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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jessica Pavone - Hope Dawson is Missing (Tzadik, 2012) ***½

By Philip Coombs

Hope is a very powerful concept. Without it, there is a huge void in the human condition. There has to be something better. It is why writers write the second novel or why musicians compose the second album. Hope is what gets us there. Hope that the next one will be better. This is, of course, if you are an optimist and hope becomes the parents of many other things like, endurance, tenacity and sacrifice. For pessimists, however, there is no hope and no reason to ever think that there will be. This breeds contempt, complacency, and depression. But what happens when hope goes missing?

Jessica Pavone (Violin) chooses to tackle the question by personifying hope as Hope Dawson in her latest Tzadik release "Hope Dawson is Missing".

Before I started listening there was a very important thing that I had to consider before I could jump off of the pessimist/optimist fence.  There is a vocalist here. Emily Manzo sings her way through the album in a falsetto, ethereal tone that really doesn't offend but doesn't challenge the ear much either. I found myself listening to her more as an instrument than a lyricist thus leaving the analysis of the poetry alone.

The first track on the album, aptly named "Hope", serves up a big melodic theme with both Tomas Fujiwara (Drums) and Andrew Roitstein (Double Bass) punching it home for good measure. A big sweeping cinematic beginning that I have found myself humming days after first hearing it. I was becoming an optimist.

"Dawn to Dark", turns up the depression factor tenfold as members of the Toomai String Quintet and Pavone slow things down to long exhausting notes until Mary Halvorson (Guitar) makes an appearance and by strumming lightly, she manages to change the tone into a lighter more folky one. While on the subject, don't expect the note and space bending Halvorson that comes through on her work as a leader. She never breaks the mood that has been clearly set out by Pavone. It is her selfless respect for her frequent collaborator and would assume, friend.

"If You Can't", swiftly brings me back to the pessimistic side. I can't get over its big adult contemporary pop song feel. I was losing hope for the rest of the album. And then it hit me. This song cycle was working, and it had me just were it wanted me. I was emotionally attached and living a parallel life with Hope Dawson. This is the lowest point but there is a light in the distance.

It all turns around on "Jump to the Thunder". Hope and optimism are both resurfacing as the main musical theme returns from the opening track. It comes in just after what seems to be a soundtrack for a Morris dance. "And at Last", is a celebration of Hope's return. Fujiwara gets to bash out the intro before Halvorson and Roitstein pluck out the melody. Slowly, the strings come in and out giving everything some breathing room. It builds again as Fujiwara pounds away at his cymbals before returning to his understated style from the beginning of the album, a mere 40 minutes or so before.

Although I had a great deal of fun listening to this recording for this review, I don't, however, hold out much hope that I will be returning to it all that often.

The members of the Toomai String Quintet that appear on "Hope Dawson is Missing" are:
  Pala Garcia - Violin
  John Popham - Cello
  Erin Wight - Viola

© stef

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ingrid Laubrock/Javier Carmona/Olie Brice - Catatumbo (Babel, 2012) ****

By Paul Acquaro

A quick warning -- do not attempt to listen to Catatumbo if you have a preconceived notion of how a melody should sound or a rhythm should go.

It's not that these elements aren't present, nor that the talented cast of saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, percussionist Javier Carmona and bassist Olie Brice do not deliver them in abundance, it's just that they happen to work under their own terms and conditions. Traditional song structures are replaced by complex weavings of tones and textures. Songs often start disparately but eventually converge, their layers even arriving at relatively logical conclusions; however, just how they get there remains somewhat inexplicable.

The opening tune 'Darkness Rarely Lasted Long' shows the inventiveness of the group, with Laubrock starting off with emotive chirps and whistles over the restrained rumble of the drums and bass. Hardly a song for its first half, it soon picks up in tempo and intensity. Musical expectations now reset, the follow up, 'Ribbons and Beads' gives Laubrock time to stretch out and create a twisting and compelling melody. Carmona's percussion is her foil as she creates little knots of notes that festoon the air. A third of the way through, Brice comes in with tentative bowed lines, almost suggestions of the notes, while the other two break out with complementing ideas.

The terrific 'Fabric Air' starts with barely audible breaths and scrapes, in fact, you may be inclined to believe your mp3 player has quit on you. But give it time, as the fluttering sax, scattered percussion and trembling bass all emerge on their own terms. Building up melodic fragments and rhythmic segments, Laubrock releases some interesting runs, leading up to a rhythmically complex interlocking conclusion.

Extended techniques are employed for effect -- like the saxophonist's ghoulish tones at the start of 'Cocuyos'. But more often than not its the contrasting wholesome sounds like Brice's bass or a melodic snippet from Laubrock that prevails and helps ground the listener. The final track, 'Viento Alisious', is possibly the most enigmatic and satisfying one. At times breaking down to near silence and other time building to small climaxes, the juxtapositions create anticipation and excitement.

The three musicians interact seemlessly making for an introspective and often quietly intense listen. There are the occasional shronks and explosive outbursts but it seems the group makes exploring unusual textures and rhythmic figures an enjoyable listen. This is an album well worth the time and effort to listen, just reserve enough time to let it sink in.

Buy from the artists.

Available from Instant Jazz

© stef

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Angles 8 - By Way Of Deception - Live In Ljubljana (Clean Feed, 2012) ****½

By Stef    

I had the honor of writing the liner notes for this fantastic album by one of my favorite bands, recorded live in Ljubljana, Slovenia on July 1, 2011. The band is Martin Küchen on alto sax, Alexander Zethson on piano, Eirik Hegdal on baritone and sopranino saxophones, Goran Kajfes on trumpet, Johan Berthling on double bass, Kjell Nordeson on drums,  Mats Äleklint on trombone, Mattias Ståhl on vibes. Check out their other albums too. 

Here are the liner notes : 

The music on this album is dedicated to creating a better world; a world without war and killing, without poverty and exploitation; a world where men of all governments realize the vital importance of life and strive to protect rather than destroy it. We hope to see a new society of enlightenment and wisdom where creative thought becomes the most dominant force in all people’s lives”, Charlie Haden writes in the liner notes to the debut album of the Liberation Music Orchestra in 1969.

And it could have been written for Angles, a band that draws from the same well, both politically and musically. In its two previous albums, as on this one, Angles has a clear message against war and violence, against the terror and horror in our Vietnams of today, now located in the Middle-East, tomorrow possibly – and unfortunately probably - elsewhere again.

The musical link is as strong, drawing from an even deeper well, a source of sounds evoking the collectively shared sadness and revolt of common people, building on traditions of village wedding and funeral bands, playing music that is the emanation of their sentiments, with phrases that bounce off cobbled streets and melodies that resonate in dusty market squares. The ancient folk traditions are palpable: you can hear the European fanfare or brass bands, mixed with Latin echoes in the soloing on “Afternoon/By Way Of Deception”, the long first track, or tribal African rhythms in the percussive parts, with wisps of Balkan brass. By analogy, listen back to the Liberation Music Orchestra, listen to the great compositions “Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika”, “Song For Ché”, “Sandino” or “La Passionaria”.

The themes here are equally grand and elaborate, with melodies that touch you deep in your heart with a strong feeling of an indefinable truth, melodies that keep repeating in your brain, with the cinematic power of a Nino Rota soundtrack, tunes and sounds that all of us have deeply ingrained in our unconscious, the universal feelings that we all share, with rhythms that come from life itself, fast at times, full of drama, full of anger, or slow, to commemorate the ones who came before, equally dramatic, full of sadness, and with improvisations that articulate the distress but also the jubilation of the individuals in that community, glorious, spiraling, serpentine, like the trance-like intertwining phrases of reed instruments in Berber bands, the unpolished raw yet mesmerizing interplay of African wedding music. This is not jazz, but a synthesis of real authentic music throughout the ages and cultures, rendered all the more powerful because of its modern format and virtuosic playing.

