The UK has probably one of the most interesting and diverse jazz scenes in Europe. New bands such as Polar Bear, Trianglehead, Outhouse, Nostalgia 77, MA, Led Bib or Troyka (to name just a few) are constantly coming out with music that blurs the lines between jazz, rock, free jazz and pop. One band that has been around for a few years is the Twelves, originally known as Twelves Trio. In 2008 the group (then a trio) released the excellent 'Here Comes The Woodman With His Splintered Soul'. The group has moved on to become a quartet with a more open approach, mixing melodic free-jazz, some very driving rhythmic music and quirky themes that gradually stick in your head.
'Many Splendoured Thing (Pt 1 & 2)' a two part suite opens the CD with hard 'rocking' section features the wonderful guitar of Rob Updegraff and a gentler section for saxophonist Mark Hanslip, who floats over Pt 2 like a modern-day Stan Getz. The tune 'Spiders' almost boils away, guitar, bass and drums providing a turbulent undercurrent leaving the sax to weave lines which add colours to the music. One of the strong points of this band is it's ability to work rhythmically in a way that really opens up the music. The excellent rhythm section of Riaan Vosloo (acoustic bass) and Tim Giles (drums) improvise as one on the open sections or create heavily rocking grooves which swing like the clappers.
Whether touching on free-ish jazz as on 'Spiders' or 'Party Girls', or swinging on 'Kerfuffle', 'Eyeballing' or 'Mr Zero', the group constantly keeps the music cooking by merging drum'n'bass, dub, free-improv, and straight swinging jazz rhythms together.
The group seems to have absorbed many influences making for very interesting and diverse range of styles. The group tackled a traditional tune on their first album, quite a normal step since jazz (in it's early form) is all about folk music. On this album 'Shallow Brown', a traditional folk tune, is one of the highlights. The music rolls like the sea as Mark Hanslip treats the melody as if playing a tin whistle or bagpipe even, tremolo-ing by half closing the sax keys, whilst the rest of the group gently supports the tune in a lovely rubato fashion. Sax and guitar then floats upon a swell of rhythm as each one tells their story, as I read somewhere, 'like a modern day Naima'.
An excellent album, and obviously a the group that isn't standing still. Developing since it's first incarnation into a stronger unit that plays a music that is both daring and accessible.
Postscript : 'The Adding Machine' is a reference to Elmer Rice's American Expressionist play about Mr Zero, an accountant who seeks revenge after being replaced by an adding machine.
I must admit I was afraid to listen to this album at first. I thought that I might not know how to hear, compare, or enjoy a solo saxophone recording. I like space and I like the edges of improvisation and music, but I was concerned that this would be to far off my own charts. However, I was intrigued as to what the phrase 'Time to do my lions' meant and my curiosity finally led me to the online liner notes of this recording.
So what's with the lions? Catharsis.
Apparently writer Anne Carson's poem Hokusai presents this phrase. Every morning the protagonist would wake and draw a lion to turn away anger and clear his mind and soul for the day. This seems like an apt and powerful metaphor for this solo woodwind album. Why else put the effort into creating a stripped to the bare essence recording, where raw emotion and naked musical ideas are front and center? No hiding behind supporting harmony, no skating away on some beats, just an internal rhythm and a need to roar and growl.
The title tune begins with a delicate and fluttering melody, never repeating, just ever evolving and changing. Thus, not without reason and never disconnected, the tune grows, the tones get louder and the runs faster and longer. "12 o clock and all's well" uses longer and reedier sounds to develop a tune that is both mournful and playful. "Nisshan joma" is very delicate, full of soft low notes on the flute-like shakuhachi. It is followed by an upbeat clarinet on 'Gammer'. This is a varied recording, a generous offering of personable, personal, and pleasingly experimental songs. Baar's employs just the right amount of stream of consciousness to soulfulness in his melodies to make 'Time to do my lions' a fascinating one.
I can confidently say I'm no longer afraid. "Time to do my lions" is a rewarding way to spend an hour. I would suggest listening to it from start to finish. I doubt it is something that I would put on to listen to just a song or two, but in longer doses it has some real power.
Flow Trio is Louie Belogenis on saxes, Joe Morris on double bass and Charles Downs on drums, a trio that I've praised before, especially with their "Rejuvenation" from 2009 on ESP. Their 2007 debut album was on Ayler Records too, and was just called "The Flow", and the band's name is actually a very good description of the kind of music you get.
As with the previous albums, the pieces are very lenghty, giving the musicians the possibility to really expand and develop their improvisations that really flow, over implicit slow to mid-tempi, and with Belogenis tenor and soprano being the dominant voice, yet leaving quite some space to Morris and Downs too. The reedist is real master of the subtle shadings of his tone, sometimes yearning, sometimes sad or expansively spiritual, often bluesy, like a calmer and softer version of Albert Ayler, and often coming into the musical space that Trio X developed over the past years : a very sensitive and deeply emotional free playing, deeply rooted in the free jazz origins in the sixties, yet equally forward-looking, working with structureless sounds, without needing to rely on phrases or themes. The long quiet moment in the middle of the first track is a nice example of that, built around long arco bows by Morris.
Louie Belogenis surely is under-recognised. His expressivity on tenor is among the best you can hear, with a deep and warm sound, full of vibrant emotions. He is also a story-teller, slowly building up tension, getting all the elements right to move the improvisation to moments of suspense, tension and climax. Morris and Downs are absolutely excellent in this context: versatile, equally responsible for creating the overall sound and moving the plot further, underpinning it and giving it overall direction.
The trio is getting better with each album. I hope we won't have to wait another two years to hear their next one.
Though I don't have the numbers on this, I'm fairly certain that there are more bass clarinets in the hands of jazz musicians then before. Lots of variables here to account for, so don't judge my research, just enjoy the hypothesis. Jason Stein, Louis Sclavis and Lucien Dubuis come to mind with little thought, and now do does Duplant/Chagas/Noyes.
