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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

Sunday, December 17, 2017

LAMA + Joachim Badenhorst - Metamorphosis (Clean Feed, 2017) ****½

By Stef

They're back. After the acclaimed "The Elephant's Journey", the international band consisting of Joachim Badenhorst on clarinet and bass clarinet, Susana Santos Silva on trumpet, Gonçalo Almeida  on double bass, keys, effects and loops, and Greg Smith on drums and electronics. And we're glad they're back with an even stronger suite-like album, one that grows with each listen. All tracks are "composed", or should I say structured around an agreed build-up and some common melodies, or melodic phrases, because the word "theme" seems to heavy in this light-textured and dark album. 

Conceptually, it's a long metamorphosis, as the tracks are called, growing out of faint nothingness, out of eery drone-like electronics, something emerges ... a hard to describe sound or cluster of sounds, weird and welcoming, with whispers of wind and high vibrating tones from trumpet and clarinet. Tension mounts. Electronics and percussive screeches create a psychedelic atmosphere that shifts into a slow pulse, driven by a gentle phrase on the clarinet, a deep bass ... opening fully, blossoming with Susana Santos Silva's klezmer-like warm melody inviting the clarinet for counterpoint improvisation, sensitive and fragile and at the same time joyful and sad. Then amazingly the electronics and drums drive the whole tune away, transforming the piece into sheer agony, anger and pain, full of chaos and madness. As a listener, you've travelled a long way. You've experienced a myriad of conflicting emotions, leaving you perplexed. And it works. It works well. 

The second metamorphosis starts joyfully with clarinet and trumpet weaving similar phrases together without finding the unison, increasing the tempo gradually until the whole thing becomes really violent until it shifts into slow and calm open space, density disappears as tension and expectation increase. Here again, out of seeming chaos a wonderful tune emerges - somewhat reminiscent of a Harris Eisenstadt composition on Guewel - and then you notice that it's actually been there all along. Free improvisation and planned moments merge perfectly into each other, adding surprise and wonder as you are taken along on this wonderful journey. 

Like on the band's other albums, beauty and lyricism are contrasted with darkness and harsh sounds, or not even that, they are part of the same flow, they are the same, just in another form or shape. And that makes it fascinating. 

The album also has the band's version of Joachim Badenhorst's "Comacina Dreaming", a wonderful folk theme, that could have been part of the Godfather soundtrack, dark and dancing, and we have already heard on albums by Equilibrium, Mikkel Ploug, Carate Urio and Celio/Baggiani Group. Its etheric tone gets a totally different perspective here, and the theme gets one of its best renditions by Santos Silva's deep yearning tone, alternating between growls and purity. 

The album ends with a Greg Smith composition, "Dark Corners", which flows out of the previous track like a funeral march, slow, rhythmic and sad. 

The strength of this music starts with the strenghts of the compositions - and kudos to Almeida for that - combined with the four artists' clear vision of what kind of out-of-the-box music they want to play together. There is no script for a unique sound. It requires a deep understanding of each other's sensitivities and taste, and I would say that here the match is perfect in just doing that: to create a very special signature sound together. This is the kind of magic I like. And you should too! 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Kaja Draksler Octet - Gledalec (Clean Feed, 2017) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

If you’ve heard or read about this album, but not yet listened to it yourself, let me just say that you have almost no idea what you’re in for. I’ve seen few reviews really capture what this album seems to be about, and I know I’ll also fall short. Partly, that’s because there are no clear predecessors for Gledalec in Kaja Draksler’s discography. A massive and visionary song cycle, Gledalec blends chorale settings of poetry, composed chamber-like passages, and extended improvisation, weaving together threads of Cecil Taylor, Mengelberg, Boulez, and Ligeti.

Draksler’s assembled a crack octet, with herself on piano, Björk Níelsdóttir and Laura Polence on vocals; Ada Rave and Ab Baars on clarinet and tenor sax; George Dumitriu on violin and viola; Lennart Heyndels on bass; and Onno Govaert on drums and percussion. The lyrics for each piece are drawn from the poems of Pablo Neruda and Andriana Minou, except for the opening 5 minutes, a gorgeous setting of Sixteenth century Slovenian composer Jacobus Gallus Petelin’s “Mirabile Mysterium,” which flows ethereally into “Births,” a Pablo Neruda poem that Draksler uses as a means of gently prying apart Gledalec’s many layers. Dumitriu guides the transition between the two, but it’s Rave and Baars who drive forward the tension in Draksler’s composition. A sharpness in the voicing counters some of the reflectiveness in Neruda’s lines, in addition to setting words about birth and death in women’s voices.

This motif is picked up with “Omphalomancy,” a reference to the folk belief that a child’s navel will reveal how many children a mother will have. In the lyrics, a particular omphalomancer “could only guess the past / everyone was so impressed / and they paid a lot of money / to listen to their life story / again and again and again.” Draksler’s composition, which prominently features Dumitriu and Heyndels, loops around itself before ending on a brief, sharp coda. “Bîzdîbocul” picks up with the two strings in dialogue with Draksler’s prepared piano. The first of several improvised interludes, each with different small pairings, “Bîzdîbocul” is also the first real glimpse of the scope of Gledalec. At this point in the album, only the third track, there’s been a traditional chorale and irreverent poetry, and now comes the free improvisation. Following “Bîzdîbocul” are “A Carnival of Words” and “A Promise Is a Promise,” both of which showcase Níelsdóttir and Polence’s improvisational creativity. Draksler’s piano knits the tunes together, her comping and preparations grounding the whole in a free-jazz context, even while the bass and drums lock into a swinging almost 1940s-esque rhythm, against which Níelsdóttir and Polence recite Minou’s tongue-twisting couplets, “I promise not to forget / so I must remember not to forget” and “I must not forget to remember not to forget / that I promise not to forget.” As the lyrics are dis- and re-assembled, Draksler plays a stunning solo that soon falls beneath Rave’s bold, soaring tenor solo. Later, on “The Builder,” Rave switches to clarinet, and Baars steps forward with a superb sax solo.

It’s tempting to continue a song-by-song recitation of the highlights of this album, but truly that would rob you the sensation of surprise. Though I loathe spoiler alerts, generally, I think they apply pretty well here. So many delightful twists are woven into this album, and much of its excellence comes from Draksler’s composition and direction. Her setting of Minou’s “Omlettio Ad Absurdum” is easily one of the most daring moments of any avant-garde album this year. But it is ultimately the players who make the album, and this octet is phenomenal.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Dré Hočevar – Surface of Inscription (Clean Feed, 2017) *****

By Daniel Böker

This is the second draft of this review. In the first one, I wanted to walk you through every track of this wonderful album and tell you what is going on. However, after I read what I wrote it felt as if I had missed the point, which is that this album is amazing and full of surprises.

Dré Hočevar assembled a bunch of great musicians: Elias Stemeseder on piano, Bernardo Barros on electronics, Weston Olnecki on brass, Michael Foster on reeds, Charmaine Lee on vocals and himself on drums. Then, they chose a special way to record the different tracks. From what I understand from the Clean Feed homepage, they recorded different takes of the tracks and then one of the musicians played against the backdrop of the previous recorded construct.

To me as listener this description makes perfect sense. To my ears the different tracks circle around one musician without reducing the others to simple background sound. On the first it is Michael Foster on reeds. On the next track I hear a scratchy, swooshy sound that seems to be the main layer of the track, build by Bernardo Barros and / or Dré Hočevar. But while listening you hear a lot more going on. All the musicians tribute to the complex sound of the track and on the long run to the whole album.

The whole album is full of surprises. I will name a few:

The first track is a blast without drums. That is surprising because I have never heard such a sound. Michael Foster's clarinet sounds a bit like a woodpecker on speed. I needed a YouTube clip to verify that the sound I heard was in fact produced by Michael Foster. Three minutes of pure intensity and pressure. It is also surprising because I can hear no drums in that first track. Quite an opening for an album conducted by a drummer.

This is the second surprise, though one can see this coming if you are familiar with Hočevar's other works. His way of playing the drums is unique. Often it sounds restrained, serving the greater good, which is the song. If you see him play, which I highly recommend, at least via YouTube, you will see him work his way through the different sets. While he often chooses the softer sounds, the cymbals, the brushes etc., he is always fully present. For example, on “Surface of Inscription” this holds true, he never dominates the band or the different tracks but he is always very present and makes the different songs special with every sound he plays and doesn't play!

I used the word ‘song’. That might be wrong but it takes me to the next surprise. Most of the 15 tracks on “Surface of Inscription” are short like a common song. Dré Hočevar's last release on Clean Feed was “transcendental within the sphere of indivisible remainder”, an almost 50-minute-long coursing through all kinds of sounds. It’s a very enjoyable piece of music. The tracks on “Surface of Inscription” are, compared to that, a surprise in length. They are not light-weight but rather have a sort of sketch-character to them which fits perfectly. And I enjoy it very much to slowly move from track to track or even pick different tracks to listen to them over and over again. I recommend part 1 and 2 of “target domain of infinity.”

Which takes me to the next surprise: It is Charmaine Lee. I had not heard of her before. She is responsible for the vocal parts on the album, and it is amazing. I'm reluctant in listening to voices in jazz, but Lee does it exactly the way it has to be. There are no words, only sounds. The voice of Charmaine Lee is ‘just’ another instrument in the ensemble and a beautiful one. I searched, as one does, the internet to find more about her. On her own hompage there are some video-clips of her work. I think she is especially good in cooperation with other musicians and I like her work with Nate Wooley in particular:

It is not fair to name one of the members of the band as a special surprise without naming the others, and I admit that it isn’t Lee alone who makes that album special. I chose to mention her because the beautiful usage of the human voice was a special surprise to me. The other musicians are all more than just good. It is a extraordinary ensemble.

The calm but complex sound and structure of the album had me listening to it over and over again. I could name every musician of the ensemble over again and state their unique part in the album. But, to quote a cliché, the sum is more than the adding of the parts (or is that just a German saying?) the sound has not a single note to much. In all the calmness, to which the track “x nets, arrays, containers” is one of the few exceptions, lies a great tension. It is a tension that is not easily solved, and that might be the one thing that is no surprise. The album is worth every minute of listening. Over and over again. For me it is one of the albums of the year.

P.s.: The names of the different tracks are also surprises. I can't really get my head around them and try to find meaning in them. Until now they are an unsolved riddle.

P.p.s.: You can find some live incarnations of the music on YouTube. For example here:

Or here:

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Jo Berger Myhre and Ólafur Björn Ólafsson — The Third Script (Hubro, 2017) ****½

By Rick Joines

“The little indicates much.”
— Shams of Tabrīzī

Had Mewlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhi never met Shams al-Din Tabrīzī on 15 November 1244, he might have remained a teacher and jurist of some talent and intellect, but afterward, he abandoned his books and was transformed forever into Rūmī, the Sufi mystic poet whose esoteric hymns reverberate across time and across cultures, inspiring even those who have never whirled like a dervish.

Rumi and Shams shared a wisdom beyond the ken of both the unlearned and the learned. What each had sought on his own, and in the company of other seekers, was only to be found by their finding each other: each was a student; each a master. Together, they heard a music too profound for ordinary ears and spoke of it in an ineffable language. Shams claimed that as a result of their encounter, Rumi’s poems were afterwards written in three scripts, and that he, in fact, was the final, impenetrable one:
That scribe wrote in three kinds of script.
One that he himself might read, but no one else.
One that he himself might read and others, too.
And one that neither he nor anyone else might read.
I am that third script.
The wisdom of Shams, like the wisdom born of his friendship with Rumi, cannot be contained in the words of a book. The “third script” exceeds the understanding of most. The “third script” must be experienced during silent, reverent observation, after all other paths have failed. The “third script” reveals itself to open hearts.

The Third Script is also the title of an album by the duo of Jo Berger Myhre (from Norway, on bass and electronics) and Ólafur Björn Ólafsson (from Iceland, on drums and keyboards). The sessions between these two, in an abandoned Reykjavík warehouse-turned-studio, has produced music of some profundity. Their music unfolds as if across forbidding, untrod glacial landscapes. It takes its time as it takes on the vast scale of time, reveling in ambient stretches of mutating drones.

The Third Script contains four tracks and spans a mere 39 minutes, but each of those minutes opens onto eternities of thought. Myhre and Ólafsson handle time like true mystics. This is meditative music, if by “meditative” one means an activation of the imagination, a synesthesia where hearing becomes seeing and seeing becomes thinking and thinking stops calculating and starts contemplating itself and its world.

The first track, “1000%,” is the only “composed” song on The Third Script. Myhre’s bass enters the static with some echoey, divebombing arco—a resonate Arctic roar. Ólafsson rattles a shaker, pounds a snare, and follows Myhre’s bass notes on the keys. Suspense and tension mount as a trinity of pipe organ chords repeat against a horizon of sweeping smears of electronica, as if unto infinity, but there is nothing anxious here. The song builds with deliberation, patiently aching toward a little lyrical melody that is as beautiful as it is haunting.

All three of the other tracks are improvised. The title song, “The Third Script,” begins with Myhre’s dry arco—every horse hair on his bow sounding hoarse as a foghorn bellowing over the icy waves of Ólafsson’s undulating, slowly modulating organ. They seem to capture the tempo of the essence of time, which Shams of Tabriz explains like this:
The world does not move through time as if it were a straight line, proceeding from the past to the future. Instead time moves through and within us, in endless spirals. Eternity does not mean infinite time, but simply timelessness. If you want to experience eternal illumination, put the past and the future out of your mind and remain within the present moment.
And one does feel wonderfully adrift in the endless spirals of the timeless present when listening to “The Third Script.” The song gives voice to something lonely, mournful. Myhre’s bass snorts like a beast, then howls like a troubled mind possessed by expansive thoughts. This is the sort of dissonance one hopes never resolves into anything fathomable.

Myhre and Ólafsson continue to develop ruminative moods and spaces on the final two tracks, “Orifice” and “Ravening.” “Orifice” emphasizes the angle of Myhre’s bowing as he shapes mammoth arcs, dragging woodsy notes out of the deep barrel of his bass. Electronic oscillations transform into Ólafsson’s regular rhythm on the drums. An almost garrulous bass arco and the riding and splashing of cymbals compete with a machine hum, reminding us that “orifice” can indicate abyssal depths—chasms, fissures, clefts. And the title of the final track, “Ravening,” leads one to imagine what it feels like to be rapacious, voracious, ferocious. Myhre fiddles and bows on top of some droning overdubbed legato and staccato strokes, pacing and growling like Rilke’s panther staring through the bars of Ólafsson’s chiming notes.

To call The Third Script “ambient” or “drone” or “electronica” or “post-rock” or “jazz” is to diminish this stunning music that defies marketing distinctions. Out of the encounter of Jo Berger Myhre and Ólafur Björn Ólafsson, an astounding music has emerged that flows into the swirl of time. Before they met, both Rumi and Shams thought they understood what could not be understood, yet after meeting, they understood something beyond even that. Perhaps something similar has occurred with this duo of Myhre and Ólafsson. Listen to The Third Script without preconceptions. Be open to its queries. It will astound. “Instead of resisting changes, surrender,” Shams of Tabriz advises; “Let life be with you, not against you. If you think ‘My life will be upside-down,’ don’t worry. How do you know that upside down is not better than right-side-up?”

Listen to, and please purchase, the album, here:

The song “1000%” is included on the edition of the Nordic Playlist curated by Sigur Ros:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

To Be Continued - Poetry From The Future (Line Arts Records, 2017) ***½

By Brian Kiwanuka

To Be Continued is a quartet composed of experienced musicians of the New York City improvised music scene. Each musician here is very talented, but upon a review of the personnel, the instrument that will catch the most eyes is the unconventional inclusion of a bassoon, expertly played by Claire de Brunner, a former student of jazz great Lee Konitz. She is joined by Carol Leibowitz, a veteran pianist who is just as versatile in the harsh as she is in the sublime. Daniel Carter shows his range, performing on alto, tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, trumpet and clarinet. The quartet is rounded out by Kevin Norton, whose gorgeous vibraphone, skilled drumming and other percussion, although often used more sparingly than the other instruments, are integral to some of the best moments on the record.

Poetry From The Future is To Be Continued’s debut record. The album, which was recorded in a single session, is an exercise of collective improvisation. The quartet could be described four poets in a skillful freestyle where, despite the fact that at times it might feel a bit ambiguous or even chaotic, one can tell that they are all adept in listening and reacting to each other. The group is leaderless - although sometimes it may seem that one member is taking the spotlight, another is almost always initiating a dialogue, or in some cases a battle, and these conversations can be quite interesting. Even though those who long for traditional structure will be left wanting, the album can be enchanting. At its best, Poetry From The Future is ethereal and immersive avant-garde jazz fit to soundtrack a cinematic walk through a dark, mysterious forest, where the protagonists are never quite sure what they are going to run into.

The album starts strongly, with the ethereal “Invisible Colors” being one of the standout tracks. It begins with Liebowitz having a sparse conversation with Norton, whose sound shimmers throughout the track on various percussive instruments, mallet based and drum-set. Within the first 30 seconds, de Brunner joins the exchange and is swiftly followed by the Carter’s understated flute. The tone of the bassoon immediately stands out, with some particularly beautiful moments of it reacting to a flurry of notes from the piano in the final portion of the track.

The closer, “River Run”, is on the opposite side of mood-spectrum relative to the dreamy opener, but is no less satisfying. It begins with an intriguing piano and sax duet, but the highlight here may be what happens after - a great exercise in tension building by Leibowitz and Norton, who gives a great performance here on drums. “For All Times” is another album highlight, with the elongated notes of Carter’s subtle trumpet being a great partner to de Brunner’s relatively less restrained bassoon. Leibowitz’s playing starts out aggressive and moves to light handed and graceful as the track goes on and Norton provides some brilliant vibraphone and drum-brush backing for the band. Overall, To Be Continued is a well played experiment - a record to lose oneself in when in the right state of mind.


Carol Liebowitz: piano
Claire de Brunner: bassoon
Daniel Carter: alto, tenor, and soprano saxophones, flute, trumpet, clarinet
Kevin Norton: vibraphone, drums, percussion

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sam Sfirri & Taku Unami - zymology (Hibari Music, 2017) ****

By Connor Kurtz

"Zymology, also known as zymurgy, is an applied science which studies the biochemical process of fermentation and its practical uses."

After a long five years, Japanese avant-garde musician Taku Unami's Hibari Music has finally returned with a digital release: an improvised set by Unami with American Wandelweiser composer / performer Sam Sfirri titled zymology, recorded on November 20, 2017 and released on the same day. The artwork shows a guitar and a piano, even though the two are credited as only playing bass and piano. As ironic as this might be, it's ultimately irrelevant as the two instruments are no more relevant to the recording than the ceramic butter bowl.  A typical improvised duo performance may be described as a musical conversation. I'd describe zymology as musical cohabitation.

At the beginning of the album, we hear the sounds of machines ticking and rhythmically buzzing. We wonder if this is a sound being made a performer, or just the sounds of the noisy performance space. Once we begin to understand its prominence and importance in the piece, we wonder what the origin of the sounds even are – could it be the sounds of machines found in the house (although it is not stated anywhere, I believe that this was recorded in a house rather than a recording studio, and I will continue that assumption for the rest of the review), like an oven or an air compressor? Could they be found sound devices that Unami brought along with him, or machines he created himself, serving no purpose more than to obnoxiously click? These are all questions that Unami first asked on his 2015 collaboration with Éric La Casa, Parazoan Mapping, where sounds of found machines and live settings were juxtaposed against Unami's home-made sound devices, combining their contexts into something more confusing and ambiguous. On zymology, Unami advances the argument by making these sounds the soul of an improvisation. The machines are stripped of all original context, existing as nothing more than a contributor to the album's cumulative sound mass. Sound devices or home appliances, bass or guitar, amplifier or newspapers; although you may be asking yourself these questions at the beginning of the album, it will not take long for you to realize that things don't matter within the world of zymology.

In the world of zymology, all that matters is sound. Who's to say that a piano melody is more interesting than a refrigerator opening or closing, or water dripping into a cup? A notable point of reference is Seijiro Murayama and Éric La Casa's 2009 duo Supersedure, released on Hibari Music, which had La Casa play previously recorded environmental sounds while Murayama improvised on his snare drum. The album raised the question of what sounds are musical in an improvisation, and are they still musical when presented alongside proper instruments. The main difference here is that all sounds are created live, proving intent behind every action, and allowing one to follow sounds in a sequence. Towards the end of zymology part iii, Sfirri improvises on his piano while Unami crumples paper. What's so interesting about this interaction is that the two improvisers were simply making whatever sound they thought that they should be making in that moment, and to find that sound Sfirri needed a piano while Unami just needed paper.

For fans of either of these artists, it probably goes without saying that zymology is pretty quiet. Despite the one day turn around, zymology is recorded and edited quite well, allowing the hundreds of small sounds to be heard clearly. The performers seem to travel around the house while they perform, forcing the sounds they make to vary greatly in the listener's perceived dB level. This results in a very dynamic soundworld where the listener has to work to take in certain sounds, as other sounds may be much closer to the mic. This also results in certain sounds being far more prominent in certain channels, while other sounds are more centralized, resulting in a strong headphone experience. There is a peculiarity in the editing of the last track. Firstly, the track is 11:59 while the rest are 12:00. This is possibly an accident, but I'm doubtful. The track cuts off at 10:30. At 11:58, one second of sound fades in. If we loop the album, we find that the track flows perfectly into the first track, meaning that the improvisation actually starts at the last second of the last track and then loops over. I am not going to make an attempt to make sense of this, and I highly doubt that fans will ever know why Unami decided to release the album this way; but still, it's something interesting to think about.

A more interesting peculiarity occurs in the track titles themselves. There are five tracks, and they are titled as follows: zymology part i, zymology part ii, zymology part iii, zymurgy part i, and zymology part iv. When one first hears the album, they will likely notice this and think nothing of it, assuming that the album was just cut into 12:00 tracks for convenience and assigned goofy titles by Unami.  On multiple listens and closer inspection, one might notice that the tracks seem to have a vague form to them. At the beginning of the tracks, the performers almost always stop what they are doing, which leads to a moment of silence before they start a new task. My suspicion is that the zymology i-iv and zymurgy i are scores, possibly written by Sfirri, likely of a very indeterminate nature, and that this album is actually a recording of 5 realizations played in succession, rather than being the different parts of a performance as once might suspect. Whether that's true or not, it's an interesting thing to consider as it raises the question of what would a score which results in music like this even look like?

I earlier referred to this album as musical cohabitation, and that's not just because of the sounds of washing machines and vacuums. There is very little interaction in this music. The performers acknowledge one another's existence, but they do not react to it. The instrumental improvisations sound more like somebody practicing or warming up than a serious musician recording a professional improvisation. I think that this is meant to represent the life of the two artists, presented musically and modestly. It's common for improvised music to be called "alive", or "breathing", but that description feels truer than ever with zymology. I've never lived a life that has felt like Peter Brötzmann's Machine Gun, but I have lived a life that has felt like Sam Sfirri and Taku Unami's zymology.

One of my favorite things about keeping up with Taku Unami is how his albums seem to follow an order. It's easy to see how albums may be a continuation of each other, and how they may land in different streams of releases, confirming him as a musician who's constantly moving forwards. The Whistler, a collaboration with Graham Lambkin released earlier this year, can easily be seen as a successor to Parazoan Mapping and Species pluralis. In the same way, zymology feels like the long awaited follow-up to Teatro Assente and Motubachii, and it absolutely lives up to the high standard placed by those two landmark albums. Welcome back, Hibari. You've been missed.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Gard Nilssen´s Acoustic Unity - Live In Europe (3cd Set) (Clean Feed Records, 2017) *****

By Gustav Lindqvist

Gard Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity is:

Gard Nilssen on drums, Petter Eldh on double bass and André Roligheten on tenor & soprano saxophones.

Nilssen can be heard together with ‘Cortex Quartet’ & ‘Lord Kelvin Trio’, with ‘Zanussi 5’ and of course with his own ‘Acoustic Unity’ who’s album ‘Firehouse’ got a well-deserved shiny five-star review here 2 years ago. Nilssen's playing is full of vigor, swing and feeling and the connection with Petter and André is something out of this world, as you’ll see in the review. Petter Eldh on double bass is an artist, which seems to be all over the globe playing with lots of different artists. ‘Amok Amor’, ‘Django Bates Beloved’ are the two collaborations I’ve heard most of, but there’s lots more for those who like to dive deeper into the artistry of mr Eldh. And finally, we have André Roligheten, who’s album ‘Homegrown’ I reviewed recently. He can be heard in ‘Trondheim Jazz Orchestra’, his own band ‘Roligheten’ and ‘Team Hegedal’ – in which Nilssen plays the drums as well.

Also featured:

Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor saxophone & clarinet (On CD2, Ljubljana Jazz Festival) | I was so happy to see Fredrik contributing to this brilliant trio. One of my favorite albums from last year ‘And now the queen – a tribute to Carla Bley’, still gets a whole lot of playtime and his work with ‘Atomic’ is very much worth checking out.

Kristoffer Berre Alberts on alto, tenor & barytone saxophones (On CD3, Oslo Jazz Festival) | Kristoffer can be heard with ‘Cortex’, ‘Damana’ and quite recently in a duo with Steve Noble.

Jørgen Mathisen on tenor saxophone & clarinet (On CD3, Oslo Jazz Festival). Jørgen can be heard on the 2013 live concert album Jonas Kullhammar - Basement Sessions Volume 3: The Ljubljana Tapes (Clean Feed, 2014) , as a side note a highly recommended concert series from the Moserobie label owner, and former leader of the Jonas Kullhammar Quartet, Mr. Jonas Kullhammar himself. Mathisen can also be heard with ‘Zanussi 5’ (Ghost Dance, 2010) and with ‘The Core’.

Reviewing a release featuring 3 live concerts is not an easy task. To really try and hear and feel what the audience heard, to understand why Nilssen choses to release three concerts in one go and to also take into consideration that the concerts are not only with the original trio only makes this one a real challenge. At least that’s what I thought when preparing myself for the review…

What we have here is a live triple album. Three recordings from the summer tour of 2016, with CD2 and CD3 also featuring a couple of additional musicians joining the acoustic unity giving us not only a trio, but a quartet on the second CD and a quintet on the third. Let me just say it straight up: this is a spectacular release. Across the 3 concerts there’s an intensity and creativity that takes hold of me from start to finish. We get to hear 7 of the songs 2 times and even 3, but as a trio, a quartet, a quintet or all 3; (When Pigs Fly (Trio and Quintet), Hymne (all 3), Roundtrip (all 3), Mormor (Trio and Quintet), Rushen (Trio and Quartet), Gammal Rottegift (Trio and Quartet), Zig Zag (all 3). This is a brilliant concept. As a listener I’m treated with hearing some of the songs being performed on different dates, in different cities & countries and as a trio, quartet and quintet.

Nilssen has previously said that they always play without a set list and that songs are performed right off the bat. Having said that there must be a true telepathic connection between Nilssen, Eldh and Roligheten and I find myself nodding along and smiling when hearing great musicianship live on stage like this. On the three-minute-high-intensity song Zig-Zag I go from trio version directly to the quartet on CD2 and then to the quintet on CD3 and back again. It’s like having a mixer table and with the flip of a switch I can add and remove instruments. These guys don’t miss a note.

There’s an aura of historical free jazz heroes like Ayler, Coleman and Cherry which is present across all three concerts, but at the same time melodies are being reinvented in new and unexpected ways, ideas thrown out and brought back in new shapes – and it’s all happening live!

The first CD featuring “only” the trio comes out guns blazing with Nilssen leading the way. The first two tracks are filled with fire and intensity. First ‘When Pigs Fly’ which has this cool intro that the trio use to propel them into different directions of this relatively short tune. But what catches my immediate attention is the intensity of Nilssen which is an ever-present tour de force from the start. And then there’s ‘Hymne-Roundtrip’, which has a fantastic melody line which I’ll write more about further down this review. We will by the way hear this tune twice more on this release. Anyway it has this long and mystical bass solo lasting almost 4 minutes and I find myself turning the volume up to really submerge myself into the world of Petter Eldh. There’s a murmuring and almost soothing sound but he suddenly feels frustrated trying to find a way out. It reminds me of Keith Jarrett on the Bregenz-Munich release on part IV from Munich. Petter solves it very elegantly and brings the song to a close with a sigh… The trio picks up the pieces with the swinging song ‘Mormor’ (Grandmother) in which the spirit of Coltrane floats upon the beat of Petter and Nilssen. Very much needed after the start of this concert. The fourth track, ‘Jack’ is perhaps my favorite of all songs on this triple album. It has a long drum introduction which is equal parts searching and exploring, as it is building up tensions, intensity and swing! Sure enough, after 3 minutes the bass and brass joins in for a tune which has a dissonant yet funky rhythm. I absolutely love it! Towards the end the song trips over its own feet and goes into the Coleman-esque tune ‘Zig-Zag’ in which fierce free jazz intensity is balanced with elegance and dignity. It’s time to rest and charge our batteries. ‘Rushen’ provides such a space before we head into the final song of the first CD; ‘Gammal Rottegift’ (My Norwegian is not perfect but word for word I’d say it translates into “Old rat poison”. I’ll defer from interpreting it further than that…) An extended bass introduction suddenly explodes into yet another simple melody over rumbling drums. And then rhythm changes and the whole tune is dispersed and broken down to small pieces run through a blender and thrown out. But as I’m learning about this band I expect everything coming together again, and yes, they bring it home as a unity and the first concert is over!

The second CD, recorded live at the Ljubljana Jazz Festival introduces saxman Fredrik Ljungkvist to transform the trio into a quartet. The first song ‘Summer’s Ale’ starts with searching and tip-toeing in which the musicians tries to find a common ground. Tension builds up, they’re balancing impatiently. And after about 2 minutes we’re off. After a rough swing there’s a calm break with a melancholic tune before the second round of variations on the theme and more free excursions. I love how Nilssen moves all over the drums to support the other musicians. It’s perhaps not improvised, but it’s full of spark and life. ‘Rushen’ is, as on the first CD, a calmer melody, searching, hesitating and wandering around. And so, for something different… ‘Gammal Rottegift’ (again) starts with a bass intro over 2 minutes. The band is invited to join with big orchestral aspirations. But it comes to a halt and instead the theme is chopped up in pieces. The underlying theme is dispersed across the soundstage and the quartet goes its separate ways. But like a stretched rubber band they find their way back to each other. They then charge all together full speed ahead until its time to close and finish. After an extended drum solo introduction ‘Hymne-Roadtrip’ presents a simple melody traveling over the carpet of drums, and it’s so infectious. I find myself whistling the melody when walking through busy European airports in Denmark, Italy and Germany. It’s hard not to. It’s like with ‘Lonely Woman’. It gets stuck in the system. The interesting thing is how the somewhat naïve tune fits so well with the dissonance from the much more intense rhythm section playing. Anyway, the melody and beat transforms into something different and new. The saxophones start to battle, one in each channel with bass & drums providing a stage for them to use. The theme comes back but spiced up and tweaked. For the closing of this great performance we’re treated with an extended bass solo which builds up intensity, twists, turns and spirals. It’s over. ‘Zig-Zag’. Boom, it’s Ornette – all-over the place but on ecstasy. But it very quickly comes to a halt. A few blips and blops and we’re off again. It’s a song that is lost with an uncertain direction. That’s okay, we can just hold on to our seats and go with the flow. In ‘Salad Days’ that closes the second CD I’m wondering whether the tracks title implies financial struggle. I must try and remember to ask Nilssen if I get the chance to see them live. If so, the character of the song fits well with the melancholy heard and it’s almost a bit hazy. Short unfinished melodies float in space exploring. Salad Days… OK. This is how salad days sound, I think I get it.

On the third CD, from the Oslo Jazz Festival, the trio becomes a quintet and on the first track, ‘Hymne-Roundtrip’ – which I have now enjoyed in a trio and a quartet setting – is heard in full bloom. Coming out of the minute-long drum solo intro, the quintet gives me the melody that is now implemented in my jazz DNA. It has a perfect balance between the simple melody and the manic drums. After rolling and tumbling for about nine and a half minutes or so we are once again treated with an extended bass solo which also ends the song. It’s needed. I’m exhausted after hearing the quintet performing like this. There’s a seamless change into the second track ‘Mormor’ (Grandmother) which a slow paced funky piece with has been extended with 2½ minute from the version on CD1. The combination of these two songs is very interesting. I built a playlist with ‘Hymne-Roundtrip’ from both CD1 and CD3 played after each other and then ‘Mormor’ as trio and quintet. All in all 4 songs but heard as one. It’s a very rewarding experience.

Anyway, onwards to ‘When Pigs Fly’. Again, it’s nice to hear this in a quintet setting. It has qualities that allows for the song to really take off when having several brass instruments playing. I’m not sure which one I prefer. It’s just two different experiences I guess, both great. ‘Utleiemegleren’ (I believe it means The Landlord in Norwegian), is a song that I’m still trying to understand. Slow pace, emotional yet with a bit of an edge. I’m never sure where it’s going. The concert ends with the 4½ minute long (short) sparkling ‘Adams Ale’ which is just a full-blown pack of energy building up to the inevitable end with the group throwing all they have out there. It balances on a thin thread throughout the performance. Madness or elegance? Badaboom. It’s over.

This is my first five-star review on FJB, and it is very well deserved. This is one of the best releases I’ve heard this year and even in the last 2-3 years. Apologies for all the adjectives, but there’s just a whole lot of positive things to write about this release. It’s adventurous, it doesn’t stay in the middle at all. It transforms rhythms, melodies. It bends and breaks. It’ll go on my list for the best albums this year.


CD1: North Sea Jazz Festival July 8th 2016
CD2: Ljubljana Jazz Festival, July 2nd 2016
CD3: Oslo Jazz Festival, August 18th 2016

Album can be heard on Spotify here, and bought as a triple CD or Vinyl+CD box set (January release) from Clean Feed Records.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunny Murray (1936 - 2017)

By Martin Schray

In an interview with Dan Warburton from November 2000 Sunny Murray said: “I'm 64 now, and if it takes me till I'm 94 I'm going to continue to play and try for the new generation to hear me. (…) For me it's like the Mona Lisa painting in the Louvre, there's a million prints but you have to go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. That's how I feel about me and all the other drummers. OK, they listen to Max as the father of bebop, to Elvin the father of swing, but when it comes to avant-garde there's no father figure ... When I go to New York (…) I feel totally excluded. (…) The young cats look at me kinda strange, like I don't exist. But I'm there. And when I play they know I exist.“ Now Sunny Murray, possibly the most important innovator in avant-garde percussion, passed away in a care facility in Paris.

Murray played and recorded with almost all important free jazz musicians but most of all two names are associated with his work: The first one is Cecil Taylor, who widened his musical horizon when Murray came to New York in the late 1950s. After experimenting and practising for one year he followed Taylor and Jimmy Lyons to Denmark. At that time Murray developed a more open drumming concept, and when they recorded Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come at the Cafe Montmartre in 1962, which was only released in 1965, it was like an early “indication of the existence of such a revolutionary approach to rhythm“ (Valerie Wilmer). The second important name is Albert Ayler. Also in 1965, Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity came out, an album that set new standards as to drumming because here Murray consequently neglected the drummer's traditional role as timekeeper in favor of textural playing and sound exploring. His aim was to free the soloist completely from the restrictions of time, so that he can follow his own ideas more independently. Especially his ringing stickwork on the edge of the cymbals and his fierce barrage on the snare became characteristic of his style. Murray worked a lot with Ayler’s ensembles (on Ghosts, Spirits’s Rejoice, New York Eye And Ear Control, The Hilversum Sessions and on European Radio Studio Recordings 1964, an album we incidentally just reviewed yesterday), but he also released great albums under his own name, like Sonny’s Time Now (with Ayler on sax, Don Cherry on trumpet and Henry Grimes on bass). At the beginning of his career Murray’s name is mainly connected with the ESP label, but when he moved to France in the late 1960s, he often recorded for BYG Actuel. Among these albums are lots of wonderful gems like An Even Break (Never Give A Sucker) or Sunshine / Hommage To Africa. In 2008 Antoine Prum made a documentary about his life, you can watch it here. Even late in his life he didn’t stop making wonderful music, for example in his trio with Tony Bevan (sax) and John Edwards (bass).

One of my all-time-favorite free jazz recordings is Murray’s self-titled ESP album from 1966, a sheer explosion of sound and energy propelled by this powerhouse behind the drums. Farewell, Sunny Murray, you will surely be missed, for the free jazz community you will always exist. The new generation has always heard you.

If you want to see what sunny Murray was capable of even at the age of 63, watch this excerpt from a duo set with Arthur Doyle.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Albert Ayler Quartet ‎– European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 (Hatology, 2017) *****

Dedicated to Sunny Murray, the greatest drummer-percussionist of all, whom I never had the luck to watch live, but whose recordings have made my mind and heart move into billions of directions.

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

I must be frank, while writing this review: Albert Ayler’s various formations played a significant role for me as a listener of free thinking music. His holistic vision of free artistic expression made my mind think and communicate in quite different ways than before.

Ayler put his soul in his music. He had no less to offer. The impact of his death, only at the age of thirty four years old, was felt accordingly. And still is today. The day his body – after a probable suicide – was washed upon the banks of the East River, the world lost as much as when Rosa Luxembourg’s body, during the demise of the Spartacist uprising, was thrown in the Landwehr Canal in Berlin by the fascist Freikorps.

1964, some years before his ultimate death, was a good year for jazz. Fire music was beginning to change, forever thankfully, what we now call jazz. Ayler, in his own words, was the holy ghost during all this. Kind of an outsider. But he was not alone.

This quartet, a dream team of sorts, was then four young people struggling to find room to express themselves. Gary Peacock on bass, Don Cherry on cornet, Sunny Murray on drums, and Ayler on tenor saxophone. Very few would give time and space for this crazy shit back then, and most of them were in Europe. Each of the individuals that participates in these recordings (taken from sessions for the Danish Radio in Copenhagen and from Hilversum in the Netherlands, both at the Fall of 1964) made a career of few compromises. But Ayler’s time was limited. It’s as if he knew it and blew so hard and strong so that the voice of his soul could make even with the little time it was offered.

I thought really hard about the possibility of writing a straight-ahead review. Colin Green’s great review of another great recording, SME’s Karyobin, set the bar really high for archival reviews (well, Derek Bailey didn’t like the recording, but what did he know?), but I cannot, really. This is out of the ordinary, adventurous, free from all restraints music, made from people who probably had empty pockets. It needs to be listened with intensity in order to match the ferocity of their collective sound. Sure, there’s a big list of great artists that treated the saxophone as a weapon of critical thought and expression. But none – and I say zero -– achieved the ferocious attack against normality that equals Ayler’s playing. Apart from him soloing, the collective sound they achieve many times acts like a drone, a wall of notes.

Before the end of this so called review I must say this: maybe this piece is full of exaggerations, but, please, stick to the following. Go buy this CD, listen to its wild and anarchic blowing, its syncopated aggressive bass lines, the polyrhythmic barrage of Murray, and the chameleonic playing of Don Cherry. The say with me, blow hard, blow fee for all of us Albert Ayler, wherever you are.


Friday, December 8, 2017

The Few - Fragments of a Luxury Vessel (Two Cities, 2017) ****½

I stumbled upon The Few at a show in a now defunct spot in Brooklyn about a year or so ago. They were either the headlining or supporting Ken Vandermark playing solo, or maybe it was a bit of both. Regardless, if I recall correctly, Vandermark opened up the sonic pathways for the The Few to then make their own. The trio's reserved but insistent approach was captivating, and by the end I was eagerly anticipating what would become their debut album Fragments of a Luxury Vessel.

The Few is violionist/vocalist Macie Stewart, bassist Charlie Kirchen, and guitarist Steve Marquette. Together they paint a musical picture that melds Americana-tinged experimental improvisation informed by classical, rock, and folk. Their music is quiet, but the edges are not smooth.

Stewart is a prominent voice in the group, though there really is no one who dominates. Her violin provides melody, percussion, and textural sounds.  Marquette on acoustic guitar builds a harmonic bed full of melodic elements and crunchy tonal clusters. Kirchen's bass is typically balanced in the mix but can be heard more prominently at times, like on the duo passage on the Albert Ayler homage 'Variations on "Truth Is Marching In"'. Stewart also adds wordless vocals in a warm mid-range that sort of extends her instruments reach, rather than being a focus. 

The opener, 'Responsive Machines', begins with crystalline chord-like jabs from the guitar. Juxtaposed with tiny plucks and the bow bouncing off the violin strings, the track sets the tone for the album: serious, meticulous, and probing. Stewart's vocals appear, accentuating a rhythmic passage but eventually give way to a melody from the violin over an insistent bass line. They pick up some serious steam at this point, showing off another side of the group. 'Do You Still' showcases the trio deep in free improvisation, and the follow up 'Variations on "Truth Is Marching In"' begins with a rather lovely folk tune, expanding and evolving as it progresses.

The Few have a carefully curated sound that emphasizes the group and seamlessly segues between song and exploration. The sonic clarity is important too - each note, hit, snap, and scrape is an aspect of their approach. 

If I recall correctly from the show, when Vandermark joined he did so on clarinet, assimilating with The Few's aesthetic. Their sound is delicate, celebrates nuance, and self assuredly unique. A true soft-spoken gem.