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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Andrzej Przybielski & Oleś Brothers - De Profundis (Fenommedia, 2011) ****½

By Stef

One of the key figures of Polish free jazz, "Major" Andrzej Przybielski passed away on February 9 of this year, after a long musical career that started with free jazz in the 60s. This is the third trio album with the magnificent rhythm section of the brothers Marcin Oleś on bass and Bartłomiej Brat Oleś on drums. The trio was planning a new studio album to be recorded later this year. Now, instead they released this live performance that took place  in Bydgoszcz, Poland on 26th April 2010, or almost exactly a year ago.

The album starts with Mongo Santamaria's Afroblue, best known from Coltrane's performances, with Przybielski starting solo with muted playing, from the start setting the tone of deep emotion, rhythm and musical freedom, three elements that will stay in high doses throughout the performance.

As with the trio's previous albums, the quality of the three players is such that they keep the listener mesmerized from beginning to end, with lots of sudden tempo and rhythm changes, breakneck speed climaxes as well as deep soul, joy and intense expressivity. As I've mentioned before, the Oleś brothers are just by themselves worth listening to, and they get ample time to demonstrate their solo and duet skills, yet the trio's virtuose interaction, and the incredible and soulful presence of Przybielski makes this a highly recommended album.

The absolute highlight is the trio improvisation "De Profundis", the title track, because it shows again how focused improvisation without formal restraints can lead to superb creativity in the hands of great artists. 

The album ends with a few words in Polish by the trumpeter, and an enthusiastic applause ... a sad farewell.

Listen to "Afroblue"

© stef

Friday, April 29, 2011

Masami Akita!! Mats Gustafsson!! Jim O’Rourke!! - One Bird Two Bird (Editions Mego, 2011) ****

By Stef

Anyone interested in a wild listening experience? Check this one out. Masami Akita (Merzbow), Mats Gustafsson and Jim O'Rourke (ex-Sonic Youth) create the most monotonous brainsmashing deafening endless scream you've ever heard, lasting for fourty minutes, split in two pieces (side A and side B) of this limited edition sold out album.

Luckily for us, it's also available on iTunes.

The scream is Gustafsson on tenor blowing hard but single-toned, over a backdrop of noise, electronics, feedback and endless screeching. If you hear music while having a nightmare, this would be it.

The interesting thing is that all other music played after this album sounds mellow and bland by comparison, so you reach back for it, because it is so uncompromising and intense.

And in truth, I've had my share of young musicians who think they need to show some attitude by going totally over the top of conventions, yet this is different. You can hear the difference in the approach, you will be impressed by Gustafsson's incredible emotional power, you will love the subtle changes and the interplay with repeated listens. At times the tension subsides a little, as on the end of the first track, but with the second track it's again as if you've been dropped headfirst into a maelstrom of endless sonic agony.

Not for the faint of heart!

... and it is addictive.

Listen and buy from iTunes.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls Vs. the Forces of Evil **** (Naim, 2011)

By Paul Acquaro

I hadn't heard Ted Sirotas work before digging into "Vs. the Forces of Evil", but just a glance through the personnel indicated I was in good company and the Latin groove of the opener "Grendel" -- reminiscent of Return to Forever ala Light as a Feather -- that came on when I clicked play on the iPod, confirmed that I was in for a treat.

'Vs. the Forces of Evil' is a recording dating back to 2000, it appeared as a CD release in 2001 and is now being rereleased by Naim digitally and on CD. Though pushing 11 years old, the sound is quite contemporary and it's great to listen to this group of musicians who have mostly moved on to other projects. The group, at this point in time, was Ted Sirota on drums, Geoff Bradfield on alto & tenor saxophones, and bass clarinet, Kevin Kizer on tenor saxophone, Rob Mazurek on cornet, Jeff Parker on guitar and Noel Kupersmith on bass.

The opening 'Grendel' is a tightly arranged tune, propelled by the strong aforementioned groove and features Mazurek's bright and energetic cornet playing off Sirota's effective high hat. Tight horn arrangements tie the soloists together, and the sax solo about three and a half minutes in builds in intensity, getting tangled up in the blankets of percussion, and finally building to a climax midway through the song. Parker pulls back the volume a bit, though his clean toned runs cannot dampen the rhythm section's smoldering intensity.

'Tight Rope' opens things up with elements of free playing and concurrent melodies. The drums rumble through the beginning and slowly build into a steady vamp. Parker's guitar takes on some different shapes here, employing effects and washes of sound. 'You Know Me', is a ballad with some tender but tough moments. Sirota's drums are front and center, setting the mood. The horn arrangement on raggae-ish 'Tubby' are spot on, and Parkers comping keeps the tune buoyant but still infuses a needed hint of darkness. Solos spin out of the song like little bolts of lightning in a Tesla ball.

'Impengu Dek Bengikai's' calypso like rhythm is infectious and the head arrangement is very cool, for a lack of a better word. Mazurek's cornet shines halfway through the tune, giving it a charge of energy. The two rather straight ahead bop tunes 'Dig to China' and 'Betsy's Bash' are uptempo romps with imaginative solos and some solid heads. Finally, the hard-bop genre is touched upon delightfully in the closing 'Wonder', in which Parker pulls out some sublime bluesy lines.

If there one thing to point out is that the energy is sometimes controlled by the arrangements a little more than I would like - there are moments when I'd love to hear it get kicked up one more notch. Regardless, the high level of musicianship, imaginative solos, solid arrangements and sheer variety of musical styles make this a recording something to come back to again and again.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tim Berne - Insomnia (Clean Feed 2011) ****½

By Joe Higham


Baikida Carroll (t), Chris Speed (cl), Dominique Pifarély (v), Erik Friedlander (cel), Jim Black (d), Marc Ducret (g), Michael Formanek (b), Tim Berne (as).

Tim Berne's international octet recorded INSOMNIA live in the studio, summer 1997, finally it gets to see the light of day now in 2011. If you know Tim Berne you're probably already aware of his compositional style, playing etc and this doesn't stray far from his normal territory. If however you're not so familiar here's your chance to enter into the world of Tim Berne in style.

In recent years Tim Berne has often been working with smaller groups with an almost 'in your face' style of playing and writing but this new (old) record places his work in a refreshingly new light. This octet plays two surprisingly soft yet intriguing compositions, a music which due in part to the extended line and use of stringed instruments, gives the music a quasi chamber ensemble feel. In more recent years we've heard the improvised 'Buffalo Collision' but also 'Science Friction' and 'Big Satan's' hard hitting style, very rhythmical, almost post punk. But here, even with Jim Black on hand to play drums (often as percussion), the music still stays kind of 'light' with a feeling of space. In this case it's a real eye opener (or is that ear) as you get a chance to really hear all the details of Berne's often complex music, a style that somehow remind me of Steve Coleman meets the tintinnabulation of Arvo Part, yet is totally original.

To discuss these long compositions - 'The Proposal' (35mins) and 'Open, Coma' (29 mins) - in a short review as this is difficult. Both compositions work in a similar way with themes and improvised sections developing either from or into miniature musical tutti. Some sections feature a solo instrument, some duos or become trios, quartets etc. Jim Blacks playing really deserves a mention here as he keeps the music (and the beat) going more like a percussionist, and even though he does play straight sections of drums he often gives the music a sense of tempo without actually using the whole kit. All the players shine throughout the disc with the likes of Marc Ducret giving a few wonderful acoustic (12 string) guitar features such as the opening to 'Open, Coma'. Chris Speed is his usual sublime self with a beautiful sound and soloing that is his trademark. Baikida Carroll (someone I know less) also stands out on several occasions with a fine sound and excellent improvisational ideas. Tim Berne is of course himself as always, searching and soulful.

Anyone who knows Berne's music probably has a favourite record (*) and this is also a record with much to recommend it, good compositions, strong soloing and due to the dense music, but light instrumental sound, it's quite easy to listen to. If you don't know Tim Berne it could be a good place to start, and for others, it's probably another disc to add to your Berne collection.

(*) = Mine's probably 'Feign'.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Listen and download from eMusic.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rob Mazurek - Calma Gente (Submarine Records, 2010) *****

By Stef

Cornettist Rob Mazurek is some kind of a musical genius. He has played everything from bop over rock to weird avant-garde, yet at the same time he managed to create several musical styles that can be called his own, and good ones at that.

His new album, released on an obscure Brazilian label, country where he now resides, is again an absolute feast for the ears and mind. We find back the broad cinematic sweeping themes of the Exploding Star Orchestra, but then in a kind of musical collage, with sounds upon sounds perfectly mixed changing the background for the joyful cornet solos like a kaleidoscope, ever changing, and all that with odd meters and changing tempi.

As one of the originators of the post-rock of Isotope 217 and Tortoise, we also find back these rock-based elements, yet sometimes closer to the mad rhythmic subtleties of the Penguin Café Orchestra ("Purple Sunrise"), with lots of Brazilian influences. The music is a times incredibly dense, with many instruments mixed together, but you also get the other extreme of light-textured duos or solos, including a wonderfully sweet guitar and cornet duet, that will move to tears, as its title suggests.

All compositions are of the same high level, but my favorite is the long and hypnotic "The Passion Of Yang Kwei-Fe" on which Mazurek on cornet but especially Nicole Mitchell on flute elevate it into even higher areas of extreme sensitivity.

The musicians include Thomas Rohrer, Nicole Mitchell, members of the Exploding Star Orchestra, Hurtmold, São Paulo Underground, Black Earth Ensemble,  and Kiko Dinucci.

Anyone who claims that this music is not jazz, is probably right, but then who cares. Again, Mazurek takes us along on a wonderful musical journey, full of weird sounds, industrial ambient, compelling themes, madness, lots of incredible craftmanship and emotional delivery, and a percussive delight.

Below I put a short list with the links to the most recent albums by the composer. You will notice that most of them already got 5 star ratings, and you will also notice that I do not like everything he does.

Exploding Star Orchestra : We Are All From Somewhere Else : 5 stars
Sound Is : 5 stars
Bill Dixon & The Exploding Star Orchestra : 5 stars
Abstractions on Robert d'Arbrissel 4.5 stars
Exploding Star Orchestra : Stars Have Shapes : 4.5 stars
Chicago Underground Duo - Boca Negra : 4.5 stars
Chicago Underground Trio - Chronicle : 4 stars
Sao Paulo Underground - The Principle Of Intrusive Relationships : 3.5 stars
Rohrer, Mazurek, Takara, Barella - Projections Of A Seven Foot Ghost: 3 stars
Tigersmilk - Android Love Cry
Tigersmilk - Tales From The Bottle

It's also easy to recommend his work with Isotope 217 and Tortoise, but also the excellent EP "Lila" by HIM is worth a listen.

Listen to Obliqua

Buy from Submarine Records. The original album was badly produced, with two seconds of silence in between the tracks, so it was recalled, and the problem is solved. The new issue brings the music as it should be heard in one long suite-like composition.

© stef

Friday, April 22, 2011

Albert Beger Quartet - Big Mother (2008) ****

By Stef

At the occasion of Earth Day, April 22, 2011, saxophonist Albert Beger shares his CD "Big Mother", dedicated to mother earth, for free with everyone.

I reviewed the album in 2008 when it was originally released.  I have listened to the album again in the past few days. When the album was released, I said his playing was influenced by both Coltrane and Ayler, with Dewey Redman coming to mind once in a while. Now, three years later, I hear a strong similarity to the pre-commercial Gato Barbieri, the Argentinian who could be very deep and passionate and expansive, an emotional "screamer" - in the positive sense : building his quite accessible soloing, starting deep in his guts to soaring climaxes of high overblowing.

Read more and download the album for free from Albert Beger's website.

A great initiative by a great musician.

Enjoy the music.

Leave no footprint.

© stef

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Honey Ear Trio - Steampunk Serenade (Foxhaven Records, 2011) ****

By Paul Acquaro

The Steampunk literary genre essentially imagines a present informed by Victorian sensibilities and driven by steam technology. Imagine though, just for a moment, another alternate present in which popular music is not shaped by lowest common denominator tastes and gobs of derivative schmear. What do you hear? For me, the top forty slots are pretty much dominated by groups like the Honey Ear Trio.

The trio, sax, drum and bass, with some electronics and effects for added dimension, runs the gamut of styles and influences as they assemble their own vision for today's music. They can be convincingly tender, as on the retelling of 'Over the Rainbow' and quite tough, like in the inspired rock tune 'Olney 60/30'. Dark pop sensibilities shade the tunes, especially the title tune, and all of the arrangements embrace free improvisation. The songs are carefully arranged but minimally constructed, leaving the players, like saxophonist Erik Lawrence, the room to develop some excellent solos.

Bassist Rene Hart and drummer Allison Miller provide thick melodic and harmonic counterpoint. The rhythm section compliments and contrasts the horn as this tight knit trio works together delightfully to create tunes that draw on free jazz, bebop, and rock. 'Six Netted' is not that unlike something from Ornette Coleman's catalog and the aforementioned 'Over the Rainbow' recalls ephemeral Frisell like textures.

The majestic yet forlorn 'Eyjafjallajokull (Icelandic Volcano Hymn)' is an ode to the eruption that snarled air traffic throughout Europe and linguistically challenged American newscasters, and it's a highlight. The drums rumble, the bass has gravitas and the sax is majestic. It is a theme that evokes sweeping panoramas of desolate windswept expanses and smoldering craters.

'Steampunk Seranade', the debut album of this New York based trio is an accessible effort that successfully draws on genres past and present as well as American and European idioms to create its own vision of modern jazz. Recommended to all who enjoy any kind of music at all.

Available through eMusic, iTunes, Bandcamp.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Avram Fefer Trio - Eliyahu (Not Two, 2011) ****

By Stef

It's been two years since this trio released "Ritual", and this new release continues in the same, and excellent vain. I praised Avram Fefer's soulful lyricism on alto and tenor, I praised the fantastic rhythm section of Eric Revis on bass and Chad Taylor on drums, and I can only do the same now, and possibly even more.

From the very first notes, this album is guaranteed to bring you in a good mood. The ingredients are familiar, but it takes a good cook to turn these into a real special dish. You will hear lots of soul, African rhythms, blues, and all this on a solid relentless, often hypnotic rhythmic foundation with the leader sharing warmth and sympathy and musical joy and the love of life itself. Interestingly enough, it's only after writing the previous sentence that I read the same phrase in the liner notes, as one of the values that Fefer's late father, Eliyahu, tried to share with him. So he really manages to get that feeling across : the love of life, even in times of sadness.

Fefer's tone is like magic, it is round, clear, precise, and deeply emotional. Apart - or maybe as part of - from his lyricism, he also has an incredible sense of rhythm and pace in his improvisations, emphasising, pausing, building tension, or blowing away, accompanied with an incredible sense of focus on the original theme. 

And as a trio the band is strong, you hear the spontaneity and fluency of their interaction as a perfect match, as well in tone and overall musical approach, just listen how the solidity of Revis' vamp on "Essaouira" allows Taylor to go along on his cymbals with the lyricism of the tenor, then taking the lead in some deep rumbling on his toms.

Indeed a joy from beginning to end. You need a good mood? Don't hesitate.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sei Miguel & Pedro Gomes - Turbina Anthem (No Business, 2011) *****

By Stef

There aren't that many trumpet-guitar albums, and I must admit that I like the line-up. This duet between trumpeter Sei Miguel and Pedro Gomes on guitar is something unique. Both are minimalists, but while Miguel using his trumpet mainly in a traditional and voiced mode, Gomes extracts sweet acoustic sounds or extremely harsh electric sounds from his guitar.

Yet it is far from noise : the volume of the guitar is low, the distortion maximal, the notes minimal. Both musicians play plaintive, sad phrases, full of longing and crying and pain and restrained anger, quietly, almost resigned yet extremely expressive. The album is so powerful that the listening experience is of an immediacy that is uncommon. The feelings they have seem to be transmitted directly to the listener, without the distance of appreciation or interpretation or any other form of rationalisation.

You feel the sounds, the sounds are what you feel in a real phyisical sense : setting your nerves on edge, sending shivers down your spine, giving you goosebumps, making you want to flee or cry. The few, more bluesy, pieces with acoustic guitar come as a relief, a welcome pause for the nervous system ... only to be dragged back into a universe of extreme tension : an uneasy beauty, harsh warmth, raw embraces, hard truths ... as if every release of tension creates its own new tension again ... And it requires incredible skill to maintain this for the entire album, without straying, without relinquishing the concept.

This is music without compromise, yet its vision is clear, its voice is unique, a listening experience that is not always pleasant, but extremely rewarding.

Great art.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Monday, April 18, 2011

Nate Wooley & Taylor Ho Bynum - The Throes (CIMP, 2011) ****½

By Stef

There isn't much music with a double trumpet frontline, and when this frontline consists of Nate Wooley (on trumpet) and Taylor Ho Bynum (on cornet) the expectations are even higher.  They played together on several of my five star albums of recent years, including "Guewel" and "Ashcan Rantings". And they deliver the goods, with Ken Filiano on bass and Thomas Fujiwara on drums to complete the quartet.

The music is a kind of free bop, clearly indebted to the Ornette Coleman heritage, but then also reaching far beyond it, into today's music, full of quirky elements and technical sophistication and lots of fun and earcandy.

Next to the six "composed" pieces, the album contains four duets, each time by one of the horn players alternating with bass and drums.

The compositions are fine, but the soloing and the interplay are excellent, with the kind of high energy urgency, intensity, immediacy and expressivity that lifts the genre above many other musical styles. And that's not only the result of the horns, just listen to the fabulous interaction between Filiano and Fujiwara on "Face To The Sun". Or listen to the gradual build-up of "Narrows" evolving from alternating free form duets into some form of loose theme only to be deconstructed and reconstructed again, changing the rhythm, adding a bass vamp, increasing the intensity into a climax.

And then to hear these musicians interact is already worth the purchase of the album : the trumpets are duelling, reinforcing each other, going off on different tangents, playing, but also capable of creating more emotional atmospheres.

The weirdest composition, but one of the most memorable is "Ish", built around a strange theme giving a kind of sucking sound as if the music was played backward, then changing into vibrating and hovering trumpet sounds hanging in thin air, evolving into a kind of quarreling dialogue, then to bop.

And that's without a doubt the great power of this album : its endless thematic development and changes making the music quite elusive and very captivating at the same time. You can't take hold of it, but it takes hold of you!

Highly recommended.

Listen and download from iTunes.

Watch the band play "Face To The Sun"

© stef

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Stefano Pastor & Kash Killion - Bows (Slam, 2010) ***½

By Stef

I have written about Italian violinist Stefano Pastor before, explaining how the sound of his violin is pretty unique, with a kind of hoarse rasping quality that brings it sometimes closer to a reed instrument than a real violin. This warm and breathy sound offers totally new possibilities of expression.

On this album he finds a soulmate in Kash Killion, a cellist from San Francisco, who also plays sarangi and other string instruments. He played with the Sun Ra Arkestra, Cecil Taylor, Billy Higgins, Pharoah Sanders, to name but a few.

The album starts with a pleading composition, "Obstinacy", with Killion playing primarily pizzi as rhythmic support for Pastor's yearning violin. The other most jazzy tunes are the two Monk compositions "Epistrophy" and "Ruby My Dear".

But the duo is at its best with the slow freeform pieces that are full of world music influences, as in "Shanti", on which Pastor also picks up his flugelhorn, and Killion his sarangi,and in "Ahimsa", with a strong Indian influence and a hypnotic repetitive bowed phrase on the cello as background for the violin's improvisations.

The playing is strong, although purists should abstain : neither the violin nor the cello sound as expected, but what they lack in "classical" sound, they gain in expressivity and energy.

The somewhat brusque alternations between boppish playing and world music diminish the coherence of the album, although each track stands well by itself.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Friday, April 15, 2011

Oddjob - Clint (Act, 2010) ***½

By Joe Higham

I should say that even though I only rated this album with three and a half stars I have no hesitation in recommending it. Unfortunately on a blog like this we receive so much cutting edge and boundary pushing music that a band like Oddjob is a little out of place, but maybe only stylistically.

Oddjob is a band that has already made several CDs well received by critics and fans alike. Like such groups as 'Kneebody', 'The Inhabitants', or even 'Troyka', they blur the edges of rock and jazz, feeding off the ground broken by Miles Davis' Bitches Brew .... and beyond. In this case (as the title suggests) the tunes are taken from various Clint Eastwood movies, giving an extra element of film soundtracks and the atmospheres that go with it. I should add that one shouldn't expect a Ennio Morricone pastiche album, the music is taken from all sorts of movies such as 'Where Eagles Dare', 'Scorpio', 'Magnum Force' as well as 'The Pale Rider','Hang 'Em High' and of course 'The Good Bad and the Ugly'!

The music is extremely well thought out and arranged with a front line of bass clarinet and trumpet giving a slight retro sound to the themes. The group is normally made up of drums, piano, keyboards, bass (electric and acoustic). Here they seem to have added to the line-up baritone sax and peddle steel guitar (I don't have any other information), the latter taking a slight cue from either Brian Blade's Fellowship or Dan Burglund's Tonbruket, is used to great effect either as a chord instrument or when doubling themes with the two horns. As already stated the music is naturally filmic and very atmospheric, trumpet sounds being manipulated and doubling of bass and bass clarinet creating ostinato like figures which serve well for improvisations.

Keyboards distort and ring modulators hum away giving the music a feel one relates to films and TV series from the 70's such as 'Shaft', 'Bullet', or even the 'Streets of San Francisco'. There are solos, but in general the themes and the arrangements are what the group really pushes to the fore and to great effect. The music is superbly played as the group really grooves away on all tunes, bringing out the dark atmospheres that were often part of these films plots. I can imagine this would be one hell of a band to see play this music live.

Even though this is not a 'free jazz' record one shouldn't hesitate, especially if you're interested by music (albums) such as - Zorn's 'Spillane' or 'The Big Gundown', Herbie Hancock's - 'Death Wish', Dave Douglas 'Witness'. It will certainly be back in my CD player on a regular basis.

The band is : Goran Kajfes on trumet, Per Johansson on sax, Daniel Karlsson on keyboards, Peter Forss on bass and Janne Robertson on drums.

Paul Rogers - An Invitation (Rare Music, 2010) ****½

 By Stef

Just to make the comparison, I listened to Paul Rogers' "Being", released four years ago on Amor Fati, in order to analyse this - again stunning - solo album by the British bassist.

An invitation is, as the title suggests, a little more inviting, more accessible. It is not the one long improvisation on which the artist bares his soul, but a more intimate album, containing ten compositions, allowing for a little more l'art pour l'art, in which the musician not only demonstrates the breadth of his fabulous technique, but also offers a more playful approach with influences, coming as easily from jazz as from British folk music, as from classical, or even bluesy slide guitar.

His technique, coupled with the possibilities of his custom-made 7-string bass create at times the impression of a dialogue, as if two instruments are playing, yet it's only one, without overdubs.

Rogers' most incredible skill is to create tension from the very first notes and keeping the attention going, capturing the listener fully, developing the tension, adding new elements, move to piercing arco sounds that resonate with every nerve cell in your body and keeps them vibrating for a time after the music has stopped. 

Not all tracks are of the same austere coherence, but some pieces are absolutely fabulous, with the final piece as the highlight of again an incredibly strong solo performance.

On a side note :  solo bass collection

I thought I had collected quite some solo bass albums, but I received an e-mail from a German music fan who collected four hundred solo bass albums, albeit with a definition that is somewhat loser than mine. For reasons unspecified, he would like to make this collection available to an interested institute, or sell it. If anyone's interested, send me an e-mail and I'll put you in contact with him.

© stef

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Free Fall - Gray Scale (SMJZ, 2010) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Free Fall is a trio of Ken Vandermark, Havard Wiik, and Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on clarinets, piano and bass respectively. The trio, apparently modeled after the early 1960s Jimmy Giuffre's Trio with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, has delivered a challenging and sophisticated effort that reveals itself more with each listen.

The albums cover, a stark grey scale image of a pier stretching into the water is iconic for the music within. The depth and interconnectedness of the music increases as you wade out further into the abstract melodies and harmonies. This is music with sharp angels and twisting contours, and its contrasts can both attract and repel, tantalizingly so.

'Lividus' begins quietly, with squiggles of clarinet, splashes of piano and punches of bass. Soon, the sound becomes denser, if not less diffuse, and the clarinet expresses a great range in its melodies. 'Griseus' is more percussive, the clarinet bleating, bass slapping and piano runs providing abstract but purposeful harmony. 'Ravius' showcases the subtle, low hushed tones of the bass clarinet with sprinkles of piano and atmospheric upright bass as the tune builds, slowly revealing more textures. The 8 plus minute 'Cinerius', to me, is the centerpiece of the album. Freely melodic clarinet runs are contrasted with abstract ramblings by the piano, and dark underpinnings by the bass, only later to explode into a controlled but devastating burn. Here, as in the other songs, the seeming independence of each player is actually very much interdependence and together they cohere into something very free and exciting.

Gray Scale is a provocative name, and at times the music reflects stark atmosphere of cover but transcends it as well with colorful musicianship and daring explorations. Though not an easy album to digest on the first pass, it leaves a lingering taste and compells repeated listening.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sonic Brotherhood - Deep Tones For Peace Israel 2009 (Kadima, 2011) ****

By Stef

Some years ago Israeli bassist JC Jones started with the Deep Tones For Peace transatlantic initiative, which resulted in a first album and DVD last year, bringing together bassists from the US, Europe and the Middle-East, playing together from two locations in New York and Jerusalem.

This album gives additional material from the performers in Jerusalem : Mark Dresser, JC Jones, Irina-Kalina Goudeva, Bertram Turetzky and Barre Phillips, playing as a bass quintet on three tracks, some duets between Dresser/Jones, Turetzky/Philips, Goudeva/Turetzky, Phillips/Jones, and three solo pieces by Goudeva, Dresser and Phillips. All tracks are free improvisation with the exception of Goudeva's solo, which is based on  a composition by Julia Tsenova.

Musically the solo pieces get my preference, because of the clarity of the sound, yet the quintet also avoid the wall of sound effect by playing a lot with bow and alternating amongst the five bassists, resulting in a nice listening experience. Dresser's solo piece is without a doubt the highlight of the album.

Even if the album does not add much new to the previous one, it is quite good, and should certainly interest lovers of music and peace, and not only bassists.

Samples can be listened to on the website of the International Society of Bassists.

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Darren Johnston, Aram Shelton, Lisa Mezzacappa, Kjell Nordeson - Cylinder (Clean Feed, 2011) ****½

By Stef

Ornette Coleman's musical revolution of the late 50s and early 60s is still alive, and this band is without a doubt its grandchild, with Darren Johnston on trumpet, Aram Shelton on sax and clarinet, Lisa Mezzacappa on bass and Kjell Nordeson on drums. And the reference to Coleman is not only because of the line-up, but primarily because of the music.

The core theme and the improvisations get priority over specific harmonies or fixed rhythms as the foundation of each composition. But they add the modernism, the technical skills and freedom of spirit that you can expect of today's jazz.

This a true band effort too, with all band members writing two compositions each and Shelton three, but you wouldn't know when listening, because the overall musical coherence is very strong.

I have listened to this album more than a few dozen times over the past few weeks, and I  keep reaching back to it, not only because I love the sound and the playing, but also because it has this kind of ungraspable quality : it remains totally unpredictable, leading to increasing moments of enjoyment with each listen. Sometimes angular, sometimes sweet, but deconstruction seems to be its main characteristic.

A theme is set, then it is gradually taken apart, stripped of its form while laying bare its true essence, in a trumpet solo without accompaniment, a bass, some violent drumming, a soaring sax, demonstrating the depth of the piece, adding emotions, different shades, sonic explorations and some rhythmics puzzles ... with a great sense of adventure but without losing track of the main theme, always coming back to it flawlessly.

The overall result is exceptionally good, not only because of the individual playing but because of the overal feeling of a band that creates something unique. Like the Ornette Coleman quartet, this is freedom in a fixed format, not the long expansive improvisations of the later Coltrane or Ayler, but expressive power without restraints within the confines of concept and structure and time. It reads like a paradox, and well, maybe it is, the characteristic of all great music.

And like Ornette Coleman, the themes themselves are often of a compelling and sweeping beauty.

Not to be missed!

Buy from Instantjazz.

I'm not quite sure what kind of stuff the cameraman smoked, but the clip reflects the music quite well, with the band playing "Sung By Dogs" in San Francisco on 6/7/10

© stef

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Vincent Courtois - L'Imprévu (La Buissone, 2011) ****½

By Stef

Two years ago, French cellist François Courtois released the stellar "As Soon As Possible" with Ellery Eskelin on sax and Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, and also the somewhat disappointing "L'Homme Avion", a mixture of musical styles with African poetry, and a little bit too much of too much.

Now he's back with an album that is really focused on his key strengths : incredible skills on his instruments, full of lyricism and emotional power, and more importantly, a very subtle sense of musicality, minimalist, austere and deep.

Courtois' technique and compositions/improvisations vary a lot without losing coherence, ranging from the more classical pieces, with lots of inherent drama, like the phenomenal title track, to the more fun pizzi pieces such as "No Smoking", with other compositions more repetitive in nature (à la Glass, Reich, ...) or impressionistic with overdubs of several layers of recorded cello.

The end result is at times astonishing, especially in the more "classical" pieces, full of sensitive aesthetics, but regardless of the approach, Courtois is a superb story-teller, setting the scene, developing it, adding material, working toward peaks of intensity, nicely contrasted with moments of restrained beauty.

Buy from Instantjazz.

Below a somewhat older performance by Courtois that is rawer than this album


© stef

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mostly Other People Do The Kiling - The Coimbra Concert (Clean Feed, 2011) ****

By Stef

In my latest review of "Mostly Other People Do The Killing", I wrote "And when you hear some of their soloing in the wildest parts of their performance, you think : "why do these guys put themselves in this self-constructed cage?", you think "what if they let things loose?", you think "what if they just played what they truly felt instead of just performing an act to amuse the audience?", you think "they could be the Chicago Bulls, but they act like the Harlem Globetrotters", you think "it is show rather than art, but then performed by artists rather than showmen".

Now, when hearing their new double live album, I have the same sentiment. The playing is even more superb, jaw-dropping and spectacular and fun, with changes of style, tempo, rhythm, arrangements, with tunes flawlessly merging into one another, with a band of equals that is fully at the same high level, throughout the album, diving and reworking jazz history, swing, blues, full of fun and drive and enthusiasm and raw and rebellious wildness of modern music, fully enjoying themselves in the process ... with little jokes and quotes and throwing balls around for the other player to catch and pass on flawlessly at breakneck speed to the amusement of the audience.

The band is Peter Evans on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on sax, Moppa Elliott on bass and Kevin Shea on drums.

The downside of all the fun is the same as with all humor, it creates an emotional distance that needs to be bridged in true artistry. It is somehow non-committal, not the expression of real feelings of anger or madness or sorrow ... but that is clearly not the intention either.

Great stuff, great fun.

 (and did you expect a comment on the Keith Jarrett Köln Concert art work ressemblance?)

Buy from Instantjazz.

© stef

Monday, April 4, 2011

Other Dimensions In Music - Kaiso Stories (Silkheart, 2011) *****

By Stanley Zappa

So this is what a Five star recording sounds I know: Kaiso Stories by Other Dimensions in Music featuring Fay Victor, how do I love thee? To get a sense of the sum, let's first look at the parts.

Charles Downs (like Laurence Cook)is also a national treasure. Downs' deep relationship with the ride cymbal and acute harmonic (as opposed to strictly percussive) consciousness deserves wider celebration. Downs can play the drum kit tonally, harmonically, and in so doing participates in the larger improvised “discussion” with more depth than merely chang-changa-chang. That said, in all honesty, Downs' gift with subtly really does pale in comparison with his ability to propel. Downs' relationship with time is refreshingly elastic. He moves effortlessly from floating puffs of rubato to prestissimo rides on the drum kit bullet train. Through it all, Downs retains his humanity and keeps his composure. Downs is cool. Downs radiates a connection to the larger drum tradition for which Downs is one of the great living representatives.

Of all the trumpet players I have heard, Roy Campbell does the best job of filling the vacuous void left with Dixon's passing. In the clutter of Bb instruments in “Free Jazz:” Campbell's playing is striking in the way that all great art is striking--full of invention and flexibility with out being full of shit. There is a realization to his playing, a lushness of tone and, again, as with Downs, a humanity, a realness.

Like Campbell, Daniel Carter is instantly recognisable as Daniel Carter, regardless of which instrument he's playing. On Kaiso Stories he plays alto, tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, trumpet and clarinet. (Combine that with Campbell's trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn, flute, recorder, shepherd pipes, arghul, bird whistles, panpipes and bells, you get a sense of the sound kaleidoscope.)

There is so much good to be said about Daniel Carter, both the person and the musician. On Kaiso Stories we get a fairly panoramic view of Carter's epic, consummate musicality. His originality is a given—it's the enduring originality that's so impressive; If you've heard him once he's forever immediately recognizable. That's not by dint of gimmick, but by thoughtful consideration of the musical context and a long fermented musical concept executed with well practised dexterity. More amazing still is that this holds true for all the instruments he plays.

Carter's (as well as Campbell's) rotation through their various instruments in the course of a single song while maintaining their signature harmonic sensibility creates a pan tonality that sets the bar pretty high for groups of the future.

Then there is William Parker. Rather than thumb nail Parker's eminence as bassist or centrality within the network of Improvising musicians, let us instead consider the span of Parker's relations with Downs, Campbell and Carter.

To start, there's The Eighth by Cecil Taylor with Downs, Parker and the incomparable Jimmy Lyons. That was recorded in November 1981, 30 years ago (and is 5 star recording, in case you were wondering.)

Next there is Acceptance of the Mystery Peace by William Parker—a large group with Daniel Carter in the multi instrumental capacity. This was recorded in 1974, 37 years ago.

Last, there is Konstanze's Delight by the Jemeel Moondoc Sextet, featuring Parker and Campbell, also recorded 30 years ago in 1981.

The 97 years embodied in those relationships puts Kaiso Stories in a different league than most music today. How many of us will still be making music with our current collaborators 30 years from now?

And then there is Fay Victor. Full disclosure reveals an initial wariness. Besides the fact that the voice has not enjoyed the glorious run as the alto saxophone has in the improvised music supplanting “jazz,” there was the nostalgic me that wanted to relive the early 90's when I heard Other Dimensions In Music at the Old Knitting Factory the week before the historic Houston location was closed forever.

Further full disclosure reveals an initial uneasiness with Victor's contribution for the first few minutes of Maryanne Revisited. That unease gave way to utter elation when it was revealed that Fay Victor was (duh) revisiting the song Maryanne, as in “all day all night Maryanne.” It was at that point point I caught up to
with Victor's tremendous musicality, which only continued to unfold for the rest of the recording.

Victor embodies the best qualities of my favorite female singers: Sister Nancy,

Chrissy Hinde, Abbey Lincoln and Yolandi. While Victor sings lyrical content masterfully, her sprechgesang and non-lingual, instrumental use of her voice is at least as striking. Victor's voice sonically melds with Carter and Campbell, becoming a third horn, adding compelling counterpoint throughout.

There are substantial instrumental sections without Victor as well. Here is where nostalgia is fulfilled, where we get the latest instalment of the stories begun on Other Dimensions in Music's self titled first album. There is also the accessibility of song and the familiar (structural) comforts of Jazz. Calling it our Astral Weeks might not be the best analogy and, at the same time, it might not be the worst one either. In a civilized world with a forward thinking music industry and curious listenership, in a culture a where Art was as valued as everyone likes to say it is, Kaiso Stories would be a cross-over sensation, charting for months and finding a grateful audience that no Improvised music had found before. Until such time, it is one for the initiated to treasure.

Buy from Instantjazz.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Jim Black, Trevor Dunn, Oscar Noriega, Chris Speed - Endangered Blood (Skirl, 2010) ****½

By Stef

For more than a decade, reedist Chris Speed and drummer Jim Black have designed an unusual blend of sweet melodies, rock percussion, jazz sensitivities and free improvisation, evolving from the band "Human Feel", developing into "Yeah No", the more "balkan"-oriented "Pachora", and Black's more rock-oriented "Alasnoaxis".

Despite their obvious differences, all those bands share the same "sound" of warm and welcoming themes and melodies, somewhat naive and innocent in their approach like there is no problem in the world, only joy and beauty. This uplifting sound and musical universe is then contrasted with the rock solid percussion work and the deeply emotional, often distressing digressions into more free space.

"Endangered Blood" builds on the same concept, this time in the company of Trevor Dunn on bass and Oscar Noriega on sax. Finding the latter musician back so many years after his debut (and only?) album "Luciano's Dream" is a real pleasure. I had been on the look-out for new output by him, but found nothing.

The double sax front of Noriega on alto and Speed on tenor adds even more warmth to the unison lines than with either the trumpet or electric guitar of the other bands. The second track "Rare" is a nice example of this. You hear it for the first time, but you will be able to identify its musical origin, not because the music is repetitive, but because of the clear musical vision created over the years.

It also illustrates the how the sweetness needs only a little touch to change into drama, sadness and wailing pain and back to sweet naivité. 

The great thing is that the musicians feel so at ease in their own idiom, that the joy of playing and the endless touches of ear candy.

A great album by four tremendous musicians.

Listen and download from eMusic.

The album is better than the performance below, but it will give you a taste of the sound.

© stef

Friday, April 1, 2011

Swimmer (Bandcamp, 2011) ****

By Paul Acquaro

'Swimmer' is a new release from a group of the same name hailing from Chicago. I'm not entirely sure how I came across this group, but I downloaded a copy of their debut from and have been enjoying the fruits of their labor over the past few days. Swimmer, the band, is comprised of the guitar and drum duo of Dave Miller and Cory Healey, who, along with their respective instruments, employ some technologies to enhance their compositions. 'Swimmer', the album, is a collection of free improvisations that really showcases a mastery of a very personal and interactive musical language.

The guitar in the opening tune of 'Answer Tomorrow' invokes melodic snippets, mostly comprised of single note lines with chordal accents, all wonderfully scattered amongst the animated percussion. 'Conduit' features percussion, beginning with scratches, rattles and a subtle sonic backdrop. Slowly building, a great amount space is afforded to the extended and ethereal melodic line, layered over a wash of sound. A quick fade drops us into 'Phoebe', which is more frenetically paced, with percussion and guitar talking back and forth in time. Soon the guitar develops a simple repetitive figure and is joined by a second line in harmony, then a third -- Miller is using a real time looper to great effect. Healey plays with timing, accents and beat placement behind the stack of guitar layers.

I find this approach to music very interesting, very much a product of the technology that allows musicians to loop themselves and create compositional stacks that move both upward and outward at the same time. Of course there is a danger here in drowning listener in too many layers of a similar tonality or too much repetition, but Miller pulls it off very well.

After the crescendo of layers, there is rather seamlessly segue to a dense cluster of chords to finish off the song. 'Montrozier' begins with slightly demented arpeggios to connect some angular and innovative melodic ideas. The 8 minute 'Lifter' is like a minimalist Nels Cline sound collage. As the conversations continue on the recording, each one employs a different approaches, keeping it fresh and interesting.

Defying simple categorization, the unique approach to music construction and the effective use of time makes this duo recording a really compelling album.

Download from Bandcamp.