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The Attic: Gonçalo Almeida (b), Rodrigo Amado (ts), Onno Govaert (dr)

Bonn, Dialograum Kreuzung an St. Helena. August 2018. Photo by Martin Schray

Vario 34: Paul Lovens (dr), Alexander Frangenheim (ba), Mats-olof Gustafsson (sa), Thomas Lehn (el), Günter Christmann (ce)

studioboerne45, Berlin Germany, August 2018. Photo By Cristina Marx

Hamid Drake (dr), Isabelle Duthoit (vo,cl), Lene Grenager (ce)

Blow Out Festival, Oslo, August 2018. Photo by Paul Acquaro.

TRIO BLURB: Mia Zabelka (vi), Maggie Nicols (vo), John Russell (gu)

Blow Out Festival, Oslo, August 2018. Photo by Paul Acquaro.

Pascal Niggenkemper (bass)

Chapelle St. Jean, Mulhouse, August 2018. Photo by Martin Schray

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Miles Okazaki - Work (The complete compositions of Thelonious Monk) (2018) **** ½

By Alexander Dubovoy

Monk was a polisher. He was known to sit for hours at a time at the piano playing the same piece over and over again. As a result, his improvisations were not just based on “playing the changes” but rather “playing the tune”. He used the full gamut of materials from a composition, beyond simply its harmonic progressions, as fodder for expansion and play. To achieve a type of comfort with a composition that enables this sort of unforced creativity takes an immense amount of patience, discipline, and joy. What is so astonishing about guitarist Miles Okazaki’s new 6-volume compilation of solo Monk pieces is that he has gone through this process 70 times, assimilating each piece fully into his own vocabulary.

Take, for example, Okazaki’s version of one of my favorite Monk pieces, “Pannonica.” Throughout his rendition of the melody, he uses harmonics and muted strings, as well as perfect fourths. It is clear that he has listened to Monk’s excellent version of the song on Brilliant Corners, in which Monk actually plays celeste on the melody rather than piano. Vijay Iyer has likened Monk’s unique approach to upper harmonics to spectral composition. Okazaki beautifully translates these distinctive harmonies, based almost as much on register and articulation as on actual notes, to the guitar.

Playing Monk this way on guitar is a substantial challenge. Even playing some of these pieces on piano can be an exercise in dexterity, but to take them to an instrument that functions so differently requires no small amount of planning. Although Okazaki’s solutions to this problem are novel, they never feel inauthentic. On “Evidence”, for example, he invents an underlying rhythmic figure to highlight Monk’s off-kilter rhythms in the absence of a drummer. Okazaki doesn’t make an arranging decision just for the hell of it (and there are artists whom I would frankly criticize for doing so). Instead, he engages even more deeply with the source material whenever he faces a practical challenge in bringing this music to guitar. The result strikes a difficult balance between the personal and the reverential.

I must confess that I am still in the process of combing through this massive oeuvre and that I likely will still be for years. One of the joys of this compilation is that, between stellar versions of classics like “Crepuscule with Nellie” and “Little Rootie Tootie” lies a wealth of more obscure tunes. There’s even a Christmas song buried in there! I would be remiss if I did not mention fellow guitarist Steve Cardenas and trumpeter Don Sickler’s meticulously notated collection of Monk sheet music, the Thelonious Monk Fake Book. As a pianist myself, I’ve spent many hours combing through this book, so I was overjoyed to find that Okazaki used its scores as his source material. I get a similar sense when listening to Okazaki as when reading the Monk Fake Book of rediscovering details in familiar pieces and finding new songs altogether.

It is tempting to call this compilation a “tribute album”, but in a way I feel to do so would be a misnomer. Of course, it shares a lineage with other albums like Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Monk’s Casino and, perhaps even more directly, Wadada Leo Smith’s Solo: Meditations and Reflections on Monk. Work, however, is more a document of continued, concerted study, one which affords us new visions of Monk’s work and which feels beautifully inconclusive. It is full of brilliant corners.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Angelika Niescier - The Berlin Concert (Intakt, 2018) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

It’s hard to say which classic live albums Angelika Niescier’s The Berlin Concert most closely resembles, but I find myself slotting it alongside Ornette Coleman’s Town Hall 1962 andAt the “Golden Circle” sets, Anthony Braxton’s Montreux/Berlin and Dortmund (Quartet) sets, and Steve Lacy's Capers. Recorded live at the Berlin Jazzfest, where she was awarded the Albert-Mangelsdorff-Preis (German Jazz Award) , The Berlin Concert is a great snapshot of Niescier’s vivid creative voice. Balancing tenderness and vibrancy with ease, this live album underscores why she is one of the foremost players today.

