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Schlippenbach Trio: Alex von Schlippenbach (p), Evan Parker (ts), Paul Lytton (d)

Karlsruhe, Jubez, 12/13/2018. Photo by Martin Schray

Nana Pi (ts), Akira Sakata (as), Asger Thomsen (b), Steve Heather (d)

Berlin, Kuhlspot, 12/2018

Ayler Xmas: Klaus Kugel (dr); Mars Williams (s); Mark Tokar (b); Jaimie Branch (tr); Knox Chandler (g)

Weikersheim, Club W71, 12/8/2018.

Punkt.Vrt.Plastik: Christian Lillinger (d), Petter Eldh (b), Kaja Draksler (p)

Schorndorf, Manufaktur, 11/22/2018. Photo by Martin Schray

OM: Christy Doran (g), Urs Leimgruber (s), Bobby Burri (b), Fredy Studer (dr).

Schorndorf, Manufaktur, 12/7/2018

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Pascal Battus, Anne-F Jacques, Tim Olive – Trois Conseillers (Caduc, 2018) ****

By Nick Ostrum

This album is curious and engaging. In a sense, it fits right in with much of the rest of the Caduc catalogue of abstract electro-acoustic music. In fact, it is one of the most compelling releases on the label so far and, really, of this type of EAI that I have yet encountered.

The first track starts slowly and humbly with a high-pitched hum that evaporates into a sizzle, then nothingness. Out of this quiet comes the listener’s first exposure to rich crackles and friction that thread through the rest of the album. The sounds are varied and interesting. I hear scraping and bubbling. Sometimes it sounds like the musicians are layering muted field recordings of rain, flowing water, settling wood, and wind. The credits, however, maintain that Pascal Battus, Anne-F Jacques, and Tim Olive are manipulating magnetic pick-ups, motors, rotating services, and other objects.

The three tracks wax and wane in a manner that has become the convention in this type of music largely absent repeating rhythms, melodies, or phrases. (Track three is the partial exception.) That said, the result never grows stale, repetitive, or predictable. Although each piece has an underlying unnerving (or maybe decentering) theme, the first and third are slower and more delicate. For its part, the second is more robust, yet still nuanced and, excluding an intense middle section, provocatively restrained. Rather than deploying the extreme dynamics in pitch or volume that one might expect, Battus, Jacques, and Olive orient their performance around varying levels of activity, sonic textures, and timbral subtleties.

This is not music for everyone. There are few recognizable elements to latch onto. There are no sections that will get stuck in your head, or get your toe tapping. Rather, the power lies in the richness of the sounds, the creative layering, the satisfying and almost comforting blend of muted rumblings, and the mysteries of the sound production that went into this. It is music that is not easy to follow, but is easy to find oneself lost in.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Kammerflimmer Kollektief - There Are Actions Which We Have Neglected And Which Never Cease To Call Us (Bureau B, 2018) *****

By Martin Schray

Kammerflimmer Kollektief is one of my all-time-favourite bands. Three years ago I praised their last album Déssaroi as their best so far, I even called it a masterpiece. Revisiting it now, I’m still fascinated by it’s psychedelic atmosphere, the angular, atonal improvisations, and their “free ambient“ approach in general. The bar for a new album was set really high.

Kammerflimmer Kollektief is still Heike Aumüller (harmonium), Johannes Frisch (double bass) and Thomas Weber (guitar, slide, electronics, loops), There Are Actions Which We Have Neglected And Which Never Cease To Call Us is their tenth album in 20 years - and while Dessaroi was their freest album, this is their darkest one. Aumüller’s vocals are gone and Frisch’s bass is less free this time, he rather contributes to the overall gloomy atmosphere. The seven tracks refer to different cities around the world, many of the pieces deal with death, dysfunction and decay. Imperial City and Bolinas are both in California, the first a surfing stronghold and the setting of the surf noir series “John from Cincinnati“, the second the place where Richard Brautigan, one of Weber’s favourite writers, died. Quauhnáhuac is a fictitious city in which Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano“, a novel about self-destruction, takes place. Ermenonville in France is famous for its landscape park named after Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who spent the last six weeks of his life there. Hamburg is a reminiscence of Bernd Schoch’s documentary about the corner pub “Kurze Ecke“ in St. Pauli, which has closed in the meantime (the band has written the theme song for the film).

The key track of the album is the first one, 'Lucid, Imperial Beach', a perfect example of the juxtaposition of beauty and chaos in Kammerflimmer Kollektief’s music. The piece starts with an unpleasant scratching in front of a dark drone, which leads into a guitar feedback. Then the track almost dies, but it starts again, this time with a simple melancholic melody on the harmonium combined with atonal guitar strumming. After six minutes one of Weber’s typical slide guitar riffs appears, for a short moment a certain loveliness becomes audible, but not for long. Aumüller plays atonal patterns on her harmonium, Frisch just knocks on the strings and the body of his bass, Weber scrubs erratically on his guitar. Nevertheless, the ending is rather conciliatory, because the slide guitar riff turns up again (it’s the leitmotif of the album, returning in two other tracks as well).

There Are Actions ….. is like a retrospective of Kammerflimmer Kollektief’s works, a summary of how they transform styles - as German critic Felix Klopotek puts it: blues becomes doom, folk becomes new music. The boisterous free jazz approach is suspended in ambient sounds. This could end either in cheesy sound painting or in intellectual, oblivious conceptualism, however it’s of the utmost warmth, emotion and clarity because their structures are transparent and crystal clear. One reason for this is the fact that Kammerflimmer Kollektief’s music is very recognisable, Thomas Weber’s guitar sound and Heike Aumüller’s harmonium are unique in their combination.

There Are Actions ….. is grave, comforting music that takes you by the hand and can lead you through the jungle of your soul. Kammerflimmer Kollektief’s compositions are an intense implosion, a deep melancholia, in which free jazz is just an echo of a different time.

One last word about the excellent artwork: Most of their album covers are designed by Heike Aumüller, often they are in the tradition of artists like Cindy Sherman recalling a long tradition of self-portraiture and theatrical role-playing in art. The cover on There Are Actions … is new (but on the basis of an older picture), it reminds me of the first season of the series “True Detective“. Like the music it’s beautiful and unsettling at the same time.

There Are Actions Which We Have Neglected And Which Never Cease To Call Us is available on vinyl, as a CD and a download. You can buy it here.

Watch Bernd Schoch’s excellent video for “Lucid, Imperial Beach“:

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Mazen Kerbaj - Walls Will Fall - The 49 Trumpets of Jericho (Bohemian Drips, 2018) *****

By Stef

Jazz and especially free jazz have taken up political messages since their early inception. The music itself is about breaking boundaries of convention, bringing together musicians across nations and across musical backgrounds, trying to find a deep resonance that unites.

Jazz also has a tradition of taking political positions, with bands such as Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, or Martin Küchen's with his solo work and his Angles ensemble, or more geographically focused efforts about civil rights (Matana Roberts, Wadada Leo Smith, William Parker, Jemeel Moondoc, and many more ...).

Some of those efforts try to create a deep collective sound, as a kind of humanistic groundswell to unite and develop a sonic power that brings all voices into a singular tone. William Parker's and JC Jones', Deep Tones for Peace, a collective of fifteen bass-players, is a prime example of this, or Peter Jacquemyn's Fundament which uses a collective of only a dozen low-toned instruments. The first one offers a political statement for peace, the second more a spiritual-musical effort.

On "Walls Will Fall", Lebanese trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj unites fourty-nine trumpet players to re-enact the biblical story of bringing down the walls of Jericho, in a seemlingly endless single tone that resonates majestically in a water reservoir in Berlin-Pankow, Germany. Like with Peter Jacquemyn's Fundament, the musicians actually walk around the different areas of the complex space, symbolised by the labyrinth on the album cover. I assume the number '49' represents the original story in which seven trumpet players blew their horns for seven days. Hopefully these fourty-nine trumpeters will do the job in one day.

Even if not discernable at first listen, the 34 minute piece consists of seven parts, first with tapping their instruments, then gradually starting to blow their horns, unfolding the full sound as the musicians march through the resonating space. At the very end of the piece, some trumpeters start shouting "Walls Will Fall" like demonstrators, and as an incantation.

The walls to be torn down are not specified, but they can be the wall between Israel and Palestine, Trump's wall against migrants, the border betwen North and South Korea, or the less physical walls created by European states against migrants from Africa and the Middle East, or any other type of barrier to exclude people.

The music is unique. It is a strong statement. Its collective power is amazing. So is its unwavering linearity. There is no reason to change too much from the core message. There is only one: we are all together and we will bring down the wall.

Apart from Mazen Kerbaj, the musicians are Güley Alagöz, Tom Arthurs, Ulrike Arzet, Nafea Abo Assi, Damir Bacikin, Juri Bell, Johannes Böhmer, Linus Bornheim, Paul Brody, Axel Dörner, Sabine Ercklentz, Ruhi Erdogan, Gabeyre Farah, Steffen Faul, Cornelius Fritsch, Gaetano Gangarossa, Callum G’Froer, Alexander Gibson, Dennis Ginzburg, Nils Lennart Haack, Claudia Habig, Brad Henkel, Didrik Ingvaldsen, Tyge Jessen, Jan Kaiser, Milad Khawam, Carina Khorkhordina, Martin Klingeberg, Anke Lucks, Arvid Maier, Yannick Mäntele, Gisela Meßollen, Fritz Moshammer, Nikolaus Neuser, Frank Noé, Dearbhla Nolan, Daniel Allen Oberto, Kelly O’Donohue, Achim Rothe, Florian Scheffler, Kristine Schlicke, Aaron Schmidt-Wiegand, Leo Schmitt, Paul Schwingenschlögl, Saeid Shafiei, Przemek Swiderek, Mai Takeda, Cornelia Wolf, and Armando Carrillo Zanuy.  The participating trumpet players are all based in Berlin but come from from countries as wide apart as Australia, Austria, Cuba, Denmark, England, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Somalia, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Turkey and the United States.

In times like the ones that we witness today, with shocking disparities between rich and poor, with many countries run by extreme right wing and conservative zealots, who believe in their god-given superiority over other people, or run by extreme left wing dictators who believe that 'the people' are too dumb to decide for themselves, it is great to hear a musical political statement such as this one, and it is  furthermore great to listen to.

The album is released in vinyl LP and available digitally. The downside of buying the vinyl album is that the performance is cut in two pieces. For once the digital track is preferable. The producers recommend headphones for listening to capture the full power of the sound.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

A side-note on the real walls of Jericho: the stories and legends of the bible/torah were collected and expanded in 700 BCE by King Josia to serve several political purposes. He needed a narrative to show that he was a direct descendent from the legendary forefathers Abraham, Mozes and David, and he needed a narrative to show that the tribe of Judah could reunite all other tribes of the region and take leadership for it. Many of the stories were created to demonstrate this power. So also the story of King Joshua trying to capture the city of Jericho. In the 13th century BC, the settlements that existed were never fortified: ie they had no walls. "In the case of Jericho, there was no trace of a settlement of any kind in the thirteenth century BCE, and the earlier Late Bronze settlement, dating to the fourteenth century BCE, was small and poor, almost insignificant, and unfortified. There was also no sign of a destruction. Thus the famous scene of the Israelite forces marching around the walled town with the Ark of the Covenant, causing Jericho's mighty walls to collapse by the blowing of their war trumpets, was, to put it simply, a romantic mirage", write Israeli archeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman in their eye-opening book: "The Bible Unearthed". 

The latest from Catherine Sikora

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Catherine Sikora / Brian Chase – Untitled: After (Chaikin Records, 2018) ****

Τhere’s a reason i’m not so eager to meet artists I appreciate and love their work in person. It is the fear of disappointment, of meeting someone who doesn’t live up, as a person, to his or hers work. Agree or disagree, I do not see any artist as a special human being, but rather as someone who can contribute to the way a better society could be built.

Having met Catherine Sikora through the sometimes wonderful networks on the internet, I must say that her music reflects the impressions she gives as a human being: a feeling of warmth and cordiality. Her instrument of choice, the saxophone, is, even in 2018, another reminder of the patriarchy that dominates the western world- also in arts. To cut a long story short, in reality, we need more women making music (and treated as equals of course) today.

Brian Chase’s music trajectory is a rare one. Back in my indie rock days I was very fond of his most well known group, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. He has participated in other formations and groupings of this word that does not come up very often in this blog ( meaning rock…), but now it seems that his main focus (also through his own Chaikin Records) is the ever expanding universe of improvisational music.

Untitled: After, the second release from Chaikin Records, is a cd collectively made by the two. It successfully combines the more melodic, even bluesy approach of Sikora (in tracks like 'So' and 'Ice Clad') with the energetic playing of Chase who also uses cymbals a lot as a way, maybe, of devaluating rock’s clichés. The first track, 'Death', is a free jazz give and take between the two, were a very energetic and rich dialogue takes place: passionate sax lines with free drumming. The second track, 'Dear As He Was', is more intimate, like it’s title, and sees the two musicians follow parallel but very similar ways, reminding me the wonderful 70’s collaborations of Max Roach and Archie Shepp. 'On Hand To Hand' we listen to the only track of the album -maybe as a clear antithesis to their intentions- that each of them follows his and hers way. On 'Brightly Forged', Sikora’s circular breathing is accompanied by an ascension of playful improvisational drumming.

Untitled: After is pretty enjoyable and moving. Through a trajectory of not so wild but intense collective improvisational gestures they make their way abolishing their egos. This way is paved by a sax (mostly tenor but also a soprano) that illustrates a balance between melody and improv lines, while on the drum set we listen Chase who clearly uses his, from many different sources gained, skills for the collective outcome.

Catherine Sikora /Christopher Culpo – The Spectral Life of Things (Sikora-Culpo, 2018)

My problem, as a listener, with jazz pianists is that they tend to dominate a recording or, at least, that they require more room to breathe as soloists. On this, recorded in Paris on April 2017, duo this is definitely not the case.

Catherine Sikora on the saxophone and Christopher Culpo on the piano present us a recording which is open to interactions and operate clearly by being responsive to one another’s gestures and, sometimes, musical provocations. Flexible sax melodies flow in a parallel way with ethereal piano chords. They possess the warmness of a late 50’s post bop atmosphere. But this is not even close to a tribute performance or a way to give praise to any great master.

Full of new compositions (I wonder if they all were recorded in one take) they have the urgency of an improvisation but, at the same time, they appear to be a fully realized idea in both minds. The summation of their efforts is a collective one. Each track contains small challenges put from one artist to the other. In a playful mood these challenges tend to pose questions that both of them do not intend to give clear answers. They prefer to leave that to the listener.

The music is a constant flow of notes and melodies built from solos that are followed by strong collective playing. A linear trajectory of musical gestures that provide no pauses for the listener (i really liked that) with the compositional and more structured moments overcoming the improvisational mood. But it’s those improv parts of the recording that add up to the exploratory final result.

I pretty much enjoyed and got stimulated by this great recording (one of my favorites for 2018) that I have to nag a little…The medium of the cassette (with only 100 copies made), always prone to wearing down, is unsuitable for The Spectral Life Of Things, which is a demanding recording in need to be listened over and over for numerous times.

Han-earl Park, Catherine Sikora and Nick Didkovsky - Eris 136199 (Busterandfriends, 2018) ****

Han-earl Park is a guitarist and an improviser who calls himself a constructor. When listening to his recordings of the guitar (or should I say his fragments of guitar sounds?), this description sounds quite accurate and not at all exaggerated. By trying to describe his music another term came to my mind: flexibility. Following a tradition of guitar improvisers that dismantled the rock guitar solo pose by turning the instrument into something much more elastic and introverted (hail, hail Derek Bailey), he seems very open to collaborations.

This time, he teams up with Sikora’s tenor saxophone and the metallic sounds of Nick Didkovsky’s guitar. Two guitars and a saxophone might seem as a muscular pair but definitely – but thankfully -it is not. Even though the saxophone struggles from time to time to be heard behind the feedback and noise of two roaring guitars, this is a recording based on multidimensional timbres and atmosphere.

Surely different from the other two Sikora recordings in this feature, we hear a sax that many times, like in 'Therianthropy III', tries to keep (struggles as I already mentioned) with the velocity of electricity. The four part suite, 'Therianthropy', that opens the album is a constant battle of metallic guitar sounds and the organic feel of the saxophone. Mind you though, what you listen is the result of like-minded improvisers who try to find their way through collective thinking and playing.

The three part 'Adaptive Radiation' that follows right up resembles a free jazz blow out from time to time, leading up to a catharsis that mellows out the jagged guitar chords and skronky sax lines. Sikora’s sax instills melody to the recording. After listening repeatedly to her recordings I clearly see a musician who fears not taking risks and blurring her image as an improviser. The two guitarists are, as I have not heard so much of their past recordings, a welcome entry to my favorites list. They present themselves as totally open to new paths and they are quite receptive to the challenges that this recording provides.

Eris 136199 is an album that blossoms after repeated listenings and deserves more than a quick listen. I know, this is probably a lot to ask nowadays, but this is the case here.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Frame Trio - Luminaria (FMR, 2018) ****½

By Stef

For a number of years now, Portuguese musicians Luis Vicente and Marcelo Dos Reis have released wonderful albums again and again in various ensembles and settings. On "Luminaria", they are in the company of Belgian bass-player Nils Vermeulen.

Luis Vicente's trumpet playing is excellent as usual, energetic, powerful and sensitive at the same time. He can make his horn jubilate in ecstasy, moan from despair and weep in deep sadness, while at the same time searching for new sounds, stuttering, groaning, whispering and howling. Marcelo Dos Reis' guitar playing is surely out of the ordinary: sometimes real chords get played, arpeggiated or not, but more often than not his instrument is a percussion and noise generator rather than a harmonic or solo instrument: the strings and the board get hammered, literally, squeezed, plugged and stretched,   and the resulting sound is usually not disorienting but quite to the contrary: it creates a hypnotic and rhythmic backbone for the music.

Nils Vermeulen is possibly less known, although the Belgian double bass player appeared in a recent review of the excellent album "Immediate Obscurities" by TONUS. Like the two Portuguese musicians, his interest resides in timbral explorations and sound vibrations. The long "Luminaria IV" starts with Vermeulen's sensitive and abrasive bowing, setting the scene for a wonderful and almost magic improvisation, with the bass keeping its mesmerising bowing for the entire piece, pixeled with the little rhythmic guitar sprinkles of Dos Reis, and Vicente's haunting trumpet. The result is uncanny.

Despite the band's instruments, they do not feel limited by genre. Dos Reis' rhythmic sense is more rock than jazz-influenced, driving the energy, the agitated and hypnotic pace, mixing many other influences, over which Vicente's physical trumpet-playing adds a sense of calm and space, getting more depth and relief thanks to Vermeulen's deeply resonating bass.

The great thing for listeners is that this young generation of improvising artists manages to create its own voice, open to other musicians to explore musical innovation in a way that is richer than ever.

Highly recommended!

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Some other recent albums with Luis Vicente and Marcelo Dos Reis:

Luís Vicente, Seppe Gebruers & Onno Govaert - Live at Ljubljana (Multikulti, 2018)
Chamber 4 – City of Light (Clean Feed, 2017)
Onno Govaert, Marcelo dos Reis, Luís Vicente, Kristján Martinsson – In Layers (FMR, 2016)
Fail Better! - OWT (No Business, 2016)
Twenty One 4tet - Live at Zaal 100 (Clean Feed, 2016)
Marcelo dos Reis - Cascas (Cipsela, 2017)
Marcelo dos Reis & Eve Risser - Timeless (JACC Records, 2017)
Pedra Contida - Amethyst (FMR, 2017)
STAUB Quartet - House Full of Colors (JACC, 2017)
Marcelo dos Reis & Angélica V. Salvi - Concentric Rinds‏ (Cipsela, 2015)
Luis Vicente, Theo Ceccaldi, Valentin Ceccaldi & Marcelo Dos Reis - Chamber 4 (FMR, 2015) Fail Better! - Zero Sum (JACC, 2014)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Atomic - Pet Variations (Odin, 2018) *****

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Swedish-Norwegian quintet Atomic was founded in 2000 with a clear mission, to present a different perspective of Nordic Jazz, far away as possible from the ‘mountain music’, the chilly and melancholic sound of the ECM school. Atomic - Swedish reeds player Fredrik Ljungkvist and trumpeter Magnus Broo and Norwegian pianist Håvard Wiik, double bass player Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, who was replaced in 2014 by fellow-Norwegian Hans Hulbækmo, suggested an energetic and soulful alternative, relying on the ecstatic African-American modern jazz but informed by cerebral European contemporary music.

Now, after 14 albums (two albums were collaborations with Ken Vandermark's now-defunct School Days which shared the rhythm section of Håker Flaten and Nilssen-Love), and after establishing its identity as one of the most influential groups in the Nordic scene, Atomic is offering for the first time a program of non-original compositions by composers as diverse as the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, Edgard Varèse, Olivier Messiaen and Norwegian sax player Jan Garbarek. Atomic interprets and arranges these compositions in its very own way, but more important, they suggest an arresting perspective of how these distinct and very personal compositions correspond with each other and form a rich, multilayered whole, far more complex and varied than any specific genre can contain.

Pet Variations begins with Wiik’s title-piece introduction, soon blended into Wilson’s iconic “Pet Sounds”, taken from the Beach Boys album by the same name (Capitol, 1966). Atomic resurfaces the complex harmonics and modernist elements that Wilson injected to this concise masterpiece and transform it to a passionate, fiery jazz piece, completely different from meticulously polished sound of Beach Boys.

Steve Lacy’s “Art” (from Momentum, Novus, 1987, and inspired by a poem of Herman Melville), is one of Lacy's compositions that does not reference Thelonious Monk's legacy. Atomic interpretation is quite reverent and reserved, arranging the sublime, lyrical piece as a chamber, choral one, with beautiful solos of Ljungkvist - on the clarinet - Broo, and Wiik, who sings gently the majestic theme.

Paul Bley’s “Walking Woman”, penned by Carla Bley for his iconoclastic Barrage album (ESP Disk, 1965 with a quintet with a similar instrumentation to Atomic - Sun Ra Arkestra’s alto sax player Marshall Allen, trumpeter Dewey Johnson, double bass player Eddie Gomez, drummer Milford Graves, and Bley on the piano), receives a radical interpretation by Atomic, refining Carla Bley’s orchestral, compositional ideas and her eccentric sense of humor and irony from the eruptive, muscular power of the original version.

Edgard Varèse’s early composition “Un Grand Sommeil Noir” was originally written for soprano and piano, after a poem by Paul Verlaine. Atomic adds a ritualist, rhythmic dimension to this ethereal, enigmatic composition and transforms it to a chamber jazz piece, highlighted by masterful bass work of Håker Flaten, both with the bow and pizzicato.

Jimmy Guiffre’s “Cry Want”, was recorded with his trio of Paul Bley and double bass player Steve Swallow on Fusion (reissued by ECM as 1961, together with Thesis, 1992, also featuring compositions by Carla Bley). Atomic's version expands and enriches the chamber, ascetic sound of Jimmy Guiffre 3, with the singular voices of Ljungkvist - on clarinet - and Wiik.

Olivier Messiaen’s “Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus”, taken from his famous chamber Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time), was written during the Second World War while Messian was a prisoner of war captivated by the German, inspired by verse from the Book of John and was scored for a cello and piano. Broo and Ljunkvist - again on clarinet - recite Messiaen’s somber liturgical theme, and together with minimalist support of Wiik, suggest it as a sober, secular hymn.

From Alexander von Schlippenbach is one of his earliest compositions, “Inri”, which was recorded in 1967 by the early quintet of trumpeter Manfred Schoof - von Schlippenbach on piano, Gerd Dudek on tenor sax, Buschi Niebergall on double bass, and Jaki Liebezeit on drums (reissued as The Early Quintet, FMP, 1978). Atomic's arrangement takes von Schlippenbach’s experiment in a collective improvisation of a basic compositional idea to new, higher and powerful grounds, with a brilliant, totally free piano solo of Wiik.

This remarkable set concludes with another early composition, this time from Garbarek, one of the Nordic musicians most closely associated with the sound of ECM. But Garbarek’s piece, “Karin’s Mode,” predates his time with the ECM label, and was recorded for his classic Esoteric Circle (the title of the album borrows a concept from George Russell, with whom he recorded before, with the young guitarist Terje Rypdal, double bass player Arild Andersen, and drummer Jon Christensen, all  of whom who later joined the ECM ranks). It was released on ex-John Coltrane producer Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman label in 1969 and reflected the seminal influence of Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Sun Ra Arkestra’s tenor sax player John Gilmore on Garbarek. Atomic's version was recorded in one take with no rehearsal, and keeps the infectious rhythmic attack and the emotional spirit of the original version, but colors it with the strong voices of Atomic.

Pet Variations is, no doubt, the most ambitious and adventurous album from Atomic. A true masterpiece.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Mars Williams - An Ayler Xmas Vol 2 (ESP Disc, 2018) ****

Last year, Mar William's released Volume 1 of An Ayler Xmas, this year, the saxophonist has followed up with Volume 2, which is another celebratory mash up of holiday music delivered in the style of Albert Ayler and with reference to his signature melodies.

Unlike the first volume that was recorded with his Ayler tribute group Witches and Devils from Chicago, Volume 2 is comprised half from a European version of the band, with the tracks pulled from a date in Vienna. So for half the album, joining Williams is cornetist Josh Berman, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, keyboardist Jim Baker, bassist Kent Kessler, multi-instrumentalist Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Steve Hunt, with a guest spot by trombonist Jeb Bishop. On the the other half, we have trumpeter Thomas Berghammer, bassist Hermann Stangassinger, drummer Didi Kern, and electronics wiz Christof Kurzmann.

The album begins with the 15 minute "Xmas Medley" in which we hear piano, cello, guitar, and drums in a royal rumble while the horns play with fanfare flare. The band switches between searing solos and traditional and not so traditional holiday songs, like the quote from the Waitresses ear-worm "Christmas Wrapping". Here, Jeb Bishop's trombone solo stands out, floating over the roiling undercurrents and weaving around the song quote studded accompaniment. The track breaks down in the middle and small instruments, like the finger piano, or forlorn calls from the bass, cry out from the void. The mood changes from bleak to hopeful, as there is a chorus from "Frosty the Snowman" followed by a chorus from a traditional tune, which finally pulls the group back to its feet as they go out in squelching triumph.

The next track, "O Tannenbaum - Spritis - 12 Days of Christmas" features the Vienna band. The mix of the two bands is noticeable at the start. Someone, possibly Kurzmann (who is credited with vocals), speak/sings the lyrics of "O Tannenbaum", first the original German version, then after an instrumental passage, the socialist anthem version known as "The People's Flag". Then, the group launches into Ayler's 'Spirits' and quickly gains momentum, showing the same enthusiasm and grit as their American counterparts. They reach a collective peak as Williams and Berghammer take off in different directions. William's wraps up the track with a fiery cadenza, stark against a silent backdrop, and signals the closing moments with a piercing note.

