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Klaus Kugel (d), Joe McPhee (s), John Edwards (b)

September 29, 2017. Manufaktur Schorndorf. Photo by Martin Schray

Luis Perdomo (p), Yasushi Nakamura (b), Jon Irabagon (s), Rudy Royston (d)

October 5, 2017. Karlsruhe, Tempel. Photo by Martin Schray

Mat Maneri (v) & Joelle Leandre (b)

September 27, 2017. Zürcher Gallery, NYC. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Oren Ambarchi (g, electronics)

October 3, 2017. Klosterkirche, Lobenfeld. Photo by Martin Schray

Vijay Iyer (p), Mark Shim (ts), Stephan Crump (b), Steve Lehman (as), Marcus Gilmore (dr), Graham Haynes (co)

October 15, 2017. Mannheim, Alte Feuerwache. Photo by Martin Schray

Friday, November 24, 2017

Ribbons of Euphoria, Music Unlimited 31 Festival, Wels, Austria, Nov. 10-12, 2017 (Part 1 of 2)

Mary Halvorson’s Sound of Love 

Mary Halvorson. Photo by Cristina Marx.
By Eyal Hareuveni

The 31st edition of the Austrian Unlimited Festival, curated by American guitarist Mary Halvorson, was titled Ribbons of Euphoria, a quote from the Jimi Hendrix song “Bold as Love”. But after fellow-guitarist Liberty Ellman began to play on the last night of the festival the first notes of Charles Mingus’ classic “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” I thought that this edition of the Unlimited festival may be have been called as easily as Mary Halvorson’s Sound of Love.

The program of the Unlimited festival is curated every two years by a guest musician. Two years ago it was local hero Christoph Kurzmann and four years ago cellist Okkyung Lee curated the program. This year it was the turn of another female musician, as Unlimited festival is one of leading festivals when it comes to featuring women musicians in leading roles.

Halvorson’s program represented beautifully her musical persona - bold and opinionated, modest and shy, generous and humane. When the festival ended with a standing ovation for one of Halvorson’s most forward-thinking groups, Illegal Crowns, she simply smiled and covered her head with a hoodie, clearly embarrassed by the love of the audience. Besides, she is one of the very few guitar heroes who needs not more than one guitar to express their full, rich vocabulary.

Halvorson’s program for Unlimited 31 focused on guitar-oriented groups, mainly groups of Halvorson’s close circle of collaborators and a surprising selection of local outfits. All of them presented a more composed and quite different aesthetic in comparison to the more eclectic and wilder spirit of recent editions of the Unlimited Festival. But this is the beauty and the strength of the festival. Its audience, with many happy returning guests, trusts the festival’s artistic director Wolfgang Wasserbauer and the curators choices.

Friday, First Night, November 10

The first night of the festival, Friday, opened with the first of three Halvorson’s outfits that played in the festival, drummer Toms Fujiwara’s Triple Double, featuring another drummer, Tom Rainey (who replaced Gerald Cleaver who played on the Triple Double album (Firehouse 12, 2017)), two guitarists - Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook, and two trumpeters Ralph Alessi and Taylor Ho Bynum (who played the flugelhorn and the cornet). The Triple Double musicians have been working closely in many formats and groups in the recent years. Ho Bynum, Halvorson, Fujiwara and Rainey have been working with Anthony Braxton; Fujiwara and Halvorson work together in the collective Thumbscrew trio and the Illegal Crowns quartet, in cellist Tomeka Reid quartet, and in double bass player Michael Formanek’s Ensemble Kolossus and many of their own groups. The close rapport between the six musicians enabled all to form multiple and multi-layered combinations. Fujiwara and Rainey created a percolating rhythmic basis, sometimes referencing to the electric-funky groups of Miles Davis and on other times locked in such a powerful groove, almost as the one of the Grateful Dead’s Rhythm Devils - Mickey Hart and Bill Kerutzmann; Halvorson and Seabrook deepened and colored the rhythmic ideas - Halvorson in more subtle, brief manner and Seabrook with more condensed, eruptive solos, on top of this, Alessi and Ho Bynum soloed. Alessi playing more ‘inside’ the themes while Ho Bynum clearly enjoyed soloing with completely ‘outside’ sounds. The addictive rhythm did not stop for a minute and Triple Double showed how modern jazz can be witty, powerful, and most of all fun.

Pianist Kaja Draksler and trumpeter Susana Santos Silva
As it happens often in this festival the second performance offered a totally different experience. The extroverted tone of Fujiwara’s Triple Double was replaced by the intimate, cryptic duo of Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler and Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva. These classically-trained musicians have been playing together for about ten years and recently recorded the beautiful This Love (Clean Feed, 2015). Their set explored adventurous ideas when both Draksler and Santos kept investigating the sonic spectrum of their instruments, inside the piano and with assorted objects on its strings and without the trumpet mouthpiece, close to each other and throughout the stage space. Their intimate, conversational duos suggested provocative thoughts, fond memories, delicate and fragile sounds and profound, rich languages.

The first local group - the trio Schmieds Puls, featuring vocalist-songwriter-guitarist Mira Lu Kovacs, double bass player Walter Singer, and drummer Christian Grobauer - was the first of many surprising choices of Halvorson. The trio has released two albums and Lu Kovacs has collaborated with local jazz group Kompost 3. Schmieds Puls’ songs are somehow influenced by the music of Tom Waits, dealing with themes of lost feelings and troubled relationships, brightened by the touching, emotional delivery of Lu Kovacs and her personal playing on the acoustic guitar which she named ‘trixie’.

The first night was closed with the quartet of American double bass player Stephan Crump’s Rhombal, that released its debut album last year (Papillon Records, 2016). Rhombal is Crump, who collaborates with Halvorson in the Secret Keeper Duo, tenor sax player Ellery Eskelin, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, and drummer Richie Barshay (replacing Tyshawn Sorey who has played on the Rhombal Album). Rhombal convened to explore Crump’s body of work dedicated to his late brother Patrick and the performance in the festival was in the middle of their first European tour. This set was the most jazz-oriented one of the festival, structured along clear storylines and coherent development of the strong rhythmic themes by Eskelin and O’Farrill, both choosing a reserved, contemplative tone that fitted the emotional, mourning spirit of Crump’s compositions.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Ikue Mori – Obelisk (Tzadik, 2017) ****

By Daniel Böker

On first listen, I'm reminded of Adam Butler. His electronic sounds, tracks and later even songs published under the alias Vert had a huge impact on my experience with electronic music. Unlike say the berserk electronic music of Merzbow (though I also like the berserk ones), Vert developed his music toward the pop-song format. The first track on Ikue Mori's new album Obelisk reminds me of theses sounds and it makes me feel 'at home', setting the tone for this record.

Mori recorded her last album In Light of Shadows with her electronic sounds alone. The pieces were at least in part composed beforehand and it was a new step in her musical development. For Obelisk she took some of her pieces from In Light of Shadows, composed new ones, and arranged them for a quartet of herself on electronic, Jim Black on drums, Okkyung Lee on Cello and Sylvie Courvoisier on piano.

The album lingers between rhythmical melodic and more open parts. Both fit together well and the album keeps it's warmth in the more free parts as well.

The first track, the one reminiscent of Vert, is called 'Quicksilver' and starts as duet between Black and Mori. The beginning is open as if they were trying to find to one another. Half a minute in the Courvoisier joins and the track develops a groovy structure. Courvoisier adds a short melody on the piano that moves through the track sometimes answered by Mori's sounds. This first track is Mori's version of funky jazz.

The second piece 'Blue Moon and Yellow Dune' gives Lee a lot of space for long cello tones. The voices of the other three instruments accompany this tune in a fine and mellow way until at two minutes in when the piano breaks the structure and takes over, and the groove that also had carried this one along, breaks up. This track, also with a strong groove in the beginning makes way for the next few tracks in which the sound gets more polyphonic.

The change between grooves based on Mori's electronics or Blacks' drums and the surprising breaks in between makes the album interesting and the different cuts worth listening to. The third one 'Mozu (The Shrike)' is a fine example of that. There is a strong and clear groove for the first 3 minutes of the track. Then the drums leave their own rhythm behind to jump to a short solo. After that the music goes on in that more open arythmic pattern and all four musicians take the chance to jump right in. The short piece 'Invisible Fingers' proceedes in this free manner.

'Hotaru (Firefly)', the fifth composition, takes its time to get started. It's a very quiet track. The electronic sounds make it easy to imagine fireflys in the air. The track could work very well as the soundtrack for a night at a camp fire.

In other cuts the groove returns but never again as defining as they were in the first few tracks. The last piece 'Koya Hijiri' is the longest of the ten tracks. It is a adaption of the first track of Mori's last solo album In Light of Shadows.

I've been listening to both versions lately and they are quite different. But I can't say which version I would prefer. Beautiful as it is to hear what Mori does with her laptop alone, it is also a great experience to hear her work with different musicians together.The interplay of the four musicians conducted by Mori is a great joy to listen to especially in the case of this track.

I wrote a lot about groove thinking about this album and this groove is also part of 'Koya Hijiri' but it's a groove that is held loosely so it can jump away and explore the area, returning when the time is right. Within this last track you can find everything that is fascinating about this album comprised in one track: The different voices respect each other in their own value, each one takes its part and together they create a fine sound covering the whole area between melody and groove on the one hand and open interaction and free sounds on the other without getting lost on the way.

So in the end it might not be a freejazz album. It is more an album of electronic chamber music composed by a free mind. And the result is a warm fine listening experience.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

David Douglas & the Westerlies - Little Giant Still Life (Greenleaf Music, 2017) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Everyone knows Dave Douglas, right? The prolific trumpeter was a member of the original Masada in the early 1990s and has amassed an astounding and diverse discography over the years. One of his latest is the brass heavy Little Giant Still Life. His partners on the recording are the The Westerlies, whom we last encountered when they were playing the work of a different (ex)Downtown NYC composer, Wayne Horvitz. Here they lend their voices and talents, along with drummer Anwar Marshall, to a set of new brash and colorful Douglas penned compositions.

What is so striking about Douglas' work - whether it is with this brass quartet, his electronic leaning group High Risk, or in the tribute work with his group Riverside which recently released The New National Anthem (arrangements of Carla Bley's music) - is his balance between lyricism and texture. The opening track on Still Life is a good example, 'Champion' begins with a fanfare, the mix of the horns is rich and their syncopation is punchy, and a perfect set up for Douglas's energetic and fluid runs. A breakdown towards the middle of the track turns into collective improvization, which also reveals all the distinct voices.

The title track 'Little Giant Still Life' begins with a memorable theme that simply envelops and carries the whole piece. The Westerlies' strong comping and accompaniment provides a gripping balance of tension and motion. Douglas' humor also shines through on tracks like 'Bunting', where a somewhat traditional introduction is subverted by dollops of the blues and low horn blats. It's not slapstick however as the moments of levity are couched in some serious music.

Little Giant Still Life is a nicely balanced and vivacious album, and seems like it would easily appeal to the casual as well as the most voracious and demanding, listeners. A definite stocking stuffer for the music fan!

The Westerlies are:

Riley Mulherkar - Trumpet
Zubin Hensler - Trumpet
Andy Clausen - Trombone
Willem de Koch - Trombone

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Boneshaker – Thinking Out Loud (Trost Records, 2017) ****½

By Gustav Lindqvist

Boneshaker is a small yet very powerful group in which drummer and percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love is involved. Nilssen-Love who’s playing with ‘everyone’ on the free jazz scene (The Thing, Frode Gjerstad Trio, Large Unit, Pan-Scan Ensemble) seem to have a bit more hours in a day than the rest of us. In addition to being part of an impressive number of small and big groups, he’s also running his own record label; PNL Records and is a co-organizer of the annual All Ears festival in Oslo, Norway.

In Boneshaker PNL is joined by Mars Williams on reeds and toy instruments and Kent Kessler on bass. Mars who’s impressive CV reveals a grammy nominated musician with collaborations spanning across a broad range of genres and artists. On the free jazz scene he has played with Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Joe McPhee and Ken Vandermark just to mention a selected few. He can be heard with the Vandermark 5, Chicago Reed Quartet but also with the grammy nominated group ‘Liquid Soul’ who’s 20+ years history is well worth considering.

Last but definitely not least bass player Kent Kessler who can be heard on many highly regarded albums reviewed here on FJB (DEK Trio, Rodrigo Amado, and Peter Brötzmann’s Tentet) and who I must admit I haven’t paid enough attention to.

The album kicks starts with PNL leading the way on the 14 minute song ‘Brain Freeze’ and then it just takes off. Boneshaker truly makes the bones shake. This is full throttle free jazz right from the start. Variations in tempo, short improvised melody lines with the trio traveling together with sudden bursts of energy, all comes together in an intense mix. But suddenly they seem to run out of notes and Kessler is left alone. Slowly but surely he’s painting a relaxed picture of sounds up and down the scale. Then Nilssen-Love and Williams joins in. They’re tip-toeing carefully through the soundstage as to not awaken the beast. I’m like a cat on hot bricks waiting for things to explode. I’ve heard these musicians before. They’re not afraid of waiting for just the right moment for the hammer to fall. But I’m left wondering if this was their intention. The song stops. Baffling!

The second song, ‘Puffy Fluffy’ brings me back to reality immediately. Kessler, Williams and Nilssen-Love gives me an exhausting 6 minute show-down. It’s like three trains going full speed ahead as a unified whole, yet each on its own track. During the last minute they ascend to the surface and slowly come to a halt.

The third track; ‘Salty Fruity’ is a different creature entirely. It starts off dark, with bells, cracks and chirps. Kesslers bow provides a dark foundation beneath it all. Then there’s suddenly what sounds like a dentist drill (scary!) and more trills, cheeps and warbling. We’re taken to a very dark place and I’m left alone waiting for what will come next. A sad melody line from Williams travels through thin air but only briefly. Nilssen-Love takes the song into a different direction. Williams joins back to the changed scenery. And then the trio are all dancing together. I’d say this is free and improvised music when it is at its very best. Unexpected turns, changes in tempo, intensity and in character.

The fourth and final song on this album is the 5 minute ‘Wabi-Sabi’. This has Williams presenting questions or perhaps statements over the first minute. PNL provides both structure but also dissonance yet without disturbing Williams who comes into full bloom half-way through the performance. Boneshaker ends this great album vibrating and shivering at a calmer pace. Highly recommended.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Charles Rumback - Threes (ears&eyes Records, 2017) ****

By Eric McDowell

There are no drum solos on Charles Rumback’s latest album as a leader. No, Rumback isn't that kind of drummer, and Threes isn't that kind of album. This probably shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following the Chicago scene fixture’s recent work under his own name. Of course it's not that Rumback isn't up to the task of showing off chops, but as both drummer and composer, his sensibility is marked by taste and restraint. He plays, as drummer and educator John Riley might say, with a fair amount of “headroom” or excess capacity—at any given moment he's playing what's best for that moment, even if it's only a fraction of his technical capability. Listeners with sharp ears—and drummers, certainly—will not only sense the depths that underlie the surface of his playing but will also understand that suggestion, in Rumback’s hands, has more power than demonstration could.

This approach affords the music on Threes a wonderful elasticity, and Rumback is lucky—or wise—to have built relationships with musicians like pianist Jim Baker and bassist John Tate who can adapt so well to this mode of playing. Together, the trio is a loose-limbed unit, relaxed and mellow, graceful and nimble. But elasticity isn’t synonymous with freedom. Indeed, while the set isn’t completely without “free jazz” moments—see the first half of the centerpiece suite “Three Storey Birdhouse/Right Reasons”—it won’t rank among the most adventurous shows that Constellation, the great Chicago venue where the album was recorded live, has seen. Rather, it’s against stated or implied reference points that the group thrives. Elastics only work, after all, if they snap back toward the center.

On opener “Salt Lines,” for example—a smokey, limber 3/4 swing—listen to how the trio toys with the pulse, Rumback stretching metrical subdivisions across the kit, Tate departing from quarter notes to add melodic touches, Baker unfolding the simple melody just behind the beat. The effect is thrown into relief when Baker sets off on his solo, busy but delicate against the roiling rhythm section, with just enough sour notes thrown in to maintain the right balance of flavors. This kind of roomy interplay is possible only because these three musicians have a deep knowledge of how to play together—and of what they’re playing (or playing with).

Consider that before its appearance here as part of a 20-minute suite, “Right Reasons” appeared in both a bass/drums duo version on Daylight Savings (with Tate) and a quintet version on In the New Year (Tate was there, too), and you start to grasp Rumback’s flexible relationship to his material. Like wearing in a new pair of shoes, putting compositions through these kinds of push-pull paces can make them comfortable enough that at a certain point you can all but forget they’re there, freeing you up to think more about where you’re going than how you’re getting there. If I suggest that playing someone else’s compositions might be the shortcut version of this idea, it’s only to illustrate my point; the group’s version of Andrew Hill’s “Erato” is anything but superficial. Like the album as a whole, it shows the trio inheriting tradition and making it their own. It’s a form of mastery, of course—but a mastery, perhaps paradoxically, entirely in service of the music.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Daniel Carter, Watson Jennison, William Parker, Federico Ughi – Live! (577 Records, 2017)

By Tom Burris

577 Records has released a set of recordings from a Carter/Jennison/Parker/Ughi 2015 North American tour in a three volume edition. The extremely limited discs are available separately or together directly from the label. Downloads are also available from Bandcamp.

Also of interest: This year's installment of 577's Forward Festival is on Dec. 7th & 8th. For details, see

Volume 1: Erie Live!   ***1/2

Daniel Carter (reeds) is a player whose whole demeanor shouts Openness. In his longtime duo with Federico Ughi (drums) – or in the monster trio with Ughi & William Parker (bass) – Carter is the shaman, acting as a conduit between the natural and spiritual realms. The Ughi duo can become a bit unhinged at times, veering wildly into space as a result of a perceived inability to control the unseen forces it summons. This is not in any way undesirable, of course – but with Parker involved, the music becomes more grounded. If Carter is the shaman, Parker is the wise Master whose experience with otherworldly spirits tames the unpredictable wildness – and allows for a more solid union with the material world. My confession is that this is my introduction to pianist (and multiple instrumentalist) Watson Jennison, and my first impression isn't great, as he rains down clusters on the top of the group & manages to almost drown out Carter on “Before Six.” No real worries, however, as balance is achieved by the end of the second track, “West,” with Ughi pounding prairie rhythms that accompany a moonlit ghost dance over wooden flutes.

Sunrise at “Square One.”
The ghost dance has gone on
all night.
Parker squeezes out
tuba farts as a New Orleans
rhythm from Ughi
inspires Carter to ride hard.
There is etouffee for breakfast as
Jennison lightly tickles the keys.
OK, Jennison is cool.

Parker & Ughi form a solid alliance on “Smoke” but the piece comes to an abrupt ending – an edit that is obvious.

Fifteen minutes of Opus performance closes the set. Ughi and Carter lock in and propel the beast upward. And outward. Jennison hides for awhile until the group coaxes him into soloing. Carter and Jennison fill out the space up top with a friendly battle – and the whole group slows the music to a magnificent ending.

Volume 2: Toronto Live!   ****

“Wondering” opens with an unusual lineup for the quartet: Carter on trumpet, Jennison on flute, Parker on tuba (and, of course, Ughi on drums). The music settles into a solid New Orleans shuffle after one mere minute. Carter's trumpet lines are solid melodic bleat fragments – and the whole groove becomes circular. The music fades out at the end. Parker and Ughi drive the funk groove of “Telephone Choice” on bass & drums, while Jennison's piano touches bring enough color to the proceedings that the music begins to glow from the inside. Another fade-out happens at the end of this track.

Parker and Ughi remain on their main instruments on “No Need,” but Carter switches to piano while Jennison continues to splatter paint on the overall sound via spatial marimba mallet drops. Parker opens the track with melancholic arco strokes. Beautiful autumnal melodic phrases from Carter dance across the top. A gorgeous mood piece.

This disc is the most eclectic of the bunch; but the successes found on this particular recording are the gems of the entire series. It clocks in at under 25 minutes but costs the same as the others. I say Quality Over Quantity. Dear consumer, if you can only spring for one of these discs, this is the one to get.

Volume 3: Rochester Live!   ***1/2

Carter's trumpet bleats ride on top of rolling waves of groove and sound as Jennison's piano / action / paints around them. Great as this is, the rapport between Ughi and Parker continues to be the main source of fascination to my ears. The forward propulsion is constant as they push the music onward, never in the slightest disagreement about where Forward is located. But when Parker switches to tuba on “You Think So?” he leaves Ughi to drive alone, preferring to punctuate the rhythm with bleats and blasts. Carter ceases on the opening and locks down with Ughi, the music intensifying right up to the end, which comes too soon (in the form of another fade-out).

A strange forced intensity prevails throughout the first half of “I Told” but things pick up more naturally once Parker puts down his horn and starts pumping the bass. “Casamef” fades IN as a chaos track that moves into a free, slow groove. “Noodles” features great interplay from Parker, Carter and Ughi while Jennison offers up counterpoint like it's his duty to do so. It's aggressive almost to the point of parody, but stay with it. It leads to the Cecil-like clusters of the intense “Always Nice,” featuring Parker on tuba (again). A strong ending to one weirdass ride.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Marco Scarassatti - Casa Acústica (Fragments From An Improvisation Diary) (Creative Sources, 2017) ****½

By Stuart Broomer

Marco Scarassatti is a Brazilian sound artist and improviser who is active in both European and South American circles. Casa Acústica (Acoustic House) literally refers to his home, most specifically a music room. He writes, “Between the years of 2014 and 2016 I maintained a regular routine of daily improvisations using objects, conventional musical instruments, as well as instruments invented by myself. This daily gesture coincided with the desire to register these improvisations in the form of a diary.

“During this time, approximately 100 hours of improvisation were recorded, which reveal aspects of this daily gesture, in the form of snapshots: listening to the environment, choosing the instruments, microphone positioning within the context of improvisational performance.

“The spontaneous visits and meetings of fellow musicians were also an integral part of the recordings; and an important characteristic of the diaries is that they reflect the daily occurences and events that happened to parallel them, such as the improvisation on the day of Ornette Coleman’s death.”

Eventually Scarassatti sent 18 tracks to fellow Brazilian musician Henrique Iwao, who made the final cut, resulting in the eight pieces that make up the hour-long Casa Acústica: fragments from an improvisation diary.

Listening repeatedly to Casa Acústica, one senses keenly that these excerpts were not chosen because they are particularly spectacular, but rather because they are somehow generally representative of what occurs in the original 100 hours. This is not a criticism of what’s here, but a commendation, for what the document presents has an extraordinary naturalness, both an immediacy and a lack of artifice. For various reasons, including the sense of actually sharing space, I seem to have spent far more time with it than I would usually spend with a recording, recalling repeatedly listening to John Cage’s Variations IV (Everest) virtually as background music fifty years ago.
This morning I put it on again, a moment later I was involved in a conversation, and as the first track began, I thought the distant barking dogs were the newly arrived dogs of a recently returned neighbor. As one goes through the cycle of these excerpted pieces there are episodes that reveal Scarassatti’s different activities and instruments. He is interested, for example, in simple home-made instruments (Walter Smetak, a Swiss composer who lived in Brazil, is an inspiration), including trumpets constructed of mouthpieces, hoses and bell-like objects that are used for both blowing and tapping, evident in the opening “Breath” as well as other pieces. Scarassatti also plays the viola de cocho, a three-fretted Brazilian folk instrument, with a cellist’s virtuosity, mixing plucked runs with percussive taps. An extended baritone saxophone solo recorded on the day of Ornette Coleman’s death reveals a range of delicate, airy and obscure sounds that one would rarely assign to the instrument.  

The range of Scarassatti’s explorations becomes evident with the sheer mystery of a track like “How to walk around a house blindfolded,” in which the musician’s percussion performance foreshadows our own disconnect from the visual world in our experience of the CD, drawn at once to two sonic worlds, the improvised and the environmental. Other pieces are duets in which he uses assorted sound sources with violinist Guilherme Antonio or shares various instruments with Mateus Dantas. A “subdued” violo de cocho—evidently struck—accompanies a “background mass,” along with what seems like a truck, suggesting Cage’s germane question: “What’s more musical: a truck driving past a music school or a truck driving by a factory?” The final track, “Decomposing panning – panning for gold, marble ball and interference noise” is a complex of liquid sounds and resonant, flexing metal, as well as struck and scraping sounds.

What is most beautiful about this documentation is that Scarassatti’s improvisations become inseparable from the sonic texture of life itself. His combination of spontaneity, chance, homemade instruments and the home environment ultimately open the process to the sounds and the experiential rhythms of the listener’s world, the tapping keys of my computer keyboard themselves seeming to join with that concluding metal pan.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Bones - Haberdashery (Leo Records, 2017) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Haberdashery is the sophomore album of the Israeli Bones trio - Amsterdam-based bass clarinetist Ziv Taubenfeld, Berlin-based drummer Nir Sabag, and still-in-Israel double bass player Shay Hazan, all close friends since their childhood in the Northern Israeli town of Karmiel. Taubenfeld collaborated recently with renowned Dutch improvisers as Han Bennink, Ab Baars and Guus Janssen; Sabag collaborated with Polish reeds player Mikołaj Trzaska, and Hazan works closely with Israeli sax players Albert Beger and Stephen Horenstein and has more recently began performing with pianist Anat Fort.

Taubenfeld is the leader of the trio, credited as the main composer and also the producer of this recording from the Amsterdam club Bimhuis in October 2016. His compositions contain hints of chamber, haunted atmospheres, and contemplative moods, based more on loose, fragmented ideas than on coherent narratives. Maybe this is the reason why the album is dedicated to those who “surrender to the mystery and follow their hearts”.

Bones offer much more than intimate, abstract mysteries though. The strength of this trio has always been the immediate, intuitive connection between all three musicians, the democratic, balanced, and spacious interplay and the manner that all can weave and color patiently - in a “Snail’s Pace” as the first piece is titled - separately and collectively, a nuanced, profound textures out of a simple chord or even a sound. These qualities only grew stronger and deeper since the trio released its self-titled album last year, and followed the release with several European tours.

Haberdashery sounds like a series of free-associative, labyrinthine walks where you keep crossing and exchanging sonic reflections of your own and your associates. Only “No Name Letters” suggests some degree of rhythmic playfulness that may be associated with jazz. The last piece, “Cello” is the most impressive one here. A quiet meditation on delicate, fleeting sounds - whispers and breaths, distant, ringing bells and deep-tones arco touches.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Lisa Mezzacappa - Glorious Ravage (New World Records, 2017) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Glorious Ravage is an ambitious multi-faceted undertaking by Bay Area bassist and composer Lisa Mezzacappa. The work is organized around women, who late 19th and early 20th century,  transcended the stereotypical roles of the era and pursued their passions in science, travel, and more. On the recording, Mezzacappa works with a frighteningly talented large band (see personnel listing below) but cedes the spotlight to vocalist Faye Victor who transforms the words of the protagonists into song, and with four filmmakers, she developed accompanying visuals for live performance.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to see the work performed, complete with video, by a slightly different 15 piece ensemble at Roulette in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. Playing against the projections of the films, the full scope of the composer's vision was on display. In fact, the performance was sometimes near sensory overload - taking in the music and the movies in which surreal collages and sometimes metaphorical imagery followed the narratives of the women, who were botanists, mountain climbers, intrepid explorers, and more.

While the live performance and video added additional layers of experience, the music was robust enough to stand quite well on its own. In fact, it has taken me many listens, on the iPod through headphones, in the car, and on the stereo, to feel like I am getting my ears around the music. Easily digestible moments are interspersed with intense improvisation, and vocally, peculiar turns of phrases and near words can be thorny at times - all the makings of a challenging work that takes time to reveal itself fully.

The opening tune 'Veta' accompanies the story of Ida Pfeiffer, a world traveler from Austria in the mid-1800s. The music begins with patter from the percussion and plinks from the guitar. Victor is in from the start, singing the words that Pfeiffer penned about her experiences in the high altitudes of Peru. The vocals follow the contours of the words and their sounds, shaping them around the musical accompaniment. The title phrase jumps out from the track, and along the way, the vocals become more textural than meaningful. The second track, "Make No Plans" begins with a stilted marimba-laced looping rhythm. Victor comes in with a mix of scat and lyrics, while a chorus of deeper voices lays down a counter melody from time to time. Darren Johnston's trumpet solo, vibrant against the the guitar's textures and the swelling accompaniment, is a highlight of the track.

The mid-point in 'Heat & Hurry' is an orchestrated high -- the thick harmonies and alluring rhythm invite the listener into a lush and exotic soundscape. After a seductive interlude, sounds begin bouncing off of each other, and wordless vocals meld with a composed lines weaving through electric and acoustic gurgles and blips. This is all after the be-boppy intro shared by Victor and the band, which is followed by a moment of free interplay between the woodwinds.

I'd be remiss to not mention the scintillating introduction to the track "For the Dusky Mourner" featuring pianist Myra Melford and bass clarinetist Vinny Golia. The two, along with the percussion, create a forlorn but expectant atmosphere. As the track progresses, the bass clarinet continues to thrill - especially in a passage where it digs in over the guitar and pinched notes from the sax. The harmonium laced ending of the track is a mesmerizing feature (there is a fleeting moment that reminds me of the introduction on the Band's 'Chest Fever'). This only represents a few of the songs on the album, each one being quite interesting and different.

I possibly should have disclosed at the start of the review that I'm not that into vocal jazz. This is in no way meant to be disparaging, it's just an admission of my current philistine tendencies. That being said, I can honestly say that Glorious Ravage transcended my hangups. The work and joy that Mezzacappa took in researching the women's stories comes through, and is compelling in and of itself. However more so, that Mezzacappa, who says that she herself is not a trained composer, is able to make such an arresting and - at times - difficult music work so cohesively is a noteworthy accomplishment. Plus, the band is top notch, making the music even better. This is an album and story that is well worth digging into.

The band:
  • Fay Victor, voice
  • Nicole Mitchell, flute
  • Kyle Bruckmann, oboe
  • Vinny Golia, woodwinds
  • Cory Wright, woodwinds
  • Darren Johnston, trumpet
  • Michael Dessen, trombone
  • Dina Maccabee, viola
  • John Finkbeiner, electric guitar
  • Mark Dresser, acoustic bass
  • Lisa Mezzacappa, acoustic bass, conductor
  • Myra Melford, piano and harmonium
  • Kjell Nordeson, vibraphone/percussion
  • Tim Perkis, electronics
  • Jordan Glenn, drum set/percussion

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Pan-Scan Ensemble ‎– Air and Light and Time and Space (Hispid Recordings / PNL Records 2017) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

Pan-Scan Ensemble is a brand-new nonet, assembled by Paal Nilssen-Love and Ståle Liavik Solberg for a December 2016 Blow Out performance in Oslo. Thankfully, the group’s performance was captured and released, as it’s a superb example of free improvisation. Nilssen-Love’s creativity and talent has been well-documented and celebrated on this blog, and somehow he seems to raise the bar with each new release. For Pan-Scan Ensemble, he and Solberg, co-founders of Blow Out, brought together a improvising supergroup of sorts: Lotte Anker, Anna Högberg, Julie Kjær, Thomas Johansson, Goran Kajfes, Emil Strandberg, and Sten Sandell. One of the most interesting things about Pan-Scan Ensemble can’t be gleaned from this recording. The band sets up with Nilssen-Love and Solberg out front, Sandell on one side, and the horns lined up behind the drummers, alternating winds and brass. Judging by the videos linked below and the overall vibe of the album, the result is a kind of “wall of sound” that blends the individual voices into a multiphonic stream.

Air and Light and Time and Space captures 45 minutes of the ensemble, on “Air and Light” and “Time and Space.” In one sense, I was reminded of Susana Santos Silva’s Life and Other Transient Storms, which also featured Anker and Sandell. That album was also a 2-track supergroup improvisation, with big ideas in the titles and evocative playing in the music itself. In this case, “Air and Light” kicks off the album in a brief 12 minutes, and “Time and Space” takes up the remaining 33 minutes. (Although this is only available digitally and on CD, I imagine it’d make a really nice 10” double-vinyl release).

Nilssen-Love and Solberg open “Air and Light” with a spacious, percussive duet with echos of Han Bennink and Don Moye. After about four minutes, trumpet and piano punch through a space in the playing, and it’s not long until the six horns engage in a melodic call and response. Drawing on their experience in a half dozen assorted improvising groups, the players call out themes that recall blues, chamber music, and more traditional acoustic free jazz. Towards the end, a chorale section opens up, with the three trumpets in rotation around Anker. Drums and piano lay out for a long stretch, letting the section develop and flow in a few different directions. It’s a nice counterpoint to the drummers’ duet early on, and the entire group’s use of silence helps give the performance a nice sense of drama.
“Time and Space” wastes no, uhh, time getting started (forgive me). Clashing staccato blasts come flying from the entire group, an effect that works particularly well on headphones. Johansson, Kajfes, and Strandberg start to fill in space with some muted soloing, guiding the group over the course of several minutes, as Högberg, Anker, and Kjær re-enter with driving force. In its closing section, “Time and Space” transforms into a foot-stomping, synchronized powerhouse, with Nilssen-Love and Solberg keeping time, as the remaining seven players gradually peel away from the group and settle into their final solo improvisations.

Lastly, I just want to call out Lasse Marhaug, who mixed and mastered the album, and also created the album art. A talented designer, Marhaug’s album art for Nilssen-Love has become integral to the aesthetic of each one. The emphasis on “time,” the doubled band name, and the almost cellular backdrop give a rich impression of the music within, even before you’ve clicked play.

Live at Blow Out, Mir, Oslo December 20, 2016

Live at Kongsberg Jazz, July 7, 2017