Like her NYC Five album with Florian Weber and Ralph Alessi, this album features the rhythm section of Tyshawn Sorey and Christopher Tordini. Both are masterful players, adaptive and sensitive to the setting of each performance, and Tordini’s been at the heart of Sorey’s piano trio work for years. All three have played together for about a decade, and the ease with which they communicate is on full display.

“Kundry” features a brief melody that’s refracted and revisited over the course of the trio’s 15-minute performance. Niescier effortlessly guides the group through three areas of improvisation, each one highlighting a particular member of the group. It’s a nice introduction to the members of the trio, giving each an opportunity to shine in relation to each other. In the melody’s final recurrence, Sorey’s snare cracks inspire Niescier to lightly amend the line with a minor tonal shift. It’s a nimble, unexpected turn that highlights just how responsive these players are to one another.

“Like Sheep, Looking Up” opens with Niescier and Tordini duetting on sax and arco, setting the tone for an evocative meditation. Sorey ably carries the group into a somewhat melancholic section, where Tordini brings a Gary Peacock-like feel to the trio’s open improvisation. The overall effect is a group dance-like abstract expression. “5.8” showcases Niescier’s incredible range as both a composer and improviser. The melody combines hints of Lacy and Braxton, mixing rapidly moving lines with sudden leaps and pivots. Sorey lays down a bouncing rhythm that plays off Tordini’s restless bass. The trio slides into a jittery, rattling improvisation, as Sorey opens with a crashing section that drives Niescier to some fantastic runs. Their energy is wild, coalescing in a rapid restatement of the theme. All three plunge straight into “The Surge,” both the shortest and dizziest song on the album. Here, the trio is in nonstop motion, with Niescier laying everything on the line in a near-breathless performance. The track, and album, ends with a full minute of applause, the crowd’s hollers an outpouring of joy and excitement. The energy is infectious, even a full year later, where sitting in my living room, half a world away from the recording’s setting.

Available via Bandcamp:

Friday, September 21, 2018

25th annual Guelph Jazz Festival

By Connor Kurtz

For me, the 25th annual Guelph Jazz Festival opened with a solo set from Spanish pianist Agustí Fernández – a free set on the University of Guelph campus. His music was as elusive as the on-campus parking. Fernández's improvisation seemed much more interested in the physical properties of the piano than in the sounds that the keys can make (seen above is the performer rubbing plastic toys along the piano's strings while non-rhythmically tapping the piano's frame with his other hand). The small unamplified room seemed a perfect fit for Fernández's music – it was amazing how comfortably the creaking sounds of his stool merged into the sounds from the piano! Although I didn't think to ask Fernández this, it felt like the creaking sounds began as accidental but were soon accepted by the performer and audience alike and turned intentional. In a lot of ways, I think this single action is a perfect synecdoche for Fernández's music.

The biggest difference I've noticed between this year's festival and last's was the amount of free programming – despite having a media pass, it wasn't until my fifth show that I had to use it. Another difference I noticed was in creative director Scott Thomson, and the audience's reaction towards him. In last year's festival, his first as creative director, there always seemed to be some uncertainty in the air. Despite the amazing curation, including highlights of Peter Brötzmann, Matthew Shipp, John Butcher, and Tom and Gerry, the crowd often felt hesitant to accept his decisions, and Scott often came off as nervous or shy himself. In last week's festival it felt as if Scott had finally settled into his place – although his curation has become slightly more eccentric and obscure, he presented each show with wonderful confidence, and the crowd returned the favor with great excitement and chants of "We love Scott! We love Scott!" (That last bit may be a slight exaggeration)

 Returning to the music now – the second set I was able to attend was a solo performance by Montréal-based guitarist Bernard Falaise, who built off Agustí Fernández's notion of "talented performers playing their instruments incorrectly" in entirely new ways. Unlike Fernández, Falaise approached his abstractions from an electroacoustic standpoint – utilizing a huge and eccentric set of guitar pedals. Despite his guitar-playing typically looking relatively normal (the attached picture is actually an exception), the clean sound of a string being struck was seldom ever heard. Instead, we heard an array of clunky drones, chopped and mangled loops and pitched jabs of static noise all being beautifully mixed together in a live environment. Listening to, and watching, Falaise play is a real treat – it's incredibly exciting, and inspiring, to see a musician with such knowledge, mastery and comfortability in their own instrument and set-up.

