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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

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Ellen Arkbro - For Organ And Brass (Subtext, 2017) ****

By Stef

This album has been lying here for too long, and I was fascinated by the sonic architecture created by Swedish composer Ellen Arkbro, and at the same wondering whether its lack of improvisation made it fit to be reviewed on our blog. It is fully composed, but the effect of the historic organ, specially tuned in what experts call the "meantone temperament", present in the St Stephen's Church in Tangermünde in Northeastern Germany, and played by Johan Graden and the brass trio is nothing but amazing. The brass part is performed by a trio consisting of Elena Kakaliagou on horn, Hillary Jeffrey on trombone and Robin Haward on tuba. The effect is mesmerising and relatively unique. “Hidden within the harmonic framework of the Renaissance organ are intervals and chords that bare a close resemblance to those found in the modalities of traditional blues music,” explains Arkbro. “The work can be thought of as a very slow and reduced blues music.

The music evolves incredibly slowly, with long sustained tones, repetitive and relatively simple on the surface of it, with the brass keeping the same lines at different intervals. It is neither somber nor joyous, but solemn, with an additional strange contradiction of sounding both intimate and majestic. As a listener you feel very close to what you hear, while the music is at the same time also so much grander.

A special sound that I did not want to withhold you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Paul Jolly and Paula Rae Gibson - Vestige (33Xtreme, 2018) ****

By Sammy Stein

33 jazz records have been putting out beautiful and interesting music for decades now and the 33Xtreme inset allows dissipation of some of the best free jazz in the UK and Europe. Piloted by musician and producer Paul Jolly, it is good to see him featuring on this CD with UK poet Paula Rae Gibson on vocals. Paul Jolly, as well as being a label producer, has been a member of Sweet Slag and is currently a stalwart member of the free jazz combo the People Band. On the CD he plays bass clarinet and soprano saxophone, completely improvised and completely beautiful. Paul told me recently, "There will be a new album from me - a duo with Paula Rae Gibson, which I think you’ll really like (lots of bass clarinet)." Here it is- and he was right: lots of bass clarinet, some soprano sax, and total improvisation. Paula Rae Gibson is an award winning photographer and author with many books published, exhibitions held and magazine features to her name. She has collaborated with many musicians including Tim Pilling, Sophie Alloway and Sam Leak.

The CD's opener, 'Celebrity', is a poem about anger, the search for power and loss. it features beautiful, deep, seductive bass clarinet explorations, which somehow answer the poetry as if in empathy. Paula Rae Gibson's breathy lyrics are clear and profound. 'Speak As You Find' has the lyricist talking poetically over scale ascensions, descensions and then short, gentle motifs uttered by the bass clarinet, eloquently reflecting the lyrics and their sense of just reined-in anger. In parts, the clarinet emerges from being support to filling the gaps in the lyrics with gorgeous, rich solos which wrap the heart and make the gaps warm, comforting and lovely. In the final section the clarinet rises into altissimo and back to the depths, speaking its antagonism to the lyrics with sensuality and power.

'Echo of You' opens with lyrics depicting an unpleasant vision of life before the clarinet enters , staccato then gentler, as if urging a gentler view of things. A breathy staccato section again whilst the lyrics do their work in painting the landscape in tones of slightly depressive mood. 'I might die tonight, leave in the wind, sacred thing, ' is spoken over repeated, deep motifs, then rapid finger rivulets of sound given by the clarinet as if to counter the darkness of the lyrics. The clarity of both lyrics and the changes in the bass clarinet line makes this track listenable and incredibly interesting.

'Past So Tightly' is just under 10 minutes of dialogue and conversation between the clarinet and poet, the lyrics taking the mood down, the clarinet offering uplifting trills, loose-reeded playful interludes and breathy, deep passages which end up adding their own melancholy. Then stut notes under the dark words offer a lighter take on things, followed by a breathy, just heard line which allows the lyrics to be clear. Gradually the clarinet breathes ever increasing interest into the supporting lines and develops its own dialogue, still allowing space for the lyrics but increasing the dynamic content over which the lyrics continue their emotive, slightly dark tones. The final section sees the clarinet line come up, add life and finally lift the track out of the doldrums and there is a wonderful point where voice and clarinet are on the same held note. Oneness.

'Not Going To Save You' sees the lyrics follow their dark path but this time with soprano sax to lift and reflect. The change is welcome and a far lighter mood is created with the soprano echoing the lyrical lines but with added notes and phrasing which gives them even more meaning somehow. A real dialogue is created between the voice and sax, especially when the lyricist says ' I'm not going to save you'. The sax reacts as if stung and pleading. In the final section the sac soars away on its own line whilst the lyrics continue their downward mood. Mesmeric.

'Heart On Ice Breath' begins with repeated ' I' , under which the clarinet echoes the breaths and develops the ' I am not going to save you' message but with added rhythmic pulsations from the breath of the vocals and the pips from the saxophone. Both voice and sax create a rhythmic track with the sax adding lyrical sections of its own in the final section which are lovely and completely transform the track .

'Strings Made of Mean' is higher, lighter , still with the dark side of life reflected admirably in the lyrics but the sax offers a shinier, melodic interludes which make this track different and uplifting, despite the warnings contained in the lyrics about not getting carried away , not trusting and guarding the emotions. The sax line seems to contrast each dark phrase in the lyrics with a little cheery offering. Lovely.

'Eyes with Which You See' begins with soprano sax solo , airy and light, setting the mood a little higher than it has been, traversing the registers with dexterity and continuing regardless of the unsettling lyrics. 'Celebrity- Reprise' closes the album and a return to the bass clarinet for Paul Jolly, under the poetry above which speaks of the search for acknowledgement and power.
Throughout this album the sense of understanding is clear and present. The lyrics follow many dark paths but the bass clarinet and particularly the soprano saxophone offer contrasts at times, empathy at others and hardly ever break into the spaces so the poetical lyrics cannot be heard. This CD is not for the fainthearted if you are looking for sweetness and light but the poetical rhythms set by the words, the alternate sweet and deep voice of Paul Rae Gibson and the beautiful empathetic music delivered by bass clarinet and soprano sax work perfectly to make it listenable and interesting.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Fay Victor’s SoundNoiseFUNK - Wet Robots (ESP-Disk’, 2018) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

Fay Victor is one of the most thoughtful, deep, and groundbreaking vocalists. With her new group, the absolutely wild quartet SoundNoiseFUNK, Victor explores much of the simmering pain, confusion, and fear of living in 2018, while retaining a sense of hope and humor. SoundNoiseFUNK is a spry and fierce super-group, featuring Sam Newsome on sax, Joe Morris on guitar, and Reggie Nicholson on drums.

Impressively—for who among us has not railed against the internet around the dining table—Victor’s “Information Superhighway” brings a genuinely fresh perspective on the turbo-speed disconnection of modern electronic communication (hello, blog readers!). She also delivers the blisteringly wry line that gives the album it’s title, predicting we’ll charge forward “until we short-circuit like wet robots.” The delivery undercuts the lightness of the cover art, with its two bro-like robots chilling and high-fiving in a homemade jacuzzi. “Police Lights and Sirens” features Victor and Newsome in a stunning duet, over a looping blues-funk groove. The unsaid pain hardly goes understated, however, with Newsome in particular sounding out a series of popping notes sounding more like quiet sobs than gunshots, reflecting on the extended aftermath of living in constant fear. Later, on “The Blues Are Always Free,” Newsome blows a gorgeous lyrical solo that lifts the whole track. He’s in really excellent form here, having spent the better part of the 2000s honing his soprano playing to a fine point.

“Creative Folks!” is both an ode and a command to creative artists, as Victor repeats, “We need each other,” and Nicholson plays a brisk funk rhythm recalling his work with Henry Threadgill. “Keep creating, the creating is connection, the contact feels like love,” sings Victor, and the group embraces her pleas fully on the following track, “Textured Pines,” the lengthiest piece on the album, stretching out in a patient, inviting improvisation, with Morris bouncing off Newsome, as Victor intwines her vocalizations through their duet. Later, on “I Sing,” Victor lays bare her raison d’être, supported by the trio of instrumentalists. It’s a lovely ode to artistry, and the group ably amplifies the creative spirit.


Sunday, December 16, 2018

Open Land - Meeting John Abercrombie ( Music Heritage Productions / ECM Records, 2018) ****

By Paul Acquaro

I was between concerts at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival this past summer when I wandered into the cinema where Open Land was playing. From the opening moments, I was transfixed from the opening shots of the New York skyline across the Hudson River as the blue winter-light of the brittle upstate winter and the dark reds and browns of the city streetscapes reflected the warm/cool contrasts of guitarist John Abercrombie' lyrical music.

