Click here to [close]

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Weekend Round Up: Tzadik

By Martin Schray

Anna Clyne: Blue Moth (Tzadik, 2012) ****½

Let’s start with one of last year’s best Tzadik releases (my favorite still is Ned Rothenberg’s World of Odd Harmonics): Anna Clyne’s “Blue Moth”. Although heaped on with prizes (she is composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), this is the first album exclusively with Clyne’s own music. Her electro-acoustic compositions juxtapose pre-recorded tape sequences with solo instruments or bigger ensembles which generates highly diverse effects from emotional dramatic gesture (“Beauty”) to utter dismay (“Rapture). The first piece, “Fits + Starts”, already displays Clyne’s outstanding talent, it is a ballet piece mixing cello pizzicato patterns, harpsichord color spots, viola echoes, and Clyne’s own backing cello. The result sounds like a Danny Elfman composition on speed before a short quotation of John Cale’s “Paris 1919” turns it into an almost romantic soundscape. “Rapture” (2005) and “Choke” (2004) are written for clarinetist Eileen Mack (her clarinet sounds like an electric guitar) and baritone sax player Argeo Ascani, whose instruments are attacked by whirlwinds of distorted electronics which has – in spite of its brutality - a strange but beautiful effect.

Highlights of the album are the 14-minute “Steelworks”, which combines speech samples with woodwinds and percussion and which is based on minimal Steve-Reich-like structures (like all the other composition this one has obvious soundtrack reminiscences, you cannot help creating your own pictures of a 19th century steel mill in your head) and “Beauty”, which concludes this collection and in which another tape recording reprimands us to “beware of beauty, to look beyond the fluttering wings, beyond the relentless display, beyond the upheaval”.  But what you find there is just another kind of beauty, it is only distorted.

Listen to “Choke” here:

Samech: Quachatta (Tzadik, 2012) ****

Not being familiar with Judaism or the Kabbalah, I have to quote Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsberg (“The Hebrew Letters”) here who says that the circular form of the letter samech symbolized the fundamental truth representing infinity, because it had no beginning or end. This realization and awareness of inherent unity between beginning and end was in fact the manifestation of God's Transcendent Light.
Samech (the Polish quartet) consists of three strings - Anna Ostachowska (viola), Magdalena Pluta (cello) and Marek Lewandowski (double bass) – and percussion (Robert Sztorc on percussion) and this release belongs to John Zorn’s Radical Jewish Culture series. Musically close to Masada String Trio or the fabulous Bester Quartet they combine rock structures with classical music and Jewish folk which makes up a very interesting mixture. As to sound you can also find allusions to Kronos Quartet’s “Pieces of Africa” because of the music’s strong rhythmic and dynamic drive. The result is very accessible, melodic and exciting.

Listen to “Kwisz Mahir”, the first (and beautiful) song of the album here:

Andy Laster: Riptide (Tzadik, 2012) ***

Andy Laster has been known as a jazz saxophonist so far but this album is his first with neo-classical chamber music only and on which he participates “just” as a composer and not as an instrumentalist. Therefore Laster has gathered first class Tzadik musicians like Erik Friedlander on cello or Kermit Driscoll on bass. The music on the album includes program music like the solo piano piece “Riptide”, which is trying to represent a man’s feeling when he is caught by such an undercurrent, or what Laster calls “structured improvisation” as in “Genk”, where the musicians are allowed to contribute own elements beyond the given notated parts. Most tracks are nice contemporary classical studies (e.g. the two “String Trios”) although not all the compositions can keep me at it. Despite its complexity and great musicianship this album sometimes lacks fascinating ideas compared to Anna Clyne’s approach, for example.

You can listen to some of the tracks on his website:

Jon Raskin and Carla Harryman: Open Box (Tzadik, 2012) ** ½

“Open Box”, a project of poet Carla Harryman and saxophonist Jon Raskin, starts with bone-dry heavy metal guitars reminding me of a hard rock version of Sonic Youth, even Carla Harryman’s “rap” resembles Kim Gordon. “Fish Speech”, the first song, depicts a world at the very beginning, enumerating what did not exist then and alluding to what that might mean. It is a very promising start both in its rawness and its hardcore DIY attitude, and the Tzadik website says that the music should be ”as radical as the writing, the music is brilliantly arranged, and interacts with the texts in a variety of dynamic ways”.  Unfortunately, it is not. The title pieces sound like random weird noise, structure is sometimes hard to discern, the vocals are partly incomprehensible and partly simultaneous (something I have problems with in some direction theater productions as well) -, the whole thing comes like a failed, artsy-fartsy video installation, a mere mind game. Other songs sound like a muezzin’s voice alienated and distorted by sound effects, some combine ethereal voices with electronics and free jazz sax, some are  incoherent sound collages. The last track comes back to jazzcore again, and you wish the whole album had these energy and guts. This sounds really harsh and actually I don’t want to blame the artists (Harryman is a nice poet), maybe I simply do not get it, or maybe it works live. On CD it’s just not my cup of tea.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Vincent Courtois - The Mediums (La Buisonne, 2012) ****

By Stef

French cellist Vincent Courtois goes back to the times of his youth, watching the world and creating stories out of what he sees, trying to understand, fantasising and embellishing or fearing the worst. For this journey he is accompanied by two tenor saxophonists, Daniel Erdmann from Germany and Robin Finker from the UK. An unusual line-up yet one that works well to create this world of intimate feelings, with a scene that is each time beautifully set, cautiously presented, and nicely crafted.

The short pieces offer no time for real wide excursions and expansion, but just like short stories in literature a tension is created, a mood set, and almost naturally the listener gets expectations about the outcome, which are kept undisclosed, like enigmas that remain unsolved, open endings that will keep you a little off-balance, yet in the meantime you have had a glimpse of something new, something fascinating. The titles give some indication about this : "A Disquieting Disappearance", "Rita And The Mediums", "The Woman Without A Body", "The Night Of The Monsters" ....

This is beautiful music, very coherent and unique in its approach of sensitive smallness, full or warmth and wonder for this world that is both magical, mysterious and potentially dangerous.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Nils Petter Molvaer – Baboon Moon (Sula Records, 2011) ***

One of the comments on Monday's introduction to this week's trumpet trio theme inspired us to revisit the recent (but not that recent) recording by Nils Petter Molvaer, Baboon Moon, reviewed here in 2011 and again today ...

By Paolo Casertano

Baboon Moon is the first and by now the only release of the new Nils Petter Molvaer Trio. Previously reviewed on this blog, it has been released on Molvaer’s own label Sula in 2011,  distributed worldwide by some major labels and shortly after by Thirsty Ear Recordings in digital format.

The famous trumpeter, among the best known and visible exponents of the Norwegian Electrojazz Renaissance in the last (at least) two decades, has replaced his long time collaborators from the ECM years and solid guitarist Eivind Aarset and the equally renowned drummer Audun Kleive with the rising star of the guitar Stian Westerhus and the pretty interesting drummer Erland Dahlen.

The readers of this blog will (maybe) know my loyalty to Westerhus' music, so I will not fake that I think the most interesting aspects of this pleasurable album can be attributed to the young guitarist. I mean, Molvaer, whose influence has been in my opinion seminal for many “new jazz” musicians (especially in Norway but not just there), does in these nine compositions exactly what he always marvellously does: whispering warmly, trailing notes, sampling the slaptonguing on the mouthpiece and fulfilling the result with waves of reverb and chorus (maybe here less than usual).

About his collaboration with Molvaer, Westerhus said in a recent article “I only have to play one groove, in one key and three chords, so I can force Nils Petter into any corner I want, and he can force me into any corner he wants, which is great”.  Listen to a piece like “Blue Fandango” to understand how much truth there is to this assertion.

Also Dahlen’s rock approach enhances constantly the groove of the album. The division between the tracks appears in some way more nominal than actual and the whole stream strongly resembles the trio's live performances with their really sparse moments alternating to growing episodes.

The biggest value of the album, which is certainly listenable and egregiously recorded, lies in my opinion exactly in Molvaer’s ability to have chosen two new talented collaborators that bring new blood to the consolidated compositional approach of the great musician. Unluckily, after extensively touring during the whole of 2012, it seems that the promising union between the maestro and guitarist has already come to an end, at least in this trio's embodiment. I wonder why (but I’ve a couple of theories).

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Claudio Scolari's Project - Synthesis (Principal Records, 2012) ***½

By Paul Acquaro

Hailing from Rome, percussionist Claudio Scolari is the leader of the multi-layered Scolari Project. He is joined by percussion-oriented multi-instrumentalist Daniele Cavalca and trumpeter (and son) Simone Scolari for Synthesis, and intriguing blend of electronics, synthesizers, and acoustic instruments including the vibraphone and melodica.

From the opening notes of 'Synthesis' the trumpet cuts through with a taut and vigorous sound. The attractive lean melodic statements are given support by a lightly swinging percussion and a skeletal vibraphone, augmented by some choice electronics.  The second song, 'Expression of Image' begins atmospherically but then quickly changes up the instrumentation, picking up a driving rhythm and the interesting and unusual combination of trumpet, melodica and a banjo-like synth patch.

By the third tune, the group morphs into a piano trio. Over the course of 15 minutes, the configuration uses intensity and repetition to build the song. They take the sparse melody and swinging rhythm of the intro as far as they can, until they hit a point of entropy, trading short scales that disintegrate into each other. The last track I'll mention, 'Rituals', once again has a different aesthetic, this time featuring a tight interlocking lines between the vibes and trumpet, over an infectious bass and drum groove.

So, is this a trumpet trio when the studio is a fourth member? Maybe it's easier to say that this is a trio of musicians going after an aesthetic that confidently combines improvisational and compositional sketches with folk, rock and modern jazz sensibilities.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Peter Evans Trio - Zebulon (More Is More, 2013) ****½

By Stef

Guess how many albums with Peter Evans we reviewed since this blog's creation in 2007? Easily more than ten, with solo albums, duo albums, with his quartet, his quintet, with Mostly Other People Do The Killing, with Mary Halvorson, Weasel Walter, Evan Parker, Okkyung Lee, Payton MacDonald, Elliott Sharp, and many more.

We fnd Evans in the company of John Hébert on bass and Kassa Overall on drums, for a trio performance a year ago in the now defunct Brooklyn club, the Zebulon. And the power trio completely sounds like you wouldn't expect it. No sonic explorations, no extended techniques, no weird musical adventures. But then neither is the music tightly composed or arranged. It does what I've always thought and wanted in vain when listening to Mostly Ohter People Do The Killing : "let go now, wheels of the ground, and fly!". And this trio does fly : Evans, Hébert and Overall, and how!

What you get is unadulterated jazz, full of rhythm, swing, pulse, instrumental mastery and fun, joy, and jazz legacy turned upside down. The album contains four tracks of about twenty minutes each, offering plenty of time for long improvisations, playful and artful interplay, and for the three musicians to shine in turn, as you expect it from a live recording. This latter aspect really determines the music, because there is an element of show and entertainment to please the audience, which reacts enthusiastically after each piece, albeit in the distance.

This is jazz that continues the legacy of performances by Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard ... but then pushing swing and bop into a new high energy free playing zone, as if post-bop, loft-jazz, cool jazz, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and everything in between had never existed, A tree with deep roots and wild branches.

Even if it is kind of a sylistic side-step for Evans, the end result is really great and fun.

Snap those fingers, tap your feet and bob your heads!

Available at Instantjazz.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Harvey Sorgen, Herb Robertson & Steve Rust - Rumble Seat (Not Two, 2013) ****

By Stef

We find Herb Robertson back on this third trumpet trio, with Harvey Sorgen on drums and sounds, and Steve Rust on basses and sounds. Despite Robertson's presence, the music on this album is totally different than on "Party Enders".

Despite the fact that all tracks are fully improvised, except  for "Beauty In The Fan", the approach is different, with all pieces - more in a song-like structure - clocking around five minutes, yet each with a very distinct character and approach.

The first is nervous and agitated like the Corbett/Stephens/Marsh trio
the second is boppish improv;
the third is calm and meditative;
the fourth is tribal weird with flute;
the fifth is dark and melancholy with electronics;
the sixth is raw and energetic, with mad chanting;
the seventh is expansive and bluesy;
the eighth is playful with some kind of duck-calls (possibly of the bath-tub variety) and snorting ruffling growling sounds
the ninth is mysterious and slow despite a rapid percussion intro;
the tenth is crisp and bizarre and full of changes;
the eleventh is rhythmic framed by Rust's somewhat funky bass;
the twelfth is dreamy and nightmarish, floating on dark organ tones;
the thirteenth is again free-boppish and energetic, a great piece to end it all.

In short, lots of variety on one album and which manages to stay coherent too. It's a little bit like a box of  Belgian chocolates : they all look the same, but each chocolate has its own exquisite taste and refined texture and unique feel, and they all nicely fit together.

It is fun, it is fanastic that this performance still found its way to the record stores five years after its performance.

Available at Instantjazz.
© stef

Monday, March 25, 2013

Herb Robertson, David Kaczorowski & Adrian Valosin - Party Enders (Not Two, 2013) ****½

By Stef

Trumpeter Herb Robertson is one of these underrated and underrecorded musicians, and each time a new CD is released, it is a pleasure to hear him play, whether as a sideman or here, as the leader of a trio with Dave Kaczorowski on double bass and Adrian Valosin on drums. Next to trumpet, Robertson also plays cornet, fluegelhorn, english hunting horn, penny-whistles, Romanian reed flute, mutes, electronic mutes, bells, castanets and vocals on the first track.

The music is almost the exact opposite of the free improv of Corbett, Stephens & Marsh reviewed yesterday. There is no in-the-moment nervousness here, but a very calm sense of cool, with long tones, lots of time to develop the music, low density and high intensity. The three musicians give each other as much space as they can, with few notes and sparse accentuated support while keeping the dynamics of the improvisation intact, and Robertson steps back once in a while so that we get extended periods that only bass and drums are playing.

The three tracks are fourty, twenty-two and ten minutes long and were performed live in Baltimore in 2010, and are reminiscent at times of Art Ensemble of Chicago live performances (despite the line-up), with a great musical openness, a soulful foundation and crazy outbursts like Robertson's bluesy singing at the end of the first track. Anything can happen, and that's one of the great aspects of it. Some may say that there just isn't enough taking place at times, but I would recommend then to listen again.

As said earlier, Robertson's output was limited in the last years, but now he's back in force, first on Mark Solborg's The Trees, and on another trio album that will be reviewed soon.

If, like me, you like trumpet trios, and Robertson's playing, don't miss this album.

Available at Instantjazz.

 © stef

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jon Corbett, Nick Stephens, Tony Marsh - Freeplay (Loose Torque, 2013)

By Stef

You put on the record and you know you're in the British free improv scene, with sounds that bounce against each other, erupting and surfacing like lava bubbles in the hottest possible environment as a kind of state, visible, approachable, almost intimate, still far away from the effects and the dynamics of the whole volcano exploding.

The state is now, the music is now : notes skittering away, bustling, fluttering, trembling, vibrating, shimmering in short bursts, coming up, boiling with expression, disappearing and reappearing in a great physical tour-de-force of nervous and agitated energy, like the crazy clots of paints on a Pollock canvas, all expressivity and colorful power.

The trio at work here are the masters of the art, with Jon Corbett on trumpet, valve trombone, bamboo flute and conch shell, Nick Stephens on bass, and the late Tony Marsh on percussion. The album is a tribute to the drummer who passed away now almost a year ago. The performance itself dates from 2010.

This is in-the-moment music, with no real plan, no preconfigured structure, no longitudinal dynamics, no progression or evolution to speak of, just naked surprises and interaction, raw and authentic, as pure as it gets in terms of sounds, like birds having a great time in the trees, like birds having fun in the trees.


  © stef

Trumpet Trios

By Stef

In the coming days, we'll be paying some attention to recent trumpet trio albums, one of my favorite line-ups. You can click the "trumpet trio" tag on the right to have a look at some great examples of recent history, starting with Lester Bowie and Don Cherry, and more recently some fantastic albums with Thomas Heberer, Taylor Ho Bynum, Nate Wooley, Rob Mazurek, Kirk Knuffke, Snus, Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Serge Adam, Jon Corbett, Scott Tinkler, Andrzej Przybielski, Herb Robertson, Dennis Gonzalez. And others? 


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Steve Beresford, Martin Küchen, Ståle Liavik Solberg – Three Babies (Peira, 2013) ***½

By Dan Sorrells

The amount of ground Three Babies covers in just under an hour is confounding. Hell, the first 15 minutes touch upon more modes of improvising than some record labels showcase in their entire catalog! Recorded during a 2012 concert at Café OTO (and the latest release from one-man Chicago label Peira), Three Babies matches UK giant Steve Beresford with two Nordic players, protean sax-man Martin Küchen and Norwegian percussionist Ståle Liavik Solberg.

“Steel Babies” starts things off shrill and loud, with Küchen’s razor-sharp sopranino jutting through Beresford’s dissonant piano stabs and Solberg’s pattering toms. By the end of the track, Beresford’s abandoned the piano in favor of some sort of synthesizer, plunging into a world of cryptic electronics for the album’s long centerpiece, “Car Babies.” Ghostly radio frequencies and tempo-shifting tape loops swirl around Küchen’s horn, which at times drops away to the slightest hint of breath. What’s remarkable is how seamless Beresford’s discordant sonic assault is—one moment you’re hearing faint radio static, the next Küchen and Solberg have locked into a rhythmic figure that’s accompanied by bird song. Wildly disparate changes in sound source come into awareness more as dawning realizations than jarring intrusions. With three minutes to go, Beresford turns back to the piano, bringing things back full circle as Küchen croaks out a delicate, almost Eastern sounding melody.

Maybe there’s something to a title like Three Babies. Beresford and Küchen are both known for their playful turns, never taking themselves entirely too seriously in an art as risky as free improvisation. And maybe there’s another angle on the babies theme, too: these guys are absolutely fearless. The whole (sonic) world’s their playground.

Listen to the album here on Bandcamp (and buy a copy! Few places offer as much bang for your buck as Peira).

Friday, March 22, 2013

Parque – The Earworm Versions (Sshpuma, 2013) ***½

By Dan Sorrells

I’m hoping The Earworm Versions will garner a little more international attention for Ricardo Jacinto, the Portuguese polymath behind the music of Parque. Jacinto’s a cellist, but his resume stretches on: a student of architecture and sculpture, he combines sound installations, visual performances, and improvised music into colossal vortices of art. Even without the visual/physical element, The Earworm Versions is an impressive piece of music, certainly worthy to stand aside the names of fellow architects of sound like Max Eastley or Eli Keszler.

The Earworm Versions features three performances. The first is a piece for cello, alto saxophone, electronics, and percussion played on two giant, suspended mirrors. “Peça de Embalar” is austere and moody, the cello drawing long tones over the timpani-like mirrors, sounds like thunder rising in the distance. “Os” features a similar instrumental line-up, only with 24 smaller, tuned mirrors that hang vertically from wires on the ceiling like cymbals.  The piece is interspersed with some readings from a sci-fi text (nothing special, but not terrible, either), which despite its strange subject matter represents the least interesting aural element at play. Still, at times the words and the sounds converge keenly. “It’s also fantastically cold,” says the voice early in the piece, and the low sound of the saxophone starts to lift, a sound almost like shivering, and then the delicate clatter of the mirrors, hammered like dulcimers, an orchestra of ice.

“Atraso” rounds out the selections, an improvisation that’s played back through a speaker on a pendulum, which is swung around a room by two performers, creating a disorienting Doppler effect that sounds as though the music is swooping and diving around your head. What sounds gimmicky on paper actually creates a compelling pulse in the music, a slippery rhythmic element that’s hard to pin down but proves to be the driving force behind the music.

There may be a debate to be had about divorcing these pieces from the structural and visual elements that make up their conceptual foundation, but the works can stand on the strength of the sounds alone. I’d like to think the performative and audio elements can serve two distinct functions and audiences (not mutually exclusive), rather than one being a lesser, incomplete version of the other. Either way, The Earworm Versions is lively listening, and a welcome edition to Sshpuma’s burgeoning little catalog.

Check out Jacinto’s site for video footage of the pieces featured on The Earworm Versions (be patient—for some reason they include the audience arriving and taking seats, too), and poke around some of his other installations while you’re there.

© stef

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Confusion Bleue

By Stef

Just after its release in 2010, I reviewed Nobu Stowe's 'Confusion Bleue' album, and gave it a five-star rating for its wonderful total improvisation, lyricism and ability to maintain melody and tonal harmony. Then, as it often goes these days, nothing more is heard of Stowe, who changed his day job and moved from Baltimore to San Diego to work as an academic scientist, trying to invest his time in both in research and music.

Luckily he returned several times to New York for some shows with his former band-mates, who now perform with the "Confusion Bleue" name. The music is the same, an incredibly eclectic and quite accessible mixture of post-60s jazz in all its beauty, with strong references to Jarrett's post-boppish piano-playing, including the sometimes romantic leanings, all mixed with more Miles Davis fusion elements - but without the funk - over free form and with an overall expansiveness that fits well with the Ictus label. Oh, and I forget the classical influences that permeate Stowe's piano-playing, used sparingly but effectively.

Confusion Bleue - Roulette Concert (Ictus, 2012) ****

The first album is performed with Nobu Stowe on Steinway grand piano, Fender Rhodes & Wurlitzer electric piano, Ray Sage on drums, Ross Bonadonna on electric and acoustic guitars, alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Lee Pembleton on sound and special guest Chris Kelsey on soprano sax. There is no bass-player on the album as Tyler Goodwin joined the US Army band, stationed in Germany.

The album starts calmly, searching, hesitatingly almost with Chris Kelsey's soprano playing high and sustained  notes over sparse piano keys, with increasing intensity and level of abstraction as the tune advances. The second track brings us in free jazz territory with violent interactions and wild piano chords Cecil Taylor style, and unfortunately with a somewhat bad sound balance, pushing the sax too far into the background, and out of this chaos, Stowe creates some structure, a rhythmic and melodic base to continue playing on, both in intense and calmer moments, making this "Part II", an improvisation that changes face and mood throughout while retaining a sense of unity.

The longest track clocks at over twenty minutes, with Stowe mixing a classical tone with jazz harmonics, and with both Kelsey and Bonadonna intertwining their saxes, and the band keeps changing the music through peaks of agitation and valleys of calm yet very free playing, and when Bonadonna picks up his guitar, harmony comes back, beautifully with piano first, then with the rest of the band joining in, playing Miles Davis' "Blue In Green", as they also did on their first album.

The last track is again a wild affair, very agitated and expansive, yet always - and that is really the band's strength - focused and lyrical. It sounds a contradiction, and the only way to understand it is to listen to the music.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Confusion Bleue - East Side Banquet (Ictus, 2012)  ****½

Recorded a year later, the band is still the same, but now the guest musicians are Brian Groder on trumpet and Lisle Ellis on bass, and the result is absolutely stunning at moments, not in the least because of Groder's magnificent playing. Sure, Stowe is still the one leading the journey, organising the exploration, yet the way the six musicians freely improvise while keeping a strong focus on each other's short excursions and reintegrating are nothing short of phenomenal.

Groder's trumpet and flugelhorn give a more melancholy and sentimental touch to the music, but with taste and keeping away from cheap surperficial effects, and Stowe is clever enough to reign in the band and change course at the right moments, changing tempo, rhythm, the musical color, level of aggression, excitement and volume in a dazzling display of musical unity. Even more so than on the Roulette album, the whole band really moves as one, taking all the different twists and turns as if the music was composed, arranged and conducted, but then with the looseness, the freedom and the expressivity of free improvisation.

Only one track has a reference to an existing theme -  this time Miles Davis' "Nardis" - accompanied by seagul-like sounds conjured out of Pembleton's machinery.

The last track is a calm meditative piece, a beautiful interaction between Stowe and Groder. It is grand, it is epic, a fantastic finale for a great album. And it is jazz. Very much so.

In sum, the band has created its own kind of sound, and interesting synthesis of subgenres, full of freedom and full of emotions. Free jazz afficionados may find some parts too harmonic and post-bop lovers may find some parts too wild, but that's the toll you pay when you expose yourself to something new. If you really awant a recommendation, my preference goes to the "East Side Banquet" album, mainly because Groder is such a great addition to the sound of the band, but I can recommend both albums easily.

Listen and download from eMusic.

© stef

Ingrid Laubrock's Anti House - Strong Place (2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Recently, I had the luck to catch a duo show of Mary Halvorson and Ingrid Laubrock at the intimate JACKArts space in Brooklyn. I was struck by how well their melodic ideas and abstract inclinations played off each other so well. I assume that their various associations, like their work with the Tom Rainey Trio, has helped them develop these tacit connections. The same probably could be said about Laubrock's work with pianist Kris Davis, from their trio work with Paradoxical Frog which has produced some excellent recordings as well.

Now, add in the powerful but subtle percussion of Tom Rainey and the assured bass playing of John Hébert (a member of Halvorson's Trio), and as you probably have already guessed, we end up with a brilliant combination of Laubrock's many associations, each one bringing creative and edgy playing to a strong set of compositions.

Indeed, Laubrock's compositional skill is the linchpin of 'Anti-House'. Her songs carry strong melodic stamps even as they veer far from the expected. Songs like 'Count 'em (for Richard Forman)' juxtapose catchy lyrical snippets with unexpected rhythms and textures, but still allowing each musician to poke through the relaxed atmosphere. The following 'From Farm Girl to Fabulous, Vol 1.' has a cheeky title and music that begins free, atonal and rhythmically unkept, but begins picking up a more strident rhythmic base courtesy of some single note motifs from Davis' piano -- the tune even get a bit rocky as it unfolds.

Anti-House, to my ears, is a little less aggressive than some of the other avant-jazz combinations that the various members are in but it is no less energetic and powerful. I offer 'Alley Zen' as an example. Rhythmic piano figures like something from a Nik Bärtsch modul spiral below accentuated phrases from Halvorson's crisp guitar. This same type of interaction also works beautifully between everyone in 'Cup in a Teastorm (for Henry Threadgill)', where a Hébert, Davis and Rainey trio sustains the song for an extended sequence.

Accessible and abstract it works quite well and I am enjoying repeated listenings to Strong Place immensely. It is a strong statement of Laubrock as a composer and leader of a choice quintet.

Available at Instantjazz.

© stef

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Han Bennink Trio – Bennink & Co. (Ilk, 2012) ****½

By Tom Burris

Near the end of last year, the Han Bennink Trio released its second full-length recording and it is definitely no sophomore slump.  In fact, I think I want a do-over on my “Best Of 2012” list – but it's my own damn fault for not playing this one until recently.  Our hero performs his masterful chops on a single snare drum throughout the disc, which was recorded at a show in Belgium & diced into a dozen bite-sized chunks of easily digestible nourishment. 

The disc bursts open with a dissonant swing-bomb called “Klein Gebrek Geen Bezwaar,” on which pianist Simon Toldam reveals himself to be the consummate team player, coloring and reacting to every movement with subtle perfection.  He and reed man, Joachim Badenhorst, also punctuate “Suite In A Sea” together with this same exactness when they begin to accompany what had been a snare drum solo for Bennink and steer it into a sudden, curt haiku.  Of course, a snare drum solo from Bennink not only involves beating the drum head with sticks, but also playing the head, rim, stand, floor, snare and stool with hands, brushes, sticks, spoons, pencils, etc.  Plus with Bennink you are guaranteed to get an authoritative walk through the entire history of parade and jazz drumming, from the rudiments to complete freedom. 

The same can be said for the totality of the music on this recording, as it runs the gamut from Dixieland to marches to swing to complete freakout sounds – and it is always to Bennink's credit that he makes all of these different genres move as one.  It's all just music, after all – and the love and respect that these guys feel for American jazz is impossible to ignore.  When they take a stab at “Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland” the build-ups and changes in approach are always emotionally charged, witty, and daring.  (They also play Billy Strayhorn's “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” as a strange march before rolling wholeheartedly into the melody.)

Other highlights include “Dog,” which is a magnificent collage of free playing, melodic invention and careful construction; and “Ganz,” on which Bennink's love for marches and swing join forces in a melodic homage to Dixieland.  Badenhorn makes his clarinet fly inside and outside the music, marching in line before running away to grab a clown nose and then rejoining the line.  Toldam and Bennink lock in place brilliantly enough for Han to yell “Yee-Hee!” and then Badenhorn rips the clown nose off to play a melody line in unison with Toldam.  On “Klein Gebrek Geen Bezwaar No. 2” the trio release an extremely short, self-contained smoke bomb.  Free jazz goes hardcore punk, as performed by a 70-year-old man and his 30-something-year-old cohorts.  I think my favorite track at this point though is “Kiefer,” on which a strange elliptical melody builds until Badenhorst winds a line of Monk's “Evidence” into the mix, before the trio molds the whole thing into a soundtrack for an underground carousel for moles. 

The invention and originality of the trio here is really second-to-none – and they clearly see themselves as part of a musical tradition.  What they've done here isn't simply a masterful example of improvisational interplay or a musical history lesson – it's also a heartfelt Valentine to American jazz from a Dutch master.

Available at Instantjazz.

© stef

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mattias Ståhl, Fredrik Ljunkvist & Patric Thorman - Två För Tommy (Found You Recordings, 2012) ****

By Stef

It is hard to describe musical beauty, but this Swedish trio brings it in spades. On vibes we have Mattias Ståhl, on clarinet Fredrik Ljungkvist and Patric Thorman plays double bass.

I am not sure who "Tommy" is to whom the title refers, yet the references to the Jimmy Giuffre trio with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow are obvious, even if this trio plays it even lighter and softer. Ståhl and Thorman each composed half of the compositions which float freely around sweet themes which are either quick to stick in your memory or relatively abstract and hard to pin down, but despite the point of departure, the trio really moves as one, kindly, gently around the music, moving things forward in the most sensitive and lyrical way, refraining from generating volume, while at the same time keeping the overall melodiousness very high, subtly built around a wonderful sense of rhythm.

The vinyl LP was released a year ago, and it is a shame that I only review it now, and it is equally a shame that only 350 copies were made. It is one of those albums which will never figure on your list of "island picks", it is not spectacular enough for that, yet at the same time, it is also an album that you want to keep listening to, for its great musicianship, the incredibly close interplay, the coherence of the musical vision, and the sheer calm beauty of it. An unassuming album without any weaknesses.

Really nice, and worth looking for if there are still any copies left.

(Still) available at Instantjazz.

© stef

Sunday, March 17, 2013

John Edwards & Okkyung Lee – White Cable, Black Wires (Fataka, 2013) ****

By Dan Sorrells

Double bass and cello: a celebration of the bass clef if there ever was one!  And with John Edwards and Okkyung Lee, no typical exercise in the art of the low-end. White Cable, Black Wires is nothing short of a symphony of percussive clatter, tweaked harmonics, rumbling clangor, buzzing strings, hollow woody thumps, and stuttering dances of bow and fingers. While a good portion of freely improvised music has retreated into hideaways of tiny detail or obscured instrumentation, White Cable, Black Wires remains refreshingly connected to the cathartic, embodied heft of free jazz, an unmistakably human act of passion and musicianship. It’s a collection of improvisations that cannot fail to remind the listener of the sweaty, physical nature of playing these large instruments.

There’s a heart-pumping, driving energy to White Cable, Black Wires that hardly subsides for the duration of its 45 minute running time. “WCBW II” erupts into streaming trails of high-pitched notes, like the peals of bottlerockets launching skyward. “WCBW III” starts at a slower pace, but the level of energy remains: a taut, hair-raising tension that increases with each guttural drag of the bow. As the piece falls away to near silence halfway through, you’re left with the pounding of the blood in your temples, holding your breath in anticipation as the activity slowly returns to a boil. Later, “WCBW V” stumbles to a close with quivering runs of cello over muted, low bass thrums that sound seismic, deeply subterranean.

White Cable, Black Wires frontlines two obscenely talented improvisers who can sometimes take a backseat next to the “big names” they keep company with. If you’re anything like me, though, theirs are the names that draw your eye when seeking out exhilarating music. It also marks another resounding success for Fataka, quickly becoming a label to watch on the improv scene.

Listen to an excerpt from “WCBW I:”

By © stef

Friday, March 15, 2013

Mark Solborg - The Trees (ILK music, 2013) ****

Reviewed by Joe

This is one hell of a record, and - for me - yet another direction taken by Mark Solborg. Solborg seems to be able to take elements of music and mould his writing and the choice of players to get the best out of them. On previous recordings such as '4+4+1' and 'Hopscotch' the music has been more 'conceived', whereas this project obviously relies on team work. In fact what stands out on this recording is the empathy between the players and the natural group sound, everyone places themselves at the service of the music. One example that stands out is Peter Bruun's drums. He probably never really hits the drums in a way one would expect to hear from this instrument. He uses his kit in such a subtle way that you only realise that the drums are not 'in your face' quite late in the recording. He plays percussion as well on this recording which may account for the subtlety of the silent sound approach. It makes me think of some of the Supersilent and early Food records where Deathprod (Helge Sten) took out instruments giving the music space, which often has more impact. 

Describing the individual tracks on this record isn't really very helpful as in reality the album works best as one whole piece/listen. Once you've pressed the play button you'll find yourself in a dark world of sounds which keep you fixed to your sofa. I imagine you could pick out 'a' track to listen to, but the atmosphere of the combined tracks seems more natural for a listening experience. There are moments where the sax of Evan Parker or Herb Robertson's trumpet come right to the fore such as the opening track. The two horns play a mournful duet which suddenly stops to let Mark Solborg's guitar step forward playing a solo as if accompanying a silent partner. The music steps off from this point never looking back. I could name a few moments where each instrument takes it's place as the principal voice, but probably the fact that the others decided 'not' to play is of equal importance. I should add that there are several tracks where the horn players play kalimbas or other percussion instruments which adds some very nice textures to the music and of course adds even more space.

