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Switchback. Mars Williams (saxes), Waclaw Zimpel (cl), Hilliard Greene (b) and Klaus Kugel (dr).

W71 in Weikersheim, Germany. Oct., 1st. Photo by Martin Schray

Charles Gayle Trio with Ksavery Wójcinski (b) and Max Andrzejewski (dr)

Schorndorf at the Manufaktur, Germany 10/21/2016. Photo Martin Schray

"Tribute to Johannes Bauer" by Erwin Ditzner (dr), Sebastian Gramss (b), Lotte Anker (sax) and Louis Rastig (p)

Alte Feuerwache in Mannheim, Germany 10/17/2016. Photo by Martin Schray

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Tim Daisy – October Music Vol. 2: 7 Compositions For Duet (Relay, 2016) ****½

By Tom Burris

Two years have passed since the first volume of Tim Daisy's October Music, a very sturdy group of seven duets that provide the conceptual foundation for this new volume. At first glance, the new collection almost reacts against the former. Most of the new compositions are skeletal - almost sketches - that are strong and inspiring; but are such a 180 degree turn away from the earlier careful constructions they come as a bit of a shock. On the surface, the themes are almost Ayler-ish: very sturdy compositions that function like a quick shot of whiskey, there to help the players build up enough nerve to be free and blow their asses off for awhile.

But that's not it. This isn't a free-for-all blowing session at all. These are compositions, no matter how minimal. There is definitely a frame for the contents of each duet; but the structure is more flexible than before. It's as if the duet is being put in the position of becoming the composition. Daisy is simply creating the conditions for this to happen. Hear me out: listening is the most important part of improvisation; and the same is true in conversation. So if the art of listening changes a conversation, can it do the same for a composition? It's almost as if the written structure remains implied even after the theme is dismissed, the same way implied rhythm is present in many instances of unmetered time. In this way it is possible that Daisy is as much director as composer of these pieces. I don't have any answers; but the questions surrounding Daisy's intentions make my head swirl like his melody lines.

Nothing can prepare you for the opener, “Radiant.” The track makes several jarring cuts between an impassioned vocal loop, a garage band blasting out a one-chord riff, and Andrew Clinkman's face-melting guitar noise. This is followed by “Type-M,” which features Mars Williams on soprano sax and percussion. Again, the cuts are jarring between sections. When the duo begins to improvise after the theme, the sound lurches this way and that, as if they are becoming disoriented by all of the sudden movement. There is a softer, exotic sounding middle section which falls into a collage of percussion and squeak toys – before lurching into a wild shrieking finale.

Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm joins Tim on the prickly “Black Mountain,” featuring a tip-toeing theme that alternates Fred's catchy pizzicato plucking with Tim's melodic brushes-on-metal-bowls. After the niceties are out of the way, Daisy and Lonberg-Holm hurl all the cats and bedpans into the grand piano. There is a movement toward conventional structure along the way, but it is quickly tossed aside. Then the musicians take quick turns at the theme and the piece ends abruptly. There is only one track more “out” than this one, and that is “Wires and Static” with Aaron Zarzutski on synth and percussion. It's a really fascinating piece, subtle and almost purely sound-based. I'm not certain if there is a technically composed theme here; but there is definitely a conceptual one. This piece is also a great example of how expansive and playful Daisy's music has become over the last couple of years.

Ryan Packard plays on the drum duo “Songs For Dancers,” which features a theme that is free, thoughtful and purposeful. The interplay is playfully serious and confounds observations as quickly as they arise. Daisy plays a similar theme on the boppish “Tandem,” featuring trumpeter Russ Johnson, who turns out to be a fascinating match for Daisy. “Seeing” with bassist Clark Sommers closes the disc with a slow, loping theme. He and Daisy take turns at being the “leader” on winding lines that have become a Daisy trademark. The improvised section is short, but just the perfect length to change your perspective before flipping the theme back on you. The winding melody placed at the end of the disc is familiar and comforting – but you arrive here with new ears. October Music Vol. 2 isn't a sequel. It's a deeper cut.

Sabir Mateen & William Simone – JOYS! (577 Records, 2016) ****

By Tom Burris

This room recording of reed master Sabir Mateen & percussionist (and electronics knob-twiddler) William Simone is edited from a live performance that took place in Bologna, Italy at an unspecified time and location. It's a lo-fi document, but as the music itself often sounds like early John Gilmore recordings with Sun Ra's Arkestra (when it works) or Arthur Doyle jamming with Throbbing Gristle (when it works even better), the thin audio quality augments the sci-fi-on-your-grandma's-black-&-white feel of Simone's electronics, which sometimes sound like a ping-pong tournament in outer space. His drums often sound like cardboard boxes and buckets – and they may very well be! And even that works here too, as on “Sant' Isaia Stroll,” where the flatness of the drums is matched with the cheap drum machine from the first Royal Trux album to accompany Mateen's Dolphy-esque clarinet clatter. This track alone manages to sound like a Nepalese snake-charmer scene in an Afrofuturistic No-Wave film. (Who doesn't want that to exist?)

There are two centerpieces to this disc. The first, “The World of W & S,” is a showcase for the duo, displaying nearly everything they can do in a relaxed manner. During the long buildup, Mateen moves from tenor sax to flute (which is uncredited in the liner notes for some reason) and Simone moves gradually from his Space Invaders game toward the drums. Mateen's flights here run from ethereal to downright manic, as Simone seems to delight in attempting to throw Mateen off his game by switching up the beatbox rhythms. The second centerpiece is the title track, on which there is a dense wall of electronic sound standing behind a constantly moving minimalist foreground. The track seems to inhabit the same headspace – but not necessarily the sound of – modern heroes of Afrofuturism such as Black Spirituals and Moor Mother. Mateen's Jackie-does-Bird runs on soprano sax really heat up Simone whose clave-and-cardboard beats run through a succession of infectious grooves.

Mateen also manages to get in some piano work, on which he aggressively prods and pokes the keys in futile attempts to push Simone into a meaningful conversation on the album's weakest track, “Cosmic Dance.” “A Call For All Angels” finds Mateen again on flute, but switching over to sax on the last couple of minutes. This track absolutely confirms that Mateen and Simone are children of Ra (if there were any doubts). If the angels don't respond to the low-rent “Rated X” groove served up here, they aren't goddamn angels anyway.

Note – 577 Records is hosting the Forward Festival this weekend in Brooklyn. If you are in NYC, this appears to be the place to be. Link:

Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon – Both Will Escape (Family Vineyard, 2016) *****

By Tom Burris

Following on the heels of this summer's “Live at The Spot +1” cassette release on the Astral Spirits label, Both Will Escape both refines and expands on the duo's promise and power.  Separately, Tashi Dorji (guitar) and Tyler Damon (percussion) are forces of nature.  Together, the combination of Dorji's high-end metallic  power-tool skree and Damon's manic-but-earthy hippie clomping are a perfect pairing.  Each has a musical spoon in the other guy's soup to begin with, resulting in a collaboration that seems almost brotherly.  Different interests and approaches, same dynamic makeup.

Opening with a percussion invocation, Damon plays a melodic groove on metal bowls and drums onto which Dorji's delay-drenched treble plucking easily hops.  A deity appears in the form of a loop of pulsating noise, which sends Dorji off to build a wall of sonic plaster & casts Damon in a total blur of freedom.   (I swear the first 8 minutes pass in about a minute and a half.)  Damon experiments on the last few minutes of the track with chains and silverware and metal bowls and car keys and Allen wrenches while Dorji gradually winds down the metal drilling.  I have no idea how these guys manage to make this clanging metallic shrapnel sound warm and inviting, but they certainly make it so.  Must be some magic brother shit.

On “Two Rabbits” Dorji shoots off a monstrous two-note attack Glenn Branca would be proud of, then launches into a full-scale onslaught as one-man-army Damon unleashes his complete arsenal.  Everyone is dead by the 3.5 minute mark.  So much for warm and inviting.  The subsequent dirge begins with a behind-the-bridge, early-Sonic-Youth loop to which Damon adds a wash of cymbals.  Dorji improvises some pretty-ish chords over it, slowly building another wall as Damon attempts to cover every piece of his drum kit simultaneously.

Take Leah-era Magik Markers & add Adris Hoyos and you have the jumping-off point for the first half of the glorious stare-into-the-sun beauty of “Gate Left Open,” which begins the B side.  Halfway through Dorji takes a solo skronk fest, all bedpans and ice picks.  Bad Moon Rising loops enter along with deceptively light grooving from Damon.  Again, Dorji adds chords and Damon picks up the pace until the piece concludes with a sudden and perfect crash.  Then straight into the spindly and prickly “Kudzu Weave,” Damon joins Dorji's cut-up loop by putting emphasis on various aspects of the groove with playful brushwork.  An inspired turnaround happens via some backwards looping from Dorji while beautiful waves of percussion roll into shore, moving the music into territory usually associated with Matthew Bower or Marcia Bassett.  Absolutely stunning.

Dorji is clearly the leader on this session; but earlier this year I saw Damon play with Manas (Dorji's duo with drummer Thom Nguyen) at The Spot and Damon steered the ship for most of the set – and the result of this dynamic  shift was every bit as exciting as the music on Both Will Escape.  I'd say expect great things, but they're already happening.  Magic brother shit has arrived.

The Spot 2015, same show Astral Spirits released

Manas Trio, The Spot 2016

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Kirk Knuffke & Whit Dickey – Fierce Silence (Clean Feed, 2016) ****

By Eric McDowell

It wasn’t until I saw him live at the Lilypad in Cambridge, MA earlier this fall that I began to fully appreciate what Kirk Knuffke and his cornet bring to the scene. In that space, free of distractions, Knuffke’s playing revealed itself in all its earnest lyricism, eschewing shows of bravura for a reserved deliberateness that—like the work of Morton Feldman, or the friendship of a shy person—asks you to lean in a little closer before showing you why you won’t want to pull away.

True, there may be other aspects to Knuffke’s playing, but it’s this understated sensibility that the cornetist brings to Fierce Silence. Beyond drummer Whit Dickey, the invisible third member of this duo is—you guessed it—the negative space they invite into their improvisations. Yet the silences never feel staged, or used merely to heighten the playing when it resumes, because they’re integrated into Knuffke and Dickey’s overarching sensibility. Across ten pieces totaling just 45 minutes, for his part Knuffke favors sustained husky notes and miniature squeaks, rasping muted tones that shimmer in their metallic vibrations. His on-again, off-again melodies are like sweet hard candy rolled around the mouth, always dissolving. A perfect complement in this situation, Dickey can drum on the one hand with the freestanding melodicism of Max Roach or on the other with a net-like looseness, stirring up subtly swinging grooves that support without subordinating.

If you liked Row for William O., Knuffke’s duo album with Michael Bisio, you’ll want to hear Fierce Silence. All we can hope for next is a Knuffke/Bisio/Dickey trio…

Ken Vandermark- Three Duos

Ken Vandermark & C. Spencer Yeh – Schlager (Systems vs. Artifacts/Audiographic Records, 2016) ****

By Eric McDowell

It should come as no surprise that, despite its title, there’s nothing easy, catchy, or sentimental about Schlager, Ken Vandermark’s recent duo album with C. Spencer Yeh. Recorded a year ago at The Sugar Maple in Milwaukee with Vandermark on reeds and Yeh on voice, violin, and electronics, this is, rather, music that makes you sit up, lean in, and—maybe puzzled, maybe disconcerted—listen more closely. It’s also music of enormous variety, thanks as much to the range of instruments on the stage as to versatility and inventiveness of the two musicians playing them. But at the same time it’s not music that’s wry for wryness’s sake or diverse for diversity’s. Instead what Vandermark and Yeh manage to do in just under forty-five minutes is develop their own musical lexicon—challenging, harsh, playful, and emotional all at once—and with it shape a novel listening experience that asks no less than it gives.

They start from the ground up. Schlager opens with a pair of tracks called “Song for Milwaukee,” one for voice and one for clarinet. The first offers ten minutes of percussive pops, crackles, and swishing sounds (generated, presumably, by Yeh alone) that first defy expectations (“song”? “voice”?) but then organize themselves into a kind of coherence, whether we’re tracking pitches (bass thumps vs. sharper slaps) or comparing what we’re hearing to known, everyday sounds (popcorn popping, sure, or stormy weather). Without completely abandoning the percussive spirit of the opener, Vandermark’s companion contribution adds color, cycling through all manner of clarinet sounds from low drones to breathless runs. Centerpiece “Occidental Geography,” builds again, with Yeh scribbling out upper-atmosphere wisps on the violin while Vandermark blows gales on tenor sax; finally together, the improvisers prove perfectly paired, knowing, with the naturalness of breathing, just when to come together and when to drift apart. The track’s climactic sparring session is so good that they had to leave in the audience’s applause (complete with awed laughter). But Schlager’s final two tracks are worth hanging around for, especially “Unbearable Distances,” where we’re treated not only to some judicious looping of Vandermark’s clarinet but also to Yeh’s extraordinary vocal technique, here extremely physical, from blubbering lips to gagging sounds—noises that, if not for the performer’s sheer virtuosity and intentionality, would run a serious risk of becoming silly. Re-contextualized, in other words, they work in new ways. And that’s what this music is all about—making noise and taking risks for open ears. 

Ken Vandermark & Lasse Marhaug – Close Up (For Abbas Kiarostami) (Systems vs. Artifacts/Audiographic Records, 2016) ***½

As the first duo encounter of long-time collaborators Ken Vandermark and Lasse Marhaug, Close Up seems appropriately titled. Indeed, immediacy and intimacy are some of the characteristics that help bring coherence to this wide-ranging 40-minute improvisation, recorded live in Oslo and mastered by Marhaug himself. At the same time, the title is also a reference to Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s 1990 film of the same name. Troubling the line between fiction and reality, the eponymous film tells the true story of a man whose attempt to impersonate the filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf lands him in prison. How exactly the music works as homage to Kiarostami’s film is anyone’s guess—perhaps a futile endeavor, anyway, in light of our comments-section discussion of What Thomas Bernhard Saw last year. (I’ve just deleted my own pretentious and longwinded attempt at speculation.) Bottom line: set aside some time to check out the film, which is by all accounts a masterpiece, and in the meantime check out the album, which is at the least a worthwhile installment in Vandermark’s latest trio of duo releases.

Fans of Marhaug’s 2014 meet-up with Dave Rempis, Naancore, might find Close Up a little too gentle, not quite blistering enough. But don’t take that to mean this is an easy listen, or even a painless one. There’s plenty here to clear a room, starting with the twittering whine and jackhammer sounds that open the set, or the blasts of static that come a few moments later. In the video footage of the concert it’s unsettling to watch Marhaug’s expressionless face, fixed under his uncompromising dome, as he shreds digital fabric with the twist of a few knobs. (NB: Although the video is of interest, for the audio quality, Marhaug’s mastering makes a world of difference.) Vandermark is no slouch himself, showing off his ability throughout—whether he’s on tenor, bari, or clarinet—to call or even raise whatever high wire bet Marhaug throws down. While much of Close Up resides in tense spaces of extremity and contrast, there are moments of sudden unity—Vandermark and Marhaug falling into a pulse, nurturing each other’s half-hatched ideas, or stopping short together—that remind us that not just anyone (indeed, almost no one) can do this stuff. They’re moments that remind us to salute the masters, no matter the occasion.

Ken Vandermark & Terrie Hessels – Splinters (Systems vs. Artifacts/Audiographic Records, 2016) ****

Rounding out Ken Vandermark’s recent triple release of live duo albums on his Systems vs. Artifacts imprint is Splinters, with guitarist Terrie Hessels. Like Lasse Marhaug, Hessels is a familiar stage-mate for Vandermark in larger settings, as with The Ex or the Lean Left quartet with Andy Moor and Paal Nilssen-Love.

With Splinters, we finally get a title that—without irony or layered allusion—simply seems to describe the music at hand. In fact, each of the four tracks reiterates this sonic metaphor in a different language: “Eclats” (French), “Astillas” (Spanish), “Hahen” (Japanese), and “Splitter” (German). And for good reason: the only thing continuous about these improvisations is their duration over time, or else their endless restlessness. Listening closely to Schlager, Close Up, and Splinters all in a row, it’s possible to catch on to some of Vandermark’s favorite moves and allow them to build a kind of structure, through repetition, across the three albums—from slap tongue ostinati and churning pulses to silky clarinet runs and airy tenor drones, to say nothing of the unrestrained blowing. But like Vandermark’s other duo collaborators, Hessels keeps things unpredictable. Often in these improvisations he favors claustrophobic textures, dense clanging, sudden stabbing notes, and the friction of the pick against the string. (It can be hard to know quite what he’s doing; one video of the guitarist with Han Bennink shows Hessels dragging his headstock across the stage.) This way, he makes moments of calm truly count, as on “Splitter” when his guitar resonates like the tolling of distant bells, or groans like the sound of ice under stress. Of course even then, we get the sense everything’s about to shatter back into fragments.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Satoko Fujii / Joe Fonda - Duet (Long Song Records, 2016) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Japanese pianist-composer Satoko Fujii and American double bass master Joe Fonda did not need much time to establish a rare and profound musical rapport. These two prolific musicians managed to do so even though their winding paths have never previously crossed and both had not heard much of each other’s work before they were asked to play together. Duet, initiated by Fonda after a promoter in Germany recommended him to listen to Fujii, captures beautifully the duo second concert at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland, Maine in November 2015.

These resourceful and experienced improvisers tapped immediately into a rich, intimate musical atmosphere. Duet begins with an extended free-improvisation titled “Paul Bley”, obviously dedicated to the late pianist. Bley was an early mentor for Fujii, a student of him at the New England Conservatory in Boston, with whom she recorded a piano duet (Something About Water, Libra, 1996). Fonda plays with one of Bley’s early collaborators, drummer Barry Altschul in his 3Dom Factor trio. This piece is a powerful - in the most physical and muscular sense of the word - both Fujii and Fonda sound as if they play all over their instruments, very intense - even in the short, quiet segment that Fonda plays on the flute, with sudden, fast-shifting ecstatic moods. Both explore inventive timbres, extended bowing and percussive techniques, structure and deconstruct colorful textures, always pushing each other’s sonic envelope without stopping for a second to gain their breath. Their mutual understanding is so immediate that you may think that they actually developed a telepathic reading of each other’s minds, created a unique sonic entity that, no doubt, would have made Bley happy. The second, short improvisation, “JSN”, features also Fujii's partner, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura. This piece offers a different, more relaxed, even melodic atmosphere,informed by the inventive, playful ideas of Tamura. His idiosyncratic playing, together with fonda folksy flute and Fujii hammering on the piano strings contribute to the clever, mischievous spirit of this piece.

This masterful, exciting duo calls for more, many more performances and recordings.


Christoph Erb / Frantz Loriot - Sceneries (Creative Sources, 2016) ***½

By Eyal Hareuveni

The duo of Swiss sax player Christoph Erb and French-Japanese, Switzerland-based viola player Frantz Loriot is focused on investigating sound and timbral qualities and experimenting with extended techniques. Erb is known for his continuous collaboration with Chicagoan cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. Loriot leads the Systematic Distortion Orchestra and Notebook Large Ensemble and member of the Baloni trio, Joachim Badenhorst's Carate Urio Orchestra and Pascal Niggenkemper's Vision7.  Their duo debut album was recorded in May 2015.

Sceneries offers five free-improvisations, each employs a different strategy and a distinct atmosphere. The opening “Aurore” is the most sparse and intimate one, Balancing between Erb multiphonic, bird-calls on one channel while Loriot experiments with light plucks and percussive bow touches and on the viola on the other channel. On the following “Floating in a Tempest”, Erb insistent circular breathing is charged with a surprising melodic vein while Loriot intensifies it with repetitive, spiraling lines. “Annoyed Hibernation” and “Tincture” are the most experimental improvisations here. Erb and Loriot investigate extended breathing and bowing techniques that map the timbral spectrum of the saxophone and the viola as an abstract sound generators, all with great focus and detail, arresting sense of invention, weird kind of playfulness and super-fast interplay. Erb and Loriot conclude this impressive journey with the “Egress”. Erb alternates between tongue-slaps and breathy drones and overtones while Loriot confronts him with delicate percussive touches of the bow.

Sophie Agnel / Daunik Lazro - Marguerite d'Or Pâle (Fou Records., 2016) ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

French pianist Sophie Angel and sax player Daunik Lazro can create a whole sonic universe every time they touch their instruments. Weird and intriguing universes that refuse to conform to any familiar musical convention yet offer profound and arresting poetic sensibility and inventive game-like plays. These two master improvisers began to collaborate a decade ago in Lazro short-lived quartet Qwat Neum Sixx (that has released only one album, Live at festival NPAI 2007, Amor Fati, 2009), but continued to perform as together in other formats, often with double bass player Paul Rogers or guitarist Olivier Benoit. These shared experiences enriched Agnel and Lazro vocabularies and perfected their immediate interplay.

Marguerite d'Or Pâle captures the duo of Agnel and Lazro performing live at the Dom club in Moscow on June 2016. The title of the album, as well as the titles of the improvisations, draw their inspiration from the classic novel of Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov ‘The Master and Margarita’. These improvisations sound as consciously corresponding with the amused, mysterious and often subversive spirit of Bulgakov imaginative plots.

The six improvisations enable both Agnel and Lazro to employ their highly personal approaches in ways that suggest haunting, kaleidoscopic atmospheres. Agnel sets the outlines for the ethereal, adventurous structures of these improvisations, wisely charging these pieces with restrained dramatic tension, while Lazro balances her playful juggling with forms with intensive flow and occasional eruptions of colorful ideas. Lazro, who focuses here on his tenor sax more than his baritone sax, demonstrates his impressive breathing techniques, whispers and speaks unintelligible words through the mouthpiece. Agnel adds extensive preparations to the piano strings, transforming the keyboard into an instrument that produces abstract, sensual and sometimes even beautiful-disturbing sounds.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Muche/Hein (7000 Eichen) - Transferration (Jazzwerkstatt, 2016) ****

By Martin Schray

7000 Oaks – City Forestation Instead of City Administration is a work of land art by Joseph Beuys, first publicly presented in 1982 at the Documenta 7 in Kassel. Beuys and volunteers planted 7000 trees across the city, each with an accompanying basalt stone. The work was a significant artistic and ecological intervention in the urban setting with the goal of enduringly altering the living space of the city. Though initially controversial, the project has become an important part of Kassel's cityscape. Beuys stated that “each single monument consists of a living part - a tree which constantly has been changing in time - and a part which keeps its form, its mass, its size and its weight.“ In a conversation with Richard Demarco in 1982, he further explained: “I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself is a concept of time. The oak is especially so because it is a slowly growing tree with a kind of really solid heart wood. It has always been a form of sculpture…The tree planting enterprise provides a very simple but radical possibility for this when we start with the seven thousand oaks.“ Completed in 1987 by his son, Wenzel, on the first anniversary of his father's death (and included in Documents 8), the project is still maintained by the city.

Trombonist Matthias Muche and guitarist Nicolas L. Hein have tried to map this piece of land art into sound: music that also focuses on changes in form, structure and content. The two instruments clearly represent a tree and basalt stone. Muche is in the tradition of Paul Rutherford and Johannes Bauer, with an organic trombone style, zigzaging between eruptive cries and tender exhalations, able to switch direction at will due to the freedom afforded by Hein‘s percussive bed of static, brutal feedback and staccato chords. Hein attacks his guitar with an assortment of materials – screws, rulers, iron wool and magnets (but uses no effects pedals). The trombone swirls and bends with the breeze while the guitar is rock steady.

Two examples suffice: “Stahlwille“ (Steel Will) resembles the engine room of a huge ship. The guitar fizzles and scrapes, as if hammering on metal, while the trombone plays almost straight hard bop phrases. This spurs Hein into frenzied chords, on the verge of exploding. In “Dick vermummt“ (Wrapped Up Warm) the duo starts with a pumping pulse before Hein becomes a one-man-Einstürzende Neubauten tribute. Drawn-out notes collide with peircing bell sounds and bubbling noises; swinging trombone riffs are confronted with a gurgling vortex of alienated guitar debris. Here, Hein owes an obvious debt to Thurston Moore.

Muche and Hein consider themselves reductionists, excavating down to the most basic elements, and sound artists exploring new tonal dimensions. In the liner notes Evan Parker says: “The oak tree of improvised music gets stronger each year as it adds a ring to its woody growth and sheds its bark. The old oak tree of my generation drops its acorn on the ground and new trees spring up all around it … The future of improvised music is assured in the hands of creative young musicians like Nicola Hein and Matthias Muche.“

I can’t agree more.

Watch them live here:

John Butcher and Ståle Liavik Solberg – So Beautiful, It Starts to Rain (Clean Feed, 2016) ***½

Today we begin a week long series of reviews on duos ...

By Troy Dostert

In this meeting with Oslo-based percussionist Ståle Liavik Solberg, saxophonist John Butcher shows his dedication to openness, space and texture, forsaking the more demonstrative approaches that often prevail when it comes to sax/drum duos. Fortunately, he has a highly sympathetic counterpart, as Solberg is just as willing to renounce any over-the-top theatrics in favor of close listening and patient collaboration. The resulting recording, while rather brief at a mere 35 minutes, does offer a number of intriguing exchanges between the two improvisers.

As one would expect, Butcher shows little desire to develop an overtly lyrical or melodic conception in his playing here, instead being largely content to explore the sonority of his instruments (both soprano and tenor), which gives Solberg ample opportunity to comment on the multi-tones, extended techniques, and percussive flourishes that Butcher offers in abundance. At times on the opening track, “So Beautiful,” Butcher becomes in effect a second percussionist, countering Solberg with assorted atonal pops and flutters in rhythmic interplay. As for Solberg, don’t expect a lot of fireworks here: while he is quite capable of matching Butcher’s occasional powerful bursts (see the duo’s kinetic, spirited exchange on “In Starts,” when Butcher goes into extended breathing), he’s more content to provide precise, careful small-scale percussion on his kit, with subtle work on the toms or snare rather than a lot of splashy bombast or cymbal crashes. Both musicians are in fine form, with Butcher being (as always) a marvel: his technical palette remains astonishing in its range and variety. This record certainly offers proof that it’s not only in explosive intensity, but sometimes the calmer, more patient explorations, where free improvisation truly casts its spell.