The idea to make the Angles sextet into an octet was a good one, making the sound fuller, giving more volume, offering more opportunities for contrast and depth, and making the grand themes even more sweeping and majestic. This is music for everyone to join in.

It is not a surprise that the band’s third album is also the third live recording, since the closeness to an audience seems critical, as a sounding board, as a prerequisite like the bands in the street, it is their feelings that are evoked and expressed. It is all about the audience. This is not the music for abstractions, individual artistic expressions or for esoteric elitism, this is music that resonates with immediate effect, hopefully also with lasting effect, contrasting the joy and the sadness, the laments and outcries. Yet don’t be mistaken, the music is carefully crafted and orchestrated, including sudden and unexpected rhythm changes, subtle and sensitive calmer moments, high speed unison lines, that unravel and reconstitute, with soaring improvisations, but it is the overall sound, the combined power that is the real hero here. It is agitating, gripping, irresistible, enchanting, enthralling, hypnotic, spellbinding, compelling, inciting you to join in, to be swept away by the collective feelings and aspirations.

The idea of communal music is to express the sentiments of those present, to give a voice to collective emotions that are too complex to articulate, except by music, except by great music. Liberating music.


Available from Instant Jazz 

Pascal Niggenkemper: Upcoming Hurricane (NoBusiness, 2011) ****½

By Martin Schray

One of the great things of having more people to review all the albums that land on Stef’s desk is that less great music falls through the cracks. This is what nearly happened to one of my favorite 2011 records, Pascal Niggenkemper’s “Upcoming Hurricane”. Here Niggenkemper, one of the most virtuosic and promising bass players of the younger improv generation, is joined by Simon Nabatov on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums and together they have created one of the most fascinating piano trio albums I have heard in the last few years.

In the end “Upcoming Hurricane” is a marvelous album about the wind as a creative and destructive force. It begins with “Pusteblume” (the German word for dandelion clock), which sounds like a swarm of bees on a summer meadow.  Niggenkemper is developing the track with an arco introduction accompanied by Cleaver just using his brush, the atmosphere is peaceful and quiet until Nabatov enters the scene. He is playing inside the piano and the whole sound changes immediately, he drops the notes like spots – there is still a summer breeze but it announces something dark.

And this is about to happen in the title track. Obviously a gloomy danger is on the way, Nabatov is playing clusters in the low registers (and he will hardly leave them during the entire piece) and Niggenkemper is supporting him while Cleaver is being jolty and spurring on at the same time. The album has been compared to “Money Jungle”, the seminal album by Ellington, Mingus and Roach. But especially this track reminds me more of Cecil Taylor’s Feel Trio as to improvisation, profoundness, ingenuity, and vision. It is the central piece of the album, it is impulsive, powerful and energetic, often close to the edge of falling apart (but of course it never does).

The next track “Arbol de Piedra” (Stone Tree) refers to a natural miracle in Bolivia where the wind has created a strange rock formation. Compared to the preceding track it is completely lyrical, actually lovely and charming with a recurring piano theme, as if nature was recovering from the hurricane. But the image is deceptive, dissonant piano sounds contradict the idyllic scenery.

“Aeolus” (the god of winds in Greek mythology) clearly uses composed elements, with Nabatov playing a theme he takes on at the end of the track. The group takes off for a wild ride here representing all different aspects of the wind - swirling, dancing, ripping, menacing. While this is clearly Nabatov’s track (with a lot of Taylor reminiscences again), “Fighting the Mill” belongs to Niggenkemper. At first the track follows a similar structure as “Pusteblume” starting with a mumbling bass before the others fall in transforming it into a massive natural monolith. It changes its structure every now and then, moving in different directions, hitting the listener with immensely heavy piano clusters, growling angrily in guttural fashion. The final track, “Mongolfière”, refers to the inventors of hot-air balloons and tells us about man’s adventure with the wind when he uses it to fly, in these days a rather anxious, albeit fascinating ride on the element. Again you can hear the Feel Trio - and you are listening to a brilliant unit, there is perfect interaction, freedom, and vitality.

Pascal Niggenkemper said that playing together with Nabatov and Cleaver was “a step to free myself up and to give the listener something that can't be measured or evaluated, with no pre-thoughts or compositions or grids. I need to go beyond that. This is a record that follows intuition.” The music speaks for itself.

The album is available as a CD and an LP (limited edition of 300). You can buy it at or from the label (

© stef

Friday, July 27, 2012

Steve Lacy – Avignon and After (Emanem, 2012) ****½

By Troy Dostert

I should start off this review with a confession: I have a difficult time with (non-piano) solo recordings.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate the technical mastery involved with these records; sometimes there is no better way to discover what a musician is capable of outside of a solo context, where one’s command of an instrument is integral to the success of the recording.  It’s that these efforts don’t always grab me emotionally.  The element of dialogue that I’ve always found fundamental to the best jazz and improvised music is obviously lacking in this setting.  Consequently, it’s the range of ideas offered by the musician (in addition to the aforementioned technical prowess) that seems to separate out the best of this genre from the less impressive releases.  Well, I certainly can’t fault this newly-released re-packaged compilation of Steve Lacy’s earliest solo recordings for being short on ideas.  There is a remarkable diversity of sounds, patterns, and techniques on display in these 17 tracks, and there’s more than enough in each of them to sustain one’s attention and interest.  Lacy had a lot to say during this period, and his adventurous yet melodically-rooted approach to these recordings is a testament to his creativity and his longstanding legacy on soprano saxophone.

The first eight tracks were previously released on Emanem’s Weal and Woe (1973), and were recorded at Avignon in 1972.  Each tends to follow a similar structure: a melodic theme is introduced, followed by a deconstruction of that melody during which Lacy teases out a remarkable assortment of squeals, bleats, growls, calls, and chirps from his instrument, before wrapping up with a re-statement of the tune.  Lacy’s technical mastery is striking: whether it involves cascading runs of notes, harsh overblowing, or intervallic leaps, Lacy is in full control of his instrument, and he knows exactly what he’s doing on each cut.  And while this is a challenging record, as Lacy’s more “out” moments on these tracks can be very jarring to listen to, his playful melodic sensibility typically shines through.  A number of the tracks—“Original New Duck” and “Weal,” for instance—reveal Lacy’s well-known Monk influences, as their spry, jaunty melodies serve as access-points to his off-kilter explorations.  And on the second track, “Stations,” Lacy makes use of a radio backdrop in tracing out his excursions, ultimately culminating in a whimsical “I Feel Pretty” reference toward the end.

The last nine tracks include four previously unreleased tracks from Lacy’s ’72 solo concerts, along with solo performances of his five-song “Clangs” cycle from 1974, previously released only in group formats.  For the most part, these tracks are in keeping with the approach of the Weal and Woe recordings, as Lacy’s melodic stance alternates, sometimes dramatically, with his outward adventures toward the less accessible sides of his playing.  The repeated juxtaposition of both sides of Lacy’s musical persona is what gives these tracks their distinctive power.

So even though this isn’t the kind of recording I’m usually inclined to pick out of the pile for sheer enjoyment, I can say that as a historic document of a master of the soprano sax during a crucial period of his development, this is top-flight stuff, and it comes highly recommended.

Available from Instant Jazz

© stef

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Martin Brandlmayr/Werner Dafeldecker/Christian Fennesz: Till the Old World's Blown up and a New One is Created (m=minimal, 2012) ****

By Martin Schray

When David Sylvian released his Manafon album in 2009 there were conflicting reactions by parts of his fans. Some were willing to follow him on his new way, others turned their back on him angrily. They published fierce comments accusing him and his collaborators as “pathetic pimp artists” making “nonsense noise”, calling it “off-putting” because he was jamming a wedge between him and his listeners. The record was called “unlistenable” because the musicians were unable to write a proper song or a decent melody. Even worse, they blamed them being “unprofessional” which obviously had to be the result of “extreme depression”.  People who played such music had to be insane and should see a shrink. It reminded me of the abuses the folk hardliners hurled at Dylan when he got involved with The Band and went electric.

Two of the participants on Manafon were Werner Dafeldecker (bass, tapes, computer) and Christian Fennesz (guitars, computer) who are joined on this record by Martin Brandlmayr (drums, percussion, piano, vibraphone, computer) forming an Austrian supergroup of sound explorers. For this album the trio started with each of the musicians composing his own piece of music as a result of long improvised sessions. These pieces were dissected again, reduced to their cores and then used to form new nuclei for another composition – the one we have here. What sounds completely weird in the beginning has brought forth awesome results. You are listening to a minimal reductionist symphony consisting of guitar arpeggios, bass notes standing lonely in the sonic desert, warped loops, vibraphone attacks, fragments of motifs, complete silence, prepared piano elements, parts that reminds you of the noise when you open a steel factory door, metal scraping on metal, wood knocking on wood, clicks, crackles, strumming etc. Hardly ever have I heard something so poetic, something so natural (even if lots of the sounds are computer generated). On the one hand the music is swelling, reduced and condensed, on the other hand it is falling apart dissolving into fragments of an almost pleasant nothingness.

The title of the album is the idea behind the music: You can listen to a world that is blown up (or decaying) while another one is being created. And here you realize that the working method the trio has chosen makes perfect sense. You create a piece of work, before you work on it again, partly destroying it to create something new.

It seems obvious to listen to this music late at night, but it will not serve a pathetic end and lull you to sweet dreams. It deserves concentrated listening, actually you should play it really loud so that you are able to recognize even the most silent sounds. Only then will you notice the wide emotional range it conveys, the strong impact it will make on you, the beauty of the stillness, the wonderful interaction of the musicians, the actual heaviness of the time being created.

This music is highly listenable, artistic, professional, prolific, it is the result of musicians listening to each other knowing exactly what they do. You must be ignorant if you don’t see the beauty in it.
“Till the old world's blown up and a new one is created” has been on the market as a CD since 2009, the vinyl release and the download have now been released by the Berlin based label m=minimal.

You can listen to an excerpt here:

© stef

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Evan Parker, John Edwards, Eddie Prévost - All Told: Meetings with Remarkable Saxophonists, Vol. 1 (Matchless, 2012) ****½

By Dan Sorrells

All Told is a clever title. It’s a tidy summation of the nature of free improvisation: in performance, nothing’s hidden—all is there. Usually, recordings allow musicians an opportunity to edit, to tidy up some of life’s “accompanying messiness,” as Eddie Prévost muses. Still, many improvisers don’t drastically edit, do multiple takes, or otherwise attempt to neaten things. In a way, it would defeat the purpose of the undertaking. Freely improvising is about chasing down an ideal, that of the singular musical experience. It can be a painfully fleeting thing, and rough edges and uncertainty are simply part of the chase. So it’s in this spirit of full disclosure that All Told presents a complete performance by Prévost, Evan Parker, and John Edwards. You’d be hard pressed to find many unsure steps here, though.

All Told is a spontaneous performance, but in many ways it’s among the jazziest things these guys have done in a number of years. After a sustained focus on bowed cymbals and small gestures of percussion, it’s nice to hear Prévost behind a full kit again. Where his percussion work is spare, often pregnant with silence, his drumming is busy and (refreshingly) not afraid to swing if need be. In their review of the Parker/Prévost duo Most Materialls, Brian Morton and Richard Cook note how strongly Coltrane is evoked. The same is true here. Parker sticks solely to tenor, working with well-spaced sonic parcels, skittering packets of notes that seem to ricochet unpredictably off everything they meet. Like Coltrane, Parker deals in density of sound rather than individual notes, a harmonic atmosphere that’s difficult to parse but endlessly fascinating.

Edwards, as usual, is brain-numbingly good. There’s a primal physicality to his bass playing that clearly enlivens his playing mates. A working bassist extraordinaire, hopefully someday he’ll receive the accolades he deserves for the legacy he’s been humbly crafting. Occasionally the venue seems to swallow some of the finer details of his playing, but there’s a direct line in his energy that refuses to be obscured.

As the subtitle reveals, All Told is to be the first in a series of albums, all captured from an on-going concert series started by Prévost last year. Parker is the benchmark for remarkable saxophonists in this day and age, and the natural starting point. We’ve been fortunate to share in countless “meetings” with these musicians over the years (though the infrequency with which these three have played together is baffling), and any excuse to bring great talents together is obviously welcome. Keep calling your meetings, Eddie. All Told sets the bar high. But somehow, I don’t think that will be a problem.

© stef

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Aram Shelton 4tet - Everything for Somebody (Singlespeed 2012) *****

Posted by Joe

As the press release states, this is jazz music inspired by the likes of Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Mingus and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. I guess that looks like a tall order to fill, but Aram Shelton doesn't fail you one second on this excellent release. It's also - for those interested (like me) - the second album from the 4tet on Shelton's Singlespeedmusic label.

Everything for Somebody is one of those albums like much of the music coming out of the Chicago scene, a mixture of free and composed jazz. Although Shelton isn't based in Chicago he seems to have put together this group from his earlier residency there. Members Keefe Jackson (tenor sax), Anton Hatwich (bass) and the most recent addition Tim Daisy (drums) .. a name that shouldn't need any introduction! One could try and get philosophical about this music, but somehow there doesn't seem to be any need as it's music that touches the listener right from the opening notes. 'Anticipation' which dances away on a simple joyful swinging melody leaves space for the two major soloists of Jackson and Shelton to blow simple melodic improvisations. The dancing melody starts as an easily memorable melody but the two soloists dig deep helping to yield hidden secrets gradually, balancing a fine line between free-bop and more dense melodic improvisation. It's this 'fine line' that carries itself through the record, and for me makes this not only highly listenable, but also a refreshing breath of air.

The opening sounds of 'Everything for Somebody' almost takes you back to hearing Ornette for the first time with his famous quartet, although here it's two saxes. Keefe Jackson blows some powerful free-bop lines that really hang together in the same way the Dewey Redman managed. Aram Shelton seems to play some serious lines on this tune which are a marvel to behold, floating over the swinging bass and drums like a butterfly in the wind. The energy of the the whole group never lets up for one minute, holding your attention throughout. All the tunes on this release are very strong, adventurous in style and thinking, they ultimately carry the musicians to areas where they can find new ideas. 'Joints and Tendons' really explores sound textures for all the group, setting up each member in a duo context whilst cleverly weaving in melodic fragments.'Deadfall' is a mournful cry for the solo alto of Shelton cueing in the group (several minutes into the piece) into a gorgeous arpeggiated melody. The rest of the band grab this and gradually build into a wailing free-for-all before finding their way back to the serenity of the initial melody. 'Fleeting', the final track treats us to some fine free flowing ideas from the whole band with solos from all and a wonderful Ornette-esque melody to sandwich the ideas.

Another fine album from Aram Shelton who seems (from what I've seen) to be a very interesting voice in the world between improvised music and free jazz. His wonderful Arrive albums (*), electro acoustic experiments, Cylinder and other such projects go to show that Shelton is constantly looking for new avenues of experimentation.

