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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fattigfolket - Fattigfolket (ILK music, 2008) ***½

Fattigfolket is a Swedish-Norwegian band with Gunnar Halle on trumpet, Putte Frick Meijer - on bass, Hallvard M. Godal on saxophones and Ole Morten Sommer on Drums. I had not heard of the band until I came across this album on eMusic. It starts out nicely, with a very open tune, not much theme, but lots of emotional expressivity, but this high quality is not kept through all compositions, gliding away into more mainstream approaches. I had hoped to have identified again some adventurous Scandinavians, but they are often a little too middle-of-the-road to my taste. The playing is good, so are the ideas, but a little more audacity to find their own voice is needed. "Bulle I Bussen", "Bare Päls" and "Skjult Drage" demonstrate that they have something to tell. Promising.

Listen to Bulle I Bussen.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Friday, February 27, 2009

Denman Maroney Quintet - Udentity (Cleanfeed, 2009) ****½

Pianist Denman Maroney is a restless spirit, seeking new ways to express himself, joining careful structural compositional elements with free form, and the result is utterly perplexing and warm. I have listened more than a dozen times to this album in the past days and it is extremely difficult get familiar with it. Each time I listen to this record, it sounds different. It is hard to identify themes, or even structures in it, but the music is carefully crafted nevertheless : the rhythms and tempos are different for the various instruments in the quintet, and so is the harmonic development. It is at times puzzling for the listener: once you focus on one thing, the other parts seem to escape attention, and vice versa. A kind of musical "trompe l'oeil" with ever ongoing shifts and differing perspectives. Musical time becomes a relative thing. On top of that, Maroney uses his hyperpiano extensions: anything that is handy to give his strings a different sound color will do: slides and bows of metal, rubber, plastic, brass bowls, CD jewel cases, tape cassette boxes, you name it. But the brilliant thing about Maroney's approach is that his music sounds great. In contrast to many experimenters, the music still prevails here, and how. With a band consisting of Ned Rothenberg on clarinet and sax, Dave Ballou on trumpet, Reuben Radding on bass and Michael Sarin on drums, what more do you want? And I think you would need such technically gifted musicians to bring Maroney's musical concept to a good end, and adding some. It must have required great efforts of concentration for them, yet the quality of the improvisations is such that all five musicians dance their way through even the most difficult parts. And despite all the complexity, the album is great fun. It is serious at times, but Maroney does not take himself too seriously. And because of the different tempi, it funks too at times. Music for the mind, heart and body. And like any good music, its quality increases with each listen. More joy to come.

Listen to an extract from Udentity 1

© stef

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Trying to get audio samples up

OK - I seem to have found a solution.

Sorry guys, no review today. I am struggling to get mp3 flash player embedded so that I can share some samples of the albums I review. Unfortunately, I was thrown of the host server that I used because of copyright issues.

Strange world : promoting music is apparently not quite allowed, while so many other things are ...

If anyone has any insights into how this can be done without problems, please let me know.

© stef

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Garrison Fewell - Variable Density Sound Orchestra (Creative Nation, 2009) ****

Keeping track of the recordings with trumpetist Roy Campbell, one of my favorite musicians, appears to be a good idea. On this album by guitarist Garrison Fewell he plays an important role, but so does the whole band, including Italian Achille Succi on bass clarinet and alto, Eric Hofbauer on guitar, John Voigt on bass, and Miki Matsuki on drums. Alex Fewell joins on percussion on two tracks. Without tracking Campbell, this one might have gone unnoticed, and that would have been unfortunate, because it is excellent. The pieces are composed, and wonderfully organised around the double guitar backbone, that is lyrical and elegant. Both guitarists have this very functional, humble and melodic approach, making especially the longer suite-like pieces flow like rivers. Campbell is the way I like him, expressive, deeply emotional, but he is equalled on this album by Succi, whose heartrending solos are exceptionally good. The band is at its best on "Venus", a 17 minute-long track, with a steady slow-tempo rhythm, a great background for the various soloists to do their thing, nothing earth-shattering, but beautiful nevertheless. The album varies between expansive epic pieces, more intimistic moments, such as the sensitive "Avant Aria", or the more avant-garde intro piece "Spectronomous". A little more unity would have made this a great album, but most of it is truly excellent.

Listen to an extract from "Venus"

Listen and download from eMusic.
© stef

Hiram Bullock - Plays Jimi Hendrix (BHM, 2009) *

The three great musicians of the last century all three came to their peak in the 60s: John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix. In the totality of human musical history, you can forget about the rest of twentieth century composers, but not those three.

The disadvantage of that position, is that all kinds of third rank wannabees play tribute to them in the hope that the mere mention of the genius's name is sufficient to generate sales.

Same here: Hiram Bullock demonstrates that :
- he knows how to play guitar, but the concept of music is alien to him
- he has understood nothing of Jimi Hendrix' music
- playing with a big band is not easy
- he has bad taste.

I truly hope this album doesn't sell, although that's not a nice thing to say.

© stef

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mark Dresser & Denman Maroney - Live In Concert (Kadima, 2009) ****

This is the third duo album by bassist Mark Dresser and pianist Denman Maroney, after "Duologues" and "Time Changes". In contrast to some of the other material by the two players, this one is fully improvised in three long pieces. The first 30 minute track was recorded live at Vision Festival on June 10, 2008, the two other pieces date from a performance in Chicago in 2001. It's hard to call this jazz, since none of the two plays anything which ressembles anything which could fit in a category. It is music that evolves, following its own logic of feeling, interaction and sonic pallette: highly unpredictable yet very focused. Maroney's "hyperpiano" becomes a different instrument in his hands, with all kind of materials muting the strings, vibrating along, or any other kind of bizarre sound that can be extracted from your standard piano. The new sounds that are created push Dresser along on the same route, re-inventing the bass as well. This does not mean that this music is experimental per se. Art is at the center of what they do, using their skills to generate feelings and intellectual play, with at times even beautiful passages, and through all the sonic novelty, jazz, blues and classical music emerge, like wisps of memory, in a great synthesis of sound. It is better than the two previous albums, soberer and richer at the same time, and strangely enough more focused despite the difference in recording dates.

Listen to a sample from "Ediface".

Listen and download/buy from CDBaby.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Sunday, February 22, 2009

WHO Trio - Less Is More (Cleanfeed, 2009) *****

The piano trio is probably one of the most common ensembles to be heard in jazz, and truth be told, I am a little weary of them, preferring the expressiveness of a horn section. Yet once in a while, a piano trio comes forward that has something new to tell. When I listened to WHO Trio's "The Current Underneath" (Leo Records) a couple of years ago, I was immediately enchanted by the sheer musicality of the project. This one, "Less Is More", is even better. The trio consists of Michel Wintsch on piano, Gerry Hemingway on drums and Bänz Oester on bass. I have rarely come across a band who can create the perfect marriage of tension and lyricism, like this trio does. The "less is more" concept really describes the music well, there is lots of open space, but there is also tension in every note being played. Every sound is full of restraint, as if it only hints at the vast hidden world that made it possible, yet that remains unseen. Implicit music. The note that isn't played is as important as the one that is. Real beauty is revealed by suggesting it. Despite this sparsity of notes, the music itself makes sense. There is a simple beauty in it, with evolving melodic concepts, interesting compositional structures, and some extended techniques. Each piece is different, though, but all tracks fall within the same logic and supertight control. If the Japanese saying is true that beauty is "controlled passion", then this album is for sure a great example of it.

Listen to an extract

© stef

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Steven Bernstein, Marcus Rojas, Kresten Osgood - Tattoos and Mushrooms (ILK Music, 2009) ****

Steven Bernstein is the master of traditional tunes in new clothes, of neat arrangements with a good sense of humor, yet often with more attention paid to the entertainment value of the music than to its artistic development. At times, the humor still prevails on this album, but it is much more refreshing and creative than much of what Bernstein has been involved in in the past years. He is accompanied by Marcus Rojas on tuba and Kresten Osgood on drums. The music is still rooted in tradition, with klezmer, folk, Latin, swing and blues often providing the backbone of the pieces, but the music is all about exploration, improvisation, interaction and musical expressivity. And it's good to hear Bernstein in this role. His playing on the slide-trumpet is excellent, Rojas is brilliant, filling in for the bass-line and often sounding as a bass, yet he also manages quite well to be the second horn too, adding musical color that works really well, as on the slow and somewhat dark "Scaramanga". Kresten Osgood is a drummer who deserves wider attention (more on him soon). Despite the obvious fun the three musicians have on some tracks, as on "So Lonely I Could Cry" or "Eastcoasting", other tracks bring deep melancholic feelings, such as "Khumbu". Nice. I wish Bernstein could continue in this vein. He has obviously more to bring than just entertainment.

Listen to Scaramanga.

Listen and download from eMusic.
© stef

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Trio 3 + Irène Schweizer - Berne Concert (Intakt, 2009) ****

By comparison with this band of four sexagenarians, many of today's young musicians sound old, stale and devoid of creativity. These four musicians, even if they took part in the creation of free jazz, modern jazz, free improv and new music, kept their fresh attitude to music, as a fluid thing to play with, to use to express emotions, to cry, to weep, but also to enjoy. The quartet consists of Irene Schweizer on piano, Oliver Lake on alto saxophone, Reggie Workman on bass, Andrew Cyrille on drums. They are so good that it sounds as if they have been playing for years, and those are really kudos for Schweizer's seamless integration in this routined trio. The music was recorded live at the Taktlos festival in Switzerland in 2007. Not all tracks present the full quartet. Each member of the trio has the pleasure to play a duet with the great swiss pianist: "Timbral Interplay" is a long and fascinating duet with Cyrille, "R.I. Exchange" with Workman, "Phrases" with Lake. "Ballad Of The Self" is just Trio 3 without piano. These are all quite enjoyable, but the best pieces are the ones with the full quartet, offering the richness you can expect from such a long musical experience. And again, they still have a new story to tell, after so many decades.

Listen to an extract from Aubade:

© stef

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Scott Fields - Drawings (Creative Sources, 2008) *

German artist Thomas Hornung has the habit of making many quick drawings, most of which he discards, and some he archives. Guitarist Scott Fields made this CD to accompany these drawings and to mimick their creation. The CD consists of 98 tracks, ranging from 8 seconds to 1 minute. In this short period, there's hardly anything to tell, and that's what it sounds like: short snippets of sound, with no apparent sense. Unless this makes sense to you : "Eventually I decided to convert some (as it turned out 171) of his drawings into a multi-page graphic score. To do that I made a matrix of pitch rows and numbers that represent playing techniques. Then I reversed Thomas's drawings so that what was black became transparent. Finally I lead each drawing over the matrix and used what was visible as an element in an extended, modular composition". It is pretty painful that you need to explain all this, and much more, in two pages on the liner notes. In my humble opinion, music is about music, not about some intellectual and cerebral creation. Click on the cover above to see how much notes remain after the "color reversion". The point of this approach totally eludes me. There are about five trillion other ways to organise notes based on external circumstances, most of which are possibly more valuable than the approach taken here. I have no problem that other art forms can generate inspiration for musical evocations, quite to the contrary, but not through such a mechanistic intellectual process. What Fields does, is just to create randomness. There is no link whatsoever between the drawings and his music. And none of the 98 pieces actually has anything to tell. They're just a few sounds on one or several strings. Less interesting than a bee buzzing around your head. The good news is that "I had 254 takes, 171 of which I kept (...), a month later I culled the 171 acceptable takes down to 99, one for each track possible on the CD". We were saved from listening to a triple CD.

Listen to four random tracks:

© stef

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Nels Cline - Coward (Crypogramophone, 2009) ****½

Solo guitar may be a little bit a stretched description for this album, even if Nels Cline only plays guitar and electronics, but the latter make it of course possible to create drum sounds, bass sounds and the like. Nevertheless, it is a solo album, and the guitar features without a doubt as the lead instrument. And how! Nels Cline is a technically gifted and very versatile musician. But he is a musician in the first place, not a tune-smith, neither a circus guitarist. He creates musical environments, full of surprising effects, some quite simple, without too much of the technical stuff, others more complex, built with layers and layers of sound, totally disregarding styles and genres. The end result is staggeringly beautiful. It is not jazz, it is a musical journey through stylistic possibilities, mixing slide guitar with Indian raga, Pink Floyd with Eno, Sonic Youth with Larry Coryell, throwing in lots of ambient sounds and electronics, while magically keeping the entire album a very coherent tour-de-force. Giving all these references doesn't even do sufficient credit to the album's creativity and innovative power. It's not jazz, but it's magnificent. Something to be heard by all music lovers.

Listen to samples of four tracks joined into one, just to give you an idea of the scope of the album.

Listen and download from eMusic.

(Pink Floyd? Eno? ... I must be getting very old ...)

© stef

Monday, February 16, 2009

Brad Shepik - Human Activity Suite (Songlines, 2009) ****

Many years ago, when I first heard him play, I was thrilled with Brad Shepik's technically brilliant and creative guitar playing, especially when he used the variety of non-western scales and rhythms that he masters, and I kept following him closely with bands like Dave Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio, the Paradox Trio, Pachora, his own "The Loan" and "The Well", or his recent trio with Peter Epstein and Matt Kilmer. Then he moved into more mainstream jazz, with records such as "Places You Go", technically excellent, yet musically less compelling. On this one, he combines his breadth of scope with more traditional jazz idioms, making it hard to catalogue this as world jazz, despite the obvious influences. The band accompanying him is absolutely stellar, with Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Gary Versace on keyboards, and even accordion, Drew Gress on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. The album is built around the concept of a world tour, starting in South America, and then systematically visiting all continents. But I dare anyone to listen to the tracks without reading the liner notes and tell me which tune represents which continent. The local music is used, but mainly as a starting point, then transformed into a jazz idiom and further elaborated upon by this great band's improvisational skills. The compositions themselves further try to evocate the imagery Shepik had of those far-away places.

But while it is all beautiful, melodic, complex in its structures and rhythms, technically skillful, it is at the same time also very polished and contained. Don't expect the wild guitar excursions from "The Loan" or "The Well", or the raw delivery of Babkas, or the clever gems of the Tiny Bell Trio, the music is toned down, with no more room for extreme emotions. It is subtle, yes, but a little more direct emotional expressivity would have pleased me more. Now it is, yes ... too nice.

Listen to Current

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Collective 4tet - Transition (Leo Records, 2009) *****

To be honest, I did not know this band, despite the fact that they have been performing since 1994 and that they had released five albums so far. Their music is as free as the wind, wild, fierce, agonizing, but also strong, coherent, sensitive, with all four musicians sharing the same vision and sense of focus. The band consists of Arthur Brooks on trumpet, Heinz Geisser on drums, Mark Hennen on piano and William Parker on bass. Brooks is the replacement of trombonist Jeff Hoyer, who had been with the band since its creation, and who died in December 2006. I am sure his memory was with the musicians when playing this album. I cannot compare with their previous work, but the music that is to be heard on this album is breathtaking. The first track starts slowly, contemplatively, building up an edifice out of sparse notes, somewhat reminiscent of Other Dimensions In Music, but as the piece evolves, momentum builds up, leading to the second piece, that has this incredible drive, propulsed forward by the rhythm section but especially by Hennen's piano, whose relentless thundering is as energetic as it gets, with Brooks filling in perfectly on trumpet, adding the emotional voice, the shade and the color to the rest of the band. Throughout this musical tidal wave, melodic lines come and go, are picked up by some band members, then replaced by others, new forms arise, played with, transformed and replaced again. The storm also subsides at moments, leaving room for a slight breeze, with subtle phrasing and interaction, yet no less intelligent, with the four instruments interlocked while keeping the music open. And that's how the album ends, in a slow, abstract intense piece, full of calm and tension, alternating meditation with more power-driven moments, but all within the same open framework. A wonderful feat, and a beautiful one.

Buy or download from Leo Records.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Listen to a sample from Synopsis

© stef

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bob Gluck Trio - Sideways (FMR, 2008) ****½

It was only last week that I reviewed "Collar City Creatology", a trio with Michael Bisio on bass and Dean Sharp on drums. We find them back on this trio, yet the third party of the trio is now Bob Gluck's piano. Gluck is a well-trained pianist, who started taking lessons at the age of seven, then stopped after college, not playing for two decades, and starting again in 2003. The music he presents here is free, yet guided improv. The pieces are based on original compositions, two by Zawinul, one based on a Zawinul composition ("Pharoah's Dance") and one by Ornette Coleman ("Lonely Woman"). Most other tracks are credited to Gluck, with one to Bisio. The music is open-ended, with lots of possibilities hanging in the air, some realised, some deliberately avoided, creatin tension along the way, with lots of close interaction and musical subtleties. Bisio and Sharp are stellar again, but the real credits should go to Gluck, not only for his playing, but for the musical vision he sets down here. Regardless of who composed the pieces, they form one integrated whole, in a suite-like fashion, often darkly atmospheric, gloomy in its slowness and its attention to detail. Like many other new bands, including Gerald Cleaver's recent "Farmers By Nature", the piano trio as it was known, has clearly been re-defined. The concept of a lead instrument with two accompanying rhythm instruments has become obsolete. We get a trio of three equal instruments creating a "total sound", a broad listening experience, that does not need to rely on melody, but comes to its full effect when the musicans' creativity leads us into new territory. Apart from one solo piano piece, the trio format is a little broken when electronics come into play, or some ambient sound, and even Gluck playing shofar. There is some extended playing too, but fairly limited. Which is good. The main focus is on the music, not on the effects. And the trio's version of "Lonely Woman" is brilliant. Ornette Coleman's beautiful tune is fully in sync with the rest of the album's desperate tone, full of shattered hope, and deep longing for a better world. Great music. I truly hope to hear more from this trio in the future.

Listen to Sideways.

© stef

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jimmy Halperin & Dominic Duval - Monk Dreams (NoBusiness Records, 2009) ****

Recorded at about the same time as "Monkinus", the album by the same duo released on CIMP, the album is as good without adding too much. "Blue Monk", "Brilliant Corners", "Ruby, My Dear", "Epistrophy", "Criss Cross", "Evidence", "Monk's Dream", "Bye-ya", "Off Minor" figure on both albums. The only additional track you get is "Trinkle Tinkle". Yet never mind. If you don't know or don't have "Monkinus", this one is as good, with a sound quality which is even better. Halperin's tenor soars, sings, dances and plays around all these well-known tunes by Thelonious Monk, and both musicians really enjoy what they do. Duval's bass is excellent as usual, playing the themes in unison with the tenor, then fixing the rhythm like clockwork. Without piano, and without drums, Monk's music is reduced to its bare essence, but certainly not the poorer for it. Halperin improvises beautifully, with a strong emotional component, unleashing the blues in Monk's music, while maintaining the inherent playfulness of the compositions. The performance is excellent. A really nice album.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Listen to Blue Monk.

© stef

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gerald Cleaver, William Parker, Craig Taborn - Farmers By Nature (AUM Fidelity, 2009) ****½

Sometimes you don't need to listen long to an album to notice its value. And this one surely redefines the piano trio as it is known. On this fully improvised set, three of today's best musicians, Gerald Cleaver on drums, William Parker on bass and Craig Taborn on piano, create some eery accessible music, giving the impression that none of the instruments plays solo, while in fact all three are soloing all the time, jointly weaving an open-ended texture of notes and phrases, without melody, with rhythm, often implicit. The title refers to their job of seeding music, something that will grow organically along the way, out of its roots and stems, unpredictable yet recognizable from its origin. The wealth of the music is not only generated from the interesting soundscapes they create, but also from the use of their instruments, which is broad and creative without being too experimental. There is nervous tension all through the album, with the three musicians reacting fast to one another, needing only a hint to move the piece on in the same coherent direction, like leaves sprouting in fast forward from growing plants. Don't miss it.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Listen to Korteh Khah

© stef

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Henri Texier's Red Route Quartet - Love Songs Reflexions (Label Bleu, 2009) ***½

I've always had a great fondness for Henri Texier, because of the warmth of his music, the lyricism, the broad influence from music from around the world, still without falling within the world music category, local folk tunes and always a great selection of musicians to play with. On this album he becomes a little too sweet, too mellow to my taste, yet some of the tracks are excellent. The band gets its name from the London "Red Route" traffic signals, indicating where you're not allowed to stop or park, which to the band meant that they have to move on, continue driving, without stopping. So this band tackles tunes by Dexter Gordon, Lee Konitz, Chet Baker, Art Taylor, Hampton Hawes, Art Farmer, Paul Motian, Bob Rookmeyer... with a creative angle and different approach. And for sure, anyone knowing Texier will easily recognize the bassist's influence in the compositions, yet they are not his, they are his tributes to his masters. The band consists of Henri Texier on bass, his son Sébastien on sax and clarinet, Manu Codjia on guitar,and Christophe Marguet on drums. The idea is good, but the album lacks coherence, Codjia mostly plays soft and relaxed, but then his fusion outburst (o horror!) on the third track is totally in a different category, and on the other hand there isn't sufficient variation between the rest of the more traditional pieces, with luckily two pieces,"Dark Song" and "A Vif", that are a little more adventurous, but then again in a totally different stylistic environment. So in all, it's a disappointment after the excellent "Alerte A L'Eau" of last year. Mainstream fans will surely like this, but possibly not everything.

Listen to Mistreated

© stef

Save De Werf

Dear friends,

Can I ask you to join us in signing the petition to safe De Werf, one of the premier jazz venues in Belgium, which risks to loose its government subsidies, because a committee of not so expert experts fails to see the value of free jazz.

Please use the link below and then click on the cartoon figure, then fill in your name and other details.

The letter is addressed to the Minister of Culture. Any support is welcome at this stage.

Many thanks.

Hi Everyone. Most of you probably already know about De Werf. One of the great modern jazz venues in the world located in Brugge, Belgium. Please read this email and help save this venue!!
Michael Jefry Stevens


Dear Friends,

The link above will take you to a page on the site of "De Werf", where you will be invited to sign a petition to save De Werf.

Indeed, to our utter amazement, the assessment committee for Arts Centres has given De Werf a "fail" mark. This would mean De Werf, with its theatre performances for young and "not so very young", its jazz concerts, its Young Ones’ Festival (Jonge Snaken Festival) during autumn break, the bi-annual " Jazz!Brugge festival and Flemish Jazz Meeting would be wiped off the map.

As far as jazz is concerned, the committee states that "the role of De Werf in Flanders, as a cornerstone for jazz, has been taken over by other organisations". We haven’t the foggiest idea as to which organisations they might be referring to.

Apart from that, the committee argues that "De Werf” does not support present day arts". Meaning jazz is not a "present day" art???

De Werf now has ten days (four left) to present its case to the minister, who has the final say in this matter, and to convince him NOT to allow De Werf to be closed.


So please do sign our petition at and eventually send an email with your remarks at or


We sincerely thank you for your support.

Hope to see you soon!

Jos Demol & the friends from De Werf.

Please apologize in case you already received this email.

Jos Demol
Groenhovestraat 38
B-8820 Torhout
tel: + 32 50 21 53 99
fax: + 32 50 21 42 08
mobile: + 32 486 88 73 91

© stef

Monday, February 9, 2009

Jan Roder - Double Bass (Jazzwerkstatt, 2008) ****

The art work of German bassist Jan Roder's latest album says it all. As it is. Jan Roder. Double Bass. There is nothing more to be said. The musician. His instrument. The physical touch. The possibilities. The choices. The music. I have this thing about solo bass CDs. Why? Maybe because it's not a solo instrument. Maybe because it's unwieldy. Maybe because of the depth of its sound. Or the warmth of it. The result is often fascinating. The naked struggle of a man with his instrument. The muscularity. The emotion. Roder is physical in his touch. He plucks and bows hard, yet remains sensitive. You can tell what joy he feels under his fingers when he plays. The trembling of the strings. The scraping of the bow. He moans and murmurs along at times. You need to be good to keep attention going. He manages to do that. Varying a lot. Going deep. Sometimes intimate conversations, as in "Dek Du". Sometimes adventurous expressivity, as in "Dek Kvar". Sometimes with extended techniques, as on "Kvar", but not too much. Just to change approach a little. Explore the possibilities. A man and his bass. It's good we can be part of it.

© stef

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mats Gustafsson - The Vilnius Explosion (NoBusiness, 2008) ****

When Scandinavian free jazz with a punk rock attitude saxophonist Mats Gustafsson teams with three unknown (who would?) Lithuanian musicians, Liudas Mockunas on soprano, tenor and baritone sax, and bass clarinet; Eugenijus Kanevicius on bass, supported by the double drum section of Arkadijus Gotesmanas and Jarijus Aleksa, anything can happen. It can be the worst, it can be the best. Luckily it is the latter. Starting without any preconceptions, the five musicians play as if their live depended on it, pushing each other on, listening and following the new avenues opened by the other, shifting moods from violence to sensitivity, from wall of sounds to fragility, and back. Being of a gentle nature, some of it shook me a little at first listening, so it's always good to let it rest, and come back to it, listening again, with sufficient time intervals, in various conditions, and moments. The performance is recorded live for a more than enthusiastic crowd. The interaction between Gustafsson and Mockunas is great, dialoguing, duelling, or playing up a storm. The rhythm section is good, with especially Eugenijus Kanevilius performing the rock solid backbone for the improvisations. This is no music for the faint of heart, and even in the slower moments, dissonance and adventure are the key characteristics, but listen how beautifully the arco bass leads the stuttering sounds of squabbling ducks into a plaintive almost spiritual atmosphere in the middle of the first track. The album requires repeated listens before you really get into it (at least to me it did). And yet again a great release by this young label.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Friday, February 6, 2009

Way Out West - Old Grooves In New Streets (Jazzhead, 2007) ***½

World jazz is fun, if it sounds authentic, when the musicians add something new, some new perspectives, new melodies, new rhythms, leading to some fresh insights and surprises, and yes, some new musical wealth. Australian trumpeter Peter Knight assembled a band from various backgrounds, with Dung Nguyen on guitar, but also on a 16-stringed Vietnamese zither (the dan tranh), and the dan bau (a single stringed instrument also called the monochord), with Ray Perreira on percussion, Paul Williamson on sax, Howard Cairns on bass, and Dave Beck on drums. "Old Grooves For New Streets 2", is the part which falls the most within the expectations, a funky, percussion-driven piece, with a slow theme by the horns, and with some great soloing on top. It's fun, but the real good parts are the ones which fall beyond the expected idioms. "Old Grooves For New Streets 3", brings nervous percussion as the lead instrument, with very nervous repetitive arpeggio-ed guitar in the background, and with a slow compelling theme by the horns. The album starts with "Postcard From Footscray", with an intro by Nguyen's zither, leading the song on into some sentimental trumpet over nice Brazilian rhythms. The highlight of the record is the second piece, "Old Grooves For New Streets 1", on which Dung Nguyen shines on his "dan bau", sounding quite middle-eastern really, a genre which seems to fit Williamson's sax well too, who steers the piece into some controlled paroxysm, leading to a percussion solos finale. "Café Afrique", is as its title suggests the most African piece, with again nice solos by the trumpet and the sax. The CD ends in sheer beauty, with the Vietnamese string instruments and the trumpet playing some bluesy melancholy piece. Not ground-breaking, but really nice music.

Listen and download/buy from CDBaby.

© stef

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Michael Bisio, George Muscatello, Dean Sharp - Collar City Createology ****

Michael Bisio is a bassist to savor : rich in timbre, creative and precise in his playing, yet strangely enough he records only every few years. He is accompanied here by Dean Sharp on drums and George Muscatello on guitar. The first three tracks have a vague structure and theme, but with sufficient foundation to allow for focused improvisaitons, with gentle and soft-toned playing, almost chamber-like jazz, despite the drums. The fourth track, "CX3" brings us into a more avant-garde, free improv environment, with all three musicians at their exploratory best, musically and in the use of extended techniques on their instruments, bring a wilder, yet open and light-footed journey. From then on, the music keeps that lightness, becoming fragile, with Sharp's percussion barely present on some tracks, unless for some precise emphasis once in a while. Muscatello's playing is also very soft-toned, and very precise too. One track, "Parabello", is a little more uptempo, yet with a halting rhythm, gaining momentum then loosing it completely for some interesting trio interactions, minute, intense, until the tempo gradually picks up again for more streamlined postbop improvisation. And that's the mode in which the album ends. This gives the overall feel of the album a strange evolution from post-boppish chamber-jazz to more avant-garde and back to its origin. As Michael Bisio writes in the liner notes : "These works are not "free form" but are freely formed by the individual and collective consciousness,( and subconsciousness), of the artists involved." The playing is nice throughout, subdued and gentle, yet captivating. All three of them deserve wider attention.

Listen and buy/download from CDBaby.

For those of you who are interested in geographical detail: the Collar City in the title is Troy, NY, called that way "due to the 19th century proliferation of detachable collars for mens shirts which were manufactured there. A city of varied ideologies and productivity, two other leading exports,(in their time), were pig-iron and ladies of the evening".

© stef

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bengt Berger & Kjell Westling - Spelar, Live In Stockholm 1977 (Country & Eastern, 1977, re-issue 2008) ***½

Swedish drummer Bengt Berger will always generate my interest, even if not all of his albums are worthwhile, but to have produced one masterpiece in a lifetime is already a stellar achievement, and I'm talking about "Bitter Funeral Beer". Here he is joined by Kjell Westling on sax for two long pieces of free jazz improvisation. The piece is easily identifiable as typical for the free jazz of the seventies, with lots of direct musical influences and references from traditional jazz, folk music and Middle-Eastern scales. I must say that Berger is excellent throughout, keeping up a relentless polyrythmic drive. Westling keeps up with him, producing some great soloing, although at times the lack of ideas force him into including tunes he's familiar with, including even Offenbach's French can-can tune! With the two tracks clocking in at close to 20 minutes, that's understandable, but it reduces the quality a little. Same thing with some of the Middle-Eastern scales, which are nice, but not really explored to the full, as if he's not too willing to leave the comfort zone. Now, that being said, with a seventies perspective, he possibly went way beyond what the audience thought was comfortable to listen to. Despite the hesitations, and these little downsides, it is still a pleasure to hear, and a good thing that it's been re-issued.

Listen and download from Country & Eastern.

© stef

Monday, February 2, 2009

Matthew Shipp - Harmonic Disorder (Thirsty Ear, 2009) ****

With some few odd exceptions, Matthew Shipp's music has a constant high quality, whether it is in a broader jazz with horns environment, with electronics, or in a classic piano trio as on this "Harmonic Disorder". He is accompanied by two musicians with whom he has performed very often over the past decades, and that can be heard : Joe Morris on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. At times, the music can be called postbop, with clear themes, walking bass and fixed rhythmic patterns, but luckily Shipp is inventive enough to steer nicely around the cliffs of predictability, creating short, focused and fresh excursions into the joy of playing the piano. In that sense he is quite Monkish on this album. Don't expect spiritual or expansive moments. This is bluesy, boppish, controlled modern jazz. Except for some tracks such as "Mel Chi 1" and the dark dramatic last track, most pieces are midtempo and upbeat, having intelligent fun with the musical possibilities of tune, rhythm and interplay. The three musicians feel so comfortable in these tight compositions, that the concept of "playing" in its original childlike first meaning is really the best description. Guys having creative and serious fun. And the fun is also mine!

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef