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Grid Mesh. Frank Paul Schubert (sax), Christoph Thewes (tb), Willi Kellers (dr) and Andreas Willers (g)

January 20, 2018. Manufaktur Schorndorf. Photo by Martin Schray

Anna Webber's Simple Trio: Matt Mitchell (p), John Hollenbeck (d), Anna Webber (s,f)

Winter Jazzfest, NYC 1/12/2018. Photo by Paul

Christian Lillingers Grund: Achim Kaufmann (p), Robert Landfermann (b), Christian Lillinger (d), Jonas Westergaard (b), Tobias Delius (ts), Pierre Borel (as), Christopher Dell (vib)

Schorndorf, Manufaktur, 1/6/2018. Photo by Martin Schray

Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity: André Roligheten (s), Gard Nilssen (d),Petter Eldh (b)

Winter Jazzfest, NYC 1/12/2018. Photo by Paul

Amok Amor: Peter Evans (tp), Wanja Slavin (as), Petter Eldh (b), Christian Lillinger (dr)

Ludwigshafen, BASF-Gesellschaftshaus, 10/22/2017. Photo by Martin Schray

Paal Nilssen-Love (d), Joe McPhee (s)

Weikersheim, W71, 12/7/2017. Photo by Martin Schray

Matthew Shipp (p), Roscoe Mitchell (s), Michael Bisio (b), Newman Taylor Baker (dr)

Carnegie Hall, New York City 1/27/18. Photo by Paul Acquaro

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Lunar Error - Sélène (Becoq, 2017) ***½

By Stef

In the same vein as "Dans Les Arbres", the ten musicians of "Lunar Error" create a sonic landscape full of vibrating sounds that exist and evolve organically. Individual instruments mesh together in a total sound, and there is no melody or rhythm to discern, just the shimmering sounds of many instruments resonating without any sense of direction or purpose other than to exist.

The album's title, Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon, and the band's name, suggest images of endless grey landscapes, with little changes in relief, and a far omnipresent horizon against a dark sky.

The band are Matthieu Lebrun on clarinet, Mathieu Lilin on baritone saxophone, Gabriel Lemaire on saxophones, François Ella-Meyé on piano and zither, Claude Colpaert on gangsa gantung, harmonium indien, Thomas Coquelet on harmonium, vocals, mixing board, contact microphones, Léo Rathier on banjo and objects, Paul Ménard on electric guitar and effects, Pierre Denjean on acoustic guitar and gong, and Quentin Conrate on incomplete drum kit. 

Despite the size of the this band, the music is basically quiet in one endless flow of merged multiple sounds that sometimes increase in volume, density, and adding a sense of distress, then dissolving again, without ever too much disturbing the sense of calm intensity that is there from the start.

It's an EP, short but good. If you're interested in this type of music. 

You can listen and order via Bandcamp

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Susana Santos Silva - All the Rivers – Live at Panteão Nacional (Clean Feed, 2018) *****

By Stuart Broomer

This CD is a 42-minute duet between the trumpeter Susana Santos Silva and the Portuguese National Pantheon. Santos Silva is becoming increasingly well-known in free jazz and free improvisation circles, whether through her membership in the group Lama or a host of other projects made in groupings across Europe. For those who have not visited Portugal, the Panteão Nacional may be unfamiliar.

The phrase “obras de Santa Engrácia,” the construction of Santa Engrácia, is an expression in Portuguese that denotes a building project that will go on forever. The source of the phrase is Lisbon’s Church of Santa Engrácia, yes, the Panteão Nacional, located in the city’s ancient Alfama district and overlooking the Tagus River. Endless? The church’s state of incompletion was a constant through centuries of change, a symbol of upheaval. Construction of the first church dedicated to Saint Engrácia on the site began in 1568. The present church began in 1681 after previous ones on the site had collapsed. Construction proceeded for thirty years, until the building was abandoned by King Joao V, distracted by far more ambitious construction projects—an aqueduct, palaces, a cathedral, an opera house.

It was finally finished in the 20th century. In 1916, six years after the fall of the Portuguese monarchy and the launch of the First Republic, it was repurposed as a National Pantheon, a tomb for the country’s greatest figures. It was finally completed in 1966, forty years after the fall of the first Republic, four years before the death of the dictator António Salazar and eight years before the Carnation Revolution turned Portugal into a modern democracy (the “obras” and the construction dates come from the Wikipedia entry).

