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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Objets Trouvés - Fresh Juice (Intakt, 2013) ****½


An album that I proposed for the Happy New Ears Award, but that didn't make it to the final list, mainly because it had not been reviewed yet. The Swiss band consists of Co Streiff on alto and soprano saxophone, Gabriela Friedli on piano, Dieter Ulrich on drums, and Jan Schlegel on electric bass, a balanced quartet of two women and two men.

The music has a quite unique quality, working with composed parts in a very open-ended context, like islands floating in an ocean of possibilities, with some real jazzy moments in the traditional sense, with some boppish pulse and intimate playing, as on the closing track "Straying Horn", a clear reference to Billy Strayhorn, but then moving outside, almost naturally, without effort, then reuniting in a unison theme to the enthusiasm of the live audience.

But what comes before is less easy to pigeonhole. Yes, there are moments of pure minimalism, like in the opening track, when sparse and subtle sounds create an eery atmosphere built around silence, but then suddenly a quiet theme arises, out of nothing, disappears again for further quiet development, then restless interaction, somewhat chaotic, until the theme again grows out of the ongoing agitation, moving into full visibility, then disappears again in strange fluttering and ruffling of alto and drums, in the aptly titled "Gesang der Nacht" (Singing of the Night).

"Weisser Zwerg" is a slowly paced avant-garde piece, lightly textured at first, with the sax barely audible taking the lead voice, then density increases slightly when suddenly all instruments are heard together, a rare occurence on this album, then fade away to quiet and eery piano by Friedli.

"Equilibre Tendu" in contrast is more post-boppish and expansive, in a kind of Coltrane mood, with all four instruments heard at all time, with the alto soaring above the tight rhythm section.

The quartet meanders between inside and outside playing with dexterity and a natural sense of spontaneity that is indeed refreshing and light-footed, and like the Convergence Quartet's "Slow and Steady", they offer the perfect line of eclectic jazz modernism, with a rare sensitive and elegant quality in the overall sound.

Nothing ground-breaking, but just beautiful and inventive.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Taylor Ho Bynum - Navigation (Firehouse 12, 2013) ****½

By Stef

The advantage of driving over motorways to Germany and back in a span of around six hours, and this on two consecutive days, offered the unique opportunity to listen almost in one stretch, and then again, to Taylor Ho Bynum's long and ambitious "Navigation".

It is kind of a strange release, with the live sextet playing "Possibility Abstracts X & XI" appearing on a double vinyl LP, and the studio performance of the septet playing "Possibility Abstracts XII & XIII" on a double CD, with luckily all material also being available as downloads.

So much for the release complexity. The sextet is Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, Jim Hobbs on alto, Bill Lowe on bass trombone and tuba, Mary Halvorson on electric guitar, Ken Filiano on acoustic bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums and vibes. The septet is the same band with Chad Taylor joining on drums and vibes. In sum, the band we've heard before on "Apparent Distance" and "Asphalt Flowers, Forking Paths".

The four long tracks, each a little over fourty minutes, are performances of one single composition for improvisers, built around six movements, that are easy to identify, and around which the band improvises. However, there is no need to play the movements in a particular order, and the initiative and creativity of the musicians enter into play to make it all happen on the spot. It's a little like navigating to six different places, including the use of cartographic notation, as symbolised by the artwork, but without clear sailing plan on how to get there.

By itself I have some doubts about the value of this, because it does not offer a better listening experience per se. It says nothing about the music, nor about the quality of the playing. Yet I have to give Bynum the credits he deserves for this, because the listening experience is a good one, especially if you have time and if you can compare the various versions.

The composition and improvisation offer a lot, and vary from uptempo almost fusion-infused parts over more jazzy themes to controlled and intense pieces of common improvisation, often ominous and foreboding. It is only after several listens that you start realising the differences between the various performances, with Mary Halvorson on "Abstract XI" giving the kind of electric guitar soloing that I've rarely have heard play before, including some heavy chords during the "fusion" theme. "Abstract XII" has a longer calmer part in the mid-section, but then the rhythm kicks in again, with Filiano's bass grounding the piece in its central theme, yet less explicit than in other variations, and engaging Halvorson in a nice duet on arco. "Abstract XIII" has become even more abstract, with the main themes now identifiable, yet even less explicit, and strangely enough making the solo performances and some of the horn sections more sensitive and fragile, even bluesy near the end. And that's the nice thing about Bynum's compositions, they are jazz with all the elements of tradition, with blues, swing, bop, funk, fusion - luckily all rather implicitly, yet obviously present - up to Braxton and today's avant-garde mixed into one great suite, full of variation and fantastic interplay, and strange interactions.

The entire band plays very strongly, with the obvious more visible performances of Taylor Ho Bynum and Jim Hobbs, and truth be said, they are magnificent.

It is for the reviewer hard to make a judgment about which of the releases is best, as the material, the musicians are the same but the performances differ. Each performance is a joy to hear.

When can I drive back to Germany?


The album is available at instantjazz.com.




Saturday, December 28, 2013

Ivo Perelman galore ....

By Stef

So far, I think we've reviewed about ten albums by the Brazilian sax player; but New York resident, Ivo Perelman, a musican close to my heart, because of his ferocious lyricism, his raw and sensitive energy, his authenticity as an artist and as a human being. Like with so many musicians, this reviewer would love to write about all his releases, but his output has been so prolific recently, that it's hard to catch up, let alone invest the necessary time for close listening and concentrated reviewing. I can refer readers to the great Discogs website, and you will notice with me that Perelman released no less than a dozen CDs in 2012 and 2013, some of which were reviewed on this blog.

Recent highlights are "The Foreign Legion" with Matthew Shipp and Gerald Cleaver, "Living Jelly", with Joe Morris and Gerald Cleaver, "The Hour Of The Star" with Joe Morris, Matthew Shipp and Gerald Cleaver.


Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - The Art Of The Duet (Leo, 2013) ****


Perelman and Shipp crystalise their long musical collaboration in the most intimate of performances, a duet between piano and sax. Without preparation, both musicians set to the task of co-creating their art of the duet, one of close listening, like-minded thinking and perfect inuition, and of course strong musical skill. This is not a romantic outing, but actually a rather harsh one at times, with abstract phrasing and timing.

And both men co-create from a common background in jazz, with references to known pieces. Is that Jobim in "Duet #8"?, or Ellington in "Duet # 11"? or Gillespie in "Duet #9"? Hard to say because the boundaries of harmony and melody are blurred by higher levels of abstraction, yet they reside unmistakably underneath the chords and phrases, like spirits from the past pushing these two masters forward in their exploration of interaction, of call and response, of cerebral games and emotional alignment and expressivity.

In contrast to some of the other albums reviewed here, the energy is somewhat lower, with both musicians respecting the classical chamber music setting.


Ivo Perelman, Joe Morris & Balazs Pandi - One (Rare Noise, 2013) ****½



"One" is a really ferocious album, with Joe Morris on electric bass and Hungarian drummer Balazs Pandi on drums, a sax trio in the best free jazz tradition, an album that kickstarts as if in the middle of a performance, no intro, no theme, just raw blowing and relentless attacks on strings and skins. The second and third track are somewhat calmer, and more lyrical, with great pulse and implicit rhythm, the kind of foundation which makes it possible for the saxophonist to move in any direction without restrictions.

The title track is a duo between sax and bass, sensitive and wild at the same time, but then the last two tracks the trio is back in full force, relentlessly, with all three musicians moving as one, including the sudden slowing down on the last piece, a strange breathing moment before the storm starts raging again.


Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp & Mat Maneri - A Violent Dose Of Anything (Leo, 2013) ***½


"A Violent Dose Of Anything" is actually the soundtrack for a Brazilian movie with the same title, released earlier this year as "Uma Dose Violenta de Qualquer Coisa", and the music is of an abstraction and dissonance that is hard to make compatible with a movie. Matthew Shipp's piano chords and phrases are among his most unusual, full of openness, lack of pattern or direction, a strange backdrop for both sax and viola to play with strange undercurrents of surprise and disorientation.

But then if you read the plot summary of the movie "Pedro has taken the road and he does not know where he is going. Lucas does not know it either", the music makes sense. Next to the wonder and disorientation, there is drama, but also some fun moments, when a sudden rhythmic pattern makes the three musicians join in a little dance, that disappears as quickly as it arises. 


Interestingly enough, the strange, floating quality of the music is maintained throughout the album, making it a very coherent, and special listening experience. 


Ivo Perelman, Shipp, Bisio, Dickey - The Edge (Leo, 2013) ****


"The Edge" is offered to us by a quartet with Perelman on sax, Matthew Shipp on piano, Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. The album starts with arco bass and a romantic sentiment coming out of Shipp's piano, forcing Perelman to move in an almost David S Ware style into the stratosphere, full of expansive howling to the universe, full of power and confidence, in sipiritual awe.

On the second track, they're back on earth, starting with some 60s jazz feelings, but rapidly evolving into soaring sax and intense rhythm section, into the essence of real free jazz, but Perelman is not a screamer, quite to the contrary, despite his ferocious energy, his tone remains warm, and throughout his soloing he comes with melodic phrases or rhythmic emphasis, playing with volume and speed, offering lots of variety and beauty on top of the intensity.

And the album has variations in line-up too. Two tracks are actually duets between sax and drums, one of sax and piano. These three tracks are also the calmest ones, and near the album ends in full force, in the aptly titled "Volcanic", and the last track is an ode to Ben Webster, called "Websterisms", with again a 60s sentiment, but a 21st century delivery.

This is Perelman at his best, and I must say, all four musicians are fantastic on this album.


Ivo Perelman, Shipp, Dickey, Cleaver - Enigma (Leo, 2013) ****


For a quartet that features two drummers, the album starts quietly, with a ballad called "Enigma" on which Perelman and Matthew Shipp share sensitive thoughts, fragile and slow, with a minimal percussion support, a few cymbals, some toms, nothing substantial.

"Irresistible Incarnation" starts with some dramatic piano chords, with bluesy right hand runs, but Perelman joins almost against the intro, with rapid phrases breaking the sentiment, supported by the energetic propulsion of the bass drum, slowly growing in power until both drummers are active, with counter-rhythms and antagonistic interations, playing the same thing, yet full of cross-currents and whirlpools, with changing emphasis, volume and intensity.

"Annunciation" is only full energy, a solid work-out for the quartet, with Shipp resorting to some of his most percussive playing too, hammering on his keyboard, supporting a screeching and howling Perelman, and sentiments change again with "Supernatural Life", a slower piece, yet with relative energetic drumming, two-timing the piano and sax. Then Shipp and Perelman play two duets, the first one slowly, the second one with somewhat chopped and unpredictable rhythms and evolution, as if some madness forces the two artists to jump and turn for no apparent reason.

The album ends with the powerful "A Bourgeois Ideal", not without reason placed at the end of the album, and a great finale for a strong album.


Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Gerald Cleaver - Serendipity (Leo, 2013) ****½


But in truth, "Serendipity" is the greatest album of them all. Just one track, a fourty-three minute free jazz blow-fest, expansive, exuberant, relentless, with references to bop somehow, with references to Coltrane in spirit, but Perelman, Shipp, Paker & Cleaver in reality, with the four virtuosi giving the best they can give, driving, propulsing the music forward, full of intensity and unavoidable necessity of notes and rhythms that are what they should be, hammering and pounding and uplifting and tearing and moving, without pretence, without cerebral intervention of chords or phrases that think about harmonies or structure, or clever creativity, no, a wild outburst of pure heartfelt musical energy, expressing things that we all would like to express but lack the means to, making this even more valuable, the thing we would express if we had the same skills as these four guys, so that makes it good to hear, a quartet in unison with the listener's emotions and deeper aspirations, releasing unexpressed feelings and even shady things hiding between feelings and thoughts. In a way, this is the band that goes beyond self-consciousness, that stops thinking, but fully falls back on some more foundational, some rawer and authentic expessivity, in a denial of the cerebral, lifting the music to a level of absolute purity and energy.


Elisabeth Harnik & Udo Schindler - Empty Pigeonhole (Creative Sources, 2013) ****

By Stef

Elisabeth Harnik plays piano and Udo Schindler plays bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, soprano saxophone and cornet, in a strange but always fascinating dialogue, starting with hesitating explorations of empty space, changing into confident and fully voiced piano which fades away for quiet moaning clarinet.

Sounds are fragile and shifting, played cautiously in different ways by the same instruments, in long stretched phrases, or in percussive plucking, and then contrasted by the original and full-blown sound of either piano or clarinet, offering a moment of recognition and home-coming, yet even then the deep emotions expressed keep their sense of agony and distress, and the first long piece ends at full volume, with the cornet and the piano interacting nervously and agitatedly.

The second track is more homogeneous, with the clarinet taking the first part as the lead instrument, with the piano being plucked sparingly and lightly to accentuate, yet the mood shifts in the second part, when the piano takes the lead, coercing the clarinet into a more intense dialogue, with higher density of the sounds, becoming more frenetic as it develops, with maddening phrases played by Harnik, with a slightly shifting and halting repetitive pattern that completely drowns the clarinet at first until it gets a second breath.

This album will not be for everybody's ears, but the quality and the variety of the improvisation is sufficient to make this fascinating music that you will want to listen to again.

A great listening experience.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Paal Nilssen-Love Week: Epilogue


By Martin Schray and Colin Green

Listening to the latest albums by this hugely productive drummer has been a great pleasure, all of them varied, tense, exciting – he’s one of the greatest free jazz drummers of the younger generation (along with Chris Corsano). If any of them tweak your interest, you won’t go far wrong.

Future projects include an album with Frode Gjerstad, the curation of the All Ears Festival in January (a splendid non-profit festival for improvised music in Oslo which has existed since 2002; check out this year’s program), a duo album with Arto Lindsay and a large ensemble project with Norwegian and Finnish musicians.

So: plenty more interesting stuff to come.

DKV Trio plus Mats Gustafsson, Massimo Pupillo and Paal Nilssen-Love: Schl8hof (Trost Records, 2013) ****½

By Martin Schray and Colin Green

The last review in our week of new recording featuring Paal Nilssen-Love has him on only two of the three tracks. “Schl8hof” (a pun dealing with the German number 8 - Acht  – in Schlachthof, the German word for slaughterhouse) is actually a DKV album (Hamid Drake, Kent Kessler and Ken Vandermark) who were joined by Mats Gustafsson on tenor and baritone sax, Massimo Pupillo on electric bass and Nilssen-Love on drums at the 2011 Unlimited Festival in Wels, Austria (1). Quite apart from the fact that this is an interesting match in general, producing a splendid album, it’s particularly fascinating to listen to two of the best drummers of the free jazz scene playing together.

DKV was one of the most prolific and versatile trios between 1996 and 2002, when they took an album break. In 2012, they released their magnum opus: “Past Present” on Not Two. DKV is one of the tightest free-improvisation units you can imagine due to the use of written material on which they improvise extensively. It’s especially Hamid Drake’s rhythmic pulse – ranging from funky elegant grooves to free wildfire – that provides the fundamentals of this group.

It’s almost a shock when “This Building is on Fire”, the first track, abruptly ends and Gustafsson, Pupillo and Nilssen-Love step into the arena, as if they were burying DKV under their wall of noise. If you listen closely however, you realize that both trios complement each other excellently. Nilssen-Love shows his wild and expressive side but Drake is a much too experienced and great a drummer to drown in this torrent. He sticks to his style, and the result is a highly energetic combination that also grooves like hell.

Vandermark and Gustafsson are a similar combination. On the second track, “All In”, Gustafsson structures the piece delivering brutal chords – repetitive, off-the-wall, manic – a rhythmic texture which Vandermark uses this to soar like an eagle. They dance with each other, they take out speed (when they do this it is simply great), they wrestle with each other – as well as Pupillo and Kessler. One of the album’s magical moments is their bass duet on “All Out”.

The reviews on Paal Nilssen-Love’s albums with Lasse Marhaug were a lot about noise, particularly the beauty of it. This album comes very close to that. It’s available on vinyl and CD, but in this case I’d recommend the latter as you get the wonderful extra DKV track and can listen to the half hour “All Out” without having to turn the LP.

                                    
(1) As far as we know this combination played together on 6 November 2011 at the Unlimited Festival curated by Peter Brötzmann, and heard on one track on Long Story Short. Indeed, we wonder whether the recording date of 25 November 2011 for the current album is correct since the festival does not go on that long. So, it might be possible that the date given is wrong.

The album is available at instantjazz.com.

Listen to an excerpt here: 





Thursday, December 26, 2013

James Plotkin & Paal Nilssen-Love: Death Rattle (Rune Grammofon, 2013) ***½

By Martin Schray

When I saw The Thing recently Paal Nilssen-Love told me after the show that he loves working with larger ensembles because you can see where notation or arrangements agreed beforehand are going, But that he also loves duos like the ones with Peter Brötzmann and Joe McPhee, free jazz heroes and legends for him and others. And sometimes he transgresses genre limits and teams up with Massimo Pupillo and Lasse Marhaug on “Your Next” or with James Plotkin, who is better known as a pioneer guitarist in new metal, dark ambient, industrial, noise, grindcore and drone rock – he’s worked with bands  like OLD, Scorn, Khanate, Phantomsmasher, Khlyst and his latest project Jodis.

Grindcore guitar can also be subsumed under “noise” (see this week’s reviews) so that Nilssen-Love’s decision to work with Plotkin is no great surprise. More interesting is Plotkin’s approach to Nilssen-Love’s ferocious off-the-wall style: solid beats and sound textures instead of trying to compete with drums gone wild. A reversal of the classic role of drums and guitar. Even the melodies Plotkin throws in belong to that strategy. Both musicians seem to profit from this approach, all the tracks are very intense, aggressive and challenging.

The album starts in a spectacular way: The first track, “The Skin, the Colour” opens with Plotkin’s
open chords reminiscent of classic American post rock bands like Tortoise and Trans Am. It’s the best track on the album, a constant clash of musical ideas, in which the musicians frequently change sides. Plotkin uses a lot of synthesizer sounds instead of normal guitar, and almost demolishes the track – which Nilssen-Love does nothing to prevent – resulting in some brilliantly eccentric moments. Unfortunately, the album cannot maintain this level. Although the other tracks are good they do not have the same focus as “The Skin, the Colour”, the sounds and structure are mostly variants of the opening track.

Nevertheless, this is an interesting album, especially in the context of the recent collaborations with Lasse Marhaug. Again, it shows another side of Paal Nilssen-Love, such as when he
excels on cymbals in “Primateria”, a pure prog rock fantasy that sounds like a manic acid trip.

Listen to an excerpt here: 




The album can be bought at instantjazz.com.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Paal Nilssen-Love & Terrie Ex - Gored Gored (Terp records, 2013) ***

By Stef

Fourty-two minutes of unadultered sonic violence and energy. Rock? Jazz? Noise? Punk? Paal Nilssen-Love beats the bejeezus out of his trap kit and Terrie Ex throws harsh antagonistic feedback attacks into the process, which have no direction at all, played with the enthusiasm and energy of a garage band of 16-year olds, exploring what they can produce together, equally being surprised at things that work and that don't work, with an audience that shouts and applauds when the volume decreases, thinking the lengthy improvisation is over, but actually it isn't, because neither Paal nor Terrie want to let go, diving back in, sometimes hesitantly, sometimes with renewed power, new attacks, some novel ideas - and it must be said, not all of them are violent - to be further explored, developed or altogether massacred with an attitude of self-destruction, with a loathing of feelings like empathy or sympathy or even apathy, expressing feelings of anger and disgust, as it should be in a punk band.

Sax and Drums and Rock and Roll

Paal Nilssen-Love & Joe McPhee – Red Sky (PNL, 2013) *** ½


Paal Nilssen-Love & Peter Brötzmann – A FISH STINKs FROM THE hEAD (BRÖ, 2013) *** ½

By Colin Green

The saxophone and drums format is now a staple of free jazz, and one that Paul Nilssen-Love has explored previously with amongst others, Joe McPhee and Peter Brötzmann, who join him here in two new performances, both coincidentally named after proverbs. (McPhee also plays pocket trumpet and Brötzmann, tárogató…but I’m not going to let that get in the way of a good title.)

Nilssen-Love is not so much a textural as a rhythmic drummer, where everything flows from an acute sense of pulse and sub-divisions of the beat. More Elvin Jones or Roy Haynes than Sunny Murray. Like all great musicians, he has a recognisable voice, but is also flexible enough to adjust his playing to suit the ensemble in hand. These two albums share the same drummer, but not necessarily the same drumming. With McPhee, Nilssen-Love is lighter, more restrained to match McPhee’s often reflective cast of mind; with Brötzmann, the intensity tends to discourage any kind of restraint.

Nilssen-Love’s precision and sense of dramatic contrast can be heard on the title track of the McPhee album – recorded at the 2008 Kongsberg Jazz Festival – Red Sky (inspired by the adage: “red sky at night, sailor’s delight, red sky in morning, sailor’s warning”). He opens with brushes under McPhee’s nervous smears on trumpet, and when McPhee switches to tenor Nilssen-Love drops down to hi-hat alone before gradually rolling out over the whole of his kit and forcing ever more energetic lines from the saxophone. On Peach Melba he provides restless bursts of energy, an unsettling backdrop to McPhee’s chiaroscuro phrases. 

In discussing Iron Man Returns in the liner notes, McPhee name checks the unusual triumvirate of Eric Dolphy, Marvel Comics and Black Sabbath. The first half is a barrage from Nilssen-Love, which gradually subsides as McPhee plays a riff which, to my ear at least, bears no resemblance to Sabbath’s Iron Man (which had nothing to do with the superhero) but which does sound a bit like Dolphy. Confused, I decided to abandon the liner notes and just enjoy the music.

McPhee has produced a number of musical tributes and elegies – most notably on the album with drummer Chris Corsano: Scraps and Shadows – and there are more here. Till (Remembering Emmett Till) is a plangent lament on trumpet and then tenor, with repeated funereal cymbal strokes from Nilssen-Love, who briefly accompanies himself and McPhee on drums. Again, an appreciation of the power of a simple gesture.

McPhee’s version of Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday commemorates the same tragic event as John Coltrane’s Alabama, with more nuanced brushwork from Nilssen-Love. As the piece comes to a tender close, McPhee’s tenor is reduced to a whisper and barely completed phrases, as if ultimately lost for words in the face of the terrible deaths of four children, incinerated in a church.

And so, to A FISH STINKs FROM THE hEAD (that’s the typography on the cover – a proverb that means that when people in charge misbehave, others will follow) which is a performance recorded at London’s Cafe Oto on the second night of a weekend residency in April this year during a European tour by Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love. As is often the case at Oto, they were joined by local guests: Pat Thomas (piano) on the first night and Claude Deppa (trumpet) the second, from which this recording is presumably the first set, with Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love playing alone. Oto is an environment in which Brötzmann can be at his most inspirational, and the good news is that many of his recent performances there have been recorded, hopefully for future release. 

Anyone who thinks that Brötzmann just closes his eyes, blows hard and does the same old thing should listen to his duo recordings with drummers – Andrew Cyrille, Hamid Drake, Han Bennink, Michael Zerang, Jörg Fischer, Nasheet Waits, Günter Sommer, Peeter Uuskyla, Walter Perkins, Steve Noble, Willi Kellers, and my own favourite: Shoji Hano (try Funny Rat/S 2) – some of his most varied and revealing work.

In the title track, Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love let loose with a burst of kinetic energy, a point at which many other duos would finish their set. One can hear how Nilssen-Love has incorporated the syncopated grooves of rock drumming into his playing – as well as an ability to reach sound levels not heard since John Bonham – but without the leaden and rather shadeless beat beyond which many rock drummers don’t seem able, or prepared to progress. With Nilssen-Love there are polyrhythms, with superimposed clips and rolls, patterns rising and falling, expanding and contracting, sometimes sounding like an Ewe drum orchestra with Nilssen-Love as both master and secondary drummer. Over this, Brötzmann’s blues-like phrases groan, struggling with paroxysms of joy and terror. They’ve been here many times before in various combinations, but it still sounds fresh and exhilarating.

After a solo passage from Nilssen-Love, Brötzmann switches to tárogató and the shock waves recede. His own solo is full of typically obdurate phrasings. Almost inevitably, the denouement is the variant of the Master of a Small House theme heard when the ADA trio played at Oto with Pat Thomas the previous year (reviewed here). Repeated listening suggests that in fact, the harmonic structure of this theme governs the whole piece, oblique references gradually narrowing to simple quotation: the reverse of the usual improvising trajectory. The music then fades, with Nilssen-Love using his hands rather than sticks. 

By way of contrast, Range of Night is a ballad; gradually moving from sorrow to anger as Brötzmann’s vibrato laden line become louder and starts to fracture.  Nilssen-Love does not mark time behind Brötzmann, he occupies a complimentary part of the same territory – matching and following Brötzmann’s emotional curve – and showing that he can do textural playing when the need arises.

I’ve knocked off half a star in rating both albums due to the paltry 34 and 33 minute durations. Neither is an essential purchase, but they’re desirable nonetheless. The albums are released on Nilssen-Love and Brötzmann’s own labels, respectively. Unfortunately, A Fish is limited to 400 copies which can be purchased from Eremite Records’ website, but you might need to be quick as some will have been sold at gigs during the duo’s recent US tour. 

You can see part of the title track from the McPhee, Nilssen-Love performance here:



And Nilssen-Love and Brötzmann from a few days before Oto, here:




The albums can all be bought on instantjazz.com. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Paal Nilssen-Love and Lasse Marhaug: An Exploration into Noise

Jim O’Rourke, Paal Nilssen-Love, Lasse Marhaug: The Love Robots (Pika Disk, 2013) ****½ 

Fire Room: Second Breath (Bocian, 2013) ****

Otomo Yoshihide, Paal Nilssen-Love, Lasse Marhaug: Explosion Course (Pica Disk, 2013) ****½

By Martin Schray

When you look up a definition of “noise” you can find the following entries:
  • sound or a sound that is unpleasant, unexpected, or undesired
  • refers to confused, or disagreeable sound or sounds
  • a sound, especially one that is loud or disturbing
  • (Electronics) any undesired electrical disturbance in a circuit, degrading the useful information in a signal 
Or as Okkyung Lee put it in the program for the Unlimited 27 festival in Wels: “To me noise generally means sounds that are not wanted, to be abandoned, don’t quite fit in, not to be there and not necessarily pleasant to ears and even “wrong” at certain times.” Of course, this could have been stated by Lasse Marhaug (who regularly works with Lee and who has produced her excellent album “Ghil”) and Paal Nilssen-Love. Together, they are one of the greatest challenges for any listener –Marhaug alone is like coming under a fierce attack, but in combination with Nilssen-Love it’s like being overwhelmed by a huge electrical storm.

But their noise is different: it’s not just unpleasant but something that gives you a visceral tingly sensation that leaves pleasure and satisfaction. You feel more alive and appreciate the beauty because of the very personal and individual way they play with noise, with static – with sound that cannot be notated – in order to create something coherent and musical. What makes Marhaug’s and Nilssen-Love’s noise so exceptional is the way they integrate it into their music. They’ve developed a new and personalized vocabulary that says something about them, and about the journey they’ve made as musicians.

The most interesting of their latest collaborations is the one with guitarist Jim O’Rourke, who contributes classic Sonic Youth guitar noise to the duo’s excesses. At the start, Nilssen-Love is a very economical: his usual velocity is reluctant, almost coy. The three musicians blend excellently with each other, Marhaug’s electronics and O’Rourke’s guitar effects are a perfect match – a combination of early Pink-Floyd-psychedelia and new music in the tradition of Stockhausen and Mario Bertoncini. Side A end with a magical moment that could go on forever. The flipside is rawer and more disruptive, Marhaug’s evil static is a constant presence: the disagreeable and disturbing side of noise – something which is constitutive and essential for Fire Room. This band (with Ken Vandermark on saxes replacing O’Rourke on guitar) is nervous, powerful and energetic with tortuous blasts and saxophone outcries, music full of brutality and violent breaks. This is not the beautiful noise of the first part of “Love Robots”, lacking its refined sensations, but a full on attack. The album was recorded live on November 23rd  2011 at the Vortex in London, and for these 40 minutes the club must have been set on fire by this band: uncompromising, radical, right at the threshold of pain.


Explosion Course”, the third album, presents another guitarist: Otomo Yoshihide. He is a more “classic” guitarist than O’Rourke, especially at the beginning where he creates a wall of distorted guitar sounds that almost drown out Marhaug’s electronics, but enable Nilssen-Love to move to the foreground. The A-side presents Yoshihide sounding like Sonny Sharrock going berserk, with Nilssen-Love’s drumming a torrent carrying everything away. The album is bookended by two loud outbreaks, but it also seems to be the most introspective of the three. There are long passages of what I’ve described as beautiful noise – especially the weird psychedelic passage at the beginning of the flipside which sounds like manic early Can. It becomes more interesting the more you listen to it. Structurally, the two Pica albums are alike, seeking direction at the beginning, and increasing loudness and power at the end.

All three albums portray Paal Nilssen-Love as an experimenter in sound, and illustrate his outstanding diversity as a drummer.

Love Robots” and “Explosion Course” are available on vinyl only, “Second Breath” can be purchased on vinyl and CD. The covers of the LPs are wonderful pieces of art.

The albums can all be bought on instantjazz.com.

Listen to O’Rourke, PNL, Marhaug here: 




Listen to Fire Room here: 



Monday, December 23, 2013

Paal Nilssen-Love & Mats Gustafsson - Sin Gas (Bocian, 2013) ****

By Stef

Earlier this year, Paal Nilssen-Love and Mats Gustafsson released "Con-gas", a rare breed of a double 7" vinyl album, with the title referring the congas, the percussion instrument, which on their second release in the series "Sin Gas", gets a Spanish pun as meaning "without bubbles", and as you can expect, the congas are gone, and the drum kit is back.

The long first track is the duo at its best, with Gustafsson howling his signature screams, full of endless lament and agony, against a highly kinetic all-over-the place-drumming by Nilssen-Love, the kind of energy romp that you can expect from the duo. Gustafsson switches instruments, tenor to bari to bass saxophone, making the depth of his howling even more impressive, developing the improvisation into a kind of headbanger slow rhythmic repetitive phrases beyond halfway - Gustafsson fans will recognise this instantly, reducing the speed, with Nilssen-Love leaving the space for the deep moaning of the bass saxophone, eventually turning into soft and weird whimpering, supported by little percussive effects, with the bass drum taking over the basic rhythm, quietly ... until all sounds die down.

"Slat Map" - a contraction of the musicians' first names I guess - is the shorter second track and it starts with a Gustafsson primal scream, interspersed with real shouts, over a high energy, unrelenting percussive rage produced by Nilssen-Love. It is a physical thing, and you can virtually see the Swede contorting his body to wrestle these manic sounds out of instrument, equally relentless. Things slow down a little in the middle part, pick up again in full force and then the finale is quiet and subdued.

It is a short EP, but the quality of the playing, and the interaction between both musicians is among the best you can find - powerful and deeply emotional at the same time. Great stuff.

The Thing: Boot! (The Thing Records / Trost, 2013) *****

By Martin Schray

The Thing are veritable monsters – what is especially great about them is their toughness and dedication. Mats Gustafsson (soprano, tenor, baritone and bass saxes), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) always punch you in the face, even if you think you’re prepared. Since 2001 they have released more than ten albums, starting as a trio before they started to invite guest musicians like Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermark, Otomo Yoshihide, Jim O’Rourke or Barry Guy. Their recent collaboration with Neneh Cherry was a surprise – for their fans as well as for those of Don Cherry’s stepdaughter (they named the band after one of his tracks). For their new album they’ve gone back to their trio roots and sound rawer, more brutal and deconstructivist than ever before.

A constant of their work is that they always play cover versions (the album with Neneh Cherry is almost pure covers) mainly and preferably rock songs – Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie” on “Two Bands and a Legend”, Lightning Bolt’s “Ride the Sky” on “Metal!” or “Aluminium” by The White Stripes on “Live at Blå”, just to name a few – tunes dipped into a thick free jazz sauce, but which come out as if they were typical The Thing compositions.

On their new album they do it the other way round: they have chosen two jazz classics by John Coltrane (“India”) and Duke Ellington (“Heaven”) and present them in a new (rock) disguise. Whereas in the original Coltrane’s soprano intro creates an atmosphere in which you can smell cardamom, ginger and coriander and where snake charmers seem to be at work, The Thing focus on Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet chords. Gustafsson’s bass saxophone repetition of the tune’s head makes “India” sound like a hellhole, a purgatory of a slum where people live under degrading conditions. Hardly anything of Coltrane’s vertiginous runs, elegant lines and untethered flurries are left. It’s Black Sabbath’s reduced darkness rather than Trane’s bright polytonality. The connection to the original however, is Paal Nilssen-Love, whose playing is reminiscent of his idol, Elvin Jones. You can recognize the track’s characteristic two-note theme – but put through a particle accelerator. The track ends with Nilssen-Love relentlessly hitting his cymbal.

The approach for Duke Ellington´s “Heaven” (from Ellington’s “Second Concert of Sacred Music”) is quite different: Gustafsson’s arrangement is such that the original is hardly recognizable. While Ellington’s composition speaks of heaven as a dream – something divine and supreme, a sweet and pretty thing – The Thing’s idea of heaven is distorted, dirty and unwelcoming, a maze like the melody itself.

But what is really new on “Boot!” is that Ingebrigt Håker Flaten is exclusively on electric bass. His relentlessly repetitive bass playing brings the band closer to Gustafsson’s other long-term trio: Fire!. It’s no surprise therefore, that the highlight of the album is Håker Flaten’s composition “Red River”, which is based on a riff Led Zeppelin would be proud of. Although Robert Plant has made it clear that he’s not interested in a Led Zeppelin reunion, if he were to change his mind he should seriously consider Paal Nilssen-Love as a replacement for John Bonham. Maybe somebody should play the 14-minute “Epilog” to him, a free jazz bungee jump with Nilssen-Love’s raucous snare rolls bumping over a slow two-step sax theme (I am only joking - Jason Bonham has done a fine job at their O2 reunion gig).

What a hell of a record – in its literal sense!

“Boot!” is available on vinyl and CD (with “Epilog” as a bonus track).

You can listen to “India” here and the album is available at instantjazz.com.


Paal Nilssen-Love Week: Introduction



There are two anecdotes about Paal Nilssen-Love that might say more than the following reviews. 

When The Thing feat. Neneh Cherry played a festival in Karlsruhe last year Paal Nilssen-Love tried out the drum kit during the sound check. It was a fierce attack, the roadies and the people who were responsible for the sound stood there with open mouths - and after about 20 minutes Nilssen-Love just said: “I need a new snare.”

And after a double set at the 2012 Jazz Métèo Festival in Mulhouse (Atomic and Fire Room) he needed a new shirt after each performance because they were completely soaked wet with sweat.

Whenever people talk about Nilssen-Love they are deeply impressed by his awesome energy, his brilliant technique, his sheer power and absolute dedication. He has been a member of groups as different as  Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet, Atomic, Ballister, The Thing, Fire Room, Scorch Trio, or Original Silence (just to name a few) and he has worked with almost every important musician in the contemporary free jazz scene, his reputation precedes him like a thunderclap. Maybe this is what you could expect when you grow up as the son of a drummer who ran the jazz club in Stavanger/Norway and whose main influences are Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Steve McCall, Philip Wilson but also John Bonham and Stewart Copeland.

But Nilssen-Love is not always the mad wizard who provides the barrage for the above mentioned bands, he is also able to play very sensitively, for example in his Double Tandem trio with Ken Vandermark and Ab Baars or when he plays the congas in his duo with Mats Gustafsson. All in all he is one of the hardest working, most innovative and dynamic men of today’s  improv scene, releasing at least a dozen of records every year. This week there will be a survey of his latest albums.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013's Top Ten Lists

The highly anticipated, carefully selected, and impeccably curated top 10 lists of 2013 from the Free Jazz Collective, an incredibly subjective selection based on an amazing 1,166 albums which came our way during the year that roughly fit this blog's profile, without counting all the unbelievable sh*t that we also receive, now that our blog's popularity has reached its peak, so impossible to completely listen to all albums even once, let alone sufficiently to listen deeply and to review properly. But then luckily we shared forces this year, with Martin, Paolo, Dan, Tom, Joe, Colin, Troy, Paul and Stef.

A crazy year again, with lots of great music, and as the individual lists can testify, it was also impossible to restrict ourselves to a top-10 list even.

We aggregated our end-of-year lists and came up with this actually quite balanced must-haves for the year, with a calculation based on the most complex mathematical algorithms and algorhythms (including the number of stars and the number of mentions in the lists below as critical aspects of it).

The Free Jazz Collective Top-10 albums of 2013


  1. Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile 
  2. Hera with Hamid Drake - Seven Lines
  3. John Tchicai- Tribal Ghost 
  4. Convergence Quartet - Slow and Steady 
  5. Various Artists: Long Story Short 
  6. Fire Orchestra: Exit! 
  7. Barry Guy New Orchestra Small Formations - Mad Dogs 
  8. The Thing: Boot! 
  9. DKV + Gustafsson/Pupillo/Nilssen Love - Schl8hof
  10. Looper - Matter 
  11. Okkyung Lee - Ghil 
  12. Mary Halvorson Septet – Illusionary Sea 


Happy holidays to everyone and we look forward to hearing your top choices of the year!


Stef Gijssels:
  1. John Tchicai, Charlie Kohlhase, Garrison Fewell, Cecil McBee, Billy Hart - Tribal Ghost
  2. Convergence Quartet - Slow and Steady
  3. Okkyung Lee - Ghil
  4. John Butcher - Winter Gardens
  5. Hera with Hamid Drake - Seven Lines
  6. Lotte Anker, Rodrigo Pinheiro, Hernâni Faustino - Birthmark
  7. Power Of The Horns - Alaman
  8. Alvin Curran - Shofar
  9. Herb Robertson, David Kaczorowski & Adrian Valosin Party Enders
  10. Kaze - Tornado
  11. Nor Cold - Nor Cold
  12. Angelica Sanchez & Wadada Leo Smith - Twine Forest


Martin Schray:
  1. Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile
  2. Various Artists: Long Story Short
  3. Fire Orchestra: Exit!
  4. Convergence Quartet: Slow and Steady
  5. The Thing: Boot!
  6. Fire!: (Without Noticing)
  7. John Tchicai: Tribal Ghost
  8. Hera feat. Hamid Drake: Seven Lines
  9. Spunk: Das Wohltemperierte Spunk
  10. William Parker: Wood Flute Song


Paolo Casertano's bakers dozen:
  1. DKV + Gustafsson/Pupillo/Nilssen Love - Schl8hof
  2. John Butcher, Thomas Lehn & John Tilbury - Exta
  3. Mitchell/Marsh/Edwards - Improvisations
  4. Brötzmann/Drake - Solid And Spirit
  5. The Thing - Boot!
  6. Looper - Matter
  7. Red Trio - Rebento
  8. Susana Santos Silva & Torbjorn Zetterberg - Almost Tomorrow
  9. Katy Perry - Prism
  10. Trumpets and Drums - Live in Ljubljana
  11. Joe McPhee - Sonic Elements (For Pocket Trumpet and Alto Saxophone)
  12. Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 3 To See More Light 
  13. Barry Guy New Orchestra Small Formations - Mad Dogs

Dan Sorrells:
  1. Mikołaj Trzaska  - Gra Różę 
  2. SPUNK - Das Wohltemperierte SPUNK
  3. Carate Urio Orchestra - Sparrow Mountain
  4. Nor Cold - Nor Cold
  5. Evan Parker - Vaincu.Va! Live at Western Front 1979
  6. Tatsuya Nakatani & Shane Perlowin - The Anatomy of a Moment
  7. Angles 9 - In Our Midst
  8. Kristoff K. Roll & Daunik Lazro - Chants du Milieu
  9. John Tilbury & Oren Ambarchi - The Just Reproach
  10. Matana Roberts - Coin Coin, Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile


Joe Higham:
  1. Axel Dörner & Mark Sanders: Stonecipher 
  2. Tom Challenger and Kit Downs: Wedding Music
  3. Looper: Matter
  4. Alexander Hawkins: Song Singular
  5. Dunmall, Hanslip, Gibbs & Ricart: Weeping Idols 
  6. Alexander Hawkins Ensemble: Step Wide, Step Deep
  7. The Engines (w/ John Tchicai): Other Violets
  8. Parker, Guy & Lytton: Live at Maya Recordings Festival
  9. Mark Solborg: The Trees
  10. Rempis Percussion Quartet: Phalanx


Troy Dostert:
  1. Thomas Chapin - Never Let Me Go 
  2. Curtis Hasselbring - Number Stations
  3. Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile
  4. Wayne Shorter Quartet – Without a Net
  5. Mario Pavone – Arc Trio
  6. Hera with Hamid Drake – Seven Lines
  7. DKV Trio + Gustafsson/Nilssen-Love/Pupillo – Schl8hof
  8. Mary Halvorson Septet – Illusionary Sea
  9. Craig Taborn Trio – Chants
  10. Black Host – Life in the Sugar Candle Mines


Colin Green:

I predict that 2013 will be known as the year of the great box set (or in the case of Barry Guy, the novel use of an LP sleeve): a testament to the outstanding range and musical depth that improvised music has achieved. In no particular order:
  1. Barry Guy New Orchestra (Small Forces) - Mad Dogs
  2. Peter Brötzmann - Long Story Short
  3. Paul Dunmall - The Entire 50 CD Collection on FMR Records
  4. Various Artists - Just Not Cricket!
  5. William Parker - Wood Flute Songs
  6. Instant Composers Pool - The Complete Catalogue 
  7. Anthony Braxton - Echo Echo Mirror House
  8. Quat Quartet - Live at Hasselt
  9. Fabrik Trio - Murmurs
  10. Joe McPhee and Chris Corsano - Scraps and Shadows

Tom Burris' sneaky dozen:
  1. Keefe Jackson's Likely So – A Round Goal
  2. Peter Evans Trio – Zebulon 
  3. MOPDTK – Red Hot 
  4. Fire Orchestra – Exit! 
  5. Tim Daisy Trio – A Fine Day in Berlin + Rempis Percussion Quartet – Phalanx  + Frank Rosaly / Cicada Music – s/t 
  6. John Tchicai – Tribal Ghost 
  7. Pandelis Karyorgis Quartet – Circuitous
  8. Mary Halvorson Septet – Illusionary Sea + Halvorson / Knuffke / Wilson – Sifter 
  9. Joe McPhee / Thurston Moore / Bill Nace – Last Notes 
  10. Okkyung Lee – Ghil 


Paul Acquaro:
  1. Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Shadow Man 
  2. Ingrid Laubrock's Anti House - Strong Place
  3. Jon Irabagon, Hernani Faustino, Gabriel Ferrandini - Absolut Zero 
  4. Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog - Your Turn 
  5. Lucien Dubois  Trio & Spacetet - Design Your Future
  6. Ross Hammond - Cathedrals 
  7. Mars Williams, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten & Tim Daisy - Moments Form 
  8. Mary Halvorson, Kirk Knuffke & Matt Wilson - Sifter 
  9. Elliott Sharp Aggregat - Quintet 
  10. Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet - Circuitous 

Check out past year's top 10s


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Erik Friedlander - Claws and Wings (Skipstone, 2013) ****

By Stef

It is extremely hard to cope with the passing away of a beloved one, let alone to turn this grief into music, but that is somehow what cellist Erik Friedlander does on this album, after his wife died end November 2011. Friedlander is joined by Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and spinet, and Ikue Mori on laptop.

Friedlander, best know to a broader audience for his work with the Masada String Trio, is a very sensitive player, whose technical skill allows him to play with refinement and sophistication, with usually a very stong emphasis on melodic composition.

That is not always the case here, apart from the beautiful theme of "Frail As A Breeze". The trio creates sonic atmospheres, with slow and precise playing, allowing for lots of space and silence, with a sadness that is all-pervasing. The music is fragile, beautiful and tender, with quiet piano chords, bowed cello and the electronics weaving tranquility. Friedlander is sufficiently intelligent to make it all sound authentic, digging deep into his own feelings and expresses not in a self-centered anger, but in sad beauty offered to the other one.

Listen at BandcampAvailable at instantjazz.com.


Erik Friedlander - Haunted (Skipstone, 2013)

 

"Haunted" is a kind of sequel, an EP played by the same trio, probably with material that didn't make it to "Claws and Wings", but could have, bringing the same sad atmosphere, with a more ominous feeling, and this one was offered as a halloween special.

Listen and buy from Bandcamp.


Soon, his soundtrack album "Nothing On Earth" will also be released.



Friday, December 20, 2013

Landon Knoblock's CACAW - Stellar Power (Skirl ,2013) ****



The opening moments of CACAW's Stellar Power is a quick study in contrasts. A heavy rhythmic figure kicks things off and then soon enough a light electric piano locks into an abstract groove only to circle back to the thick riff.  The rhythms keep shifting back and forth, never too steady, but never too wobbly either. Then at the halfway mark, the keyboard distorts, the melody comes in on the sax, sounding somewhat like Weather Report.

The next track throws me, gone are the tricky grooves and gritty textures and in their place is a peculiar synth sound, like the 'brass orchestra' setting on an old Casio keyboard (no, not literally, it's a pretty cool sound) playing a lilting figure. As the sax takes on the melody the keyboard's sound morphs and the song fractures into little pieces.

CACAW is lead by keyboardist Landon Knoblock and, according to his website, the trio splintered off from a larger group that performed the music of pianist/composer Andrew Hill. While the group seems to have veered far from their origin, I suppose that when you have the talent of woodwind player Oscar Noriega and drummer of Jeff Davis behind you, and you're a keyboardist with a love of science and science fiction, how could you not expect to explore the intersection of synth rock and jazz with song titles that reference Blade Runner?

Give CACAW a listen ... it's a rich and evocative affair that explores pairing synthesized and acoustics sounds. The drive in 'Table Top Glances Before Dawn' is complimented nicely by the atmospheric balladry in 'Space Robots Fall in Love' and the sludgy riff that kick's off 'Eyes Heart Race.'

Check out CACAW here:



Thursday, December 19, 2013

New Atlantis Octet - Unto The Sun (Not Two, 2013) ****

By Stef

In the early seventies, jazz was propulsed into in a cultural trend of full exuberance and possibilities, in line with the technical and aural floodgates being opened in the second half of the sixties. New instruments and new technology were introduced, but also the communal concept of creating music on the spot, with whomever happened to be around, and it basically didn't matter whether your background was in rock or in funk or in jazz, the more influences, the better, as long as the music performed originated from a sense of musical community, of tribal belonging, of being member of the same spiritual or visionary family, which would break down the boundaries of convention, the limitations of bourgeois society, the phobia and pettiness of middle-class America, breaking into new realms of love and spiritual unity, unleashing powers and sounds unheard of before, and some of them went even beyond the confines of our mother earth, deep into the universe, and even to Saturn.

One man even claimed he was from Saturn, a musician called Sun Ra, who already by the late fifties had paved the way, and even if people thought him excentric and bizarre, his performances and outfits and music gradually got acceptance and even traction with an enthusiastic incrowd of fans, with musical sentiments that gradually also shifted from a boppish base to the more maddening sounds of free jazz, but not with the smaller quartets or quintets as expected, but with large bands, introducing a cocktail of instruments, resulting in the cosmic chaos that became his trademark.

Other bands followed suit, with the Human Arts Ensemble a highly recommended reference for the ones interested, with musicians such as Luther Thomas, James Marshall, Charles "Bobo" Shaw, Oliver Lake and Lester Bowie. The music had to be raw, brutal, chaotic, unrefined, almost by definition, as long as it was expansive and lengthy and hypnotic and exuberant, a powerhouse of sound created by a whole group of musicians who felt comfortable moving in and out of the huge wall of sound of cacophonic voices and maddening percussive power.

Drummer Sam Lohman and guitarist Edward Ricart now created the New Atlantis Octet, whether just an opportunity meeting or a real project is uncertain, with great musicians such as Roy Campbell Jr on trumpet, Steve Swell on trombone, Aaron Martin on alto saxophone, Jason Ajemian and Vattel Cherry on bass, and Andrew Barker on drums. Yes, that's right, two bass players and two drummers.

And the music goes back to this early seventies mayhem, with two long tracks, fully improvised, and the sound is rambunctious, loud, dense and raucous, and even if the listener is overwhelmed at first, the playing is so good, and the musicians sufficiently sophisticated and unselfish to give priority to the overall sound, taking a step back once in a while to give their bandmates some space, that the overall piece is highly enjoyable.

You know of course that what you're hearing is not really evolving, that there is no point to which they are working, it's all in the "now", full of energy and group dynamics, and even if their final destination clearly is to reach the sun (who would doubt the truthfulness of the title?), this is all about the journey itself.

In Sun Ra's cosmic philosophy, outer space and ancient cultures have obvious connections, and hence the titles here, "Sekhmet" for the first thirty-five minutes refers to ancien Egypt and "Amaterasu" for the next thirty-seven refers to Japan's shinto religion, each time invoking the goddesses of the sun, the former the daughter of no less than Ra himself, the second being the goddess of the sun herself.

Both tracks give you more than one hour of absolute cosmic chaos. It is fun, it is exhausting, it is endless, it is a listening experience that once the last notes are played after seventy-three minutes of uninterupted listening at full volume, and the silence of your surroundings is heard again, perplexingly, your brain has been programmed in such a way, that you have no other thought in your head than that you've actually reached the sun.


Available at instantjazz.com.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Forebrace - Bad Folds (Copepod Records, 2013) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

What is this?

The dark rumble of bass and drums is suddenly pierced by a sharp melody from a clarinet, it appears suddenly like an X-Acto knife poking through dense fabric, slowly shredding the material and letting bits of light through. Then some fearsome guitar playing ratchets up the intensity ... it's Alex Ward's group Forebrace and their album Bad Folds.

Ward, the clarinetist and leader, has created a monster of a group that embraces hard hitting predecessors like Last Exit and the textures of early fusion in an avant-garde metal approach. When the more tender tones of the clarinet come to the fore, memories of the sonic brutality only a moment ago fade, but not for long. In addition to Ward, the group is Roberto Sassi on electric guitar, Santiago Horro on electric bass and Jem Doulton on drums.

From opening sounds of 'Presage' to the forlorn intro in the follow up 'Dolorimetry', folk like melodies get into brawling encounters with driving rock rhythms. The group works in contrasts between atmospheric whimsy and intense improvisatory rock.

Dense ensemble playing gives way to the dark funk passages of 'Outwall,' which to me channels Miles Davis' On the Corner. Sassi take the spotlight here with a riveting solo that is all electric shocks and shards of broken glass - the metallic edges complimenting the clarinet as the two delve deep into intertwining passages.

The outlier is 'Groundmass', where the group embraces a lighter approach, but it is in no way less intense. Horro and Doulton are felt here the most, with the electric bass throbbing and pulsating while the drums add some off-kilter motion.

The sheer audacity of the sound leaves a gorgeous auditory residue lingering long after listening. This is one to seek out.




Happy New Ears: The Vote is On!

What a fantastic response from you, our readers -- indeed it has been a good year for new music!

It wasn't easy to take all of the thoughtful suggestions and boil them down to a select 15, but we did it. To the right, the recordings are listed and ready for your consideration.

You can vote between now and December 31, 2013 at midnight, when the winner will be declared and a new year of new music begins.

So, cast your votes, mobilize your fans, persuade the cynics, convince the indifferent, wake up the musical sleepers .... and have fun!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Deciders - We Travel The Airwaves (Jazzland, 2013) ****


With a title somewhat inspired by Sun Ra, Norwegian bass player Ole Morten Vågan assembles a band of some of Northern Europe's most creative musicians, with Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet, Axel Dörner on trumpet, Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor and clarinet, and Jon Fält on drums, for a performance of his own compositions, and as he describes in the video below, often built up around nothing more than a theme, snippets of composed sequences, musical ideas and thoughts jotted down when travelling, assembled and structured and the starting phase for these excellent improvisers to be used as a springboard for expansion, interaction, dialogue and collision or maybe collusion too.

This is jazz "pur sang", with musicians fully at ease with the material, enjoying their individual voices of freedom and expression to be shared with like-minded and like-talented artists to bring something that is more than the sum of its parts, a joint instant co-creation of boppish moments full of boisterious romp or quieter abstract introspections, yet always kept together by a common feeling of musical joy, cemented by Ole Morten Vågan's great themes.

So unlike Sun Ra, this band is not 'traveling the spaceways', but staying closer to home, more down to earth, no less exuberant, yet within the confines of humanity, and with only simple acoustics as travel means.

If you like bands like "Motif", "Die Enttäuschung", "Peeping Tom" - not surprisingly bands with some of the same musicians, and not surprisingly bands that build on jazz heritage to propulse them into modern artistic sensitivities - you will also like The Deciders.


 


Monday, December 16, 2013

Catherine Sikora, Han-earl Park, Francois Grillot - Tracks in the Dirt(Clockwork Mercury Press, 2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Saxophonist Catherine Sikora's playing is not predictable, you never know where a line, or even the instrument's tone may go, and she knows how to use it to create captivating sounds. Tracks in the Dirt, a recent improvised collaboration with guitarist Han-earl Park and bassist Francois Grillot, exemplifies this restless experimentation. The recording is an enjoyable listen for open ears.

The opening track, 'Helix' contains some of my favorite moments of the recording. Sikora's soprano sax sounds like it is drawing a line from each hit of the bass, with Park coloring in the spaces between. Park, with whom she also released Cork 04-04-11, is an understated and sympathetic accompanist throughout. 

Feel the force of Sikora's playing too - halfway through the second track, 'The Chopping Block' her soprano is clear and cutting, the melodic lines spinning and swirling around Park's textures and Grillot's rhythmic pulse. 

The last track, 'Afternoon Song', begins with the ambient rustling of Parks prepared guitar (my assumption), that almost sounds like the chirping of birds. As his presence deepens, the sound of the sax and thawk of the bass, in and out if time, in-sync with abstract notions grows stronger. In these opening moments we are reminded of the chance encounters and smart musical ideas that make this recording so effective. 

Check it out on Bandcamp - take your time - it's worth it:


As a side note, also on the Bandcamp site is the album 'Lullaby for the Wolves', a collaboration with drummer Ziv Ravitz. Sikora sticks to tenor on this muscular duo recording: