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Friday, January 31, 2014

Round-Up: Fighter Planes & Praying Mantis, Arson and Graceless

A set of new releases on OutNow showcases adventurous musicianship and diverse styles...

By Paul Acquaro

Alex Weiss - Fighter Planes & Praying Mantis (OutNow, 2013) ****

Saxophonist Alex Weiss' Fighter Planes & Praying Mantis is a peculiar mix. Layered post-rock, ambient and melodic horn arrangements, and at times hard-core vocals and pounding rhythms, all come together to create an odd and beautiful creature.

For example, the hefty '$ Mrdan' is a feedback drenched, atonal tour de force. Ches Smith's arhythmic percussion and Eyol Maoz' guitaristic mayhem is balanced by the lyrical calm of Rick Parker's trombone and the exotic sounds of Mark Hodos' birimbau. Another piece in this style, 'Glacier', as the name suggests, moves slowly but scours all in its path.

Taking a different tact, the tune 'Filler' has intense hardcore vocals. Not a genre that I'm versed in, all I can say is that the vocals and the lyrics certainly strike a defiant pose. "Get Carter Theme" is a fun number that Dmitry Ishenko holds it together on acoustic bass. It's much more hard-bop than hard-core, and is a fun reprieve before the eviscerating title track. The album wraps up with Weiss playing guitar and singing a dark spiritual tune, 'Angel of Death', which, as you may guess, is about final judgement. What a closer!

Denman Maroney & Hans Tammen - Arson (OutNow, 2013) ***½

Arson is a collections of improvisations between the hyperpiano and endangered guitar, and one that continues the long lasting musical relationship of  Denman Maroney and Hans Tammen. The instruments, as indicated by their names, extend the possibilities of the duo's sound and make for some really interesting electro-acoustic combinations. Be sure to check out the links above to find out a bit more about the instruments themselves.

The first track 'Dynamo Meat' advances along with a groove akimbo, Tammen's guitar collides with Maroney's piano in unusual Harry Partch like interactions. The follow up 'Harmony Dame' is more atmospheric, with neither instrument playing a traditional role. The sound collage and off-kilter grooves return on 'Demon Stream', a very strong track that features tinkling in the extreme registers of the piano, while the middle register acts as percussion and Tammen's modified sounds swirl about.

Arson is an intoxicating concoction of ideas and approaches, from the strong opening to the noisy closing track and textural pieces like 'Amnesty Dharma' and 'Ornamenta' in between. The recording is a challenging but rewarding journey.

Yoni Kretzmer / 66 Boxes - Graceless (OutNow, 2013) ****½

Yoni Kretzmer's sax playing covers a wide spectrum, from the traditional to the territory mapped out by Coltrane and Ayler. Capturing this range, his compositions are inventive sketches that his group fleshes out with some sublime improvisation.

The group, 66 Boxes, is a quartet comprised of cellist Daniel Levin, guitarist Eyal Maoz and drummer Andrew Drury. The instrumental range, especially between Levin's cello and Maoz's wild assortment of sounds, gives Kretschmer a wide palette to choose from, and he does so with aplomb.

Graceless is an great collection of songs that kicks off energetically with the rapidly building 'Basement Song'. The saxophonist spins elliptical lines and eventually ramps up to some gut wrenching blasts of energy. Maoz's guitar is an explosion of effects and sounds, and following the tunes climax, Levin follows up with a plaintive melody. The following track, 'New Dilemma', begins as a set of fragmented interactions between the players before coalescing around Kretzmer's free form melody. 'Leaving It To The End ' sports a solid riff that the group holds down while Maoz stretches out with his utterly unique sonic smears and textures. Atmosphere and extended techniques take over in 'One One', a 20 minute piece that delicately, and at times aggressively, exemplifies the diversity of the recording.

Check them out:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sonny Simmons, Delphine Latil & Thomas Bellier - Beyond The Planets (Improvising Beings, 2013) ****

By Stef 

In 2011, the French label "Improvsing Beings" released "Symphony Of The Peacocks" by Sonny Simmons and Delphine Latil, an amazing album with the most rare of duets on English horn and classical harp. 

You could call this "Beyond The Planets" as a continuation of the earlier release, with Latil playing the first four tracks solo harp, in a very minimalist way, without genre, yet full of musical influences from across the globe, yet with an unmistakeable zen quality in its quiet pacing. Simmons joins on his "cor anglais" and later on alto, on the 45-minute long "Sacred Moments", joining the vast sonic expanse that Latil creates with sustained notes and phrases full of solemn spiritualism. 

Jazz is usually a very nervous genre, in which things have to move and interact at high speed, yet here you have the exact opposite, and hence it's also hard to call this jazz, but that's all semantics. This is the music of tranquility, not the one of lazyness or lack of thoughts, but the tranquility of wonder, admiration and in a way self-sufficiency. The duo plays as if the only things they need and want are here, in this calm development of sonic beauty. 

On the second CD, Simmons plays duets with guitarist Thomas Bellier, a French rock musician residing in the US, and whose band "Blaak Heat Shujaa" sounds a little like Hawkwind (as a reference for the old guys reading this), call it space psychedelic rock if you want. The combination of Bellier's rock guitar works well with Simmons long and moaning howls, although as we make progress, it becomes gradually less clear how the tracks differ. They are all built around a few chords and the improvisations circle around the same tonal center, and even if both musicians change the sound of their instruments, Simmons switching to alto, or Bellier using his pedals, the core of the music does not change. That of course offers great coherence to the music, yet limits variation. 

That being said, Simmons' sound is unique, and that is a great achievement. 

Watch Simmons and Bellier live at the Vision Festival in 2012, in the company of William Parker and Warren Smith. The music is very similar to what you find on the second disc of this album. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Round-up: Chris Potter’s Sirens and David Binney’s Lifted Land

Here are a couple records that almost fell through the cracks of our backlog from 2013.  They’re both worthwhile releases from two of the more creative mainstream sax players on today’s scene.  Nothing breathtakingly original, but with thoughtful compositions and top-notch musicianship, each has enough going for it to warrant some attention.

By Troy Dostert

Chris Potter – The Sirens (ECM, 2013) ****

Organized around ideas Potter derived from Homer’s Odyssey, this is a record with plenty of
atmosphere and mood.  From the opening tune, “Wine Dark Sea” onward, Potter’s songwriting chops are on display, with yearning, searching melodies that serve as the foundation for some excellent playing from his first-rate colleagues (the omnipresent Craig Taborn on piano; David Virelles on prepared piano, celeste, and harmonium; Larry Grenadier on bass; and Eric Harland on drums).

What impresses the most about each of the tracks on the album is their cohesiveness.  Part of this is due to the strength of Potter’s compositions, which are deceptively simple-sounding, although in fact there are more than enough subtle twists and turns to keep things from getting too predictable.  And then there’s the playing, which is uniformly good.  Potter’s an excellent tenorist, with an outstanding ability to craft solos that are full of ideas yet remarkably well-structured.  His work on the soprano is a bit less convincing, as he sometimes falls into an approach that is a bit too cloying for my tastes, as on “Penelope,” one of the tracks which aren’t quite as compelling as the others.  But even here, Potter manages to keep things interesting with some nimble soloing before the track becomes too syrupy.  (I should also mention that his use of bass clarinet to open “The Sirens,” the fourth track, is also quite good, and perfect in establishing its darkly beautiful melody.)

As for his bandmates, Taborn (as always) is sensational, alternating his trademark swirling patterns of notes with minimalist passages, depending on the tune, to great effect.  Grenadier and Harland are also integral to the group’s success, as they dig in to each track and draw out its rhythmic core while being in lock-step communication with each other.  Harland brings a slight undercurrent of funk and rock to a number of the tunes, and he’s not afraid to kick up the intensity when the group really gets going.  Virelles’ contributions, while mostly unobtrusive, are still intriguing, particularly on prepared piano, which he uses rather effectively on the second track, “Wayfinder,” with some creative rhythmic commentary alongside Taborn.  Almost all the tracks clock in around the six to eight-minute mark, allowing for enough opportunity for the musicians to develop their ideas but without going on so long as to overstay their welcome.  The only exception is the very brief “Shades” which ends the album with Taborn and Virelles only, in a dark, quiet exploration of just a few languid notes: the perfect ending to a mysterious and affecting record.

David Binney – Lifted Land (Criss Cross, 2013) ***1/2

I wanted to like this record as much as Potter’s, but I just can’t say that it’s as good, all things considered.  On the one hand, the musicians here play with as much verve and drive as Potter’s band, if not more so: alto saxophonist Binney’s got a stellar lineup which includes (who else?) Craig Taborn on piano, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums.  And Binney’s clearly the more adventurous composer, with thorny, complex pieces that demand a lot of the listener.  In contrast to Potter’s sometimes too-sweet moments, Binney brings a stronger edge to his playing.  And yet, at least in the opinion of yours truly, it’s the less successful album overall—as it’s really an example of the whole not quite being the sum of its parts.

The chief culprit here is that Binney’s compositional ambition sometimes gets the better of him, as though he’s trying to do too much.  Case in point: the record’s opener, “Fanfare for Basu,” which begins with an intricate, knotty head, played impeccably by the group, only to then shift gears into what is really a fine use of multi-tracking where Binney intertwines multiple sax lines by himself, with a beautiful harmonic effect—only to then abandon it suddenly as the rest of the band comes back in to restate the complex opening melody, which seems particularly difficult and disconnected now, after the graceful beauty of Binney’s multitracked interlude.  Binney could easily have built the tune around either of the two compositional strategies; but by combining them together, the result seems forced and artificial.  The record has a number of these moments in which the axiom “less is more” might have served as a useful guide.  One can’t fault Binney for his creativity, which is definitely apparent here: but as on the album’s centerpiece, “As Snow Before a Summer Sun,” the final product isn’t always engaging.  At over eighteen minutes, it’s a sprawling and momentarily interesting piece, built around a recurring melody and interspersed individual and collective freely improvised sections—but as a whole, it just doesn’t hold together.  There is a quiet beauty that occasionally emerges, only to recede as the piece moves to the next phase.  It really isn’t until the last few minutes that the track seems to go somewhere, as Taborn establishes a three-chord vamp that Binney solos off of, as the track builds in intensity and just starts to hit the mark before it ends.

The record’s most successful track, “The Blue Whale,” works precisely because it isn’t as ambitious as the others.  It’s structured around a much simpler (and more memorable) post-bop melody that has plenty of drive and allows the entire group to stretch out and do their thing, without getting caught up in the overly intricate compositional workings that Binney is otherwise preoccupied in creating.  (It’s also got Binney’s most impassioned and exciting solo on the record, not coincidentally.)

None of this is to say that the quality of playing here doesn’t measure up—quite the opposite.  Binney is a fantastic soloist, and the others are more than capable of matching the caliber of his musicianship.  But overall, Binney’s compositions just didn’t do it for me.  It’s an ambitious and creative record, which should be acknowledged, but at the same time it’s missing something—a stronger emotional center, perhaps, which would make the album more engaging and enjoyable.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Alexander Hawkins Ensemble: Step Wide, Step Deep (Babel Label, 2013) *****

Reviewed by Joe

This is the third Alex Hawkins record we've reviewed. At the end of 2013 we had "Song Singular" and excellent piano solo recording, and in 2012, "All There, Ever Out", a very fine 'Ensemble' record. The new 'Ensemble' record follows on in the same direction as the last album but with a slight change to the line-up. Gone are the cello sound of Hannah Marshall and vibes of Orphy Robinson. Violinist Dylan Bates (brother of Django, for all interested) has been brought in, a 'blower' has been added, clarinettist Shabaka Hutchins and Neil Charles and Tom Skinner have taken over the roles of bassist and drummer. The excellent guitarist Otto Fischer, one of the ensemble's key sounds, is still there, good news on the sonic front.

One of the first jazz records I ever bought was Eric Dolphy's "Out to Lunch". That record, as I'm sure you all know, was a fantastic mixture of swing, atonal melody and adventurous improvisations. This record reminds me a little of that same spirit of Dolphy, memorable swinging melodies with plenty of fine solos and improvised passages. "Step Wide, Step Deep - Space of Time Danced Thru" (tk1) leads of the proceedings in real style, probably the most Dolphy-esque piece on the record. This is due, in part, to the new line-up's bass clarinet and violin front-line playing the melody. The other reference is probably the wonderful 'joyous hippo' type solo on this tune from Shabaka Hutchins' bass clarinet. The other members also get a chance to solo, placing phrases wherever possible in the rocky (lurching) rhythm section. The whole piece builds up over the 12 minutes finishing up in joyful mayhem.

I guess that some of the pieces are pure improvisation such as "Forgiven Only Words..." (tk2) and the strangely titled "MO (Itoqqortoormiit)" (tk3). On these pieces the players improvise together in a way that shows real listening skill, taking the music out but keeping some sort of uniformity. The wonderful "Listen/Glow" (tk4) starts out in this fashion but develops in a very powerful way. Clearly a mixture of improvised and composed, the group negotiates the music moving from one section to another in a very creative manner. This is one of the highlights (for me) and made me wonder what rules were used to keep the pieces so focused? The composed pieces - those that clearly have organised melodic material - and the [more] improvised pieces balance the record in a very natural way.

Three tracks round of this excellent record, "Advice" being a sort of quasi-blues riff that circles around-and-around whilst Dylan Bates plays bluesy solo lines. "Ensemble/Melancholy" treads that fine improvised line only to uncover a jumpy composed intervalic melody right at the last few bars. "Baobab Constellation" (tk7) closes the record, a very gentle piece - reminding me a little of some of King Crimson's soft improvisations - where the players show us that volume and dynamics are also worthwhile exploring.  

Highly recommended.

This video is a good introduction to the ensemble and the record....enjoy!

