By Paul Acquaro
The album is spinning on my turntable but the font is so small and hidden in the lushly decorated label that I've given up on figuring out if I'm on side A listening to 'Sloo' or side C listening to 'Enberg'. I'm starting to think that this obfuscation is by design, to let the fantastic music coming from the grooves speak for itself. Unaware of when one song begins and the other ends, or even which side of the two records I'm hearing, I'm happily resigned to just being flotsam in this tide of sound.
There is something really appealing in the presentation of the white vinyl that slides so gracefully from the sumptuous gatefold cover. Adorned with an abstract painting, vaugely floral, and marked only in a tiny sans-serif font, the "Scorch Trio with Mars Williams, Made in Norway" is a pleasure for both the eyes and ears. Recorded live at Cafe Mono in Oslo and at the Nattjazz festival in Bergen in May 2011, this double album is possibly the best recording I've heard of Raoul Bjorkenheim's Scorch Trio.
If you are familiar with the trio's aggressive and textural music, you'll be satisfied with the proceedings, however, there is an added dimension here with the inclusion of Williams' saxophone. Along with the intense squalls and storms are moments of calm and contemplation. The contrasts are exciting and the inclusion of Williams is a masterstroke. His playing is tough and sensible, ready for the tempest that guitarist Bjorkenheim, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Frank Rosaly can release. He blends into the group seamlessly (or perhaps a better phrase is 'stitched in', with all the seams gloriously exposed) and brings additional dynamics to play.
The Scorch Trio has been working together for several years and have released several powerful recordings on Rune Grammophone, though original percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love was replaced by Rosaly on 2010's Meleza. In this latest configuration, duets between Bjorkenheim and Williams are inspired as they blend their voices and goad each other on, always just a little bit further. Rosaly's drumming is vibrant and varied as he pulls and pushes the music in different directions. Haker-Flaten's bass is brimming with life, generating enormous waves of sound and subtly supporting the gentler passages.
The limited release of 500 copies on LP makes this a trickier recording to find, but one worth seeking out. The joy of seeing and feeling the music is an experience in itself. For someone like myself, slowly being numbed by the instant convenience of the mp3, the gatefold cover and flip of the record makes the experience all that more tactile and engaging - though let me lodge my complaint that there isn't a mp3 download included.
Regardless, good clean rocking free jazz fun.
By Paul Acquaro
Gunter 'Baby' Sommer's 'Melting Game' recorded with The New Trio begins with a mournful and longing sound. The folk like melody of 'Hymnus' rolls from Floros Floridis' clarinet as Sommer's drums roil below. As the forlorn melody progresses, bluesy shadings and shouts fill in the spaces, while Akira Ando's bass provides just the right amount of counter melody. The song draws you in as it tries to lodge itself neatly somewhere between your heart and throat.
The first song sets the stage for the collection that follows. Next, trying on a rhythm that vaguely suggests cowboy boots and Stetson hats, 'Shuffle to WH' features a loping rhythm and a bass clarinet solo that juxtaposes the subtler side of the instrument with its wilder one, often in the same phrase. The clarinet cadenza that opens 'Hora' invokes a more melancholic atmosphere, this time with Klezmer shadings. Here, Sommer employs all sorts of additional percussion over Ando's long bowed lines. Another highlight is the evocative saxophone solo that bursts out after the long atmospheric build of 'Inside-Outside-Shout.' My favorite two songs are sequenced at the end of the recording. 'Salpismata' starts off with the bass and drums playing a somewhat funky and free introduction, and as the tune progresses the clarinet work really gets quite fiery. The final song, 'Goze,' is an extensive exploration around a repetitive scale played by the bass.
While the recording is Sommer's date and his percussion is featured prominently in shaping the group's sound and songs, it's the woodwinds that really stand out. Whether on clarinet, bass clarinet or alto sax, Floridis veers quickly between playing inside and outside as his improvisations unfold both thoughtfully and with a bit of recklessness. The 'Melting Game' is a tremendously good listen that strikes an engaging balance between premeditated melodies and free playing.
Free = liberated from social, historical, psychological and musical constraints
Jazz = improvised music for heart, body and mind