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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tom Arthurs & Richard Fairhurst - Mesmer (Babel, 2007) ****

In an earlier review, I already praised Tom Arthurs for Squash Recipe, an album he made on the British Babel label. He's made yet again a stunning album, called Mesmer, sticking to flügelhorn throughout, and with Richard Fairhurst on piano. There aren't that many piano/trumpet albums (except for Fujii/Tamura), despite the fact that the combination works well. "Mesmer" is of course the German 18th Century physician who claimed he could heal people by bringing them in a trance-like situation through "animal magnetism", based on his concept of invisible fluids and flows which not only connect people, but could also cause disease if obstructed. I'm not claiming this record may heal you, but it's fluid and full of magnetism between the players, to say the least. From the first piece, Beautiful Indifference, Fairhurst sets the tone what going to be a very precise, sensitive and subtle musical excursion. The music itself is calm, avoiding peaks or blunt effects, creating the tension in a subliminal way : implicit rhythm and rythm changes, slight variations on the themes and harmony, and interesting interplay, fluid at times, more angular at others. Yet this is not a romantic outing : the music has its stings and tiny claws. The interplay between these two gifted musicians is a joy to hear. Listen to "Anguilla" here below to get an idea. But each musician plays also a solo track, "Infinite" is flugelhorn solo, and "Beautiful Indifference" piano solo. A great record!

Listen to samples
Beautiful Indifference
Anguilla
Keepsake
Furuncle

You can buy a download version here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Where can you get CD downloads??

My main source of CDs is the Brussels public music library, where I think they have one of the largest public jazz library in the world, and you can borrow CDs for 1.5 euro for a week. That's where I borrow approx. 10 to 15 CDs a week. Browse under "Nom" (name) to see what they have to offer in jazz, it's truly amazing. You can also check under "Nouveautés" what they have to offer each month.

General downloadsites :
eMusic
PayPlay.com
Allaboutjazz MP3Store
CDBaby (although as expensive as real CDs!)
Digstation (limited choice)
iTunes

US only
mp3.com
Rhapsody

Labels from which you can download
Ayler
Palmetto
Babel
Leo Records (via lulu.com)
Moserobie (mainly Scandinavian)

Directly from the artist :
Artistshare.com
Bugge Wesseltoft's website (has other artists as well)
David Binney has some concerts and albums on his site.

Any other ideas? Please share them.

(Many thanks to Alan for his contribution)

Thanks,
Stef

Monday, October 29, 2007

Darren Johnston, Fred Frith, Larry Ochs, Devin Hoff, Ches Smith - Reasons For Moving (Not Two, 2007) ****

There are CDs which you start listening to and you think "this is great, this is it!", and sometimes that's a disappointing thought when the rest of the album does not meet the initial expectation, but that is definitely not the case with "Reasons For Moving", recently published on the Polish Not Two label, with Darren Johnston on trumpet, Fred Frith on guitar, Larry Ochs on sax, Devin Hoff on bass and Ches Smith on drums. It starts gently, hesitantly with trumpet and some guitar strumming, with a bass adding some basic rhythm, yet it doesn't take long before all hell breaks loose, when with raw intensity gut-wrenching sounds are produced by the whole band, yet in a controlled way, impactful, effectful, but coherent. The second track moves us back to calmer regions with trumpet and bass sweetly opening the piece, and while the horns remain on the soft and sweet side, the guitar and drums build up aggression, like dogs wanting to bite the softly bleating lambs on the other side of the fence, barking and jumping and running back and forth in full rage, but then it tones down again, ending in a nice sax improv. Fred Frith's guitar is without a doubt one of the most important determinants of the overall sound, and he uses all the tricks of the trade to create effects, but not for their own sake, but rather to create depth, to drive the other musicians on, as in "Biocarbon Man", on which his rock-guitar pushes Ochs into some screaming sax, and Smith into percussive pyrotechnics, while Hoff plays arco, precisely and smoothly at first to offer some contrast, but he's soon enough swept up by the overall mayhem. But the music is not about chaos or violence, rather it seems to explore the subtle area where emotions of pleasure and pain seem to meet. There are gentle explorations into new musical forms, as on "Deep North", and sonic explosions as on "Speed Trap", and the great thing about it all is that the focus is never lost, all tracks speak the same musical language, with lots of variations, but with raw emotions always on the surface, varying between sad melancholic moments to agonizing angst. It may explain the title "Reasons for Moving", you leave a place, you loose a place, you look hopeful to the new destination, but with fear for the unknown as well. Whether or not that's been the intention, at least these contrasting emotional fields are well brought up by this stimulating, creative, entertaining, and boundary-shifting music. Highly recommended for listeners with open ears (and warm hearts).

Listen to and download from eMusic.com

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Paul Dunmall - Deep See (FMR, 2007) ****

No, this is not music for scuba-diving, though it may be an interesting experience. The cover art is some of the most unusual I have seen for this kind of music, but then again, what are the rules? Paul Dunmall is a British sax (and bagpipe!) player who has performed and recorded with musicians as diverse as Johnny Guitar Watson, Alice Coltrane and Keith Tippett, and who has been an essential part of the European free improv scene for the past decades. On this record he is accompanied by Tony Orrell on drums and Jim Barr on bass. The music is absolutely fantastic. It is accessible, free, light-footed dancing from beginning to end, with Dunmall playing extremely melodic (without playing themes), very softly, as if he's afraid of creating waves. The interplay among the three musicians is subtle, respectful, creative and focused on shaping this very gentle, fragile kind of free-form improv. Throughout the album, there is some boppish rhythm either explicitly in the foreground or implicitly present in the playing of the musicians. And don't worry, Dunmall sticks to his sax on this record. Coming back to the art work : the music does conjure up feelings of wonder, surprise and sympathy, feelings I could imagine having when admiring the deep sea landscape. Highly recommended.

Vandermark galore ....

Keeping track of Ken Vandermark's activities is a job in itself, and, admittedly, he must have fun playing all over the world with other musicians, each time in different countries, with different backgrounds and approaches to music. Yet regardless of the context, Vandermark manages to fit in perfectly well without loosing his own recognisable voice and approach.

Territory Band with Fred Anderson - Collide (Okkadisk, 2007)

Territory Band is an intercontinental mini big band with Johannes Bauer on trombone, Axel Dörner on trumpets, Per-Ake Holmlander on tuba, Lasse Marhaug on electronics, Paul Lytton and Paal Nilssen-Love on percussion, Jim Baker on piano, Fredrik Ljungkvist, Dave Rempis and Ken Vandermark on sax, Kent Kessler on bass, David Stackenas on guitar and Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello. This album "Collide" is dedicated to Chicago free jazz icon Fred Anderson, who is also joining for the occasion.

Vandermark explains that he tried to "design compositional frameworks that liberate and motivate the improvisers rather than confine them through a rigid set of directives and overly complex material". The musicians are free to add things and play as they see fit. The first track is a very thundering, menacing orchestral piece, the second starts with a Vandermark solo imitating some of Anderson's phrasing (at least that's what I think), to be interrupted by Lasse Marhaug's electronics, kicking off an African-influenced theme, which once subsiding gives room for bass and tuba soloing. The audience reacts very enthusiastically throughout. The players perform well, there is enough variation between soloing for the individual players and band-played tunes, but the variety of styles do not always mix. It is not clear to me either how this is a tribute to Anderson, but it is in any case one of Territory Band's most coherent performances.

Listen to
Part 1
Part 2

The Thing with Ken Vandermark - Immediate Sounds (Phonofile, 2007)

"The Thing" is a trio consisting of Mats Gustafsson on sax, Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, named after a Don Cherry composition and originally focused on Cherry's music. On this album they are joined by Ken Vandermark who has played with the three musicians before. The first track starts off with the typical high energy playing these Swede and Norwegians are known for, and Vandermark blends in very well in this idiom, with his free funking improvizations feeling like a fish in the water, utterly enjoying the company, and when the blow-fest subsides, the drums and the bass pave the way for some very sensitive melodic playing in the second track, moving on to the third when Vandermark starts blowing one of his funky riffs, and Gustafsson can give free reign to the creative power of his instrument, after which Vandermark lifts his riff into a high electricity improv, which then turns into a raw, screeching, creative improv duel/dialogue between the two baritone saxes on the fourth track, then shifting beautifully into some bluesy interplay when bass and drums join, but these musicians are who they are and it doesn't take long before their hyperkinetic urges bring them back where they excell, namely into nuclear energy fields, where emotions and power and creativity join, first wailing but towards the end meeting each other in an interesting alternating interplay between spontaneous unisono melody and low tone counterpoint. Breathtaking indeed.

Listen to and download from eMusic.com

Tim Daisy & Ken Vandermark - August Music (self-published)


Tim Daisy and Ken Vandermark have played hundreds of time together, but this is their first duo recording, which was only distributed in the context of their tour this summer. The recording itself was made during a life performance at the Empty Bottle in Chicago a year earlier. The record begins quite freely, with loose sounds trying to justify their living, but the second track brings us more into jazz territory, with funky sax and rhythmic drums, to be brought back again into some extended playing on both instruments, creating unusual sounds leading into some plaintive hesitant wailing on the bass-clarinet. Daisy is as much in the lead as Vandermark, setting the scene, with some very creative approaches, giving ideas and rhythms to Vandermark who takes them up with pleasure, turning into his usual funky improvs. This is high energy intimacy.

Listen to Study For Mural


Free Fall - The Point In A Line (Phonofile, 2007)

With Free Fall, Vandermark stays in Scandinavia with Havard Wiik on piano and Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten on bass. This is the band's third album after "Furnace" and "Amsterdam Funk". The band was originally trying to revive the Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley and Steve Swallow line-up from the sixties, "Free Fall" being also the title of a Giuffre album. The music is composed and open, melodic and sensitive. The energy level is not comparable to the records reviewed above, but that doesn't mean there is less tension. The three musicians manage to make their interactive statements compact and to-the-point, with an aesthetic efficiency which is rare in free jazz, even in the more chaotic pieces. There are some stunningly beautiful moments on this album. Great musicianship and great music.

Listen to and download from eMusic.com.


Ken Vandermark & Pandelis Karayorgis - Foreground Music (Okkadisk, 2007)


There is a sequence to this list, namely, the energy level goes down. But again, that's no negative judgment, just a factual statement. On "Foreground Music", Ken Vandermark joins forces with Greek national Pandelis Karayorgis on piano. Karayorgis moved to Boston in the 1980s to perfect his playing at the New England Conservatory, and he remained in the neighborhood. His playing is absolutely excellent, not expansive, but precise and concise, giving as much attention to the compositional structure as to the melodies themselves. And again, Vandermark feels as comfortable in this context as in any other. The music is abstract, with angular melodic figures, sometimes close to modern classical, but also at times reminiscent of middle-eastern music, with its long-winding themes and odd metres (on "JCT"), or just plain romantic and subdued (on "Dreamless"), or digging into jazz heritage and film music. The sensitivity and restraint are unusual for Vandermark, but it is absolutely excellent. Great musicians, great interplay, great music. Candy for the ear. A real treat.

Listen to Lifgatowy here (better sound) or watch it below (sound is too shrill).

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Double Duo - Crossword Puzzle (Libra, 2007) ****

Not so long ago I said that there weren't that many quartets with a double trumpet front line, well, here's another one, and even more unusual, because there are two pianos as well, which explains the name of the band. Dutch free improvizers Angelo Verploegen en Misha Mengelberg on trumpet and piano invite Japanese master duo Natsuki Tamura and Satoko Fujii on the same instruments, for two long free improvizations, recorded live at The Bimhuis in Amsterdam. The first piece starts with an evocation of the sounds of nature, random notes like birds, with short melodyless counterpoints, joyous, sad, serious, plaintive, ... The overall approach is pointillistic, painting notes on a white canvas, randomly at first, until new spaces are created with lots of room for the others to join, to add their thing, to withdraw and leave room again for the other artist. The result is interesting, because you rarely hear the four musicians at the same time, creating something more like scrabble than a crosswords puzzle, where each players awaits his turn to add letters on what the other one put on the board. Unlike many other free improv, the music is never "in your face", but is rather unobtrusive, with quiet and subdued moments, altered with intense staccato crescendos, but never chaotic, with a little more impressionistic approach by Tamura and Fujii, the Dutch musicians sounding somewhat harder. There are several really creative moments, such as when piano and trumpets produce phrases ending with a question mark, hesitantly moving up the scale with a somewhat sustained end-note, as if full of surprise and astonishment at what the other musicians brought forward. Tamura is the only one creating something close to a (march-like) melody after some twenty minutes in the first piece, over some total frenzy by the pianos and Verploegen's echoing sounds, which suddenly stop for some voiceless trumpet-whispers by the Dutch trumpeter, as a start for the outro of the piece. The audience seems too perplexed at first to applaud and does so hesitantly and politely. The second piece is less abstract with a steady piano figure, eery and intense, with an anguished trumpet evolving to a shout-like repetition. The great strength of the double duo is that they manage to create a coherent approach to their own aesthetic, with lots of openness and creative interplay. Not easy listening, but rewarding.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Drake/Gahnold/Parker - The Last Dances (Ayler, 2007) ***

