addictive, polyrhythmic pulse.

Møster’s brief interlude “Rich and Poor” serves as an introduction to his song “Both Sides Out”, a kind of requiem to post-Trump America that can be experienced psychoanalytic attempt to release the many demons from this tyrant’s deranged psyche. Jernberg continues to perform her shamanic duties, this time as an equal partner of The End’s brutal and terrifying cleansing ritual.

Only 44 minutes long but, no doubt, the best ones that you will spend in 2018.

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Lana Trio with Sofia Jernberg (Clean Feed, 2018) ****

The experimental Norwegian Lana Trio - trombonist Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø, pianist Kjetil Jerve, and drummer Andreas Wildhagen, was formed in 2007. The trio managed to solidify in its first two albums a delicate balance between its intense, powerful interplay, an uncompromising search for new sounds and dynamics and a strong affinity for open-ended, non-idiomatic improvisations. Jernberg joined the trio for its third album, recorded on March 2016 in Halden, Norway, and performs now again with the trio after the release of the album.

Jernberg sounds as if she has been free-improvising with Lana Trio for ages. She fits organically in the wild yet loose chaos that Lana Trio keeps producing. But her operatic-eccentric delivery charges the focused interplay of the trio with an engaging, emotional depth/ Jernberg vocalizes wordless, seductive suggestions and uses her voice as an intriguing, subversive instrument.

Jernberg connection with Munkeby Nørstebø - who works with another experimental vocal artist, Audrey Chen, in the Beam Splitter - is almost telepathic. Both sound as have perfected their own imaginative, cryptic language. Wildhagen embraces these secretive talks with sudden, rhythmic eruptions while Jerve frames all with minimalist, percussive piano playing.

Each of the four free-improvised pieces focuses on a distinct strategy. The first one, “Ears Anciens”, is restless and urgent; the second, “Omnivore's Aperitif”, is enigmatic, sparse and surprisingly quiet; the third, “Ghost Training”, explodes with fiery flow of volcanic energy ; the fourth, “Solitude Chant”, concludes this wild ride with a mysterious, tempting ritual.