In recent years the profoundly resonant space—high, thick, dense stone walls; an almost circular space; a dome--has become the occasional site for concerts of a highly contemporary sort. The Variable Geometry Orchestra, a large-scale assembly of free improvisers led by Ernesto Rodrigues, has played there, and the guitarist Abdul Môimeme has recorded a fascinating solo concert there, Exosphere on Creative Sources (full disclosure: I wrote the liner note). The appeal of the space is immediate: it offers something like a 20-second time lag, making it an extraordinary medium for sustained pieces and the exploration of sonic decay.

Here, Santos Silva is literally playing the Pantheon with her trumpet, tin whistle and bells. The Pantheon takes her sounds and magnifies them, playing them back to her, extending them. When she plays succeeding tones a semitone apart, the echoes explode around her. When she (apparently) aims her trumpet in a different direction—sound (overtones), amplitude—change markedly. It would be remarkable if Santos Silva merely explored the sound of the space, its shifting echoes and durations, but she does far more. She creates a profound, subtly evolving work that engages the possibilities of the trumpet and the building as if they were paired, like the two resonators on a veena.

The music is open, the Pantheon is open, and you are invited to hear it any way you can or wish. Some selective thoughts:

At times Santos Silva will throw out a great burred, brassy blast; in contemporary terms, these are multiphonics; in architectural terms, they’re challenges to the Pantheon’s walls to respond in qualitative kind; in jazz history, these are almost rude noises, or maybe even more “dinosaur in the morning” than the sound of Coleman Hawkins thus described by the critic Whitney Balliett, in one documentary it is presented as the sound of the unrecorded Buddy Bolden. These signs point to the status of this concert as a kind of originary moment, intimately connected with multiple histories;

The Panteão Nacional has been almost exclusively a male residence. The first woman to be interred there was the great Fado singer Amália Rodrigues, in 2001. It is perfectly appropriate that a woman should make such a profound statement as All the Rivers at this site;

While the Panteão Nacional is an imposing, even intimidating space (an elevator ride to the terrace for a view of the Tagus involves squeezing into a confined space cut into one of the incredibly thick walls: the claustrophobia suggests “immurement”—to be entombed in a wall;

The CD jacket offers no images of the Pantheon, no suggestion of the power, the grandeur, the solidity, that distance that grows as you get closer. The cover of All the Rivers could not be more opposite: Santos Silva dedicates the CD to her grandparents; the front cover photograph, uncredited, presents an older woman holding an infant; pink wallpaper with an abstract arabesque suggests floral bouquets; in the photograph there is a statue on a pedestal of a boy in formal dress, perhaps from the eighteenth century, reading a book. These are intimate emblems, a personal history, a history as unlike as possible the history to which the Pantheon speaks; a history of the intimate and familial versus the history of church as state (resonating with Jose Saramago’s Memorial do Convento  [in English, Baltasar and Blimunda]);

Santos Silva’s performance in the Pantheon is a rich meditation on the nature of time, its expanse, its mystery and its construction in the moment, the necessary relationship between works and breath. If the Pantheon would seem to enclose time, to celebrate a permanence, Santos Silva opens it in a matter of 42 minutes. The strange history of the “obras,” that construction that ebbs and stops with the passage of centuries and the convulsions of politics, is scaled to the performance, the power of the transitory to find form that is lost to a stone monument.

Are time and timelessness different or the same? Is one the route to the other? Which one? Santos Silva and the Pantheon meet on the path of time’s riddle, a mobius strip. We are left blessed with these long tones, these multiphonics, these reverberant bells, these ceremonies of memory, exploration, freedom and reconciliation.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Latest Releases from Aural Terrains

The Aural Terrains label celebrates ten years of activity with several releases that affirms its mission of being “a creative space for exploratory contemporary music in its different manifestations” and “a platform for like-minded composers-musicians who navigate the different aural terrains and depths of sound with vigilance and integrity.”

Steve Noble / Yoni Silver - Home (Aural Terrains, 2017) ****

When Israeli bass clarinet player Yoni Silver relocated to London he began meeting with drummer Steve Noble for weekly sessions that lasted about two years and led to the recording of Home. The album was recorded during two session on April and July 2016 and is dedicated to Silver's newborn son Alexander Silver Schendar. Both Noble and Silver are clever and inventive improvisers, informed by free jazz but not committing themselves to any form or convention. Noble has played with innovative improvisers such as Derek Bailey, Wadada Leo Smith, Evan Parker, Thurston Moore, and Joe McPhee. Silver plays in the Hyperion Ensemble of Romanian composers Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana Maria Avram, played with German trumpeter Birgit Ulher, recorded with Israeli metal-circus-core band Midnight Peacocks, and with composer Dganit Elyakim. Silver has developed a unique technique for the bass clarinet - instrumental prosthetics - that enables him to expand the woodwind sonic palette into the realm of electronics and noise.

The first two pieces begin as quiet rituals, almost meditative, with super-precise and hyper-detailed search of common resonating, buzzing and sustained sounds. Patiently, Noble and Silver expand and deepen their sonic palette, transforming the ritualistic interplay into an intense, tense and dense texture. The third and fourth pieces extend this quiet approach with an unsettling dynamics, still totally attentive and exploratory, but with a conflictual spirit, allowing their reserved sonic storms to intrude and clash with each other Noble and Silver conclude this sonic meditation with a full return to the to the ritualistic mode that opened this recording. But like the Zen Buddhist circle, Ensō, the return only symbolize the beauty of the transient, imperfect spirit of the moment.

More on SoundCloud.

Thanos Chrysakis / Christian Kobi / Christian Skjødt / Zsolt Sőrés - Carved Water (Aural Terrains, 2016) ***½

Carved Water brings together four sound artists - Greek, Belarus-based, Aural Terrains label founder Thanos Chrysakis who plays on laptop and live electronics; Danish Christian Skjødt (known from his collaboration with Danish guitarist Mark solborg on Omdrejninger, Ilk Music, 2017), on live electronics and objects; Hungarian Zsolt Sőrés who plays on a 5-string viola (laid on a table), contact microphone, effects, dissecting tools, sonic objects; and voice and Swiss soprano sax player Christian Kobi. These sonic explorers performed at the Sound Art exhibition ‘On the Edge of Perceptibility’ on October 2014, in Műcsarnok - Kunsthalle, Budapest.

The two pieces offer two different strategies of sound artistry. The first one, 39-minutes long, sketches peaceful, abstract textures where the weird, sparse sounds flow and and drift in a clear and quiet - almost ethereal- stream. The four musicians steer and carve this delicate, liquid kind of interplay in an economic manner but surprisingly sketch a rich and detailed texture. There are occasional, sudden outbursts of tense interplay but none lasts for long before the quartet resumes the emphatic, contemplative commotion. The second shorter piece, 12-minutes long, is more dynamic, intense and stormy. The quartet creates continuous noisy waves that keep spreading all over the space, almost tangible with its raw, disturbing substances.

Carlos Costa - Door of No Return (Aural Terrains, 2016) ****

Spanish double bass player Carlos Costa says that for a long time he was fascinated by the image of a 'Door of No Return', a symbolic title that captures the essence of his uncompromising, free-improvised solo art. A title that radiates his strong commitment, pushing through this imaginary door towards the unknown, towards freedom, and never going back. Being at the here and now and becoming “an instrument of pure sounds, harmonies of pain, rhythms of new times, melody of contemplation... chaos and harmony.”

Door of No Return is Costa's debut solo double bass album, recorded on April 2015. Costa's technique is informed by the innovative work of French classical double bass player Alain Bourguignon and American free-improvisers like Mark Dresser and Mark Helias. Each of the ten “Door”s investigates, in a highly disciplined, almost scientific manner, a certain aspect of the bull fiddle timbral spectrum - extended bowing technique, including using the bow or bows on the wooden body of the bass as a percussive instrument, resonating overtones, different kinds of harmonics, multiphonics and other weird sounds and noises. Costa plays the double bass as an observant explorer who maps meticulously uncharted, almost alien-sounding territories. His profound knowledge and understanding of the physical anatomy of the double bass as well as his sense of invention and searching spirit are highly impressive.

Edith Alonso - Collapse (Aural Terrains, 2016) ***

Spanish composer and sound artist Edith Alonso's career has encompassed many fields. She began playing classical music on the piano but soon grew interested in the guitar and saxophone and explored jazz and rock. In the early nineties she played the electric bass in a local punk-rock band. Later she studied electroacoustic and instrumental composition in Paris and discovered musique concrete with composers François Bayle and Pierre Henry. She composed music for many multidisciplinary formats - live poetry, audio-visual, dance and theater projects, improvised in a duo and trio outfits and composed music for "Docuficción en vivo" (documentary fiction - live) about the International Brigades in Aragon (during the Spanish Civil War).

Collapse is a four-part composition for prepared electric bass, recorded in May 2014, edited and mastered by Alonso a year later. Alonso transform the electric bass to an otherworldly sonic generator. She keeps producing from the prepared and mutated string instrument more and more bubbling layers of raw, industrial sounds until any conception of the electric bass spectrum completely collapses and drowns in this dense swamp. This demanding journey open with the aggressive “Collapse I”. “Collapse II” caress a distant pulse in its foray into alien-sounding terrains. “Collapse III” is more suggestive with its sinister, cinematic quality. The final “Collapse IV” mixes the distorted, processed metallic bass sound into an intense, fiery stew that threatens to erupt and melt anything on its course.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Nate Wooley – Battle Pieces II (Relative Pitch, 2017) *****

By Daniel Böker

2017 is almost done (writing this review, you'll be reading it in 2018) and looking back I have to admit that Nate Wooley is one of the artists of the year for me. I discovered some of his back catalog this year for the first time, while also listening to new things like knknighgh on Clean Feed - every time I try to follow all the things he sings, talks and shouts with his trumpet. And I can't - which is amazing. And so, here is a new one: Battle Pieces II, on which, for the second time he colludes with Ingrid Laubrock on sax, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Matt Moran on vibraphone.

A quick sidebar ... I have to admit that I love the vibraphone. While it might not fit in the context of this blog but I recommend to listen to everything you can find by The Dylan Group, a band that was centered around the vibraphone. So, from the moment Moran comes in, I am no longer listening objectively. I love the sound and within this quartet, it fits perfectly.

Wooley starts of with a fine little melody in the first piece, then Moran comes along, and a few moments later Courvoisier adds some tones to it. It all starts very calm and relaxed. The four musicians take their time to start together. After three minutes already I've been taken into the music. I am tempted to stop writing (And I am not listening for the first time!) and close my eyes to just listen to what is going on - it is a lot.

With four musicians in a room, on a stage (the album was recorded live in Cologne, Germany.) almost everything is possible. If I have it right, Wooley composes a lot of little pieces, melodies or patterns for the different instruments and every one can play one of these at any time. The 'rest' is up to the improvising capability of the four. So I repeat with this concept and four musicans on stage, everything is possible and almost everything happens: there is silence and noisy outbursts. There are single voices and all four play at the same time. There is sheer power and restrain.

Having said all this I think I have to state my core impression of this album: it is lyrical and it is poetic.

For me a good poem dances on the thin line of open sound and word-play on the one hand and understandable words or content on the other. A poem needs different layers, and this album is full of layers. There are lines, melodies and harmonies I can follow easily. But theses lines carry me to places I have never been and don't understand. Just to assure me a few minutes later that I am not alone in this place and the lines I recognized return in a different mode and so on.

As it always is when writing about music, there is one sentence that comes to mind again and again: 'You should listen to it! You should listen to it to get what I mean. You should listen to it because it is worth every single minute.' Perhaps 'Battle Piece 5', the second track on the album, represents best what I am trying to say.

It starts with a little line by Wooley, who is then joined by Moran on the vibraphone. As I said before. From that point on I am not objective anymore. I am hooked!! Then Laubrock adds her beautiful sound. This is the perfect example why I think this album is lyrical. The melodic voice moves from the one musician to the next and together they take me to places I haven't been before. Six minutes in, the sound gets wilder and more vibrant. Laubrock and Courvoisier build an intense dialogue in the middle of Part 5. Then Wooley takes over with a solo part. If you have heard him play already you'll know what I mean. But before I get lost in that uncharted territory a melody occurs and "takes my ears by the hand". A beautiful piece of music.

'Battle Piece 6' starts with Courvoisier's piano, however, the first two minutes the piano sounds like a guitar as Courvoisier works inside the piano. Moran joins after two minutes with some scattered notes. This all takes place in a very calm vibe. Though all the others eventually join in 'Battle Piece 6' stays calm and ends again with the piano sounding like a guitar, joined by Wooley with an aspirated pattern.

I don't want to write about every piece in detail hoping that you start to listen to it on your own.

To end this review I only need one word, and I mean it:


P.s.: I don't know why such beautiful music is called 'Battle Pieces'. What I hear is a very respectful conversation and no battle at all. Is it exactly that? To contradict battle and all its ways? I checked the internet for a clue (as one does these days) and I found a book of poems on war by Herman Melville. Maybe that is a reference? I don't know.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Udo Schindler & Ingrid Schmoliner - Blaublatt (Creative Sources, 2016) ****½

Schindler, Udo / Ingrid Schmoliner: Blaublatt (Creative Sources)

By Stef

Free improvisation is the art of close listening. It is the art of intense concentration on the part of the musicians to hear what the other one is doing, understand intentions, sentiments, pauses, room to interact, time to take a step back, time to challenge, time to encourage and expand on new ideas. The basic condition is that you, as the musician, have to know your own instrument inside out to be able to keep all these things in mind while performing. It requires openness of mind and the ability to decide.

The interaction between German clarinettist Udo Schindler and Austrian pianist Ingrid Schmoliner is exceptional in this respect. Schmoliner often sets the tone on these nine pieces that were taken from a live concert in April 2014 at the 44th Salon für Klang+Kunst in Krailling, Munich. 

Both Schmoliner and Schindler are true acoustic sound sculptors. The former uses all kinds of materials to prepare her piano, with changing percussive or scraping effects as a result, but she is as comfortable in playing the keys unaltered, and still managing to surprise us. The latter is her true companion in this. His clarinet multiphonics vibrate, oscillate and create deep murmuring sounds, sometimes accompanied by Schmoliners undulating voice, sometimes resulting in amazing effects as on the fifth track, "Münda-ichsagedir", when the clarinet manages some animal-like deep howl, amazingly enough immediately followed by a similar bending tone on a piano string.

Their pallet is broad, and single notes, silence, lyrical phrases, hammered keys, yodeling, dampened sounds, sustained notes, and well, yes, even chords on the piano. Despite all the avant-garde, and their willingness to go even beyond what that crowd expects, there is a kind of return to primitive folklore and deeper foundation of being that is brought to the surface, that is presented here, with beauty.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Permission – Sam Leak and Paula Rae Gibson (33Xtreme, 2018) ****

By Sammy Stein

For Permission, pianist Sam Leak ( Aquarium, Don Tepfer, Spike Orchestra, Sam Leak Trio among many more) has got together with vocalist Paula Rae Gibson (Sophie Alloway, Kit Downes and more) on this CD, released on the ever prescient 33Xtreme label.

Permission opens the CD with Paula’s vocals laying smoothly over staccato piano telling the tale of lovers giving themselves permission to do anything. The vocals are soft, sultry and oh, so, laid back with a hint of sexiness. Every word is crystal clear and backed by equally clear piano chords, responses and retorts it makes for engaging listening. There are some great chordal progressions in the latter half which blend well with the vocals over the top. ‘I’ll Catch You When You Fall’ is a beautiful track, with rich, emotive vocals over percussive piano explorations. The deep, full-throated rhythms struck out by the piano strings and echoed through the framework are amazing and their complexity off-set beautifully by the spaced out, clear vocals. Whilst Sam Leak works the piano into a frenzy, the vocals maintain their steady clarity and there are no meeting points yet this continual diversification works well. The lyrics are in perfect contraposition to the piano and the second half sees the piano and vocals both become more emphatic, the vocals introducing more breathiness and the piano ever changing rhythms, separate yet in a distinct dialogue. Sometimes the edge in the vocals is scary. Totally beautiful.

‘Deepest Down’ is about a sensual woman and the vocals about time searching for her origins. ‘She rules by seduction, this woman no man can hold on to’….’she lives to be desired’ the vocals stretch out the words over gentle chords from the piano. Just when the vocals are in the slightest danger of becoming a tad too predictable, the piano intercepts with trills and runs up the keys, in exactly the right places. This is an example of two musicians reading each other well. What is great about the track is the piano line in the second half where major and minor chords clash in the back ground under the vocal line. We are led, deep deep down before the final chords fade away. ‘Rather Make Believe Than Make Do’ begins with sonorous, deep thunking piano over which the vocal line enters. Here the caress of the vocals is answered every time by a piano which almost seems to speak in response. The vocals speak gently of tsunamis of love and intense feelings but the singing is soft, whilst the emotion of the words themselves is reflected by the piano, as if the piano itself gives voice to the lyrics. There is a lovely section where vocals and piano vie for the ears, both being so intense and engaging. Very clever and so listenable.  ‘Second Best’ begins with some open piano work from Sam Leak using the instrument to provide percussive under beats with off-set rhythms and lots of little plonks and twinks along with a thudding boom of the frame. The vocals are clear, relatively smooth against this lovely bit of xylophone-like work going on behind from the gremlin in the frame of the piano. Little by little the keys are introduced to strike the strings and the tone changes and we have chords, still over that repeated percussive rhythm. The echoes through the frame left in the recording are a stroke of genius as they add to the atmosphere.  

‘Lovely Rain’ is deep, dark and atmospheric, the piano bass notes emphasising the vocal line and slightly doom-laden lyrics. A tale of sadness and healing rain, this is poignant and an interesting track. The vocals have just the right touch of breathlessness to emphasise the sadness of the soul. ‘Full Blown Love’ is a song about being in love and wondering if it is real, the questioning, the wonderings, the healing of a broken heart. Under the vocals the piano is used to create a series of trinkling runs, rippling high strings and wonderful rhythmic interpretations, their disparity with the vocals only adding to the effect of the track. The warning ‘all of me or nothing’ in the lyrics is emphasised by a slightly manic episode from the piano, seemingly panicking and from there we go off into a delightful chase up and down the keys, never stopping, rapid fingers flitting up and down searching for perfect harmony but not quite getting there. Absolutely gorgeous. ‘Over Dark Waters’ is another number touched by the darker side in the lyrics, which sound like someone getting a good talking to. The piano supports with steady chords and rhythm which underpin and underline the vocal line. An interesting track to end the CD.

What is great about this CD is not only how the vocals and piano work together at times but also how for much of it they are in perfect contrast. The piano picks up and turns not only the theme but the lyrics in places, which is a marvellous piece of arranging. Paula Rae Gibson has a voice which lends itself to story-telling and the darker moments of life are brought alive by her interpretation.  At times there is enough of an edge to the voice to make you sit and take note, at other times she is subtle and always she is clear. There is an underlying sadness and almost an agony of the soul that appears now and again on the surface in the vocals, which is subtle but present. Tempered by the outlandish and sometimes boyish enthusiasm of Sam Leak’s playing, this is a match made by the musical gods. Sam Leak’s mastery and understanding of a piano is clear and he uses every last string and minutae of the frame which create this wonderful instrument to the full, from using plucked and brushed strings to thunking out rhythms and using the deepest corners to echo back the sounds, tempered with attractive tunes and chordal progressions.

This is a great CD – one to listen to again and again.  

Monday, February 12, 2018

Reverso - Suite Ravel (Phonoart, 2018) ****

Last week at the Jazz Gallery in Midtown Manhattan, Reverso served up an aural feast to a receptive crowd. The gallery space, located on the top level of an older compact five story building along Broadway at 27th street, may have been considered a loft back in the day, and still retains some rustic industrial charm, like the elevator where a sign implores that you do not dance or shake it while in motion. The atmosphere in the gallery space - which indeed hosts art shows as well - was the perfect setting for the American/French collaboration of trombonist Ryan Keberle (American) and Frank Woeste's (French) Reverso group playing the music from their debut release Ravel Suite, a set of original music that takes its inspiration from French composer Maurice Ravel’s music.

Woeste and Keberle met while working with trumpeter David Douglas in a sextet. Apparently a discussion between the two over Ravel, who at the turn of the 21st century famously remarked on the importance of American jazz, and whose influence on the modern jazz scene had not been given proper credit. Their response was to compose pieces that drew on Ravel's “Le tombeau de Couperin”, a suite for solo piano composed between 1914 and 1917. It was done more in spirit than in verisimilitude and paid particular attention to developing their music along the traditional Baroque suite style that Ravel had used. At this point, I must leave the Ravel references behind, as I am not familiar enough to speak with any real knowledge on it. So rather, while the concert featured cellist Erik Friedlander and drummer Adam Cruz (both American), the album, which was recorded in France, featured Vincent Courtois (French) on cello and Jeff Ballard on drums (American ex-pat), making the album a true Franco-American collaboration.

Kicking off the concert, however, it was Friedlander who got things going. Against a wash of the drums, he began looping an arpeggiated pizzicato sequence and then bowing elongated tones over it. Woeste added a curt melody with one hand inside the piano damping the strings. Keberle then joined in with a brassy melody, helping bring on a crescendo. The cello and drums then picked up the pace, and Woeste comped uptempo and harmoniously - and the concert had truly begun. The song, ‘Ostinato’, which is also first on the album, just rockets past. The circular melody that outlines the general melodic approach is also quite an effective vehicle for improvisation.

The solo trombone melody that opened the second piece, ‘All Ears’, was rife with feeling, but it was Friedlander’s carefully plucked notes that really brought out the overwhelming sense of grounded melancholy. Woeste’s keyboard work tended towards the lush and supportive, while Cruz gave the right amount of insistence and restraint, ready to push the energy when the timing was right. The cello and piano at times engaged in lovely counterpoint, and the ballad really exemplified their music: restrained, melodic, beautifully thought out, and above all, played perfectly.

The album does not differ in terms of the principals: it too is provocative and melodic modern jazz with classical undertones. Moments of rock creep in as well, and certainly in concert some passages became heated. The last tune that they played in the first set was ‘Luminism', exemplified the creeping rock best, with strong syncopation. Friedlander and Cruz interlocked tightly into a fierce groove, and Keberle let loose with a tough and melodically strong solo.

Like Woeste and Douglas’ Dada People collaboration from last year, Ravel Suite is one of those rare albums that you could potentially play at a dinner party (for cool people), and fits in just as well as in the racks of the Downtown Music Gallery. Check it out!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Fire! - The Hands (Rune Grammofon, 2018) *****

By Gustav Lindqvist

Like myself reeds player Mats Gustafsson grew up in the northern parts of Sweden, that is; the real northern parts of Sweden where, during the winter months, the sun just barely crawls over the horizon just to give you a cheeky look as to say: “did you really think I was going to shine on you today?”, before going back down. Winter months by the way means October to April. Mats and I grew up in different generations, but when listening to The Hands, I feel that he’s speaking straight to the part of my northern Swedish mind which, without being sad, depressed or melancholic states that when the horizon brightens it may very well be the deceiving light. Don’t misunderstand me, I do not have any tendencies towards seeing life on this planet as meaningless. I love the work of the late Hans Roslings ‘Gapminder’ and I think that we can build a better world together, however embracing that ‘no life without death, no death without life’ is also important. Understanding and not ignoring the darker side of life is crucial for our (my) existence.

I’m not trying to banter, but when Gustafsson, Berthling and Werliin throws down the gauntlet on the title track The Hands’ I immediately feel like I understand exactly what they’re trying to say. The whole album is begging to be played at an excruciatingly high volume. I can hear a connection to Gustafsson's work on ‘A quietness of water’. Where Gustafsson/Evans/Fernandez were looking inwards to seek out sounds of an inner space full of feelings and emotions, Fire! is allowing the those sounds to come out in full bloom.

Gustafsson should be known to most readers here, having worked with…well everyone on the free jazz scene. He’s also doing regular work for the Swedish jazz magazine Orkesterjournalen, he has a vinyl trading website and a vinyl collection which carries more free jazz rarities than one can imagine. He’s touring with multiple groups and has also published a book about record collecting; Discaholics Vol. 1. Drummer and percussionist Andreas Werliin can be heard with Angels 9, Fire! Orchestra, and Tonbruket to just mention a few. Double bassist Johan Berthling is also a familiar name here and except his work on Angels 8 and 9, I’d like to recommend checking out Nacka Forum, again just to mention a few. This is indeed a very seasoned trio. ‘Supergroup’ has been said, and I can only agree.

The title track ‘The Hands’ has a thick carpet of drums and electric bass on which Gustafsson marches onwards without hesitation. He leaves it all out there. Nothings secret anymore. ‘When Her Lips Collapsed’ seems closely tied together with the first track, but at a slower pace. ‘Touches Me With The Tips Of Wonder’ allows the listener to breath and relax for a while, while the dark clouds pass by. But it of course deceiving. The manic ritual drum beat that follows to introduce the fourth track ‘Washing Your Hands In Filth’ takes us right back to where we started. This track is sure to shake a live audience in its foundations. It builds up intensity and I can only wish that it was a little bit longer. Maybe the live version is? ‘Up. And Down’ is a natural progression of the previous track and provides balance to the madness like a much-needed intermezzo. Yet half-way through, Gustafsson switches gears and increases intensity. That’s what he does. No compromises. The longest track on this album, ‘To Shave The Leaves. In Red. In Black’, is an emotional journey on which Gustafsson is given more time to tell his story. It’s very rewarding and it’s 9 minutes that speaks straight to my heart. The last song, ‘I Guard Her To Rest. Declaring Silence’ is a naked and introspective walk on lonely streets. I’m not left exhausted, I’m left staring out the window, somehow content with the here and now. It’s all going to be alright….or it’s all going to hell.

Fire! - The Hands (Rune Grammofon, 2018) ****

By Martin Schray

With their sixth album, it’s a good opportunity to reflect Fire!’s work so far. In 2009 Mats Gustafsson (saxes, electronics, Fender Rhodes), Johan Berthling (bass, organ) and Andreas Werliin (drums, percussion) started with You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago, introducing their idea of music at the interface of jazz, blues and rock. Their sophomore album Unreleased (2011) - which was accompanied by the sister 10’inch Released - added new colors to the sound of the debut. Berthling changed to electric bass and the trio invited a guest musician - Jim O’Rourke on guitar. With their third album In the Mouth a Hand (2012), they elaborated this concept, this time they were augmented by Oren Ambarchi (guitar, electronics). The band focused more on drones and noise, without neglecting their roots - up to today this is my favorite Fire! recording. One year later the band put the rock influences in the center of their music, Johan Berthling delivered gloomy metal riffs on (Without Noticing) while Mats Gustafsson on electronics and Fender Rhodes shows the more meditative side of the band. Two years ago She Sleeps, She Sleeps brought Oren Ambarchi back and - as a another new sound element - Leo Svensson Sander on cello, but the album wasn’t as excessive as In the Mouth a Hand, it was rather a masterpiece in reduction and monotony, a heart-breaking yearning for something that’s been lost. Now, The Hands concentrates on the plain sax, bass and drums formation.

Once again, the album presents the band’s usual mix of heavy, sombre, and intense psych blues rock. Yet, while She Sleeps, She Sleeps and (Without Noticing) indulged into the first two Black Sabbath albums, this one rather refers to bands like Blue Cheer and Mountain, Berthling’s distorted bass guitar even to grunge rock veterans Green River and Mudhoney here and there - great requirements for another superb album. And The Hands starts promising: the title track is a real rock burner with a catchy, colossal three-note bass riff and a straight beat, Gustafsson’s sax replaces the lead vocals, howling and yelling in his typical manner. It’s just pure fun! Additionally, the album has more of this stuff to offer: "When Her Lips Collapsed", "Up. And Down" and "To Shave the Leaves. In Red. And Black" use a similar compositional matrix, they just decelerate the tempo. The remaining three songs reveal a different approach, they build the bridge to She Sleeps, She Sleeps: "Touches Me With the Tips of Wonder","Washing Your Heart in Filth" and "I Guard Her to Rest. Declaring Silence" have a balladesque and reflective note, an almost funereal character. Especially the latter is a captivating ultra-slow blues (here with Berthling on double bass), in which Gustafson’s qualities as a melodist come to shine.

However, The Hands can’t quite compete with (Without Noticing) or other classic Fire! releases, because it somehow lacks the emotional depth and the variety of sound of these albums. Also, I’ve always liked the fact that Werliin and Gustafsson were able to dance around Berthling’s rock-solid bass figures, that he allowed them room for various sound excursions. Here they seem a bit restrained, especially Werliin often concentrates on playing time instead of going astray.

The Hands is a very good album, no doubt. It’s a great start for Fire! beginners, you aren't overwhelmed by it (like a typical 1960s rock album it’s just 37 minutes long). But if you want the real deal I would rather suggest She Sleeps, She Sleeps or In the Mouth a Hand.

The Hands is available on vinyl and on CD. you can buy it from the label or at

Listen to the title track here:

Saturday, February 10, 2018

James Gilmore - Bag of Tricks vol. 1 (Out & Gone Music, 2017) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos 

When you try, as we on the Freejazzblog do, to support the small totally independent labels, you get to meet people from every part of the world. This way you familiarize yourself with the joys of connecting with other human beings sentimentally and in a collective way through music. You also become aware of this constant effort to do everything by yourself. The many hours on the internet spent “promoting” your art. Many times this amount of time is much bigger than the time needed to actually produce the music. What can you do though? Freedom does not come for free. It’s a constant struggle.

I've had the chance to listen to the wonderful releases by Out & Gone music following some nice coincidences. Having already reviewed Scratch Slice Jag by Jeb Bishop and Dan Ruccia, the only pattern I see is that there isn’t one. The same goes for this release. The musicians that participate (James Gilmore on electric guitar, Laurent Estoppey on sax, Vatel Cherry and David Menestres on double-bass, Shawn Galvin on percussion) follow an improvisational ethos that does not succumb to any predetermined gestures.

What surely stands out is their choice of including two bass players. Always a choice of risk, not too many great jazz recordings (Bill Dixon comes first in my mind for this) have followed this path. Being a listener and not a musician, I guess that this choice of instrumentation encapsulates the danger of grounding the music into the lower levels of sound. At the same time, due to the percussive nature of the double-bass, the general sound flow of a recording might not be flexible, unable perhaps to enjoy the multidimensional approach that other instruments allow. Thankfully, the outcome makes my fears go away.

There’s a constant discussion between the musicians throughout this cd. They certainly and willingly leave their egos behind, not so much during the process but right from the start. There’s a warmth in their choices, a feeling that is capitalized in achieving a collecting sound. Their work is collective, while the guitar of Gilmore stands out at some points, offering notes and melodies, suggesting other routes, contrasting the low-end path of percussion and double-basses. Many times I found myself feeling that the saxophone was the melody provider, it’s tone overpowering melodies. An ambiance provider, even.

Mentioning above my - so called - fear of the low-end sound, the percussion work of Galvin really stands out, while his bond with the bassists are clear even to the untrained ear. Their path is that of second generation European improvisation, yet there are also melodies. They follow a non-linear trajectory, while building the five tracks of the cd. They seem to work their way into each track with no preconceived ideas, providing crescendos like the one found the middle of the magnificent 'Live Up to High Vibration'. It is then, at their highest of volume that seem to be at their best with a solid –free playing percussive backbone- a gnarling tough guitar and a rawer sax playing. But tradition is not neglected too. 'House on Legs-Making the Essential Challenges' is more boppish with fluid lines from the saxophone and an electric guitar that pays homage to the guitars that shaped jazz in the 50’s. You cannot feel disappointed from all this.