As the documentary gets going we're traveling with Abercrombie from his home north of the city down to a gig by train. Set against the rich tone of Mark Feldman's violin in Abercrombie's "Sad Song", the city comes into focus as the song's timeless melody unfolds. Familiar landmarks pass by and the stillness and insular quiet that one can find, something that seems impossible amid the agitation of the city, sets a tone. We then arrive at the jazz club Birdland, in the middle of Manhattan's busy theater district. Then, the cars, trucks, and traffic cones disappear and we find ourselves alone with the guitarist in his house, a Guild hollow body in the background, talking about what made him want to become a guitarist, specifically electric guitarist (the answer, simply, 1950's Rock and Roll). 

Abercrombie is at ease, he's reflective, and there is a hint of mischief in his eyes. As the film continues we see him talking with a luthier about a sweet looking green semi-hollow. He jokes about having 10 - 15 guitars in a room, he says "it's easier than collecting pianos." He is plain spoken, with self-effacing humor and a bit of reservation, in fact, you can almost hear in the music how he interacts with the world around him. 

During the early parts of the film, we get to walk with Abercrombie as he talks about his life, his memories of childhood (like the mean neighbor who wouldn't give the baseball back if it went into his yard), and the places he lived, set to a soundtrack of his own music. Organically, stories of his life unfold, as the camera again follows the train line (on the train) down the Hudson Valley to Grand Central Station. The bleak white snow covered landscape lends a certain aesthetic to the whole film and his memories of being exposed to jazz and how his interest grew is connected to the train ... he relays a story about how, as a teenager, he would take the train to city and go to clubs to see John Coltrane ("Hearing that live ... I had no idea how to relate to it") and Bill Evans ("I thought he should be playing a little cocktail lounge ... years later he became one of my favorite musicians of all time").

Next set to the urgent tones of his song "Banshee", we fly with Abercrombie to Europe. The visuals are stark, ECM-like in their striking, but non-specific details. Long time associates begin showing up and talking about playing and working with Abercrombie. Drummer Adam Nussbaum talks about the effort they make to play and how open and trusting nature of the guitarist.  Organist John Versace talks about how he met Abercrombie, essentially stepping in to replace Dan Wall who had decided to move back to the Mid-West.  Their stories lend support to the general impression of the soft spoken guitarist. 

The concert footage from a show in Lichtenstein is sublime, from the stage banter to the delicate rendition of "Another Ralph's".  We also see Abercrombie teaching a students at SUNY Purchase, interacting lovingly with his wife Lisa, and jamming with friends. We hear him tell stories of how he shared a moment getting stoned with Thelonious Monk, about the gear and guitar through the years, and the music he has made. The film really connects the man and the music: the sensitivity of the music, the generous humor of the person, and the people with whom he chose to surround himself and play with.

Abercrombie had long been a favorite musician of mine, I tried to see hear him play whenever I could, and was saddened when he passed away last year. The tribute concert last year at Roulette in Brooklyn was nice, and it was great to hear and see so many people who felt similarly, so this documentary really hits the right notes. We are lucky that Arno Oehri and Oliver Primus decided to make this film, when they did, capturing the moments that they could.

Jeff Cosgrove, Scott Robinson, and Ken Filiano - Hunters & Scavengers (Grizzley Music, 2018) ****

By Paul Acquaro

This trio of drummer Jeff Cosgrove’s, featuring saxophonist Scott Robinson (an true musical maverick who recently released an excellent homage to Sun Ra's legendary Heliocentric Worlds recordings), and the fearless bassist Ken Filiano (the Brooklyn based musician seems to be everywhere the action is!), has released a wonderfully rich collaborative recording with Hunters & Scavengers.

The D.C. area based drummer did a good deed when he gathered this sympathetic trio for a recording date in New York. The music they developed is thick with melody and rife with risk. Unafraid to dig deep into their collective musical wisdom, they come up with some real pearls like 'Don't Look (Just Run)' with its quick paced musical choices and smeary sax lines, and the follow up 'Eyes of the Hunter', featuring a slowly evolving melody and tension filled bowing. The latter is actually a bit of a harbinger to the albums cover tune, Ornette Coleman's 'Lonely Woman', which is delivered with reverence to the original, but reaches for its own levels of haunting resonance in Robinson's deliberately raw delivery and Cosgrove's textural drumming.

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)