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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Trio X live at roulette

No time to write a review today, just a nice video clip on Trio X.

Staggeringly beautiful!


Roulette TV: JOE MCPHEE / TRIO X from Roulette Intermedium on Vimeo.

© stef

Monday, November 29, 2010

Michael Bisio Quartet - AM (CIMP, 2010) ****

Sometimes it's hard to keep track of what's being released, even for the privileged ones like me, who get so much new material shoved into their lap.

This album by the Michael Bisio Quartet was released a year ago on CIMP, one of the labels whose output and promotions is quite unclear and irregular, but the band and the music are so good that I will still bring them to your attention.

The band has a double sax front line with Avram Fefer and Stephen Gauci, with Bisio on bass and Jay Rosen on drums. Regular readers will know that all four musicians are among my favorites, and you will find several reviews of all musicians elsewhere on this blog (use the search engine on the right). I will only refer back to "Circle This", because this album was recorded the morning after the recording of this other CIMP release, which explains the title.

The musical attitude is the same : free and adventurous explorations of sound and musical interaction, yet with a clear reference to jazz history. This is well illustrated by the second track "Can Opener", which sounds like actual free improvisation for almost seven minutes, when suddenly a soft and gentle theme emerges to close the piece. When you listen back to it, you come to understand obviously that the band was improvising on a theme that had not materialised yet. Fun and well-played.

Other tracks have a more standard opening, with clear theme and rhythmic base, leaving space for all four soloists to improvise. These improvisations often move into musical lightness of duos or trio interactions, keeping the warm density of the quartet to the theme itself. Coltrane's "Seraphic Light" is slow with measured horns and Bisio on arco, the latter unfortunately a little too much in the background to be well heard (as on the opening track).

The album ends with "Melodious T", a tribute to Monk, it is more boppish and traditional, but the playing is so good, that it's another delight. What an incredible tribute to jazz itself!

The music is warm, soulful, welcoming, gentle and sophisticated. Its lightness of texture is possibly its most specific characteristic, but then one combined with deep feelings.

What more do you want?


© stef

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Humanization Quartet - Electricity (Ayler Records, 2010) ****


Two years ago, Portuguese guitarist Luís Lopes released his first CD, called "Humanization 4tet", which I liked a lot. Now the band is back, again with fellow Portuguese Rodrigo Amado on tenor sax, and the brothers Aaron and Stefan González on respectively bass and drums, with no changes in the line-up, ready to further explore the genre-melting approach of their music : jazz, rock, fusion and free elements intermingle.

All pieces are composed, with strong unison themes, often uptempo, full of unexpected turns and sudden changes. Even if it is Lopes project, this is now really a band, with all four members contribution to compositions and to the overall sound.

As said before, Lopes is a kind of "anti-guitarist", being of the fully functional kind rather than the guy in the forefront: his tone is low-toned and harsh, raw and direct but jazzy in its chords and solos. Amado's tone in contrast is warm and full-toned, yet rhythmic and powerful. Both González brothers form a fantastic rhythm section for this music, both combining the supple and versatile jazz approach with the directness of rock.

The album starts with the dark and menacing "Dehumanization Blues", an almost cinematic composition with lots of strong soloing. "Jungle Gymnastics" has indeed an acrobatic unison theme and uptempo drive, evolving into wild chaos in the middle part. "Two Girls" is more funky, starting with a solid sustained rhythm by bass and drums, over which sax and guitar play a nice strutting theme, evoking the title of the composition, with a light-footedness in strong contrast to the opening track.

"Efficy" is slow and more open-ended, with equally slow and sensitive soloing. Aaron González' other composition "Infidelities" sounds like the opener at the beginning, with slow but heavy beat, yet quickly changes into a more mid-tempo boppish mode, evolving into absolutely raw interplay between the electric guitar and the sax, again showing their infidelity to the proposed musical approach, and ending with another betrayal of a single feedback tone.

The last track is a long group improvisation, slowly progressing with close and intimate sax phrases evolving over raw but distant guitar sounds, and when you think the album has ended, there is a kind of bonus track, for those who have the patience to listen to silence for a minute and a half, again upbeat and boppish with funky touches, all rhythmic delight and fun playing.

The merging of styles is not a new thing, but the quality and the fun the musicians have with it transpires with every note and beat. But unlike many other endeavours, this one is very likeable for its straightforward approach and lack of pretence. It is art made human. Like a rock album, it should be listened to as a collection of songs rather than as a single unity.

Nice stuff.

Buy from Instantjazz.



© stef

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Alexey Lapin & Yuri Yaremchuk - Anatomy Of Sound (SoLyd Records, 2010) ****½


Russian Alexey Lapin plays piano and Ukrianian Yuri Yaremchuk plays soprano sax and bass clarinet. Both musicians master their instruments inside out, but their musical vision is even stronger. The title "Anatomy Of Sound" may seem somewhat overambitious or pretentious, but when you hear the album, this is indeed what you get.

The first track "Anatomy of Sound : Birth" starts with barely audible tones, vulnerable like a new-born, coming out of the clarinet, with sparse plucks on the piano strings in accompaniment. The piece is fresh, open-ended, full of surprise and wonder in the sounds themselves. For non-accustomed listeners, the opener may sound off-putting, but with the next piece, "Transformations", lyricism enters, in an abstract form, first naive, then moving into a yearning and passionate delivery. "Transmutations" is even more direct, with raw interaction of sax blasts and heavy chords, dissonant yet fully controlled and meaningful, full of inherent beauty and emotion. The intensity is hard to believe at moments.

"Transconfigurations" is calmer, with bass clarinet as the lead instrument, with sparse sounds, yet again nothing is done without purpose or without utter concentration: each note has its place, each phrase its value, with sounds that are sometimes in stark contrast : soft piano with deep blasts on the clarinet, or vice-versa, and the ease with which the two musicians move forward together to create their quite unique interaction is at moments mind-boggling. They don't actually dialogue, they create music together, immediately delivered as a unity, and sometimes with such uncanny precision that you assume that there must have been agreements before or notations lying somewhere, but I've been fooled by that before : some musicians can do this while improvising.

The album ends with two solo pieces: on "The Bottom", Lapin shows the breadth of his piano skills, hypnotic, thundering and refined, with light touches of the right hand ending the improvisation with a sound of relief. On "Epilogue", Yaremchuk demonstrates his skills on the bass clarinet, using multiphonics, overtones and tongue-slapping, resulting in eery sounds, yet captivating and touching, without urgency, but with careful development. Strangely enough, the epilogue ends with tones quite easily ressembling the first notes of "Birth", the circle is closed.

Even regardless of the album's intention, these are two musicians who can tell a story, who can hold the attention by bringing a unity of sound, full of new perspectives and approaches, full of an incredible expressivity and forward motion.

A rich listening experience.

Listen and buy from CDBaby.

© stef

Friday, November 26, 2010

Aeroplane Trio - Naranja Ha (Drip Audio, 2010) ****


I shared my appreciation before about the Canadian bands "Fond Of Tigers" and more recently "Inhabitants", both merging the boundaries between rock music and jazz, with the other common factor being trumpet player JP Carter and drummer Skye Brooks, who we find back on this great trio album with Russell Sholberg on bass.

You all know my special fondness of the trumpet trio format, and it works again for me with this band. The trio demonstrates great versatility and bring lots of variation between the pieces, maybe a little bit too much, ranging from straight ahead compositions with theme and boppish rhythmic base to more adventurous sonic or creative explorations. Even though this is the band's first album, it is obvious that they are quite used to play together. Each of the pieces stands well on its own in terms of musical approach, however different it may be from the next. It shows great listening skills and common vision. I find them at their best when they play in full free improv, but some tracks will even be pallatable for mainstream fans. A little more unity might have made it even better. But nice stuff as you can witness yourself in the vid below.

Listen and download from eMusic.


Watch a performance of two years ago in Vancouver.



© stef

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Romantic international piano trumpet percussion trios

A piano, percussion, and the occasional participation of a Norwegian trumpeter and singer, that's the common factor between the two albums shortly reviewed today.

Giovanni Di Domenico, Arve Henriksen, Tatsuhisa Yamamoto - Clinamen (Off/Rat, 2010) ***½


Led by Italian pianist, Giovanni Di Domenico, this album explores the space of interaction, based on composed structures, yet evolving freely based on how the other musicians react. We read :  "'Clinamen,' in ancient Roman philosopher Lucretius' De Rerum Natura, is the magic force that makes an atom change direction during its fall and thus be able to hit other atoms and "create" energy and life". That's how the music sounds, yet still within the confines of traditional harmonic concepts. Tatsuhisa Yamamoto's percussive and highly creative interplay is possibly the most striking aspect of the music, going against the grain, avoiding the subtle forward flow of the music by adding counterrhythms and odd-metered interventions. Arve Henriksen is the most romantic, with slow and electronically altered trumpet playing and angelic worldless singing. Some pieces, like the long "Masks That Eat Water" have lots of variation, unexpected twists, and in this composition a gloomy atmosphere on top. The changes of approach are a little too radical at times, leading to a lack of coherence, as with illustrated by the shift from the new-agey "Vatos" to the mad "Idiot Glee". Excellent playing and creative genre-bending ideas, but stylistic unity might have have made it even better.

Markku Ounaskari, Samuli Mikkonen, Per Jørgensen - Kuara (ECM, 2010) ***½

This album by Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari, has the typically expansive ECM sound. He was asked to present his own project, and came with "source material including Russian psalms and folk songs from displaced Finnish peoples (Karelians, Udmurtians, Vepsäns) – all approached from improvisational perspectives". Pianist Samuli Mikkonen is the main voice on the album, and Norwegian trumpeter Per Jørgensen joins on several pieces. The "source material" adds a folksy and spiritual flavor to the improvised jazz, with strong and often repetive melodies offering the easily identifiable themes. Some of those are of a stunning beauty, like the slow "Tuuin Tuuin", on which Jørgensen's trumpet plays some heartrending phrases over a sweet piano melody. Some of the other pieces fall back on general ECM romanticism, with sparse notes, and great atmosphere creation, nice but with not much character.

Ounaskari's drumming is really in the background, not driving the music, but adding touches here and there.

Jørgensen's singing is less angelic than Henriksen's, and he is more used to direct singing, as we know from his own albums, but at times he moves a little bit in the direction of Dhafer Youssef, the Tunesian power singer.


Both albums are nice, well-played, quite accessible, with excellent moments.


© stef

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nels Cline - Dirty Baby (Cryptogramophone, 2010) ****½


When I started listening to the first tracks of "Dirty Baby", I couldn't believe my ears: Americana à la Bill Frisell, nice and clever guitar music, making my reviewer's mind wonder whether to make a comparison with the latter's new album, "Beautiful Dreamers". Yet gradually, the sweet country tunes make place for a more modern version of the blues, an incredibly funky "Dirty Baby Part V", containing ingredients of some existential angst, turning into sheer horror with the lengthy "Dirty Baby Part VI", which will suck you up with its demonic and repetitive rhythm and electronic madness, multilayered overdubs and wailing guitars. In short, you get a musical shift, or history if you want, from naive simplicity to complex destruction.

That's only part 1 of the CD, called "Silhouettes", and inspired by the paintings of Ed Rushka.

The second CD gives us not less than 33 snippets of music, also inspired by Ed Rushka paintings, and is titled "Cityscapes".

The short pieces are less united by a story-line that on the first CD, and the musical diversity they offer is huge, ranging from sweet guitar music to absolute noise, with all kinds of avant-garde and electronic adventures in between, and with a combination of it all, inlcuding classical chamber music and folk and world music and pumping blues and jazz and rock and punk and electronic doom and themes from distant pasts, all coagulating in the city's big melting pot of influences and visions, often conflicting, sometimes harmonious, yet always incredibly interesting. In stark contrast to the abstract paintings that Rushka makes, the music has a strong figurative side to it, but the various genres are so purified and reduced to their essence that they almost become abstract.

The music is impossible to pigeonhole, and that is of course part of the fun. Utterly creative, deranging yet equally enjoyable, discomforting and attractive.

A fantastic listening experience!

The musicians are:

Scott Amendola: drum set, percussion, loops/electronics
Bill Barrett: chromatic harmonica
Jon Brion: electric piano, EMS synthi, voice
Jessica Catron: cello
Alex Cline: percussion
Dan Clucas: trumpets, flutes
Jeremy Drake: electric & acoustic guitars, banjo ukulele
Brad Dutz: vibraphone, xylophones, frame drum, bongos
Danny Frankel: percussion, 1/2 drum set
Jeff Gauthier: violin
Vinny Golia: flutes, clarinets, saxophones
Devin Hoff: contrabass, bass guitar, cigarbox guitar
Wayne Peet: organ
Glenn Taylor: pedal steel guitar
Nels Cline: electric & acoustic guitars, lap steel, megamouth, cigarbox guitar, effects, Quintronics Drum Buddy

The CD comes with a booklet of paintings by Ed Rushka, and ghazals (poems) by David Breskin. For listeners who download the music, the booklet is unfortunately not available. Just to give an idea of Ruska's art, here are some examples, with the figurative difference between CD1 and CD2 being quite obvious.















I think this is also the most ambitious and best "merchandised" album by Cryptogramophone, with specifically dedicated website included.

The song titles are also the titles of Rushka's paintings :

- If I was you, I'd do just like I tell you to do
- Do as I say, or ...
- No mercy
- Do as told or suffer
- Agree to our terms, or prepare yourself for a blast furnace
- Note we have already got rid of several like you - One Was Found in the River Just Recently
- Little snitches like you end up in dumpsters all across town
- I'll be getting out soon and I haven't forgot your testimony put me in here
- You dirty rotten bitch

.... not exactly the kind of titles I've come across on jazz albums, but then, this is not jazz either ...


Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Dans Les Arbres (ECM, 2008 - US, 2010) *****

I thought albums were released globally, especially in the digital age, and certainly with the big labels such as ECM, but that's apparently not the case. I notice now that the Norwegian-French ensemble "Dans Les Arbres" will only release its first album on ECM in the United States two years after its European release.

Dans Les Arbres is Xavier Charles on clarinet and harmonica, Ivar Grydeland on guitar and banjo, Christian Wallumrod on piano, and Ingar Zach on percussion. They are absolute masters of minimalism and restraint. Listen with what sense of precision and caution they bring their fragile and beautiful music.

You can read my enthusiastic review of their first album here. I think I was the first to review it, and luckily my viewpoints were shared by many reviewers that followed.

I was hoping to hear their second release on ECM (originally planned for this year), but I guess we'll have to wait a little longer.


While waiting, and as an introduction to our US readers, here's already a glimpse of their stunning and hypnotical music, as recorded and broadcasted by French national radio in February of this year.

An exceptional 53 minute vid. 




© stef

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

OirTrio - Kanata (Not Two Records, 2010) ****½


There is possibly nothing as difficult for the creative artist to improvise on the spot and make something that barely has any relationship with anything done before, while at the same time making a piece of music that is sufficiently solid, meaningful and compelling to make the listener to go back to it time and time again.

In December 2008, at the Loft in Cologne, Germany, Frank Gratkowski on alto sax and clarinet, Sebastian Gramss on bass, and Tatsuya Nakatani on percussion met for this fully improvised live performance.

So, the question is: why do you want to hear this again and again, especially because the music would be classified as "noise" by 99% of listeners (and probably more), while in all truth it is a very attractive tissue of interwoven sounds, fragile, subtle and full of nuance. Elegant. Sophisticated. Fresh. Organic. Pristine. Its real power lies in its emotional depth. You want to listen again because it touches that part of your nervous system that is linked to pure, authentic and profound feelings, somewhere between joy and fear, mostly unnamed, yet coming to life when listening.

There is no logic to this. No explanation either. That's the great thing about it. It is what it is. Great. Substantial. True in a deep human sense.  Don't touch it with your words.

Just listen. And be touched.

© stef

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Free Jazz Quartet - Memories For The Future (Matchless, 2010) ****

A strange album. It has been lying here for a while now, waiting to be reviewed. It was recorded in 1992, and is only the second album by the British Free Jazz Quartet. The band consists of the late Paul Rutherford on trombone, Harrison Smith on tenor, soprano and bass clarinet, Tony Moore on cello, and Eddie Prévost on drums.

The music is extremely light-footed, and unlike some British free improv or AMM music, it is "free jazz" as its name suggests, in the sense that there are themes, there is rhythm, but the openness of texture, the gentle breaking of boundaries and the sonic explorations already hint at another kind of music. In that sense the title is apt, taking good jazz memories from the past, and taking the best of it to make the music of the future. No paradox here, just some forward thinking.

The musical result is excellent: mild explorations, full of warmth, great interaction and somehow also surprise on the journey. "Pulsate" offers an interesting cello vamp to spur the improvisation on, and is in that sense more traditional. "Summoning" adds something more, starting with a great percussion intro on the toms only, the bowed cello adds a kind of maddening phrase and improvisation, and once that scene is created, sax and trombone join past halfway the track with mourning bird calls evolving into surreal wailing.

"Vibrational" brings a beautiful soprano solo over a nervous rhythm by drums and cello, evolving into what could be a chase between Tom and Jerry, then turning bluesy when the trombone joins. The title track is led by the trombone, is somewhat more adventurous and atonal in its approach, with the cello and percussion taking over the lead in the second part, full of urgency and intensity."Harmonious Relations" is as jazzy as it gets, with the sax leading the tune, and with cello and drums adding the sparse rhythmic backbone.

The album ends in absolute beauty, with "Blurring Of Boundaries" offering the essence of their music : sensitive and in the musical vanguard, sweet and different at the same time.

It's a shame this band did not record more. It's a miracle and a joy that their second album is now available.


© stef

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hébert, Gerald Cleaver - Book Of Three (RogueArt, 2010) ****½

I read in a (philosophical) novel today "My Emma has length and width and breadth; she has no shape of course, because to have a shape she would have to have parts, and her parts (if any) are not of the world of Space" (Stefan Themerson, The Mystery Of The Sardine).

I also watched a lively discussion on Youtube between Stanley Crouch and James Mtume on whether Miles Davis was a just "a prostitute" (Crouch) or great artist (Mtume). Mtume says : "we only wanted to do one thing, and that is to expand the dimensions of the music".

Both totally unrelated comments are of course hard to combine, unless you happen to listen to this album by Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hébert and Gerald Cleaver, without a doubt among the best players of their instrument of the moment.

But of of course they do much more than that : they make music that has "length and width and breadth and depth", but no real recognizable shape to speak of. Having "shape" would mean that any of the previous adjectives would have to go, because confining the attributes to the world of Space would limit its possibilities. At the same time, they offer us a glimpse into expanded dimensions of music that Mtume talked about.

Enough philosophised: this is great music.

Taylor Ho Bynum plays cornet, flugelhorn, bass trumpet, trumpbone, John Hébert double bass, and Gerald Cleaver drums and percussion.

Their music is one of real unbearable lightness, with refined sounds from the three instruments creating intimate trialogues and subtle sonic environments, sometimes rhythmic, as in "Meat Cleaver", but more often than not just hovering above the material world, with even the drums, Motian-like accentuating and creating the overall sound rather than setting the pace. On most improvisations the instruments are used in their traditional way, voiced and without too much resorting to extended techniques, except on some tracks, but they don't need that: their musical creativity suffices to offer us something special, a unique treat for listeners.

Most improvisations are slow, carefully and cautiously developing the musical universe of the nine pieces, which are often dark or contemplative, and form a fantastic coherent sequence. So, lots of depth, with the lack of shape leading us, the listeners into new musical dimensions. We love it.

Highly recommended.


© stef

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Antripodean Collective - NTRPDN (Marchon, 2010) ****


The Australian Antripodean Collective continues further on their journey to more abstraction which they started with "Funcalls" two years ago. The band is still the same, with Scott Tinkler on trumpet, John Rodgers on violin, Ken Edie on drums and Marc Hannaford on piano.

The album consists of two long improvisations, clocking over half an hour each. The music is floating, above rhythm and melody, with the musicians playing sparse phrases, often in duos, succeeding each other in the solo spot, and with incredible listening skills, adding color, adding shades, making the theme and the character shift from intimate to urgent, from peaceful to energetic, yet maintaining a level of anticipative tension throughout.

The overall sound and quality of the playing is stellar, yet the high level of abstraction may take some effort to fully come into the music. In that sense it is for sure closer to new music than to jazz. But th effort is more than worth it.

Listen and download from CDBaby.


© stef

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Alexey Kruglov - Russian Metaphor (Leo Records, 2010) ****½

"Russian Metaphor" is Russian saxophonist Alexey Kruglov's second CD as a leader and it is something quite unique. The album consists of five pieces that are structured themselves into many different parts, often short, yet flowing seamlessly into each other, with Oleg Udanov on drums and percussion, and Igor Ivanushkin on bass.

The rhythm section by itself is quite adventurous, but in a very traditional sense: they play rhythmically, sometimes on purpose without a real beat, with "torn rhythms", as Kruglov describes it, very subtle.

The big changes occur when the leader himself picks up new instruments every few minutes: soprano, alto, tenor and bariton saxes, clarinet, bassett-horn, flutes, bassoon, toy trumpet, trombone, oboe, piano; or playing various saxes at the same time (as in "Seal Of Time"), or playing tenor with a trombone mouthpiece (as in "Extracts").

Despite the constant switching of instruments and the changing rhythms, the music is incredibly coherent. Kruglov's playing is joyful, intrinsically lyrical and melodic, sensitive and expressive.

On the long "Striving For Generations", he uses overdubs and electronic delays, with piano touches left and right, adding some drama and gravitas to the sound of the previous pieces, expressing the raw life of the Russians living in the north of the country, alternated by beautiful melodies and some heart-rending blowing.

It is also extremely free of mind, with no distinctive patterns, harmonies or repeated phrases, but the trio manages to create a specific character for each piece, that shows a different shade or perspective on the same vision : free spontaneous playing, with folk and jazz elements, with an almost organic and spiritual feeling. And no pretense whatsoever, quite to the contrary, these guys have great fun doing what they're doing without any need to impress audiences.

And it is all basically one piece of music, a long suite, a story. 

Great stuff.


© stef

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Art Of The Duo

In the earliest days of mankind, next to more functional and formal language utterances, our distant ancestors did something special: they made music, creating melody over rhythm and sharing the experience together, creating, communicating and enjoying it, listening and interacting, possibly dancing too. Unlike any other art form, this is still magic today. There is nothing comparable to the completeness of that experience: pure, social, expressive, and lifting the individual high above himself or herself, becoming part of a communal experience, something spiritual, something bigger than life.

This feeling of communion and spontaneous creation is the essence of free music. That's why I like horn-percussion duets because they embody this in its perfect form of freedom without becoming the chaos of too many voices conflicting, because it allows for more precise and attentive listening.

That's what I felt when I heard this Polish duo for the first time some weeks ago. The Slug Duo is Jakub Suchar on drums, percussion, moog synthesizer and elctronics, and Gerard Lebik on tenor sax, contra alto clarinet, generators, DIY, and electonics.Surprisingly enough, the duo released two albums this year on the same Polish label.

Slug Duo - Fully Improvised Sets From Falanster 2009 (Vytvornia OM, 2010) ****


The first album was recorded live at the Falanster Club in Wroclaw, Poland, in November of last year. The music is mainly acoustic with ongoing superb and varied free improvisation : from incredibly playful and rhythmic interaction, over fierce and wild moments, they can easily switch to more sensitive slower passages and back. It is all very straight-ahead, without too many pyrotechnics, and it is really a joy to listen to from beginning to end. It is pure, unadultered fun. The audience, though limited in number, claps and cheers, adding some value to this performance. It is so good, that it is real easy to recommend.


 Slug Duo - Organic Stone (Vytvornia OM, 2010) ***


Their second release, "Organic Stone", is a little bit of a different beast. Recorded in the studio, it starts well, with a deep slow and free interaction between howling tenor and thundering drums. On the third track the electronics enter into play, and then this guy's attention starts to drift off. Yes, there is some drumming to be heard under the crackling noise, but we are far away from the pristine joy of celebrating music in its simplest form. We have left the realm of "close celebration" and we have entered the realm of "distant posture", with sounds that are made of plastic instead of made of wood. The same holds true for the rhythms, why would you process them into an endless repetitive beat if you can add lots of variation and subtle changes with natural playing. Luckily, the natural sound dominates most tracks and the playing is really good.


Mikrokolektyw - Revisit (Delmark, 2010) ***


We find drummer Kuba Suchar back on this new album on Delmark, with Artur Majewski on trumpet and electronics. That it appears on Delmark is no real suprise, since the influence and support of Rob Mazurek is quite clear, not only because of the format, but also through the use of electronics in processing the sounds. But both Mazurek and Majewski have influences that go back to Don Cherry, which is obvious in the joyful free and melodious playing that Majewski demonstrates.

But then the whole thing falls flat on its face at moments because of the use of silly electronic sounds. And don't get me wrong : there are tracks with electronic processing that really sound good. I have always been a fan of Mazurek and the Chicago Underground Duo, for whom electronic processing is almost a must, but you have to know how to use it, and to which degree. It should be functional for the overall listening experience, and not disturb the rest of the sound.

This is again one of those albums that sound great if you just select the better tracks. And if the electronic part is used sparingly, the result is really powerful, like in "Running Without Effort", or very functional as on the title track or on "Tiring Holiday", it works to perfection.

Maybe I'm getting too old, but why would anyone want to ruin the good ideas they have? An album with great moments, but unfortunately insufficiently consistent.





© stef

Magnus Broo - Swedish Wood (Moserobie, 2010) ****

Swedish trumpeter Magnus Broo is best known from his work with Atomic, but he has also made several fantastic albums with The Godforgottens and Angles, but also in with his own quartet  and other projects including "Game", a great duo album with Paal Nilssen-Love .

Now he is back with another quartet, with two bassists and a drummer : fellow Swede Torbjörn Zetterberg and Canadian Joe Williamson play bass and Norwegian Håkon Mjåset Johansen is on drums.

The album starts with "O What A Beautiful Day", with a joyful theme, somewhat repetitive, but things get better with the second track "Thoughts Are Things", which gives ample space for the two basses to interact, then the tempo is kicked up a notch for a boppish improvisation. "Acoustic Kitten" is calm and playful, with a sweet theme by the trumpet and one arco bass, while the other bass is plucked, a tune on which the added value of playing with two basses really comes to the fore, a composition that could have come from Natsuki Tamura's Gato Libre. The title track is more nervous, with a great rhythm and the two basses playing competely intertwined, the melody is folksy, the improvisation expansive. 

"I Hear You" is great fun, with the two basses playing a different repetitive vamp, in perfect sync with Johansen's sparse and varied drumming, and Broo's trumpet-playing astonishingly free and impressive - Don Cherry is not far away, then the music collapses for some a slow duet between the two basses, then slowly picking up the tempo again for a bluesy piece, with goosebump playing by Broo, reminiscent of Louis Armstrong and at times Lester Bowie, before coming back to the original tune and free playing.  

"New Weather" is the longest tune, already featured on the recent Vandermark 5 "The Horse Jumps" CD, the most subtle and varied composition, that starts with small sonoric explorations between the basses before the great theme is launched after some four minutes. It is without a doubt also the most wild and modern piece.

The album was recorded in the Atlantis studio, the former Metronome Studios, where the Abba albums were recorded.

It is an album with lots of variation, sometimes a little too different in terms of mood, and not of the same magnificent and compelling power of some of the records mentioned above, but the playing is excellent, and the idea of having two basses was a good one.

Nice album and great fun.

© stef

Friday, November 5, 2010

The ECM Catalogue - published in Japan


Many years ago ECM already published its catalogue in black & white, but now the Japanese distributor, Kenny Inaoka, edited the full catalogue at the occasion of the label's 40th anniversary in 2009.

Few record labels have managed to create such a distinctive market positioning as ECM did over the years, with carefully selected musicians, impeccable recording quality, superb art work and an overall refinement that set the label quite apart from many other jazz labels. ECM's positioning even affected the sound of the music, which under Manfred Eicher's production, often became very sophisticated and sometimes even somewhat sterile to the die-hard jazz fan, who would argue that the "soul" was taken out of the music, resulting in somewhat spacious neo-romantic impressionism, not the music to play in smoky bars, but rather in concert halls or churches.  That positioning was also reflected in the name "ECM-jazz", with special shelf space in the record stores next to the regular jazz section.

It is also no surprise that a significant part of the art work reflects that spaciousness, with pictures of horizons, of landscapes and seascapes, with lots of sky, especially in the eighties. 

On the other hand nobody will deny that the label also has the "real jazz" and even historically significant ones, such as Old & New Dreams, Lester Bowie, George Lewis, Dave Holland, Art Ensemble Of Chicago. ECM also started looking beyond jazz, adding world music and new age elements to the catalogue, but without straying away from jazz totally, think of musician such as Shankar, or the great collaboration of Jan Garbarek with Usted Fatih Ali Khan, or the introduction of Tunesian oud player Anouar Brahem to broader audiences. He did the same for more rock-influenced musicians such as Terje Rypdal, Nils Petter Molvaer or David Torn, creating a dynamic of musicians who had never met before but who were brought together by Eicher's vision.

I am also sure that Eicher helped a number of musicians to become a lot better than they would have been in different cirumstances and with different producers. Without a doubt the best work by Tomasz Stanko and Enrico Rava is to be found on the label. But just also think about the many names of fantastic artists who would have remained in total obscurity outside their native country, if it had not been for Eicher's excellent ear for quality, regardless of genre : think of musicians like Egberto Gismonti, Eleni Karaindrou, Dino Saluzzi, Trygve Seim, Kim Kashkashian.

But of course the real ECM artists are Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Jan Garbarek, John Surman, Gary Peacock, John Abercrombie, Eberhard Weber, Arild Andersen.

The catalogue counts more than 700 pages and includes all of the officially released albums issued on ECM - and its subsidiary JAPO - from 1969 until 2010.

The first section of the book has six covers per page in full color, in chronological order, the second section gives details for each album: musicians, composers, track titles, recording and production details. This part also has succinct reviews in Japanese of each album.

The last section is a very useful alphabetical index by title and by musician, which makes it possible for instance to easily find all the albums on which Jack DeJohnette contributes.

This is an extremely interesting and nice-to-have book, very carefully assembled. Fans of ECM will surely love this catalogue. It is perfectly readable and enjoyable to those of us who don't read Japanese, but a complete English version would of course be welcome too.

It can be purchased from ECM.


My personal ECM history

ECM basically introduced me to jazz, with Abercrombie's "Timeless" and Jack DeJohnette's "New Directions" being the first albums, then it quickly turned into an addiction. I was mesmerised by the sound and the art work, by the total package actually, walking to the store every week to spend my savings on the new albums, returning quite disappointed if there was nothing new. I bought without even knowing what the music would sound like, actually a great way of learning new things - and to loose a lot of money. There are albums I listened to no more than once or twice, but others that I listened to over and over and over, with the Don Cherry albums being my absolute favorite, followed by the Keith Jarrett quartets.

When young myself, I met an 18-year old girl (beautiful, intelligent, cultured, sporting, friendly, warm-hearted, open-minded) who owned - so I discovered - and listened to this wild abstract album by Chick Corea, Dave Holland & Barry Altschul. Do you know 18-year olds who listen to this kind of music? I married her. She's still my wife.

On the artwork of some albums :

I have always been baffled by the photo of this phenomenal album by Keith Jarrett. The picture was made by Jarrett himself. It has this eery look of desolation in open space: closed shutters, empty chairs, empty swimming pool, full of contradiction, while being quite normal at the same time. The photo also has this yellowy and misty sheen over it, at sundown. Strange ...

The picture on this album by Gary Burton is by Roberto Masotti. It is typically ECM: lots of sky, somewhat threatening and dark, with a horizontal line, and then a man-made element full of color in contrast. Absolutely beautiful, and 100% ECM.


So is this one by Jan Garbarek, officially called "Photo With Blue Sky, White Cloud, Wires, Windows and a Red Roof", the only album in which the title actually refers to the picture, this one made by Eberhard Grames.

Or what about this one by John Surman : "The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon" : who is this man? why the double name? Again, horizon and sky? Why the picture taken from the back with a flash? The same concept of person photographed from the back is on another John Surman album "Withholding Patterns", but also on David Darling's "Cycles", but now I see that all three pictures are made by Christian Voigt.

This is a perfect picture for the album : dark and romantic like the music by Krzistof Komeda as interpreted by Tomasz Stanko, like a nightmarish dive into the deep universal unconscious sucked up by waves that appear to be inescapable, exploding almost in the middle of the dark expanse.


In the 90s and 00s, the pictures turn black and equally hard to place. Here on Anouar Brahems's "Astrakn Café", the picture is completely fuzzy with two men of which the one with the (astrakan?) hat is clearly smoking. Had you seen pictures like this before on album covers?

 The ECM art work becomes black and white with a bluish shade : it cannot get any artsier, as illustrated by this album by Vasilis Tsabropolous.


Again, just for the sheer beauty and gloomy romanticism : it is all about sky and vastness, often cold, like here with trees without leaves, with the freedom of the birds frozen in the sky. Yet the aesthetic, like in the music is undeniable and of a very specific high level. Album here is "Songs Of Another" by Savina Yanatou.

With a doubt the most used image is that of the sea, possibly the best metaphor for the nature of a lot of ECM's music - expansive, spacious, beautiful.
















© stef