We're then brought back to Chicago, track three being a medley of "Love Cry" and "Christmas Wrapping" (the quote returns, this time growing and multiplying). Track four is an epic "Carol of the Drum - Bells - O Come Emmanuel - Joy to the World". The closing track brings us back to Vienna for a mashup of Ayler's "Universal Indians" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", featuring Kurzman's lloopp, a heartfelt solo from Williams, and a the refrain "we wish you a merry Christmas" and, whispered with an Austrian accent, "a happy New Year".

Volume 2 is another successful installment of Christmas and Ayler cheer. Whether you are tempted to pull it out between the holidays remains up to your feelings towards the songs out of their temporal context, but with the sheer musicianship and spirited deliver makes it a real possibility. Regardless, William's Ayler/Xmas concept remains strong and holds up well against international travel.

Annette Peacock 12-8-2018. Brooklyn, NY.

Annette Peacock (from Blank Forms)

By Eric Stern

On Friday, December 8th, I went to the First Unitarian Church in downtown Brooklyn to see a rare solo performance by Annette Peacock. The show was produced by Blank Forms and Artists Space. It was part of an end-of-the-year fundraiser for Blank Forms with the first few rows being set aside for donors. The room was full, and the audience waited patiently for nearly an hour before the performer took the stage. The lack of any audience response to the delay demonstrates that this behavior was both anticipated by the sizeable crowd and provided also a fortuitous opportunity for the community of music fans to socialize with one other in anticipation of the set.

Peacock, who is now 78 years old, demonstrated that time has not diminished either her playing or her singing ability. The most effective songs from the performance were those that did not include synthesizers and pre-recorded instruments. Those that did feature synthesizers often felt trapped in the time of their creation, the 1970s and the 1980s. Those pieces that relied only on her voice and piano skills felt fresh, exciting, and new despite that fact that most of these songs were written decades ago.

Annette Peacock's work feels sui generis, a prototypical "one of a kind." The first stage of her
musical career spans the decade from 1965 to 1975, during which Paul Bley recorded many of Peacock's songs including "Touching," "Blood," "Mr. Joy," and "Nothing Ever Was, Anyway." These important recordings helped to establish ECM Records, and they continue to be frequently covered by other artists, including recent versions by guitarist Mary Halvorson and Nels Cline. Peacock was an early adopter of synthesizers and was among the first to use a Moog to treat her vocals. Her songs are often notable for their oddly melodic structures and the frank discussion of sexuality and relationships. Since the ECM release of An Acrobat's Heart in 2000, there have been no studio recordings and only a small handful of live appearances.

While not the subject of a major re-issue campaign, Peacock has managed the trick of establishing a new audience even in the absence of new recordings or touring. The audience on Friday contained plenty of grey-haired persons but also a strong contingent of young listeners. Considering that the artist controls much of her own catalog, which was released on her own Ironic Records label, this would seem to be a good time for her to make them available again, at least in a digital format.
The set ran a little more than an hour. The singer appeared to be suffering from stage-fright which resulted in the feeling that she was unhappy to be performing, and indeed she disappeared from the stage as quickly as possible without a word to the audience when she was finished. Despite the audience's clearly demonstrated desire for an encore, no encore was forthcoming. Yet none of this behavior seemed to surprise those in attendance.

I had seen a very similar performance from Annette Peacock last year at the "Le Guess Who Festival" in Utrecht. She arrived late to take the stage and was seemingly miserable while performing, and then left abruptly while concluding. I checked a few other reviews of recent performances, and this does seem to be a pattern. If not for the truly original nature of her compositions and her wonderful voice I would not recommend this so enthusiastically!

Peacock's gifts are impressive and more than made up for her shortfalls. It was clear that this was a feeling that was shared by the members of her Brooklyn audience.

After coming to New York City in 1983, Eric Stern has practiced law by day and followed the improv music scene by night. He presently coordinates the House of Improv which organizes monthly performances.  

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Lotte Anker, Thomas, Håker Flaten & Liavik Solberg - His Flight's At Ten (Iluso, 2018) ****½

By Stef

If you're a lover of energetic music, raw, fierce and fearless, if you enjoy the adventure of four musicians interacting with assertiveness and sensitivity, if you like the unexpected, even if you're acquainted with free improvisation, and still like to be taken off-guard, if you like sudden changes, if you can appreciate chaos as both a source and end-point for a journey that can be full of calm, respect and sophistication, if you like pounding chords as well as subtle harmonics, if you like screaming saxes as well as precious timbral vibrations, if you like powerful bass-playing and screeching bows, if you like hard-hitting sticks and refined cymbal touches, if you like to be overwhelmed and impressed and taken for a wonderful trip without having anything to say except to become part of the music, then this album is for you.

The quartet are Lotte Anker on saxophones, Pat Thomas on piano, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on double bass, and Ståle Liavik Solberg on drums and percussion. They take you on board for a wonderful flight, from a rocky departure to a soft landing, and luckily the flight is not linear. The rhythm section, including the piano, is ferocious at times, yet Anker is a real master in keeping the plane stable despite the ongoing turbulence, keeping her beautiful warm tone, even in the harshest parts, human and sensitive. And it's a real quartet album, with all musicians contributing to the total sounds, including having their own short solo time, but the real treat is when all the violence and the power move together in the same direction, with speed and a common sense of destination.

An eventful, fascinating and exhaustive flight.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Kaja Draksler/Petter Eldh/Christian Lillinger - Punkt.Vrt.Plastik (Intakt, 2018) *****

By Martin Schray

Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, Swedish double bass player Petter Eldh, and German drummer Christian Lillinger founded their trio Punkt.Vrt.Plastik at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, where they played a completely improvised set at the famous October Meeting in 2016. Their name is composed of “Punkt“, which represents a view and a musical statement for Petter Eldh (it’s Swedish for “point“), “Vrt“, the Slovenian word for garden and according to Draksler the place where the musical philosophies are planted and cultivated, and “Plastik“ (German for “plastic“), for Christian Lillinger the symbol of plasticity of musical forms and structures.

After I had seen them at the Just Music Festival in Wiesbaden in February this year, I couldn’t wait for their debut album, however it was announced only for November. They had played a spectacular gig displaying a cornucopia of idiosyncratic, weird hook lines, harmonic shifts and unpredictable percussive ingredients. Yet, when the CD arrived and I listened to it for the first few times, the magic of the concert somehow wasn’t there anymore. When I recently heard the trio at Schorndorf’s Manufaktur though, I was blown away again. Do they just feel more comfortable in a live context than in a rather confined studio atmosphere (the album was recorded at the Loft in Cologne)? Can they just take higher risks live when they are able to let themselves go on the basis of preconceived ideas? After the Schorndorf gig I’ve listened to the CD over and over again and I’ve found a different access to it. In this band three very different musical personalities crash into each other, at first sight contradictory, yet also consistent. “I was both excited and scared of the power Christian and Petter have together as a rhythm section. It’s like riding a wave,“ says Draksler in the very insightful liner notes by Peter Margasak. On the album the power of the rhythm section is guided by the compositions, they set a certain direction, Draksler’s improvisations are less exuberant. The music here is like the essence of the live gigs.

One of the most interesting aspects on Punkt.Vrt.Plastik is Eldh’s and Lillinger’s different approach as to time. While Eldh is rather grounded and robust, Lillinger is busy and incredibly dynamic. They seem to constantly negotiate where the music should go to, based on a common ground of musical phrases in general. This allows Draksler to find her space, her style being structurally unusual with its intricate counterpoint melodies and rhythmical motives (see “Life Is Transient“, that comes across like a Bach piece). This is also obvious in Christian Lillinger’s “Nuremberg Amok“, in which the melody played by the piano is literally shredded and torn apart. Occasionally it reappears in different shapes, while the drums quote hiphop beats suggesting a groove, but actually Lillinger just dissembles time varying rhythmic cells, which brings his approach close to postmodernism. Eldh is the one who holds this fraying structure together with his rootsy, powerful playing and with his steady presence, which in turns allows Draksler to create crystal clear melodies zigzagging between the twitching pulse. Another example of the band’s outstanding qualities is Draksler’s composition “Evicted“, which directs the energy of the rhythm section with frugal chords. Lillinger and Eldh throw in sudden stops and starts, the bass even taking the lead as to melody. The piano is reduced to essentials, the chords are stripped to the very bare, they’re free of any mannerism. Finally, Draksler contrasts extremely low and high notes, she carries the dynamics and the folksy melody all by herself, bass and drums drop out. This extreme reduction creates a somber atmosphere - another characteristic of the album.

In general, the pieces morph and stretch forms and grooves, the music is constantly coloured anew. This is a very exciting band - both live and in the studio. Draksler, Eldh and Lillinger are among the most thrilling and promising figures in today’s European improvising scene, hopefully Punkt.Vrt.Plastik is not just a one time thing. It’s one of the best albums this year.