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Julie Sassoon (p) & Willi Kellers (d)

Jazzwerkstatt55, Peitz Germany, June 2018. Photo By Cristina Marx

Evan Parker

Jazzwerkstatt55, Peitz Germany, June 2018. Photo By Cristina Marx

Eli Wallace (p) & Sandy Ewen (g)

Spectrum, NYC, May 2018. Photo by Peter Gannushkin

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Latest from Paal Nilssen-Love

Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love is, no doubt, one of the hardest working musicians in our galaxy. He always pushes his boundaries, as well the ones of his musical comrades, plays with extremes, but never forgets the great fun that music, especially live one, is. His latest releases on his own label PNL, including the 4oth one with an extended version of his Large Unit, prove it.

Extra Large Unit, More Fun, Please (PNL, 2018) ****1/2

Can you imagine a composition from Nilssen-Love that opens with silence, 18 seconds of total silence? A composition that hosts three pianists and three accordionists, French horn and piccolo flute soloists? A composition that is inspired by Korean court music, the Alexander von Schlippenbach Trio, the Globe Unity Orchestra, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Morton Feldman's piano pieces, John Cage ideas, and Peter Brötzmann’s Machine Gun?

Nilssen-Love never had a musical comfort zone and never subscribed to any genre or style. His work embraces not only free jazz and free-improvisation but also electronics and noise, Ethiopian and Brazilian music and elements of contemporary, avant-garde music. In 2015 he was commissioned by the Norwegian Ny Musikk organization to compose a piece for the Oslo Sinfonietta. Nilssen-Love offered to write a piece for an extended version of his Large Unit, hosting young students from the Norwegian Academy of Music.

More Fun, Please - featuring eight musicians from the Large Unit plus twenty ‘Intuitive People’, aka the young students - is, like any project that Nilssen-Love is involved with, a work that searches for extremes - loud and silent, fast and slow, with a strong physical presence, but a joyful one. More Fun, Please uses a complex graphic score, still, demands personal initiatives; employs two conductors, except Nilssen-Love himself, with signs that indicate instructions in the form of political statements, drawings of ghosts, Pac Man and other humorous references. The three pianists and their grand pianos were seated back to back, as a piano triangle at the center of the stage, and the Extra 
Large Unit were placed between and around the pianos, so all can see each other.

More Fun, Please, was performed, so far, only once at the Only Connect festival in Oslo in May 2017. A casual listener, who does know a thing about this composition, may find it hard to believe that this is indeed a work of Nilssen-Love. A first impression may suggest that it does not sound like anything that he has done before, but on repeated listening you may recognize some key elements of his work. Not only the irresistible dynamics and the driving rhythmic patterns, but also the playful clashes of sounds, the absurdist-surrealist sense of humor or the way that the most extreme and dissonant sounds eventually gravitate into a playful storm of boundless energy. This 33-minutes piece flows organically from one sonic event to another. Full of sonic inventions and eccentric surprises; flirting one minute with Feldman-esue meditative minimalism and on another with Mingus-ian, engaging free improvisation; moving freely between intricate orchestral segments to intense, chaotic eruptions; quoting ideas from Norwegian and Irish folk music, nuevo-tango of Astor Piazzolla; touching strange, disturbing noises and concluded with a poetic, repeated statement of violinist Torfinn Hofstad. Just imagine a session of Nino Rota, Cecil Taylor and a Korean royal and you may begin to understand the great fun potential of this piece.

Otomo Yoshihide / Paal Nilssen-Love - 19th of May 2016 (PNL, 2018) ****

This live recording from the the Dom Cultural Center in Moscow in May 2016 also plays with extremes, but more familiar ones, ones that are identified with these two master improvisers. This is the second recorded duo of Yoshihide and Nilssen-Love after a self-titled one (Jvtlandt, 2014), but Yoshihide collaborated before with The Thing (Shinjuku Crawl, Smalltown Superjazz, 2009); the two recorded in a trio with Norwegian noise master Lasse Marhaug (the vinyl-only Explosion Course, Pica Disk/PNL, 2013) and Yoshihide guested in the Chicago Tentet’s Concert for Fukushima (Trost, 2013).

Yoshihide, unlike other guitarists that Nilssen-Love have been collaborating with as Terrie Ex and Arto Lindsay, is a master of textures, often thorny and noisy, but always detailed and captiving ones. On the first piece, “Cat”, Yoshihide sketches different ideas, searches for shifting outlines, tones and dynamics and explores sonic collisions before settling on a texture that keeps its high intensity even on its most quiet and sparse moments. Nilssen-Love deepens the sense of restless urgency with manic, constant-shifting rhythmic patterns, some are even delicate ones when he employs ringing bells and other percussive devices that resonate beautifully Yoshihide’s rough, metallic tones. The second, longer piece, “Dog” begins with another intense texture. Yoshihide and Nilssen-Love build dense and fast tsunamis of sounds but suddenly opt for a gentle, atmospheric texture. Then, the distant, effects-laden guitar lines of Yoshihide create a web of distorted tones, overtones and rough noises. Nilssen-Love reflects later on Yoshihide solo with his own exploration of his drums set sonic range, first the qualities of drums and their skins and later focusing on the his cymbals, suggesting metallic waves that trigger Yoshihide to comment on these sounds. Eventually both build another series of tsunamis of sounds, only now these tsunamis are even more massive.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Daunik Lazro, Joe McPhee, Joshua Abrams, Guillaume Séguron, Chad Taylor - A Pride of Lions (The Bridge Sessions, 2018) **** ½

By Nick Ostrum

I came across Franco-American network known as The Bridge by chance in 2015. A list of luminaries from the Chicago and French free jazz scenes, only one of whom I had previously caught in concert, lined a bill at the Experimental Sound Studio in Rogers Park. The show was one of the most invigorating sets I experienced during my year in Chicago. (For those of you interested, this band had already a been captured on The Bridge Sessions #1: Sonic Communion.) Apparently, this was just the beginning of a loose transatlantic network that would, by 2018, produce scores of concerts, eight albums on the Bridge Sessions label (one of which has been reviewed on this blog), and at least one excellent disc on the French label Rogue Art.