A highly recommended album for those who enjoy the meeting of swing and free jazz. Some tags could be - Ornette Coleman, Atomic, Motif, The Engines, Vandermark 5 ... if you see what I mean!  

*= There's a first Arrive album is on Singlespeedmusic.

Available from Instant Jazz

© stef

Monday, July 23, 2012

CHROMB! (self released, 2011) ***

By Martin Schray

The first thing that strikes you is the cover by Benjamin Flao. Drawn in the tradition of Japanese mangas four train wagons are flying through the air like toys, coming straight at you. There has obviously been an explosion, maybe a terrorist attack. The place reminds of the suburbs of an Asian metropolis like Mumbai or Ho Chi Minh City. A record with such a cover could be interesting.

The second thing is the breakbeat in the first track Il l’a fait avec sa soeur. It comes totally surprising and it is laid over the saxophone and an extremely distorted bass. Already here the references of the music are proudly displayed in the sunlight: London based drum and bass sounds of the late 1990s (remember Goldie and Roni Size?), heavy rock á la early Soundgarden, John Zorn’s Naked City and his soundtrack albums, Giora Feidman’s klezmer, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Prog Rock the way bands like Rush played it. Amazingly you find everything in one track as if all these people were composing and playing together.

In fact it is a really young French band from Lyon we are listening to: CHROMB! is Camille Durieux (keyboards, piano, electronics), Guillaume Gestin (drums), Lucas Hercberg (bass, electronics), and Antoine Mermet (alto sax, electronics, vocals) and – at least to my knowledge – this is their first album.

Most of their music seems to be notated, there are strict harmonic structures but the solos are freely improvised. The songs sway between pure John Zorn lunacy in Apocalypso in which the saxophone screams and yells wildly over bass/keyboards riffs in unison and postmodern elegance in Des Lombrics which is based on a sick electronic big band sample that could have been on the latest Portishead album. The album literally fades away with Maloyeuk, an ill-bred Prog Rock monolith full of electronic effects, which reminds me of bands like Neu! or even the Residents. Maloyeuk also includes a hidden bonus track in which the musicians are just shouting and screaming like mad animal in the zoo.

So why only three stars? Sometimes the Prog Rock elements go simply too far, the band pushes the boundaries here. Especially in Tu es ma pause dejeuner there is too much Fender Rhodes jingle, there are too many layers of quirky synthesizers and the vocals are definitely over the top. Here the bands sounds like the ugly side of Deep Purple or even like Yes. This becomes even worse in Atmosphere 4014, a mediocre futuristic pop song suffering from candied Eighties high pitched vocoder vocals.

My advice for the future: Take them under your wings, John Zorn, and sign them for Tzadik. They are talented musicians and they have some of your weird humor as well. But they need some guidance.

The album is available on the band’s website on vinyl, CD and as a download.

Listen to the whole thing here:

© stef

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Filipe Felizardo - Guitar Soli For The Moa And The Frog (Shhpuma, 2012) ****

By Paolo Casertano

Shhpuma, the new Clean Feed sub-label, starts with a solo guitar album by Filipe Felizardo, a young Lisbon-based artist with already two self-released solo works to his credit. From the very first notes it is absolutely clear that he is far from being threatened by the several comparisons you may possibly detect. Choosing the field and the directions outlined in this work, Felizardo must in fact be perfectly aware of the heavy echoes of the late John Fahey’s style, and of the natural bond with a guitar composition approach à la Mazzacane Connors. And he’s right not to be, for he has delivered, in any case, an original album.

The opening track, called, “Against The Day” like the Pynchon novel, inherits from the author a taste of pre-catastrophic tension. Felizardo lets the listener drown in the buzz between a note and the following one, craving for a new reverb. He wisely takes his time, slowly inflating each single chord, leaning on trembling layers. Be available to apply to your life a bit of suspension of disbelief for once! Close your eyes and you will probably find yourself on a cliff edge admiring an endless river that runs across majestic canyons.

What surprises the most about the four chapters in the long “A Conference Of stones And Things” is the choice of eschewing the preeminent role of effects and external devices - from what I may discern - in the building of sound textures. Felizardo must be really confident of what the amplifiers will return to him. The guitar is unveiled and the composition discloses the physical relationship between the guitarist and his instrument. Sparse and diluted phrasings, sometimes left to die at length in the silence - so that is their memory more than their presence and sound to develop the listening experience - leave the scene to circular obsessive motifs and naked percussive arpeggios before newly fading in a far reverberation. Blues oriented utterances and rhythmic accompaniment patterns work as a coherent background for the fretwork of deep and cavernous touches. Interstices are filled with waiting.

The brief acoustic “Of The Excrement And The Frog” showcases the musician’s ability to build soundscapes through absences and shades. And now you could probably see in the above mentioned canyons even a far dust cloud. For sure it is the Wild Bunch.

To pre-emptively answer to an underlying and legitimate question in a Free Jazz Blog, it’s hard to say whether this is or this is not a jazz album. I find it thrilling anyway.

A promising step for the artist. A good start for the label.

Listen here:

and here:

Also watch here and here,

And finally, buy here.

© stef

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Joe Morris, William Parker, Gerald Cleaver - Altitude (Aum Fidelity, 2012) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Perhaps one reason I've been enjoying Altitude so much is that I suffered through the sweltering night at The Stone when AUM Fidelity captured the event. I kind of feel like I earned (and purchased) the recording.

It was hot that night, which is corroborated by Joe Morris in his liner notes. But more so, the music was sizzling. As I listen repeatedly to the recording, I'm reminded of much I didn't realize was happening in the first place. Passages like the somewhat legato section ten minutes into 'Thermosphere' had completely slipped my jumbled memory of the event. When Morris is on electric guitar, I've come to expect hypnotically winding staccato runs, however this has wonderfully confounded my assumption. And I'm pleased to say that I'm both correct and corrected repeatedly throughout this recording.

'Troposphere', which follows a long rhythmic and textural bass solo, begins with what I can really only describe as a 'micro groove' between bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver, with Morris adding a subdued lead. It's Parker who shines with his thumping bass line, while Cleaver fills in the shadows with cross hatching. The music builds slowly, Morris's lines growing stronger, the rhythm gaining in intensity, until hitting full stride half way into the ten minute improv.

Equally as satisfying is Parker's extended solo in 'Mesosphere'. His vocalizations along with his rhythmic bass solo is a mesmerizing combination. He exudes an earthy aura, warm, inviting and adventurous. This happened during the second set, which was just too darn hot to stick around for.

The album is an impressive document of the night, capturing surprising moments, inspired flights, and the general beauty of the improvised set.

Totally recommended.

© stef

Friday, July 20, 2012

Terje Rypdal - Odyssey - In Studio & In Concert (ECM, 2012)

By Stef   

In 1994, when ECM re-released Terje Rypdal's double LP "Odyssey" from 1975 without the twenty-three minute long "Rolling Stone", which ended the original version, I thought Manfred Eicher had gone crazy or senile, or both. He had taken away one of the best pieces of the album. A long track, sure enough, with some Mahavishnu references at the beginning and throughout, then turning into a mid-tempo psychedelic piece, propulsed forward by a simple and repetitive guitar riff, and some powerful yet subtle drumming. A perfect apotheosis and grand closer for this great album.

The band consists of Terje Rypdal on electric guitar, soprano sax and synth, Brynjolf Blix on organ, Svein Christiansen on drums, Sveinung Hovensjø on 4- and 6-string bass, and Torbjørn Sunde on trombone.

The album starts with the ominous "Darkness Falls", and it creates a universe of absolute desolation and icy coldness, incredible pace and some rough moments of drama that will keep the listener spell-bound till the very last notes of the now recuperated last track.

Like his Norwegian compatriot Jan Garbarek did on the saxophone, Rypdal managed to create one of the most recognizable sounds on his instrument : an icy, very expansive tone, full of reverb, in a way incredibly romantic because full of passion, but then of the kind that abhores intimacy but embraces distant horizons.

The re-release comes as a 3-CD box, adding "Unfinished Highballs", a recently unearthed 1976 radio recording of the quartet with the Swedish Radio Jazz Group, the station's big band. "Unfinished Highballs" is interesting, a kind of early precursor to "Crime Scene", and a total contradiction with Odyssey. The lengthy, merciless and expansive icyness of Odyssey is now replaced by dense, varied and warm horn tones, somewhat outdated synth sounds, and an overall musical quality that is hesitating between real big band and kitsch, somewhat failing in its ambition. There is no real tension, less sense of drama, no big surprises, no radical vision. Nice to have, though not essential.

But to have the integral Odyssey back on one CD, is a major happening.

Old men, enjoy!


  © stef

John Zorn – Nosferatu (Tzadik, 2012) ***

By Troy Dostert

Yet another release in the mind-bogglingly prolific output of John Zorn, who shows no signs of slowing down as he continues to release a wide range of recordings drawing on an even wider range of influences and styles.  This one’s based upon a recent Polish dramatic production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for which Zorn composed and performed sixteen pieces, with the help of Rob Burger (piano, organ), Bill Laswell (bass), and Kevin Norton (percussion, drums, and vibraphone).  In addition to alto sax, Zorn also makes his contributions felt on piano, Fender Rhodes, assorted electronics, and some really creepy breathing on “Nosferatu,” about halfway through the record.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this release is its restraint.  For music written to accompany a production of Dracula, most of the tracks possess a pensive, almost tranquil quality, heavily relying on flowing keyboard passages (often supplemented by Norton’s vibes) that tend to put the listener in a relaxed, rather than frightened, state of mind.  That’s not to say that there are no moments of intensity and aggression here; Zorn’s trademark alto squeal is at the core of “The Battle of Good and Evil,” as Zorn lets loose over a bracing undercurrent of heavy noise and Norton’s blistering drumming.  When Zorn comes screeching in at around the one-minute mark, we’re reminded of how forceful Zorn’s alto playing can be when he really wants to wail.

But again, for the most part Zorn eschews the edgier side of his vision here, choosing instead to develop an atmosphere of foreboding through soundpieces that rely more on the building of subtle tension rather than visceral shock.  And while Zorn could certainly be commended for taking a less-obvious approach toward his macabre subject matter, the overall effect is unfortunately less than compelling.  Perhaps for its original purpose as a musical accompaniment to a stage production, Zorn’s score was more successful; but for a stand-alone product, the recording doesn’t do enough to sustain interest over repeated listenings. 

Especially for readers of this blog, some of Zorn’s pieces here are going to sound rather lightweight—as for instance the somewhat treacly piano/vibe tracks “Mina,” or “Jonathan Harker,” which wouldn’t be out of place on a New Age piano recording, and feature simple piano themes complemented by rather lackluster vibe accompaniment.  The tracks that do grab the listener, such as the aforementioned “Battle of Good and Evil,” or “The Stalking,” a dub-influenced track featuring an infectious Laswell bass line which has a nice groove to it, don’t do enough to outweigh the remainder, which are mostly forgettable and repetitious keyboard-based musings.  It might have worked well on the stage, but taken by itself, this one’s for Zorn completists only.

© stef

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Benoît Delbecq – Crescendo in Duke (Nato, 2012) ***½

By Dan Sorrells

Crescendo in Duke is jarring. Not in a ridiculous or repellant kind of way— after all, it’s a collection of Duke Ellington compositions. Safe enough. It’s of the high quality usually associated with French pianist Benoît Delbecq, too.  It’s just that it’s so straight-ahead, it’s all but unrecognizable as a Delbecq album.

Delbecq’s made a name for himself with his prepared piano, creating a catalog of unorthodox jazz that can easily silence any grumblings about the gimmicky nature of mucking around the inside of a piano. But aside from a loop that underlies “Portrait of Wellman Braud” and a quirky take on “Whirlpool,” there’s not much of that here. Just the usual big band business with a more modestly-sized band.

Well, two bands to be exact. Delbecq fashioned two groups to tackle his Ellington homage: a small group in Meudon featuring Tony Coe, Tony Malaby, and Antonin Tri-Hoang on reeds, and the excellent rhythm section of bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer Steve Argüelles, and a Minneapolis-based group with the Hornheads quintet, bassist Yohannes Tona, and drummer Michael Bland. The French cast doesn’t veer far from the lead sheets, as though they’re lightly treading on sacred ground. The album’s climax, Ellington’s lengthy “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” is an enjoyable, competent reading, but it seems as though the group is consciously avoiding any comparisons to what went down in Newport in ’56.  The American group is loud and funky, and the strutting rhythm section breathes new life into some of these pieces, most notably opener “Bateau.” Yet somehow, the drums in “Blue Pepper” still aren’t as funky Rufus Jones’ on Far East Suite, and the woozy take on “Acht O’Clock Rock” has none of the hard-to-place urgency of the original.

If I sound dour about Crescendo in Duke, it’s not because it’s a poor showing. The musicianship is as sterling as the line-up suggests. It’s just that the sound is so polished, so sweetly referential of Ellington’s classics, it becomes hard to see the edgy excitement that’s a hallmark of these musicians’ own projects. Still, there’s plenty to settle in with: a great rendition of the full “Goutlas Suite,” pared-down versions of “The Spring” and “Fontainebleau Forest,” and a salsa-tinged trio take of “Tina.” Every musician was inspired by some great music-maker before them, and Ellington’s influence is resounding even in the 21st century. Crescendo in Duke is a nice tip-of-the-hat. But after a quick look back, now it’s time to keep pushing forward.

Check out the Meudon group in the studio in this “behind the scenes” video:

© stef

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Glacial - On Jones Beach (Three Lobed Recordings, 2012) ****

By Martin Schray

One of my favorite documentaries is Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the Edge of the World, in which he tries to find out why people want to live in a polar station in the Antarctic. Herzog’s camera team (which also includes guitarist and professional diver Henry Kaiser) shoots pictures of incredible and unseen beauty, for example when they accompany divers exploring the water world under the ice or when they listen to the almost inorganic amazing sounds seals produce. In a very poetic scene two physiologists lie down on the ground and press their ears against the ice to listen to the music this world creates. What they hear must be something like Glacial’s On Jones Beach.

As unusual as the nature in the film is the line-up of this group. It consists of Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo on guitars, The Necks’ Tony Buck on drums and David Watson on bagpipes, an instrument you usually do not find in free jazz or free rock contexts. But this is not the only surprise of this album, which consists of the single titular piece that runs almost 48 minutes.

The whole thing starts with a single chord that sounds like a foghorn, but it is an instable, shaky, and quivering one. Ranaldo cross-fades this tone into a long feedback before he uses heavy distortion and shrill sounds. Building up layer after layer of massive sounds you can almost visualize this psychedelic monolith which at the same time sounds like tender echoes from a distant Antarctic desert. The music is already full of energy here, but it seems to be really slow moving – like a glacier (to fulfill every stereotype you might have had considering the band’s name). In the following the band builds up an improvisation based on alternative noise rock riffs, drug-infused ambient drones, Glenn Branca minimalism, and free jazz madness, interrupted by a wind-chimish and lyrical drum solo for which Buck uses cymbals, bells and pieces of metal only. If you close your eyes you can actually see snowflakes, icicles, snow grains, and icy winds. The trio rides out on an ice storm of flageolets, single harsh guitar notes and bagpipe loops and after all this expressionist mash-up you can find redemption in clarity.

Even if you are somehow prejudiced against bagpipes you should give the album a try because you will definitely not find anything that has to do with Scottish traditional music clichés. Watson makes this instrument rather sound like a buzz saw. It reminds me even of Evan Parker using his legendary circular breathing technique (especially on the bonus tracks). It is one of the major achievements of this album that Watson has established this majestic instrument in an improv context.

The LP version consists of this track only but it offers a download as well, including three shorter live tracks. “On Friuli Island 1” and “On Friuli Island 2” are taken from recordings made at the Mimi Festival in France in 2003. “On Norfolk Street” was recorded in April 2006, at the legendary Tonic Club in New York City. The tracks are more contemplative in general, but still they have this raw dissonant power, they seem to be great finger exercises for the longer track.

On Jones Beach is published as an edition of 750 copies and is pressed on 140 gram vinyl.

You can buy it from the label.

© stef

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Steve Lacy: The Sun and Estilhacos

The Sun (Emanem, 2012) ****½     

Estilhacos: Live in Lisbon (Clean Feed, 2012) *****


By Tom Burris

The material on these two discs was recorded between the years of 1967 and 1973, and presents an astonishing range of successful experiments in various small group settings. The Sun is a compilation of studio recordings that features quintet sets, electro-acoustic free improvisations, and Lao Tzu and Buckminster Fuller poems set to the quintet’s collective skronk and roll in solemn protest of the Vietnam war. Estilhacos is a 1972 concert performance that is an absolute masterpiece of collective improvisation, easily the equal - if not the better - of any free jazz warhorse you care to mention. I will rave like a complete lunatic about this later.

The Sun opens with Irene Aebi singing scientist Buckminster Fuller’s “The Historical Attempt by Man to Convert his Evolution from a Subjective to an Objective Process” on the title track in a style that immediately made me think of June Tyson. It’s hard to avoid, as here is “the sun,” barely controlled collective improvisation bubbling underneath, and the singer is declaring statements in a dramatic monotone voice from a poem whose main statement is summed up in the lines “intellect may write every equation of physical behavior, but no physical or abstract equation will ever encompass intellect.” It’s Ra territory – at least on the surface; and like the Arkestra, Lacy’s quintet lays out a unified blanket of sound, the threads of which never cease moving.

“The Gap” follows with Karl Berger’s vibes paving the way to an onslaught of sound with trumpeter Enrico Rava taking over the lead after just a couple of minutes. The piece changes directions quickly throughout, slowing down and becoming sparse one minute, then turning spastic and dense the next. Aldo Romano plays a quick drum solo before Berger steps in and signals another slow and sparse conversation with the rest of the band members. This track runs headlong into “The Way,” a short vehicle for Berger which not only serves as a coda for “The Gap,” but also is a perfect intro to the next track, “The Way (Take 5?)”. Not an easy trick, considering that the next track was recorded by a different group in a completely different setting. Sure, the compilation has a unified anti-war theme (or anti-Vietnam-war, to put it in its original context) – but the attention to detail and excellent track sequencing are what make this a real album. (The liner notes are killer too.)

The next four tracks feature Lacy & Aebi with Richard Teitelbaum on synthesizer. Aebi sings from Lao Tzu’s “The Way of Life” while Lacy and Teitelbaum duel underneath. Teitelbaum works around the limitations of the first Moog synthesizer ingeniously, providing support and, when necessary, counterpoint to Lacy’s lines. Teitelbaum plays long passages of synth bubbles and spaceship engine sounds, again making the Sun Ra comparison inevitable. Later, on “Improvisation, Number Due,” Lacy makes successful attempts to meet the synth on its own wavelength; making it difficult to remember that this is an electro-acoustic collaboration.

“Chinese Food” contains more from “The Way of Life” and is evidently Teitelbaum’s first ever attempt at improvising on the synthesizer or anything else. Appropriately enough, he plays passages that sound like machine guns, bombs, helicopters, etc. On this track Aebi sounds like a strange hybrid of Abbey Lincoln and Dagmar Krause, as ridiculous as that sounds… This is also the earliest track on the album & was the first piece of protest music Lacy and Aebi put together.

“The Woe” is a long piece in four parts and is the real centerpiece here. It begins with “The Wax,” which is sort of a free jazz march, echoing Albert Ayler and the early Brotzmann trio. “The Wage” begins with a tape recording of war sounds. It quickly becomes apparent that the band is at war – with the recording, standing together and fighting the barrage of military noise with improvisational unity. This is no time for solos; the musicians stay together, contributing everything they can as a means of survival – empathizing with their brothers in the jungles of Vietnam. I don’t think I’m reading too much into it when I say that their blasts are also cries for their brothers and sisters on all sides of the conflict. The universal compassion is as evident as the sense of injustice and feelings of anger and rage. It’s an ugly, beautiful monster of astonishing emotional complexity.

Estilhacos is an absolute Mount Olympus of volcanic proportions. As in “The Wage,” it begins with a recording – this time of a man’s voice. The group begins playing an angular figure. A woman’s voice rises in the right channel. Again the band becomes unified, as if being attacked by the recording. The track ends with the same angular figure that was played at the beginning. This is the preface for everything that will follow.

“Chips” starts off in the same manner, as an angular melodic figure repeats and gradually distorts until glorious calamity ensues. The only misstep is that someone (Aebi, I think) blows and sucks on a harmonica in a way that sounds like a 10-year-old making a mockery of the proceedings. Obviously, one man’s music is another man’s noise – and I feel more than a little hypocritical drawing the line at a harmonica’s presence – but everyone has his preferences, right? Thankfully it doesn’t go on for too long and eventually the clamor becomes spacious, with the collective sounds approximating a walk through the jungle(s of Vietnam?).

“No Baby” opens with another angular line that sounds like the cadence of the title. Aebi saws mercilessly away at the cello in one channel while Lacy has a soprano conniption in the other. Noel McGhee and Kent Carter keep the whole thing in continuous momentum creating wave after wave of perfection for Lacy and Aebi to ride. Then “no baby” is sounded again to signal the end of the piece.

Long single note drones from the bass and cello introduce “The Highway,” before a two-note melody line from Steve Potts enters, with Lacy shrieking a one-note Morse code signal above. Crashing cymbals enter and Potts starts playing counterpoint around Lacy, who refuses to give up that note. The tension is incredible as one car horn after another screams by. Finally it breaks with the alto rising out of the traffic. Six minutes in, the music is so intense that the crowd erupts in applause. Another minute later, they cheer again. And again! As the band rises to unfathomable heights, the soprano and alto merge and collide with such intensity that for a few seconds you’d swear you were listening to an electric guitar feeding back. The crowd erupts. You can hear the normally conservative and reserved Lacy’s voice actually beaming as he hastily introduces the band and thanks the audience. Some of the band members aren’t quite sure if they’re finished yet as they continue to crash, bang and skronk randomly behind him, as if they’re searching through the wreckage for salvageable parts. Good Lord, this is how it’s done!

Available from Instant Jazz

© stef

Monday, July 16, 2012

Joe McPhee - Ibsen's Ghosts (Not Two, 2012) ****½

By Alfie Cooke

Has Joe McPhee ever made an album that didn't warrant a good many repeated hearings? Probably not. At least in all of his recordings that I've come across, from the rare-as-hens-teeth Hat Hut albums to his work with Pauline Oliveros' deep listening band, there is nothing that I've put on the shelf and never returned to. And it's good to say that this release is no exception. So although there is always the danger that, when we start to revere our heroes and give them god-like status, sooner or later comes the moment of disappointment. Joe McPhee is doing a great job of bucking the trend.

