Click here to [close]

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Adam Lane Trio – Absolute Horizon (NoBusiness, 2013) ****

By Dan Sorrells

I’m a sucker for the thick, bluesy tone of Adam Lane’s bass—somehow, he always manages to convey its grittiest, most grounded side. Absolute Horizon kicks off with a track of the same name,  a slow tattoo rising from drummer Vijay Anderson and Lane stumbling into a bass line that can’t help but give off a little swagger. Slowly, a groove coalesces, just the sort of low-end ride to best deliver Darius Jones’s sickly-sweet saxophone. Within minutes, you realize: this is what I want in a saxophone trio. There’s an edge for sure, but also the piece that fits perfectly into the well-worn rhythmic folds of your brain. Things heat up, but the trio never breaks a sweat. They ease out of the track just a coolly and calmly as they brought it into being.

The rest of Absolute Horizon can be typified by a track like “The Great Glass Elevator,” which breaks out a slick bassline about halfway through, the rhythm section working its way to a place where Jones gets everything he needs to go to town.  And he does, getting such a deep, soulful sound out his alto that it sounds far more substantial, like a tenor. Elsewhere, “Stars” finds Lane bowing the hell out of his effects-laden bass. It’s not the most effective track, but it showcases a different side of the group as they move away from bluesy, heavily rhythmic improvisation and work towards continuously molding and remolding a unified slab of sound.  “Run to Infinity” sounds just as it should, a driving rhythm over which Jones continually accelerates, the gaps between notes becoming ever shorter, the melodic line further and further compressed. Absolute Horizon closes on “Light,” which has a walking bassline that would be better characterized as sprinting, complete with racing high-hat and uncontainable shouts of exhilaration in the background.

The CD version of Absolute Horizon  is nearly twice the length of the LP, though the vinyl may be the more effective dose. Still, the CD-only tracks are worth your time (“Apparent Horizon” has a particularly tasty bit of drum and bass).  Basically, Absolute Horizon is the usual NoBusiness story: above-average musicians making above-average music. A little something for fans of Lane’s rawer side after the more straight-ahead sounds of the Blue Spirit Band releases.

Check out some samples here and you can purchase it at Instantjazz.com.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Brian Questa - Jazz Booty (self released, 2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Bassist Brian Questa's album Jazz Booty is not a loud album, but I think it's best listened to that way. How else can you ensure that you are hearing all of guitarist Mary Halvorson's  slinky spiky runs, saxophonist Tony Malaby's emotional melodies and Questa's adventurous playing?

Take track 4, 'Fast Booty (with)', for example. It's a quick number that begins with some wonderfully tortured sax from Malaby, eventually smoothing out somewhat, under which Questa provides a pulsating bass line. Halvorson dances gingerly around this fitful duo, adding bits and pieces until the trio achieves a delicate equilibrium.  Track 3, 'The Kansas City Stomp' is probably not a homage to any particular Kansas City jazz legends, nor is it much of a stomp, but it does begin with an upbeat theme, played in unison, that reappears between 'duo' sections - where Halvorson and Questa improvise together, then Halvorson and Malaby mix it up.
One of the stand out tracks is 'The Ballad', which starts with a forlorn melody from the sax. As Halvorson's uniquely voiced chords begin fleshing out the background, the connection with Questa's upright bass is quiet and supportive. The tune grows both wider and deeper, leading to an emotive group improvisation. There is plenty of fun too - 'The Blues' begins jauntily, setting the stage for some musical mayhem to follow.

Questa is a New York based composer and bassist with a ear for experimental and avant-garde music, and with Jazz Booty he has created a really engaging album. Give this one a try, see where the improvised music will take you, and don't be shy about turning up the volume.

Fold by Fold Music: http://www.foldbyfoldmusic.com/product/vol-ii-jazz-booty/


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Joachim Badenhorst - Nachtigall and Sparrow Mountain

Joachim Badenhorst, John Butcher, Paul Lytton – Nachtigall (Klein, 2013) ****
Carate Urio Orchestra – Sparrow Mountain (Klein, 2013) ****½


By Dan Sorrells

The first two releases on Joachim Badenhorst’s new label Klein showcase the remarkable breadth of the reedist’s musical vision. The first is a trio recording in which he and percussionist Paul Lytton plunge effortlessly into the singular musical world of saxophone mutoid man John Butcher. The second—with the seven-strong Carate Urio Orchestra—may be the best bridge fashioned so far between the language and temperament of modern improvisers and the things the rock world has been dabbling in over the past few decades: namely, post-rock in all its chamber music, ambient, noise, and drone stripes.

“Nikko Blue” starts Nachtigall with a gunshot crack and some seemingly percussive noises that only reveal themselves to be reed instruments after a few moments elapse. Lytton joins in, rifling around in the silverware drawer while Butcher and Badenhorst meld into something reminiscent of Butcher’s Contest of Pleasures work. Throughout, Badenhorst steps up to Butcher’s level, going reed to reed with the master, at times even becoming indistinguishable from the Brit, as in the great exchanges on “Otaska.”

With these three, it’s not surprising that the music involves a nearly complete deconstruction of each instrument, resulting in a world where the possibilities of sound are placed before the assurances of form, where specifics of technique becomes obscure, secondary even, and the actual act of performing begins slipping from awareness. In short, Nachtigall is just good free improvisation—the sort of vibrant, abstruse interaction we expect when we read who’s on the bill.

But even after the exhilarating trio on Nachtigall, Sparrow Mountain can’t help but be the standout. Moving along like one giant sound wave, with peaks and troughs, lulls of mellow songwriting and quiet improvisation punctuated by huge, satisfying crescendi, it strikes the perfect balance between the more abstract flights of improvisation and strong ensemble writing. The long opener “Larvae” materializes as a tentative improvisation, almost as if the players are feeling out the contours of their partnership. Once a rapport is established, they push ahead into Badenhorst’s songwriting, and the piece coalesces into a beautiful, increasingly intensifying motif that reveals their impressive depth of sound. “Germana” juxtaposes sections of spare vocals and guitar with larger thematic pieces that allow the band to really fill out their “orchestra” title. “Comacina Dreaming” is a particularly haunting piece, an almost psychedelic, ambient use of ethereal high pitches that certainly feels as though it’s slid into a world outside of wakefulness, segueing perfectly into the wordless vocal harmonies of “Een Schoon Hemd,” a track reminiscent of Canadian art-rockers A Silver Mt. Zion. A few other tracks also feature vocals, including the absolutely gorgeous “Laglio,” with a melody that would make any number of indie rock bands jealous.

Sparrow Mountain is such a success because it avoids getting pulled into the usual ruts of rock and free improvisation mash-ups; in fact, it takes an altogether different road. There is no shrieking, skronk sax over hard rock jams or wailing, whammy bar-straining guitar solos. Instead, we find a bunch of seasoned improvisers using the explorations of texture and dynamics inherent in improvised music to color in the sketches of Badenhorst’s songs.

Where Nachtigall touches upon the unity of three minds charging blindly ahead into dark new spaces, Sparrow Mountain reflects the unity that can be forged between disparate musical genres, like shifting the circles of a large Venn diagram until that rich, overlapping middle ground is finally revealed. Both are well worth your time and attention, and both are promising, exciting snapshots of Badenhorst’s top-shelf oeuvre.

Listen to “Laglio”:
You can purchase it at Instantjazz.com

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait & Switch - Comeuppance (Not Two, 2013) ****½


By Ananth Krishnan

Free jazz. Ever since I listened to the first record that presumably belonged to this genre I have been trying to pigeon hole the core that defines this music. The result has always been me being left empty handed  - maybe the five pointers that Stef has outlined in the left side bar is the closest one can get to "defining" free jazz and this has probably been the foremost reason I find this genre so compelling and magnetic - the very fact that it almost always defies expectations and promises a new ride every time you engage. It is a genre that demands audience participation denying passivity and it is a genre that leaves each person carrying out his own interpretations with those being, more  often than not, something that the artist probably did not intend to provoke. It is that open and hence that "free", I suppose. If I seem to be ranting I apologize but Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait & Switch's Comeuppance seems to reaffirm everything that I have just said - it seemed like an ideal preamble.

For those wanting a quick judgment call or one-line summary - if you liked What is Known then you simply cannot go wrong with Comeuppance, in fact you can revel in all the reasons you liked the former with more fervor and verve for not only are they all here and present in the latter but also better.

Now for the more indulgent - for the purely uninitiated Bait & Switch is a quartet led by bassist Lisa Mezzacappa's ably assisted by Aaron Bennett on saxophones, John Finkbeiner on electric guitar and Vijay Anderson wielding the  drums. The music that the four piece put up is pacy, raw and often nervy with a sense of urgency. Some interesting phrases that I picked up from Lisa's site - "garage jazz", "rowdy collective", "free jazz abandon", "avant-Caribbean groove ". Now here is a very interesting exercise for a listener to indulge in- match the moods/feel  these phrases connote while actually listening to the album and you would conclude that there is nothing more apt one can say about the band (the truest and most pertinent facts are often spoken by the leader!). Although all the tracks have such drive and intensity, they also sometimes have some mellow passages that lend a beauty that one can experience only by listening (4 minutes into Cruciferous, listen to the entire track slow down to a crawl only to erupt into a new tangent). The album closer, (A letter to) Mrs. Alice May Williams, is another shining example where for almost 5 minutes the guitar and saxophone indulge in a dissonant, brooding duet steadied by some tasteful rhythm (often lending micro-solos of their own!) only to coalesce into a wholesome finish driven by some wonderful melody on the horns - by relative standards this is the softest track and poses as a perfect finish to an exciting ride. 

I have to honestly admit here that I have a softer spot for string instruments (read also rhythm section, bass and drums!) as compared to horns, more of a personal preference given the solid grounding I got getting to love rock and its ilk. So the presence of Finkbeiner here is the icing on the cake presenting a mouth watering prospect for me. He specially shines in Cruciferous presenting such tasteful and angular tones that shape the entire track. In fact this particular track is perfect example of the juxtaposition of all the phrases that Lisa mentions above - it pretty much is one track that shows it all. Off late for no one reason in particular, I have been listening to a lot of punk and I could not help but draw some parallels with Vijay's drumming. Being a part of the rhythm section for a band that is bursting with such zip and vigor is no ordinary task but he has all the skills and chops required to pull off a masterful show - often frenetic and forceful, he can not only lend a foundation when required but can also single handedly steer the song forward or turn it around on its head. Brilliant stuff. Lisa shines as the leader, especially given the fact that almost all the songs (save for Old and Luna) are her compositions - intricate and structured yet giving plenty of room for her colleagues to improvise.  Needless to mention is her bass playing that is nonpareil - just not the pulsating rhythm she manages to lend with virtuosity but especially some of her solo passages that punctuate the track that are almost ethereal and sublime (Le Crabe, the opener should stand testimony to this). Lastly, I would be amiss if I do not laud the efforts of Aaron Bennett - the man does not seem to be constrained by the fact that the lungs are capable of supporting only a certain amount of air at any given time - his blowing is often so forceful and emphatic that I felt a little out of breath! Las Hormigas Rojas is another favorite tracks of mine that seems to only reaffirm all the strengths of this band in terms of vim and musicianship.

The vitality of the music here is unmistakable and it is so arresting that it seems to grab you by the lapels and demand your undivided focus. With a highly skilled quartet who are so adept at playing off one another and so capable of putting in such high levels of energy the resulting effort can be nothing short of awe-inspiring and Comeuppance is just that and more. The direction in which this genre is headed in terms of evolution is filled with hope and renewed energy with creativity and adventure at the helm - Comeuppance is a fitting tribute towards this journey.

You can purchase it at Instantjazz.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Tania Giannouli & Paulo Chagas - Forest Stories (Rattle, 2013) ***½

By Stef  

The label recommends to file this album under "new music", yet it's hard to pigeon-hole the overall sound.

The duo are pianist Tania Giannouli and wind instrumentalist Paulo Chagas, both classically trained. Some tracks have composed elements in them, whether melody, harmonic development or structure, other pieces are clearly improvised, and the genre is pretty eclectic overall, with aspects of ECM jazz, impressionism, new age and free improvisation.

But there is no reason to be scared: the duo keeps on the right side of good taste, with sounds that enter the ear quite easily - at least for lovers of free improv - but also with character and contemplative authenticity.

The eight pieces are extremely coherent and fit well together, full of careful and cautious sensitivity, measured pace, with a sense of wonder and surprise, yet all tracks are also different, not only because Chagas switches his instruments constantly -  oboe, wood flute, soprano sax, flute - but because of the changes in nature between the tracks, and because of the sudden shifts within some tracks, with the long "Spring's Chronic" being my favorite, a track which puts the listener often on the wrong foot, by doing the opposite of what is expected. Giannouli is a master of subtle touches, preferring to use less notes rather than more, just the right amount to set a scene, to create an atmosphere, to add tension and depth, sometimes alternated with a chord for emphasis and effect.

Yet the best thing on the album is the interaction between both artists, and the incredibly strong joint creation of an overall sound.

"In The Deepest Night" is the only track to be found on Youtube, and although it clearly demonstrates the mood of the album, its "new agey" sound is not typical for the rest of the music.

In any case, this is a beautiful album, to be played when in a more meditative mood, somewhere on a dark night during autumn.

 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fred Hersch and Julian Lage - Free Flying (Palmetto Records, 2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

One of my favorite Bill Frisell albums is a duo recording he did with pianist Fred Hersch called Songs We Know from way back in 1998. Lyrical and spare, it breathed a life into tunes like 'It May as Well be Spring' that I found captivating. Well, fast forward a decade and a half and Hersch has released another excellent piano-guitar duo recording with the mindbogglingly young and accomplished guitarist Julian Lage. 

I recently caught Lage playing with Gary Burton and trading solos with Larry Coryell. Before that, I heard him with Nels Cline in a duo setting. Each time Lage's playing was a little different - I'd even venture to say his work with Burton's new quartet showed a more adventurous side of his playing then his work with Cline, at the time. Here with Hersch, on this live recording, he is both supportive and fiery, finding the exact moments to shadow the piano and then emerge with ideas both lyrical and rhythmic.

The recording features several of the pianist's original songs, often featuring Ken Vandermark like dedications in their titles to musician's whose style they channel. 'Down Home (for Bill Frisell) builds off American Folk and blues like idioms while 'Free Flying (for Egberto Gismonti)' mixes a fine blend of South American inspired rythmns with some ebulliently cascading melodies. Throughout, Hersh's phrasing and note choices are fantastic. They close the album with a joyful interpretation of 'Monk's Dream'.

The duo skirts the edges of classical and jazz with remarkable fluidity. Thier interaction makes for a genuinely enjoyable listen. While not exactly 'free-jazz', Free Flying is one too good to pass over!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Kidd Jordan & Hamid Drake - A Night in November (Valid Records, 2013) ***½

By Stef  

Recorded in Kidd Jordan's own New Orleans in 2011, in front of a small and enthusiastic audience, the great tenorist gets the company of magician drummer Hamid Drake, whose rolling polyrhythmics and dancing lyricism keeps amazing me with every performance. The album contains two lengthy tracks, one more than fourty minutes, the other close to thirty. And as you can guess this is free jazz in its purest form. Two musicians giving their best at improvising till they think they need a break, or the audience needs a break, but otherwise why would they stop, being propulsed forward by their own momentum, by the organic development of their interaction. Ideas flow and bounce back and get shifted in other directions and tempo and mood and intensity, the music stops then restarts and sometimes there are moments when you think the energy disappears, but that's just some silence before both pick up again and move forward, even more frenetically.

It never gets the same kind of variety and intensity as "Palm Of Soul", which is in my opinion one of Jordan's best performances, and in my personal best list of 2006. I also prefer the two "On Fire" releases, with Warren Smith and Harrison Bankhead, because the sound is fuller (and better).

That being said, the album has plenty of its great moments, it's raw and direct and fun and authentic. Two musicians enjoying each other's skills and creating something on the spur of the moment, moving in the same direction while challenging each other.

For fans.

Listen and buy from Bandcamp.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Marc Ducret: Tower Vol.3 (Ayler, 2013) ***½

Reviewed by Joe

I've kind of lost my way a bit with the Marc Ducret "Tower" series. We haven't reviewed them all here but a quick look on the Ayler site tells me that "Tower Vol.1" must have been out in 2011, followed by "Vol. 2" later in the same year. We reviewed "Tower Vol.4", a solo performance which appeared in 2012 and now we have "Tower Vol.3", which was recorded before volume four! I should add that according to the Ayler website this may not be the end of the story ... more volumes to appear? Most of the titles are re-interpreted over the four albums, although not every one and not the same order on each CD - look at the Ayler website to make the comparison over the four records.

If you've heard Marc Ducret's music before you'll already have a fair idea of what this record may sound like (musically). Over the years he's built up this very interesting mixture of free jazz and atonal jazz rock that gives at times an almost contemporary classical tinge to his compositions. Working with various brass combinations he makes some highly sophisticated modern day fanfare music - obviously a little more complex than your average marching band. I was really struck by one of his earlier releases "Le Sens de la Marche", a very strong punchy record recorded (as many of his records) live with his ensemble of the same name. This album sort of follows in the same vein except here we have no drums, something that you don't really think about until reading over the list of musicians. Ducret has an amazing way of presenting his music, not unlike someone such as Steve Reich, he is able to combine instrument combinations and lines which together make melody out of rhythm. His use of marimba/xylophone/vibes player (Sylvain Lemêtre) adds to the strong pulse of the music, and helps strengthen the almost Zappa-esque atonal type melodic lines. These drive the music but leave space for a soloist(s) to "do their thing", and do it they indeed do! 
   
It would be difficult to pick out 'the' best tracks, Ducret's music just doesn't work like that. However, it is possible to cite a few sections on the album that somehow stand out. "Real Thing #2" (tk2) has some amazing moments (texturally). After fighting through some dense melodic and rhythmic music the band lapses into a fantastic coda, percussion, bells, tambourine (?), vibes, all combine with the long melody creating an almost Sergio Leone type western music full of tension. "Real Thing #3" (tk3) starts off with huge dissonant brass chords which gradually lead us towards a strange section which sounds not unlike these enormous Tibetan brass horns that sound together across the Himalayas. Finally "Softly Her Tower Crumbled in the Sweet Silent Sun" uses silence as a melody. Strongly hit chords are left to fade away leaving empty spaces. Gradually Ducret introduces one of his long dense contrapuntal melodies, brass, vibes, guitar, piano all move around each other ending up in overlapping notes that create dissonant chords like a scene in a horror film, most tense.

From the sound of  Marc Ducret's music I can imagine him listening to Tim Berne and Frank Zappa, but at the same time his compositional approach also has strong elements of 'spectral' music such as that of Jonathan Harvey. His music really seems to dig inside sound itself and yet manages to stay accessible. For anyone interested in jazz, improvised music, rock and of course maybe contemporary classical music this is fine album which I find reveals new ideas and nuances with each listen.

The line up on this album: Marc Ducret - electric guitar, Fidel Fourneyron - trombone, Sylvain Lemêtre - vibraphone, xylophone, marimba, percussion, Matthias Mahler - trombone, Alexis Persigan - trombone, Antonin Rayon - piano, celesta.

You can  purchase it at instantjazz.com

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Evan Parker & Matthew Shipp - Rex, Wrecks & XXX (RogueArt, 2013) ****

By Colin Green

At first sight, Evan Parker (tenor saxophone) and Matthew Shipp (piano) might not seem an obvious pairing, representing rather different styles of free jazz from either side of the Atlantic. But duos are not monologues or group discussions; they’re dialogues that highlight both differences and common ground, with a starkness that casts into relief features of the players’ styles that can be lost or obscured in other settings. Perhaps this is why so many great recordings are of duos: the art of conversation thrown into the spotlight.

And of course, it’s folly to pigeonhole creative musicians, whose imaginations are not limited by labels. This was apparent in Parker and Shipp’s previous recording: Abbey Road Duos (Treader, 2007), a set of studies exploring the fundamentals of their shared vocabulary.

Like a number of Parker’s double-CD recordings, this release comprises a live improvisation (some 41 minutes) – recorded at London’s Vortex – and a studio recording made the previous day, consisting of shorter pieces. In an interview printed in Birds and Blades (Intakt, 2003) – a duo recording with Barry Guy (double bass) – Parker gave the following as one of the reasons why he prefers not to play shorter pieces live, and keep them for the studio:
“… I’m scared to discover whether the audience is really enjoying it or not until it’s over. This periodic interruption prompts an applause rating, I find it difficult to deal with.”
One wonders when Parker last had to worry about his applause rating, but you can see his point: good, bad or indifferent, he’s having to measure up to the audience’s assessment rather than his own. 

Although a duo recording, there’s a third (non-speaking) member of the cast: the New York poet Steve Dalachinsky, who wrote the poems printed in lieu of liner notes, which give the tracks their names, and collectively form the alliterative title to the album. I’ll be writing more about him anon when I review his recent release with Joëlle Léandre, but he has associations with both members of this duo. He and Shipp have collaborated on a number of recordings, and the book Logos and Language: A Post-Jazz Metaphorical Dialogue (RogueArt, 2009). Dalachinsky is also an admirer of Parker’s work. His collected Evan Parker poems have been published by Corrupt Press under the title: Long Play E.P. Most were written while listening to Parker play in various settings during a residency at the Stone in 2009, and I assume that the same applies to the poems here: that they are largely real-time responses to what the duo recorded. I’ll say no more about the poems, and focus on the music (readers of my review of the disc with Léandre won’t get off so lightly).

First: the studio recording. This consists of Rex 1 to Rex 6, interspersed with Wrecks 1 and Wrecks 2: solo improvisations by Shipp and Parker, respectively. In Rex 1, after a tentative beginning the two melodic lines expand and merge, like two people meeting in the street, each recognising the other. Here and throughout the album, Shipp displays a wonderful touch and sense and dynamics (it’s no wonder he’s so in demand as part of Ivo Perelman’s recent glut of recordings). Jazz voicings permeate his style, but what is brought to the fore when playing with Parker is his ability to make lightning changes of gear, and to accelerate, reverse, swerve and break. This suits Parker’s atomised phrasings perfectly. 

One tends to think of Parker as having rebuilt his style from the ground up, compressing as much as possible into the smallest space; but what is clear in pieces such as Rex 4, is that within this he has distilled some of the essential phrasings and tone of the jazz saxophone. Although his tenor retains its characteristic edge – like carved granite – there are passages where it takes on a decidedly buttery tone. Smooth tenor and sparkling piano runs? I don’t think it’s stretching matters to see Art Tatum’s last recording session, with Ben Webster as one of the antecedents of this duo. Indeed, in Wrecks 1 – Shipp’s solo – the comparison with Tatum is irresistible.

The duo obviously gave prior thought to the format of some of these pieces. Rex 3 is just over a minute and a half of repeated figures on the saxophone and parallel hands on the piano. Rex 5 consists of witty alternations between the two, each picking up the material of the other, like the party game: The Last Word, where each player has to start a sentence with the last word of the previous player’s sentence. The studio session concludes with Rex 6, an intricate, but lucidly woven fabric of complimentary phrases.

The live disc (XXX) picks up the threads from the previous day, but the uninterrupted performance gives the duo the opportunity to be more expansive: we hear ideas worked out, as in the studio, but also transitions between those ideas. Shipp’s playing is more rhapsodic, and again, there’s a mellowness to Parker’s tone. This is improvisation at the speed of thought, the duo passing and sharing tiny figures, rhythms and contours, each player matching the other in mood and dynamics: soft and playful, pounding and broody. After 25 minutes, both take solos, giving the other time to catch his breath, followed by a reflective passage with some beautifully weighted chords from Shipp. Eventually, the contemplative mood is broken as the pace picks up again, with florid lines wrapped round each other, until the performance comes to a quiet conclusion.

The audience response has been edited out (which is my preference) but I assume the duo received an enthusiastic applause rating. 


You can  purchase it at instantjazz.com


Monday, October 21, 2013

Ronald Shannon Jackson (1940 – 2013)

We have just read the sad news that Ronald Shannon Jackson, one of the greatest jazz/rock/funk drummers, died of leukemia in his hometown Fort Worth/Texas two days ago.

Among others Jackson played on seminal albums with Cecil Taylor (3 Phasis, Cecil Taylor Unit, One Too Many Salty Swift And Not Goodbye), Ornette Coleman (Body Meta, Dancing in your Heads), and Albert Ayler (At Slug’s Saloon 1966), in fact he was the only drummer who played and recorded with all these three free jazz giants.

He will be remembered as an incredibly versatile musician who was able to combine free jazz, funk and rock with his band Decoding Society and as a member of the free rock super group Last Exit (with Peter Brötzmann, Bill Laswell and Sonny Sharrock).

Below is a clip with Last Exit at the German Jazz Festival Frankfurt in 1986 which shows a marvelous, energetic, brilliant Jackson in top form. Just watch his drum solo at around 20 minutes – that’s how we will always remember him.

His death is a sad loss.

Thank you very much for all the great music, Mr Jackson.

Bojan Vuletic – Atemwende (Nate Wooley and Mivos Quartet) (Ignoring Gravity Music, 2012) ***½


By Martin Schray

The German-Jewish writer Paul Celan (1920 – 1970) is one of the most famous post-war poets (like Rose Ausländer he belonged to the German minority in Czernowitz/Bukowina, which lies in today’s south-western Ukraine), his work picking out the Shoah as a central theme (especially his own experience in the concentration camps and the trauma of the deportation and death of his parents there) and how post-war German society dealt with this guilt. He is mainly known for his poem “Death Fugue” with its famous line “Death is a Master from Germany”, which is an encrypted processing of the holocaust, strictly structured like a Bach fugue (as the title suggests).

Atemwende” (“Breathturn”) is the title of a collection of his poems which was published in 1967 but only two of the titles of the compositions on this album belong to this poetic cycle (“Du darfst” and “Fadensonnen), most of them were released in various other works (“Death Fugue” in “Poppy and Memory”, for example).

For the Serbian composer Bojan Vuletic Celan has been a main non-musical influence (as well as Gerhard Richter, Pablo Picasso or Paul Strand) which is the reason why he decided to set some of his poems to music – in a very subjective way he calls “re-composing art”. But Vuletic didn’t want to write one-to-one transfers of Celan’s texts and neither did he want to create background music for them, instead he wanted to compose hermetic pieces of art which could be definitely assigned to the original poems. In general, for Vuletic it was important to show what he feels when he reads Celan.

In an interview he also said that he perceives a wedge in Celan’s personality, something he tried to implement in his compositions for “Atemwende”, where Nate Wooley’s trumpet functions as this wedge in the string quartet. And Celan really was a tormented soul, he suffered from delusions and was admitted to mental institutions several times before he committed suicide. As a consequence, the music on this album has to be quite gloomy and dark with some hopeful, brighter specks.

Especially “Fadensonnen” (“Thread Suns”) is a prime example here: Although it looks like a typical Celan-like description of a wasteland, the poem deals with the desire to forget about the past and the hope for better days.  The piece itself is extremely somber, the strings seem to feel their way into it while Wooley adds hardly more than his breath, he rather aspirates the notes instead of really playing it – it is the eeriest but also most fascinating track, it reminds of the soundtrack of the 1970s surrealist cult classic “El Topo”. Vuletic depicts a gloomy past with this music, one which is hard to manage.

While “Todesfuge” is a rather conventional new classical music piece with the trumpet as an unspectacular additional color dot, a track like “Zähle die Mandeln” (“Count the Almonds”) with its percussive and explorative approach is more promising. Wooley’s trumpet sounds like an electronic instrument, supported by the strings (Olivia De Prato and Joshua Modney on violin, Victor Lowrie on viola, and Mariel Roberts on cello) adding sharp and concise lines. The music of these compositions is not far away from Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening Band.

Although Bojan Vuletic says that the compositions consist of elements of new classical music and free improvisation, the new classical ones prevail, which can be very beautiful as in “Du Darfst” (“You are allowed to”) or less challenging as in “Die Fleissigen” (“The Hard-Working Ones”). Nevertheless an interesting listening experience.

Listen to an excerpt here.



Bojan Vuletic – Atemwende (Nate Wooley and Mivos Quartet) (Ignoring Gravity Music, 2012) 


By Stef

My knowledge of modern classical music is as strong as a camel's knowledge of scuba-diving, so far from me to generate any interesting insights on it, let alone rate this album. I just contacted the composer himself to get a copy of the album because it is not the kind of music that typically ends up in my mailbox.

But because we all know that Nate Wooley is one of this blog's favorite musicians, the initiative to follow him  and trace his performance also in a modern classical environment was a good one.

What I can say is that I like the album. I like the string quartet's harmonious - even if at times dissonant - contrast to Wooley's more free-spirited horn. I like the way the trumpet adds some fun, some emotion, some iconoclasm to the process, some sounds which I guess are totally foreign to classical music, while equally fully at home in joining the strings in the composed lines. I like Vuletic' sense of dramatic lyricism, the light gravitas of the compositions.

Vuletic has had some previous collaborations as a producer with Wooley, once on the impossible to find duo with Paul Lytton on the Brokenresearch label, which was produced in only 200 vinyl copies, and also with Lytton on "Creak Above 33", on Psi, which is easier to find.

I like the contrast, and even the conflict of instruments and genres, the contradiction which acts as attraction and rejection. I like the purity of the Mivos Quartet's strings and Wooley's uncompromising tones. I like Vuletic' well-paced chamber composition and the openness to raw interaction.


Even if not my kind of music, it is a great listening experience, and that says a lot.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sons of Kemet – Burn (Naimlabel, 2013) ****


Often times while penning down a review, I get down to thinking what yardsticks and traits constitute an ideal piece of critique. And more often that not I end up boiling down to the struggle between objectivity and subjectivity. To write a piece as an emotional reaction to a piece of music devoid of all prejudices and bias and prior knowledge about the band, their influences, the genre they fall into, in my opinion, results in a piece of writing that is mostly objective. But subjectivity brings its own school of merits - by providing a counter point to all the facets of objectivity that I have cited above, it brings home a certain authenticity that a reader can instinctively connect to. A subjective piece (expertly written) can lead a reader to make  conclusions and judgments without even listening to the music it attempts to describe. In summary achieving a credible middle ground balancing both schools of thought would be the IDEAL review but I would assume that that is no easy act to pull off.  However for the record in question I had no option but to resort to the former school of practice for I had never heard of Sons of Kemet, who the band consisted of and not even what instruments I was going to get to listen to. And I kept it that way keeping in check every impulse to call upon Google's services. What ensues is the amazing ride I experienced when I hit that play button.

The first track, All Will Surely Burn (an apt title in hindsight!) started with a pounding assault  with what I was sure was a dual drum set; ten seconds in a brass sets the stability to the tune; another ten seconds, enter reeds stating a melody with the drums unrelenting all the while - all this happens in first 30 seconds - enough to get me hooked (I recounted later that what began as a sitting and relaxed posture while starting out to listen automatically turned into a semi-frantic pacing, the dispelling of energy I suppose!). The track continued in the same vein with the drums and brass not letting down the pulse while the reeds was free to explore with multiple melodic lines. Calling this a wonderful start would probably be a huge understatement. Seeing how already I have spent quite an amount of space for just the first track, I would think it wise to refrain from a track wise description. I will stick to some highlights that should describe what the album has to offer.

The ordering of the tracks was pretty much perfect - the high energy tracks are seemingly punctuated by the slower brooding ones almost letting the listener and the record breathe. The fourth track, The Book of Disquiet, is the first of this - it is an almost meditative piece with every instrument developing motifs and ideas around one another. This track serves as the perfect piece to spotlight the superlative drumming that one gets to listen to - the drummers who can create blistering and quivering rhythms (often of multiple varieties - African, reggae, dub and what not) also know when to resort of tasteful restrain happy to provide a foundation on which their colleagues get to stretch and turn. Also the album is filled with memorable hooks  that refuses to stop swimming in your head (I would challenge anyone to stop humming the riff of Inner Babylon) - I guess this is song writing and arranging that is so well thought out that it is amply evident in its execution. Another facet that I found exciting to listen to is how every instrument is ready to be the base on which the others can improvise - an example being The Godfather, the track that follows up the blistering opener, has a brilliant melodic hook around which everything seems to build and fall. I found it a brilliant counterpoint with the brass exploring sounds around this melody. Beware (which I later learned is a staple live track) is where the brass almost single handedly propels the song forward with a fierce drive around which the drums and reeds walkabout - a mesmerizing track.  Almost every song exemplifies the tightness of the band portraying the level of comfort they have with one another and they are at their shining best when each of the instruments build up to end in an aggressive flourish blending together so well while offering a manic crescendo.
The last track Rivers of Babylon was a pleasant surprise to me and I do not intend spoiling it for you!

After the listen I did eventually succumb to the internet - the leader on reeds (clarinets and saxophone) is Shabaka Hutchings; the tuba is the instrument that I keep referring to as the brass played by Oren Marshall; Seb Rochford and Tom Skinner on the amazing dual drums (and Dave Okumu with guitar on tracks 5 and 6 lending a beautiful atmosphere). Apparently they have been around for 2 years very active in the live circuit before Burn came about as their debut. Reading a bit of their history and background it is no wonder that the music is an eclectic mix of Caribbean rhythms stepped in African roots (even the name Kemet and 'Shabaka' add to the African story!) infused with some modern jazz thoughts. Though never in your face, the influences manage to add a distinct colour to the music making it something that is going to stick in your head for some time. Given the vast amount of fun I had listening to this intensely rhythmic record I can only imagine how their live shows would be - it must be an electric, high energy affair full of riotous fun (if jazz had a mosh pit, Sons of Kemet certainly get one!). Shame that my geographical coordinates is never going to help me realize the dream of seeing them live. Now, if only I could find a way to get them down to India... hmmm.....

Buy from the label.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nor Cold - Nor Cold (Multikulti, 2013) ****½

By Stef  

"So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:16) is the inspirational title coming from the bible, yet indirectly via the novel "Warm and Cold" (Pol. "Ciepło, zimno") by the Polish author Adam Zagajewski. The music itself is based on sephardic songs from the Balkans, and on folk songs.

The band are Olgierd Dokalski on trumpet, Wojciech Kwapisiński on guitar, Oori Shalev on drums, and my compatriot Zeger Vandenbussche on saxophones, clarinet and Jew's harp.

Sure, the four musicians tapped into some deep cultural roots to bring their music, but what they bring to the surface is innovative, moving and strong. In contrast to much of Zorn's Radical Jewish Culture series, the music brought here is more eclectic, broader and rhythmically more subtle.

The result is melodious, free and beautiful, with an approach that's maintained throughout the album, and with tunes that you will go back to, just for the sweetness of their sounds, the beauty of the solos cutting loose from the themes, the mesmerising hypnotism of the guitar that acts like a bass at times, the great drumming and the perfect interplay between the horns. And this full of joy for the music itself, full of passion and empathy.

Some people believe that music is all about technical skills on the instrument. These four guys demonstrate that real artistry is somewhere else, in a place with deep emotion, sonic beauty and spiritual resonance.

A great album by an unknown band. Another discovery from Poland (and Belgium).







Friday, October 18, 2013

John Tchicai, Charlie Kohlhase, Garrison Fewell, Cecil McBee, Billy Hart - Tribal Ghost (NoBusiness, 2013) *****

By Stef  

The only reason why I did hesitate to give this album a five-star rating is because it is so short, and indeed, only thirty-five minutes long, but what you get is so good, so subtle, so beautiful and sensitive and jazzy and free that the listener cannot complain at all. Even with its short length, you get more than value for money.

Martin has already reviewed this album, so I will not repeat what he wrote. I justed wanted to emphasise the fact that the band is absolutely outstanding, with John Tchicai on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Charlie Kohlhase on alto, tenor and baritone sax, Garrison Fewell on guitar, Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart on drums.

"Queen of Ra" and "Llanto Del Indio" already appear on the amazing "Good Night Songs", a collaboration of Fewell, Tchicai and Kohlase, but then without a rhythm section, which makes the tunes more intimate and introspective. "Llanto Del Indio" has been released on the New York Art Quartet's "35th Reunion" CD (2000), with Rosewell Rudd on trombone, and on "Cadencia Nova Danica".

"Queen Of Ra", also featured on "Big Chief Dreaming", an album from 2005 on which Fewell and Tchicai are the lead voices, in a quintet similar to this one, and yet, the version on "Tribal Ghost" is so much more subtle and compelling, in a way that's hard to describe, yet it somehow gels better.

The beginning of the second side starts with the introduction of "Venus", which also features on "One Long Minute" (2009), and then expands into "Dark Matter", an equally riveting slow theme, full of grace and sadness.

So if all these tunes have been played before, what makes them so unique now?

First of all, the overall consistency of sound and quality throughout the album is amazing.

Second, the entire band is excellent at any give moment. Tchicai and Kohlhase are fabulous in their controlled passion, McBee and Hart are an incredible rhythm section, adding pulse and dynamics that few of the previous recordings had, but the real star of the album is Fewell. Yes, we already knew he is an excellent guitarist, but what he does here is stunning, playing as jazzy as it gets, yet adding little touches and notes, a chord here, an accent there, absolutely controlled and expressive and precise and ... just right. And so slow and accurate ... many guitarists could take a lesson here.

Third, the whole album adds a kind of intimacy to the John Coltrane legacy of expansive and epic post-bop and free jazz. It is a kind of down to earth, more human, more humanistic approach to Coltrane's exploration of the universe. It is tribal as the title suggests, yet then of the introspective rather than the exuberant kind.

This album is as cool as it is hot!

Highly recommended.


You can  purchase it at instantjazz.com

Thursday, October 17, 2013

John Tchicai, Charlie Kohlhase, Garrison Fewell, Cecil McBee, Billy Hart - Tribal Ghost (NoBusiness, 2013) ****½


By Martin Schray

Only at the end of his career John Tchicai, a man who played with Albert Ayler and John Coltrane and who was one of the great voices in free jazz, was allowed to have his first and only weeklong residency at a New York Jazz club, the Birdland. For the concerts Tchicai (ts, b-cl) expanded his trio consisting of Charlie Kohlhase (as, ts, baritone-sax) and Garrison Fewell (g) with Cecil McBee (b) and Billy Hart (dr) because this was the only precondition the Birdland booker had. Tchicai chose these two legends because according to the liner notes he wanted someone who “could play time, could swing and play free”. And what an excellent decision that was!

Tribal Ghost” is an outstanding album breathing the spirit of jazz history with every tone. You can hear the voices of John Coltrane (of course) and Pharoah Sanders, but also Lee Konitz and Jimmy Giuffre while Garrison Fewell’s sound, which is the secret sensation on this album, reminds of Wes Montgomery, Billy Bauer or even Grant Green. And all these influences are used to create the most beautiful music.

The first track, “Tribal Ghost”, starts with Tchicai, Kohlhase, and particularly Fewell in the focus building up a meditative atmosphere and immediately you can sense this feverish spirituality, this exuberant jubilation, this worshipping of the old masters, this deep rootage in the blues, this magnificent lyricism – something that pervades the whole album, as well as the fact that the tracks are full of surprises: in “Tribal Ghost” the musicians stop all of a sudden, just to reinvent the track as a funk/jazz stomper with Tchicai and McBee holding a hypnotic beat while Kohlhase, who is the actual tribal ghost here, conjures a higher power with Fewell throwing in sharp licks, riffs and thrills.

The Queen of Ra”, a piece Fewell wrote for Tchicai, also begins in a dark and somber mood with a bowed bass, guitar arpeggios and glockenspiel before Tchicai and Kohlhase break up the atmosphere with a cool jazz theme. The whole piece reminds of a ritual service, especially when McBee leaves his function of maintaining the pulse just to battle with Kohlhase, pushing him to a marvelous solo full of melancholic, angry, expressive and energetic cries.

Dark Matter”, a piece which was inspired by John Carter’s “Castles of Ghana”, swings almost harmlessly and elegantly but there is also a latent dangerous temptation. It also contains the most beautiful theme on this album.

Yet, the last piece, “Llanto Del Indio” (the only composition by John Tchicai, the others are written by Fewell), is the highlight of the album. After a brief introduction McBee takes on a soulful groove (according to Fewell it was not planned) and the saxes and the guitar seem to dance around each other like children in heavenly joyful ecstasy – innocent and tender, one of these musical moments you want to last forever.

It is all the more tragic that John Tchicai, a man like a tree, died last year recovering from a brain hemorrhage. His last words on this album are: “Have a good life and thanks for spending some time with us. We hope to meet you again sometime in the future.” Unfortunately, not in this world.
The album, which was recorded on February 9th and 10th in 2007, is available as a limited vinyl edition of 1000 copies.

You can listen to a snippet of “Dark Matter” on the label’s website (http://nobusinessrecords.com/) where you can also buy the record. You can also purchase it at instantjazz.com.
           


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Shadow Man (ECM, 2013) *****

By Paul Acquaro

Saxophonist Tim Berne's compositions are never what you expect -- or rather they are totally what you expect if you are hoping to be led to an unanticipated destination in a circuitous manner. Yet, no matter how unique each adventure is, you know that you'll arrive safely, if somewhat addled.

Snakeoil's first release was a highly lauded event, it topped many critics polls and certainly thrilled me too. Back when it came out, I wrote "right from the first tune there is an assuredness in the intertwining melodies and ever evolving musical ideas. Quiet passages are contrasted by intense ones, and the ebb and flow throughout is seamless",  which stands true, and then some, for this new offering, Shadow Man.

The recording starts out on the quiet side with "Son of Not So Sure." The track takes its time as Matt Mitchell's piano and Ches Smith's vibraphone create a dramatic and somewhat pensive atmosphere. The follow up track 'Static' picks up at a fast clip with melodies and counter-melody climbing and intertwining. Then, over a rather steady piano riff, Berne's sax becomes towering. As I listened, I somehow felt like I wandering around the base of rocky spires in a national park in southern Utah, layers of sound rising up like multihued formations reaching into the crystal skies above. It leaves you panting for air, wondering how something so delicate and beautiful is hewn from such basic elements. 'OC/DC' is a track you can get lost in. Surrounded by the wonderous peaks of saxophone and pathways blazed by the piano, the percussion provides obtuse but delightful trail markers. The dark tension that Oscar Noriega creates on his bass clarinet is captivating, and when the rest of the group picks up, the track 'Sockets' becomes yet another highlight.

Shadow Man is another excellent addition to Berne's discography. Check out a recent clip of Snakeoil's appearance at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC (courtesy of Kevin Reilly):





Monday, October 14, 2013

John Stevens' Away – Away at Home (Loose Torque, 2013) ****

By Dan Sorrells

A funk and soul music binge undertaken by John Stevens when he was laid up after surgery was the impetus for the group Away. Though it remains dwarfed next to Stevens’ accomplishments with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Away was the drumming giant’s unique way of tapping into the jazz-rock craze of the mid and late 1970s. Away released several albums on the Vertigo label in that time period, and recordings have been sporadically released in the years and decades since, but for the most part, much of the group’s output has been largely unavailable, existing only as assorted notations in the mind-boggling John Stevens discography. Over the past few years, however, Away bassist Nick Stephens has taken to releasing some vintage recordings on his own Loose Torque label, and it’s a wonderful thing. You see, Away was a group that made most fusion bands sound like mere fission.

Away at Home was recorded in 1978 at the Plough Stockwell, a frequent haunt of the band. For this gig, Jon Corbett joined the group, creating a formable funk-jazz sextet of sax, trumpet, drums, bass, and dueling electric guitars. While there’s no question this ensemble was wading into the same waters as Miles Davis, Weather Report, and others across the pond, there’s an energy continually present on Away at Home that seems sorely lacking from a lot of American electric jazz. Away at Home presents an unsubtle, driving music that both embraces the intoxicating headspace of a tightly locked groove and captures the intensity of the classic free jazz free-for-all. Away feared no tempo or crescendo.

Away at Home features four long tracks (and a short fifth piece), most of which are extended mash-ups of tunes from Away’s Vertigo LPs. “Relative Space” makes its mark with an unbearably catchy descending horn line, the track rocketing along until it eventually segues into the  funky, cymbal-driven beat of “What’s That.” The beat is reprised much later at the end of the band’s set, sending the audience through the roof. It’s a perfect encapsulation of what made Away more remarkable than so many of their contemporaries: a small club exuberance that always trumps the bloated, arena-rock detachment that would become fusion’s downfall.

Away at Home is piece of jazz-rock history worth grabbing on to, especially when there’s currently so little from this group to go around. It’s also a side to John Stevens that some of his fans might not be aware of, and a great reminder of what a tireless, passionate force he was in all realms of this music.

The band : Robert Calvert - saxophones, Jon Corbett - trumpet, Nick Stephens - electric bass, Nigel Moyse - guitar, Martin Holder - guitar, John Stevens - drums.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Power Of The Horns - Alaman (For Tune, 2013) ****½

By Stef  

Big band free jazz ... wow, what a feast. A group of young Polish jazz musicians revive the spirit of the early seventies jazz scene, think of Human Arts Ensemble or other jazz loft bands, or Bengt Berger's Bitter Funeral Beer, which are all rhythm and structure, yet entirely mad and chaotic at the same time, full of majestic power and instruments blending in for grand themes, then taking a lead voice until pushed back by other soloists adding ideas and power and volume only to be drawn back into some strong unison lines for a few bars until the mayhem kicks in again.

The band is Piotr Damasiewicz on trumpet and voice, Adam Pindur on soprano sax, Maciej Obara on alto sax, Marek Pospieszalski on tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute and growl, Pawel Niewiadomski on trombone, Dominik Wania on  piano, Max Mucha on double bass, Jakub Mielcarek on double bass, Wojciech Romanowski on drums, Gabriel Ferrandini on drums, and Tomas Sanchez on percussion.

The band is truly fantastic, blending really as one team, in front of a more than enthusiastic audience, with all soloists improvising strongly, with the horns playing strong counterpoint themes against the African polyrhythmic foundation.

This is nothing else but jubilating sounds, full of great musical joy, majestic and solemn at the same time, wild and ecstatic.

A record to play a zillion times and guaranteed to bring you in high spirits. Highly recommended!



Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mats Gustafsson Round Up

By Martin Schray

Really, Mats, I am starting to hate you. Who do you think you are? Don’t you have any pity with other musicians who want to sell their stuff as well? How many albums have you released this year? It feels as if there were 67 (or so). And the batch of duo albums with Thurston Moore, Joe McPhee, Christian Marclay and Eye, which were announced for early summer, have not even been released yet (you told me that it is going to happen in autumn). It would help if some of the new releases were of bad quality – but no, as if you were king Midas everything you touch turns to gold. The announcement that you are going to start your own label for The Thing actually terrifies me because you said that you wanted to re-release all albums by The Thing on vinyl. As if the new stuff wasn’t enough! Have I mentioned new albums by Fire! and the duo with Ken Vandermark? No?

Okay, enough irony. Of course I love your music, I could die for it. I don’t hate you, but my bank account definitely does.

Swedish Azz: Presents Erik Carlsson & All Stars Vol. 1 and 2 (Not Two, 2013) ****



When I saw Fire! lately Gustafsson referred to this music as “Swedish jazz classics from the future“ but with Swedish azz, which was founded by him and Per-Åke Holmlander in 2009, he actually wants to remember, appreciate, honor and update the Golden Age of Swedish jazz of the 1950s and 60s. People like Lars Gullin, Jan Johansson, Bernt Rosengren, Georg Riedel, Lars Werner, Berndt Egerbladh and Per Henrik Wallin were inspired by the American West Coast Jazz, by musicians like Charlie Parker, Chet Baker and Stan Getz, and included elements of traditional Swedish themes and rhythms into their compositions which was unique in the European jazz scene at that time. Swedish azz’s music uses these compositions and puts them in a contemporary context putting it through the mill of live electronics and free improvisation without forgetting to pay these tunes respect.

Swedish azz consists of Mats Gustafsson (saxes) and Per-Åke Holmlander (tuba), Eric Carlsson (drums), Dieb 13 (turntables and electronics), and Kjell Nordeson (vibraphone) and if you want to check what the notion of the band is, you have to listen to Lars Farnslöf’s “Över Stock Och Sten”, the first track of the album. After a tender intro (with an already spooky underlying vibes sound) the atmosphere changes with the increasing of the pulse and the quite aggressive presentation of the theme. Gustafsson tears the song almost apart, his sound is almost brutal, the breaks are really harsh, but it remains a jazz piece - until Dieb 13’s electronics put it over the edge. For a long moment the track is pure noise, they enjoy getting lost in pure chaos before they finish it with the tenderness of the beginning. This track alone is worth the whole album!

“Du Glädjerika Sköna” by Jan Johansson (the title quotes a line of the Swedish national anthem) cannot quite compete with this extraordinary beginning, it is a vehicle for Nordeson and Holmlander whose hectic solos take turns.

The influence of Swedish folk music is most obviously recognizable in Berndt Egerbladh’s “Umepolskan & Nybyggarland“ which starts with a theme based on a traditional melody before it gets lost (the melody actually vanishes) and crude horror soundscape noises take over. The theme comes up again and the tuba tries to hold it while the vibes and the sax fly like kites over it. As in the first track the band picks up the theme in the end to finish it.

The most unusual track is “Mäster“, a Borje Fredriksson composition. It is highly fragmented, almost a collage of many different elements, and especially the spoken word samples are difficult to adjust to. On the other hand there are beautiful sax/tuba passages as well - but in the end this track cannot quite compete with the others.

Swedish azz is neither a marginal Gustafsson project nor is it merely a pun playing with the derivations of the words jazz and ass. It is a beautiful reference to his and Holmlander’s roots.
Swedish Azz’s Presents Erik Carlsson & All Stars Vol. 1 and 2 is available as a double 10-inch.

You can buy it from  Instantjazz.com.

Although this is an older clip it gives you an impression of what the band sounds like:

 


Mats Gustafsson and Didi Kern: Eissalon (Live) (Rock Is Hell Records, 2013) ****


Eissalon is the German word for ice-cream parlor and the fact that the recording took place in Vienna in January 2013 when the streets are full of snow and the temperature is mostly below zero gives the location a completely different meaning. What is even more interesting is the fact that the parlor is tiny, which increased the intimacy for the audience to a maximum extent.

Mats Gustafsson and drummer Didi Kern used the location to celebrate the publication of the latest edition of Philipp Schmickl’s magazine “The Oral”. I was not familiar with Kern until I heard this record but he has been part of the Vienna improvisation scene for quite some time and he has already recorded with Weasel Walter and performed with Heaven And.

From the very beginning the two musicians are at top speed, Gustafsson plays feverish wild and chopped-off riffs, which are supported by barrage of crazy clicks and clacks, he is rather the howling saxophone dervish at work in this recording.

Kern is a drummer in the Paul Lovens and Günter “Baby” Sommer tradition, his drumming is both muscular and subtle, rumbling and delicate at the same time. He uses all kinds of stuff to extend the possibilities of his drumkit, live he is said to whistle and play various other simple instruments which makes me think of Han Bennink.

“Ein Eis” (an ice-cream), which is the name of the track, rocks formidably, especially the second part is duo free jazz and funk noise par excellence. If you like “I love it when you snore” by Gustafsson/Nilssen-Love you are definitely right here, it is music to empty cheesy rock bars with. For ice-cream parlors in winter it is the perfect music to bring the place to the boil.

Eissalon is only available in a single-sided vinyl edition, it is limited to 222 copies. Unfortunately, it is not the whole 35-minute-set they played but just a 20 minutes excerpt.

You can buy it from the label: http://rockishell.bigcartel.com


Paal Nilssen-Love & Mats Gustafsson: Con-Gas (Bocian, 2013) *** ½


Regular readers of this blog already know that Mats Gustafsson is a vinyl freak, if he could he would mostly release 7-inches. This duo with one of his favorite partners in crime is a double 7-inch and the new thing is that you can hear Paal Nilssen-Love on congas only (and Gustafsson on slide and bass saxophones).
The result is a very intimate session, both leave their mannish playing behind and concentrate on very subtle interaction.

The first A-side - “Satans Fogsmuts” - is a dark introduction with typical Gustafsson honks, while the flipside “Mutants Sass Fog” shows the duo in a tender dialogue in the tradition of Gustafsson’s Birds trio (with Raymond Strid and John Russell). “Evil Nelson” is an unruly ride, the two alpha dogs fight with each other before they come together at the end of the track, which is the most beautiful moment of this recording. The flipside “Enliven Loss” closes the recording with a lesson in sound exploration, very quietly and tentatively, it’s my favorite track here.

The music was recorded on February, 14th, 2013 (is it a mere coincidence that this was my 50th birthday or does this have a deeper meaning?), by Martin Siewert at Garnison7 in Vienna.

Con-Gas comes in white and black vinyl and is limited to 300 copies. 

It’s not a must-have but you get another, interesting perspective on Gustafsson’s and Nilssen-Love’s work.


Dieb 13/Mats Gustafsson/Martin Siewert: (Fake) the Facts (Substance, 2013) ****


This 7-inch was released for Record Store Day 2013 and presents a finger exercise of Mats Gustafsson on bass sax, Martin Siewert on guitar and Dieb 13 on turntables and cigar box.

“The Fake” is a rough track in the tradition of Gustafsson’s collaborations with Thurston Moore or Jim O’Rourke, brutal and harsh electronic shredder with an icing of guitar feedback and sax spittle.  The flipside track “The Fact” is a beautiful beast which presents Gustafsson and Siewert meditating over bubbling along electronic noise.

If you are interested in this kind of music I would recommend the trio’s excellent full album of the same name (Editions Mego, 2011), this 7-inch is also rather for collectors or Gustafsson maniacs.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Zenjungle & Tunedin52 - free music for free spirits in unfree environments

By Stef

The great thing about social media and digital space is the democracy of sound. It is cheap to share, there are no labels or music critics or other hurdles who can stand between you - the musician - and you - the listener. You browse a little bit, you find stuff, you think it's worth talking about.

So is this unusual duo of Zenjungle and Tunedin52, artist names for Phil Gardelis from Greece and John Daly from Ireland. The former plays tenor and soprano sax, electronics and piano, the latter plays guitar, baritone guitar, electronics. Both also add found sounds, sound effects and field recordings.

Their music is carefully paced and relatively accessible in its cautious inobtrusive approach. It is avant-garde, but not boundary-breaking. It is new even if not really innovative. You can call it nu jazz, post-jazz or ambient jazz, or whatever jazz, it is still worth mentioning and highlighting.

You can admire the duo's relentless search for their own voice and sound, their obstinate pursuit of newness, of expressing oppressive environments where things evolve in a way that is clearly not liberating. You can feel the constraints and the inner tension. You can feel how gentleness is somehow crushed, how darkness tries to be pierced, how suddenly beauty erupts out of industrial darkness. Or as the band describes their "Learning To Breathe In New Spaces"

"This is space, we must survive, we must learn to breathe, it hurts, we hurt, life is pain, there is no escape, death is the absence of pain, embrace pain, embrace life, the fiery breath of survival is incessant: there's a freight train coming down the sax, wire wound, brass round wound, blowing across the frets, jazz wobblelations, acousmatic high wire acts, vibrating electro magnetic signals blend in resonating harmonies, journeying incognito through micro tonal scopic variables, a signpost says this way and we go the other but end up in paradise, harmonic wonderment of the elemental kind, love, life, death, suffering, ecstasy, we roll we razz, we stroll through the maze, a bright light guides and blinds us, jazzish, zentunes".

There are many bands like this one, for sure, but this duo has some great concept of sound and focus. Once they set an environment, what they will do with it remains in character, they will change, evolve, expand, deconstruct, but the essence of the tune, and its atmosphere remains intact throughout, impactful and coherent. That is a great feat.

I will leave the discovery up to you, it is all available on bandcamp.


Zenjungle & Tunedin52 - Learning To Breathe In new Spaces (Bandcamp, 2013) ***½



Zenjungle & Tunedin52 - Still Life (Bandcamp, 2013) ***½




Zenjungle & Tunedin52 - Behind the Shed (Bandcamp, 2013) ***



Zenjungle & Tunedin52 - Mesh (Bandcamp, 2012) ***½


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile (Constellation, 2013) *****


By Martin Schray (with a little help of Colin Green)

Before the release of Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens Des Couleurs Libres in 2011, Matana Roberts announced that it was the first in a conceptual project in twelve-chapters, including notation and free improvisation, historical storytelling, and theatrical elements, with which she would explore family history as well as African-American culture and life during the last 300 years. (The series’ protagonist is Marie Thérèse Metoyer – also known as CoinCoin – a freed slave, doctor, planter and business woman.) It’s a highly ambitious and complex endeavor (some call it big-mouthed) that could have gone terribly wrong – but the result was one of the greatest and most interesting albums of the last ten years.

On Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile, Roberts again invokes the great and complex narrative of her Afro-American/Native-American ancestors using the handed down tradition of blues, field songs, even dixieland and gospel, but also free jazz. The music conjures Sun Ra’s creativity and John Coltrane’s spirituality as well as Albert Ayler’s vision and the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s roots in African music (Roberts is an associate AACM member). Instead of the large improvising, roaring, and tumultuous ensemble she had in Chapter One (all in all 15 musicians), she has chosen a smaller band here - Shoko Nagai (piano), Jason Palmer (trumpet), Thomson Kneeland (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums) and Jeremiah Abiah (vocals). One finds the same exuberance, disparity, eclecticism and eruptions as before, to which Roberts now adds lyricism and tightness, by way of contrast with the cacophony of other passages. The adoption of the old tunes and laments is enriched by voices (all the band members sing) and tone and tension are enhanced by the inclusion of an opera singer – Jeremiah Abiah – whose tenor is the icing on the cake. In live performances Roberts seems to switch his voice on and off, like interspersed historical comments, in order to portray the complexity of these times. It’s a very visual dimension, yielding emotional images of individual and collective pain, rebellion, desperation, pride and shame. Roberts calls this: “panoramic sound quilting”.

Prominent highlights from the 18 pieces on the album are “Invocation”, the first track, which sounds as if Coltrane has risen from his grave to play a new version of “Alabama”; or “Amma Jerusalem School” and “Was the Sacred Day”, in which Roberts raps like a Creole witch quoting “Joshua Won the Battle of Jericho” and “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child”, and children’s prayers in front of a simple, repetitive trumpet riff. When she recites the old gospel: “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, his eyes on the sparrow, and I know He watches over me” the apparent ray of hope is immediately followed by a desolate saxophone tune. And there’s “Woman Red Racked”, a call-and-response gospel, in which Roberts’ soulful phrase: “I love you, black woman” gets under your skin. Her approach is angry on the one hand – an agonizing, torn-up, and fragmented evocation of musical ghosts – but there’s also hope and beauty in it.

In the 1990s Wynton Marsalis attacked Lester Bowie, and with him the Art Ensemble of Chicago and AACM. If he were to hear the coherent mix of traditional music and free improvisation on this album, he might want to bite into his instrument.

This just might be the most socially relevant music (not just jazz) being made at the moment. My album of the year.

Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile is available on vinyl (including a download) and CD.

Listen to “Amma Jerusalem School” and “For it is” here:



You can buy the album from the label’s website cstrecords.com or instantjazz.com.