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The Thing - Paal Nilssen-Love (dr), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (b), Mats Gustafsson (sax)

Cologne, Stadtgarten, 4/10/2018. Photo by Gerhard Kraus

Shanir Blumenkranz (b), Kenny Warren (t), Yoni Kretzmer (s) and Weasel Walter (dr)

Legion Bar, Brooklyn, NY 4/22/2018. Photo By Paul Acquaro

Joshua Abrams National Information Society: Lisa Alvarado (harmonium), Jason Stein (b-cl), Mikel Avery (dr), Joshua Abrams (guimbri)

Cologne, Stadtgarten, 4/3/2018. Photo by Gerhard Kraus

Snark Horse: Matt Mitchell (p), Jon Irabagon (ww), Mat Maneri – viola , Kate Gentile (d), Ben Gerstein (t)

Jazz Gallery, NYC. 4/27/2018. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Basement Research: Steve Swell (tb), Julian Argüelles (b-sax), Pascal Niggenkemper (b), Gebhard Ullmann (b-cl), Gerald Clever (dr)

Mannheim, Klapsmühl, 4/24/2018. Photo by Martin Schray

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dave Holland, Evan Parker, Craig Taborn, and Ches Smith - Uncharted Territories (Dare2 Records, 2018) *****

By David Menestres

Way back in the mid-1960s there was a truly creative upwelling of music coming out of England. Musicians like Derek Bailey, Kenny Wheeler, Evan Parker, Dave Holland, and many more were beginning to leave their mark on the music. One of the major documents of the music being made in and around London at that time was the Spontaneous Music Ensemble’s Karyōbin LP (read Colin Green’s review of the recent reissue here). Shortly after that recording session, Dave Holland moved to New York to begin his now legendary run with Miles Davis followed by his time with Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers (and John Hartford, let’s not forget Holland’s excellent bluegrass phase). Evan Parker has charted his own enigmatic course over the last fifty years. Uncharted Territories is the first full album Holland and Parker have recorded together since the SME days. (There is also a single released earlier this year to raise money for the Vortex Club in London.) And Craig Taborn and Ches Smith are certainly no strangers to the creative music scene.

The music on Uncharted Territories is fully improvised, with the exception of Q&A, which first appeared on Holland’s Conference of the Birds. (There is also a great version on Circle’s Paris Concert from 1971.) The tracks cycle through all the subsets of the quartet, featuring duos and trios in addition to the full band, with the track names reflecting which permutation is performing. The tracks are mostly short by improvised music standards, mainly between four and six minutes. The relatively short track lengths allows for a wide diversity of ideas to be worked through over the course of the twenty-three cuts, presented on two CDs or three LPs or digital download. The album is so long, clocking in at just over two hours and ten minutes, that I was initially overwhelmed by how much music is presented here. The only choice was to dive in head first and let the ocean of sound wash over me.

The music is as exciting as you’d expect from four creative musicians at the top of their games. Taborn’s use of piano, organs, keyboards, and electronics offers a wide variety of timbral possibilities as does Smith’s use of the drum set and a wider percussion arsenal. I’m particularly fond of the bass and percussion duets, as well as Taborn’s organ playing, but there is so much to hear, something for everyone. The real treat is of course the cuts featuring the full quartet. The album is well worth spinning many, many times.

Uncharted Territories is the first time this quartet has performed together. I hope this group has a long life together. It would be a special treat to hear this group develop together over many years. I can only imagine would a beautiful mindfuck it would be to see them live.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Dinosaur - Wonder Trail (Edition, 2018) ****

By Sammy Stein

Dinosaur are a Mercury shortlisted band comprising award winning composer and musician Laura Jurd on trumpet and synthesiser, Elliot Galvin ( Elliot Galvin Trio) on keyboards and synthesisers, Conor Chaplain (Flying Machines, Fabled, Nick Costley-White 4tet) on bass and Corrie Dick (Little Lions, Elliot Galvin Trio, Blue Eyed Hawk, Lilli Unwin Band, Glasshopper, Leaf Cutter John and more) on drums. Laura Jurd probably will never fall into an easily assigned category and the music is all the better for it. She has worked in a range of styles and now it is the turn of jazz-synth-pop for this eclectic and gifted musician and her band.

Renewal ( part 1) opens with a fanfare of electronics and horns followed swiftly by an up-beat time tempo established by synth and percussion which strolls along for a while before a bass pick intro to Laura Jurd sails in with a tuneful and time perfect trumpet solo. The rest of the band quieten down for a while, picketing behind and under her but the trumpet carries itself forward and over the top, creating a fluid line for the ears to follow and it builds, along with the band until the fading last sequences. Interesting but not mind blowing yet. ‘ Quiet Thunder’ is a swinging, Latin-esque style piece during the course of which the band explore and work together to create some great and strong dialogue, led by the trumpet but by no means carried by this alone. The bass line is very cool and the percussive interventions intriguing and dialectic. The track contains what are almost micro sections with a percussive line here, a rock based groove there but above all, there is a linear direction achieved which enables the listener to remain engaged throughout. The middle section is very interesting, with the bass establishing a solid groove over which the other instruments play and intermingle. Lots to wonder at here and the timing is exquisite on occasion. The ending announces itself and takes a while. ‘ Shine Your Light’ takes things down a peg or two, at least initially, with key board introduction before a slow beat and theme is introduces with some eerie and intricate trumpet searing coming in over the top before a break and a deeper bass line announces another section with mesmeric, threatening bass over which the trumpet speaks a mournful narrative all its own. A few unnecessary synth additions take a little from the trumpet line before the voices can be heard singing the words. Interesting structure and such a lot of changes in one short number. ‘Forgive, Forget’ is short at just under two and a half minutes but it is so, so good. Rickety tickety drums and a bottom line over which the trumpet dives, soars and travels at times a wondrous road, filled with Eastern magic. A completely lovely interlude. Just too short.

‘Old Times’ Sake’ is buzzy – and rhythmic, the keyboard setting out a simple theme before trumpet and the rest take it up and play and then off we go, suddenly , we are basing ourselves sin the root chord and whipping up a storm, albeit a very controlled one. It feels like the music is on the brink here, waiting to dive off the edge – but it never quite does, which is where control comes in. The countered rhythmic section between keys and bass and percussion is clever and spot on time-wise, it could all have gone wrong but it never is in danger of this. Another great track.

‘Renewal’ (part 11) is begins with synth, percussion and trumpet playing along nicely before something happens and the music is interrupted with some wild electronica before returning to trumpet over percussion. It happens again, sounding rather like a child has got to play with switches and keys making for disjointed and slightly irritating sounds which , coupled with the fanfare ending work to create the only track I fast forwarded on on the CD.

‘Set Free’ is gentle with almost choral, Olde English singing, harmony incorporated entering over the repeated chords. Then it develops into a charming and delicately presented trumpet over the top of strong, fastidious and completely engaging rhythmic and chordal changes. Then the singing again!! Some of the harmonies are intriguing and emerge form the background at strategic points. The trumpet around the 2.30 mark is lovely and takes the track into another realm of quality. Now we are free, now we are really, really playing. Wonderful.

‘Swimming’ is begun with deep chords over which the trumpet enters with a summery, wistful melodic line ( or two). Then, the piece grows into something quite organic with interspersed melody, a whacky off kilter rhythm between percussion and keys, a rolling section and then the theme again. This ensues for the entire piece, feeling rather like each has apiece of the jigsaw and they are trying to put it together to create a marvellous whole. It works. The echoed trumpet at the end is lovely.
‘And Still We Wonder’ is 4 minutes of something rather wonderful, with singing, charm filled keyboard lines and a ‘Kind Hearts and English’ feel to it all. It is a song but it is also a musical and structural scaffold upon which trumpet solos, keyboard solos and nifty percussive lines hang and twirl, at times creating a far ground like feel to the music, at others a very definite jazz influenced little item but whatever you want to try to label it, it is very intriguing and engaging.

What is good, no great about this CD is the inclusion of a huge number of style references, yet it is all combined and whipped into a style which is pure Dinosaur and different from what has gone before. The range and different sounds the synthesiser can create are used to open up a wellspring of opportunities, which Laura Jurd and the rest of the band explore with an enthusiasm which is at once child-like and at the same time the curiosity of true musicians. The trumpet is played at times with an intensity which is mind boggling and at others with a surreptitious gentleness which belies the pin point placement of the notes. Miles influence in the intonation can distinctly be felt. Great music, great musicians, when it is as simple as that, what’s not to love?

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Latest from Didi Kern

By Eyal Harueveni

Austrian drummer Didi Kern is one of the busiest and most versatile in the Viennese scene. Readers of this blog may know him as the D in Ken Vandermark’s DEK trio (together with fellow-Austrian pianist Elisabeth Harnik), but Kern began his career as a drummer in local art rock, punk, noise, electronica and even techno outfits, among them BulBul, Broken.Heart.Collector, Fuckhead and Poisonous Frequenzies before establishing himself as a resourceful, energetic free improviser with a sharp sense of humor.

Didi Kern & Philipp Quehenberger - Linz (Shameless, 2018) ***½

Kern and fellow Viennese keyboards player Philipp Quehenberger have been playing together for more than 15 years and still enjoying refining their blend of brutal, atmospheric storms. Quehenberger, like Kern, enjoys experimenting with a broad spectrum of sounds, especially with noisy and electronic ones, and is associated with the local experimental label Editions Mego. Linz, captured live at Stadtwerkstatt Linz on March 2017, is the duo fifth full album (not including 5 singles and EP’s with guests as Marshall Allen, BulBul, Carla Bozulich and many others), release on vinyl plus download option.
Linz lasts only 28 minutes but Kern and Quehenberger manage to do in this short free-improvisation much more than larger outfits may have done in twice longer time. Both do not spend their time and from the first second to the last one they set a hard driving, brutal pulse, and keep colliding with each other. But this performance is not only about boundless power, reckless energy and full-blast intensity. The rhythm is infectious and forces you, unconsciously and almost effortlessly, to move and even dance to, The dark, atmospheric keyboards deepens this kinetic feeling of time and space. And Linz demonstrates how a wild free-improv set can meet prog-rock and techno aesthetics, blow your mind, rewire your nerves and leave you smiling.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Mats Gustafsson & Didi Kern - Marvel Motor (Rock is Hell Records, 2018) ****

Kern shares with the Swedish titan a common affinity to intense, earth-shaking energy, but Marvel Motor continues and deepens the wild-spacey spirit of Linz as Mats Gustafsson is credited here with “less reeds, more synth”. This album is the second collaboration of Kern with Mats Gustafsson, following the limited-edition, one-side vinyl Eissalon (Live) (Rock is Hell, 2013, only 222 copies, 44 were colored). Marvel Motor, recorded in December 2016 in Vienna, comes in a bit more generous edition, a limited-edition of 258 vinyls (two sided, three different, slipstreamed slip-in version) plus download option.
Both Gustafsson and Kern sound as challenging and rebelling against any expectations from such a meeting. Free the jazz, as the slogan on one of Gustafsson’s favorite t-shirts. Both offer variations on a restless, fast and volcanic interplay where the electronics plus synths tornados of Gustafsson, with some sax wails (only on two out of six pieces, “Fun Generator” and “Besenkamme”), threaten to blow out everything around him while the manic drumming of Kern insist on piercing these walls of sounds. Eventually, both have perfected, alone, in other groups and together, a unique wisdom of how to shape and sculpt a nuanced and irresistible rhythm. A rhythm that is built of many, often colliding, but more often complementing, even enhanced sounds, as the title of best realized piece, “EnHANCEment”, suggests. Again, you may find yourself dancing, marvelled by your involuntary, motoric actions.

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Are Tribute Albums Really of Interest?

By Stef

Who is really waiting for tribute albums? They are created with the best of intentions, to celebrate the music and memory of an admired and influential artist. On the downside, they are often the result of  musicians playing together without a shared vision on the sound they want to create, and with a performance that can never reach the level of the original. Tribute albums may be of interest to fans of the celebrated artist, but more often than not they are disappointments, and possibly even more to the interested fans.

The good thing is that they bring some older music back to your attention, and you will hopefully go to the original and enjoy its authenticity. Then you will understand why there is a tribute album in the first place.

But it is a sign of respect for the old masters, so who can be against that? True, yet on the other hand, why do you need masterpieces to be re-worked if the original is so good? Do painters make copies of Picasso's "Guernica"? Do writers re-write Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow"?

Dave Liebman & Joe Lovano - Compassion - The Music Of John Coltrane (Resonance Records, 2017)

No doubt Joe Lovano and Dave Liebman are wonderful sax-players, and the skills of pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Ron McLure and drummer Billy Hart are among the best around. They were asked by the BBC, ten years ago, to perform to commemorate the 40th anniversary of John Coltrane's passing away. Not all material was released at that time, so today we get the unreleased tracks as a kind of 50th anniversary album.

The music is good. It is John Coltrane's music of course: "Locomotion", "Olé", "Equinox", and the long "Compassion". But then you wonder about the quality of it all. It falls short of the original ... and at quite a distance. Technically this is good, but it's not Coltrane, nor his band. Have you heard Coltrane play? The good thing about tribute albums is that you're forced to listen back to the original, and then you listen to Coltrane again, as I do now, at this very moment, playing Compassion, you're blown away by the man's incredible power, soul and expansiveness. Here is the man who lifted jazz out of the commercial confines of night clubs and bars and dance halls and gave it the status of "serious" music, as opposed to mere entertainment. Coltrane is the man who changed jazz from being just fun into something more existential, more spiritual, turning it into a complete listening experience. Then you listen back to Liebman and Lovano, and what you hear ressembles the original, but then with all life drained from it.

Sky Music - A Tribute To Terje Rypdal (Rune Grammofon, 2017)

American guitarist Henry Kaiser brought together a band to celebrate Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal for his 70th birthday, consisting of keyboardist and long time Rypdal side-kick Ståle Storløkken, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, drummer Gard Nilssen, guitarists Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen, Even H. Hermansen, Hans Magnus Ryan, Finnish guitarist Raoul Björkenheim and Swedish guitarist Reine Fiske. Bill Frisell and David Torn deliver solo interpretations, Nels Cline and cellist Erik Friedlander play a duet. 

The opening piece, "Omen" by Frisell is as beautiful and calm as you can expect from the master. David Torn, like Frisell does not fall into the trap of trying to emulate Rypdal's sound, but gives his own personal rendition of "Avskjed". "What Comes After" is a wonderfully tense and meditative piece by Erik Friedlander and Nels Cline. I think it's the album's highlight, if only because they capture the spirit of Rypdal's music : desolation, expansiveness, emotional intensity and sonic inventiveness. "Sunrise", with Jim O'Rourke on guitar is also acceptable, but still a million miles away from the power of the original (with Jack DeJohnette and Miroslav Vitous). 

For all the other tracks you can wonder what the point is. Sure, the playing is good, and the guitarists lined up to play tribute to their role model know what they're doing on their instruments, but the overall musical vision and quality is quite well below the original. Tracks such as "Over Birkerot/Silver Bird Heads For The Sun" lack the sophisticated arrangement of the original with its sudden changes, its incredible power and darkness. 

The same can be said for "Rolling Stone", one of the most memorable tracks of Rypdal's masterpiece "Odyssey", which gets a lukewarm rendition here, again highlighting the fact that superb music is not only the result of having a strong composition, but also of performance and interplay. Where Rypdal created an incredible sense of space, leaving room for other musicians, taking time to build the pieces, here you have the musicians tumbling over themselves to show off their skills. You also need the musical vision, sensitivities and competence to make it connect with the listener. These guys know their instruments, but I wonder whether they understand the music. 

Various Artists - Celebrate Ornette (Song X Records, 2017)

On "Celebrate Ornette" we get a mix of various performances, one on which Ornette was present, at the age of 84, and even if he was not expected to perform, he still did (on the first two tracks). The performers are stylistically as widely apart as Joe Lovano and Patti Smith, Thurston Moore and David Murray, Laurie Anderson and Geri Allen. Of course, they don't all perform together but in various performances and bands, but even then, the musical unity is lacking. The performances are live, not well recorded and some of the performances are relatively chaotic and primitive, like you would expect from a jam band. That is unfortunately also the case with "Lonely Woman", a twenty-minute destruction of one of the most beautiful compositions ever, with a super band including Geri Allen, Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis, Ravi Coltrane, David Murray, Wallace Roney Jr. and Denardo Coleman's quintet. Too many cooks spoil the broth. 

Some pieces are well rehearsed and performed as, with the Denardo Vibe, the band of Ornette Coleman's son Denardo, who turn "Blues Connotation" into a high speed fusion romp.

The more interesting pieces are the ones that go totally beyond Ornette's own style, as with the rendition of "Sadness" by Thurston Moore and Nels Cline. The two guitarists do something with the material. They make it all their own and bring something strong.

CD3 offers the best part of the album. It was recorded at Ornette Coleman's memorial after his passing away. The mood is of course completely different, one of reverence and sadness, with solo pieces by Pharoah Sanders and Cecil Taylor, a duet between Henry Threadgill and Jason Moran, a beautiful rendition of "Peace" by Ravi Coltrane and Geri Allen, an interesting duet between Jack DeJohnette and tap dancer Savion Glover. The "Lonely Woman" version with Joe Lovano, David Murray, Charnett Moffett, Al MacDowell and Denardo Coleman is more palpable than the previous one, but it still lacks the deepfelt soul and sadness that the composition requires. 

In sum, it's a little big of a mixed bag. I have the impression that this is just a quick collection of uneven material, with limited musical value. 

Various Artists - Tribute To Andrzej Przybielski Vol. 1 (Jazz Poznan, 2016)

The lesser known musician in this list who gets a tribute album is possibly Andrzej Przybielski, the Polish trumpeter who passed away in 2011, and who gets commemorated here by a selection of Poland's best musicians.

The band consists of Maciej Fortuna, Marcin Gawdzis, Wojciech Jachna, Tomasz Kudyk, Peter Schmidt and Maurice Wójciński on trumpet, Jakub Kujawa on guitar; Grzegorz Nadolny on double bass, and Grzegorz Daroń on drums.

We have reviewed some of Przybielski's later work on this blog before, and with enthusiasm. And I'm not familiar enough with the man's entire catalogue to be able to compare the tribute album with his original music. They perform four compositions by Przybielski and three collective improvisations.

The opening track, "Afro Blues", is not my kind of thing, I must say, with a strange loss of stylistic unity, in the shape of Kujawa's howling fusion guitar and the unison big band horns, too much showing off and not enough real music. The last track starts with a long text in Polish spoken by Przybielski himself, interspersed by some trumpet phrases, but of course for those who do not understand the language, this is literally meaningless, and for Polish people nothing more than interesting for documentary reasons.

Luckily, the rest of the playing is phenomenal, as in the hesitant and calmly growing "Free I", the bluesy "Free II", where the trumpeters take turn to solo over the slowest of tempi. "Arce" is a beautiful slow ballad, full of melancholy and sadness.

Surely Przybielski deserves a tribute, and I can only recommend interested listeners to find out more about him. It's great that his Polish admirers release a tribute CD for him, and with some more unity of style, this could have been a great tribute. Let's hope that Vol. 2 solves some of the issues of this album.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Big Bold Back Bone - Emerge (Wide Ear Records, 2018) ****

By Derek Stone
Last year, Big Bold Back Bone released the perplexing and astonishing In Search of the Emerging Species. In that recording, the quartet scraped away the melodic and tonal associations of their respective instruments, often with unrecognizable results - Marco von Orelli’s trumpet became a sputtering tubule, a brassy extension of the lungs. Sheldon Suter’s prepared drums were a degraded pulse. Luis Lopes’s electric guitar crackled and fizzed. Travassos applied electronic noise in subtle strokes. That album revealed a group that was eager to tap into the raw physicality of the instrumentation they possessed; trumpets, guitars, drums, and analog electronics became alien artifacts that the players seemed to approach with equal parts curiosity and hesitation. 
Emerge, the group’s newest outing, finds them taking a similar, if more expansive, approach. One of the biggest changes lies in the presentation itself; instead of releasing one long track, they have split the album into several shorter ones. In Search of the Emerging Species (and it’s single track “Immerge”) was definitely not the most varied outing - nor did it need to be. With Emerge, on the other hand, the group have wisely decided to take a different approach, with the result that now they have given themselves the freedom to draw from different tonal palettes. While “Immerge” was a long-form exploration, with all the detours and circular movements that that implies, Emerge seems to be driven along by a more narrative flow.
As before, the players often seem to treat their instruments as bodily appendices, to be manipulated, fumbled with, and, at times, forced into odd contortions and tonal shapes. There are some surprises this time around, however. On “Tidings,” for instance, over an ominous wash of electronic scrapes and muffled percussion, von Orelli undertakes a brisk bebop solo. It’s jarring, like finding some decayed trace of human culture (a statue overgrown with moss, perhaps) in an otherwise barren wasteland. On the final piece, “Ground Found,” he takes a similar tack, darting minnow-like through the clouds of ink stirred up by Suter’s thunderous percussion, Lopes’s siren calls, and Travassos’s muted whirls. 
On other pieces, Big Bold Back Bone embrace the throbbing and minimal physicality that they utilized so well on their first release. “Silent Stream,” the opener, stays true to its title. Beneath von Orelli’s searching lines, Travassos’s electronics and Lopes’s guitar churn together, a pitch-black morass. “Sealust” cuts through this frothing mix of tones and textures and allows for the individual elements to be better discerned: Suter’s arrhythmic and clattering percussion, for instance, sounds like seashells being strewn along a rocky shore, while Von Orelli avoids full-throated phrasings entirely, opting instead for quiet gasps and spurts. 
Compared to the quiet intensity of the aforementioned pieces, the brief “Tentaculita” sounds absolutely gargantuan. Jagged shards of guitar and nervy, stop-start percussion propel the track forward; Travassos’s electronics shift tectonically underneath, while von Orelli veers between caustic expulsions and jittery cries. If the other pieces on Emerge came from trenches and geysers, “Tentaculita” is the sound of approaching the surface - predators and prey locked in a brutish dance. In its wake, “Mergulhador” (Portuguese for “diver”) is almost sublime. Lopes takes on a more skeletal and laconic approach, allowing Suter to fill up the empty space with loose clacks and peals that, despite how sparse they are, conjure up a great deal of tension. Von Orelli, meanwhile, offers up lines that are (for this recording, anyway) uncharacteristically melodious - they bob along in buoyant repose, belying the immense pressures underneath.
Emerge is sure to entrance fans of Big Bold Back Bone’s previous album, and it’s likely to win new fans as well. While it is by no means a turn towards accessibility, it is more digestible - perhaps due to the choice by the band to tackle shorter, more concise movements. Despite these “bite-sized” pieces, however, there is a sense of cohesion underlying the individual tracks, along with a sensation that you are being propelled forward by some ineluctable current. At the end, you may not feel that you’ve reached any destination at all - but you’re likely to find that the ride was well worth it. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Samuel Blaser with Marc Ducret & Peter Brunn – Taktlos Zürich 2017 (Hatology, 2018) ****½

Conventionally a jazz trio is generally seen as the minimum forces that would be needed to render the main characteristics and most important aspects of a tune. Rhythm, harmony and melody can be nailed down by a trio, providing at least the basic ingredients needed to make a good stab at the piece in question. However, the trio in it’s most traditional sense (say with a piano) and as a functional unit par excellence, has little resources left for additional harmonies, extra counter-melodies, colouration and ornamentation beyond what is idiomatic for the instrumentation.

Samuel Blaser’s trio on Taktlos Zurich 2017 eschews the more obvious musical elements, as much free improvisation does, in favour of such things as colouration, ornamentation as well as what appears to be an additional emphasis and concerted effort on space. At times the instrumentation of the trio is opened-up, such as on the very opening of the first piece ‘Stoppage’, where the trombone’s muted tones, a percussive bell-like sound, and guitar volume swells sound more in-keeping with a piece of Gagaku (ceremonial court music of Japan) that has been highly theatricalised. It’s not until about halfway through the twenty-four and a half minute track that a funky groove is introduced and the trio fall into a more traditional role of rhythm section and soloist, however, this is just an episode before the musical focus is shared around once more. The album contains five pieces across four separate tracks, three of them credited to Marc Ducret, one to Blaser, and the other, which is the second piece on the album, is based on a theme by the classical composer Stravinsky. This piece merges into another Ducret penned idea, ‘Useless Knowledge’, which continues to demonstrate the uncluttered vibe that hangs through all the music on the album, evoking a soliloquy from the trombone with just the most delicate colouration from Ducret’s guitar and Brunn’s minimal percussive ornamentations. Blaser’s ‘Jukebox’ starts with solo trombone, before being joined by sparse percussion, and guitar alternating between angular motives and fast unison passages with the trombone, at which point Ducret takes up the solo focus, again allowing for much musical space before Blaser brings in a different colour with a muted sound. The last piece, and second longest on the album, starts with a sustained violin-like timbre on the guitar, with the airy and spacious atmosphere reminiscent of the opening strains of King Crimson’s improvised piece ‘Providence’, before moving into another theatrical sounding form, not unlike a musical accompaniment to an imaginary Kabuki play, then settling on a riff which guitar and trombone both take turns to hold down, develop, and improvise over.

I’ve listened to this album a lot over the last several weeks, and it still has lots to offer, the intricate interplay between the musicians, doesn’t give up all it’s secrets lightly and still continues to give more as one attunes to the music’s and musicians’ level of interaction, which is meaningful with regard to communication and intent. There’s a lot of listening on this album between the musicians and that is clearly where the ‘musical space’ within this music comes from. Ideas seem to be offered with care, and a certain degree of ritual, before being carefully examined, utilised, developed and packaged with the greatest respect to each other’s playing. This is more than music; this is a musical ceremony of liturgical functioning embedded within a theatrical performance, where the emphasis on musical dialogue does the talking.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Sons of Kemet - Your Queen Is A Reptile (Impulse, 2018) ****

By Martin Schray

In his book Black Talk from 1979, Ben Sidran shows how black music has expressed, consciously or not, its African 'oral' heritage, reflecting the conditions of a minority culture in the midst of a white majority. He tries to explain the cultural basics of black music and how the music itself supports these basics and preserves them. Oral culture is both medium and impulse of black culture, transcending formal analysis in order to pass on a specific experience and authentic emotions. His central thesis is that black music is not only an extraordinary aspect within black culture, it doesn’t just reflect it, instead it is of crucial, indispensable importance - in fact it’s the foundation of black culture. According to Sidran, oral culture as a means of communication is based on immediacy. One of the advantages of this form of communication (in contrast to "literate culture") is to interact spontaneously since you’re forced to improvise and react very quickly. Sidran quotes Huey Newton, a prominent member of the Black Panther Party, who claimed that the black community was based on activity, their members didn’t get their knowledge from books which is why black protagonists had to be regarded as activists.

Your Queen Is A Reptile, Sons of Kemet’s third album, stands in this tradition. It’s the band’s first one since the 2016 Brexit vote, and it directly attacks British nationalism, racism, social inequality and the monarchy. British society is presented as one of contrasts, illustrated by you (the whites) and us (black immigrants) - and even if this oversimplifies the social situation, it’s a powerful dichotomy in order to provoke. The image used on this album is the one of the Queen. The liner notes state:
"Your Queen considers herself our better; by right of blood, by way of lineage, by grace of conquest, by the reason of tyranny, by the confidence of tradition.  (…) Your Queen is financed by our taxes, which in turn validate the injustice of class and race discrimination of Great Britain. (…) We the immigrants, we the children of immigrants, we the diaspora, we the descendants of the colonized, we claim the right to question your obsolete systems, your racist symbols, your monuments to genocide. (…) Your Queen is not our queen. She does not see us as human. And we see ourselves as humans. We judge our worth, not by Christmas speeches or golden jubilees, but by deeds. Our Queens walked among us. Our Queens led by action, by example, our Queens listened."
Here Shabaka Hutchings, the 34-year-old saxophonist, bandleader and activist, offers his version of a royal family, juxtaposing visionary black women like Yaa Asantewaa, the Ashanti queen mother who fought against British colonialism in the early 20th century, longtime radical feminist and author Angela Davis, and his own great-grandmother, Ada Eastman, to the British Queen*.

Sons of Kemet’s music is very aware of black history. But for Shabaka Hutchings memory isn’t enough, Sons of Kemet’s music is "about finding ways of reinterpreting how we’re thinking about it." For him, black cultural history isn’t something he has to preserve, it’s the starting point for a new way of criticizing politics and society - in this case in the UK. In "My Queen Is Ada Eastman", the album’s opener, guest vocalist Joshua Idehen rants:
"I must admit, it's tough at times / But most don't like it, I dive in / This never never never never / Ending pressure piling on / I'm still here still unruly / All sound and all fury /All frown and all fury / All gas and all fury / No peers, no jury / Burn UKIP, fuck the Tories / Fuck the fascists, end of story."
All this is accompanied by a polyrhythmic groove. Apart from Hutchings the band consists of Theon Cross on tuba and Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford on drums (on three tracks Rochford is replaced by other drummers). The idea to integrate a tuba instead of a bass is reminiscent of the New Orleans brass bands, another tribute to black music history. It gives the songs a rhythmic fundament that bubbles rather than growls, creating a warmer, jouncing, and elastic sound.

Another outstanding track is "My Queen Is Mamie Phipps Clark," named for the social psychologist who researched the development of self-consciousness of black preschool children. Hutchings uses dub and Afrobeat elements in this song. Fronted by Congo Natty, who was one of the musicians that launched jungle in the early 1990s, the track quotes Ragga rhythms and the Studio One sound. A strong reverb is put under Natty’s vocals which echoes songs like "Ghost Town" by The Specials or "Freedom Sounds" by The Skatalites, supported by Hutchings’ Caribbean sax cries and Theon Cross’s grumbling, guttural tuba.

Every song on this album is pure fun, for example "My Queen is Yaa Asantewaa" with its dreamy jazz sax melody line which morphs into an pulsating improvisation reminding me of the John Lurie National Orchestra, or "My Queen is Harriet Tubman" with its joyful, mad sax excursions evoking Nigerian Jùjú music.

Last but not least, Your Queen Is A Reptile is Sons of Kemet’s first release on Impulse!, the label that was home to Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders (to name only the most famous ones) and which was re-launched a few years ago. This adds another dimension to Hutchings’ relationship with black music, being put in one line with some of the greatest names in jazz. Maybe this might get Sons of Kemet access to mainstream audiences, this album would deserve it. Move your ass and your mind will follow!
* Other black women/queens mentioned are Mamie Phipps Clark, Harriet Tubman, Julia Cooper, Nanny of the Maroons, Albertina Sisulu and Doreen Lawrence.
Your Queen Is A Reptile is available on double vinyl and on CD.

Listen to “Your Queen Is Ada Eastman“ here:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Sonar with David Torn - Vortex (RareNoiseRecords, 2018) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Sonar is a mathematically oriented, rhythmically-based quartet from Switzerland, and recently, they've became a temporary quintet with David Torn adding a third guitar and his unconventional looping and sound manipulations to their newest recording Vortex

The core group is comprised of Stephan Thelen and Bernhard Wagner on guitars, Christian Kuntner on electric bass, and Manuel Pasquinelli on drums. Aside from playing with the band, Torn also produced the album, giving the group a big sound with deep bass tones and stratospheric guitar highs.

The opener 'Part 44' begins reminiscent of the gamelan inspired sound of King Crimson ala Discipline. 'Red Shift' kicks off with a heavy riff, and at a break, you can almost hear Adrian Belew begin to sing 'frame by frame/death by drowning." However, the group quickly switches modes to a lighter more ambient groove and slowly builds up to a majestic peak of sustain and inspiring dissonance. 

The track 'Monolith' offers a respite from the sometimes too precise time signatures. Spacious and austere at the beginning, the track builds very slowly, the guitars lock into a pattern with the bass and drums but leave plenty of room for the crunchy guitar that enters later. The title track is one my favorites, again the sense interlocking rhythms are a bit lower in the mix and a melodic loop full of mysterious intervals overlays the minimal drum work. When Torn (I assumeenters, he's soaring above the groundwork like an IMAX camera mounted to a bald eagle. 

So, while the group isn't new, Vortex is their 4th album, their sound is fresh and exciting. Dense but atmospheric, calculating but not quite math-jazz, give it a listen, it just may surprise you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Zeena Parkins - Three Harps, Tuning Forks & Electronics (Good Child Music, 2017) ****½

By Stef

One more album which should have been reviewed much earlier, one more album that demonstrates the power of music and the possibilities of creativity. Parkins is known from her compositions for dance, film and for her collaborations with a multitude of artists in jazz, pop and avant-garde classical music. She changed the boundaries of playing the harp, by adding extended techniques, and by her own custom-made electric harps.

On this album she takes it even a step further, inviting three other harpists, Nuiko Wadden, Kristen Theriault and Megan Conley to perform her music. It is not always clear who plays what or even when Zeena Parkins participates herself or not. Parkins is credited with playing harp, but also EBows, basting brushes, metal bolts, rubber/hard yarn and wooden mallets, 2 inch ribbon and electronics.

The music is special and very precious in a way. It is light-textured and well-paced. On the first track all strings are muted, which gives a wonderful playfulness to the interaction, with rhythmic complexities increasing the fun even more. "Determined", the second track, deconstructs the acoustic performance, electronically but not always, dragging the sound out for instance, or multiplying it into a myriad of little sounds, or creating wonderful contrasts between stretched tones and plucked strings, laying a dark foundation under otherwise innocent chimes.

"Mouse" changes the approach: it becomes like the soundtrack for a shy mouse getting out of its hiding place, tentative and hesitating, looked at with sympathy. It is fun and by itself full of changes of sound and perspective.

Ikue Mori joins on one track, "Tuning Forks" with her electronics, and I assume that Parkins is the other artist here. The sonic change is of course radical. The plucking of strings is replaced with stretched electronic tones, tuning forks resonating against the harp and other extended tones, possibly played on one string of the harp. The atmosphere is light, welcoming and at the same time bizarre, because a lot happens that defies definition.

"Drumming" starts with very rhythmic arpeggios, with complex changes for the other harps to interact with, sometimes at different tempi and harmonic shifts. It's title starts justifying itself after 2:30 minutes, when the instruments are used as percussion instruments, again with clearly composed interaction. The tune changes again to calm plucking, then sawing sounds take over, with insistent intensity.

We are far from free improvisation here, and definitely no jazz is to be discerned, but that doesn't matter. Parkins creates her own musical universe, one of inventive sonic chiaroscuro, in which sounds are used to give depth and perspective to other sounds, deliberately seeking contrast and unity, and by doing that offering us sounds that we've never heard before.

Monday, May 14, 2018

While We Still Have Bodies - s/t (Neither/Nor, 2017) ****½

How one can create music of madness? Or music that will follow the process of a man who turns mad, in a far away, foreign culture and in a different era?

The New York-based experimental quartet While We still Have Bodies - trombonist Ben Gerstein, double bass player Sean Ali, sax player Michael Foster, and percussionist Flin van Hemmen, planned to record their debut album on the summer of 2017, but then was contacted by Chinese media-artist Cheng Ran. Ran asked the quartet to record music for his multi-video installation exhibition “Diary of a Madman” at the New Museum in New York. This exhibition borrowed its title from what is widely considered China’s first modern short story, written by Lu Xun in 1918. Just as Lu Xun’s story, the Ran’s exhibition comprised first-person narratives of a character at the margins of society who gradually turns mad.

Ran’s offer turned out to be an inspiring one. While We still Have Bodies has operated since its foundation in 2014 as a sonic lab that explores intuitive, sometimes unintelligible textures that challenged the musicians methods, routines, and perceptions. The quartet focused on experimenting with sounds that transcended the individual musical personalities, blending and contrasting sonic textures, long and immersive musical forms, and an integration of pre-recorded media (cassettes, radio, mp3 players, cellular phone) into acoustic textures.

The music for Ran’s exhibition was spatialized over twelve speakers that were spread throughout the gallery, providing an ambient soundtrack to the several separate but interconnected story-lines of Ran’s video-films. On the recording, each instrument has a left and right channel, thereby creating spaciousness and intensifying the overall feeling of losing your way and total confusion.

While We still Have Bodies prepared a single, extended improvisation, imbued with an enigmatic, ritualistic motives. The musicians act, all over the place, more often than play - in any conventional sense of playing, re-contextualizing their instruments and their timbral affinities, and their role as improvisers in the theme of the exhibition, as can be seen in the attached video. The arresting, yet very demanding outcome is a nuanced but totally spontaneous process of constructing and deconstruction of sounds. A non-judgemental process of integrating sounds into a bigger, deeper whole. All sounds - sparse, fractured, cryptic and more intelligible ones, noisy, acoustic, of low-fi electronics and of found objects.

And these sounds have an arcane quality and even almost hallucinogenic power. These sounds shatter inhibitions, open doors to new ways of listening, force you to relate to these almost tangible reality and invite you to embrace the unknown. The mysterious, vibrant trances shift organically into rattling, heavy resonating sounds, to tortured collages made of noisy tapes,to atmospheric soundscape and even raw and intense outbursts of muscular free jazz. While We still Have Bodies does not attempt to gravitate this sonic experience into a clear narrative, structure or rhythmic patterns, but this open, all-inclusive attitude does not interfere with the quartet collective and highly impressive senses of interplay and invention.

Warmly recommended.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.