The musicians he works with, whether top drawer players or relative unknowns, are always superb. On this album he links up with three compatriots from the Chicago-Scandanavia axis that has become one of the most important forces in improvised music. Jeb Bishop, ex-luminary of the Vandermark 5 and trombonist of choice within Peter Brotzmann's Chicago Tentet, joins McPhee on the front-line with a rhythm section comprised of Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten on bass and Michael Zerang on drums. Moving away from his usual multi-instrumental approach and sticking to tenor saxophone, the range suggests a sound somewhere between Mulligan-Brookmeyer and Lacy-Rudd. But this is something new.

Both McPhee and Bishop have played far on the outside but while these pieces are framed as improvisations between the four participants, neither strays too far from their lyrical side. The opener begins with a mournful trombone laying out thematic concepts. McPhee joins in the mourning against Zerang's slow rumble. Then it all gives way, Bishop becoming increasingly percussive, as if trying to match the drummer's off-kilter rhythms before this in turn disintegrates and McPhee, his tone reminding me of Charles Tyler, comes storming in. And so it continues, each track revealing just why they are regarded as amongst the greatest improvisers currently performing.

So, is this top drawer McPhee that you need in your collection  straight-away or something less essential that you can pick up further down the line? If you're reading the review solely on the basis of McPhee's presence, then these recordings, while great, are not essential. But if you take the  quality of the other musicians into account - and certainly any revelation of Jeb Bishop in such an intimate setting is worth investigation - then this should be one to locate at the earliest opportunity.

Can be purchased on Instantjazz.  

© stef

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Emile Parisien Quartet – Chien Guêpe (Laborie Jazz, 2012) ****½

By Steve Mossberg

When looking back on musical history, it’s easy to pluck out the figures that herald big stylistic changes and shatter traditions. While one might freely cite innovators like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Ornette Coleman as key players in the development of jazz, they must be careful not to miss the great artists who contribute significant, if not sea-changing work to the canon.  For every John Coltrane, there’s also a Wayne Shorter, whose deeply personal and unique contributions may not have steered the course of musical history, but brought rich new dimensions to it as it turned.

French saxophonist Emile Parisien is not a name that is that shows up much when talking about the current generation of left-of-center composer/players, but his music is the kind that has never made headlines. His 2012 recording “Chien Guêpe” is a perfect example of a potentially overlooked gem that shouldn’t be allowed to slip too far under the radar.

On “Chien Guêpe,” Parisien leads the same quartet that has recorded with him since 2006’s “Au Revoir porc-épic.” Pianist Julien Touéry, bassist Yvan Gélugne, and drummer Sylvain Darrifourcq, always sound totally comfortable performing Parisien’s amalgam of 20th-century classical music, punk rock, and inside/outside jazz. The music is sprawling, with carefully written material spanning the entire duration of some nearly fifteen-minute tracks. This is not to say that there’s any lack of legroom or that the band can’t swing or improvise freely, but Parisien’s compositions have a solid architecture, in which the group’s versatility and flawless technique are absolutely essential.

As a composer, Parisien possesses a uniquely dark sense of humor. The album’s opening track,  “Dieu m'a Brossé Les Dents” (God Has Brushed My Teeth) begins in a frightening clatter of cymbal scraping, prepared zither, and inside-the-piano playing from Touéry. Funereal themes turn into a somber druidic march over which Parisien plays a more and more frantic melodic figure. The band dissolves at will into open improv, in which the leader is the featured soloist. On alto, Parisien calls to mind Rudresh Mahanthappa with his warm vibrato and Steve Lehman with his angularity, but his melodic approach is more deliberate and slow-building, and can erupt 60s-style blues calls and wails when pushed to the edge.

On “Chocolat-Citron” Parisien switches to his more familiar soprano, an instrument on which he has few peers. The tune is fast and complex, teetering between abstract composition and collective chaos but always grooving very hard. Darrifourq is insistent and inventive with his breakbeats, offering deep rhythmic support while evoking the playful sounds of a toy drumset.

“Bonjour Crépi” is a more traditional free-bop composition, and Touéry delivers a cascading solo of single notes with machine gun speed and right-hook force. Gélugne shows a marvelously elastic sense of time while walking bass under him and the leader. After the piece crashes out and rides quietly into “Chauve et Courtois” on a thin drone from the prepared zither, he provides a pensive monk-like melodic line while his bandmates shriek, scrape and jangle out a wild landscape around him.

If there were a weak point on “Chien Guêpe” it would be its short length and consequently limited number of Parisien compositions to enjoy. Indeed, the prior recordings by the quartet contain a bit more material, so for devoted listeners, this one may seem to brief.  For those who haven’t heard Parisien yet as a leader, this is an album like they’ve never heard before.

Highly Recommended.

© stef

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Raoul Björkenheim, Anders Nilsson, Gerald Cleaver - Kalabalik (DMG,2012) *****

By Paul Acquaro

I had barely received the email announcing the release of Kalabalik and I was immediately trudging through the depths of NYC to the Downtown Music Gallery in search of it.

A man possesed, no doubt.

But not without good reason. I was at the first two shows that brought the Scandinavian guitarists together in NYC that previous winter and had fond memories of both events. Equally exploratory and hard hitting, theirs was a sound I longed to hear again.

Now, with disc in hand and sound flowing through the ears, I must say that the post production work on this is fantastic. The live sound was of course just fine as the trio of Raoul Björkenheim, Anders Nilsson and Gerald Cleaver got together as a unit for the first time; however, this release has mixed the in-store concert performance to sonic perfection.

From the initial crunch of the guitars and snap of the percussion, the listener is in for a treat. The two guitarists play solid body electrics and it's a raw unfettered sound that rings out as the two trade lead and rhythm places in their free jazz/rock exploration.

We can start anywhere really, but the interaction is not just between the two guitarists, they also mesh expertly with Cleaver's percussion. Listening to just the CD one would suspect that the songs were planned out in detail.

The first song, 'Spiraling Skies', is a piece that incorporates bits of psychedelic rock, tough rhythms and spacious textural excursions. Cleaver's drums are a constant, giving an extra pulse for the guitarists to work off, but it's a three way conversation, each one listening, reacting, provoking, agreeing and disagreeing.

Later in the program, 'Robot Tango' begins with a free exchange of processed tones and snarling snippets of melody. It rapidly coalesces into a lurching groove, hewing close to a fragmented metallic theme.

'Incarnation' finds the group starting off tentatively, the guitarists prodding the sonic-scape but soon growing ever more dense, invoking a sound not unlike the buzzing bees of Miles Davis' 'Go Ahead John'. In fact, that may be why I like this album so much, it draws from the deep well of primordial brew of inspiration that still emanates from Davis' 70's output.

'Saga Raga' is the closest they come to a contemplative space. Nilsson's slide working around Björkenheim's arpeggios. Cleaver lays low, providing a delicate underlayment, as the group slowly gels into a spacious groove. This spaciousness extends to the end if the album, the last song 'Descension' an evocative ballad, closing the set with a cathartic sigh.

The music captured here is delightful and rendered crystal clear. I come back to the recorded sound because the tonality of the instruments is so tight that from the crunch of the amps to the splash of the high hat, it all blends so well.

If you too find your way to the Downtown Music Gallery, duck as you head down the stairs.

© stef

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sebastian Lexer, Seymour Wright, Eddie Prévost – Impossibility in its Purest Form (Matchless, 2012)

By Dan Sorrells

Dragging philosophy and theory into album reviews can be the ultimate obscurist tactic, a way to side-step the difficulties of discussing the actual substance of music. But there can be occasions for pondering theory, especially when it deeply informs the way a musician approaches their work.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to consider Eddie Prévost an “academic” musician, and he often keeps like-minded company. He’s a lucid thinker when it comes to experimental music, and participants in his workshops over the years have also developed an interest in the broader philosophical implications of their music. One of these, pianist Sebastian Lexer, keeps returning to political philosopher Giorgio Agamben in a journal article on improvisation: “the greatness of human potentiality is measured in the abyss of human impotentiality.” Or, what separates us from the beasts is our ability to not do, to be free not to actualize any given potential, to choose the path that isn’t inevitable.

Improvisation is a super-concentrated series of potentialities, and choosing to act or not to act on different possible responses is the improviser’s most basic preoccupation. (Really, the human being’s most basic preoccupation!) As visceral as improvisation often seems, it’s a considered process, not mere instinctual reaction. These decisions are shaped by many factors, some musicians aren’t even conscious of. But potentials are artificially limited in a lot of music. As Prévost hints at in the liner notes of Impossibility in its Purest Form, a musician’s range of choices can be dramatically collapsed by the notes on a page or the demands of a chord progression. If it seems like I’m rambling, bear with me—this is all important when faced with the music on Impossibility. Prévost makes his point plainly: this is not music about what should happen next, it’s music about what could happen next. It’s a small bit of semantics that opens up the incredible gulf between what you find in popular music and the almost alien-sounding investigations of Impossibility.

So am I being a bit of a hypocrite, avoiding the music by talking about the theory? Not purposely. Impossibility is an album that’s focused on pitch relationships, resonance (both inside of instruments and the performance space), and the fractured harmonics of feedback. Prévost sticks to bowed cymbals, while saxophonist Seymour Wright summons both grating, granulated noise and tones that are inhumanly pure, like sine waves.  As abstract as these two can sound, the real odd-man-out is Lexer, with his mind-bending piano+ system. Lexer has utterly reinvented the piano as an improvising instrument, outfitting it with a variety of strategically-placed microphones and using various elements of its acoustic sound—pitch, volume, sound density, etc.—as triggers in a sensitive, responsive computer program that he wrote himself. The results are neither piano nor electronics, a very mysterious, organic soundworld that’s intimately tied to the physical act of playing piano, even though the source material is often hopelessly obscured. There’s really little else like it on the scene. 

The album seamlessly morphs through all of the duo combinations before arriving at a lengthy conclusion with all three players. As the music progresses, these improvisers seem acutely aware of the philosophies they discuss in their writings. Not that they’re making a concerted effort to sound like the actualization of some theory, or that they’re trying not to sound like a particular style of music—only that they all have internalized a certain stance towards music that works very much against the grain of what is familiar. It’s music that masks reference, gesture, instrumentation. It sounds alien not because it’s mechanical and inhuman, but precisely because it embodies the very human ability to shed the forces and influences that point back to humanity itself. There’s no paradox here; we can both select and reject our own potential paths.

Impossibility in its Purest Form
is a battle against knee-jerk reaction, against cliché, against rote repetition and imitation. In his article, Lexer points out that there’s a certain integrity that goes along with the evaluative process of free improvisation. Moment to moment, there’s a responsibility to at least consider what’s novel or unfamiliar.

Is Impossibility tough to listen to at times? There’s no doubt about that. There are no quick payoffs here. Instead, there are many layers to puzzle over, and lots of questions raised by different improvisational decisions. Our potentials are often rushed, guided, even forced into easy channels by cultural and social conventions. What happens if we try to stave off some of this process, to give a split-second’s thought to “what’s next” and whether it’s somewhere we’ve already been before?

Impossibility in its Purest Form makes an honest attempt at tackling such questions. It’s not as ponderous as it seems. Really, it’s searching, exciting stuff.

Read Lexer’s article on piano+ here. Eddie Prevost’s liner notes can also be found on the Matchless website.

© stef

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Paul Dunmall & Tony Bianco - Thank You To John Coltrane (Slam,2012) ****½

Recorded in 1967 with drummer Rashied Ali, John Coltrane's posthumously released Interstellar Space was a template for the sax and drum duo. It is a beautiful and, at times, challenging recording and has been described around the blogosphere as:
"Noisy, abrasive, violent. But it's the tight playing and the remnants of melody that give Coltrane's only duo recording its unique character." (
"As one of Coltrane's final recordings this duet session with Ali is one of his most essential and unique. Not only is it the grandfather of all extended saxophone/drums duets in jazz, but it also set the standard for all that came after." (All About Jazz)
And it is an obvious comparison for the long term duo of saxophonist Paul Dunmall and percussionist Tony Bianco's Thank You to John Coltrane, which is a stunningly good tribute to the saxophonist, covering a five of his compositions, with just the title song credited to Dunmall.

After repeated listens, I feel I can say that Dunmall and Bianco have created a spare, yet rousing and mesmerizing, set of takes on Coltrane tunes spanning his later career, ending with 1967's Expression, but also incorporating some re-invented themes from the 1960 masterpiece Giant Steps. And here, like the description of Interstellar Space, it's the shreds of Coltrane's melodies, and new takes on the well known themes of 'Giant Steps' and 'Naima', that make this report from the sax-drum duo format a fitting homage and a strong album in its own right. 

Dunmall's playing is utterly fantastic. His precise tone is roughed up and emotive at times and clear and determined at others. His melodies and ideas are well formed and constantly in motion. Without repeating himself or playing out any one idea too long, he builds his lines with wily intensity. Bianco rounds out the sound space with vibrant fills and microscopic reactions to the saxophonist's twists, turns and torrential runs. The platform he creates for his partner's improvizations is empathetic, kinetic and driving. A great example of this is the 28 minute take on 'Expressions' that closes the album. Dunmall's playing is enthralling, Bianco's drum solo never once dips in intensity and together they capture a certain exploratory feel, untempered by reverence. 

I find this to be an exciting and captivating recording. While the comparison was impossible to not make, the album is a conversation between two masterful musicians and an electricfying tribute at the same time. 

Available from the label.

© stef

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Alexandra Grimal - Andromeda (Ayler, 2012) ****

By Stef 
French saxophonist Alexandra Grimal is hard to pigeon-hole. She continues to amaze. After her adventurous trio album "Shape", and two interesting singles with "You Had Me At Hello", she produced some more accessible albums last year, of which "Ghibli", the duo with pianist Giovanni di Domenico is my favorite. Now she astonishes again with the young New York-based trio of Todd Neufeld on acoustic and electric guitars, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. 

The music is inspired by space, the sky at night, the stars. The image that comes to mind when listening is that of watercolor painting though. Primarily as a result of the absolute lightness of touch all four musicians use to create their art. The sounds are sparse, spacious, thin ... as if the notes coming from the different instruments are soluble and mix together for somewhat diffuse contours despite the obvious figurative style. There are melodies, there is lyricism, there are composed bits and pieces left and right, or some free and harsher moments with great density, but like the stars, they float in this attractive and strangely luminous openness.

And the composed pieces never become patterns, they fade away into space again, and when new themes emerge, they are entirely new, sometimes eery, often beautiful, yet as quick in passing as the other themes, so that repetitions never arise, and a kind of surprised sadness and wonder remains.

I have listened a lot to this album over the past weeks, because it is hard to come to grips with. At times I thought it lacked substance, as it is all too light and non-committal, but then again I appreciated the cautious exploration and inherent sensitivity.

What is also great about the album is that all four musicians are perfectly on the same page at all moments. It is quite an endeavour to play in this fashion, barely touching the instrument at times, barely producing notes at all. What distinguishes the album from other contemporary minimalist approaches, is the total absence of a menacing tension, offering a more a tranquil intensity instead.

This is music that makes you think and reflect and wonder and admire and enjoy. And in the uniqueness of musical vision, it is also very stubborn.

Can be purchased on Instantjazz.  

  © stef