Following up Bernard Falaise in this free afternoon double bill is the acclaimed international European trio Konk Pack – which consists of Tim Hodgkinson on guitar and clarinet, Thomas Lehn on analog synthesize and Roger Turner on drums. This trio has been playing and improvising together for over 20 years, and that's exactly what they sounded like – their comfortability with each other was astounding. Roger Turner created an outstanding world of sound which came off as everything except rhythmic. The rhythm role was occasionally filled by Thomas Lehn, who's performance was full of baffling synthesized loops and sequences primarily consisting of short tonal blips and jabs of white noise. Tim Hodgkinson's set, especially in the first half, couldn't resist a comparison to the music of Bernard Falaise. While Falaise created his abstractions through electroacoustic processes, Hodgkinson created the same level of abstraction by just playing his lapsteel guitar as is, relying much more on himself than his minimal electronic setup. It was when he brought out his clarinet that I began to realize that this was a musician who transcended simple comparison.

Along with vocalist Thanya Iyer, performers Darius Jones and Amirtha Kidambi spoke at a panel where they discussed the importance and the possibilities of the voice within music. Alongside reflections on the passing of Aretha Franklin and the importance of the voice in black music, the three speakers came to some general conclusions about the voice being capable to express emotions and language in ways which are simply not possible for other instruments. The duo set of saxophonists Darius Jones and vocalist Amirtha Kidambi was a clear extension of this thinking. The duo performed a (partially improvised?) composition by Jones, which primarily consisted of the performers sharing and exchanging tones while giving Kidambi moments to speak brief sentences. The performance was so different and enthralling that I forgot to take a picture.

Finally, we're at the first paid performance – a double bill which starts with the duo of pianist Agustí Fernández and Montréal-based alto saxophonist Yves Charuest. The show was, sadly, also not photographed. Fernández's performance was considerably different than his solo set – he primarily stuck to the piano's keys, and even played within certain free jazz idioms. That being said, his performance rarely rose above extreme dissonance. Charuest showed off an ambitious and original style, full of personality – his solo improvisation was a strong highlight of the set.

The second half of the concert consisted of a very exciting performance by Steve Swell's Soul Travelers – consisting of Steve Swell on trombone, Dave Burrell on piano, Jemeel Moondoc on alto saxophone, William Parker on double bass and Chad Taylor on drums. Their music, to nobody's surprise, was masterful. Steve Swell's compositions combined upbeat boppish melodies with contemporary abstractions, giving each of the five performers plenty of occasions to demonstrate their individual virtuosities. A highlight of the set was the piano-playing of Dave Burrell, who fans will recognize from jazz classics like Archie Shepp's Blasé, Sonny Sharrock's Black Woman, Alan Silva's Luna Surface, Patty Waters' College Tour or even his own Echo, which was nothing short of childish (in the best way possible) despite his old age. Burrell jabbed at the keys with index fingers like a toddler who's accidentally stumbled into perfect timing. On the other side of the coin we have the comparatively youthful playing of Chad Taylor, who, alongside the rather simplistic and soulful playing of William Parker, did fantastic work at holding the band together. All that combined with the powerful and imaginative soloing of Steve Swell and Jemeel Moondog made for one of the best performances of the festival.

At 10:30am on the next day, we were treated to a solo set by New York City native William Parker in the beautiful Royal City Church. Before his set he told the story of the dream which inspired the music we were about to here, which, not so surprisingly, featured the ghost of Dr. Martin Luther King speaking of freedom – "the next step was to teach the people that everyone has freedom within themselves." William Parker's music feels just as spiritual as jazz legends like John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, or more broadly, J.S. Bach – but more specifically, Parker's music pays tribute to African-American heroes and warriors for civil rights rather than any religious personalities. Towards the end of his set Parker begins to clumsily chant, "I'd rather be a human being than to be avant-garde, although the most avant-garde thing you can do is to be a human being". The crowd politely chuckles amongst themselves, surely the reaction that Parker was expecting, but the truth that both the audience and performer knows is that this music is very genuine and very moving in its modesty.

Onto our next double bill, we have the trio of Canadians Marielle Groven and Aaron Lumley alongside Dutch guitarist Jasper Stadhouders, who's music is predictably abstract. While Groven spends most of her time leaning over her piano and plucking at strings and Stadhouders rubs odd electronic devices over the back of his guitar, Lumley is left with the task of giving the crowd a relaxing center point through his soft and textural improvisation. When Marielle Groven decides to sit and play the keys her music is surprisingly gorgeous – largely consisting of brief melodies. Groven and Lumley play with great familiarity to each other, leaving Stadhouders as an awkward third wheel. While sounding uncomfortable at times, he does often provide an interesting counterpoint to the other two performers.

The other side of this double bill, coming from Tokyo, is Satoko Fujii's new trio of This Is It! This Is It! has come to plug their new CD titled 1538, one of the twelve CD's Fujii intends to release for her 60th birthday in 2018. At the end of the set, Fujii explained to the audience that she decided to title their CD after the boiling point of iron because she wanted to prove that the music was "hot", which I assume to be ironic because the music was anything but – This Is It! played some of the quietest and the coolest, and also some of the best, music of the festival. The trio played along to Fujii's open compositions, leaving plenty of open space to let the audience focus on the soft sounds. I think that what most will remember most about the set is the whimsical drumming of Takashi Itani, who Fujii commented was young enough to be her son. Itani performed his quiet experimentations with great humour, even getting occasional laughs from the audience. An example of this is when he was swinging his drumsticks through the air, pretending to drum but stopping right before hitting the drums. He acted nonchalantly and confidently, as if he was actually drumming, but the audience could only hear the sounds of drumsticks through the air. Another example is when he clumsily knocked metal plates off his drums and onto the floor, acting as if he accidentally bumped into them, although the truth was that he was only trying to create the sound of plates falling to the floor. The textural trumpet explorations of Natsuki Tamura were incredible in their own right – he'd cautiously drift back and forth between breath-based experimentations and gently playing along with Satoko Fujii's gorgeous minimal piano licks. Although I wouldn't call the music of This Is It! hot, I'd definitely call it some of the most interesting and unique music of the festival.

Up next we have a vocal jazz double bill, which I must admit is not at all my preference. Up first is Montréal-based saxophonist (have I mentioned that festival curator Scott Thomson is a Montréal native?) Jean Derome's ensemble along with vocalist Karen Young performing the songs of Steve Lacy. The songs are relatively traditional but made exciting through invigorating performances by the band and Karen Young's beautifully joyous vocals. Pianist Alexandre Grogg is a major stand-out from this set – he slaps the keys with open palms during his improvisations, playing with one of the widest smiles I've ever seen on a performer. It's rare to see so much joy emanating from a performance.

On the second half of the bill we have the American Darius Jones Quartet with French vocalist Emilie Lesbros, performing Jones' new suite Le bébé de Brigitte (Lost in Translation). The music here is, unsurprisingly, considerably more experimental than the first half of the concert. Jones' compositions are long and free-flowing, and Lesbros' lyrics combine French and English, calling back to the previous day's panel when Jones confessed his joy for having a singer who will write in a language which he can't understand. The band is excellent, consisting of Darius Jones on alto saxophone, Sean Conly on bass, John Excreet on piano and Rhodes and Ches Smith on drums. Emilie Lesbros sings with a charm that reeks of post-war Parisian coolness. Darius Jones plays in a much more "jazz" style than he did in his performance with Amirtha Kidambi, belting out some fantastically moving solos while also spending hefty amounts of time sitting down and watching his band play. To me, the highlight of the set was Ches Smith's drumming – with his minimal setup he created a seemingly massive world of sound, he sounded as if he was always experimenting and breaking new ground while managing to perfectly follow and capture the songs' rhythms.

The first half of the festival's final double bill opens with a set that Scott Thomson half-heartedly refers to as "a soft opening into your Sunday sound-world", surprisingly accurately referring to this beautifully droning set from the international trio of Hübsch Martel Zoubek, consisting of the German Carl Ludwig Hübsch on tuba, the Canadian Pierre-Yves Martel on viola da gamba and harmonica and the Austrian Philip Zoubek on prepared piano. Except for a moment of Martel scratching metal along metal, the music of this trio is soft, beautiful and calm. They primarily play in long and soft tones, making harmonies which flow between awkward and gorgeous. Hübsch and Zoubek have both brought simple electronic setups with them which they use to generate soft tones which combine wonderfully with their instruments. The trio play off each other well, rarely hogging the spotlight and remembering their place as a third of the trio's soft timbral explorational sounds.

Finally, we have the Ontario-based duo of Marilyn Lerner and Nicole Rampersaud, which they've humorously titled Brass Knuckle Sandwich. There have been many talented pianists through the festival, but Marilyn Lerner quickly establishes herself as one of the best. Her music is soft but full, she plays out beautiful and calming melodies that sound as if they could be quotes from some of the most talented minimalist or impressionist composers. While listening to her play, it was such a relief to see a pianist who wouldn't stand up and start playing with the strings. That is to say, it was a relief until she started to do just that. Nicole Rampersaud's trumpet improvisations were wildly different. Her sounds were harsh and timbral, almost sounding like noise music played at a low volume. When listening to her, the reasoning for the band's name becomes obvious. Despite the vast differences in the performer's styles, they merge together well. Well, actually they don't merge together at all, but that's exactly why it works – it gives the audience an opportunity to focus on these two wonderful performers separately – it's like two great solo shows at once!

And that brings me to the end of my coverage of the 25th annual Guelph Jazz Festival. I'm stricken with the thought of how lucky I am to have such a wonderful festival nearby, in this small suburban university city. The music is wild and daring, but the audience is all incredibly kind. William Parker, who's played at the festival several times, put it best, which I'll misquote – "Everyone in Guelph is so nice. It feels like everyone here has a PhD." Even without a PhD, I always feel right at home in the Guelph Jazz Festival, and with such amazing music every year I can hardly wait for the 26th.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

William Parker - Lake Of Light (Gotta Let It Out, 2018) ****½

By Stef Gijssels

Truly great musicians refine their art over the years, and the truly creative ones reinvent themselves. William Parker falls in that category, and with "Lake Of Light", he surprises again, offering us a meditative, strange and beautiful type of music, performed by his Aquasonic waterphone quartet, consisting of Jeff Schlanger and Anne Humanfeld, both visual artists, and Estonian drummer Leonid Galaganov.

A waterphone is a peculiar instrument: "Waterphones are in fact stainless steel and bronze monolithic, one-of-a-kind, acoustic, tonal-friction instruments that utilize water in the interior of their resonators to bend tones and create water echos. In the world family of musical instruments, the Waterphone is between a Tibetian Water Drum, an African Kalimba (thumb piano) and a 16th century Peg or Nail Violin". I am not sure whether this is entirely accurate, but it gives an idea of the sonic possibilities of the instrument. 

The music is exceptional, in the sense that it falls totally beyond any known categories. The little percussive sounds resonate and reverberate in open space, colliding gently with each other in an uncanny rhythmic otherworldly dance, once in a while intense, often built around silence. Like with other endeavours by Parker, the sound is at once spiritual, soulful and deeply rooted in humanity. Eastern gamalan or even Zen music could be a reference, with an almost mystic search for unity and peace of mind, yet at the same time offering a tribal depth that goes back in the deepest origins of man. And then they take all this one gigantic leap further, into absolute modernity: it could equally be considered 'industrial', with metals scraping against each other, or the soundtrack for a 'horror' movie, with eery and ominous sounds projecting a feeling of dread and terror, or music from outer space, captured by as yet to be invented NASA technology. It is soothing and discomforting at the same time, familiar and strange.

This is as far away of Parker's Quartets or Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, or his duo recordings as you can imagine.

But one thing is sure: it is again an incredibly creative and fascinating listening experience. It makes you doubt, it makes you wonder, it makes you feel differently, it makes you listen differently. No doubt a strong contestant for the Happy New Ears Award.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Schnell - Live at Sowieso (Clean Feed, 2018) ****

By Martin Schray

“Schnell“ is the German word for “fast“ or “quick“ and in this case the band’s name says it all. According to the liner notes, Pierre Borel (saxophone), Antonio Borghini (bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums) use the “bebop tradition as a starting point to investigate speed, stasis, trance, intuition and limits“. The music of the trio resorts to masterpieces of the bebop era such as Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology“, Art Pepper’s “Susie The Poodle“, Sonny Rollins’ “B. Quick“, and Stan Getz/Dizzy Gillespie/Sonny Stitt’s “Be-Bop“, being a resource or a prototype which is newly interpreted with today’s musical possibilities. With speed as the basic principle, the music is always in danger of being a simple means to an end. Here however, the players explore the limits of playability of motives and the structure of the classic bebop form by inventing new patterns, including abrupt harmonic changes and studies of over-revving.

“Schnell I“ can be used as evidence for this thesis. In the first three minutes a motif is repeated almost 70 (!) times, the band introduces, modulates and extends it constantly. This saxophone head lasts just one second at the beginning, at the end of the introduction it’s expanded to three seconds. While the sax remains relatively static, bass and drums offer more variations. Lillinger plays time, and especially in the first minute, he just adds fuel to the fire on his cymbals. Like Borel, he makes slight changes, but when he does, it’s like a real break, for example when snare rolls replace the cymbals before a strict snare timing takes over. Borghini’s bass follows a similar pattern but goes astray much faster, swaying to and fro between alternated riffs, staccato notes and free passages. So much as to “speed investigation“. In the following swing part, Borel quotes jazz classics galore, everything’s still hurled out at sonic speed, as if you played a 33 record at 45 rpm. On the one hand the trio retains that energy, on the other hand they don’t fall prey to the frenzy of speed either. They take care of breathers in a clever and elegant way. In the middle of the piece Borel drops out and Borghini bows his bass, gliding into ultra high notes, while Lillinger whirls on his cymbals. Tension is created and finally relieved by a new saxophone riff (reminding me of Katchaturian’s “Sabre Dance“), again repeated several times. During the whole piece, various heads are constantly introduced and dumped, the trio swings almost traditionally, gets lost, changes dynamics, and starts from the beginning again. Usually, the heads in traditional jazz are used as anchors, as safe havens during the improvisational process. In Schnell’s approach you’re never safe, the riffs ricochet through the room unpredictably. Even Billy Strayhorn’s beautiful “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing“ is transformed to a spooky ballad, rather reminiscent of a weird version of John Coltrane’s “Alabama“ or Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit“.

In the end, the music shows how you can present outstanding musicianship without getting boring or showing off. Bebop has sometimes been accused of being too self-sufficient and aesthetically stale with the improvisational process becoming less soulful. For Schnell improvisation is still the fundament, they play it on the edge of breathlessness, ultra-fast, with intuition and feeling as core essentials.

Watch a part of an earlier gig at the same venue:

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Fish-Scale Sunrise - No Queen Rises (Relative Pitch Records, 2018) ****½

“Melodious skeletons, for all of last night's music / Today is today and the dancing is done"

This short poem of Wallace Stevens, “A Fish-Scale Sunrise”, captures the spirit of Dutch reeds master Ab Baars' new trio. Baars titled his new trio after Stevens’ poem, and like the poem, it features some melodious skeletons, nocturnal themes and a few beautiful dances. Fish-Scale Sunrise began working in 2015 and is now releasing its debut album No Queen Rises, recorded in November 2017.

“Dew lies on the instruments of straw that you were playing, / The ruts in your empty road are red”

Fish-Scale sunrise signals for Baars a broadening spectrum of possibilities for compositions and improvisations. Baars wanted to explore new timbre, dynamics and sounds. He employs for the first time in his ensembles a pianist - Slovenian, Amsterdam-based pianist Kaja Draksler, who collaborated before with Baars in her Octet - introducing a new weight of nuances of timbre and dynamics as well as new harmonic horizons. Canadian, Stockholm-based double bass player Joe Williamson completes this drummer-less format and positions the bass with a unique role. Baars wrote seven compositions and the other two are free-improvisations

“You Jim and you Margaret and you singer of La Paloma, / he cocks are crowing and crowing loud”

These experienced musicians know how to weave a complex, captivating stories with few strokes of imaginative sounds, austere yet elegant, subtle but full of nuances. “Endless” visits Far-Eastern, terrains, flows in a balladic narrative and matures in a touching, playful dance of court and spark between Baars, playing the clarinet, and Draksler. “For Toby” suggests a complete different dialog between Baars and Draksler. He sings gently with his tenor sax while she pounds the piano keys in a hyper-dramatic manner while Williamson bowed bass stands in the middle. Baars and Draksler return to the minimalist dance mode on the lyrical, emotional “Now”.

“And although my mind perceives the force behind the moment, / The mind is smaller than the eye”

“Catch the Moon” is a joyful, melodious game between Draksler, Williamson and Baars, all chasing the reflection of the moon, mirrored in their playful, concise gestures. The trio paints the sparse, free-improvised “Receding Mountains” with gentle, subtle touches of rich colors, allowing this free-form texture to remain mysterious. The austere, minimalist atmosphere of the last pieces, “The First Sea” and “There” tells volumes despite its haiku-like profound restraint. No Queen Rises has powerful, suggestive impact. It challenges, teases, and occasionally comforts the listener, but always compensates with masterful performances and inspiring music.

“The sun rises green and blue in the fields and in the heavens. / The clouds foretell a swampy rain”.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Clarice Jensen - For This From That Will Be Filled (Miasmah, 2018) ****

By Stef Gijssels

It's amazing that musicians release solo albums as their first album ever. A daring undertaking, but Clarice Jensen wouldn't be the first one. It's a courageous adventure: you're on your own. Any comment or criticism touches you, and you only. There is no escape behind an ensemble or behind others.

Clarice Jensen is a classically trained cellist from the Juilliard School, and artistic director of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME). She is equally comfortable playing Bach's cello suites as recording and performing with pop idols such as Paul McCartney, Nick Cave or The Arcade Fire.

On this album, she does something else entirely, using effects and loops which hide the performance of the single instrument in long, almost ambient and drone-like developments.

The first track was co-composed with the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, and offers slow, almost meditative cello sounds, to which additional layers are added, some higher, some lower, creating a very spacious atmosphere. The second track, "Cello Constellations", blends no less than 25 multi-tracked cellos intersecting computer-generated sine waves, yet despite this, there is no wall of sound, but rather a fragile fabric of gliding tones, that slowly, very slowly develops and gets more momentum and power. The last two tracks, "For This From That Will Be Filled", are again carefully construed, with sounds that swell and subside like waves, mimicking the deep resonance of a pipe organ, majestic and massive, with repetitive cello phrases piercing through the backdrop, meditative and insistent, shifting into again a multi-layered foundation for its second part, intense and dark, slow and majestic, and out of this dense mesh, for the first time on the album a single cello improvisation can be heard, discernible and pure, accompanied by announcements from New York's Grand Central terminal.

Even if it's not remotely related to jazz, Jensen's musical vision, and her deliberate intent to create some new listening experience, will probably also please quite a number of our readers. It is meditative at times, and clearly inspired by composers such as Bach and Glass at moments, as well as modern ambient and electronics.

Worth listening to, alone, on a quiet evening.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Chad Taylor - Myths and Morals (eyes&ears Records, 2018) ****

By Eric McDowell

Better than perhaps any other instrument, the drums embody tension—not the physical tension necessary for the production of sound but the push and pull between extremes: rhythm and melody, fragmentation and unity, ancient tradition and the cutting edge. And in this context, few drummers are better prepared to balance—and exploit—these tensions than Chad Taylor, whose talents have supported a catalogue of collaborators too long and wide-ranging to summarize here.

In a recent interview , Taylor discusses the title of his debut solo album, a reference to Joseph Campbell’s observation that “a myth is what we call someone else’s religion,” even though morals are more or less universal. “Instead of focusing on what unites us,” Taylor says, “we focus on what is different.” But the issue doesn’t quite accommodate a simple either/or: it’s about understanding how each myth shapes and is shaped by its believers and, at the same time, how they fit together (or reduce down) into a single, beautifully complex whole.

Call it polyphony—or better yet, polyrhythm. On Myths and Morals, these techniques are as much a matter of Taylor’s limb independence as they are his aesthetic approach, which gathers together heavy grooves, free improvisation, mbira melodicism, and electronic manipulation. To say these elements are in simultaneous suspension requires viewing the album as a whole; moment to moment, Taylor’s focus more often than not is on exploring individual details.

This exploration starts with the cymbal, as “Abtu and Anet” makes clear. The album opener showcases Taylor’s cymbal work from a number of angles—bombastic crashes, slinky patterns, and—for most of the track—spare articulations that draw out myriad shades of resonance and decay. “Carnation” and “Arcadia” take this work further with the help of the bow, the latter track croaking and wheezing to life before handing things over to another piece of metal percussion key to Taylor’s sound on Myths and Morals—the mbira. With the benefit of years of study, Taylor’s command of the complex thumb piano manifests in a range of sounds, from the tonal depths of “Arcadia” to the dessicated etchings of “Gum Tree.”

“The Fall of Babel,” halfway through the album, marks a transition from metals to skins as it moves gradually from delicate cymbal play to a no less nuanced tour of the kit—to a two-foot Latin ostinato over which Taylor pounds his well-tuned toms. Similarly, “Phoenix” shows the drummer building and dissolving an irresistible groove, oscillating between firm footing and uncertainty.

Where it all arguably comes together is the album’s centerpiece, “Island of the Blessed.” Starting with a mesmerizing mbira pattern and developing into a breakneck odd-meter workout, the nine-minute track highlights one other element of Taylor’s sound, electronic manipulation. Here we see Taylor’s ability not only to conceive a richly layered soundscape but also to go outside the boundaries of what we traditionally think of as percussion to bridge the gap between his varied musical inclinations. As the piece develops, giving Myths and Morals its center of gravity, boundaries between rhythm and noise, the organic and the synthetic, one Taylor and another dissolve into a single seamless whole.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Listen now: "There's No Such Thing As Live Music - Free Jazz Festivals" on SWR2

Listen to Martin and host Julia Neupert on SWR2 for another excellent hour of Free Jazz talk and music, this time on festivals. It's called "There's No Such Thing As Live Music - Free Jazz Festivals" featuring talk about the blog covering festivals (like Vision, Alarm, Kongsberg, and Blow Out), and music by Philipp Gropper's Philm, Maja S.K. Ratkje, Daniel Carter/William Parker/Matthew Shipp, Irreversible Entanglements and others.

The podcast is available until Friday the 21st.


Kidd Jordan, Joel Futterman, Alvin Fielder, Steve Swell – Masters of Improvisation (Valid Records, 2018) ****

By Nick Ostrum

I know of Kidd Jordan because of his work with musicians from Chicago and New York (at whose Vision Festival he made one of his few public performances this year), in scenes far away from his home city of New Orleans. Because of this, I have always considered him more of a musical denizen of the Lower East Side or its Third Coast counterpart (whatever that may be) than of Frenchman Street. And this is not just my own bias. Spending time at bars and other venues in New Orleans will expose one to many types of music, free jazz largely excluded.

Masters of Improvisation, recorded live at the Old US Mint in 2017, is a notable and welcome exception. The music contained on this disc is deeply satisfying, deeply emotive free jazz produced by four immensely talented practitioners. Accompanying Jordan are Joel Futterman on piano, Alvin Fielder on drums, and Steve Swell on trombone. Both Futterman and Fielder have a long, fruitful history of collaboration with Jordan. Fielder and Jordan have been playing together since the 1970s and have performed with Futterman in various configurations since the mid-1990s. For his part, Swell has worked with Jordan in several larger ensembles in the past, but, it seems, never in so intimate a setting. Still, as one might rightfully expect, this group is masterful.

The album’s first track, aptly titled “Expansion,” begins with a disjointed back-and-forth between musicians that almost naturally evolves into a spirited and cacophonous improvisational fanfare. After this climax, Fielder slows the tempo in a grooving two-minute drum solo that concludes the piece. The next song, “Residue,” begins with a spacious dialogue between trombone and percussion. Futterman, whose first few notes are sparse and easily missed, slowly steals his way in and soon fills the air with his characteristic frenetic piano flourishes. Then, Jordan breaks in and swings the music into the type of free, soulful groove that only he and a handful of his contemporaries (Coltrane, Noah Howard, and Sonny Simmons come to mind) could pull off so convincingly. The intensity wells and fades several times, as the musicians abandon linearity in favor of more fractured and inquisitive, though inspired explorations. The final track, “Sawdust on the Floor,” is the catchiest and, in a fitting homage to New Orleans itself, tempers its underlying joie de vivre with a cathartic rendition of “Summertime” that carries the piece to its end.

Jordan admittedly sounds older than he has in previous performances and recordings. That, however, is more of an observation than a criticism. On Masters of Improvisation, he has sacrificed some of the energy of his earlier days for an unvarnished, at times gravelly tenderness that only the wisdom and wounds of age can produce. Even with all the sheer talent surrounding him – Fielder’s resourceful and measured drumming; Futterman’s balance of horror vacui with an intricate, fractured melodicism; Swell’s controlled power and boundless creativity – Jordan nevertheless stands front and center. He clearly still has much to say, and the skills to articulate it beautifully. This recording is testament to that.