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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Vision Festival #23 2018 - Day 3

By Paul Acquaro and Martin Schray

The line up of Friday night, squarely in the middle of the festival, seemed to showcase musicians at the top of their game - from the young (Irreversible Entanglements) to the established (Daniel Carter).

Irreversible Entanglements
And so, it was the young whippersnappers who began the evening. Philadelphia’s Irreversible Entanglements, riding on the success of their 2017 debut album, delivered a rousing set that began with a fanfare of sorts and laid the ground work for Camae Ayewa’s intense poetics. The group has a classic free jazz line up comprised ofq saxophonist Keir Neuringer, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, bassist Luke Stewart, drummer Tcheser Holmes, and by adding Ayewa’s vocals and electronics, the group becomes a force to reckon with. The instrumental portions are excellent as well, Neuringer and Navarro twist about each others lines, while Stewart an Tscher often reliably lay down a roiling groove. Ayewa’s background in hardcore and punk comes through and her use of politically charged poetry, from which she pulls snippets from her notes and delivers with ferocity and precision. Unfortunately there was a little too much reverb on her vocals - especially at the start - making the words hard to understand. At a previous show I had caught a little while back I recall there being much more poetry (which gave the words much more context) but less band. Tonight, it seemed to be a little in reverse, allowing Neuringer and Navarro time to deliver some intense solo parts of their own.

 Douglass Dunn + Dancers with the Critical Response Trio
Next up was the Critical Response Trio with violinist Jason Kao Hwang, guitarist Anders Nilsson, and drummer Michael TA Thompson, accompanied by an eleven piece dance troupe. It was fantastic. The trio, whom I had heard once before exactly one year ago at an intimate concert in Beacon, NY, were spot on again. An out curling fractal of abstract musical ideas emanated from the group, centered around Hwang’s heavily effected violin, they dealt our eclectric mix full of shrapnel and beauty, veering from flakes of tonal color to full bodies collective improvisation. The dancers - clad colorfully and moving about the stage in their own improvise synchronizations and stories, made the scene feel like a living Hieronymus Bosch triptych, of bodies twirling about each other, dragging and draping themselves across the stage - the only thing missing were the half-fish people with single crutches! A particular striking moment was when Hwang and Thompson morphed a particularly intense duet into an avant-garde hoedown (wich some of the dancers picked up on).

Seraphic Light
Next up was the highly anticipated Seraphic Light trio of Daniel Carter on sax and trumpet, Matthew Shipp on piano, and William Parker on bass. The trio just released a recording, Live at Tuft’s University, which has been receiving critical accolades. The group's music is a mature statement, one of restraint and patient unwrapping. This night, they began by Carter on trumpet blowing a cool muted tone as Shipp entered with quiet melodic phrases. Parker held long bass notes, and images of a smoky lounge came to mind. Dropping the mute, Carter began playing stronger phrases and Shipp began pawing at the keyboard vigorously. Carter quickly switched to soprano sax, which changed the tonality and direction of the group. In fact, Carter switched again not so long after to the tenor sax, again changing the direction of the music but also revealing the long deep connections between the band members who has been playing together for years in many different permutations. Each episode of music - basically indicated by a switch of instrument by Carter, seemed to be a conscientious cycling through of possibilities. Their music does not disrupt or confront aggressively, it’s light and spellbinding, revealing itself in peeling back layers of melody and motion. Projected behind the group were paintings from Carter’s recently departed partner Marilyn Sontag. It was over all too soon; however, it was great to see Carter, who has for 5 of his 7 decades has been dedicated to free jazz, on the Vision stage, and supporting a strong new release.

Nasheet Waits Equality
Following the trio was drummer's Nasheet Waits Equality quartet. While I had no expectations of the group, with Waits, bassist Mark Helias, saxophonist Darius Jones, and pianist Aruán Ortiz, I had no reason to expect less than the absolutely stunning set they played. Waits and Helias began the set quietly and deliberately. Jones then entered with a flutter of high trills and Ortiz punched out a series of tonal clusters. It was a music musical spread, smeary and thick with large gaps giving Oritz a chance to interject. His musical ideas were matched with his physical presence flowing up and down the keyboard, it was a spectacle to see. Waits is a powerful drummer, but also very conscientious of space. A solo mid-way through the set indicated a real change in the group’s overall approach, suddenly opening up the tune, and prompting Jones to drop down into the lower registers of this instrument, eventually leading to a head bopping bluesy passage. Following an exploratory section, Ortiz seized the energy and from the spark of an idea to a fully realized and passionate solo, he led the ensemble back into a ‘spiritual’ moment. The group took this to a music climax that invoked spirits of Coltrane and fire music, providing a musical high for the evening and a sharp contrast to the previous introspective set.


Matthew Shipp Acoustic Ensemble / Inward Motion
The evening ended with the Matthew Shipp Acoustic Ensemble / Inward Motion, a band consisting of Shipp (piano, conduction), Michael Bisio (bass), Newman Taylor-Baker (drums), Jason Kao Hwang (violin), Mat Walerian (clarinet) and Nate Wooley (trumpet). Like the evening before it seemed to be a rather formalistic and intellectual project. Shipp said that he wanted to develop springboards for group improvisation that operate outside of his piano-centered groups. The idea was to think in terms of morphing and evolving shapes that included a specific narrative that runs through it, although some of the parts are open for improvisation. Shipp created sonic pathways, vectors and events that can transform in many ways but have a specific destination. The composition itself started with different harmonic cells which appeared to have nothing to do with each other, for example trumpet and clarinet solos, a piano/drums duo, a trio based on a marching rhythm, a drone bass and Wooley’s trumpet floating over it. All these fragments seemed to be isolated until the whole composition flowed into a slow-swinging groove which was foiled by clarinet, trumpet and violin. Finally, the whole beauty of the composition became visible: All the fragments of modern classical music lead to a cool swing beat that turned out to be as solid as a rock, indestructible, shining in all its beauty. If it’s true - as the festival claims - that music can be a healing force, this healing force was presented in the structure of this composition. Beneath the abstract surface there was a tremendous intensity of playing, a marvelous compositional effort was revealed, it was a worthy ending of the best day of the festival so far.


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Vision Festival #23 2018 - Day 2


By Martin Schray

Compared to the celebrations for Dave Burrell on the opening of the festival, the following day seemed to offer a completely different program. Among others guitarist Mary Halvorson was to present her new project Code Girl. The organizers of the festival, obviously a bit wary of the festival's commitment to legacy, wanted to support artists like Halvorson (or Jaimie Branch, who will join the line-up on Saturday) as part of the avant-garde continuum. Todd Nicholson, executive director of the Arts For Art board, says: “Having grown up in the 1980s I always felt like the jazz scene was kind of binary - like it was always 'you're either one or the other,' with respect to straight-ahead or free jazz. I don’t think it's that simple anymore. These artists are finding a way to crack the code, and be truly themselves, and mix all these elements together in a way that we haven't heard before.“ So, even if the program for the second day seems to showcase music of a distinctive kind, there’s still the idea to connect tradition to present tendencies and to display in which way improvised music can function as a comment on the current social situation. On the that day, women’s rights were put to the fore. What’s more, the influence of New Classical Music on Free Jazz seemed to be another topic.

Amirtha Kidambi (v), Mary Halvorson (g),Michael Formanek (b), Tomas Fujiwara (d), Adam O’Farrell (t)
As mentioned above, Code Girl, Mary Halvorson’s band with Adam O’Farrell on trumpet, vocalist Amirtha Kidambi, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara opened the evening. The set contained six songs, starting with “My Mind I Find in Time“ and already here composed material dominated the songs Halvorson wanted to present with this group. The improvised parts wiggled around Kidambi’s vocal parts, which build the basics structure of the compositions. However, the improvised parts turned out to be the most interesting musical moments, when the band was able to leave the strict form behind. Especially a duo improvisation of trumpet and guitar and a solo by Halvorson, in which she meandered between Jimi Hendrix and Sonny Sharrock, stood out. Of course, one might ask if such music was able to carry on the fire music torch of the 1960s and 70s. But maybe it’s simply not this music’s intention and the political aspect of this band is just the fact that two women are the main forces behind this project.

Karen Borca(bs), Jackson Krall(p), Rob Brown(s), Michael Bisio(b), Whit Dickey(d)
After a short break drummer Whit Dickey’s trio hit the stage. The band actually consists of Michael Bisio on bass and Rob Brown on saxophone, for this set they were augmented by Karen Borca on bassoon and Jackson Krall on percussion. 79-year-old Borca is actually the only bassoonist who has made a mark in Free Jazz (to best of my knowledge). She was a member of Canaille, an international group of women composers, and she played and recorded with avant-garde pioneers like Cecil Taylor and Jimmy Lyons. Along with Jackson Krall, another collaborator of the Cecil Taylor connection, they were the link to the golden age of this music. Honestly, I had hardly any expectations as to this group but it turned out to be the highlight of the evening. The overlapping of drums and percussion (Krall used a number of different bells and other stuff) propelled the 40-minute free improvisation, especially the beginning was incredibly intense. In any case everyone in this band wanted to encourage the others, constantly putting new ideas into the brew. Then the collectively improvised part dissolved into solos and duos (outstanding ones by Bisio, Borca and Dickey/Krall). Towards the end the piece was inflated by Borca’s runs, just to collapse into a wonderful meditation dominated by Bisio’s bowed bass, an excellent sax solo by Rob Brown and Dickey using mallets on his cymbals. The audience gave the band a rightfully deserved enthusiastic applause.

Nicole Mitchell(f), Joelle Léandre(b), Patricia Nicholson(d), Melanie Dyer(v)
Then, Women with an Axe to Grind presented the strongest connection to European avant-garde as to instrumentation (the quartet was Joelle Léandre on bass, Nicole Mitchell on flute, Melanie Dyer on viola and Patricia Nicholson on vocals/dance) and instant composing approach. Obviously, this project had a strong focus on women’s rights. Nicholson declaimed that “We 4 are women standing strong in the light of the creative spirit - passing through. We cannot stand silent in a time of assault on humanity. We’ll never accept the lies, the pettiness, the greed, the virulent racism and sexism as normal“. Léandre particularly stood out with her tight playing and wild yelling, which gave the whole performance an angry touch.

Roscoe Mitchell(s), Thomas Buckner(v), Scott Robinson(s)
The evening was closed by SPACE, a trio originally formed in 1979 by Roscoe Mitchell (saxes), Thomas Buckner (baritone vocals) and Gerald Oshita. Mitchell and Buckner had to replace Oshita (who died in 1992) by multi instrumentalist Scott Robinson. The project explores the timbral possibilities of a large scale of brass instruments from sopranino to slide saxophones, even a contra bass saxophone was on the bandstand (which alone was a sight to see). Buckner’s vocal style is similar to the one of Phil Minton, consisting of words bitten of their stems, of syllables thrown into an ocean of sounds. The performance was a conglomeration of dada elements, extreme circular breathing, opera and sound exploration. The best parts were those when Robinson contrasted Mitchell’s soprano with deep sounds from the bass or even contra bass saxophone. All in all it was a very intellectual and abstract approach compared to the evening before, but listening to the marvelous Roscoe Mitchell is always worthwhile.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Vision Festival #23 2018 - Day 1


Opening Invocation: Patricia Nicholson, William Parker, and Hamid Drake
By Martin Schray

Last year Paul covered the complete Vision Festival in a tremendous spree of reviews, an effort which is really stressful for a single reviewer. This year I’m able to visit the festival for the first time and Paul and I decided to split forces to cover as many events as possible.

In general, most of the visitors, many of them regulars of the festival, were glad that it takes places at Roulette again, since the acoustics in Manhattan’s Judson Hall were difficult (to put it mildly). The venue is part of Memorial Hall in the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District and offers a 400-seat theater which is perfect for smaller and larger ensembles.

As usual, the festival began with an opening invocation by bassist William Parker and his wife, dancer Patricia Nicholson, who both co-organize the festival, along with percussionist Hamid Drake. Parker played the gimbri (a three string Moroccan bass) while Drake used a large hand drum. They established a traditional groove to which Nicholson delivered a dance meditation before she picked up a microphone announcing what this year’s festival will be about. She declaimed that there was a lot of work to do, which is why she was calling all spirits particularly evoking the powers of freedom, hope and justice in order to heal our hearts.

It was the festival's clarion call: in times of a crisis of human rights and democracy it’s necessary to remind people of the great achievements of the civil rights movement and of the power and the anger that propelled this movement. On the one hand the festival showcases the musical heroes of this movement, on the other hand it presents young musicians who might be able to carry on the torch.

Dave Burrell, Steve Swell, Darius Jones, Harrison Bankhead, and Andrew Cyrille
This year the festival celebrates Dave Burrell, the great 77-year-old pianist, who lives his music with outstanding integrity and whose creativity is supposed to be an example for the new generation. Or, as the festival program says: "His open heart makes him an important light and place of hope as we stand under direct attack in this season of lies." Burrell attended his first Vision Festival in 2000. He has since appeared on several subsequent editions of the event, sometimes playing multiple sets. However, while Burrell is still an underdog, he has inspired many young artists with his music. His musical repertoire reaches from Jelly Roll Morton to Thelonious Monk to Duke Ellington and Cecil Taylor. “He embodies the continuum of Jazz“, as Patricia Nicholson writes in the notes of the festival. That’s why Burrell was scheduled with three bands on the first day, and particularly the first project, Harlem Renaissance, a quintet that includes legendary drummer Andrew Cyrille, the wonderful bassist Harrison Bankhead, Darius Jones on alto, and Steve Swell on trombone, gave evidence of Burrell’s roots in the tradition.  The first composition, "Paradox of Freedom," established a swing atmosphere at the beginning, as it referred back to the music of the 1930s and 40s. But just when the music was about getting too comfortable, Cyrille and Bankhead dropped playing time and the band seemed to abandon all preconceived ideas and changed to free improvisation. It was an excursion into jazz history, from the call-and-response patterns of the blues to free jazz and back again. In the liner notes to the festival Burrell makes clear that this wasn’t only about music. The compositions were "dedicated to all descendants of slaves freed from their owners during the Civil War". Again there it was: the political component reflected in the music itself.

Dave Burrell, Archie Shepp, William Parker, and Hamid Drake
For the second set Burrell re-united with saxophonist Archie Shepp, with whom he appeared on a series of albums in the 1960s and 70s (check out Blasé from 1969, on BYG). William Parker and Hamid Drake joined them on bass and drums. And again the link between tradition and the present became visible. Shepp decided to play "Sonny", a composition dedicated to Sonny Rollins, and "Revolutionary", a song he wrote for his grandmother. Surprisingly, Shepp was more powerful when he replaced the tenor (on which he chose to play rather balladesque) with the soprano, then you could almost feel the spirit of John Coltrane penetrate the venue. Finally, when he even started to sing, Shepp’s black power gestures were back for a moment. The audience loved it and celebrated him with standing ovations.

After that there was an interruption by a dance performance by Warrior of Light, a collaboration of dancer/choreographer Djassi DaCosta Johnson and bassist Shayna Dulberger. Johnson recited a modern version of Billie Holidays "Strange Fruit" referring to recent racial lynchings in the US. The performance itself was very intense, Johnson seemed to  adopt positions of martial arts warriors. The metaphor of the Warrior of Light refers to personal strength and poise when faced with constant war and struggle. All in all a powerful statement that would have deserved more respect by a rather noisy audience.

Dave Burrell, Kidd Jordan, William Parker, James Brandon Lewis, and Andrew Cyrille
The evening was closed by Burrell’s quintet featuring Andrew Cyrille and William Parker, behind a pair of imposing tenor saxophonists: Kidd Jordan, 82, and James Brandon Lewis, 34 - another personification of tradition and modernity. In contrast to the other two sets this one was played completely free - and indeed it was the all-out alert, the full force that was expected in the run-up. Jordan told the story how he got his nickname. At the age of 17 he was the youngest one in the band which is why he was called “kid“. And even today, he said, he’s still the “kid“. He said that although he was sick he wanted to try his best. To cut a long story short: he really rocked the house. From the beginning of the 45-minute piece the playing was of the utmost intensity, fired by a very different Dave Burrell, who played clusters á la Cecil Taylor, and by an excellent William Parker, who seemed to be inspired by Andrew Cyrille’s light-footed drumming. Jordan played until he literally could hardly walk anymore and had to take breaks now and then - just to come back even better. James Barndon Lewis proved to be one of the players who might carry on the legacy, at his young age he has the lung capacities to develop a full, ripe and powerful tone (like the young Archie Shepp, for example). Jordan delivered the right attitude, the people simply freaked out and this frail, fragile man - who said that this was only the second gig he played this year - enjoyed every second of the show.

All in all a very promising beginning of the festival, which will continue with a focus on younger musicians like Mary Halvorson and one on women (Women with an Axe to Grind) on Thursday night.

From May 24th to 28th ... more info

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Gerry Hemingway & Samuel Blaser - Oostum (No Business, 2018) ****

By Stef

Since the early days of this blog, more than 11 years ago, we have reviewed only three trombone and drums duo albums. Indeed, the number of albums are rare with this line-up. And now we have this great duet between two masters of their instrument, Gerry Hemingway on drums and Samuel Blaser on trombone. This is not the first duo recording with a percussionist for Blaser, who released "Vol à Voile" with his compatriot Pierre Favre in 2010.

The performance was recorded live three years ago, in the Kerkje van Oostum, in Groningen in the Netherlands, one venue of the bicycle tour summer jazz festival. The little church originally dates from the 13th Century.

The opening track is surprisingly calm, as if both musicians are measuring the space in which they perform, and barely a whisper leaves their instruments, hesitating and sensitive to explore the environs, a kind of welcoming minimal disruption of what already is. Hemingway starts the second track with more gusto, creating a rhythmic foundation for more voiced and lyrical playing. Yet interestingly, they open things up again on the third track. A bluesy solo by Blaser expands with timbral and multiphonic explorations.  Hemingway joins with first implicit, then clearer rhythmic patterns, turning the sad beginning into a more playful and almost funky interaction with the horn.

They keep changing the approach, changing the expectations between lyrical interplay and sonic explorations, between raw free improv and jazzy soloing, including even atmospheric and solemn singing in a dialogue with vulnerable trombone sounds. They change between sad and joyful moods, between calm moments and they end with a great and intense powerful finale.

It is a real joy to hear these two musicians interact. The music is fresh, rich and a little like a crackling fire, vivid and moving, yet at the same time soothing and inviting to dream.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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


By David Menestres

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

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

By Sammy Stein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Latest from Didi Kern

By Eyal Harueveni

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

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



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

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


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


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

Listen and download from Bandcamp


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Are Tribute Albums Really of Interest?

By Stef

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

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

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


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


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

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


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



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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Saturday, May 19, 2018

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


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

Friday, May 18, 2018

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



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

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

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