Just released as a download from re:konstrut, 'as birds' is described in the marketing as "Some truly free, but listenable duo's and trio's; At the same time classical & nonclassical ... free 'as birds'". I agree. From the opening crinkling and scratching of 'Hiccup', this album builds and grows in melodicism and depth as double bass, percussion and the sonorous sounds of varied woodwinds amass and play during the generous heaping of tracks.
Chagas' bass clarinet and sax work is a joy to hear, though I've made my bias clear. Not tempering the clarinet's bestial desire to squawk and rumble, but not relying on it either, he let's the instruments sonorous woody sound reverberate over skittish percussion on the opening 'Hiccup'. The tune 'One hidden green pepper away from the birds' is a great example of the layering of Chagas' improvised circuitous melodies and Noyes' percussive arguments, while not working in lockstep, the layers compliment each other nicely. 'Hush', begins with a foreboding melody that the drums accentuates and bass tries to contradict, but slowly the three fall into agreement and the song builds.
Overall the 18 tracks on this recording, ranging from a minute and a half to almost six, showcase a wide variety of approaches to creating improvised music that at times almost takes on conventional song structure and other times are compelling soundscapes. The musician's embrace of their instruments in all their wild and wooly beauty and commitment to really listening and react to each other makes for a really enjoyable album.
From what I read on The Engines website this album was recorded live in 2008 at the Hungry Brain (Chicago), shame it's taken so long to get the CD out. So here's your chance to get to hear the second helping (*) of The Engines, a group coming from the windy city, made up of Jeb Bishop: trombone; Dave Rempis: saxophones; Nate McBride: bass; Tim Daisy: drums. Rempis and Daisy probably need no real introduction to our regulars being also members of the Ken Vandermark 5.
The music on the album is an intelligent mix between in and out, improvised and arranged. The CD has 5 themes each fairly long, the shortest being 9 minutes, so one needs time to really enjoy the music, naturally a good thing. The beautifully crafted compositions with complex (but organic) structures are what give the listener an almost panoramic image, and like a train journey that moves from station to station, stopping at various places, the music seems to roam naturally from start to finish, never taking a direct route to it's ending.
The tunes - 'Four feet of Slush' is like an extended ballad. Starting with gentle improvised sections for sax, bass and drums, a theme arrives after 5 mins and finally becomes a feature for trombone as it moves towards the final theme, sounding almost like a piece from Don Cherry, or Ornette even. 'Free Range' starts with powerful high energy blowing but surprises us with a wonderful post-bop like theme halfway through, swinging like the clappers with both trombone and sax features, before moving back to the original high energy blowing and theme. The opening tune 'Trouble Distribution' has some lovely time changes, stops and starts, also used in the improvisations to great effect.
In fact all the tunes have something that keep the listeners guessing on how the music will evolve. Each tune having interesting corners to discover, and that means plenty of meat to get your teeth into(**). This is a style of music that I find really fun to listen to, all your needs are met, with melody, form and freedom being finely balanced and never a dull moment.
Tags on this excellent release could be - Empty Cage Quartet, Don Cherry's 'Complete Communion', and Ken Vandermark!
(*) The first self titled CD came out in 2008, also on Okka Disk.
(**) I'm a vegetarian, but somehow I couldn't find a better expression, sorry!
I usually am not a fan of vocal improvisation, but there are exceptions. It is extremely difficult to explain why it sometimes works and why it sometimes doesn't. I think a lot has to do with attitude and authenticity. Very often vocals in modern music come across as posture, pretense and pyrotechnix - like in lots of operas by the way - yet rarely it sounds real and unaffected, like in these two albums.
The second common aspect between both albums is their lack of concern for musical genres and styles, while at the same time respecting them - they integrate and take it a step further. Purists of either jazz or world music will not specifically like those albums for this reason, but those willing to discard conventions will surely enjoy both albums.
The trio is Klaus Kugel from Germany on percussion, Mark Tokar from the Ukraine on bass, Andrė Pabarčiūtė from Lithuania on voice.
I've praised the qualities of both Kugel and Tokar before, with the bands "Yatoku", and last year as the winner's of the Happy Ears Award with "The Passion". Both men are extremely precise instrumentalists with a shared musical vision of sculpting jazz into a more universal musical language.
Lithuanian singer Andrė Pabarčiūtė was unknown to me, but her singing qualities are astonishing. The overall atmosphere of the music is minimalist, with lots of arco bowing and light percussive effects, with an almost classical chamber music feeling. Even if unfamiliar, the music is gentle and welcoming, with no clear references but with influences from jazz, folk and classical.
André's worldless singing is equally light, abstract and unpredictable. She can sing like a bell, clear incantations, she can use her voice as instrument, prolonging sounds, using her throat, lips, tongue as extended techniques, resonating with the bass, screech like a bird, or add dark-toned drama and intensity.
Everything is refined and pure and open-ended and fully improvised. Like so much of minimalist music, the full attention goes to tone and shades of tones creating a common musical universe rather than three musicians playing together. The title - Varpai - means bells or chimes in Lithuanian (if I can trust the online dictionaries) and it is especially the latter that the music sounds like, like chimes moving with a common wind, bringing a coherent, light and resonating sound that is attractive without being repetitive once.
This album is of a totally different nature, a duo recording by Palestinian singer and oud-player Kamilya Jubran and Swiss trumpeter and "electronician" Werner Hasler.
The album starts with almost foghorn-like trumpet-playing over a single electronics drone, creating a backdrop of dark despair for Jubran to join on voice. She sings the texts of contemporary Arab poets, and clearly there is not much to understand if you do not speak the language. The pieces are song-like, built around the singing, yet the instrumental qualities of both musicians take this far beyond what we would call a "song", adding tension and depth and context.
Jubran's singing quality, together with the Middle-Eastern scales give the music the expected feeling of yearning and sadness. She does not have the vocal reach of some other female singers from the Middle-East, staying predominantly in the middle range, but that makes it all the more human and intimate.
I love Arabic singing, I love the sound of the oud, I love the sound of the trumpet, and when all three are brought together, the expectations are high for me. Yet at moments, the melodies and overall sound on this album are a little too average, nor do the electronics always work. Luckily, the great moments on this album dominate. Understanding Arabic might help too, to fully appreciate the complete picture.
Laurence Cook is a national treasure. Why the cultural machinery would rather embrace bourgeois twaddle rather than reward Laurence Cook with a Guggenheim grant or Macarthur award or the key to the city of Cambridge is one of the more egregious betrayals of our modern day.
Cook took the drum seat after Milford Graves in the Lowell Davidson Trio. Cook was also Bill Dixon's drummer following Freddy Waits and preceding Tony Oxley—right smack dab in the middle of Dixon's Soul Note period, appearing on the 5 star releases November 1981, Thoughts and Son of Sisyphus. Those facts alone makes the Cook node one of considerable size and weight in the larger free jazz network.
Since Dixon, Cook has remained active, if sparsely recorded. Much of his activity has been in the (comparatively) rich Cambridge/Boston music scene with such fine musicians as Jacob William, Jim Hobbs and, on this recording Eric Zinman, with whom Cook has been playing and performing for over 2 decades.
With Zinman, as with Cook, there is a Dixon connection. While their time with Dixon was in different capacities (Zinman a student, Cook an employee) both profited from their exposed to Dixon's methodology, exhibited here as a mutual aesthetic and methodological reference point for their work together. Cook and Zinman speak the same language and speak with an eloquence that comes from depth and longevity of experience.
In listening to Double Action it would seem that many of those experiences informing the music were highly psychedelic ones, and that's a good thing. In This Music (a Dixonism referring to the music that supplanted Jazz as the premier art music of the day) psychedelia trumps austerity. That Cook and Zinman have broken into the world of MIDI and electronic is great news. Any expansion of their palette is welcome as their aesthetic refutes the notion “less is more.”
And yet, the expanded midi palette that is also a point of vulnerability, as many of those MIDI sounds are straight out of the box, aka “general midi” or “GM” for short. Why hearing ubiquitous GM sounds annoy while hearing ubiquitous acoustic piano or drum do not is a strange contradiction. Rather than tease that out, let's instead lament that in Cambridge, home of MIT, that sound designers and end users (like Zinman and Cook) aren't actively collaborating. Zinman and Cook are living masters of the duet and they deserve better sounds.
While this is an excellent record its excellence is large part resides in what the music foreshadows. As digital technology continues to permeate every facet of our existence, Double Action will be remembered as a resounding success way back when MIDI and electronic implements were first gaining acceptance in a traditionally and predominately acoustic music.
The number of creative and free improv musicians who really have good promotion of their music is limited. Take Nate Wooley for instance, without a doubt one of the best trumpeters around, about whom information on his discography or performances is extremely hard to find. You can check Allmusic and you will find no information, just three albums, labeled as "prog rock", or Artistdirect mentions just one album with no information.Wooley had a website that advertises three albums, without any new information for the last six years! He now has a blog with very fragmented and infrequent information, to say the least.
Maybe that's a good sign. It shows he's busy working on his music rather than promoting himself, rightly thinking that his music is his best ambassador. But for fans like myself it makes it difficult to find what is available, because once you like his music, you want to hear more of it. Wooley has not only incredible trumpet technique and background (he was a student of Ron Miles), he is also very creative and audacious, while being a great team player too. With those qualities, it is no surprise that he is widely asked to perform and record. His recent output is nothing but prolific. Hence the three succinct reviews below, plus what I think is his most relevant discography, ranging from his most straight-forward first album to his very adventurous music with Mêlée.
Daniel Levin Quartet - Organic Modernism (Clean Feed, 2010) ****½
In my previous review of the band's "Live At Roulette", I wrote " The music flows organically, growing as it moves along, with instruments coming and going, like birds or bees passing by, coming and going, yet all taking part in the same unpredictable yet not unfamiliar scenery. Despite the apparent freedom, it all sounds very focused and coherent and it was possibly discussed before playing, or maybe not, and these four stellar musicians are just so good and so used to playing together, that this symbiosis of fragile and raw sounds might have been created spontaneously".
I am not quite sure how to say it differently for this album : the music is moving without being sentimental. It has nothing of traditional music, yet it is drenched in familiar sounds that are organised differently, not around structure but around each other, growing organically, with subtle pulse. It can be sweet and bluesy ("My Kind Of Poetry", "Old School"), it can also be adventurous and full of expressive outbursts ("Zero Gravity", "Expert Set") ... and excellent throughout.
The band is Daniel Levin on cello, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Matt Moran on vibes and Peter Bitenc on bass.
For the first time in many years, Nate Wooley releases an album with composed music, with an actual band, and with music that is more accessible than any of the records made under his leadership. The band is Josh Stinton on bass clarinet, Matt Moran on vibes, Eivind Opsvik on bass and Harris Eisenstadt on drums .... indeed the musicians who play regularly together in each other's bands and with equal success.
In stark contrast of some of his previous albums, Wooley's trumpet tone is voiced, deeply sensitive but within the same phrase he can switch it into screeching whispers. The compositions integrate jazz history, but then in a reverend and playful way, gently giving new dynamics and dimensions to the familiar forms, lifting them up, dusting them off, refreshing them with new power and creative angles.
The end result is a carefully crafted, fun album, with moments of playfulness ("Elsa"), deep sentiments ("Hazel"), compositional complexity ("Ethyl") or all in one ("Hands Together"). The most beautiful piece is "Shanda Lea" (Wooley's wife?), opening the album with solo trumpet, repeated halfway the record in duet with Stinton, then again as solo trumpet to end the album. On tracks like "Erna" you can hear the warm voice of Ron Miles seep through, but unlike Miles, Wooley adds some odd raw edges and in doing so also more depth in the delivery.
In short, a heart-warming and inventive album, show-casing a fantastic musician and an artist in full development. No need to praise the rest of the band: you know them already: they're among the best you can get these days, and to Wooley's credit, he leaves them lots of space.
Pete Robbins Unnamed Quartet - Live In Brooklyn (Not Two, 2011) ****
It is sometimes amazing how musicians can speak different "languages". Pete Robbins’ “siLENT Z Live”was a nice album, modern with some rock influences and lots of creative little angles - especially by Tyshawn Sorey on drums - yet somehow still constrained to predictable forms.
With his "Unnamed Quartet", Robbins goes a lot further. And so does the band, with Pete Robbins on alto sax, Daniel Levin on cello, Nate Wooley on trumpet and Jeff Davis on drums. If music can be free, this is it! It can be slow and deep, raucous and intense, angular and raw, unpredictable and expressive, with the four musicians listening quite well to each other, leaving space yet moving in the same direction. This is truly my kind of music, lacking polish, varnish and the only sophistication is to be found in the skills of the musicians to express themselves. A really great and welcome step forward for Robbins. And a fantastic album to hear Wooley, Levin and Davis in a completely free environment. Great stuff!
The three albums are quite different in nature : from organic open textures, over playing with tradition and sentiments to full free improvisation, and all three are easy to recommend, showing not only the breadth of Nate Wooley's playing but also the delight of musicians creating new sounds, sculpting their own musical space, full of character and vision. In the end, choosing one over the other is just a very subjective matter.
To come back to my introduction : there is nothing to be found about these bands on Youtube either, yes, some limited and often low quality material about one or the other musician, but nothing of real value. A pity.
Discography of Nate Wooley as leader and co-leader
Sangha Trio - Frantically, Frantically Being At Peace (Slippery Slope, 1997)
Nate Wooley - Run, She Whispered (self-released, 2002)
Blue Collar - ___ Is An Apparition (Rossbin, 2004)
Blue Collar - Lovely Hazel (Public Eyesore, 2005)
Nate Wooley - Wrong Shape To Be A Story Teller (Creative Sources, 2005)
Matt Hannafin, Brian Moran, Nate Wooley This Machine Kills Fascists (Sachimay, 2005)
Mêlée - Newest Ruins (Brokenresearch, 2006)
Mêlée - Pax Spray (American Tapes, 2007)
Mêlée - Violent Forms Of Laughter Pt. 1 (Meudiademorte, 2007)
Mêlée - Violent Forms Of Laughter Pt. 2 (Arbor, 2007)
Mêlée - Bare Those Excellent Teeth Pt. 2 (Brokenresearch, 2007)
Mêlée - Endings Vol. 8 (American Tapes, ?)
Mêlée with Aaron Siegel (Brokenresearch, 2007)
Mêlée & Joe Morris - Cloud Atlas Quartet (Brokenresearch, 2010)
Leonel Kaplan, Nate Wooley, Audrey Chen - Silo (Utech, 2006)
Evil Eye - Doing It All For My Baby (KMB, 2007)
Ryan Jewell, Reuben Radding, Nate Wooley - Rift (Smeraldina-Rima, 2007)
Chris Forsyth & Nate Wooley - The Duchess Of Oysterville (Creative Sources, 2007)
Paul Lytton & Nate Wooley - Untitled (BrokenResearch, 2008)
Tim Barnes, Nate Wooley & Jason Roebke Trio (Esquilo Records, 2008)
Water Closet Ensemble - Flush Tank Terrorists (Spread The Disease, 2008)
Water Closet Ensemble / Nozone / Indigents - Face It! (Spread The Disease, 2009)
Nate Wooley, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Jason Roebke - Throw Down Your Hammer and Sing (Porter, 2009)
Joe Morris & Nate Wooley - Tooth & Nail (Clean Feed, 2010)
Nate Wooley, Paul Lytton, David Grubbs - Seven Storey Mountain (Important Records, 2009)
Nate Wooley & Paul Lytton - Creak Above 33 (Psi Recordings, 2010)
Nate Wooley - Trumpet/Amplifier (Smeraldina-Rima - 2010)
Nate Wooley Quintet- (Put Your) Hands Together (Clean Feed, 2011)
This is quite an impressive list, but some of the stuff is really hard to find, some of it was released on 25 audio-cassettes only!
As a side-man
Marc Gartman - All's Well That Ends (Pushpin Records, 2002)
Assif Tsahar & The New York Underground Orchestra - The Labyrinth (Hopscotch, 2002)
Assif Tsahar & The New York Underground Orchestra - Fragments (Hopscotch, 2005)
Aarktica - Bleeding Light (Darla Records, 2005)
Reuben Radding - The 12 in 2007 Project (free downloads)
Reuben Radding - Fugitive Pieces (Pine Ear Music, 2006)
Transit - Transit (Clean Feed, 2003)
Transit - Quadrologues (Clean Feed, 2009)
Mary Halvorson, Reuben Radding, Nate Wooley - Crackleknob (Hatology, 2009)
Stephen Gauci - Nididhyasana (Clean Feed)
Stephen Gauci - Absolute, Absolutely (CIMP, 2008)
Stephen Gauci - Whisps Of An Unknown Face (CIMP, 2006)
Daniel Levin - Some Trees (Hatology, 2006)
Daniel Levin - Blurry (Hatology, 2007)
Daniel Levin Quartet - Live At Roulette (Clean Feed, 2009)
Daniel Levin Quartet - Bacalhau (Clean Feed, 2010)
Daniel Levin Quartet - Organic Modernism (Clean Feed, 2011)
Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra - Ashcan Rantings (Clean Feed, 2010)
Matt Bauder - Day In Pictures (Clean Feed, 2010)
Harris Eisenstadt - Canada Day (Clean Feed, 2009)
Harris Eisenstadt - Guewel (Clean Feed, 2008)
Mike Pride, Jack Wright, Ben Wright, Nate Wooley - Tenterhooks (Bug Incision, 2009)
Graveyards - Night In A Graveyard (Rococco Records, 2006)
Graveyards - Night In A Graveyard Part 2 (Rococo, 2006)
Graveyards - Untitled (Qbico, 2008)
Graveyards King Size - Tape Reading Radio Lines (American Tapes, 2008)
Steve Swell - Presents: Magical Listening Hour Live @ The South Street Seaport (CJR, 2008)
Bruce Eisenbeil Sextet - Inner Constellation Volume One (Nemu Records, 2007)
Soccer Committee & Machinefabriek (self-released, 2009)
Pete Robbins’s Unnamed Quartet - Live In Brooklyn (Not Two, 2011)
... and some guest appearances with Peeesseye, Akron/Family, David Grubbs, Anaïs Mitchell, Matthew Welsh,... with the most bizarre performance on the "White Light/White Heat" Lou Reed tribute album by Puttin On The Ritz.
Here is a long and insight-full interview with Nate Wooley.
It begins all sustain and fury, a forceful melody and thick harmony raining down. The strident melody of 'The New Fact' is unleashed on the first beat and driven even harder when the drums and bass join in. Then the floor drops out and pianist Matthew Shipp lays into a spirited improvisation that is buoyed by the restrained propulsion of the rhythm section. What a start to this recording -- a two disc set of separate 2010 concert dates featuring Shipp alone and with his trio of bassist Micheal Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey.
After the opening tune reprises the melody, Bisio takes it out with a gorgeous extended bass solo. Next up is the demonic lullaby of '3 in 1', in which a dark elliptical melody is delivered disorientingly over the rumble of bass and scattered high hat. During the next seven minutes the trio paints a picture with repetition of the dark melody over complex rhythms. Dickey is featured on this tune prominently with an energetic solo.
While most of the songs draw from Shipp's catalog, there are renditions - or deconstructions - of a couple standards. On the trio recording, the rich harmonies of 'Take the A-Train' are mixed with splinters and fragments of the original tune amongst slippery beats. The solo treatment of 'Fly Me to the Moon' shares a similar transformation, but this time more ruminative and less percussive.
Shipp's solo concert is as compelling as the trio portion. His approach is everything here and his note choice, syncopations and intense use of dynamics are captivating. In particular I am drawn to his composition 'Module', the fragile dissonant melody is hypnotizing. Usually I find solo piano to be too lush or lulling, preferring at least a drum in the mix to add drive, but not here. Shipp's fierce, often repetitive motifs, delivered with such precision and conviction, serve as a perfect foil for the intense and intricate improvisations that make up the bulk of this recording, none of which is lulling.
I find this to be a very extroverted album of introverted improvisation. Its deep and thoughtful playing is quite engaging, whether in a trio or solo format.
This 14 track CD is possibly one of the most delightful wind duos I've heard for a long time, and it's easy listening! By using the words easy listening I'm certainly not trying to evoke the image of James Last or Bert Kaempfert, here we have music that whilst pushing at barriers is quite unpretentious, even the length of the tunes is very modest, with the majority of the pieces having an average of 2 to 3 minutes. Yet that makes the music even more enjoyable, and of course you hear that the musicians enjoyed playing together.
It seems that Alberto and Noel met via MySpace and started to work together, I assume this is the first fruit of that meeting, if so it's real success as the music on the album is enchanting. The duets are (I imagine) improvised and much of the music has an almost pastoral quality. Yet there are moments of strong energy and dissonance, and due to the quality of the recording you get a spacial sound, giving the impression that the two clarinettists are in the same room as you. With titles such as 'Damselfly', 'Cats Tango' or 'A-Tishoo! A-Tishoo!', one can understand that much of the music has impressionistic qualities, and what also makes the music most listenable is the clear interest that the two clarinettists have in finding and developing melody. In fact it's this ingredient that makes this album such a success and will give the listener endless fun in discovering and re-discovering each tracks details, a little like returning to an art gallery to view a painting more than once.
Although this disc doesn't invent new territory it's excellent example of user friendly improvisation which at moments reminds me of some contemporary classical music. Of course it will be interesting to see what Noel Taylor and Alberto Popolla do next in this format, and one hopes that they'll continue what looks and sounds like an extremely fruitful partnership. Tags for this excellent disc could be - The Clarinets, and ........ umm, err, any suggestions for any (all) clarinet groups welcome!
(Noel Taylor - alto & soprano clarinet, Alberto Popolla - soprano & bass clarinet)
Over the past few months i've become acquainted with guitarist and bassist Joe Morris' work. I recently reviewed his release 'Creatures' with percussionist Luther Gray and thought very highly of it. On 'Camera', to which I'm admittedly coming to a bit late (it was released this past fall) the same duo is joined by violinist Katt Hernandez and cellist Junko Fujiwara Simons in creating some very abstract and captivating explorations.
Like previous album, Morris tends to play meandering single note lines that follow an internal logic rather than a more traditional approach to guitar. His melodic tendrils wrap around and climb throughout the percussion and stalks of support that Hernandez and Simons provide. While his lines may sometimes bunch up as he moves about the songs, his clean clear insistent tone is always in motion and moving the music forward.
To me, the album title 'Camera' suggests snapshots of moments, but moments in ever changing motion. As I listen, images crystalize, and I get the sense of autumnally bare trees in forest thickets, silhouettes and shapes faintly visible, each passing frame revealing more (and sometimes less). In these scenes, the musicians are each are on their own path. They often catch glimpses of each other and sometimes meet as they move ever forward. They are always keeping track of each other, and Gray keeps watch over all. His percussion at times swings, keeps time, and often provides good conversation with the others. At times, like on the mid-album 'Angle of Incidence', all four musicians come together as a cohesive and affecting unit before spinning off again in their own directions.
This too is an interesting assortment of instruments. The cello comes closest to providing a bass tone, but it doesn't function as such. Rather, Simons will provide slashing chords or frenetic runs in the mid and upper registers. The violin accentuates, bringing details into sharp relief and making everything just a little more interesting. Hernandez's unaccompanied solo in 'Street Scene' is an inspired fury of double stops and jarring syncopations. Similarly, Simons long introductory solo on 'Patterns on Faces' is a captivating co-creation with Gray.
There are no conventional song structures, but rather tangentially connected and often sympathetic assortments of individual and groups solos. The album begins suddenly and from the moment 'the needle drops', the musicians are off and exploring. To drive my earlier metaphor just a little further into the ground, there seems to be only a fragment of a map that they are working with, a general direction that they are heading, but each movement is purposeful and moves the music forward.
'Camera' is a really interesting and suggestive album, one that I'm enjoying more each time I listen.
What fun good jazz can be! This is among the best, enjoyable and joyful post-bop music I've heard in a while. Canadian altoist François Carrier is accompanied by his usual companions Pierre Coté on bass and Michel Lambert on drums, with the great Bobo Stenson on piano for a live tour of Europe that took place in 2002.
Carrier's tone - as said before - is warm and sensual, his playing is expansive and lyrical, and the music is strongly indebted to Coltrane and Keith Jarrett's American quartet, with Dewey Redman coming to mind more than just once in a while.
The four compositions all come from his All'Alba cd released in 2002 (with Uri Caine on piano), but they get a totally, and in my opinion, better performance here. For one, the tracks are longer, allowing for longer development of the solos and more creative interaction. Second, Stenson has the kind of melodic fluidity that contrasts with Caine's more angular power, and that is actually a much better fit for Carrier's tone and playing. Third, the recording quality is better. with all four instruments incredibly well balanced, giving Coté and Lambert the full exposure they deserve.
Although less adventurous than some of the more recent outputs by these musicians, the playing is exceptional, truly "the music of life", let yourself float on the endless lyrical beauty this quartet offers.
It is given to very few artists to have created a language entirely their own, but that is what the British band(?) AMM has done over the years, in various line-ups and configurations, with Eddie Prévost on drums as the only unifying element since 1965, and with John Tilbury on piano for the last two decades, here with just the two of them. You may like them or not, but they have made history, and they still do, with lots of young musicians moving into the broad avenue they created.
They were among the first artists to work with the endless sound possibilities of their instruments, like archeologists carefully unearthing new layers of sounds, and especially those that had never been there in the first place!
This album, subtitled "Postcards from Jaslo" was recorded at the concert hall of the Jasielski Dom Kultury (Jaslo Cultural Centre) in southern Poland on 15th May 2010, and the entire album resonsates with the space that it was recorded in.
The music remains fascinating, even more minimalist due to the limited instrumentation, yet equally evocative and expressive as their previous albums. And yes, the approach and the overall sound are predictable - this is AMM beyond any doubt - the preciousness, the sophistication, the inventiveness, the cautious discipline, the love for the sound itself, the incredible tension and sustained sense of anticipation .... it is all there, beautifully there ...
The absolute brilliance of this music is the attention given to detail. In most other kinds of music, there seems to be an absolute abundance of notes, spent and consumed carelessly, but here, with AMM every note seems and sounds incredibly valuable, as something that has to be used sparingly, in order to really be fully appreciated and savoured.
As far as I can tell, Joe Sachse's 'One Take' is not about technical chops, nor is it really about the compositions, however in the course of its 78 minutes, neither are lacking. Due to a paucity of liner notes (I'm working from mp3), I am making some assumptions about this loose and enjoyable recording, namely that its title is indicative of the albums real focus: savoring the thrill of creation.
'One Take' is also an album that celebrates "the guitar." The note choice, the tonality, and the harmonic constructs are all built around the physical and sonic embodiments of the electric guitar. An obvious example of this is the Hendrix-like "Blues for Kati". Like 'Little Wing', the shimmering tone, the bluesy feel and the laid back groove just feel so right, I just couldn't hear it with different instrumentation.
And what can you say about Sachse's companions, John Marshall (drums) and Fred Baker (bass), besides that they are the creme de la creme? Marshall, as usual, is as solid, supportive and creative as one could wish for. His solo during 'Fur Oki' is reminiscent of some later day Soft Machine. With a bright full bodied tone, Baker provides crystal clear melodic solos and precise counter-melodies to Sachse's lead. At some points, it seems like Sachse is happy to let Baker take over. On the Monk staple 'Round Midnight', the bassist provides an excellent unaccompanied intro of the mournful melody that, when the others join, evolves into a swinging affair.
My only complaint is that the album at times can feel a little 'jammy', there are no overly long songs but there is sometimes a little too much cohesion between some of the tracks. But this is more than counterbalanced by sublime moments like Baker's solo in the reflective 'Alterswing' and Sachse's spirited phrygian romp in 'Fur Oki'. Another highlight for me is the closer 'Swinool', where Sachse with the help of Baker's fuzz bass, just catches fire.
Overall, this is an accessible set of songs that gives a trio of seasoned musicians a chance to stretch out and enjoy creating together. A fun album and highly recommended to guitar trio and jazz-rock fanatics.
I rarely review classical music, not because I don't like it, but because I know nothing about it, apart from Bach and some Mozart.
I review this album, because it is absolutely fascinating. A duo performance by husband and wife Thomas Zehetmair on violin and Ruth Killius on viola and voice on one track.
As can be expected, the music is composed, with pieces by Bohuslav Martinů - the “Madrigals” - and by Giancinto Scelsi - “Manto”. Other composers include Bartók, Holliger, Skalkottas, Rainer Killius, Johannes Nied and Peter Maxwell Davies.
Yet, the Holliger and Scelsi pieces almost sound like modern improvisation, with lots of mesmerising, hypnotic interweaving of multiple layers of sound, lyrical without being melodic, with Killius singing a kind of tribal chant on "Manto 3". The harmonic complexity is dazzling, as on the intense "Danse Dense", as is the playing, virtuosic and sounding adventurous, in the sense that you expect this absolutely pure sound from classical violinists, but like in jazz, raw emotions result from timbral adventures, creating drones and screeching sounds played on several strings.
The fourty-four seconds of the Bartók piece stand at the center of the album, and creates a shift towards more recognizable structures and harmonics of classical music, even if the Skalkottas compositions are modern, abstract and intense, somewhat aggressive even at moments. With Peter Maxwell Davies the music becomes playful, with folk music elements integrated, and continues in the same vein with the Martinů compositions.
It is all incredibly virtuosic, and that guarantees quality throughout the album, yet the choices of the composers gives the album a little too wide of an emotional and stylistic span. But the first part of the album is guaranteed to be a delight for avant-garde fans of whatever musical genre.
In my review of yesterday on recent and recommendable "Sax and Piano" albums, I should have added this one, by Christine Sehnaoui on alto and Magda Mayas on piano. The only excuse that I have for not having included them, is that this album, "Teeming", does not sound like a piano and sax album.
Both musicians are known for pushing the sound of their instruments into extreme and unheard regions, and together they even go a step further. Few people would call this music, and several years ago I would have put this album away immediately, but I've become addicted to this kind of music.
The reason is simple: the music is incredibly brutal, physical and emotional. Possibly because the sounds go directly to the lymbic system of the brain, stripped of all rationality, patterns and form and other redundant stuff, reduced to scraping, fluttering, pounding, whistling, sighing, screeching, ticking, tweaking, ... hesitating between the industrial and the organic in atmosphere, but impossible to leave you indifferent: you hate it or you love it.
To the credit of both artists, their story is incredibly coherent and captivating, once you go beyond your own expectations. Break down your own preconceived notions. They are great because they inventive, their sense of pace and tension and restraint is formidable, never do they lose their concentrated discipline of sound creation, creating a weird and welcoming sonic environment, light, horrifying and yet appealing.
Those of you with big open ears will certainly enjoy this.
Usually I get the "Sans Bruit" releases by mail (thanks Stéphane), but I couldn't wait, so I bought it right away once it became digitally available, because I am a fan of French saxophonist Alexandra Grimal, who we find back again with Italian pianist Giovanni Di Domenico, who composed most of the pieces of this album.
In their previous quartet effort - "Seminare Vento" - I mentioned that I would have loved a little less beaten track, and I must say they fully deliver the goods on this album. Both musicians can color deftly outside the lines and they do so on other albums, yet here their lyricism takes the spotlight, and how! Limiting the line-up to piano and soprano gives Di Domenico's music more space and freedom, with less constraints of form, and the result is excellent.
Di Domenico's compositions are very impressionistic and abstract at the same time, kind of open-ended at first listen, yet quite well-structured too. One illustration: "Earworm" starts with a long and meandering unison line between both musicians, then it's dropped for what sounds like free improvisation, ranging between jazz, classical, with the sax adding some middle-eastern tonal changes, changing tempo, rhythm and mood, like a mini-suite, only to end all of a sudden again with the opening unison theme.
The music is lightfooted and playful, or sensitive and light. That several of the pieces are called "Koan", the zen-buddhist paradox, gives you an idea of the importance of the surprise, the creative angle that you can expect.
Grimal's tone is phenomenal, as I described in earlier reviews, yet Di Domenico gives her a unique opportunity to really shine : the intimate compositions and atmospheres that he creates form the wonderful context for Grimal's superb playing, just listen to her solo intro on "Koan N° 3".
This is as light and warm and deep as it gets.
The title "Ghibli" is the name of the wind that blows over the Lybian desert.
Joel Futterman & Ike Levin - Dialogues and Connections (Charles Lester Music, 2010) ****
Don't get deceived by the somewhat kitschy art work, the music is as real and authentic as it gets: two seasoned musicians drawing from their broad backgrounds to offer some astonishing stylistic variations and genre-bending dynamics to dialogue and to create really great music.
Just to give one example: "Conversation One, Part 3", starts with Futterman's abstract string-plucking, dark and resonating, with Levin's bass clarinet bringing incredible timbral variations of restrained agony, suddently moving into impressionistic and voiced piano-playing, as a lead-in for a calm and lyrical solo, both jazzy and classical at the same time, with again a sudden change into boppish, heavily accentuated playing, somewhat going haywire again, into more free improvisations, abstract, harsh and expressive, but in a way which is staggering, creating together, shaping the music together almost telepathically, full of unexpected twists and turns which they take together and seamlessly, like a well-trained couple of ice-dancers: acrobatic and refined, full of discipline and skills, but then fully improvised.
Their history is of performing together is much longer and deeper than the three albums they released as a duo so far, and you can hear it with every note they play. These guys really enjoy what they do, and they do it full of grace and authenticity.
Any album with a cover of the last communist leader of Poland sporting a topiary hat is a promise. It's a deal between the musicians and the listeners that they are in for something unexpected. And just from the first few seconds of "The Mastella Variations", the promise is delivered.
Jaruzelki's Dream by Jazz Gawronski is a thoroughly modern sax, bass and drum trio outing that matches an unapologetically free approach to some joyous music. Blending elements from the tradition of free jazz ("The Mastella Variation") to rock ("Sei Forte Papa"), brief glimpses of punz-jazz ("Zibboniek") and sparing elements of nu-jazz ("Pimpin' The Papamobile"), their uncluttered focused approach to the music is refreshing, challenging and quite fun. Clever uses of dynamics and rhytmic devices shake up the tunes, keeping them from getting repetitive, and allowing each musician ample space to create.
Piero Bittolo Bon's alto sax is bright and clear, his well articulated never-ending melodic lines present ideas upon ideas, often seizing upon one, turning it around and examining it thoroughly, before tweaking it and moving on. Bassist Stefano Senni and drummer Francesco Cusa's accompaniment is sharp, and whether they are supporting or taking the lead, the interplay is tight and precise, sometimes grounding the sax, sometime antagonizing it, but always spurring it on.
A quick trip to the Clean Feed site revealed that the trio has quite a pedigree between them. Hailing from northern Italy, they have played individually with Anthony Braxton, Stefano Bollani, Tom Harrell, Eddie Henderson, Chris Speed, Tim Berne, Elliot Sharp, Paolo Fresu among many others.
If I were to compare the competence, energy and freshness of the album -- and though they differ greatly in many ways too -- I would think that perhaps Jon Irabagon's recent "Foxy" is fair game. Like Irabagon's album there is also an extended joke through the song titles and packaging. Though I'm not up enough on Eastern European history and culture to get what I have to assume are puns and plays on words, the albums humor and sarcasm comes through well enough in the songs. At the same time there is also great reverence and respect for the music, which makes for some good clean fun. For example, Polonium 210, a radioactive material first discovered in Poland, is used to title a sophisticated and melodic tune featuring outstanding bass and drum dialog.
This is album is a real treat, it's accessible, melodic, energetic and demanding enough to keep you listening over and over again. This is my first five star rating.
What an easy CD to review. This is one of those albums that is easily digested and has a wide appeal, in fact 'Dorf' means 'Village', so maybe something for the whole family? Here we find brass bands, prog-rock (aka - rock in opposition), jazz, (a little) free, and plenty of punch (helped by an excellent recording). This is a 21 piece big band led by Jan Klare that literally rocks, making your speakers vibrate with lovely grooves and the joyful noise that the group produces, you can hear that everyone is having plenty of fun. The compositions are reasonably strong, and as with many large ensembles the trick here is the use of instrumental colours and combinations to develop ideas, the rockier direction the music takes make the album stand apart from other big band albums.
The music is as already mentioned a real mix between several worlds and really blurs the areas between rock and jazz. An excellent example is to be found in the piece 'Spin' which builds from simple, almost humorous, question and answer phrases slowly becoming heavy guitar based riffs with a New Orleans second line strut(*) rhythm! The track then features a blistering guitar solo (backed by the massive brass section) that Ritchie Blackmore would be proud of, however there are not many featured soloists here. In fact much of the music is almost cinematic, developing like a film that gradually introduces it's characters and plot. The titles are short and descriptive such as 'Now' - an eight minute riff using one chord, 'Deep' - a lovely ballad, 'Riff' - James Bond meets punk?, 'Count' - which is exactly what they do, 'Feed' - sounds like an out-take from King Crimson's 'Larks Tongues in Aspic', violin and all! There's plenty to delve into and the music's blurred boundaries mean the album can be enjoyed by many people, and yet it makes no compromises.
The musicians (too many to mention) are excellent, violin, cello, trumpets, saxophones, 3 guitars, 3 Electronics, Synths etc, and of course you get a very powerful rhythm section which includes two drummers and two bass players! Leo Feigin and Jan Klare tell me there is a booklet that goes with the CD (although I don't know about the mp3 download**).
Tags for this could be - Exploding Star Orchestra, Loose Tubes, Carla Bley Big Band.
* a type of march.
**MP3 download is VBR, nominal bitrate 256 kBps.
Expansive, baroque, heavy metal attitude, sophisticated, crazy, wild, mad, disciplined, exuberant, rock, volume and power, restless and violent, gloomy and doom, humor and don't-take-yourself-too-seriously, relentless energy and drive. Zappa meets Carla Bley meets Miami Vice meets Global Unity Orchestra meets Metallica meets Schoenberg meets your local brass marching band.
You get the gist. Sometimes you think the thing is fully composed and arranged but the musicians are so mad and crazy that they want only one thing and that is to ignore all agreements and most of all the conductor, because sounds bounce and sprout in every direction yet it all fits full of frenzy, rhythms and more madness.Yet you can never pin it down completely : there is just too much, including some counting as in a Philip Glass composition ("Count"), as incredibly dark atmospheres of utter despair ("Back"), as complete fun and humor ("Spin"). The album's great variety is unfortunately also somehow its weakness. There are too many variations to make it an artistic whole, yet every part of it offers incredible listening pleasure. Incredibly entertaining.
So far, I have only reviewed one CD, Nigeria, by saxophonist Oluyemi Thomas, and I praised it for its poetic power.That I have not reviewed many albums by him has more to do with his limited number of recordings than with the quality of his playing.
Thomas, wo plays bass clarinet, flute, soprano, musette and percussion on this album is joined by the late Sirone on bass and Michael Wimberly on drums. As on "Nigeria", the poetic power is still present, in the best of free jazz improvisations, with incredible openness, a total lack of structure, plenty of soloing. The album was recorded in 2008, in the year before the great bassist passed away. And for his fans - this is a must-have : there is as much soloing by Sirone as by the reedist, a real treat.
The absolute power of this album is the common language of all three musicians. Thomas' is much more an emotional player than a technical performer, and his notes are warm, sensitive, expressive, full of spiritual and human physicality at the same time, qualities that are all too present in Sirone's playing too. I did not know Michael Wimberley, and he is great in this setting, often taking a step back, letting the two other players do their thing, but he is magnificent in his rumbling duet with Thomas on "Dream Worlds".
This is deep music, as its title suggests, free in the associations, but not in loudness or volume, quite on the contrary, it is about timbre, about the coloring of feeling, the expression of universal emotions that can only manifest themselves through music ... and all this in a quite intimate setting. Expansive intimacy is the paradox that comes to mind, and possibly describes the inherent tension in the music quite well.
Oluyemi Thomas - Positive Knowledge (Not Two, 2010)
Regular readers of this blog know that I am not a fan of spoken word, and that I am not a fan of poetry in music and that I am not a fan of vocal jazz, and if it sometimes does work quite well, very often it leaves me totally non-plussed. I hate the exalted tone, the thematic clichés, the preachy attitude, the artificial drama, or just "the attitude", so much in contrast with the nature of authenticity of the music itself. That's a very personal remark, and possibly not a nice one. It prevents me even from listening to the music.
The band is a family affair with Oluyemi Thomas on bass clarinet, musette, soprano and percussion, Ijeoma Thomas on voice and percussion, Kenn Thomas on piano, and Michael Bisio on bass, the latter being quite prominent on this blog lately.