A Pride of Lions shares no musicians with the discs specifically referenced above (though Joshua Adams has played in one other Bridge configuration). That said, there is more to the Bridge than discrete personnel. It is rather an organization focused facilitating musical conversations and collaborations that might not otherwise have had the time and space to develop. Each project is unique, but also grounded in this same vision. As far as this album can be taken to reflect the greater project, the organization is succeeding magnificently.

Despite the geographic distances normally between them, the musicians on this album connect in a manner that conveys a singularity of vision and adaptability that elude most comparable collaborations. All music on this disc is improvised. Some members – Daunik Lazro and Joe McPhee, Chad Taylor and Abrams, Taylor and McPhee – have histories of cooperation that reach back two decades. Others, namely French bassist Guillaume Séguron, seem to have traveled in musical circles that did not quite intersect with those of the others before this collaboration. That said, there is something special about these musicians coming together in this unique format. The result sounds spontaneous, but also practiced. Moreover, as an album, it sounds complete. The first track is inaugurated by a measured dialogue of basses that starts to congeal as the drums enter around the one-minute mark. This track gets particularly intriguing around minute, as the first sax bleeds into the picture, sounding at first like a bowed bass but gradually distinguishing itself through a series of bent and quivering notes. The tenor, meanwhile, fades in through a series of percussive clucks, evoking the gradual awakening of each member of the pack. By the time the track passes its midpoint, the band is playing in free unison with a controlled intensity that crests with McPhee’s pocket trumpet and gradually subsides into drums and bass, thereafter seamlessly drifting into the next piece. The second track begins similarly, though the marimba has replaced the drum set. Here, Taylor lays down a groove reminiscent of his electro-acoustic work with the Chicago Underground. This piece initially assumes a more spacious and bluesier feel than the last one. That is, until Taylor turns back to the drum set. At this point, it collapses into freer (though still measured) blowing over a dense fabric rhythmic canvass.

Though each track is distinctive, each also follows a similar trajectory wherein the bass and drums provide bookends as well as a bridge between tracks (which seem to be movements rather than self-contained songs). The horns, meanwhile, seem to grow organically out of and seamlessly seep back into the structures laid by the Abrams, Séguron, Taylor. Tracks three and four are compelling in their own rights. The fifth track, however, is the standout. It begins with Abrams on the guembri (I think), who lays the groove that propels the rest of the band as they engage, fade, and reengage. Lazro and McPhee sound especially spirited on this track, as they wind their lines into one tight stream of free jazz melody. The piece then fades into the hum of gently bowed bass, that, reflecting on the title, seems to lull the pack back to sleep. And then, the enthusiastic applause.

When I first heard this, I was unaware that it was recorded live. It really sounds that crisp and rehearsed, even though the softer tones and bass are sometimes slightly muted into the background. The crowd may account for some of the energy and precision. Still, it is worth noting that this is not just another live recording. Although it contains little ground-breaking, this is some of the most coherent, fluid, and compelling free improvisation I have heard in a long time. Followers of these musicians, or The Bridge project more broadly, likely already have high expectations. This album will not disappoint.

The album is available in CD or digital format.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mats Gustafsson / Jason Adasiewicz - Timeless (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2018) ****

By Martin Schray

Fans of improvised music, free jazz and crossover genres know Mats Gustafsson for being able to spit fire with his saxophone. He has proved this both in his long time projects The Thing, Fire! and NU Ensemble as well as in his collaborations with Thurston Moore, Merzbow and Balázs Pándi . Jason Adasiewicz, a prolific member of the Chicago scene, has reached a certain degree of popularity for his albums with Peter Brötzmann (among others), on which he has shown that one can let it all hang out on the vibraphone, too. However, if you expect boisterous iconoclasm on their first duo album, you’ll be surprised.

From the very beginning the atmosphere brings to mind the soundtracks of French film noir classics. Most of the pieces are incredibly slow, quiet, even tender and surprisingly tuneful. Some of them remind me of Bohren und der Club of Gore albums, albeit Gustafsson and Adasiewicz know when they have to add an extra piece of angularity and tempo in order not to get cheesy (e.g. in “Dagger“ and especially in “A Fall They Call It“, the latter presenting the more familiar Gustafsson side). Then again, the music is sometimes so reduced that it sounds as if you were listening to a prop airliner in the distance (“See Them Cold, But See Them Last“).

The title track is the central piece of the album. It’s a cover version of a John Abercrombie number (ECM, 1975; with Jan Hammer and Jack DeJohnette), one of his most beautiful compositions. The original starts with elegiac guitar lines over subtle cymbal work and synthesizer drones for almost five minutes before the actual hook line emerges. The Gustafsson/Adasiewicz version comes to the point much faster and adds a lot more drama to the piece by stripping it down to the essentials: Just a plain melody on the sax and the reverberant chords on the vibes, with very little variation. Gustafsson roughs the tune up with a lot of vibrato towards the end, which has a much more melodramatic effect compared to the already emotional original. I haven’t heard Gustafsson play like this since the title track of Shift (NoBusiness, 2013), his one-time-collaboration with his fellow countrymen Correction.
Yet, don’t be misled. Of course this is a Gustafsson album, his sound is very recognizable. He uses his typical wide-ranging long notes, just played with less anger and aggression than usual. At the end of the day the music evokes an alternative kind of tension, one with a different kind of energy, one with less volume, one with a bigger focus on restraint. Gustafsson and Adasiewicz explore more subtle dynamics and moods, which are still full of passion and intensity.

Timeless is available as a CD.

You can buy it at and

Rodrigo Amado / Joe McPhee / Kent Kessler / Chris Corsano - A History of Nothing (Trost, 2018) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

The title of the second album of Portuguese-American quartet led by tenor sax player Rodrigo Amado - featuring legendary Joe McPhee, on pocket trumpet and the soprano sax, double bass player Kent Kessler, and drummer Chris Corsano - is inspired by the words of Portuguese activist-dissident, singer-songwriter José Mário Branco: “We have to start all over again, once more, and start from what is near, from what is below, on the ground. It's much more a process drawn from biological and animal issues, from survival, from fear, from pleasure, from primal concerns”.

Branco’s revolutionary perspective reflects Amado own view of jazz history and legacy, as an artistic aesthetic - a language or a message of resistance; an art that seeks to create itself anew, again and again. Art that focuses on a highly personal approach of the here and now. Trusting the primal instincts of the musician, his rhythmic impulses, his personal sound and drive, part him and part history. But essentially an art that suggests a better world, a better history. The Nothing, as Branco said, or as in the Buddhist concept of nothingness, means a new, independent and personal history, one of a great hope and beauty. A History of Nothing offers a set of five beautiful musical stories-histories. It deepens the quartet journey that has began on This Is Our Language (Not Two, 2015), and captures five pieces - credited to all four musicians - recorded in Lisbon in a one day session in March 2017, following a European tour.

The sense of story/history is stressed by the conversational-democratic mode of the quartet. The main credit may go to Amado who initiated this quartet and organized its tours but on stage or in studio all are equal partners. The meeting of the incomparable historic background and the poetic language of McPhee, the power as well as the lyricism of Amado, the free-shifting, deep tones of Kessler bass and the restless pulse of Corsano, each with his own personal legacy, as articulated on the opening “Legacies”, is what makes this quartet so special.

And, A History of Nothing has few distinct stories. The extended, fiery title piece establishes the quartet immediate interplay. Not as a history of nothing, but as a history of all, of the here and now, urgent and passionate, serious as your life. Kessler and Corsano weave delicate rhythmic patterns on “Theory of Mind”, pushing Amado to sketch his own emotionally-charged textures. “Wild Flowers” is the most poetic piece, beginning with McPhee whispering-talking-singing through his pocket trumpet while dancing with Corsano and Kessler. Amado’s sax expands this busy, joyful talk with touches of irony and humor, before all gravitate into a driving pulse. The last, “The Hidden Desert” adds a mysterious story, patiently and gently coloring an imaginative, peaceful journey into beautiful, uncharted terrains, that only this quartet’s histories/stories describe it.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Latest Releases of Guitarist Ed Pettersen

Norwegian-American guitarist Ed Pettersen is unique character in the field of free-improvisation. Pettersen is also a folk/American singer-songwriter, producer and writer (who once was also a contributor to the Free Jazz Blog). He fell in love with improvised music as a teenager, studying in New York with Lennie Tristano and later on produced jazz musicians as Giuseppi Logan. His latest releases on his own label, Split Rock Records, stress his interest in the many forms of the art of free-improvisation.

By Eyal Hareuveni

London Experimental Ensemble - Cornelius Cardew's Treatise (Split Rock Records, 2018) *****

This double album is the most impressive one. British experimental and quite controversial composer Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981) was a member of ground-breaking London improvisation ensemble AMM and a contemporary of other iconoclast composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and La Monte Young. His score Treatise was created over four years from 1963 to 1967 and remains to this day one of the most acclaimed graphical scores of contemporary music. This complex, 193-pages graphic magnum opus is an intricate visual piece of art, incredible for its detailed lines, geometry and abstract shapes, and, no doubt, intimidating authority. Cardew, while working on the Treatise, was fascinated by Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, the Chinese Book of Changes, I Ching, and the writings of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Pianist John Tilbury, who collaborated with Cardew in the Scratch Orchestra and wrote a biography of Cardew commented about this score: “Treatise does not wholly belong, either to Cardew or to those whose lives it nourishes and inspires. It is offered and shared unconditionally, untethered to any rules or laws of musical composition or any other figments of the musicological imagination”.

The 13-musicians London Experimental Ensemble consulted with few close associates of Cardew. These musicians are members of the weekly improvisation workshop of Eddie Prévost, a founding member of AMM Music and a frequent collaborator and friend of Cardew, who has played in the premiere of  the Treatise on April, 1967 in London (together with David Bedford, Keith Rowe, John Surman and Tilbury). Another reference point was Carol Finer Chant who played with Cardew in the Scratch Orchestra and graciously joined the Ensemble for the Treatise performance.

Pettersen organized and produced this two hour-plus performance of the Treatise on January 2017 while living in London. The Ensemble's sound, adopting Prévost advice, used Cardew’s inspirational graphics to create something that Cardew himself may not have imagined with their fresh and bold interpretive freedom, or as Cardew put it: “my reputation is free to suffer”. The unique instrumentation of the Ensemble - mainly string instruments, including the Turkish cümbüş played by Finer Chant, the 8-string lap steel Weissenborn guitar played by Pettersen, two double bass players - Olie Brice and Jordan Muscatello, two electric guitarists, two synthesizer players, sax player and trombonist - suggests an insightful perspective into the labyrinthine score. The two parts of Treatise are performed enthusiastically, with rich sonic detail and without surrendering to any stylistic convention. Like AMM’s music, Treatise evolves and flowing organically as in an enigmatic, sometimes even in a hypnotic dream-state, as if having a life or musical mind and imagination of its own. “By goodwill and purposeless”, as Prévost noted.

Henry Kaiser & Ed Pettersen - We Call All Times Soon (Split Rock Records, 2018) **** 

This compact album (at least in the time frames of prolific guitarist Henry Kaiser) is the most accessible one, and is only 41 minutes long. The guitar duet With We Call All Times Soon features Kaiser playing only the rarely-heard 18-string harp guitar while Pettersen sticks to his 18-string Weissenborn guitar. This unique instrumentation allows both to explore new and challenging soundscapes and textures. The four free-improvised duets have a strong conversational sensibility but without any attempt to sketch a cohesive narrative or commit to a clear structure. Kaiser and Pettersen sound as navigating in close, associative universes. They are totally immersed in the distinct timbral range of their guitars, experimenting with extended techniques and employ few pedals to enrich the textures. Both keep crisscrossing organically from the sonic universe of the American primitive guitar of John Fahey, through the abstract improvisations of Derek Bailey and the atmospheric lines of Terje Rypdal to the singing tones of Malagasy guitarists and the folky-Amricana work of Jerry Garcia. “Cosmotron Express” establishes the emphatic, searching  interplay but “Diving Seacopter” already suggests an enigmatic-cosmic soundscape as Both Kaiser and Pettersen make full use of the resonant qualities of their respective guitars. “Triphibian Atomicar” explores similar resonant sonorities even further but in a looser, intuitive manner, by just letting the light-metallic sounds ring and float and “Repelatron Skyway” offers a dive into a psychedelic swamp of nuanced noises and distorted sounds.

Henry Kaiser / Ed Pettersen / Martin Küchen / Tania Chen / Jeff Coffin /  Damon Smith / Jordan Muscatello / Roger Turner - Interstellar Transmissions (Split Rock Records, 2018) ***

This double-album offers mixed perspectives about free-improvised meetings, some loose and less focused, others more intimate, yet demanding and more satisfying. The back cover of the double-album Interstellar Transmissions offers scace information about the recording process. The title, obviously, references John Coltrane and Rashied Ali's iconic duo, Interstellar Space (Impulse, 1974), and all the free-improvised pieces here are also titled after planets. The transmissions may suggest that not all the musicians played at the same time at recording studios.

The first album is a set of four improvisations featuring guitarist Henry Kaiser and his close associates, pianist Tania Chen and double bass player Damon Smith, with Petterson on guitar, Swedish sax player Martin Küchen, American sax and flute player Jeff Coffin, and British electric bass player Jordan Muscatello from the London Experimental Ensemble. Kaiser was recorded at a studio in California while other musicians in a studio in London.

These improvisations offer sparse, cosmic-psychedelic textures, relying on the distinct sonorities of all the string-instrument, including Kaiser’s 18-string harp and the piano strings. Only the third piece, “Jupiter”, charges the loose interplay between the sax players and the string-instruments players with some interest and tension. The second album offer a more intimate setting with only Küchen, Pettersen on the guitar and veteran British drummer Roger Turner. The three musicians keep searching and challenging each other with their extended techniques, improvisation strategies and uncharted sonic terrains. The sonic universes of the distant, atmospheric-distorted electric guitar lines of Pettersen with the tortured, restless breaths of Küchen and the fractured, metallic percussive noises of Turner settle immediately on a common ground and reach their destination on the intense and playful in the most strange manner “Uranus” and “Earth Too”. The complete sense of freedom, the patient interplay that embraces all sounds - noisy, distorted, chaotic and the melodic, the deep listening and the constant, restless search for new dynamics and textures contribute to the success of this set of improvisations. A demanding journey, often into barren sonic territories, but a fascinating one.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Anthony Braxton - Solo (Victoriaville) (Victo, 2018) ****½

This album is documentation of a solo alto saxophone performance given by Anthony Braxton at the Colisée Desjardins in Victoriaville QC, on May 21 2017, his first solo performance in four years. Throughout his memorable career Braxton has returned often to solo alto saxophone improvisation as a means of exploring sounds, concepts, and structures.  He has been both nostalgically lyrical and uncompromisingly abrasive over his 20+ solo releases, and while he may have mellowed slightly with age, here Braxton delivers an extended performance with all of his characteristic poise, intensity, and wit to an enthusiastic audience.

On ‘No. 392a’ Braxton disperses a simple flowing figure and continually reworks it. With every pass it is embellished with additional gestures, emphasis, and alterations on the central theme. His sound is excellent and this song provides a good profile of both his tone and control. ’No. 392b’ begins with staccato lines capped with contemplative legato statements and the occasional reed squeal, laying down a path of logic for Braxton to elaborate on. With each pass through, the overall profile is retained but the detail is completely different, the number of variants rendered is impressive. ‘No. 392c’ is built around a rising and falling figure. The intensity of Braxton’s glissandos is cut by quiet, more reflective contours in which he gives himself space to shape his response. ‘No. 394a’ offers disjointed growling timbres and pointillistic squeaking, hissing, and pad clatter. Rather than the semi-linear development of the previous pieces, this one is asymptotic and highly varied. It stands out as the most texturally oriented of the set. On ‘No. 394b’ a trilled figure is stated elegantly and is then pulled and stretched out like molten glass across the six-plus minute duration. ‘No.394c’ is populated with full, measured notes that state and deconstruct the theme in a manner similar to that of ‘No. 392a’. He repeats and searches the shapes, modifying and/or recalibrating them, and in doing so reveals the underlying patterns he’s traced. ‘No. 395a’ is a good lively piece, finding Braxton adding phrasing from the great American songbook to the bounce of the main figure, both giving it a sense of antiquity and setting us up for what follows. As per Braxton’s custom he has included a solo interpretation of a standard jazz piece in the set, in this case the well-worn 1930 ballad ‘Body & Soul’. Braxton completely abstracts the song’s structure, offering a reprocessed version full of sudden stops, staccato runs, and eloquent motifs created from the shards of the original. Only towards the end does he bring in noticeable elements of the fundamental form, using them to color his strange construct. The last track ‘No. 395b’ provides us a final burst of energy; the initial staccato runs dissolve into plaintive gestures only to pick back up in tempo and restart, ending with Braxton thanking the audience and their warm ovation.

While not as texturally diverse as Saxophone Improvisations Series F, or as spirited as For Alto, Solo (Victoriaville) is a documentation of a modern genius working out and sharing fantastic ideas. Braxton’s methods are infectious to hear play out, and you get a sense that he’s really enjoying himself. Nothing feels rushed and there are strains of real inspiration rather than just someone running through the motions. Braxton remains a creative titan, whether in solo performance, in an ensemble, conducting his orchestras and operas you get a sense that people are going to spend centuries decoding and studying his work.

Braxton Solo 10-6-17 at the October Revolution, Fringe Arts, Philadelphia, PA:

Thursday, July 12, 2018

CLT - Every Second Is a Blues (CLT Records, 2018) ****

By Sammy Stein

CLT is a trio of three musicians who have had significant impact on the Danish and international jazz scene. Double bass player Casper Nyvang Rask is included in many current releases with, among others, Henrik Pultz Melbye, Jeppe Zeeberg, Kresten Osgood, Living Things and Anders Filipsen. Lars Fiil (piano) has released 3 albums under his own name - the most recent being ‘Everything Is A Translation’ with his septet Fiil Free which I had the pleasure of reviewing. Lars also came to the UK and played at the London Jazz Platform festival which I curated in June 2017 and was a great success there. Lars is also part of notable groups including indie jazz outfit I Think You’re Awesome.
Terkel Nørgaard (drums) is the leader of the trio Reverse and has released 2 acclaimed albums. The group has also worked with musicians including Ralph Alessi, Palle Mikkelborg and Jørgen Leth. Terkel plays regularly with notable names such as Bob Rockwell, Lars Jansson and Thomas Agergaard, and he has won a Danish Music Award Jazz with the band Det Glemte Kvarter.

Out of their own projects, these three musicians have come together to form CLT, a trio that uses the energetic and intense expression common to all three musicians alongside subtlety and a response to the finer nuances in music. Every Second Is a Blues was released on 6/29/18 and was recorded in a single day. It is seven pieces of spontaneous improvisation. With no prior planning CLT creates a musical universe where there is room for both raw bursts of energy and thoughtful explorations. A common goal for the members of the trio is to let their personal expressions merge so that every track appears as a unified entity. With this in mind they change between abstract soundscapes, romantic tableaus and subtle grooves, all the time using as a point of departure the intense energy that occurs when musicians come together and develop and explore the music in the moment.
‘Sky So Pink’ opens the CD. The track begins with chords from the piano with long, silent gaps between them, then single notes, long gaps again and those gaps have different timings but the gaps are related, making a connection which is subtle but clear. The echoey sound of the latter part enhances the openness created until around the 2.40 mark where more notes are introduced which serve to enhance the spacey atmosphere. An opener where you need to be relaxed and aware of your surroundings. ‘Well Walked Wilbur’ begins with cymbals, answered by the bass with a theme of its own, which it continues to walk whilst the percussion crashes in on occasion, the strings on the piano are strummed and amplification adds to the underlying acoustic envelope. The bass is plucked and every fretted note is clear which, over the echoey piano, makes for great listening. Deep textures underline and link the chosen registers here whilst the percussive interruptions emphasise the rhythm and sense of forbidding which creeps in before quite suddenly the intensity blooms just before the 4-minute mark and sets the competitive feel with a rocking rhythm picked up by all three players towards the slow down at the finish.

‘Vir Prudens non Contra Ventum Mingit.’ is long and , as you might expect in a totally improvised and spontaneous number consists of a dialogue, built up first by the keys and percussion with bass under the radar initially but as it develops each musician has more to say, a bit to add and something to enhance or reflect. The piano sets the key notes and changes initially with percussion connecting to the rhythmic yet flowing riffs but the intensity grows until before you know it, all three are in the discussion, bowed bass providing the foundations on which the others build. As the piano adds more textures and intriguing lines, the percussion picks up the pace and the bass follows, adding its own motifs and commentary for the ears. The middle section is more spacey and airy offering great contrast to the first section and some lovely counterpoint rhythms are set up and swapped among the musicians. At the end some classical influences override the free-flowing essence from Lars and the ending is pure classical. ‘Indigo Fall On The Sea’ is a contrast in every way. Short, very sweet and bass. With flowing, ebbing and falling away, reminiscent of waves (hence the title), the body of the bass speaks as it is bowed, tweaked, banged, plucked and played in ways which bring out the best of the wood. A glorious number.

‘Every Second Is a Blues’ is fast-delivered, rapid fire and intense from the off with every member throwing the gauntlet to the others, picking up theirs and returning and echoing riffs as they are laid briefly down. At times it sounds too much like a competition between three excellent players but it does resolve itself over the course of the number into something which makes perfect creative sense as the musicians begin to listen, tune into and feel more deeply part of each other’s playing. Initially I wondered why this was the title track but understanding dawned as I listened. By the end there is a sense of complete togetherness and the interest here is in how this track literally evolves over the four minutes or so it runs – it is rare to get the chance to hear a number develop form the offset to the finish but here, listen and you can hear it. True spontaneous improvisation.

‘Yellow Panic On the Train’ begins with a few spaced out percussive elements before a rhythm is established, sounding eerily like the train of the title – no panic yet. Then off we go on a journey of percussive discovery, the rhythms fast, furious and turning on a hairpin from rocky to free-form and heavy on the snare. Panic now! A wonderful track to wake the senses. Too short.

‘In Angulo Cum Libello’ closes the album. It begins with single bell strikes, under which the bass sets up its own rhythms before the percussion changes into a more complex delivery with drums, cymbals and other percussive implements. The piano introduces a lovely flowing element across the top which enhances rather than covers the dickery trickery of the bass and drums underneath. Rhythms are exchanged and the flow lines here are simply wonderful with musical suggestions being sent across and returned in rapid fire but gentle form between the musicians. There is a sense in this track of complete integration between the elements each musician brings and I cannot tell you how wonderful this is to listen to. They are all listening, all engaged totally and all playing to create wonderful improvised harmonies. A great track to close this fine CD.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Michael Coleman and Ben Goldberg – Practitioner (BAG Production Records, 2018) ****

By Troy Dostert

It is a daunting prospect to approach the work of a musician who looms as large as Steve Lacy in avant-garde jazz. His prolific output alone is astonishing, with well over 100 recordings to his credit as a leader, all of which maintain a remarkably high level of musicianship, not to mention his seemingly countless sideman appearances, with jazz luminaries from Miles Davis to Gil Evans to Cecil Taylor. But beyond that is the personal sound he was able to create on his chosen instrument, the soprano saxophone. Lacy fans can easily recognize him in just a few notes, and the razor-like precision of his playing, combined with his oblique logic, are what made him one of the true pioneers not only of the soprano sax, but of jazz music in general. All of which means that any attempt to do him justice—any kind of musical “tribute,” really—risks falling into pastiche, becoming all the more disappointing for reminding us of the absence of the original genius himself.

This makes the work of Michael Coleman and Ben Goldberg on Practitioner such a remarkable success. For one thing, they’ve taken as their subject one of Lacy’s least-known recordings, the long out-of-print Hocus-Pocus, originally released in 1986 on the Les Disques Du Crépuscule label. It consists of a series of études, with Lacy showcasing his prodigious technique, and as far as that goes it is predictably impressive, with Lacy’s trademark leaps and angular flurries in ample abundance. And it opens a window into Lacy’s process as an improviser. But it’s likely that only Lacy completists would find it indispensable. Enter Coleman and Goldberg, who are able to work a certain magic with this repertoire that renders it more absorbing than the original, and yet completely consistent with Lacy’s intrepid, relentlessly creative spirit. Drawing richly from their own idiosyncratic sensibilities, the two don’t recreate the music so much as they refract, realign and reconstruct it, thus making something entirely new in the process.

Keyboardist Coleman and clarinetist Goldberg have worked together extensively over the years, as they comprise two-thirds of Goldberg’s Invisible Guy trio (with drummer Hamir Atwal). They each also draw on experience from different musical contexts: Coleman has his own groups such as Beep! and Arts & Sciences, but he’s also performed with tUnE-yArDs and singer-songwriter Chris Cohen. Goldberg is entirely comfortable with avant-garde and freely-improvised contexts (see his recent Uncompahgre release with Kirk Knuffke as an excellent example), but he’s also made quite accessible music with Allison Miller and the Tin Hat Trio as well. The duo’s multifarious backgrounds serve them well on Practitioner, as this is music without a clearly-defined idiom; it exists in a world of Coleman’s and Goldberg’s making.

The album does have “track” breaks, to denote the correlations between the original six pieces on Hocus-Pocus and the somewhat altered sequence on Practitioner. But it’s best appreciated in one continuous 37-minute listen, as this is immersive music that rewards undivided attention. Coleman’s array of keyboards and the textures they produce are the principal agent through which Lacy’s music is re-oriented: original phrases are played, sometimes in unison (and with remarkable skill by both players), but then we move into much more abstract and strange territory, with Coleman’s loops and processed effects creating disconcerting impressions that are all the more effective when they are paired with Goldberg’s unadorned playing (although Goldberg’s passages are also manipulated in various ways throughout the album, whether when playing his Bb or his contra-alto clarinet). The assorted moods and registers produced are quite striking, ranging from moments of somber beauty to abrasive, jarring juxtapositions between electronic and analog timbres. There is a peripatetic quality to the music, as rarely do Coleman and Goldberg settle upon a particular motif for very long before moving to the next one; there’s a sense of ongoing discovery that is quite compelling, with new ideas opening continuously as the music unfolds.

In addition to such fine music, those who purchase Practitioner will receive a dozen “baseball” cards, each with a portrait painted by Molly Barker--a labor of love both in recognition of Lacy’s enthusiasm for the sport and to parallel Lacy’s own decision to dedicate each of the pieces on Hocus-Pocus to artists he admired. There are cards for Goldberg, Coleman, Eli Crews and Mark Allen-Piccolo (the latter two of whom truly do deserve praise for their work in recording and mixing the album), but there are also ones for folks like Niccolo Paganini, Harry Houdini, and Karl Wallenda, not to mention James P. Johnson, Babs Gonzales, and Lacy himself (appropriately dubbed the “Head Honcho”). Each card is accompanied by a poem from poets such as Dean Young, Molly Barker, or Paul Muldoon. It’s a delightful touch, especially welcome in a musical age in which tactile pleasures such as these are typically lost amidst the ephemera of instant downloads and music streaming.

What Coleman and Goldberg are able to achieve, ultimately, is music that is rooted in the spirit of Lacy but which uses his work as an occasion for making something wholly unique and inimitable. The master would undoubtedly approve wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Four from Matthew Shipp

Matthew Shipp – Zero (ESP-Disk, 2018) *****

By Tom Burris

We are witnessing a very advanced stage in Shipp’s development as an improviser. Twists and turns that seem too abrupt, too jarring, turn out to be perfectly correct as hindsight reveals the natural logical flow of musical ideas. Need a quick reference? Queue up “Zero Skip & A Jump” and you’ll be treated to a jam-packed two minute burst of absolute brilliance. The flow of ideas and dexterity in the execution of them work in tandem so well that the division between mind and body seems to have been completely obliterated.

These improvisations are elevated into the realm of composition by an internal logic that only Shipp (and his finest collaborators) comprehends. We mere mortals have to arrive at the conclusion of a piece to see where it was all heading. His technique expands here to include the pounding of the damper pedal, which adds tension to music that was actually already tense enough. It's an extra layer of exposed nerves thrown into the pasta pot. Shipp is also utilizing the damper pedal for his patented cloud catcher, where he plays a staccato chord and then quickly stomps the damper to catch the cloud that barely hangs in the chord's wake. And let me be clear: none of his extended techniques are used as novelty tricks. They are employed only when musically appropriate to the setting – and even then only as necessary enhancements. The music itself calls on these devices to be used. I know it sounds like bullshit, but I swear that's how it works.

And I know art is what you project onto it, blah blah blah... but I swear I see a disabled person get out of a wheelchair and dance ballet on “Abyss Before Zero.” And I hear Captain Beefheart pounding out his original piano compositions for Trout Mask Replica on the broken-toothed blues of “Blue Equation.” And I definitely hear Matthew Shipp composing nature program scores for Sir David Attenborough on “Cosmic Sea.” These compositions contain worlds – and these worlds are infinitely more welcoming than the MAGA scum-fuck reality we are currently inhabiting. Don't know about you, but I need this music.

In conclusion, this: Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Herbie Nichols, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, Matthew Shipp. Put on Zero and tell me I'm wrong.

Roscoe Mitchell & Matthew Shipp – Accelerated Projector (RogueArt, 2018)****½

No leader, no follower. This is a musical conversation between two players of different generations in which nothing is forced; and yet everything moves relentlessly forward. The performance, recorded live in Sardinia 13 years ago, is finely structured but jumps around in the unencumbered way in which natural conversation unfolds. The overall structure shows the two masters diving straight into it, conjuring up biblical imagery & Stravinsky, before planting seeds of conflict during the third movement.

When the storm ensues with great intensity in movement IV, the ground floor texture seems to be present in the form of a question. Specifically, what if Cecil Taylor and Jimmy Lyons performed the most intense sections of Rite of Spring? That’s the ground floor. The skies are even nastier – and Mitchell & Shipp fly through them.

What follows is a post-storm vigil with Mitchell on flute – but the broken discord in movement VI occasionally escalates into argumentative battle between the players. Eventually there seems to be an “agree to disagree” conclusion before the seventh (and final) movement of full resolution and (yes) projection. Why this performance has remained out of the public eye for so long is the question, as it is collaborative automatic composition of the highest order from start to finish.

Matthew Shipp – Sonic Fiction (ESP-Disk, 2018)****

On Sonic Fiction, the Shipp/Walerian axis is augmented by longtime Shipp associates Michael Bisio (bass) and Whit Dickey (drums). The musicians experiment with the quartet format in general on this recording, featuring solo tracks & an entire track that is simply one sustained note (“The Note”).

Highlights include “Blues Addition,” - featuring bluesy runs and seventh chords from Shipp & Bechet-like note bends from Walerian – and the title track, which begins as a duo between Shipp & Walerian, goes quartet, then trio (moving so strongly I hadn’t noticed Shipp had dropped out for a while after it occurred), moving from free style to bop, and all over the map dynamically. On “3x4” Bisio & Dickey show how quickly they can solve any equation presented by Shipp – but once Walerian enters the class, Shipp seeks out more complex variables to throw at the group. A fascinating study.

See also “Lines of Study,” which features Shipp and Bisio busily prodding the music forward, while Dickey and Walerian adopt a more restrained approach – even as their playing on the surface remains frenetic. Here – and on the title track – is where the quartet sounds its most perfectly mature.

Matthew Shipp – Magnetism(s) (RogueArt, 2017)****

Magnetism(s) is a reissue – of sorts. Disc 1 is a remastered recording of Magnetism, released on the Bleu Regards label way back in 1999. The second disc is a live performance recorded at The Stone in NYC in 2016. Both discs feature Shipp with longtime bassist William Parker and looongtime collaborator Rob Brown on flute and alto sax.

Disc 1 is a set of mostly shorter selections, all titled “Magnetism” 1 thru 20. Like Sonic Fiction, don’t expect to hear the entire trio playing on every track. (Ex: “Magnetism IX” is a 34-second solo walking bassline from Parker.) Instead expect a constant tinkering with the trio format & a challenge to your perceptions of what a trio should be. One of the highlights here is “Magnetism IV,” a Shipp solo that runs from ragtime to free that is also abstract and smart with a subtle humor underneath. “Magnetism VIII” is all about power: power clusters from Shipp, Parker’s huge single-note plunks, Brown’s alto aiming for the stratosphere. “Magnetism XVIII” features Parker playing arco and Brown on flute. Shipp and Brown take short stabs at each other until fully developed lines appear – and then they take those long lines and wrap Parker up in them. (Brown & Shipp also drown out Parker toward the end of “Magnetism XV.” William Parker doesn’t have to take this kinda shit!)

“Vibration & Magnetism” kicks off the live disc with fire and intensity, Parker sawing away, Shipp pounding clusters with his left hand while his right hand flies into the upper register of the keyboard, Brown playing ecstatic runs… And when the dust clears, they settle on a march tempo? It works, actually. Even after the march is over, its implications shape the rest of the music that follows. If a march seems unlikely, wait until you hear the pretty balladry that Shipp & Brown move into during “Resonance Magnetism.” It doesn’t last long though, as the build-up to full-throttle happened so fast I didn’t realize what was happening until we were there. Parker plays eight-note runs underneath as Shipp plays in his own time signature, banging out block chords before taking the whole thing higher. Closing out the disc is “Impact & Magnetism,” a gorgeous trio piece that begins as a melancholy Brown vehicle and evolves into a ‘70s Miles-style vamp.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Vilhelm Bromanders Initiativ - Allt åt Alla (Signal and Sound Records, 2017) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Although bassist Vilhelm Bromander dubbed his new quintet “Initiativ,” he could have just as easily called it “kollektiv,” a democratic configuration he acknowledges in describing the group as “a non-hierarchical collective with roots in the '60s free jazz and contemporary improvised music.” The inspirations are right there on the band’s sleeves, from the opening notes of “Mot Kung & Fosterland,” with saxophonist Marthe Lea and trumpeter Niklas Barnö playing the melodic, hummable, Blue Note-esque unison melody. About a minute or so in, drummer Christopher Cantillo signals the shift towards contemporary improvisation, and Lea leaps to the foreground with a superb solo. When the melody returns, Bromander, Cantilo, and pianist Lisa Ullén are in a much fierier state, with Ullén, especially, adding layers of depth.

“Cococo” opens with Bromander, Ullén, and Cantillo scraping, tapping, and wringing strained tones to set up the somewhat plaintive melody. Barnö takes a brief unaccompanied solo, which serves as a warm-up for his gorgeously elegiac line that follows. Ullén’s ringing piano doubles Barnö’s voicing nicely, and the two get several chances throughout the album to showcase their wonderful interactions. Likewise, Lea’s playing on the somber “Rockefeller Rock” is both expressive and patient. A middle section of group improvisation is the first extended workout we hear from the whole band, and it recasts the entire album, bringing it squarely into the contemporary canon. This subtle shift carries the band forward into the equally extended “Allt åt Alla” and “Den Bortglömda Utopin.”

That the album was pressed to LP makes a lot of sense, if you think of this as a “Side A” and “Side B,” with the title track and “Den Bortglömda Utopin” comprising that second side. “Allt åt Alla” opens with a clattering, vibrant melody, a la Don Cherry. Again (appropriately) Barnö takes an early solo, leading into a long showcase for the excellent pairing of Barnö and Ullén. The whole group opens up here, Cantillo maintaining a brisk swing. Later, the group segments, mutates, and subdivides in quick succession, as different pairings rapidly coalesce and fly apart. “Den Bortglömda Utopin” is a fitting finale, with the whole group in fine form. Lea, especially, takes an early, dense solo, and the melody she and Barnö play out the band with mixes melancholy reflection with a gentle warmth. The somewhat political undertones of the album were lost on me until I started translating the song titles, but I soon realized the truth had been visible, on the surface, throughout the album. Again, even in the group’s name, Initiativ, which could be collective, taking action, self-motivated, trying to improve a present situation. As with its many inspirations from 50 years ago, maybe we’re ready to hear it.

“Mot Kung Och Fosterland”

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