Swedish alto sax player meets again with Hamid Drake and William Parker, after last year's "... And William Danced". Nice enough album, yet no big surprises. The music is free bop, with long and expansive pieces, with Drake and Parker at their usual best, Gahnold not too adventurous, melodious in his improvizations, with a raw edge to his tone, sticking close to the core theme, but as said, fun enough. Easy to download from Ayler Records, or Allaboutjazz, or Klicktrack. Enjoyable.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mat Maneri & Denman Maroney - Distich (Nuscope, 2007) ****

Mat Maneri is one of those musicians I really have come to like in the past years, starting with absolute dislike. The main reason for that was that I could not comprehend the atonal, microtonal and totally abstract compositions he made. But on many albums on which he plays his 5-string viola without being the leader, his role is more "inside" the music, yet that was apparently needed for me to come to appreciate him, as a a kind of bridge to his more bizarre and abstract tonal universe as a leader. On "Distich", he is accompanied by Denman Maroney, who plays hyperpiano, i.e. a normal piano on which he afflicts extended techniques, and definitely someone who feels equally at home in Maneri's universe. The music is subtle, sensitive, improvized on the spot, but very concentrated and focused. The two musicians find each other blindly, creating tension, beautiful images, dense chattering, strange and eery melodies, suddenly appearing and disappearing patterns, ... there is a lot to hear, yet it's all ungraspable as clouds, floating along, with its own logic, very coherent, very compelling. Those who are open to new musical experiences should certainly listen to this one. Let yourself be sucked into their universe and enjoy.

As Denman Maroney puts it : "To this end I often compose and improvise in pulse fields. A pulse field is a polyperiodic texture comprising two or more pulses of different speeds. A pulse field is polyrhythmic, but unlike most polyrhythms it is relative and egalitarian not absolute and hierarchical. The idea is to create spaces of relative time where a given pulse makes more sense in relation to others than in itself."

... understood? Don't worry about the explanations, just let the music take you along.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Tom Rainey

(photo by Barry Quick)

When I review the list of my reviews from this year, there are clearly a few constants, but none so striking as the presence of Tom Rainey at the drumkit, and that is a coincidence in the sense that I never looked for CDs on which he played (unlike CDs with for instance Hamid Drake), yet it's also not a coincidence in the sense that the major jazz musicians of today seek the services of this excellent and very versatile drummer.

Some of this year's best CDs on which Tom Rainey performs :

Joe Rosenberg - Quick Sand
Mark O'Leary - Waiting
David Torn - Prezens
Mark Feldman - What exit
Cline/Parkins/Rainey - Downpour
Drew Gress - Irrational Numbers
Mark Helias - Atomic Clock
Simon Nabatov & Tom Rainey - Steady Now
Brad Shepik - Places You Go
Tim Berne - Live In Cognito
Fred Hersch Trio - Play Coleman, Coltrane, ...

... and add some of the best albums of 2006 :

Drew Gress - 7 Black Butterflies
Julian Argüelles - Partita
Malaby/Sanchez/Rainey - Alive In Brooklyn Vol. 1 & 2

The most staggering thing when you look at this list is the wide variety of styles he is playing, and without a doubt he is a major contributor to the success of each of these CDs. It also demonstrates his attitude - in full service of the music at hand. And it also demonstrates the fact that he combines the technical skills of all these styles together with sufficient musical understanding and creativity to make it a success.

Unfortunately I couldn't find sufficient samples to illustrate the major differences of approach and the quality of his drumming in each and every style he's touched upon in the past years, and that's too bad. It only demonstrates that good music still is hard to find, even on internet.


Solo bass albums

There is an old jazz joke about a group of explorers being led through the jungle by a local guide. As the men march and tear through the overgrowth, the guide warns - “Always listen for the drums. When the drums stop - bad things follow.” On day two, the group continues to hear the incessant drumming, and they are eased by the distant din. The guide implores “Always listen for the drums. When the drums stop - bad things follow.” On day three - the drumming was steady, and the group continued their journey with an easy mind. On the fourth day, however, the drums suddenly halt. The birds stop their singing. All is still in the jungle. The guide is panicked and his face is fraught with fear. The explorers are now also concerned - “What happens now that the drums have stopped? Tell us, what should we fear?” The local guide informed - “When the drums stop, there is a bass solo.” (as told by Eric Quick on Allaboutjazz.com)

There are of course worse things that could happen than a bass solo. As much as I abhor solo percussion albums, I like solo bass albums, because the instrument combines warmth, scope, melody, rhyhtm, and because of the various ways of playing it, it lends itself to more variation than many other instruments. Solo bass jazz albums are rare, but when listed, there's more to find than one would think. I listened to Jonas Tauber's excellent Storm Walking Singing over the weekend, wondering who else made jazz solo bass albums, and I came up with the following list, aided by a discussion on a jazz forum somewhere on internet. For sure, I haven't heard them all, but at least that's something to look forward to.

Barre Phillips Journal Violone (1968) would be the first solo bass recording in jazz history (thanks Pedro, for the info).

Barre Philips - Journal Violone (AKA Bass Barre or Barre Unaccompanied)
Joe Fonda - When It's Time
Marcin Oles - Ornette On Bass
Jonas Tauber - Storm Walking Singing
Dave Holland - Ones All/Emerald Tears
Michael Formanek - Am I Bothering You?
Barry Guy - Symmetries/Fizzles
Joëlle Léandre - No Comment/Sincerely
Miroslav Vitous - Emergence
Peter Kowald - Was Da Ist?
Paul Rogers - Listen
Ron Carter - All Alone
John Lindberg - Luminosity : Homage To David Izenzon
Kent Kessler - Bull Fiddle (although Zerang joins on three tracks).
Mark Dresser - Invocation/Unveil
Ken Filiano - Subvenire
Malachi Favors - The Natural and the Spiritual
Lynn Seaton - Solo Flights
Mike Milligan - Solo Flights
Eberhard Weber - Pendulum
Malachi Favors - The Natural and the Spiritual
Fernando Grillo - Fluvine
Alan Silva - Inner Song
Roberto Miguel Miranda - The Creator's Musician
Ed Schuller - Ong Song Music For Solo Bass
William Parker - Lifting The Sanctions/Testimony/Painter's Autumn
Henri Texier - Amir/Varech
Aladar Pege - Virtuoso Solo Bass
Anthony Cox - That & This

Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten - Double Bass
Dominic Duval - Songs For Krakow/Nightbird Inventions/Anniversary
Wilbert de Joode - Olo


Question : Nothing by David Friesen or Gary Peacock?


Watch Dave Holland solo with Mr. PC

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thomas Heberer


Last year, Dave Douglas wrote on his blog : "For our New York readers: By all means, PLEASE come hear trumpeter Thomas Heberer this Saturday at Tonic at 8pm. He's coming with his electric trio from Cologne. This is an EXTREMELY RARE visit from a European master. Be there if you can".

True, German trumpeter Thomas Heberer studied with Douglas, but still, for someone with his reputation to be so insistent, it must be more than just out of friendliness that he does this. And he's right. Heberer is not only one of the best European trumpeters of the moment, his long-standing role in the ICP Orchestra can testify of that, but also in the European Jazz Ensemble, in Aki Takase's quintet, with Alexander von Schlippenbach, and many more. His technique is fabulous, which is of course the reason why he is so in demand, but on top of that, his compositional skills and musical vision are excellent as well. He has created several bands or musical projects of his own : Lip Lab (with tuba and drums), Sloops! (trumpet solo, with electronics and dubbed), SSH (with guitar and keyboards + turntables). The most recent projects are with bassist Dieter Manderscheid with whom he has released four CD's so far.

One of his latest US performances can be listened to below in its entirety : a quartet with Nate Wooley also on trumpet, Reuben Radding on bass and Harris Eisenstadt on drums. It was recorded in June of this year in Brooklyn, and it is closer to free improv than free jazz, but more than worthwhile.

Listen and download (also available on his website) :

Map 31
Forest Hills
Myrtle Ave
No Door Bell

His best work according to me is to be found in his duo releases with Dieter Manderscheid, because it is a little more accessible.

Listen to Heberer/Manderscheid :
Room 210
The Progress Thus Far
ER

For more information on Heberer : click here to be linked to his website.

Ken Aldcroft

Yesterday I bought guitarist's Ken Aldcroft's "From Our Time", a record from 2003. I knew Aldcroft from his double CD "Kirby Sideroad" (2004) and from "His Mistress Never Sleeps" (1999), a tribute to Duke Ellington. Aldcroft is from Toronto, Canada, and his musical style is very modern, very bluesy and very open. Both in his compositions and guitar-playing Aldcroft manages to integrate the whole jazz-legacy without loosing his own voice, which is airy, carefully composed and free in the improvizations. At one moment it's bop, then free, then funk, then modern, but always with a creative touch, and a little harshness in the delivery, the tone of his guitar being more tuned for rock than for jazz, but it's accessible and compelling all the way. He is not breaking musical boundaries, but not everyone should do that. Once in a while it's good to have someone who brings it all together. On this album he is accompanied by Evan Shaw on alto saxophone, Gordon Allen on (pocket) trumpet and Joe Sorbara on drums. A great band with special kudo's for Joe Sorbara, whose drumming is absolutely excellent.

If you get the chance, get to know Aldcroft, you won't be disappointed. He is one of those musicians who clearly need wider recognition.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Matthew Shipp - Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear, 2007) ****

Matthew Shipp will hopefully be known in music history as the guy who helped to create genuine, authentic, artistic, emotional, adventurous and intellectually stimulating new forms of musical expression, one of the true great jazz musicians of the 90s and 00s. He is amongst others, the inventor of something called "jazztronica", and with his Thirsty Ear recordings, managed to move many other musicians into new realms of thought about what modern music could sound like. And possibly the best thing about him is, that he creates his music with sympathy for every other genre, just looking at what new possibilities they can offer, rather than looking down on them. He doesn't shy away from DJ's, dubbing, electronica, or even rap, and nor does he despise the tradition. And after some of the more "jazztronica" albums, he's now taking a new step with an acoustic piano trio, with Joe Morris on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. This is not his first piano trio, he's made records such as "Circular Temple" with William Parker and Whit Dickey, or "Multiplication Table" with Parker and Susie Ibarra, but this one is probably the most accessible of them, but without lowering his high standards. There are elements of blues and swing on the record, but also more romantic moments are to be found, but the structures and the interplay are definitely free jazz, full of openness and possibilities, which the band members fill in with inventivity and surprises. The title track clearly defines this approach : yes there is rhythm, the bass does walk, and the drums play a steady pattern, but Shipp manages to avoid a theme, even if what he plays is melodic and mostly within usual scales, sometimes creating slight patterns but as soon as he's played them, he leaves them somewhere in mid-air to pursue new ideas. And yes, he can be as bluesy as it gets, and the second track "Keyswing" is the closest he's ever come to mainstream jazz, and "To Vitalize" is a non-traditional reading of what is in essence a real boppish tune, and "Slips Through The Fingers" has a slightly romantic approach, but the rest is as exploratory as one might expect from Shipp. "Sliding Through Space" brings some eery sounds, with arco bass by Morris, thundering, menacing chords, almost cinematic in nature, creating suspense and restrained tension. "Quivering With Speed", expands on the tension, with especially Morris and Dickey propulsing the music forward, pushing Shipp into real unmapped territory. And that's the great thing about this music. It's accessible, in the sense that the trio uses known lyrical, melodic and rhythmic concepts to guide us along to some new places. It makes the journey lighter, but not less interesting, and at the end you feel you have reached a rewarding destination.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Schweizer, Anderson, Drake - Live Willisau & Taktlos (Intakt, 2007) ****

Ah, what a joy! Swiss free jazz pianist Irene Schweizer is joined by Chicagoans Fred Anderson on sax and Hamid Drake on drums. The latter two of course have been performing together for many years and are also close friends, both coming from the same town in Louisiana. Schweizer has been a musical adventurer since the late 60s, pushing the boundaries of jazz and even free jazz, integrating everything from classical to Indian and African music, and she is especially renowned for her duos with drummers (Andrew Cyrille, Pierre Favre, Han Bennink, Louis Moholo, Mani Neumeier). This album starts with a duo with Hamid Drake, taking a very intensive and rhythmic attack from the very start, inviting the drummer in, who takes up the challenge and with great success. Hamid Drake's sense of music and rhythm, combined with creativity and speed of reaction (or anticipation?), makes him one of the best drummers of the free jazz scene. After a while Schweizer loosens up a bit, changing the piece into something more lyrical, enthusiastic, with even little moments of fun thrown in once in while : a little melodic sidestep, a little dancing figure, and where is Drake - for sure, he is part of it, as if he's reading the notes from a sheet of paper, encouraging Schweizer to do more. Great stuff! After this first take, which was recorded at the Taktlos festival in 1998, comes the trio, with Anderson on sax, and recorded at the Willisau festival in 2004. This is splendor continued. Schweizer's playing is not easy, and in terms of musical sensitivity, phrasing and color in another area than Anderson, who is more directly emotional, bluesy - but the two mix well, moving towards one another without relinquishing their style. And agile Drake is the glue that holds them together. And they give each other room as well, Drake and Anderson play a great duet in the middle of the lengthy second track, but so do Drake and Schweizer on the same track, integrating them into trio interplay and moving it to an even higher level. The third track starts with Drake's frame drum, and lines from Anderson that I remember from another album (but which one?), but Schweizer joins and with her propulsive piano hammering leads it into other territory, first abstract, but then picking up Anderson's base line with the left hand and moving it with the right into an African melody. There's nothing as good as hearing three great musicians having fun playing together, and with the audience enjoying it to the full. So will you, I hope.

Below you can watch the trio, after a 2 minute piano intro by Schweizer, when the two Chicagoans join the piece "Willisau" (the clip is edited).

video

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Guitars, guitars, guitars, guitars, ....

It's always nice to hear great technical skill, but when it's combined with musical vision, the results are a pleasure to hear, regardless of the style or genre. Here are some of the better recent guitar trios. And it should also be said, that the results are often to the credit of the whole trio : the bass-players and drummers on the list below are sometimes superb.

Adam Rogers - Time And The Infinite (CrissCross, 2007)


Adam Rogers brings this excellent record "Time And The Infinite", with Scott Colley on bass and Bill Stewart on drums, playing some of his own compositions, but also some pieces by Gershwin, Charlie Parker and Cole Porter, already indicating that this album is among the most mainstream of the list here, but his touch is so extremely gentle and precise, that it's more than worth mentioning. He can play with great intensity, but also very sensitive, as on some of the acoustic tracks.

Charlie Hunter - Mistico (Concord, 2007)


Charlie Hunter plays in his own category, combining guitar with his unbelievable technique of playing the additional bass strings as well on his custom-made 8-string guitar. It's not always clear how he does it, but the end result is as funky and bluesy as ever, played in collaboration with Erik Deutsch on piano and Simon Lott on the drums. Even if he's a little stuck in his own creation, the music is still great fun.

Listen to samples on Charlie Hunter's website

Alex Machacek - Improvision (AbstractLogix, 2007)


I am not a fusion fan (at least, not anymore), but once in a while, I can appreciate a good album, and this one is definitely among them. Austrian guitarist Alex Machacek plays extremely well, and he also has musical ideas, which is a great asset in fusion-territory. He is accompanied by Matthew Garrison on bass and Jeff Sipe on drums, both as accomplished musicians as Machacek. I did not like his previous album "Sic" because it was too much of a show-off, but here the music dominates, and interestingly the music evolves from high speed and intense music with lots of soloing to a calmer atmosphere in the end, with subdued and even some mediative moments.

Listen to Machecek :
Sample
Sample2

Eivind Aarset - Sonic Codex (Jazzland, 2007)

But the boundaries of guitar-playing are really pushed with Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset's "Sonic Codex", on which he explores the sounds of his instrument to the full, but still with a clear focus on the music, using his instrument in a very functional way. He is accompanied by a whole list of Norwegian musicians who change on every track, so I'm not going to enumerate them. Suffice to say that the music is really interesting, closer to prog rock than jazz at times, because putting layer upon layer of pre-recorded pieces, joining different styles, contradictory rhythms and utterly bizarre experimental sounds with romantic melodies. Why not, in fact? The overall effect is very captivating and entertaining, dark and light-footed at the same time.

Listen to samples on MySpace

Underground Jazz Trio - Radio Free Europa (Leo Records, 2007)

The Underground Jazz Trio consists of Irish guitarist Mark O'Leary, who's been very productive this year, Matt Lux on bass and John Herndon on drums. Lux and Herndon are known from their work with the Chicago bands Tortoise and Isotope 217, experimental ambient minimalist rock and jazz, but also musically related to - and once in a while jamming with - the Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Quartet, hence probably the band's name. "Radio Free Europa" brings very soft, elegant, gentle experimental chamber jazz, with O'Leary's guitar tuned in its usual low tone. Despite the title and the relatively aggressive cover art, the music is calm, interesting and very creative improvization. Once in a while the intensity increases and the usual calm is replaced by high speed staccato soloing, but the overall tone is rather impressionistic.

You can download this album from www.lulu.com for the negligeable amount of 4.42 euro.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bitter Funeral Beer Band - Live In Nurnberg (Country & Eastern, 2007) ****

One of my favorite records of all times is Bengt Berger's Bitter Funeral Beer with Don Cherry, released on ECM in 1981. But today a live performance by the same band (but without Don Cherry) is available for download on eMusic.com. The performance does not have the same haunting quality as the ECM release, because of the absence of the real African funeral chants, and of course Cherry's soaring trumpet. Yet the discovery of this release is great fun. There is also another release "Live In Frankfurt", this time with Don Cherry, that can also be downloaded from emusic.com. But even without Cherry, the music stands in its own right and has aged well : the music is intense, sad, full of African rhythms, with repetitive elements à la Terry Riley, but free jazz as well. An absolute feast for the ear. Watch the video clip below. Great that this is now available.

The band :
Bengt Berger, Ko-Gyil (Lo-Birifor funeral xylophone),
Atsimevu (Ewe master drum);
Anita Livstrand, Ko-Gyil, voice, percussion;
Liselotte Norelius, percussion;
Thomas Mera Gartz,percussion, tenor sax;
Sigge Krantz, acoustic and electric bass, guitar, percussion;
Thomas Huhn, electric bass, percussion
Matthias Helldén, cello, percussion;
Tord Bengtsson, violin, guitar, percussion;
Thomas Gustafsson, soprano sax, tenor sax, percussion;
Björn Hellström, bass clarinet, flute, percussion;
Ulf Wallander, soprano sax, tenor sax, percussion;
Jörgen Adolfsson, soprano sax, alto sax, percussion;
Tommy Adolfsson, trumpet, percussion;
Kalle Ericsson, trumpet, percussion

Monday, October 15, 2007

Erik Friedlander - Volac, Book Of Angels, Vol. 8 (Tzadik, 2007) *****

You must give it to John Zorn, his ideas to bring new packagings and new formats for his Masada song book is truly astonishing. And it is not just re-hashing the same material over and over again, rather, it is offering artists to bring the best they have in terms of interpretation and performance with a given set of music. His Book Of Angels series is now as worthy as all the rest, with Volume 2 by the Masada String Trio, Volume 5 by the Cracow Klezmer Band, and Volume 7 by Marc Ribot among my favorites. And now Volume 8, "Volac" by Erik Friedlander, is of the same high level as the other records. Friedlander's superb playing has never been showcased better than here, in a solo setting, in its purest form, the quality of the compositions comes to its fullest right : dignified, anxious, tormented, serene, superior, melancholy, ... it has it all, the jazzy improv, the klezmer scales, the classical references, ... Friedlander is as comfortable with playing pizzicato, with chordal progressions on several strings, playing it sensitively, or arco with a sense of baroque aesthetic beauty, or with more modern screeching heart-rending high intervallic changes. The cello is of course an instrument which lends itself beautifully for this kind of music, because it is warm, emotional, pure, but Friedlander gives it much more depth and range than many other musicans could. He makes the music whole, he doesn't just perform it. Great music, great artist, great performance.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Christian Wallumrod - The Zoo Is Far (ECM, 2007) ***½

With "The Zoo Is Far", pianist Christian Wallumrod, brings a strange mixture of modern classical music and free improvization with touches of jazz. The overall effect is very cinematic. Despite the relatively limited band, it sounds very orchestral, but with the contradictory effect that the pieces are extremely short, between 45 seconds and several minutes, creating sound sculptures, which are formed, and then disappear, there is no expansion, no elaboration, just orchestral snippets of music, which are sometimes baroque, sometimes modern classical, sometimes jazzy. The overall effect is unusual, but always melodic, never atonal. The overall aesthetic effect is more imporant than the feelings which are created. The musicianship is great, but the individual artists collaborate only for the overall effect, solos are rare. It's gentle, compelling, medieval, yet very 21st Century at the same time. With Christian Wallumrød on piano, harmonium, toy piano; Arve Henriksen on trumpet; Gjermund Larsen on violin, Hardanger fiddle, viola; Tanja Orning on cello; Giovanna Pessi on Baroque harp; Per Oddvar Johansen on drums, percussion and glockenspiel. The greatest thing about this album is that Wallumrod creates a totally new aesthetic form, something unusual, but definitely worth hearing.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Raoul Björkenheim - The Sky Is Ruby (TUM Records, 2007) **½

Sometimes artists who have performed well in small settings, get over-ambitious, and start wanting to play with a big band, or with a string ensemble, regardless of what that means to their musical language. Ok, once in a while you're entitled to such adventures, but more often than not the languages don't mix, and the result is pretty disappointing. Miroslav Vitous made this mistake with his recent Universtal Syncopations II, and Finnish guitarist Raoul Björkenheim does exactly the same with this record. Björkenheim has made some excellent records with Krakatau or with the Scorch Trio, and his best once he released last year with Lukas Ligeti, a refreshing, very creative, and fabulous duo between guitar and percussion, called "Shadowglow". On "The Sky Is Ruby" he adds a whole big band, and it just doesn't work for me. It ties down Björkenheim's music in a straight-jacket, and the only possible way he can play on these pre-programmed tunes is by venturing into too predictable fusion soloing. True, he leaves much room for the band, and the musicians are excellent, but the music is not. What's the story? We've heard this kind of music so many times before. Sorry, you can't always win.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jason Kao Hwang - Edge (Asian Improv Records, 2006) ****½


This is not a recent CD, but it's now available via PayPlay and that's good news, because it was hard to get. Jason Kao Hwang is a violinist and composer whose album "The Gift" with Roy Campbell and William Hooker is among the best I've heard in the previous years. On "Edge", he is accompanied by Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn, Andrew Drury on drums and Ken Filiano on bass. The relatively short album consists of four tracks of about equal length, but the conciseness is largely compensated by the quality of the music. Kao Hwang makes music fresh from nothing. Sure, it is jazz, because we call it that, but it could it be anything else too. It's highly rhythmic, highly melodic, very intense, extremely well-structured and very open in its possibilities. His violin-playing is absolutely stellar, creating sounds on it which are unusual at times, yet deeply emotional, his solos fly all over the place, or dance, or sing, or weep. Taylor Ho Bynum is fantastic here, as are Filiano and Drury. And as I've pointed out before, Filiano's unbelievable precision and creativity on arco bass prove to be a wonderful musical counterpart for the violin, just listen to the beginning of "Parallel Meditations" to convince yourself. The great thing about all four musicians is that, although the music is free, they play their instruments largely within the tradition, every so often stretching the possibilities of the instruments, but without overdoing it or without making it the main focus of the music. This album is all about the music itself, with a clear and coherent artistic vision which unites all tracks into one unified whole. The moods vary from absolute calm, sad moments, to high energy nervousness and agitation, with sometimes abrupt changes and sudden unisono lines in the midst of improvizations ... and all this within the same piece. On "Grassy Hills" Taylor Ho Bynum plays a trumpet solo, without accompaniment, and although it sounds calm, the underlying tension is incredible. This is very rich music. Absolutely highly recommended!

Listen to samples on Jason Kao Hwang's website.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Empty Cage Quartet - Hello the Damage! (pfMentum, 2006) ***


The MTKJ Quartet (acronym for the musicians' initials), turned into the Empty Cage Quartet some years ago. They are a free jazz/free improv band consisting of Jason Mears on alto saxophone, Bb clarinet and wood flutes; Kris Tiner on trumpet and flugelhorn; Paul Kikuchi on drums and Ivan Johnson on contrabass. Their live music, as on this album is very slow, lengthy and spacy, and the sound quality not too good. And that's really a shame, because the band really has something to tell. And the overall quality of the musicians can be more appreciated on the more composed shorter tracks on their excellent studio recordings "Day Of The Race" (2005) and "Making Room For Space" (2004), which are much more joyful, jubilant and inspired. True, a little less free, but the quality is super on these two albums. "Hello The Damage" is a little disappointment after that, sounding a little bit too flat, but still recommended.

Their albums can be listened to and downloaded from PayPlay.com

Listen to and/or download a recent live performance live at 1510 8th St Performance Space in Oakland, CA, August 6, 2007

You can also watch this totally weird video with a soundtrack by the Empty Cage Quartet. Enjoy!

Monday, October 8, 2007

John Coxon/Wadada Leo Smith - Brooklyn Duos (Treader, 2007) ***

Looks like Wadada Leo Smith is definitely committed to releasing duo recordings, the third already in a year, this time with British multi-instrumentalist John Coxon, known from Spring Heel Jack, on whose The Sweetness Of Water, Smith also participated. But Coxon isn't into electronics or sampling here, he plays harmonica and guitar, both electric and acoustic. Technically Smith is another league than Coxon, but musically they are very much on the same wavelength here. This isn't a spiritual outing as on some other of Wadada Leo Smith's records, this one is more about sound, open structure and interaction, yet very soulful, without needing rhythm or fixed melody. The good thing is Coxon knows his limits in the presence of Smith, and he just adds color, contrast and support, without venturing too far, although it must be said that his use of the instruments is very functional and creative, although on the longest tracks "Urban Air Voices" and "November Flowers", the limitations of his guitar playing started to work a little on my nerves (but maybe that says more about my nerves). But still, a nice effort, and Smith fans will definitely want to hear this one. For those who haven't heard him play yet, there are other albums that are more recommended.

Joe McPhee's Survival Unit III - Don't Postpone Joy (Rai Trade, 2007) ****


In 1971, Joe McPhee released Trinity, the first album with his Survival Unit II, with a bass-less trio, later to be followed by "N.Y.N.Y. 1971", released by HatHut in 2006. Now, a year later, McPhee brings us his Survival Unit III, with Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and Michael Zerang on percussion. The set-list is not unfamiliar : "Variations on Harriett", "Variations on Nation Time", come from his first records "Underground Railroad" and "Nation Time", and already figured on the HatHut 2006 release. "Variations on Remembrance" was originally on the 2005 Cadence CD. "Feather Exchange" is a composition by Lonberg-Holm.

But all that is fairly meaningless, considering the fact that "Don't Postpone Joy" was recorded live in Firenze, Italy in 2005, and is a recording in its own right, with totally different musicians. I listened to the 1971 recording earlier today, and was amazed first of all at how great it all sounded, but secondly, how close to Coltrane and Ayler it still was too. This performance of three decades later just shows what the relevance of McPhee himself has been on musical expression. The basis is still there : deeply emotional and expressive music, raw and creative. McPhee has always been a sentimentalist at heart, and his sweet melodies always shine through the chaos and the intense anxiety that's also part of his music. But those basic feelings have been stripped of the grammar of that period, purified, intensified, stripped of all the conventions, yet without falling into the nihilism of much of free improv. This is not deconstructing anymore, but constructing, creating new sounds and sound combinations and a musical experience that is at moments truly stunning.

Out of the first 7 or 8 screeching minutes of Nation Time arises a gentle, velvety softness in the slow bluesy playing of drums, cello and pocket trumpet, which would have been beautiful as a stand-alone piece, but integrated and in contrast with what went before, the listening experience is only more intense and satisfying, especially because it breaks down again in loose pointillistic sounds. And sounds they can produce, with McPhee shouting through his sax, Lonberg-Holm producing effects close to the human voice on his cello, but not just for the sake of doing weird stuff, it fits within the overall context. On "Remembrance", an hypnotic rhythm is taken up by drums and cello, for McPhee to blow again slowly and with deep feeling, propulsed forward by Zerang's great drumming and leaving room for the cello to interact with the sax, first gently, then powerfully, moving the whole piece into an incredible frenzy, and back again to a more subdued atmosphere, moods come and go, contrasts abound, experiences flow. The real musical highlight of the album is Lonberg-Holm's "Feather Exchange", which starts with a great drums intro by Zerang, some pizzi cello, then whailing arco, and when McPhee joins on sax, the whole thing has become a form of contained tension ready to explode, but then it evolves into a very sad, moving piece. A great album by three magnificent musicians.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Die Enttäuschung (Intakt, 2007) ****

No name could be more misplaced than "Die Enttäuschung" (The Disappointment"), a Berlin free jazz band. A few years ago, this quartet with Alexander Von Schlippenbach on piano, made the excellent Monk's Casino for the same label. Here they bring their own compositions, and very much in the same vein. The pieces are short, anchored in bop, but open enough to be catalogued as free jazz. With Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet, Axel Dörner on trumpet, Jan Roder on bass and Uli Jennessen on drums, the four musicians each contribute pieces. Some are outright free, especially those by Dörner, and the most accessible tracks are written by Jennessen. The two horns dance around each other troughout the album, reacting, playing with the themes, chasing each other, playing counterpoint, with Mahall's bass clarinet not even shy of using swing band phrasing, and Dörner again the free-est in his improvizations. Sure, there are references to Monk, but at times they sound more like a modern day version of Old & New Dreams. A more correct name for the band could be "Die Lebensfreude" (The Joy Of Life), because that's how they sound.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Fred Hess Band - In The Grotto (FHMusic, 2007) ****

Fred Hess is one of those artists who managed to carve out their own style and characteristic voice within jazz. His albums are carefully composed but keep the lightness and freedom of free jazz. The compositions themselves are always creative, with lots of twists and turns, tempo changes, rhythm changes, new themes coming in, moods shifting, and it's hard not be kept captivated by what's going on : you get surprises and new vistas after every new bend in the road. Hess is also totally underrated as a musician : his sax playing is very rich and varied. He is accompanied by a great band consisting of Ron Miles on trumpet, John Gunther on alto saxophone, Ken Filiano on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. The great thing about Hess's music is that he incorporates the whole of jazz history in his writing, from bop to more abstract modern work, but also funk and third stream. And the band is technically so good, that they move his compositions to an even higher level. Probably his greatest feat is that he infuses his intellectually challenging compositions with fun, and that's obvious from the very first funky tones of the opening track "Simple Steps" and it doesn't stop till the final notes of the more boppish stop-and-go fun of "Ninth House".


Listen and download from PayPlay.com

Friday, October 5, 2007

William Parker Double Quartet - Alphaville Suite (RogueArt, 2007) ****

The great thing about William Parker is that he doesn't stop looking for new approaches to music, as long as they're acoustic and based on genuine interplay between real musicians. On this CD he brings a double quartet, his usual band consisting of himself on bass, Rob Brown on alto sax, Lewis Barnes on trumpet and Hamid Drake on drums, augmented with Mazz Sqift on violin, Jessica Pavone on viola, Julia Kent on cello and Shiau-Shu Yu on cello. Leena Conquest guests on vocals on "Natasha's Theme" and "Natasha's Theme 2". Or, if you want, a male quartet and a female quartet.

Like Matthew Shipp's tribute to Jean Genet on the French RogueArt label, this one is a tribute to and inspired by another great French piece of art, Jean-Luc Godard's movie "Alphaville". In this movie, the futuristic city Alphaville is dominated by the logic of computers and ruled by an evil scientist named Von Braun, who has outlawed love and self-expression. And "love and self-expression" are of course themes close to Parker's heart and they have permeated his career and art.

Adding the string quartet helps to evocate the music of the film itself, with the eery tension and typical movie suspense full of romantic drama and sentimental outbursts. But the strings here are luckily more modern, more avant-garde, offering a great contrast with the free jazz musicians, sometimes limiting themselves to pizzicato chattering in the background, sometimes driving heavy unisono lines accentuating the jazz solos, with an especially gloomy and menacing counterpoint in the long "Dr. Badguy". The overall effect is utterly bizarre, creating a kind of busyness which is too much to grasp at once, because there is too much going on, but still in a coherent way, following its own logic. The jazz dominates, and it's great as you can expect from these artists and there are times, especially in the longer pieces that the strings let them do their thing, leaving some breathing space, but never for long : there they are again, to chase the jazz quartet forward, jabb it in the sides, kick it back, emphasize it, play along in moments of frenzy, move it to weird territory, or offer shades and an overall darkness that is highly unusual, to say the least. Without specifically saying that the string quartet would represent the cold futuristic logic of the evil scientist and the jazz band the proponents of love and free expression (or female vs male :-), at least the tension between good and bad and the overall mood of the film is well-captured by the concept of the double band. And the music is excellent to. Like Parker's "Requiem", this is one you should listen to often before you can appreciate it to the full.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Alipio C. Neto Quartet - The Perfume Comes Before The Flower (Clean Feed, 2007) ****

Here's another stunning free jazz album. Trumpeter Herb Robertson and bass player Ken Filiano are obviously well-known names, saxophonist Alipio C Neto is probably less known, although he's one of the driving forces behind the IMI Kollektief and Wishful Thinking. Neto is a Brazilian who moved to Portugal to have a doctorate in literature, yet who stayed in the country and started seriously engaging himself in music. The quartet is completed by Michael TA Thompson on drums, and Ben Stap joins on tuba on three of the five tracks.

Apparently Neto's credo is that "music must always be transcendental", and that's clear from the very first sounds of the record. High tempo drumming introduces very slow sax tones and arco bass, with absolutely frantic trumpet soloing by Robertson, creating a feeling of wide expanses and deep emotional contrasts, and then suddenly all sounds converge into a totally unexpected unisono melody that shifts a few seconds later into Filiano's well-known incredibly precise and adventurous bowing, with an hesitant, yet strong sax solo by Neto, and he is absolutely excellent in his playing: raw yet soft and warm-toned at the same time. Then the sax becomes the frantic voice, while Robertson takes over the slow background on trumpet. It's clever, it's fun, it's ingenious. "The Will - Nasarana" starts with a long bass solo, and when you think it's high time to turn up the volume, the three other musicians start playing a joyful abstract melody, which shifts into free bop of the best kind, with both horn players demonstrating their best skills. And I must say that on many records Robertson goes beyond what I find bearable, but not here : his playing is more accessible than we've heard in many years, and it is truly great. The most beautiful track however is "The Flower - Aboio", which is a slow, minor key, bluesy composition, starting with layers of similar sounds by all musicians, evolving into a tear-drenched, funeral-march-like mood, with all instruments wailing and weeping, incredibly intense, incredibly sad, incredibly beautiful. Bengt Berger's "Bitter Funeral Beer" comes to mind when listening to this song, and that's a great compliment. Stap's inclusion on this track is a stroke of genius, because the dark tones, even when playing in the upper register add an intensity and coloring which moves the song to even greater heights. The fourth track is a structured free jazz work-out where all musicians let loose the tension and go for it, and the last one continues in the same vein, but adding a lightly dancing joy to the music. Again, a great record, because of the great musicianship, but also because of the great balance between compositions and improvization. Get it!

Listen and download via eMusic.com.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mark O'Leary - On The Shore (Clean Feed, 2007) *****

I have already praised Mark O'Leary before for his great sense of music, and he proves it again on this record, and how! With Alex Cline on drums and a double trumpet front line consisting of Jeff Kaiser and John Fumo, the line-up is definitely unusual (apart from Jacek Kochan's "Another Blowfish", with Eric Vloeimans and Piotr Wojtasik on trumpet, I'm not aware of any other quartet with a double trumpet front line). The music on this record is light, spacious, elegant, ... I would almost say the musical equivalent of high quality champagne, very tasty, with bubbles, something to savour with every sip. The guitar plays a very prominent role on the whole CD, often with a very low tone, reminiscent of some of John Abercrombie's albums, but more avant-garde, more creative, with the two trumpets and the drums adding shades of sound that bring depth and sculptural relief to the music, even if they're pushed a little to the back in the sound editing, a nice touch which adds to the overall atmosphere. The whole quartet is absolutely brilliant. Alex Cline's playing is precise, accurate, accentuating loosely, performing the difficult feat of drumming on music that is essentially without explicit rhythm. The two trumpets use every shade and sound their instruments can produce, in various intensities, volume changes and lengths, because there is mostly no melody to hear - texture, tonal changes and contrast is all there is, especially exemplified by the long title track. O'Leary himself gets every possible sound out of his guitar as well, and whether it's plain acoustic, or one of the many effects on his electric guitar, his playing is not focused on the playing itself but on the musical moods he creates, and it's also coherent throughout the album, regardless of how he uses his instrument. O'Leary doesn't hesitate to push his foot switches once in a while, bringing sorching fusion-like solos, pushing the trumpets and the drums to high levels of intensity as in "Point Sketch", but most of the music is subdued, tentative, fragile, creating open-ended soundscapes, composed with skill and feeling, building layers of music to create a very distinct mood, which is nostalgic, sad, but also reverent, jubilant or mysterious at times.You can hear seagulls and whales, or even sirens, the surf in the distance, or lapping waves close-by, ... that's how evocative the music is without needing to try to imitate those sounds. Another mystery of the record is whether it has been dubbed or not (that's the problem or disadvantage of downloading, there are no liner notes to guide you in your appreciation). Most of it sounds too beautiful to be the result of spontaneous improvization, too carefully crafted to have been left to chance, but then again, it sounds too open to be composed, and these are great musicians, so you can't tell. One could also argue whether this is jazz or not, but asking the question is irrelevant. Answering it even more. This is absolutely excellent music. That's the most important thing.


Listen and download from eMusic.com

Monday, October 1, 2007

Erik Friedlander - Block Ice & Propane (Skipstone Records, 2007) ***½

Erik Friedlander is one of the best cellists around in modern jazz or modern music "tout court". This is his second solo record in a few years time, and one which is remarkably accessible for his doing. The cellist is known for his complex compositions, often with a strong influence of classical avant-garde, but here he brings an almost sentimental journey into his own past, as brought up by his memories, full of childhood nostalgia. In line with this, the music is warm, straight-forward, simple (without being simplistic). The music is the kind of jazz that is brought by Bill Frisell, with lots of references to American country music and blues. Most of his playing is done by plucking the strings, or even playing full chords, giving a guitar-like approach and a very intimistic feel. He is however at his best, when he plays arco, as in "Airstream Envy" (see video below), because it releases the full emotional power of the instrument. On two tracks, "Cold Chicken" and "Pressure Cooking", he becomes a little more avant-garde, and those are more to my taste. Nice album, well-balanced and well-played.

(the album can be downloaded from his website)


Joe Rosenberg Quartet - Quicksand (Black Saint, 2007) ****

This live recording starts with a very nice clean-sounding solo improvization by Joe Rosenberg on sax, then Masako Hamamura joins on piano, adding a few soft chords, then Mark Helias' bass takes over, gently plucking the strings, moving the track a step further as an intro for a fragile unisono line between sax and piano, elegantly accentuated by Tom Rainey on drums. The rhythm section proves to have the absolutely necessary sensitivity to accompany Rosenberg in his adventurous take on music, which is calm, accurate, slowly building on the structures he creates. This does not mean that the music is not intense, it certainly is, but it's restrained at the same time. Violent emotional outbursts or expressions of extreme feelings are alien to this music: it flows like a river, finding its own melodic course through the creative interplay of the moment. It is the free variant of post-bop. Helias and Rainey of course need no introduction, and whatever these two musicians do lately apparently turns into a success. Hamamura is a discovery for me : her piano-playing is excellent. The real star is Rosenberg himself, for the quality and the sensitivity of his playing, and for his compositions. Exciting music, and fun too. And the Knitting Factory audience seemed to agree!