The majority of the music is restrained, not unlike the cover photo, and comes across a little like sunlight trying to break through a dense forest. Picking an extract from this record is extremely  difficult, after all where to break into the flow of things? Finally I just went for a short piece called 'Dogwood'. The group goes into full flight for just a few minutes before plunging back into the silent filled gaps of the record.

Dogwood (tk 3) from Mark Solborg's 'The Trees' (ILK music, 2013)

This glorious 5tet is Solborg on guitars, Mats Eilersten: double bass, Peter Bruun: drums, percussion, kalimba, Herb Robertson: trumpet, voice, pump organ, kalimba, Evan Parker: tenor and soprano saxes, kalimba and gong.   

© stef

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Paal Nilssen-Love/Lasse Marhaug/Massimo Pupillo - You're Next (Bocian Records, 2012) ****

What we see - On a field of carcasses, bones and (what I assume are) kilometres of viscera we see hanged and tortured corpses (how did they die?) and a romantic as much extreme cannibalistic hug between two undead characters. We are in a pretty eerie forest.

What we read - Massimo Pupillo plays “low end bowel chainsaw” Paal Nilssen-Love plays “battery of total limb annihilation” and Lasse Marhaug takes care of “electronic torture devices”.  The track-list of the two sides of the LP is as follows:

First Offense
  A1. Sloppy Necrophiliac Cunnilingus
  A2. Rope for the Undead
  A3. Vomit Buffet

Second Coming
  B1. Rib Cage of Rotting Brain Mush
  B2. Feast on Infected Pus
  B3. Forest of Grotesque Copulation

What we fear - Will my ears bleed?

What we hear - The album is really less noisy than it would be reasonable to expect after all the aforementioned references to the dark, industrial and death metal context. Sure, the sound is vicious, buried under the mantles of distortion and feedback provided by Marhaug’s equipment, but still the inner nature of the jazz heritage is strong and perceivable in the structures and in the development of the composition that the combo deploys. The subdivision in different tracks is obviously ironic and fictitious. This is a long and coherent live act of improvised music. Nilssen-Love is at his best, switching at ease from background feverish cymbal carpets to massive crescendos.  But the cherry on top here is Massimo Pupillo, free to run alongside the fretboard of his bass with tons of distorted chords, fragmented and syncopated phrasings, waves of noise and notes sustained so long that they seem to transfigure in orotund engines running. Two remarkable moments: the bass solo at the beginning of side B together with the moment when the drums breaks in for an explosive interplay and the almost prog-rock gallop growing in the middle of the same side. Marhaug is there to open all the circuits of his devices and to embroider sci-fi lullabies in the warp of his mates.

What we learn - Sometimes ago Stef used the definition “Doom Jazz” reviewing an album by the Italian trio Zu - maybe not by chance Pupillo is featured also in this group. I think the same tag fits also to this album.  Maybe dirty, but still clearly jazz!

Listen some and buy the ghoulish and enjoyable object from the label.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Barry Altschul -The 3dom Factor (TUM Records, 2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

3Dom Factor starts with a big slide down a bass string, a couple clashes of percussion, and then the sax kicks in with an infectiously upbeat theme. The strong syncopations and vivacious melody are the work of free jazz drum legend Barry Altschul on his first outing as a leader in a long while.

The song, 'The 3Dom Factor' quickly leaves the composed head behind and ventures outwards. The melody is never lost though as snippets re-emerge and the pulse stays strong and engaging, showcasing the musicianship involved. Saxophonist Jon Irabagon, whose own 2010 recording with Altschul, Foxy, was a highlight of the year, lends his considerable talent here too, as does the excellent bassist Joe Fonda. 

While the first two songs are upbeat, 'Irina', previously recorded in 1983 with John Surman and Enrico Rava on an album of the same name, is given a forlorn treatment, its melody melancholic and rhythm understated. The percussionist's statements and accents are as important as Irabagon's melodies and Fonda's solo is melodic and stately. I'm not a fan of the occasional accents from the small percussion handhelds and chimes in some of the tunes, but that is really a minor quibble. Altschul's playing is direct, driving and sets a new expectation of how percussionist can interact with the players mediating between pulse, melody and texture. I cannot get the driving tempo and short but effective drum solo in Carla Bley's 'Ictus' out of my head.

Altschul's CV is replete with seminal groups, from his work with Circle in the early 1970s to his association with Sam Rivers and Dave Holland over the course of many years (the recently released Reunion: Live in New York stands as recent testimony to that group's importance) to his own albums as leader. After a self described slow down in activity (See Harris Eisentstad's interview in Destination Out) it seems that Altschul is quite active again, and 3Dom Factor is a joyful statement and a nice entry in his discography.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sudo Quartet – Live at Banlieue Bleue (NoBusiness, 2012) ****

By Dan Sorrells

Gary Peters has an interesting theory of improvisation: he claims it’s actually a tragic undertaking, as the moment with the most “freedom” and potential is that right before the musicians actually begin playing. A freely improvised performance then becomes a exercise in chasing after that original fleeting ideal, which gets farther and farther out of reach until a performance ends, and some permanent, determined, very un-free construct remains. Tragic, in the sense that the original notion of total freedom can never be attained, but beautiful in its impassioned attempts to capture such a worthy ideal.

I can hear this epic struggle more in some improvisations than others. Not desperation and failure, mind you, but amazing reaches of musicianship and determination, a palpable desire to just play and leave everything established at the door, to court the expanse of possibility that marks the beginning of all great art for as long as one is able. It’s a quality I associate with every last member of Sudo Quartet: bass legend Joëlle Léandre, violinist Carlos Zingaro, trombonist Sebi Tramontana, and drummer Paul Lovens. Live at Banlieue Bleue captures an early 2011 performance in Bobigny, a slate of improvisations that seem to defy logic, somehow both airy and dense.

“Sudo 1,” the longest track, starts with slithering bass, slowly adding one musician at a time, each building upon the momentum of the others until a complex, buzzing swarm of an improvisation in born, easily carrying itself (and us) for the next 20 minutes. The remaining four tracks are shorter, ranging from blasts of start-and-stop interplay to plodding, bluesy runs of bass and woozy trombone (like the superb finale of “Sudo 2”).  At all times, there’s a playful devotion to keeping that ideal of freedom afloat; a sort of joyous, blind grab for handfuls of whatever musical goodness is there for the taking.

Live at Banlieue Bleue is a particularly strong showing for these European masters. Maybe it won’t ever attain some philosophically-pure notion of total freedom, but it’s really not all that tragic. I say damn rationalism, we’ll take free jazz on faith!

And on that note, I’ll gladly take what Sudo Quartet’s preaching any day.

Available at Instantjazz.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hafez Modirzadeh - Post-Chromodal Out! (Pi, 2012) ***½

By Stef

I have been following Iranian saxophonist and music theorist for quite a while, actually ever since his first album "In Chromodal Discourse" from 1993, and despite his obvious evoluetion, my opinion on his approach to music has barely changed over time. Modirzadeh has been working for decades on his "chromodal" and now "post-chromodal" music systems.

Chromodality” as originally developed to integrate Persian tones with Western equal temperament to further explore harmonic possibilities in jazz. He has since expanded his concept to encompass a “post-chromodal” approach in which all kinds of intervals co-exist; one with meta-cultural potential that allows each musician to use his own distinctive voice to explore music from a full palette of tonal possibilities. The result is not simply some sort of mash-up; it is no less than an effort to altogether transcend cultural differences". 

To be clear : this is not about fusion, it is not about mixing styles and genres. It is indeed about transcending genres and cultural differences.

The band is Amir ElSaffar on trumpet, Ken Filiano on bass, Royal Hartigan on drums, Vijay Iyer on piano, and Hafez Modirzadeh himself on the saxes. They are joined on a few tracks,the "Interludes" by Danongan Kalanduyan on the Filipino kulintang, Faraz Minooei on santur, and Timothy Volpicella on electric guitar.

Yet to be clear, this is not world jazz, nor a blending of styles but something new and unique, extremely well-played by all musicians although Iyer's detuned piano offers the most bizarre sounds at times, yet beautifully.

Where my feelings are mixed, as always with Modirzadey, is that he combines sublime music with a very programmatic, almost didactic display of what his method can bring, showcasing it in quintet, quartet, trio, duo or solo settings, in more traditional jazz modes or more modern or traditional forms, and the only thing I keep thinking is : "let go, let go, let go, forget your theory, forget your system, feel the music, play it, expand on it, baffle us with the music, move us with aesthetic beauty, touch us with its emotional power, and let the brainy part be hidden". Technique, structure, theory and such are fine. John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman used chromatic, modal and harmolodic innovations to sound different, they never made them the subject of their music, but rather the secret of it.

As it should be. Magicians don't show their tricks. Modirzadeh is at its best outside of his own created theoretical positioning. I love to hear him that way.

© stef

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jean-Marc Foltz & Stephan Oliva - Visions Fugitives (Visions Fugitives, 2012) ****

By Stef

Serguei Prokoviev, Alban Berg, Francis Poulenc, Witold Lutoslawski and Johannes Brahms are not a jazz quintet, but classical composers who inspired the great French duo of Jean-Marc Foltz on clarinet and Stephan Oliva on piano. But they are not the only composers here. John Coltrane's "Naima" and "Lonnie's Lament" also figure among the covered pieces, as well as some of their own compositions.

The pieces were apparently all chosen for their abstract beauty, all slow and elusive, full of melancholy and fragile tension. Despite the breadth of source material, and the time-span of their compositions - more than a century apart - the thirteen tracks are all fit well within the duo's musical vision.

Boundaries of genres are transgressed, or rendered futile, yet the tone and the technique are entirely classical. There are no extended techniques, no iconoclast excursions into today's world of distress. It all floats, beautifully, respectfully and if there is intensity, it is it because jazz expressivity enters somehow, by stretching tones, and leaving more space by changing the classical pieces' original tempo, or by actual improvisations as in the two variations on Alban Berg.

The album comes with a 30-page booklet with drawings of trees by French painter Emmanuel Guibert. You can watch them too in the video below.

Great music for quiet and introspective moments.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Rudresh Mahanthappa - Gamak (ACT Records, 2013) ****½

By Monique Avakian

When I hear Rudresh Mahanthappa on this album, my first thought is Charlie Parker. I say this not because of speed, but because of integrity. The speed is there of course – solid, well-phrased and impressive, but it’s the individualized nature of Radresh’s compositional and improvisational styles that stand out. Most self-referenced, and in the generous, gregarious sense of the word. And the unique way the song forms are constructed gives you a lot to embrace.

The whole band stands out this way: rapid, skilled, precise and creative--each player excelling and with strong flavor. All four can play extremely rapidly as individuals. Even more impressive are the myriad group unison runs that flow from start to finish on this album – the energy rushes through you like benevolent waves of lightning.

Dan Weiss, as everyone should know by now, is a drummer’s drummer. On this album, his playing is super~aggressive and hotly complex, yet he is completely restrained in volume and leading from the back in a way I haven’t heard him do before. This feels amazing. He is so solid and so fluid and so in the pocket, at times it’s almost as if he’s playing the bass! His thoughtful tuning of the drums and the character of his choice of cymbals are warm and breathing models to be studied. And the rhythms – well, you guys try to figure it out. I had a blissful attempt anyway.

As for the bass, we’re on funky, firm ground here. François Moutin’s adventurous spirit flings the band forward and in surprising ways. Many times, it feels like he’s functioning like a drummer that way. On “We’ll Make More,” Moutin embarks on a sparse, clean solo for a few bars that is so unexpected in placement and so rich in character, you’ll want to hit repeat, and several times; later on in the same tune, he repeats one note rapidly for several bars in time with the bass drum—uniquely rooting and propelling the group as they continue launch after launch in rapid unison.  “ f  ”  is another stand out for Moutin. He opens the short tune and solos several times, dishing up multiple slices of dexterity and inventiveness.

Last, but not least, David Fiuczynski on double-neck guitar. Mahanthappa wanted guitar on this album “because of the way that I’ve been thinking about melody and ornamentation and the fact that I wanted to delve into the use of alternate tunings.” (ACT Press Release, 2013). Everything Fiuczynski does is alternate; man, it’s vast territory he is exploring. With every hybrid link he adds, it’s as if he is extending a metaphor: we get the feeling of Hi-Life; we get a sitar sound that’s not; we get a soft yet blistering heavy metal guitar, various layers of rock guitar, a pleasing mosaic of sub-genre jazz guitar; the visual painting of a celeste, the flavor of a Rhodes, a punkish Hawaiian ukulele; an oud full of reverie – Fiuczynski just does not stop. And who would ever want him to?

Even though this album is like nothing you’ve ever listened to, you don’t have to be an expert in cross-cultural study to gain access. Each seed~sound unlocks a spiritual portal that allows you to move further into and through the music, and since the beat cycles expand and contract, you get to move across several thresholds at once. Gamak will bring you many surprising and uplifting moments of joy and is a fine example of direct transmission. And that, I think, is their whole point.

Live: at Le Poisson Rouge, New York on Thursday, April 11 at 7:30pm.

Check out an interview with Terry Gross, NPR.

And playing:

© stef

Friday, March 8, 2013

John Zorn: Templars - In Sacred Blood (Tzadik, 2012) ****

Sometimes, at the end of a stressful day (or at the end of a week of round ups), you are longing for purification. It has to be simple, raw, and genuine. What else could be better than a decent dose of John Zorn’s Moonchild project, his super group consisting of Mike Patton (vocals), Trevor Dunn (bass) and Joey Baron (drums)? Like on previous albums the band is augmented by an additional musician – here John Medeski on organ, which gives the songs a much darker and gloomier atmosphere compared to the previous album “Ipsissimus” (with Marc Ribot on guitar). And there is another development: Zorn wanted to have wordless vocals for Patton on the early albums (Moonchild - Songs Without Words), but started to add at least some words on Crucible and ends up here with fragments of French, Latin and English. The result is a true hardcore album, Zorn reveals his love for speed metal bands like Napalm Death again, which only makes sense in this context.

The Knights Templar was an order established by the Catholic Church in 1129 and became something like an elite troop during the crusades combining ideals of knighthood and monks. From the very beginning their history was connected with horrible battles, innovative financial practices, the creation of legends, conspiracy theories and violence (especially connected around their dissolution in 1312 when many of them were tortured and burned allegedly for worshipping Baphomet/Satan).

“Templars – In Sacred Blood” provides everything you expect, especially Mike Patton shows what a great vocalist he is. Supported by a crude musical mixture of wild metal breaks (“Templi Secretum”), obscure bass lines (“Evocation of Baphomet”, “Libera Me”), Gregorian chants (“Murder of the Magician”) and prog rock (“Secret Ceremony”) Patton provides spoken word narratives, on-top-of-his-voice screaming and shouting, baritone murmurs, or mysterious whispers.
Great fun!

You can listen to “Templi Secretum” here: 

John Zorn: Rimbaud (Tzadik, 2012) ***½

Hardly any European poet has been as influential for American pop culture as Arthur Rimbaud. Artists like Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg or Henry Miller have adored his literary works which he accomplished between the age of 15 and 19.

Being hard to categorize his poems have been called symbolist, surrealist or expressionist, his style is full of images which are not necessarily coherent, especially his most famous poem Bateau Ivre is a puzzling, immediate and fantastic display of fireworks, free from reality, even destroying realistic values to the point of sheer incomprehensibility.

John Zorn, who also appears as a musician here, tries to transfer this interpretation approach into music. In contrast to the other albums reviewed here, this one is a collection of four stylistically very diverse pieces. “Bateau Ivre” is new classical chamber music par excellence, constantly zigzagging like the poem itself. The second track “A Season in Hell”, named after Rimbaud’s famous text collection, features Zorn on electronics plus Ikue Mori displaying a really dark world corresponding to the author’s original text which was written in a time of crisis. “Illuminations”, actually an uncompleted collection of prose fragments published by Rimbaud’s friend and lover Paul Verlaine, is a classic piano trio on the surface, but while the piano part is said to be notated, the rhythm part is completely improvised. The album closes with “Conneries”, the text fragments here being a part of the Album Zutique cycle of various poets including Verlaine and Rimbaud. The track features French actor and director Mathieu Almaric (of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly fame) reciting, spitting, shouting parts of the text, supported  by Zorn  providing sound layers on alto sax, piano, organ, guitar, drums, and foley effects.

The musicians on this album are:
  • John Zorn (samples, electronics, alto sax, piano, organ, guitar, drums, foley effects)
  • Trevor Dunn (bass)
  • Brad Lubman (conductor)
  • Ikue Mori (laptop, electronics)
  • Kenny Wollesen (drums)
  • Mathieu Amalric (voice)
  • Steve Beck (piano)
  • Erik Carlson (violin)
  • Stephen Gosling (piano)
  • Chris Gross (cello)
  • Al Lipowski (vibraphone)
  • Rane Moore (clarinet)
  • Tara O'Connor (flute)
  • Elizabeth Weisser (viola)

Listen to “Bateau Ivre” here: 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

John Zorn: The Concealed (Esoteric Secrets and Hidden Traditions of the East) (Tzadik, 2012) ****

By Martin Schray

On the latest volume of his continuing series of 21st century mystical music John Zorn mixes the sound and the arrangements of projects like Masada, Bar Khoba and The Dreamers to a hot and boiling irresistible stew. The songs here are influenced by klezmer, gypsy folk, Spanish traditionals, modern jazz and classical music, swing, Middle Eastern melodies, bar jazz, soundtrack scores and easy listening. You may call that inconsistent but of course it is not since we are dealing with a postmodern composer here. As on “A Vison in Blakelight” Zorn makes use of the Nova Express quartet again – John Medeski (p), Kenny Wollesen (vib), Trevor Dunn (b), Joey Baron (dr) – which is reinforced here by the two string players Mark Feldman (v) and Erik Friedlander (c), and this all star line-up combines and recombines into a variety of dynamic small chamber ensembles ranging from sextets to solos and duets and trios to various quartets and quintets.

My favorites are the lush sextet “Passage to Essentuki”, the two lyrical vibes/piano quartets “Life is real only then” and “Persepolis”, the two piano trios “Towards Kafiristan” and “A Portrait of Moses Cordovero)”, the solo piano piece “The Way of a Sly Man”, which sounds like a manic Satie composition played in a Western saloon, and the bass/cello duo “The Silver Thread” with its Morricone allusions. The album is especially great because of its variety, its accessibility, its rhythmic and harmonic complexity and its awe-inspiring musicianship.

Listen to “Passage to Essentuki”:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

John Zorn: A Vision in Blakelight (Tzadik, 2012) ****

“A Vision in Blakelight” is also part of series of the 21st century mystical works, this one apparently inspired by the works and ideas of the British poet William Blake - and there are obvious similarities between him and Zorn. Until today Blake is admired for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work - something that could easily be said about Zorn as well. Although both are apparently interested in spirituality they have been skeptical to any form of organized religion. For Blake the artist – not the priest - was the actual connection to God.  As to their art both are hard to classify.

On this album Zorn juxtaposes the Nova Express quartet – which is John Medeski (p), Kenny Wollesen (vib), Trevor Dunn (b), Joey Baron (dr) - to Carol Emanuel on harp, Cyro Baptista on percussion and the British actor Jack Huston reading from Blake’s works.

The pieces are short compared to the tracks on the other albums. The first track “When the Morning Stars Sang together” is the motto of the album because the musicians are obviously the morning stars.  On the one hand the songs are light and breezy, sometimes even crispy like “The Hammer of Los” with its minimalist theme and its piano arpeggios, on the other hand they are absorbing and seductive like “Night thoughts” or “Jerusalem”, sometimes there is even a psychedelic and prog rock approach. But you can also find Keith Jarrett allusions (“An Island in the Moon”) or Naked City and Masada structures augmented with heavy free jazz piano chords (“Marriage of Heaven and Hell”). The album is a wonderfully varied suite reflecting Blake’s vision and eventually one of his most famous quotations (“if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite“) is turned into music by the works of John Zorn.

Listen to “Night Thoughts” here: