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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Musicians of the year ... 2009

Good music is a strange thing. It sticks to your bones at first listening, makes your blood rush faster through your veins, give you goosebumps and like an addict, you want to listen to it, time and time again. And it is all very subjective. What I like, will not necessarily be your thing, and vice versa. And that is good. Luckily.

Next to my list of best albums of the year, I also decided to dedicate some time to a new feature : "The Musicians Of The Year", another topic we can question and argue about.

Wadada Leo Smith

With two five-star albums (and one which I liked less), he is in the top of my rankings. Some call him a Miles Davis epigone. He is not. He is influenced by Miles, like possibly most modern trumpeters, and he even released a series of tribute albums to Miles, but he is a great musician in his own right, with a stellar technique, a musical vision that goes far beyond what Miles ever conceived, and with a spiritual dimension that was altogether lacking in Miles Davis' music.

Furthermore, he is uncompromising. He plays what he likes and he plays what he thinks he should be playing. He is a muscian true to himself. Listen to his duet with Jack DeJohnette, it is one of the best albums of the year, but so is his Spiritual Dimensions double CD, a release that also shows the different faces of the artist. Great.

Lotte Anker
After some decades of playing her sax, Danish saxophoinst Lotte Anker releases two albums with Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver that are absolutely stunning: "Live At The Loft" and "Floating Islands". True, she plays with two master musicians, but it is primarily her voice on the sax, her phrasing that determine the music. What she does is utterly creative, appealing to both heart and mind at the same time, without alienating listeners. With her trio, she redefines jazz, if you can still call it that.

Next to that, she also participates in this other genre-bending band, "Mokuto", that released a great album this year too, without forgetting last year's "Alien Huddle".

Mats Gustafsson

It's hard to keep count of the numbers of bands and albums the Swedish saxophonist plays with/on, but he's getting better and better still, and creating great music in many directions. A restless soul, never satisfied with his achievements, he keeps looking for new things, .... and he finds them. This year, he releases two albums with get a five-star rating, one solo album, one duet with Barry Guy. On both albums, the saxophonist demonstrates that his instrument has become part of his body. Any emotion you have (he has) gets amplified, reinforced through his instrument: directly, immediately and raw, whether it's agony, distress, sadness, and everything in between. Next to an uncompromising Lithuanian quartet release, he also presented his new band "Fire!" he brings jazz into rock music, and again with great success. And on Qbico, he releases "Mats G. Plays Albert A.", a 20-minute reverent vinyl tribute to Ayler pressed in 100 copies only (thanks Tony!), from which the above picture is taken. His implicit message to young musicians is clear : it may take a long time of searching, but finding new musical vistas is possible, and artistically so rewarding.

Joelle Léandre
The great lady of the bass released many albums this year (six if I'm not mistaken). As I wrote earlier, she is a musical nomad, playing with like-minded adventurous spirits, whether it's with the experienced William Parker, or young Quentin Sirjacq, opening her ears and mind for the interaction, and going deep into musical and emotional layers, going to the essence, which makes every performance unique in approach yet musically also universal at the same time.

Other noteworthy stuff about musicians:
    © stef

    Wednesday, December 30, 2009

    Free Jazz Top 10 - 2009

    Not that I'm such a fan of lists or rankings, but it's always a good occasion to look back and see what the year has brought us. I reviewed a little less than 300 albums this year, and listened to a lot more, although sometimes just barely, I must admit.

    First the worrying news : the divide that is growing between the CD output by European labels as compared to US labels, not only the number of labels, but also the number of albums by label. With the exception of a few (AUM Fidelity, Porter, Delmark, ESP, ... ) the most relevant US labels are the initiative of the musicians themselves (Tzadik, Atavistic, Skirl, Screwgun, Firehouse 12, ...). (or are my worries ungrounded and is this all an illusion, created by lack of proximity?)

    Since quite a lot of the music comes from American musicians, they have to resort more and more to European labels to get their voice heard. In Europe, and this despite the economic crisis, the output is quite good. Think of labels like Clean Feed, Leo Records, Not Two, NoBusiness, HatHut, Futura Marge, RogueArt, Jazzwerkstatt, Intakt, Creative Sources, Amirani, Kadima, MultiKulti, Fennomedia, FMR, Matchless, ECM, ILK, Ayler, ... and I'm of course missing some, so apologies for that. I have no explanation for this transatlantic difference, but the good news is that good music is still being released, regardless of the geographic location of the labels.

    I hope they all get the revenue they deserve. Without the financial risks of these labels and without the passion of the people who run the labels, much of the great music that we enjoyed this year would have remained unheard.

    And that's the good news. What a lot of new things we got this year, and what quality.

    First, there is a tendency away from volume, moving into free minimalism or free lyricism, with musicians like the WHO trio, Lotte Anker, Samuel Blaser, Christian Lillinger, Torben Snekkestad, Katherine Young, ... who demonstrate that musical intensity and power can as equally be generated by subtlety and nuance.

    Second, there are the acoustic sound sculpturers, who completely do away with melody and rhythm, and create the most unheard kind of aural vistas, sometimes hard to get into, sometimes with stunning results. Examples are Dans Les Arbres, Mokuto, Paura, Bill Dixon, Graveyards, Carl Ludwig Hübsch, Buffalo Collision, Cardinal, Ear&Now, Carl Maguire, ...

    Third, there is the real free jazz, solidly rooted in jazz and blues, yet so perplexingly alive. This is where the icons shine : David S. Ware, Trio X, Joe McPhee, The Nu Band, Dennis González, Fred Anderson, Fonda/Stevens Group, ...

    Fourth, there is the younger generation, bringing this free jazz a step further, closer to free improv, such as Nuts, Trespass Trio, Abdelhai Bennani, Rodrigo Amado, Demian Richardson, Transit, Aida Severo, setting a totally new context based with often stunning results. Jazz is alive and kickin'.

    Fifth, rock music also remains an influence, with bands such as Fire!, The Godforgottens, Tyft, Luis Lopes, Quartet Offensive, AlasNoAxis. Eeach with their own style and approach, yet creating new musical possibilities.

    So, lots of good music, in a blurring of genres, and one wonders what the label of "jazz" still means, but we're not going to open that debate here. 

    Here are my favorites of the year, in random order :
    1. Lotte Anker, Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver - Floating Islands
    2. Wadada Leo Smith & Jack DeJohnette - America
    3. David S. Ware Quartet - Live In Vilnius
    4. WHO Trio - Less Is More
    5. Barry Guy & Mats Gustafsson - Sinners, Rather Than Saints
    6. Joëlle Léandre & Jean-Luc Cappozzo - Live Aux Instants Chavires
    7. Tresspass Trio - Was There To Illuminate The Night Sky
    8. Cardinal
    9. Paura - The Construction Of Fear
    10. Transit - Quadrologues
    11. Collective 4tet - Transition
    This makes a quite balanced list of wonderful music. This will for sure not be to everyone's taste but I hope to have given a list that is a little beyond the beaten track, yet full of musical quality. With music from all kinds of places, in all sorts of line-ups, in different subgenres and styles.

    I want to thank all the musicians and labels for the great music they released this year. Great moments of joy, sadness, anger and aesthetic beauty, and also - luckily - many moments of surprises, of new sounds, new sound combinations, full of creativity, expressivity and vision.

    And then there is this blog. On January 11 of 2009, we celebrated the 200,000th visitor. Today, we have exceeded the 420,000 visitors. Thank you all for your ongoing interest.

    Happy New Year to you all, music lovers!

    © stef

    Bradford, Gjerstad, Håker Flaten, Nilssen-Love - Reknes (Circulasione Totale, 2009) ****

    Bobby Bradford on cornet, Frode Gjerstad on sax, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, These four men have played together in various formats and constellations: Gjerstad and Bradford have three quartet albums, and they play together in the Circulasione Totale Orchestra. Here they are captured live at the Molde Festival in Norway for four improvisations of between ten to seventeen minutes, offering the musicians enough time to do their thing. It starts quite rhythmic, with Bradford leading the tune in his own melodious way, then Gjerstad comes in on clarinet, all high and screeching, forcing Bradford into more adventurous regions, yet he sticks to more free-boppish themes, and when Gjerstad picks up his sax for a slower moment, the complementarity between the two musicians becomes even clearer, yet it adds to the overall texture : the raw, maverick tones of Gjerstad versus the bluesy velvety sound of Bradford. One tune? Sure enough! Both horn-players can imbue their solos with the same emotional content. But the nice thing is that all four musicians give each other lots of space, listening well, and playing in function of the music, and well, also in function of Bobby Bradford, who clearly occupies the spotlight on all four tracks, with Gjerstad taking a step back more often than not. The third track has Bradford taking the most bluesy solo cornet intro I've heard in years, for what remains the most down-tempo piece of the album. And Gjerstad takes the lead in the last piece, opening together with Håker Flaten, again full of emotional tension and sensitivity. Four great musicians. Not earth-shattering or ground-breaking, but free jazz in the best tradition. And the audience is enthusiastic too.

    Buy from Instantjazz.

    © stef

    Monday, December 28, 2009

    Donat Fisch & Christian Wolfarth - Circle & Line 2 (Leo Records, 2009) ****½

    Some ten years after their first "Circle & Line", Swiss saxophonist Donat Fisch and drummer Christian Wolfarth bring this wonderful "Circle & Line 2", an album, which in short, is an ode to music, and to life. In the best tradition of Dewey Redman and Ed Blackwell, and in nature maybe even closer to Don Cherry with Ed Blackwell, with great polyrhythmic African drumming supporting a freely singing and swinging sax. The reduced line-up brings the music back to its essence : rhythm and melody. The two musicians are modern enough to add all the necessary creative angles to keep the attention going, including some timbral explorations and extended techniques, as on "Merlodie", but not many. The focus is on the tune and the interaction. And that's a joy from beginning to end. Wolfarth's drumming is nothing short of spectacular in its condensed power, and Fisch's lyricism on both alto and tenor is excellent. It's not all polyrhythmics though, some pieces, like "Staika" have a more subdued sense, and "Elva" the long last piece, is a truly beautiful and slow spiritual song.

    The session is very accessible, it does not require real open ears to appreciate it, and that's for once part of the fun. This is, as said, non-stop musical joy. The music and the musicians are a lot better than their first release. Don't miss it.

    Buy from Instantjazz.

    © stef

    Saturday, December 26, 2009

    Lorenzo Sanguedolce & Michael Bisio - Live At The Yippie (NoBusiness, 2009) ***

    Live At The Yippie is part of a performance by tenor saxophonist Lorenzo Sanguedolce and bassist Michael Bisio, with two tracks clocking right under 20 minutes each, the regular time constraint of a vinyl LP.  Sanguedolce is possibly best known, if at all, from his Sweetblood Quintet, a name which is the English translation of his Italian family name.

    The first piece, "'Stract (part 1), brings a lyrical, free boppish improvisation with bluesy inclinations, quite accessible overall, all within the same idiom and style without too many digressions. The second part, "'Stract (part 2)", is more varied, a little more daring, with more space for Bisio to solo. Technically this is all very good, also the interplay between sax and bass. Musically, Sanguedolce is still looking for his unique position, that piece of creative fingerprint that will set him apart from many other saxophonists, and that will give us, listeners, new experiences. As of now, we can only congratulate NoBusiness for giving a chance to produce an album to this promising new voice.

    Buy from Instantjazz.

    It is also available as a digital download from CDBaby.

    © stef

    Thursday, December 24, 2009

    Carla Bley - Carla's Christmas Carols (WATT, 2009)

    All right, a little sentimentality and seasonal atmosphere are allowed. Carla Blay, the great lady of modern jazz, has just released this album with Steve Swallow on 5-string electric bass, and the Partyka Brass Quintet, that consists of Ed Partyka on bass trombone and tabla, Tobias Weidlinger on trumpet, flugelhorn, and glockenspiel, Axel Schlösser on trumpet, flugelhorn, and chimes, Christine Chapman on horn, and Adrian Mears on trombone. 

    This is as far removed from The Escalator Over The Hill, as you can imagine, but it is fun. The arrangements are excellent, the redefinition of these songs to a jazz environment work well (or blues, just listen to "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear"), with the necessary dose of fun thrown in the mix ("Jinge Bells" is just fabulous), but without ever becoming irreverent. It is an exercise in style, but a great one. The Partyka Quintet is an excellent ensemble, and hearing Steve Swallow's fabulous bass-playing is always a treat.

    It is a little bit of a tear-jerker, but as said, why not? This is so much more listenable than all the other Christmas music that is being released. And if it is a little commercial, well, then I hope it sells.

    Listen and download from iTunes.

    © stef

    Wednesday, December 23, 2009

    Piano trios

    Maybe because of christmas coming, we are getting a little weak in the heart, sentimental and soft, and so are some of the new releases to be presented, going back to their roots rather than moving forward, but luckily not all.

    Chad Taylor - Circle Down (482 Music, 2009) ***

    I am a great fan of drummer Chad Taylor, whether he plays with Fred Anderson, with Digital Primitives or the Chicago Underground Trio. I loved what Angelica Sanchez did with the Sanchez/Malaby/Rainey band, or on her own albums, especially her latest. Chris Lightcap figures on so many albums I like that I can't list them here. And hence I bought this album, full of expectations, too high maybe, because the end result is a little disappointing, to me at least. It a nice piano trio album. Not much adventure. Exercises in various rhythms. Great piano playing. Excellent rhythm section. Some post-bop, some Latin even. Nice. Sweet.

    Listen and download from eMusic.

    Vijay Iyer Trio - Historicity (ACT, 2009) ***½

    Wizz kid Vijay Iyer has released many excellent albums in the past, creating his own thundering rhythmically complex percussive style, either with his own bands or with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. Here he is accompanied by Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. Like with Chad Taylor's album, is a shift into more mainstream territory, more accessible, yet also less interesting and less intense than some of his previous work, although I'm sure it will get wider acclaim in the jazz press. The title refers to his indebtedness and admiration for other music, as he illustrates here, ranging from Leonard Bernstein over Andrew Hill and Stevie Wonder to hip hop. This gives reverent pieces, more modern rhythms, romantic and dramatic pieces, all played with stunning technical skills by the three musicians. He even cover Hempill's "Dogon A.D.", one of the best compositions ever that has rarely been covered, but Iyer brings the second noteworthy version of this year, with Marty Ehrlich's releasing the other one. Crump and Gilmore are absolutely excellent on the piece, with the arco doing a great job of emulating the cello. Despite Iyer's percussive style and versatility, he doesn't manage to capture the heart-rending aspect of the tune. Sure, it is technically all excellent, but it's a different style. Great, but again my expectations were higher. And of course, it's Iyer's rightful choice to seek a wider audience for his music. Post-bop fans will surely like this.

    Watch Historicity's promo video

    Plaistow - Jack Bambi (Self Published, 2009) ****

    Some good news is coming from Switzerland though. Plaistow is a young band, with Johann Bourquenez on piano, Raphaël Ortis on bass and Cyril Bondi on drums. Like E.S.T. they integrate elements from rock music in their jazz, which gives the music a very young and modern flavor, and they add a dose of madness and chaos that the late Esbjörn Svensson did not have. These guys go for it. They do what they like. True, some of the shifts are quite sudden, and it does not always sound very coordinated, but these are just minor ailments compared to their drive and innovative power. The record has a DVD with it, on which Michel Wintsch of the WHO Trio joins on piano, together with Cyril Moulas on bass and Nicolas Field on drums. The DVD is a little chaotic, but the CD is absolutely great, and wild, and sensitive. Traditionalists, please abstain.This is post-jazz!

    You can download the whole thing, lock stock & barrel, for free from their website.

    © stef

    Tony Malaby - Voladores (Clean Feed, 2009) *****

    Regular readers of this blog know my appreciation for Tony Malaby, both as a saxophonist and as a composer. His tone is warm, lyrical and sensitive, his compositions and improvisations always welcoming and surprising at the same time, adventurous in his approach of jazz tradition, creating the new angle from within the musical edifice that we know. This quartet further consists of the double drums of Tom Rainey and John Hollenbeck, without a doubt two of the creative rhythmic wizards of these days, and Drew Gress on bass, another one of the finest. Hollenbeck uses everything but the kitchen sink as percussive objects, including marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, melodica and small kitchen appliances (whatever that may be but surely not the kitchen sink). What a band, and again, what music. It is complex, with rhythm changes, overlapping time signatures, tempo changes, with shifting moods and intensities, often in the same piece, fierce at times, melodious always, deeply felt too. From the wild outbursts on tenor on "Old Smokey", to the finely squeezed out tones on "Dreamy Drunk", Malaby's skills are a real pleasure for the ear. But he doesn't shy away from the more experimental stuff:  a piece like "Can't Sleep" gives a strong stressful evocation of its title, "Are You Sure?", brings a hesitating kind of wonder, "YeSssss", brings a wonderful quiet exploration of minimal sound interaction, "What's Up, Smell The Sumatra", is an exercise in distress and tension. Yet the real value comes from the longest pieces, on which all the complexities and the wealth of the music come to full fruition. "Sour Diesel" starts with a great rhythmic bass vamp, over which the soprano and the melodica interlace for a strange melody in counterpoint, but the again, structures changes and the tune evolves in a more expressive improvisation. It is in my opinion not as expressive as the more "free" "Tamarindo", but the wealth of concepts, the skills of all four musicians, the creativity and the expressivity make this an absolutely wonderful album. Don't miss it.

    Buy from Instantjazz.

    © stef

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    Katherine Young - Further Secret Origins (Porter Records, 2009) ****

    A while ago I heard bassoonist Katherine Young's "Things Suspended Converge And Fall", a composition for 19 musicians that she released last year, of which, I must admit, much went straight over my head, and that is available for free download.

    Now she just released her first solo bassoon album on Porter, and it is one that goes straight to my heart. On the first track, the aptly called "Terra Incognita" (unknown territory), the spacious sound of a fog horn invites you into a sonic world that you haven't heard before, with several overdubs but also with a kind of irregular heartbeat to accompany the playing. On the second track, called "Patricia Highsmith", ambient sounds such as screeching car tyres and police sirens illustrate the suspense of the author's novels. And over these, the howling, wailing, rhythmic pulse of the bassoon weaves great sounds, often exploring timbral possibilities, resulting in the kind of drone effect that saxophonists get with the circular breathing technique. On "Elevation", the subtle multiphonics create a very sensitive, vulnerable, almost yearning tone, over the continuing heartbeat produced by releasing the tongue from the reeds, an interesting technique which she uses almost throughout, including on "For Astronauts, For Travelers", the longest piece which is also the highlight of the album, a slow, calm, restraint but very intense piece, with an incredible sense of pace.

    She does not feel the need to fill space, it almost comes organically, determined by the sounds and the instrument itself. After the long drones around fixed tonal centers, "Some People Say That She Doesn't Exist" adds some melody to it, overdubbing several recordings, acting as a small ensemble, almost classical in sound. The album closes with the raw deep sounds it started with, on a track called "Orbis Tertius", possibly a reference the "unknown country" or "a to-be-created world" in the story by Jose Luis Borges.The circle is closed.

    Despite its unfamiliar approach, and relative inaccessibility, it is equally appealing and welcoming, and very hypnotic. Strong solo performance!

    Listen and download from eMusic.

    © stef

    Sunday, December 20, 2009

    Marilyn Crispell - Collaborations 2004 and 2007 (Leo, 2009) ****

    An interesting album. Not only because we do not often hear Crispell with horns (sure, with Braxton, or recently with The Stone Quartet), but also because of the breadth of musical styles and backgrounds of the Scandinavian musicians she teams up with. All five pieces were recorded at the Nya Perspektiv Festivals, Sweden, in 2004 and 2007. The first two tracks are a quartet performance, with Crispell on piano, Fredrik Ljungkvist on clarinet and saxophone, Palle Danielsson on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. The first piece is full of the pianist's know free lyricism, with Ljungkvist on clarinet, going really wild and deep, yet full of contrast between darkness and light. The second piece is more uptempo and angular, with Ljunkvist on tenor, wailing and screeching over the pounding chords of Crispell, not bad but a little less risky, with a long slow solo bass piece for Danielsson in the middle, moving the piece into more romantic post-boppish territory. The quintet session has Lars Goran Ulander on alto saxophone, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Per Zanussi on bass, and again Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Maybe because of the context or because of the line-up, but the musical approach is quite different, more free, more creative. Crispell's chords are eery, with Broo and Ulander interacting beautifully, full of restraint and deep-felt emotions, and with the trumpetist adding some real fun at the end of the first piece. The next one is all ethereal sound layers, slow, evocative, expansive, with gradually increasing tension. The last piece is all subdued and quiet, impressionistic, sensitive, sad. If there had been more unity in the album, it would have been great. The two sets are too far apart to have a real coherent album. That being said, all the different parts are excellent, yet not really breaking new ground, with lots of references to the seventies.

    © stef

    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    The Light - Afekty (MultiKulti, 2009) ****½

    Almost exactly a year ago, a wrote this enthusiastic review of "The Light", the debut album of the Polish trio consisting ofWacław Zimpel on clarinet, bass clarinet, and tarogato, Wojciech Traczyk on bass, and Robert Rasz on drums. Now, with their sophomore album, they confirm their quality, musical skills and vision. It is even more focused than the first album, and they perform only their own material. The approach is still as gentle, sensitive and free as the previous one, with great explorations of timbre and sound, finding a wonderful balance between rhythmic drive as on the last track "Shangri La", and lyrical and emotional delivery, as on "Rozpacz", on which a plaintive tarogato dialogues with a mourning arco, or intense creativity, as on "Hridaja", or percussive improv as on "Sattwa" on which the bass clarinet is propulsed forward by Rasz's drumming, short, compact and powerful. Despite all the adventure and freedom of spirit, the trio is still fully entrenched in the jazz tradition, a great vantage point from which to explore. And the best thing is that the three musicians share the same vision and hence interact to perfection on this highly varied album. Highly recommended.

    © stef

    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    Empty Cage Quartet - Gravity (Clean Feed, 2009) ****

    The Empty Cage Quartet keeps releasing quality albums year after year. The band consists of Jason Mears on alto and clarinet, Kris Tiner on trumpet, Ivan Johnson on bass and Paul Kikuchi on drums, and has been performing for many years in the same line-up. This is without a doubt their most mature statement to date, with a self-assured delivery that goes beyond the common expectations about jazz. The band's compositions are based on numeric concepts : "Calendric number sequences generate cyclical Tzolkien forms that combine and recombine, seeking an intuitive, organic union of numerological complexity and visceral groove". That's how Kris Tiner describes it in the liner notes, adding "We are not conceptualists". And he is right. What counts is how the music sounds. All the rest are just methods to create new approaches, to open doors as yet unopened, to create new insights, to challenge existing patterns and notions. And that's what this band does, creating layers of music around the core structures, improvising and expanding, delving into the new possibilities that are offered. The overall result is strong. Needs to be heard. Hence here a sound bite from "Gravity 1" :
    Gravity No. 1: Section 4 by kristiner

    The downside of it is that it lacks the emotional drive and expressivity of the previous albums, as if the one goes at the expense of the other. Even if the approach is interesting, the intellectualisation of the music creates a little more distance with the listener. In that sense, their previous album "Stratostrophic" was stronger. But again, if you like the band, this is for sure one of their best so far. And don't get me wrong : there is plenty of emtional delivery, yet it's a little less of a strength. Infusing their new concepts with the sustained emotional power of some of their previous albums would work miracles.

    Buy from Instantjazz.

    © stef

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    Trombone, trombone, trombone ....

    The trombone is a tough instrument to put in a leading role, and the small ensembles that feature a trombone are hence limited, but thanks to the relentless creativity of modern music, anything is possible, in any combination, with any kind of intent. Here is a list of interesting new albums in random order.

    Daniel Blacksberg Trio - Bit Heads (NoBusiness, 2009)

    This adventurous new Lithuanian label presents us with what I think is the debut album of trombonist Daniel Blacksberg as a leader, accompanied by Jon Barrios on bass and Mike Szekely on drums. His approach is cautious, free and precise, in the sense that he does go beyond the beaten path, offering new possibilities for the instrument but without going into the wilder areas that George Lewis is known for. The end result is highly listenable avant jazz, with slow and bluesy inflections, using the instrument's inherent capabilities for sadness. Promising!

    David Taylor - Red Sea (Tzadik, 2009) 

    Bass trombonist David Taylor has this incredible resumé which includes amongst others the New York Philharmonic, playing with Ellington, the Rolling Stones, Blood, Sweat & Tears and even appearing on the Muppett Show with Gil Evans, but also releasing albums under his own name in more modern settings. With that background, you may expect anything, and whether it's a good thing that Tzadik offered him the chance to release this album will remain a question of debate.

    Taylor himself plays tenor trombone, and a wide variety of regular or custom-made trombones. Franz Hackl plas trumpets, Adam Holzman surdo, bass drum, piano; Scott Robinson a wild variety of reeds, such as contrabass clarinet, tenor rothopone and many more, and Warren Smith has this gigantic list of rhythm instruments to have fun with : giant Chinese barrel drum, bass marimba, and many more. From the list and the label, you already get the gist that this music is to be played in the lower registers, full of klezmer scales in the best Radical Jewish Series tradition, and indeed, you are right. The album is inspired by "the music of the legendary Cantor Pierre Pinchik, ... evoking the ecstasy of cantorial fervor".

    If the music did not open such interesting new musical visions at moments, I would not even mention it. Taylor creates great, reverent and intense soundscapes at times, with the solemnity and Weltschmerz you may expect, although often too pompous and heavy-footed. He throws in every style he has ever played in, from the New York Philharmonic over Blood, Sweat & Tears to the Muppetts, and luckily some creative modern music moments. Great instrumental skills do not necessarily make great composers.

    Superimpose - Talk Talk (Leo Records, 2009) 

    This is German trombonist Matthias Müller's seventh release, and his second with Christian Marien on drums. Together they bring you deep into free improv territory, full of short and very intense interactions, exploring sounds, timbres, shades and colors, perspectives and musical depth, bouncing of notes and rhythms, extracted from context, abstracted from meaning. No doubt the least accessible album on this list, but not necessarily the less rewarding. Müller squeezes more sounds out of his trombone than most trombonists even conceive is possible, but to his credit he uses this skill not as an objective but as a means to create music. New music, taking risks, and in Marien he clearly found a great sparring partner.

    Noah Rosen, Yves Robert, Didier Levallet - Silhouette (Sans Bruit, 2009)

     French trombonist Yves Robert is without a doubt one of the masters of the instrument, confident, rich, and incredibly versatile. His album "On Touch" on ECM is easy to recommend. Here he teams up with Noah Rosen on piano and Didier Levallet on bass, for a very intense musical dialogue and confrontation, recorded at the wonderful Château Vilain XIIII (sic!) in Belgium. The three musicians explore, respond, push forward, change courses, open new vistas, and often all within one piece, changing from powerful intensity to slow and prudent testing of new common grounds. Rosen's piano sets the tone, the rhythm and the music's overall fluidity, adding complexities to abstractions, and it is without a doubt the most lyrical album of the list, yet also one of the richest, most mature and most playful. A real trio achievement.

    © stef

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    Joe McPhee, Peter Brötzmann, Ken Kessler, Michael Zerang - The Damage Is Done (Not Two, 2009) ****

    The reason why Joe McPhee and Peter Brötzmann form a great horn section is because their styles are linked and still quite different. McPhee can be violent and fierce, but he has that touch of sentimentality - in the good sense of the word - and spirituality that is entirely lacking with Brötzmann. The latter is a force of nature, all power and energy, but he has his poetic side too. Besides the violence, they share technical skills, musical vision and first and foremost instruments that are a direct conduit to their feelings, unaltered, without embellishment, without unnecessary ornaments or fake feelings. They deliver directly : raw, authentic, true to themselves. Ken Kessler on bass and Michael Zerang on drums feed the hurricane that is blowing in front of them, relentlessly.

    But the hurricane can become a light breeze too. And that is to a certain extent largely to be ascribed to both McPhee and Kessler, who add more nuance and subtlety, melodic elaboration and lyricism, but don't get mistaken about Brötzmann either: the slow and very beautiful melody that he develops in the quiet middle part of the thirty-minute title song is entirely his, almost sounding like McPhee. It is a real pleasure how the German manages to find the common ground, but don't worry either, it doesn't take long before he blows his lungs out again, so much so, that it almost becomes an entertainment by itself. The second track, "Alchemia Souls", is more free improv, a sound dialogue between the four musicians, and the title refers to the Alchemia Club, in Krakow, Poland were the performance took place on March 16, 2008.

    The second disc is even better, with titles referring to the descent into the Greek underworld. Soft and poetic flowing passages alternate with gut-wrenching sound blasts and the most excruciating emotional explorations - after all: you are in hell, yet it all fits, it has coherence and purpose, indeed like Acheron, the river of pain, that flows through Hades. Anger, human misery, dissatisfaction with the world, yes. But also musical beauty and great artistic delivery, very balanced in a very varied performance.The only downside of the performance is that Brötzmann's sax comes across much louder than McPhee's, but whether that's a question of sound mixing or because of sheer decibels produced, remains unsolved.

    © stef

    Saturday, December 12, 2009

    Scoolptures - Materiale Umano (Leo Records, 2009) ****½

    A new band, announced by the label as "Can't be ignored", which is quite a negative way of putting it, but true enough, this is highly clever, highly creative and highly emotional music, a rare combination, but what is more: their take on music is something else: powerful and visionary.

    The band consists of Nicola Negrini on bass, metallophone and live electronics, Achille Succi on bass clarinet, altosax and shakuhachi, Philippe Garcia on drums, voice and live electronics, and Antonio Della Marina on sinewaves, live electronics. Despite my dislike of electronics, it works to perfection on this album, because they are used in a very functional way, often barely noticeable yet omnipresent.

    The thirteen short pieces clock between two and seven minutes, and all refer to slices of the human body: "Brainslice", "Bellyslice", "Liverslice", etc. The music itself is described as "instantaneous composition, improvisation and live electronics, and the use of purposely programmed computer melt together in scenic writing". The computer records "not accidental but unforeseeable", in the sense that the repetitive elements conjured up by the system do not always follow the same rhythmic cycle. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.

    OK, whatever the technology behind it, the result is quite strong. All pieces have their own story, often compact, centered around a few core ideas, yet very focused and intense. Despite all the electronics, you need visionary artists and great instrumental skills to bring this to a good end, and with success. Bizarrely enough, because of the repetitions of the electronics, it all sounds carefully composed. Some pieces are fully colored by the electronics, other start from a solid jazz base, as on "Lungslice", others mix in Asian elements, as on "Nerveslice", with shakuhachi and arco bass. The highlight is without a doubt the haunting "Lostslice", wich includes high-toned worldless singing in combination with bass clarinet. I thought those were female voices, but it's the musicians themselves:  weird and brilliant. Not everything works though, or would fall within my broad level of appreciation, but that's because they take risks, and without risks, no new musical vistas, which you get here in spades.

    © stef

    The Jazz Police ....

     I thought the concept of the Jazz Police was a great invention by Leonard Cohen, and here is one stanza of his lyrics.

    "Jazz police are looking through my folders
    Jazz police are talking to my niece
    Jazz police have got their final orders
    Jazzer, drop your axe, it's Jazz police!"

     But they're real. They exist!

    And none other than Larry Ochs, widely acclaimed artist, and highly recommended by your humble servant, was the victim of the jazz police. While performing in Sigüenza, near Madrid, on Monday this week, a concert-goer called the police to judge whether or not the music Larry plays is jazz, claiming his money back.

    "According to a report in El País newspaper yesterday, the khaki-clad police officers listened to the saxophone-playing and drumming coming from the festival stage before agreeing that the purist might, indeed, have a case", writes The Guardian.They referred the case to a judge.

     Read the full article in The Guardian or El País for some hilarious moments. 

    True, you can argue about what is jazz and what is not jazz. But taking risks is not only the task of the artist. It's also part of the listener's role.

    In any case, I truly hope that it will give Larry some wider exposure. Getting such a long article in El País and in The Guardian does certainly not happen frequently to"jazz" musicians.

    "Can you tell me why the bells are ringing?
    Nothing's happened in a million years
    I've been sitting here since Wednesday morning
    Wednesday morning can't believe my ears

    You can also judge for yourself : here is a piece of the performance, with Satoko Fujii on piano, Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Scott Amendola and Donald Robinson on drums.

     List of recommended albums by and with Larry Ochs :

    John Lindberg - A Tree Frog Tonality *****
    Darren Johnston - Reasons For Moving ****
    Larry Ochs - Up From Under *****
    John Lindberg - The Catbird Sings ****
    Larry Ochs, Jeanrenaud, Masaoka - Fly, Fly, Fly *****
    Larry Ochs - The Mirror World ****
    Larry Ochs, Peggy Lee, Miya Masaoka - Spiller Alley *****
    Larry Ochs - Stone Shift ****

    I know that I am quite generous/enthusiastic with my ratings, but four out of eight albums with a five-star rating is even by my standards exceptionally high. Check them out!

    Thanks to Foka for sharing this story.

    © stef

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Tongs - Jazz With The Megaphone? (Long Song Records, 2009) ***½

     This album has been lying around here, not knowing what to do with it. Does it fit the profile of this blog or doesn't it? Is is sufficiently jazz? Is it sufficiently adventurous? Well, in a way it is. The music is hard to pigeonhole. If you like The Happy Apple or Lucien Dubuis Trio, you must give this one a try too. Carlo Garof plays drums, percussion, objects, sinori, megaphone, live electronics; Antonio Bertoni plays double bass, electric bass, effects and sampler, Luca Serrapiglio plays baritone and tenor, bass clarinet and lo-fi electronics. The music has a definite rock attack and approach, with the studio being the fourth musician of the band. There is lots of fun on this album, lots of unexpected and interesting new subtleties added to the genre (and not only the megaphone). It rocks, it funks, it pumps, it swings, but on top you get colorful delivery of new sounds, ground-shaking drumming, gut-wrenching arco, hair-blowing horns, hair-raising electronics, feet-raising rhythms. Lively stuff! A little more unity would have made this a better album. Sometimes a little too sweet (like in the first track), sometimes hesitating between just plain fun and real artistic ambitions, but it sounds very promising.

    Listen and buy from Long Song Records

    © stef

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    The Godforgottens - Never Forgotten, Always Remembered (Clean Feed, 2009) *****

    The Sten Sandell Trio + Magnus Broo is something else entirely than what you would expect. The band is called the Godforgottens, with Magnus Broo on trumpet, Sten Sandell on Hammond B3 organ and piano, Johan Berthling on double bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums.

    The first piece starts like a tune from a nightmare, with hypnotic bowed bass, an endless menacing organ sound circling around a single tonal center, chaotic background percussion and the trumpet that hovers over it all, screeching full-voiced. Gradually rhythm emerges, the tempo increases, bass strings are plucked, piano chords add drama. The trumpet is still lamenting. Full voice.Then stops. The piano chords run wild. The drums roll, full of patternless madness. Then the storm dies down.

    The second piece starts with tribal drumming, deep-voice throat-singing by Sandell, hesitating trumpet tones. The sound of the unexpected. Totally unexpected. Then you get the organ again. Quite harmonious yet weird. Full of gravitas and fire. The trumpet follows suit in short staccato blasts. Even if the rhythm section does everything not to create a sense of flow - at best rocks thundering down mountains, the organ and the trumpet do have a sense of direction: they flow.Then stop. Then it's Paal Nilssen-Love demonstrating what modern drumming should sound like: all spikes and splinters and unreleased built-up tension. Piano and trumpet dance around each other. Remaining pounding. Staccato. Slowing down. Bass plucked. Sensitivity reigns. Subtlety dominates. Bass bowed. One note on piano. Two notes on piano. A bell-like trumpet sound. A cymbal. Like after the storm: raindrops falling from leaves.

    The third piece starts with the known and appreciated Broo & Nilssen-Love duet. Broo can sound like Don Cherry, and like Louis Armstrong and like Lester Bowie, with a deep sense of blues and lyricism. Even in his wildest excursions, like here. The drums go through the roof. The piano joins the free bop. Out of the ensuing chaos, the bass emerges as the solid foundation. Sandell takes the lead. Then Broo does Cherry: all sympathy with the universe, joyful and sad, dancing and serene. The whole band joins. Light-footed and deep. So beautiful. Then the organ is back. Dark and menacing. Supported by the bass. Scattering the joy. No rescue possible. All hope gone.The trumpet screaming in wild laments. High and piercing. The drums rattling. Increasing the tempo. The intensity. Broo counters with a powerful melodic phrase. All heart and warmth. Subduing the violence. Redemption? Resignation? Revenge? It all ends with a single endless organ tone, over which Sandell practices his tuvan overtone singing, shamanistic and tribal ...  mesmerizing.

    You can't put this music in a genre box. It's fantastic. 

    Buy from Instantjazz.
    © stef

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Chris Kelsey - Not Cool (as in ... the opposite of Paul Desmond) (Self Published, 2009) ****

    Jazz critic and saxophonist Chris Kelsey now releases his new album under his own name after having published several on CIMP in the past, with "The Crookedest Straight Line, Vol. 2" being his latest. The band plays very much in the same vein as on the previous releases, finding a great balance between composed themes and furious and intense improvisations. Except for Chris Dimeglio, who replaces John Carlson on trumpet, the band is the same, with François Grillot on bass and Jay Rosen on drums.The line-up is not by coincidence the same as the original Ornette Coleman Quartet, and stylistically there are also ressemblances, albeit in a more modern version.

    In a very unusual attitude, Kelsey positions his music against the stylistic straightjacket of mainstream jazz, illustrated by Paul Desmond. His liner notes offer a quite long explanation for this, summarised in "I couldn’t embrace the music I loved without repudiating what I found appalling", a kind of rebellious attitude vis-à-vis the context of his own youth in the sixties. You can read all this in the liner yourself, as they're part of the free download package.

    The music itself his excellent without breaking boundaries. Kelsey's compositions are angular in the Coleman tradition, with highly rhythmic melodic themes, as lead-ins for free improvisations. In contrast to much of today's free jazz, the rhythmic backbone remains the anchorpoint during the improv. Even in the slower pieces, as in "Raw Sun", the music is intense and quite dense, with the various instruments being active most of the time, interweaving sounds and giving perspective to each other's improvisation. The only voice to get real solo moments - as in the only instrument playing - is Grillot's bass, which offers some breathing space to the horn players and to the listener on several tracks. The slow "The Past Is A Frightening Prospect" is the best piece of the album, together with the last track, a long rendition of Albert Ayler's "Ghosts". Like Ayler, this music is expressive, intense, iconoclastic, and paradoxically also reverent, and with quite some emotional power.

    You can temporarily download for free on Chris Kelsey's blog (128 kbps).

    © stef

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    Minamo - Kuroi Kawa/Black River (Tzadik, 2009) ****

    Two years ago I was quite enthusiastic by the release of the "Minamo", a live album by Satoko Fujii and Carla Kihlstedt, who now get the possibility to continue their collaboration on the better known Tzadik label, and I hope it will give them more exposure. Fujii has been one of my favorite musicians of the last years, and I've been a fan of Kihlstedt ever since I first heard the Tin Hat Trio many years ago. They both are music lovers and genre devourers, capturing everything from classical, traditional music, folk, avant-garde, country, jazz, soundtrack, to new music. Both are very prolific in terms of musical output, working on a large variety of projects at the same time : Kihlstedt plays in ten different outfits, from folk to classical over rock and avant-garde, Fujii has her big band, quartets, trios, solo performances, world music with Gato Libre, or avant-garde jazz with Larry Ochs's Stone Shift.

    The album consists of two CDs, one with eighteen short pieces recorded in the studio, the other one with six longer live improvisations. And that concept is a very lucky one, because it shows the artists' breadth of range in the short pieces, the quantity of things they have to tell and offer, like a rich menu with lots of different choices, whereas the live setting gives them time to explore the ideas, to structure the improvisation and expand on them. On one track of the first CD Fujii plays accordion and Kihlstedt trumpet violin, which offers additional variation.

    Out of this huge musical baggage and technical skills, their only ambition here is to create something entirely new, never heard before, tearing to pieces what they've heard before, but lovingly, and reconstructing it into something entirely different, full of red-hot passion and intensity, sometimes dissonant or atonal, yet sometimes very melancholy and accessible, or joyful and fun, or fresh and light, or full of drama and gravity, and especially on the second CD, you get a mix of it all. Their message seems clear : "music is music : it's what it says that is important, not what box it fits in".

    The greatest strength of the album is the perfect symbiosis between the two musicians, who find each other seamlessly and manage to deconstruct and to create something as out of one mind and heart.

    Listen and download from iTunes.

    © stef

    Fire! - You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago (Rune Grammofon, 2009) ****½

    "Fire!" is Mats Gustafsson on saxophones and Fender Rhodes, Johan Berthling on bass, electric guitar and Hammond organ, and Andreas Werliin on drums. The first piece is built around a repetitive bass vamp, a solid anchor point for the drums to go haywire and Gustafsson to have a no-holds-barred sax solo, screaming and wailing as if his life depended on it, yet ending all smooth and gently. The second piece, "But Sometimes I am", starts with a slow acoustic bass figure around which Werliin adds percussive depth on his cymbals. After some four minutes the sax joins with some gut-wrenching multiphonic sound, full of distress and sadness, a sound which is so unmistakably identifiable as Gustafsson, so human and authentic that it's really frightening, and - suprise - his sound merges into some high-toned singing by Mariam Wallentin, on a true psychedelic backdrop reminiscent of Pink Floyd's "Careful With That Axe, Eugene", but then the electronics set in as the speed increases, moving to an inevitable paroxysm we know from the early Floyd. Absolutely mesmerizing. "Can I Hold You For A Minute", starts with a rock-ish mid-tempo beat, with bass and drums laying a repetitive pattern for the electric guitar and keyboards to build a hypnotic wall of sound, through which Gustafsson's piercing sax comes tearing through, as if his soul was condemned, for ever.

    The last track starts light-footed, with some handclapping accompanying a repetitive sax over an odd 2/4 rhythm, of which the tempo increases, a little too joyful and too much of a contrast with the carefully built up atmosphere of the previous tracks.

    This is not fusion. It is not even progressive jazz rock à la Soft Machine. It's the endless psychedelic and epic - as yet unpolished - sound mastership of the early Pink Floyd in a more modern form with the magnificent voice of Gustafsson to add emotional power.

    © stef

    Saturday, December 5, 2009

    Sax trios

    Ever since Sonny Rollins'"Way Out West", the sax trio is possibly the most popular small ensemble after the piano trio. The horn's expressivity, volume and range explain its attractiveness for players and listeners alike, because it can carry the weight of a trio setting. That being said, it still requires creativity and a good sense of how to build tension to keep things captivating for a whole album.

    Peter Brötzmann, Marino Pliakas, Michael Wertmüller - Full Blast/Black Hole (Atavistic, 2009) 

    Recorded in March 2008 at Radio Studio Züric, the titel of the album defines the music quite well, although on the second track, "Suzy", Brötzmann plays quite softly, melodically and sensitively over the wild powerful bass of Marino Pliakas and the unrelenting drumming of Michael Wertmüller. But don't worry, Brötzmann fans will find plenty to enjoy here, but it must be said, the quieter parts, as on "String", or on "Protoneparcel" on which he plays tarogato suit him quite well, showing a more sensitive and subtle face. All track titles are related to the extreme experiments of particle physics that took place at CERN in Switzerland last year, in search of the Higgs Boson particle, an experiment which, some claimed, could have devastating results including the creation of a black hole in which everything (EVERYTHING!) would disappear, an inspiring concept to Brötzmann, Pliakas and Wertmüller, who are the ideal band to accompany this event, in analogy to the string ensemble that kept playing while the Titanic went down. Strong double CD!

    Peter Brötzmann, Peeter Uuskyla, Peter Friis Nielsen - Noise Of Wings (Jazzwerkstatt, 2009) 

    In comparison, this re-issue on Jazzwerkstatt of a no longer available Slask release of 1999, is a little more ferocious and muscular. Peter Brötzmann is accompanied by Peeter Uuskyla on drums, and Peter Friis Nielsen on electric bass, as on a series of other albums (Medicina, Flying Feathers, Live At Nefertiti). Like on Mokuto, Friis Nielsen's little percolating bass sounds often determine the overall tone of the piece. Brötzmann is wild as you would expect, but not violent for violence's sake, yet full of expressivity, passion and fire. Excellent re-issue.

    Eddy Prévost - Invenio Ergo/Sum (Matchless, 2009) 

    Master drummer and improvisor Eddie Prévost is joined by Ross Lambert on guitar and Seymour Wright on alto, for two long pieces, together more than eighty minutes long. The title is a reference to French philosopher Descartes' famous sentence "Cogito Ergo Sum", or "I think, therefore I am", yet changed here into "I invent, therefore I am". Even if not quite that accessible during a first listen, its open textured approach, and the musicians' listening skills and subtle interaction make this a strong performance.

    Massimo Magee, Amos Manne, Lee Noyes - Sax, Bass, Drums (Array, 2009)

    Weird and totally improvised music, with one long track of thirty-seven minutes, with Massimo Magee on "amplified, feedback and acoustic prepared and unprepared tenor saxophone", Amos Manne on bass, guitar, whistles, and pipes, and Lee Noyes just plays drums.The improvisation, aptly called "Three's Company", is very much in the free improv tradition, without clear rhythmic or any other patterns, creating sonic intensity and interaction very much in the moment itself. Not bad at all.

    The music can be downloaded free of charge from their website.

    Zé Eduardo Unit - Live In Capuchos (Clean Feed, 2009)

    Light-footed modern and free jazz by this excellent Portuguese trio, led by bassist Ze Eduardo, with Jesus Santandreu on tenor saxophone and Bruno Pedroso on drums. The compositions are very varied, full of creative twists and turns, but then they get unraveled to their essential core, improvised upon in the best free sense, and falling back to its more structured form. Sensitive playing and quite accessible.

    JD Allen - Shine (Sunnyside, 2009)

    This trio is possibly closest to mainstream of the whole list here, often hesitating to move into fiercer, more free environments, yet always falling back on the structures and patterns. That being said, the playing and the compositions are quite strong. J.D. Allen on tenor saxophone, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Allen's playing is as warm as a southern breeze, his improvisations very melodic.

    © stef

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    Charles Gayle Trio - Our Souls (NoBusiness, 2009) ***½

     Recorded live in June of this year at PIANO.LT in Vilnius, Lithuania, this new limited edition LP on the NoBusiness label will surely please the fans of Charles Gayle, who has now completely switched to alto. Dominic Duval plays bass and Arkadijus Gotesmanas drums, the latter one having taken the initiative for this session that is dedicated to the late Rashied Ali with whom Gayle performed a lot.

    "Hearts Cry", the long first piece has Gayle on alto, playing quite intensely around a limited tonal center, without much highs or lows, all within a close range, taking some distance for a few moments to let Duval solo time, yet coming in again relentlessly. On "The Flood" he switches to piano, using extended techniques and dark, menacing thundering chords, alternated with quick runs with the right hand, sounding like flowing water, then slowing down to individual drops. "Love Changes" is more down-tempo, with the saxophonist moving into more spiritual blowing, measured almost, "Compassion" is boppish, with Duval's walking bass the solid backbone for the tune that slows down into what I think is the best part of the album, with more sensitive, heart-rending wailing, softer, with more tension and that moves seamlessly into the title track, with Duval's arco forming the bridge to Gayle's quick avant-garde piano intermezzo before all hell breaks loose again with the leader on sax and piano and shouts. Kudos to Gotesmanas here too, because his previous functional support, to a large extent co-determines the overall sound of the last piece. The crowd reacts enthusiastically. A nice addition to Gayle's catalogue without being essential. And yes ... LPs are short, too short ...

    © stef

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    Samuel Blaser Quartet - Pieces Of Old Sky (Clean Feed, 2009) ****½

    Seldom have I heard music that is so open-textured while being harmonically coherent at the same time. Credits go to Samuel Blaser on trombone, Thomas Morgan on bass, Todd Neufeld on guitar, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. The magnificent title piece slowly evolves out of the basic and almost pristine sounds of the four instruments. They take their time to clearly articulate each note, leaving the listener to enjoy its superb quality, slowly and deeply, minimalist in a way, creating an atmosphere that is both sad and dark. Blaser's trombone-playing is what it should be in my view, slow, measured, giving his instrument its full-toned expressivity. Then listen to Neufeld, whose guitar tones are crisp and clear, with punctuated and extremely functional interventions, and when you hear it, you think, brilliant, this is how it should sound and no other alternative is possible, just to illustrate the wonderful balance. Morgan's bass is in the same vein: a note here, a pluck there, just co-creating a fragile sound-structure, woven from the most ephemereal threads. Sorey's drumming is equally functional: he doesn't lay any real foundation for the other musicians, he adds the sizzle, the beat, the brush-stroke at the right moments, adding to the texture. The slowness of the opening piece is only matched by "Mandala", which is even more open-textured, more sparse, yet followed by the aptly named "Speed Game", but even then the tempo declines and freedom emerges. The other uptempo composition "Red Hook" is also a winner, with long unison lines and a wilder improvisations.

    In all, a great album, with a very powerful musical vision of aural delicacies, a gourmet of sounds to savor, each individually and combined. Take your time and enjoy, a real treat.

    Watch a promo video

    Buy from Instantjazz.
    © stef

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    Lucien Dubuis Trio & Marc Ribot - Ultime Cosmos (Enja Records, 2009) ****

    I praised the Lucien Dubuis Trio before and here also. The Swiss band, with Lucien Dubuis on alto sax and contrabass clarinet, Roman Nowka on bass and guitar, and Lionel Friedli on drums, is a real band for the boys, one that assembles everything which is fun, rhythmically, melodically, in terms of soloing and in terms of sound. It has the attitude and the quality of the better police movies or westerns - the kind of thing that only boys enjoy : roughness, shooting, car chases, jumping off buildings, smashing things once in while, action and action, some machism, some totally incorrect attitude, with the necessary jokes and witticisms in between, but especially, action without time for psychology or philosophy or sociology or any other speed bumps. And just that little level of romance to get the hormones flowing. Well, this is kind of the musical equivalent to these movies.

    Teaming up with Marc Ribot on guitar only doubles the fun. The trio is highly entertaining by themselves, but Ribot adds just that little thing that makes it all even more attractive, from the scorching wah-wah solo on the first piece (think Ritchie Blackmore), or the sweetest Latin melodies (à la Cubanos Postizos), combined with the very low contrabass clarinet sounds a really great combination, or weird fretless sounds (or is it slide guitar?), jazzy sounds, or rapid fire unison lines in the most modern mutant funk or pumping rock.

    You get the gist. No slow moments. Only great musical fun, with all the necessary ingredients that make up the cliché, only too good to be called that way : rough and screaming soloing, pumping rhythms, disciplined duels, magnificent skills, instrumental acrobatics, compositional variation, and even the Zappa-esque lyrics on "Shit Love". Dubuis' compositions are excellent : he always finds the right angle to tell his story, compact, full of drive and intelligence, with "La Danse Des Machines" without a doubt the best track. And the playing is fabulous too : one of the most rhythmic bands on the scene today.

    And on top of it all, you get a DVD with it, with creatively edited rehearsal material.

    Purchase directly from the artists.

    © stef

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    Vocals, vocals, vocals ...

    I am not usually a fan of vocal jazz, let alone spoken word and jazz, for reasons explained earlier and elsewhere. From classical opera over musicals to avant-garde vocals, the artificial changes enforced on the vocal chords create an emotional distance to me, rather than the opposite, in a way that I can't really explain, because that effect is not generated in rock music (think Robert Plant or Tom Waits). Anyway, once in a while some worthwhile albums are released and Leo Records even a whole series of them. Since this is not my kind of music, I will refrain from giving these albums a star quotation.

    Yet the list also again demonstrates Leo Feigin's unrelenting sense of new musical adventures. If all music sounded nice to all people, it would certainly lack character. These albums have character with truckloads.

    Joachim Gies & Sound/body/cells - Shimmering (Leo Records, 2009)

    German saxophonist Joachim Gies teams up with fellow countryman Denis Stilke on drums and Israeli vocalist Ronni Gilla. This avant-garde music is entrancing, with Gilla's singing holding the middle between weird sounds and ritualistic shamanic incantations. Highly unusual, with moments of intense beauty. Really worth hearing.

    Sainkhò Namtchylak & Dickson Dee - Tea Opera (Leo Records, 2009)

    Mongolian singer Sainkhò Namtchylak has performed before on Leo, and even has seven solo vocal albums on her discography. Here she teams up with Dickson Dee on electronics. The music is dedicated to the tea cultures of China. Dee's utterly strange yet compelling electronic backdrop forms a wonderful context for Namtchylak's unique and often hypnotic improvisations.

    Katja Krusche & Martin Krusche - I Am One (Leo Records, 2009)

    Improvisations for vocals and accordion by this Austrian couple. No doubt about their skills. No question about the quality of what they bring. You're probably a better judge than I am.

    Stefano Luigi - Painting On Wood (Leo Records, 2009)

    Stefano Luigi Mangia's vocals hold the middle between traditional jazz singing, musical and avant-garde, full of theatrical drama. Really not my cup of tea. With Gianni Lenoci on piano, Pasquale Gadaleta on bass and Marcello Magliocchi on drums.

    Viviane Houle - Treize (Drip Audio, 2009) 

    Canadian vocalist Viviane Houle plays thirteen duets (hence the title) with some of Canada's best modern musicians, such as Peggy Lee, Jesse Zubot, Chris Gestrin. Her vocal acrobatics may be surprising and astonish some, they leave me cold. This music is frankly beyond me.

    © stef

    Sunday, November 29, 2009

    Li Tie Qiao - Wind Of Lunacy

    I once had the chance to visit the huge 798 Art Zone in Beijing, where a thriving community of modern plastic art exhibits sculptures, paintings and installations in a former weapons factory, an evolution that seems to give some hope to humanity. It also seems like the visual arts precede music, because now experimental jazz and music also start to get attention.

    One of the performers is Li Tieqiao, whose solo sax album is his latest brain child. Without formal music education, Li switched his wood flute to trombone to sax, which is now his main instrument. He was presented to me as the Chinese Evan Parker, which I can understand, but not quite. Li seems to have by-passed a few decades of jazz history, taking up the most recent of free jazz in Norway, some indie rock music, and electronics, and turned them into his own personal soundscapes.

    And even if this album is a solo sax record, officially, it is more electronics that you hear than the instrument's original sounds. Despite that, he manages to create sufficient tension to keep the attention going, especially on the first two tracks, on which there are still some rhythmic and even harmonic explorations, added to that some interesting shades and coloring of tones, which range from animal-like cries to industrial sounds. The third piece is pretty flat. The fourth gives the kind of cosmic and meditative soundscape which has been beaten to death by many before. The last track has the sax more prominent on the foreground.

    Even if this will not be my favorite album of the year, I sincerely hope that Li and the new crowd of Chinese musicians will discover and share their experiences. As Li says in an interview about free jazz : "It was the most natural, liberating sound ... When you perform like this, your mind abandons everything. No two notes are the same ? I feel like we are conversing with each other through our instruments, discussing crucial questions".

    From weapons to art, from language barriers to "conversing through instruments", there is hope indeed.

    For those of you living in Belgium, or close by, the concert hall Vooruit (Gent) organises a four-day concert program this week dedicated to modern Chinese music, at which Li Tie Qiao performs . 

    © stef

    Friday, November 27, 2009

    Lotte Anker, Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver - Floating Islands (Ilk, 2009) *****

    One great album in a decade is an achievement, two great albums in one year is exceptional, yet this trio with saxophonist Lotte Anker, pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver does it. After "Live At The Loft", published earlier this year, also on Ilk, the trio is back with a new studio album. Anker also figures on the excellent "Mokuto" album. Cleaver participated in the equally great "Farmers By Nature" with Craig Taborn, and on Miroslav Vitous' "Remembering Weather Report".

    This is the third album by the trio, and they get better with each release.

    The album starts with repetitive prhases on the saxophone, built around a single tonal center, accompanied by muted minimal drumming by Cleaver, soon to be joined by the piano, setting the tone for pure musical hypnotism. Anker keeps building the tension by slightly altering the tone and the pitch, leaving the foreground to the piano, equally soft and minimal, but she keeps the sax present, barely audible, with Cleaver maintaining his muted rumbling sounds, Taborn keeping the attention going, but then after a while the sax resurfaces, slowly moaning, fragile and vulnerable, full of soaring lyricism, then the volume builds, Cleaver gets his sticks out, Taborn uses his left hand for some more powerful chords, and the composition shifts seamlessly into the sixteen minute long second track "Ritual", with intensity and tension building and growing, at a slow and wonderful pace, full of restraint and passion, mesmerizing and trance-inducing, with the rhythm becoming more angular, with the piano pounding chords, the drums kicking and the sax keeping up its wailing, screaming, full-toned howling, with the rhythm shifting underneath, falling in step, moving away again, and when you think this must end, well,... it just doesn't, the power increases, the volume increases, the tension increases, ... mad, mindless, repetitive, full throttle, the piano goes haywire, the drums go nuts, and then the sax reduces its pitch, and the rhythm changes again, odd-metered, with only piano and drums hammering on without the sax, increasing the tempo, dominating the scence, and then, out of nowhere,  the sax is back again, for another round of heart-rending, gut-wrenching high-pitched wailing, only to end with the piano turning the music out of the storm into quiet waters, full of impressionistic sophistication, moving into the third piece, "Transitory Blossom", on which Anker's sound is again as sensitive as it gets, soft and fragile, evoking the temporariness of things, with almost romantic piano, and again the piece flows as one into "Backwards River", more wayward, more avant-garde, with staccato playing by all three instruments, yet adapting quite rapidly to each other while shifting the piece together towards different musical territory, more nervous, full of wild agitation, with currents and counter-currents played by Taborn on his keys, with Cleaver going berserk at the drumkit, and when their double violence reaches the relentless power of high-speed rapids, the sax joins to add her slice of mayhem to the rhythm section pandemonium, with squeals, shouts, and howls, on and on and on, but things do come to an end, and the the piece suddenly slows down into a jumpy rhythm, unwillingly almost, but the sax goes, the piano goes, the drum stays, leading out and leading in the last track, "Even Today I'm Still Arriving", as if the river reaches the ocean, with the sax sounding like seagulls, then the sax plays solo, melodic, lyrical, yet weird in a way, and also beautiful, sensitive, with the piano adding sad minimalistic and impressionistic tones, calm and measured, with Anker adding some sparse notes, not many, but with a stunning emotional depth.

    This album has it all : the mastership, the skills, the balance, the musical baggage to draw from, the musical vision, the coherent delivery, the variation, the adventure, the passion, the discipline, the raw emotional power, the sophistication, .... Absolutely stunning.

    Buy from Instantjazz.

    Listen and download from eMusic.

    © stef