The Alexander Hawkins Ensemble is: Otto Fischer (gtr),  Neil Charles  (bass), Tom Skinner  (drums), Shabaka Hutchins (clarinet), Dylan Bates (violin), Hawkins (piano).

Monday, January 27, 2014

Abdelhaï Bennani - New Today, New Everyday (Improvising Beings, 2012) ****½

By Stef 

Sometimes good stuff gets missed, even by the most voracious free jazz listeners. And here I must apologise for all the albums that remain unreviewed. This was one of them, and scanning through all the 2012 lists of albums which did not get reviewed, it got my attention. I listened to it again, and again, and again, and wondered why it never got reviewed.

The band is Abelhaï Bennani on tenor, Itaru Oki on trumpet, bugle and flute, and Makoto Sato on drums. Alan Silva joins on synthesizer on three tracks.

The first CD is performed by the trio. Tenor and trumpet engage in open dialogues, full of stories to tell, some hesitant, some conversational, some jubilant or angy, with Sato not only underpinning, but adding to the intensity of the moment, changing, moving and propulsing the horns in different directions. The tracks appear to be "written" by Bennani, with only one pieces credited to all three musicians, but one might wonder what the writing has been about, since nothing as much as two consecutive notes form a repeated pattern. Every sound is new, fresh, authentic, as the album's title suggests.

This is musical freedom at its best. Especially the quiet pieces, like "Tribe", on which a slow deep tenor is interrupted by joyous bamboo flute, and rumbling on the skins by Sato. It is primal, open, welcoming notes as they sprout out of the instruments, without force, with being forced, almost without intention, as if by themselves, out of an organic or natural necessity.

The second Cd introduces Alan Silva on synths, but don't expect any style collusion with the freshness of the acoustic format. Silva adds quiet supporting tones, often quite inobtrusive, accentuating and almost flirting with the acoustic sounds, offering dark undertones, bass-like, on piano one track.

I cannot say it differently, this is quiet, cautious, intense organic music, full of depth and beauty.

If you like "Other Dimensions In Music", or "Nuts", then you are more than certain to enjoy this band.


Other reviews :
Abdelhaï Bennani : "In Side" (Ayler, 2009), "There Starts The Future" (Ayler, 2008)
Itaru Oki : "Nobusiko" (Improvising Beings, 2010),
Itaru Oki and Makoto Sato : "Symphony For Old And New Dimensions" (Ayler, 2009),  "L'Atelier Tampon Ramier September 2007" (Ayler, 2007) 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Survival Unit III: Game Theory (Not Two, 2013) ****½

By Martin Schray

Reviewing this album gives me the chance to appreciate the work of three institutions without which free jazz would not be possible – local organizers who give the musicians the possibility to play, labels who publish their albums and the long time commitment of the musicians themselves.

I recently saw Survival Unit III, which is Joe McPhee on saxes and pocket trumpet, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics and Michael Zerang on drums in Weikersheim, a village in South Germany which is really out in the sticks. For more than 30 years Norbert Bach and Elsbeth Schmidt have been booking mainly punk rock and free jazz bands for their club called W71, their cultural engagement for this region cannot be appreciated highly enough.

NotTwo, the Polish label founded by Marek Winiarski in 1998, has been one of the most interesting labels in the last few years (as well as NoBusiness in Lithuania, Clean Feed in Portugal and Rune Grammofon in Norway, among others). Winiarski’s simply releases the stuff he likes and he clearly prefers live improvisations. In the last years he has produced outstanding CD boxes by Barry Guy New Orchestra (“Mad Dogs”) or DKV Trio (“Past Present”).  It is actually no surprise that they have now released a CD by Survival Unit III.

And of course this music is about the artists, especially about icons like 74-year-old Joe McPhee, who has been on the scene since 1967 and who has been responsible for seminal albums like “Nation Time”, “Black Magic Man”, “Topology” or “Survival Unit II: At WBAI’s Free Music Store” (just to name a few). In 2006 he has reanimated his Survival Unit and has released three albums with this group since then.

The beginning of their new album, “Ever Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head”, is very meditative, Lonberg-Holm and Zerang are very reluctant, they create an almost spiritual atmosphere which enables McPhee to bring in a melancholic blues improvisation before – almost without noticing - the piece escalates into classic free jazz. Exactly in the middle the track seems to stop, as if it was looking around for its possibilities. Introspections, McPhee’s only contribution on pocket trumpet, a harsh Brötzmann-like outburst and McPhee humming are the result.

Lately McPhee’s music has been less motivated by the political situation of African-Americans but more by the sonic exploration of his instruments (“Sonic Elements”) but on this album it seems that he wanted to comment on recent social upheavals again. “Love in the Time of AIDS” just asks what love is today opposed to sex, power and control. On the one hand it is an incredibly sad comment on a feeling that seems to vanish, the piece sounds like a requiem. However, it is also a great musical reminiscence to John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders.

The final track, “A Song for Beggars”, is the most obvious political statement starting with the words “This song won’t feed the starving, nor will conferences on hunger with a fortune spent on talking. Nor will it house the homeless or quench the thirst of millions who will die from lack of water while the vampires drink their blood” – words clearly in the tradition of beat generation authors like Amiri Baraka (“Nation Time” was a tribute to him). It is a dark piece, full of frenzy, yet it is also elegant, beautifully swinging, enrooted in gospel and blues.

Another great album of a great artist.

Buy from

You can watch a full – and marvelous - gig of their latest tour here:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Konvoj Ensemble feat. Evan Parker & Sten Sandell - Colors Of (Konvoj, 2013) ****

By Stef 

It's hard to be a reviewer at times. Especially in music where all boundaries are just excuses to go a step further. What is in the musicians' mind? What are they up to? Konvoj Ensemble gives me just that feeling. Despite all the listening that's been done of thousands of albums and not of the easy listening kind, can you still be perplexed by what you hear? Yes, that's possible. 

Konvoj Ensemble is like that. The one long track is "composed and constructed" by Ola Paulson and Jakob Riis. Paulson plays baritone saxophone and alto horn with a saxophone mouthpiece, Riis is the man at the computer and real-time processing. The rest of the band are Lotte Anker on alto and soprano saxophone, Evan Parker on tenor, Liudas Mockunas on bass saxophone and bass clarinet, Sten Sandell on piano, and Anders Uddesklog on drums and percussion. 

"Colors Of" starts with a few piano sprinkles, but then the horns come in, and what they do is great, and beautiful, shaping common resonance and timbral interplay, quietly conversing in a sad and aesthetic way, with deep tones and high tones offering great perspective and depth. The kind of sound you want to keep hearing forever. It's brilliant, and only Lotte Anker can keep this high painful phrases full of subtlety and anguish. Then the horns start getting some rhythm in their play, like a train gathering speed, with Anker still soaring, but then this beauty stops, phased out, gone, to be replaced by Sandell's piano, now introducing some general mayhem, orchestrated chaos, full of wild noise and directionless screams. This moment of turbulence or storm or whatever merges into a sea of a deep computer bass sound, maintained hovering above silence, to be interrupted by solo percussion, for a little too long, then the rest of the band takes over, horns and piano. The sound has become harsh and dissonant and weird. Hard electronic noise interrupts all this, like machine guns heard through sheets of paper. Dramatic effects that shatter your listening. A wake-up call for Sandell and Parker to perform a duo, for a while, then the computer takes over again, with a strange kind of multiphonic noise, sustained around one single tone, and an electronic rehash of what you heard before, with sounds squeazed and speed altered, but somehow the acoustic instruments come back again, at the end, as if they had survived something terrible, something beyond words, mangled and maimed yet trying to sing with whatever is left in them, chaotic and bruised. The audience applauds, some enthusiastically, some hesitantly. 

It is bizarre. It is erratic and eccentric. It is not free, it is organised. It is structured. It is freedom forced into an organised structure. 

Why am I perplexed? Because I've listened to the album many times. And I don't know what to say of it. I like it and I don't. Some of it is brilliant. Some of it I want to fast forward. Yet I kept listening. 

Why am I perplexed? Because I don't understand it. What is going on here? What is the story? Why the structure? Why this structure? 

Why am I perplexed? Because the musicianship is so excellent, so brilliant at times, with phenomenal interplay - and I love Anker's tone especially! But then why doesn't it gel? Why do I feel that some things are happening on a different plane? 

If the only result are questions, you know you've something of value, or absolute crap. It certainly did not leave you indifferent. 

And in that sense it's great! I like being disoriented. I like being taken by suprise. I like having my expectations shattered. To be thrown off-balance. Mystified. 

Available at 

Friday, January 24, 2014

2° Ètage: Grey Matter (NoBusiness, 2013) ****

By Martin Schray

Although the title of this album refers to a major component of the central nervous system consisting of neuronal cell bodies and therefore something which belongs to the human body, listening to it makes me think of something completely different. I imagine myself standing on a large ascending meadow, I am contemplating the little flowers, the bees, the flies and the bugs, it is a world of its own, joyous and frolic. In a musical way, this is what the beginning of “Echappée belle”, the first track, is like. Jean-Luc Cappozzo (tp) starts with a Nate-Wooley-like approach, it’s an excursion in breath and extended techniques, it sounds as if there were two trumpets. Gerry Hemingway (dr) joins him but does not deliver a pulse, the drums are another solo instrument. But then I feel that there is something wrong, there is a rumbling and mumbling, as if the earth was slightly quaking; the meadow is rising at the opposite end, there is a slow but threatening debris avalanche coming towards me, it’s shape is shifting, as if it was alive. Christine Wodrascka (p), who has been the one holding the piece together with her prepared piano, has started delivering dark, gloomy and muffled low-key chords, Cappozzo plays shrill notes which are hardly recognizable as trumpet sounds and Hemingway concentrates on his toms. I look at and listen to this wonder of nature in a puzzled way because I don’t know what will happen next.

As to structure there are similar tracks like “Ghost Train” featuring Wodrascka bowing the strings of the interior of the piano while Cappozzo  has turned to regular sounds and nervous runs; or “Rivulet” which presents an alternative ending: the trumpet plays a beautiful harmonic melody here.

Other highlights are short pieces like “Possession” with its disharmonic piano chords, its coughing and its belling or “Tanz Ende” (German for: The End of the Dance), which features Wodrascka and Hemingway throwing in sparse sounds, while Cappozzo is hardly audible - it sounds as if parts of what they play are cut out (especially Wodrascka’s part) -  it is a sketch, an outline, a draft. It really seems as if the album was in its final throes before all of a sudden it turns in a mad, but funny simple waltz, which is immediately alienated.

All the music is improvised by these experienced musicians and especially Christine Wodrascka, who says that she likes to look for unique and authentic moments in music and who seems to be a bit underrepresented  (at least on our blog) although she has played with a lot of the best European improvisers like Joëlle Léandre, Paul Lovens or Fred VanHove, is simply outstanding. Her style meanders between Alex von Schlippenbach, new classical music, sound explorations and even Cecil Taylor (“Up Down“). She is worth a deeper dig.

The album was recorded live in Le Carré Bleu, Poitiers, France on October 18th 2012.

Grey Matter” is available on CD, you can buy it from

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The strange universe of Jeremiah Cymerman

By Stef 

For years now, clarinetist and sound engineer Jeremiah Cymerman has been working on his own sound, his own musical vision which is one of strange sounds of utter darkness and distress. Listening to his music is an experience. A weird experience in which you are rocked between attraction and repulsion, because he is not afraid to go far, very far and deep into new sonic possibilities. He is also a master at selecting his companions on his strange journeys.

Jeremiah Cymerman & Frantz Loriot - Seven Bridges (Peira, 2013)

"Seven Bridges" is a duo performance between Cymerman on clarinet and Frantz Loriot ("Bobun", "Baloni") on violin. There is only one tune, thirty-one minutes long. Within this time-frame, you can hear really bizarre interplay, so much even that it's - even for an experienced listener - at times requiring lots of concentrated energy to keep listening. In contrast to many of his other albums, the interaction is purely acoustic, with both instruments being tortured by their respective players into producing short bursts of sound, often unrecognisable as coming from these two instruments. I am not sure what to make from it, but it's not an album that I would go to often. 

Listen and download on Bandcamp

Jeremiah Cymerman - Sky Burial (5049 Records, 2013) ****

Sky Burial” is of a totally different nature. The band is first of all more substantial, with fellow avant-gardists Nate Wooley and Peter Evans on trumpet, and Matt Bauder on saxophone. The four musicians played this album over the course of three days. Afterwards Cymerman cut it into something reduced to fifty-five minutes, with lots of studio edits.

This is the Cymerman as we like him. The dark sonic universe holds the middle between lunacy and spiritual damnation. It is horrific. You hear sounds coming from nowhere, arising like voices in the head of a schizophrenic, like ghosts in a child's nightmare. Cymerman plays with the sounds, juxtaposes them, layers, them, softens them, but all of this with dramatic effect, with suspense being built up, with phrases endlessly repeated, with all sounds suddenly being sucked up by silence, with dark and deep electronic undertones.

This is a horror movie without need for plot or images or actors. This is music that cuts deep into the unconscious and uproots all sense of stability and sanity you thought you had. When you think of what a "listening experience" means, well this is one, but you need open ears, and not be faint of heart.

Jeremiah Cymerman - Real Scars (Mnóad, 2014) ****

"Real Scars" is a solo album, with Cymerman on clarinet, amplifier and electronics, and released on a new Belgian label. Thirty minutes, three tracks, called "Old Wounds", "Deep Cuts", and "Family Of Origin".

The sound is more acoustic than on the other albums, with lots of edits, and overdubs as we have learned to expect, but the dynamics of the music change throughout the album, from more violent use of electronics on the first track, gradually shifting from utter darkness and distress towards a kind of resignation and even a more contemplative part to finish with. Sounds are stretched, shifting in timbre and color around a tonal center, with phrases barely oscillating yet echoing in the distance, contrasted by deep bass tones underneath.

This is an absolutely beautiful album for listeners with open ears, and possibly a great introduction to Cymerman's universe for those who don't know him.

Jeremiah Cymerman - Pale Horse (5049 Records, 2014) *****

The real killer album is without a doubt the newest one - "Pale Horse", with Cymerman on clarinets, Christopher Hoffmann on cello and Brian Chase on drums.

The trio weaves long horizontal tones through each other. The one note is vibrating, changing color and timbre, strangely being flexed somehow, getting more resonance and echo from the other instrument. Other horizontal lines follow, shift, mix, disappear, and reappear, slightly altered, modified, ....

The effect is stunning. The effect is dramatic. Never has music sounded more desolate than this. The most worrying thing is that it sounds human. It sounds like - again - inner voices emphasising something deep and universal, but without escape, without a chance of resolution or redemption or salvation or .... It is at the same time deep underground and high in the sky, it is about deep internal emotions and about a great sense of space.

Cymerman drives his vision to extremes here, more minimal maybe, but not really, because the sounds can be dense and rich at moments, with sudden dramatic explosions of sound, increasing levels of intensity and tension, gradually building up expectations of a change, of a release, which doesn't come, which doesn't come .... until ... until ... This was the first track, called "Dancer".

The second track, "Ghost", starts with the barely audible, with all three instruments electronically modified into layers of low-volume repetitive patterns, again with the dark and low rumbling bass tones adding the most amazing effect, ...then intensity increases with cello and clarinet sawing the same note maddeningly, and not only the intensity, but also the volume - which in the meantime you had already turned much higher to hear what's going in the silent part - creating a stark contrast. Then strangely, the instruments get a kind of normality, with the cello sounding like a cello, the clarinet playing some phrases as if a chamber ensemble had emerged, and you think something is improving, something is changing for the better, something is emerging out of the darkness, out of this dark cesspool of angst and fear ... and then everything goes quiet .... and your expectations are shattered again.

The strongest aspect of this album is that Cymerman, Hoffmann and Chase manage to create a universe, that - although desolate and built up around a monotonal core - is at the same time full of surprises, of little things happening under the surface, of shifts of focus between instruments, of sudden changes that remain unexpected, yet without altering the overall line of sound, keeping things tightly under control and coherent, while at the same time really driving something deep into the listener's being. And it's really the latter that counts. Deep into the listener's being.

Rempis/Abrams/Ra & The Rempis/Daisy Duo

Rempis / Abrams / Ra –  Aphelion  (Aerophonic, 2014)   ****

The Rempis / Daisy Duo – Second Spring  (Aerophonic, 2014)  *****

By Tom Burris

The third and fourth releases on Dave Rempis' Aerophonic label keep the quality level on high with an album of live recordings from the Rempis / Abrams / Ra trio and a duo firestorm from Rempis and percussionist Tim Daisy.

Aphelion was recorded on three separate occasions in two different Chicago venues, but there is nothing pieced-together about the audiophile sound quality or the unified vision of these 2013 performances. 

“Ruah” sets a meditative trance-inducing pace as Rempis blows long subtle notes between the plucks of Joshua Abrams' small harp and Avreeayl Ra's kalimba, setting you up for the build-up that's coming on “Noria.”  This track opens with Abrams' bowed bass and some long and winding legato blowing from Rempis.  When Ra makes an equally subtle entry, the trio begins slowly weaving a web around your head that when you realize what's going on it's too late to escape.  The trio elevate and land repeatedly; and by the end Rempis is blowing overtone exhaust all over the place.  “Saqiya” features Abrams' on guimbri, a guitar-like Moroccan instrument, while the trio establishes a slow groove, sounding a bit like Pharoah Sanders playing with the Gnawa people or a more sedate Ornette in Joujouka. 

This band is rooted in spiritual communication and demonstrates much openness in its approach, making this a very warm and inviting – as well as challenging – work.  Thankfully, according to this article Paul sent me (see link below) the band plans to develop further and continue to play out on a regular basis. 

Aerophonic considers The Rempis / Daisy Duo's disc, Second Spring, to be the proper follow-up to their 2005 recording, Back To The Circle (Okkadisk).  It has the sound and feel of a classic BYG/Actuel duo blowout and is one helluva wild ride.  Starting things off is “Impasto,” on which Rempis runs up and down in rapid fire arpeggiation over Daisy's kinetic and powerful, yet somehow nonchalant, free Cuban groove.  The subtle powerfulness dives deeper on “Numbers Lost,” where Daisy applies mallets to the toms and de-snared snare drum and cymbals, while Rempis rides on waves of overtones and pressurized steam. 

Then comes the realization that the two previous tracks have merely been the setup for the pure sonic meltdown of “Three Flags.”  Rempis finds center after center to focus on - and then obliterate mere seconds later, frantically looking for what?  The lost chord?  Daisy does his epileptic centipede bashing with furious abandon. 

There are also two longish pieces (not counting “Impasto”).  One, “Frijoleo,” serves as a thoughtful exercise in tension and release while the other, “Gerosten and Gesalter,” is all tension.  Both tracks are great workouts and stand as fine examples of improvisation being primarily a listener's art form. 

And if that doesn't seem like enough variety for ya, check out “For R. Barry,” a beautiful, melodic piece that stands apart from everything else here – and yet is a perfect fit.  Even though it doesn't exist, “For R. Barry” b/w “Three Flags” is my favorite single on the planet right now.  Bravo Aerophonic!
That's four for four. 


Aerophonic website:

Available at

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Memorize the Sky - re-release of 3" recordings ****

It's interesting that thanks to digital possibilities, older and unknown recordings come back to life. I loved Memorize The Sky's albums "Creeks" and "In Former Times". 

The band is Matt Bauder on tenor saxophone, Zach Wallace on bass and Aaron Siegel on percussion, but it is far removed from the traditional sound you can expect from this line-up. The trio's approach is minimalistic, with an aesthetic entirely their own, with lots or even only extended techniques creating soundsculptures that are incredibly beautiful. 

They re-released three tracks : the first is their first recording, a 3" CD-R of a live concert at Kerrytown Concerthouse in Ann Arbor, MI from January 2001, the second a 3" CD-R of a live concert as part of the eggwolf series at the Read in Brooklyn from Dec 200, the third recording a 3" CD-R of a live concert at Context studios in Brooklyn from June 2001.

In total you get thirty minutes of listening joy! More than worth looking for.

You can download from the label.

Aram Bajakian - there were flowers also in hell (self released, 2014) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Use Aram Bajakian's there were flowers also in hell to kick off your next party. Put on 'Texas Cannonball' and watch as your guests begin to dance. A little later in the tune they may be tempted to get stoned, but they'll soon be dancing again, albeit perhaps just a little slower. In fact, your guests won't even notice the seque into the next track. The gorgeous 'Loutone' picks up on the previous song's theme and then proceeds to deconstruct it into a buzzing, shimmering, and ultimately blazing tribute to Lou Reed.

Each listen to there were flowers also in hell reveals new layers and ideas. Track three, 'Requiem for 5 Pointz', the controversial industrial building featuring a graffiti exhibit that was whitewashed over by the owners in their effort to turn it over to developers late last year, is an evocative solo guitar piece in the vein of Anders Nilsson's Night Guitar or Marc Ribot's Silent Movies. This reflective piece is followed up by the feisty Eastern-tinged 'Orbisonian'. The laid back ballad 'Sweet Blue Eyes' is just bursting with melody, and somehow, in some non-sensical, completely unwarranted way, keeps suggesting to me certain moments from 'Don't Let Me Down'. 'Rent Party' may be the most infectious song of all - a dark groove, blues-like changes, and a serious dose of sludgy post-rock all in the span of 5 minutes. To think, I'm only half way through this album!

there were flowers also in hell is a strong musical statement by Bajakian, an inventive guitarists who has worked with Diana Krall and Lou Reed, and is member of the powerful group Abraxas. The band on this record includes bassist Shahzad Ismaily from Ceramic Dog and drummer Jerome Jennings.

Bajakian describes it a blues album on his website. That's a nice an open term for the music - it's downtown New York, it's blues, it's rock, it's guitar, it's free-jazz, and it's quite enjoyable.

Give the album teaser a try:

Purchase through Bandcamp:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Daniel Carter, William Parker & Federico Ughi - Navajo Sunrise (Rudi, 2013) ****

By Stef 

The album starts with applause of the audience, after which Daniel Carter's alto starts singing a beautiful tune, upbeat and joyful, with William Parker on bass and Federico Ughi on drums following suit, sculpting a slightly dancing and boppish improvisation out of Carter's initial tones. The times are good, the mood is fine, the playing beautiful. 

The title track starts after the applause for a soloist who took a step back and the trio jumps in again, a strange cut, but that doesn't spoil the fun, because over Ughi's energetic drumming and Parker's solid foundation, Carter sings away on his alto, keeping a wonderful spiritual tone and sense of optimism, one of wonder and joy, and even when halfway the track the tempo slows down, the ensuing intimacy between the three musicians remains warm and positive.

Then "Gather Up" opens with bass and piano, yes, with Carter on piano, and with William Parker on shakuhachi, again full of spiritual joy, with Ughi adding subtle accents, and Carter switching to alto. The audience is enthusiastic and rightly so.

The longest piece, "It Could Go", the closing track, is also the fiercest, with incredible energy and power, in the best of free jazz traditions, and with great subtlety. The interaction between Ughi, Parker and Carter is really strong, keeping its upbeat tone, and the sax keeps singing, full of lyricism and you can tell that all three musicians are really enjoying this too.

In a time of harsh sounds and musical expressions of distress and anger, this album offers a refreshing antidote, free and intense and lyrical. The power of optimism! The joy of three great musicians having fun!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Blood Trio - Understory (Not Two, 2013) ****

By Stef 

We've reviewed albums before with saxophonist and clarinetist Sabir Mateen, bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey. Use the "search" engine on the right and lists of albums will appear, with the three artists as leaders in their respective bands, and in bands like Frode Gjerstad's Circulasione Totale, William Parker's orchestras, the David S Ware bands, or in albums with Joe Morris, Matthew Shipp, Joe McPhee, Daniel Carter ... and many more. 

And now we get all three in a trio, and a real trio, with all three musicians shaping the sound. Is it all improvised? It's hard to say, because most of the tracks have a clear and identifiable sound or even a theme, that, vague as it may be, creates the focus for the ensuing free development, with an underlying boppish element that is never far away. 

You have plenty of sax trios, yet few get to the high level of this trio. The musicianship, the interaction, the variation and the drive make this a trio you really want to listen to. 

The album starts ferociously, working on a boppish theme that is soon dropped for some more free power, with hard hitting rhythm section and a soaring sax. 

Yet it's not all fire and power, "Ancient Tree" starts as a quiet ballad, with arco bass and quiet sax, but with this trio intensity and drive are at the core of their being, so it doesn't take long before the tempo and the volume are turned up a notch or two, 

"Arachnia" too, starts quietly, with clarinet and pizzi bass, sparsely supported by the drums, yet it keeps its mysterious open-ended phrases, a moment of calm in the center of a storm.

The title track is clearly the center piece, with Mateen on tenor, and initially the trio keeps the pace almost contemplative, but again the trio explodes, with the sax screaming and howling over the deep sound of the bass, and the magnificent pulse of the drums, only to collapse into silence suddenly, as an intro for Dickey to give a long drum solo, followed by an intimate conversation of bass and sax, just beautiful. 

But my favorite piece is the closing track, again ferocious from beginning to end, full of raw power and deep expressivity.

This is free music, energetic, focused, soulful, raw and with a maddening drive, with sparks flying off in all directions, while at the same time offering variety and subtlety too.

Available at

Mike Pride - Drummer's Corpse (AUM Fidelity, 2013) ****

By Brian Questa

Drummer’s Corpse is an optimistic journey into the after life, wherein the moment of death, what would be no more than seconds, is stretched into a 30-minute celebration of noise. While the title track hints at the aesthetics of American heavy metal, the album truly has its antecedents in works such as John Coltrane’s Ascension and OM; it is a large-scale celebration of life, brewing its own spirituality. A first rate cast of percussionists (Oran Canfield, Russell Greenberg, John McClellan, Bobby Previte, Mike Pride, Ches Smith, and Tyshawn Sorey) is featured in such a way as to subsume the individual uniqueness of each musician into a single wall of ecstatic drum.

An intense, mid-range, imperceptibly changing drone is provided by the electric guitar of Chris Welcome as a backdrop for the world’s greatest drum circle. Independent percussive motives appear and disappear into the texture; repeated listening reveals more and more subtleties. Cries, screams, and spoken word blend nicely into the mix, revealing messages from the world beyond.

The appearance of the second track, Some Will Die Animals, presents an awkward transition, as it is a much smaller ensemble than the first. Three vocalists, reciting spoken words and contradictory speech, appearing at various moments, decorate a trio of Chris Welcome on guitar, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and Mike Pride on percussion. If the listener will muster up enough mental separation between the two tracks, each can be appreciated in their own integrity. While the human voice is featured in a unique way, the highlight of this track is the sensitivity of Mike Pride’s drum work.

Both tracks are around 30 minutes long, although I wish the opening, Drummer’s Corpse, would carry on for another 30. It is an intoxicating listening experience. Highly intense, and unrelenting, Drummer’s Corpse is one you’ll want to have, and for all its death metal, leaves you with a feeling of profound optimism.

Available at

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Moon - Good And Evil (577 Records, 2013) ***½

We praised the Adam Caine trio some years ago for their "Thousandfold" album on the No Business label, and now the New York guitarist is back with a duo recording together with Federico Ughi on drums.

Like on the trio album, the fully improvised music is as direct as can be, with rock-influenced playing, but jazz in nature. On the opening track the guitar is raw, with feedback piercing through, and the drums are energetic and powerful, violent even, as on tracks like "Primal Scene/Sister Fight" for instance.

The duo also has another side, closer to free improv, with in-the-moment sounds bouncing of strings and skins - as on "Cardboard" - or more elaborated soundscapes as in "Floyd", or more exploratory of new melodic sounds in "Dawn At The Edge Of The Universe".

Despite the limited line-up, the approach is quite varied, with interesting new ideas, but that's possibly also its weakness, because the less violent pieces somehow hesitate and linger too much to my taste.

Fans of modern guitar improvisation will love it ....

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Evan Parker, Eddie Prévost, Sebastian Lexer – Tri-Borough Triptych (Matchless, 2013) ****

By Dan Sorrells

Tri-Borough Triptych could almost be considered a sequel to last year’s hard-to-place Impossibility in Its Purest Form—or, at the very least, an extension of the ideas it engaged. The albums both share a similar line-up and organizational structure: Lexer’s piano+ and Prévost’s percussion matched with an idiosyncratic saxophonist, then presented as a series of duos. But where Impossibility sported three shorter duos that culminated in a long trio performance, Tri-Borough Triptych forgoes the trio in favor of devoting more time to the stunning duets.

The first, “Camden,” is the familiar pairing of Parker and Prévost. About four minutes in, Parker touches on an almost Middle Eastern mode, accented by rich, methodical bows on the cymbals, which lend to the Eastern feel. Prévost’s palette seems expanded here; he coaxes a much richer range of sonorities from his cymbals, occasionally shadowing Parker’s tenor with impressive precision, and adds sporadic exclamation marks of toms and rubbed drumheads. The performance reprises the ritualistic air of their meetings on Most Materials: here, we encounter the secret rites of the Masters.

Equally exciting are the performances with Lexer. Every new album is an opportunity to see the development of his expertise with his piano+ system. Last year, I described his cyborg instrument as “neither piano nor electronics,” but “a very mysterious, organic soundworld that’s intimately tied to the physical act of playing piano, even though the source material is often hopelessly obscured.” On “Deptford” he becomes so subtly enmeshed with Prévost’s wash of sound that he’s difficult to pick out; his contributions connect in some subconscious place, like the omnipresent, deeply-felt hum of a giant transformer. At eight minutes, some delicate chords are sounded. They are fleeting, and the electronics sustain their ringing harmonics indefinitely, where they are soon subsumed into Prévost’s clatter, which sounds both immediate and distant, like a dark storm on the horizon whose first raindrops are already beginning to splash down. The music is abstract, but it’s difficult to listen without grasping for associations: later, the crackling of a fire, echoing in the heart of a cast iron stove.

But in the end, the first two-thirds of the album could be viewed as a set-up for the showdown between Lexer and Parker, their first meeting. Parker and Prévost have a storied history, and we’re now familiar with Lexer and Prévost, as well. We’re left anticipating the ways Lexer’s incredible piano+ system will interact with Parker’s singular approach, one that’s no stranger to dramatic electro-acoustic environments. Lexer is in a remarkable position to match a normally fixed-pitch instrument against the microtonal bath of Parker’s technique. As “Dalston” gets under way, Parker’s approach keeps close to his solo outings, with incredible runs on soprano that Lexer often engages indirectly, creating his own complex patterns of harmonics that crash into Parker’s. But there are also piano and sax-transcending drones, a product of Parker’s pulmonary might and Lexer’s technology. After 20 minutes, these give way to beautiful, chiming tones, a duet of church bells and birdsong.

What’s remarkable about Tri-Borough Triptych is how close these three very different instruments can be pulled together. These duos display of a new era of virtuosity, in which the musicians have moved beyond mere “chops” to a level where their chosen instrument can be melted down and re-forged to fit nearly any working context. But for anyone already familiar with these three, that’s hardly news.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Postmarks - National Parks (Monotype, 2013) ****

By Stef 

We like the music of saxophonist Boris Hauf, as can be read on previous reviews here. On these albums Hauf demonstrated his skill to create a sonic mood, a coherent environment sculpted with sound. On "National Parks" he is accompanied by D Bayne on piano and by Martin Siewert on guitar.

The music is inspired by the posters for US national parks from the 1930s and 1940s, which strangely add the dual color of evocating nature, while at the same time coloring with sentiments of bygone days.

The music is quiet, well-paced, subtle, beautiful, not cheerful but also not really sad, but rather solemn and light-hearted, if that is possible, and then Siewert draws a solid nail through the musical poster, ripping every sentiment of comfort you may have had.

Some of the tracks are real miniatures, short often minimalist pieces full of finesse and interesting playing, and they are as good as the longer pieces, which are on the second part of the album, with more room to develop the ideas while at the same time allowing for more emotional depth.

In a way you could qualify the music as free jazz impressionism, because of its concept and its accessibility and obvious beauty on the surface level, yet at the same time, the music remains open-ended, like nothing is definitive, with more abstract threads of sounds left unraveled, as if there is a question mark behind it all, and with some darker undercurrents, something fearful and unexplained, mayby unexplainable, hidden in the invisible parts of the scenes yet present, or with traces of the past somehow still lingering, only to be caught with sound, with repetitive arpeggios, slightly bending notes on the sax and screeching guitar sounds.

John Hebert Trio – Floodstage (Clean Feed, 2013) *****

By Tom Burris

The sophomore album from the John Hebert Trio, following 2010's Spiritual Lover disc (also on Clean Feed), opens with a rich, dark, brooding atmosphere of the sort Miles Davis used to conjure up in the 1970s.  The piano trio, led by prominent NYC bassist Hebert, is augmented by a weird electronic delay-soaked pulse that flies in and out of the track like a drunken firefly in search of a place to pass out.  This piano trio is different.

Things start swinging right away following this slightly surreal introduction with the title track, but it retains a dreamlike quality.  The pulse wobbles and changes tempo and direction often enough that the alcohol-soaked quality comes to mind again; but I also can't help thinking of a dust devil in slow motion.  (Isn't that it on the cover?)  Drummer Gerald Cleaver is especially expressive here as he pushes and pulls the momentum of the music like a puppeteer controlling a mobile in a wind storm.

The next track, “Tan Hands,” features pianist Benoit Delbecq doing his best Keith Jarrett impression while Hebert does Gary Peacock and Cleaver does Paul Motian.  Definitely derivative, but an homage that works and sounds absolutely gorgeous while still retaining the mysterious depth of the previous two songs.  (Interestingly, the band also reminds me of Paul Bley - with Peacock and Motian - on a track sequenced later on the album called “Morning Mama.”)

This is followed by a very abstract blues called “Red House in NOLA,” appropriately steeped in humidity.  Hebert and Delbecq dance gracefully around each other while Cleaver avoids steering the mobile into anything, letting its pieces clang softly in the breeze.  This is followed by a rolling groove-based track called “Holy Trinity,” which sets the album back on the main road again with quiet force. 
Among the many highlights: Delbecq plays a clavinet that sounds like a muted marimba or a thumb piano on “Saints,” which is followed by a track called “Sinners,” on which Hebert and Cleaver join in with Delbecq to thank Africa for talking to them.  The band tackles “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” with a purity of heart that will put a big dumb smile on your face.  Then there's “On The Half Shell,” on which Delbecq combines piano and electric keys, playing the melody line an octave apart on each.  Hebert is jumping all over the neck of the bass as well, full of giant octave leaps.  Cleaver is again the playful driver of this bus, threatening to run them off the road at every turn just for fun, but in complete control of every situation. 

I honestly love every second of this recording.  There is mystery, beauty, soulfulness and darkness throughout; and the rapport between the players is beyond exceptional – but what absolutely kills me is the glowing tube-amp, wood fire, Christmas lights, cherry-pie-right-out-of-the-oven warmth of every single track.  Maybe it's this sub-zero Midwestern nightmare of a winter talking, but I think I'm going to spend every dark evening driving home from work to this album for the next month or so.     

Available at

Monday, January 13, 2014

Angelica Sanchez & Wadada Leo Smith - Twine Forest (Clean Feed, 2013) *****

By Stef 

Beautiful albums do not need many words. Pianist and composer Angelica Sanchez has invited Wadada Leo Smith to join her for a duo album, recorded in April of last year. Sanchez is a member of the trumpeter's "Organic" Ensemble, whose "Heart's Reflections" also received a 5-star rating on this blog. Smith made one trumpet-piano duo album before, "Interludes Of Breath & Substancewith Matthew Goodheart, which was good, but this one is truly excellent. 

The great thing about the album is that both musicians are absolutely fabulous. And Sanchez doubly so, first for her compositions, which are inventive, abstract and open-ended, confident and sensitive at the same time, full of careful touches, very modern without going overboard. Second, her playing, is fabulous too. Disciplined and accurate and lyrical and fluid. She goes back to tradition, and in pieces like "Veinular Rub" - one of my favorites,  you can hear the blues as much as the modern cinematic composition, full of dark drama and sentiment. And of course the quality of Smith's playing no longer needs substantiation. 

"Retinal Sand" is one of my favorite pieces, because of its sustained tension, starting with some playing inside the piano supporting trumpet blasts by Smith, yet then everything goes quiet, but not quite, when cautious, almost hesitant chords force the muted trumpet to increase the volume, and the speed and the sad tone blossoms, opening like a flower, into clarity and playfulness. 

But my favorite track is also "Echolocation", with its beautiful middle section of single notes on the piano as a tonal center for the muted trumpet to circle around, minimal yet so rich, so rich. 

I will not review all eight of my favorite tracks on this album, but each one of them has its own story to tell, its own intimate conversation, full of warmth, openness and beauty. The stories are sensitive, sometimes with drama, and are human, about you and me, and other people, about sadness and joy, and everything in between, delivered with nuance and subtlety and depth. 

In the madness of our world, with all its violence, its anger, its noise and loudness, its shallow feelings and lack of time to listen to people or music - and I mean really listen to them - this album comes like an oasis in the desert, like a moment of silence in the chaos, a moment of calm in the mayhem. 

It will not only provide the listener with the joy of listening and getting enthusiastic about musical beauty, but the album is also guaranteed to have strong therapeutic effects, putting the rest of the world at rest, putting things in perspective and offer soothing solace. 

Available at

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Round Up: "New Ears" from Norway

The recordings from Va Fongool, a label out of Norway dedicated to the fringes of music, can easily be seen as music for 'new ears'. It's a concept of music that is sometimes beyond categorization, and while a bit hard to define the term, these recordings certainly help explain the idea ...

By Paul Acquaro

Mumuu - Mitt Ferieparadis (Va Fongool, 2013) ***½

The two sides to this 7" from Mummu are quite different from each other. The first side is a quiet noise collage, the other is a noisy collage. On 'Feda Bru' the sounds of the guitar and bass and other instruments are subtle, with most sound coming from the keyboards and possibly some other electronic sources. It's a somewhat harsh sound that the group makes, but the textures can be mesmerizing. 'Logatunellen', on the flip side begins with kinetic drums as the group loudly mashes their instruments to achieve maximum viscosity. The quintet is Christian Skår Winther on electric guitar, Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard on electric bass, Anja Lauvdal on Korg MS10, Heida Karine Johannesdottir Mobeck on tuba and Joakim Heibø Johansen on drums.

Christian Winther & Christian Meaas Svendsen - M-W (Va Fongool, 2013) ***½

This double CD is a set of solo and duo performances by upright bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen and a guitarist Christian Winther. Each disc of this beautifully packaged two disc release features one of the musicians with a couple tracks on each as a duo.

The recordings are a study in the dynamics between the performer and the instrument, engaged in idiosyncratic improvisations. The 'M' disc, featuring the Meaas Svendaen's bass, is the harsher of the two. During the course of the collections of short explorations, some rather wrenching tones and interesting ideas are pulled from the instrument. Disc 'W', on the other hand, finds the guitar featured in ways more germane to the instrument strengths in several reflective and earthy improvisations. The extended techniques in the duo pieces mesh nicely.

The album is evocative - in ways it's reminiscent of Marc Ribot's Exercises in Futility. It's not something that you may listen to regularly, but it's inventive and opens your ears to new possibilities, and you're sure to return to it again and again.

As Deafness Increases (Va Fongool, 2013) ***½

Let's start with how Va Fongool describes the As Deafness Increases:

"Clear structural frameworks functions as a starting point for creating music where slow haunting soundscapes are alternated with rapid movements and semi-melodic passages."

Good enough ... at the very least, this trio certainly takes a expansive view of what their instruments are supposed to do and get right down to work. The 20 minute 'Svalbard' opens with low tones and incidental sounds, breathing and extended techniques fill a small amount of space before a drone is established. As the episodic song takes shape, each instrument introduces a melodic motif that is filled out by the trio, gaining in volume and density. The track doesn't necessarily become a 'song', but rather an atmosphere that suggests alternative approaches to making music.  The tracks of the album all seem to work in this way, creating a very interesting study of the shadows of sound. The group is Inga Margrethe Aas on double bass, Rudolf Terland Bjørnerem on guitar and Henrik Nørstebø Munkeby on trombone.

Lana trio (Va Fongool, 2013) ****

With Lana trio, we're headed back to more familiar terrain. Though it is still unchartered territory, some of the landmarks are recognizable, such as the pulse and tonality of the instruments. It's a trombone (Munkeby from above), piano and drums trio that explores the interactions of the instruments with each other as much as with other aspects of music.

In eschewing traditional melody and harmony, the group focuses on other parameters like space, density and timbers. The piano often striking distinct tonal clusters and trombone painting notes on the musical canvas with quick swipes of the brush. This is the most repeatable listenable album of the bunch here.

The group is Henrik Nørstebø Munkeby on Trombone, Kjetil Jerve on Piano, Andreas Wildhagen on Drums.

Check them out: