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Friday, February 28, 2014

Solo Bass

By Stef 

Of all the solo line-ups that we reviewed, amazingly enough the solo bass album takes the lead position, even before solo piano albums or solo guitar albums. This has something to do with this reviewer's interest in the instrument, but also because of the great albums that we received from artists like Joëlle Léandre, William Parker, JC Jones, Paul Rogers, Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten, Mark Dresser, Michael Bisio, and other luminaries.

Here are a few more that are worth listening to.

Benjamin Duboc - St. James Infirmary (Improvising Beings, 2014) ****

French bassist Benjamin Duboc is clearly among some of my favorite musicians on the instrument. Not only because of his skills on the bass, but primarily because of his great story-telling abilities. He is a master of calibrating tension in his improvisations, using space and pace and good alternation between pizzi and arco, between slower moody moments, violent outbursts and heartrending paroxysms.

In 2011, he released "Primare Cantus", a box set which we can highly recommend, and which you find him in various settings, including long solo pieces.

On this album, he performs two lengthy pieces, recorded at the Eglise Saint-Martin in Bignac, France on April, 2013. The first track is the traditional "St James Infirmary" blues, made famous by Louis Armstrong in 1928. The mood is down, slow and Duboc creates with a few notes a great universe of resignation and melancholy. The second piece "Saint Martin", is more varied, with calculated silence, fierce bowing, disruptive power-plucking, almost industrial sounding rubbing, and gut-piercing flageolets.

A must for the fans of solo bass albums.

Jon Rune Strøm - Jøa (Stone Floor Records, 2013) ***½

Young and upcoming Norwegian bassist Jon Rune Strøm is known from his collaborations with All Included, Saka and Universal Indians, and some gigs with Frode Gjerstad, Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark, Pal Nilssen-Love ... 

Now he has created his own label and released his first album, and then nothing less than a solo album, not an easy choice for a start. Yet his choice is a good one. In nine tracks he gives us a great view of his capabilities, ranging from power-playing to sensitive arco, but his purpose is not to show off, not to demonstrate his prowess on the instrument, but rather to bring us music, and that he does, tremendously well. Each track has its own sonic character and approach, and Strøm keeps the focus on the essence, developing each piece, creating tension, adding ideas without too much straying, while at the same time keeping the emotional component omnipresent. 

The end result is a surprisingly varied and captivating album for an improvised solo bass album. A musician to watch.

Adam Pultz Melbye - Gullet (Barefoot Records, 2013) ***½

From Denmark we get this beautiful solo album by Adam Pultz Melbye, a musician reviewed before on this blog in the company of Marcus Pesonen, with "Angel", and soon also with Mikolaj Trzaska.

The album's title - and artwork - are inspired by a quote of Samuel Beckett "… when you cease to want then life begins to ram her fish and chips down your gullet until you puke and then the puke down your gullet until you puke the puke, and then the puked puke until you begin to like it. The glutton castaway, the drunkard in the desert, the lecher in prison, they are the happy ones.”. The question is: does the music reflect this, and the answer is clearly "no". The music is carefully constructed, sensitive and precise, with an adventurous search for sound, be it pizzi or arco or hammered. The performance was also recorded in a church, the Koncertkirken, in Copenhagen. 

Even if at moments the album sounds like an exercise in style, the authenticity of the artist's search stands beyond a doubt, as he tries to carve true meaning and sentiment out of sound, and it must be said that the most adventurous pieces, such as "Knee Right", "On The Nothing New" and "Zossener" get my preference. 

A nice album from a promising artist. 

Fred Marty - Ondes Primitives (Kadima, 2013) ****

Fred Marty is a French bass-player who produced his own solo CD on the Kadima label from Israel, known for its dedication to adventurous bass-playing.

Of all the albums reviewed in this list, Marty's effort is possibly the most intimate and physical one, like a Kowald or Léandre, his interaction is one of unrestrained contact, exploring the instrument's body and strings as in love-making, making it groan and sing and soar and moan, it is less about the overall sound than it is about the actual material touch, which is rooted deeply in old soil, which resonates better with tribal rhythms and incantations that go beyond music, as in "The Shaman's Voice", and Marty is at his best on pieces like "Torsion", where the instrument screams as if under bodily stress, you hear the creaking of the tuning pegs, the suffering of the strings, and you wonder how he manages to bring this instrument to life, this golem of sound, which creates a reaction of empathy with the listener, it is not the sound you care about, not the artist you care about, but the instrument itself. You actually deeply care about it. That physical!

Yet it is not all violence, it is, as said, also love-making, like on "A Côté du Sol", a bowed piece on various strings, with moaning, yearning, almost drone-like sounds which at the same time sound dark yet also shimmer with delight. Marty keeps exploring, with cautious plucked sounds, with space and sticks and other utensils, deeper and deeper into the possibilities of this instrument of wood and strings.

An album worth loooking for, and one that will not only be enjoyed by bass-players.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Die Glorreichen Sieben: Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World (Boomslang Records, 2013) ****

By Martin Schray

I have always wondered if it was possible to combine Neil Young and free jazz, two of the musical loves of my life – but somehow I couldn’t imagine how you could do this. Kalle Kalima (g), Flo Götte (b), Christian Lillinger (dr, perc) and Alfred Vogel (dr, perc) have tried it and the result works in a really surprising way. The trick is to use two drummers instead of two guitars. While Neil Young knows how to use Crazy Horse, maybe the best-oiled machine in rock, as a backing band to display his orgiastically meandering solos, Die Glorreichen Sieben (The Magnificent Seven) are a unit of equal soloists who put the emphasis on the rhythm section, deconstructing and re-constructing some of Young’s greatest hits like “Zimtmädchen” (Cinnamon Girl), “Welt – Rocken” (Rockin’ in the Free World), “Heart of Gold”, After the Goldrush” or “Like a Hurricane”.

Helsinki-born Kalle Kalima uses Neil Young’s typical elements, the open chords and his typical guitar sound, he also lets the solos breathe, never denying the folk element in Mr Young’s music. The most beautiful example for this approach is “After the Goldrush”, which sounds as if Bill Frisell had adopted it.

Essential to Young’s music is the feeling of vastness and freedom and Alfred Vogel said that Die Glorreichen Sieben also wanted to create this by putting Christian Lillinger’s drums on the right channel and his own on the left. He said that they wanted to create a deep and wide carpet of sound, an enormous texture. In between there is Flo Götte’s bass, which is a mixture of Billy Talbot’s stoical Crazy Horse bass figures and Frank Sampedro’s rhythm guitar.

Sometimes it seems as if the band had to dig deep to find the melodies and riffs which are covered by a thick layer of dust (it takes three minutes in “Zimtmädchen” and “Rockin’ in the Free World” is hardly recognizable) but as soon as they have found them they crumble to dust again (for example in “Like a Hurricane”), which doesn’t matter because the band uses the originals only as an impulse to ride into different directions in order to discover what kind of country you can find beyond the fence.

A very interesting album for fans of Bill Frisell’s Americana albums (e.g. “Good Dog Happy Man”), Marc Ribot or Aram Bajakian’s “there were also flowers in hell”. And of course for Paul.

Watch “Heart of Gold” here:

The album is available on CD and as a download via the website:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tim Daisy and Mikolaj Trzaska - In This Moment. (Relay Recordings, 2014) ***½

By Hugo Truyens

There are albums you can turn to at any time, knowing the high probability of them providing exactly what the doctor ordered. To each man his own. They don’t necessarily have to be the easy records, or the mellifluous. I have favourite albums that can disperse crowds. And then there are the others, the ones you probably are only going to hear once, maybe twice. It pays well once in a while to take one of those and listen to it. And listen again.

This one is a short one (31’51”) and is made by Mikolaj Trzaska with Tim Daisy. Alto saxophone and drums. The title is In this moment. The first time I listened to it left me undecided. On another day it would probably not enter the first category, mentioned above. But that’s too easy now. So I read the songtitles : On Division, Grass and Trees, Statues in the Park, On Washtenau (like that one), Sirens Above Cortez. This is city music. There is some serious traffic going on here. I’m guessing we’re in Chicago. I have listened a few times by now. It is not going to enter in category one, it is not that kind of record to me. But I can get into it.

The drumming is relentless throughout and stretches over the entire spectrum, never losing its pulse. And then there’s a saxophone. I know Mikolaj from an album with the Oles Brothers (Mikro Muzik), but this is not the mood he’s in. He has different things to say. In Grass and Trees e.g. the rumbling of distant thunder and the wailing plangent saxophone soaring  above. If I were there, with them in the room I know I would relax my spine and give in without thinking. It ends with a delicious spluttering over shuffles and cymbals. Now I realize what it is. I realize how apt the title is. This is the now. It is not their now now, it is mine. And that’s the beauty of it. This is one of the records that have the potential of opening up the moment to you, when you listen. Glad I did.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Resonance Ensemble- Head Above Water/ Feet Out of the Fire (Not Two Records, 2013) ****½

By Philip Coombs

On Ken Vandermark's Facebook page, squeezed between a request to play what looks to be an agriculture simulation with tanks and 54 birthday wishes to a guy I may or may not have met in 1992, something new and exciting was a brewing.  'Audio One', a new large group, fronted (and a new 9 track book composed) by Vandermark, are planning an April release. I guess it was time to catch up on his other large ensemble and revisit 'Head Above Water/ Feet Out of the Fire', the late 2013 release from his international Resonance Ensemble on Not Two Records.

The album begins by tipping the hat to 70's powerhouse improv group 'Creative Construction Company' and in particular Muhal Richard Abrams with Creative Reconstruction Company. It starts out sounding like a pack of rabid dogs on leashes of varying sizes. You never know if they will pull taught at arms length or mere inches from your jugular. This is the power of the Vandermark composition at its finest. He is there, guiding them though the workout of notes on the page, with whistle in mouth just in case. It builds and recedes and lets the smaller dogs sing before the next wave of growling envelops your ears layered over a pretty addictive drum and bass groove.

There is something to be said for the sequence of tracks on a recording. Only seconds after the opening kick to the embouchure, comes Elegy for Two Rooms (For Fred Anderson and Von Freeman). It is like watching a tear from in the corner of someone's eye and over the course of 10 minutes, you study intently as it rolls down the face leaving a trail of itself, and distant pleasant memories, until it slows down over the cheek bone and pauses on the chin before slightly darkening the fabric of the shirt it gets absorbed into. Listen.

The first CD ends with Type A (For Michael Orlove). This 21 minute monster has enough in it to almost warrant its own release. It is demanding and complex, compelling and exhausting. Vandermark begins with a mini overture which disassembles itself over and over again all held together with Devin Hoff's electric bass. By the time it finishes, all you want to do is take a break and fully contemplate what just happened, but no, there is another CD waiting....

Without going into too much detail, the second disc is full of Vandermarkisms with include sheets of brass coming at you like ninjas in a cymbal factory to breakdowns where quartets, trios, duos, and solos are highlighted and even revered. However there is a sense of finality to this recording as if all that can be said has been said. I do hope I'm wrong.

Personnel for this recording:
Magnus Broo- Trumpet
Michael Zerang- Drums
Ken Vandermark- Tenor saxophone, Bb clarinet
Mikolaj Trzaska- Alto saxophone, bass clarinet
Devin Hoff- Bass
Steve Swell- Trombone
Dave Rempis- Alto and Tenor saxophone
Per-Âke Holmlander- Tuba
Tim Daisy- Drums
Waclaw Zimpel- Bb, Bass clarinet and Taragato
Mark Tokar- Acoustic bass

Can be purchased at InstantJazz.

Have a listen to Track 1:

Monday, February 24, 2014

N.E.W: Motion (Dancing Wayang Records, 2014) ****½

Reviewed by Joe

N.E.W. equals Steve Noble, John Edwards and Alex Ward. I thought this was their debut release, but if you look at the comments section (below) you'll notice this their 4th release. Anyhow, "Motion" is one killing album. Firstly, just to clear up and any misunderstandings, Alex Ward, normally known as a clarinettist, is playing guitar on this record. Steve Noble - drums, has played with Rip Rig and Panic, Derek Bailey, Matthew Shipp, Peter Brötzmann and about everybody (whose anybody) on the UK free-jazz scene. John Edwards, whom you'll find liberally throughout this blog, is one of the UK's top bass players on the improv' scene. Add those elements together and that means that this is a free-jazz-rock-thrash-metal-noise-swing-impro trio, what more can you want?

Right from the very start the trio launches straight into hard hitting improvised rock. There's no gentle introduction to this trio, they fire off all guns immediately and then don't stop until the end of the album 5 tracks later. For anyone familiar with those great improvised sections in King Crimson's music, then this could be (sort of) the next step in the musical process. The guitar playing of Alex Ward reminds me of the style that Fripp used back in those early Crimson days, although here Alex gets a chance to push boundaries in other directions.

The music focuses around Ward's guitar which points the trio in the different directions. He winds his way through hard rock and even jazzy ideas on "Betting on Now" (tk1). Here Noble and Edwards support him with swinging drums and walking bass lines. In "Tall & True"(tk3) Steve Noble and John Edwards jump in with some manic rhythms, leaving Alex to gradually creep in with chunky riffing power chords to 'rock' the group.

"4th and Three" (tk4), the longest piece on the album (10 minutes) builds from a tremolo idea. The band spends plenty of time exploring space and rhythm, but as the music progresses the guitar gradually steels in with some slide (?) playing, squealing into high registers, whilst the bass and drums rock away - reminding me of some of Rip, Rig and Panic's musical outings. On "Motion" (tk5), the group bring many of the ideas heard on previous pieces together - silent sections, powerful guitar sounds, hard hitting drums and bass. What makes it all so listen-able is the way they develop the ideas 'tonally', and although there's plenty of sonic probing they always use rhythm or melody as a focal point - if you call distorted bashed chords melodic? 

Lastly I should mention the label Dancing Wayang. They produce a very small amount of releases and this is a 300 limited edition LP, as are all their records. Anna (Tjan), the founder of the label tells me that the first 100 copies include a bonus 3" CDR of the band live, so if you're interested, don't hang about!

Highly recommended - could be a good one for all those who like air-guitar also!

Find (and buy) the record here Dancing Wayang Records

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tom Rainey - Obbligato (Intakt Records, 2014) ***

By Joris De Roy

Rediscovering the tradition

January saw the release of Tom Rainey’s Obbligato quintet’s eponymous first CD, bringing together Rainey as a leader, surrounded by his (some older and some more recent) stablemates Ralph Alessi, Ingrid Laubrock, Kris Davis and Drew Gress.  For those who have kept up with these players’ recent work, this line-up will sound familiar, as it is actually the same as the LARK Quartet (also on Intakt records), expanded by Drew Gress on bass. Appearances, however, can be deceptive, which becomes apparent from the very start.

For a start, this CD’s repertoire consists of 10 standards, most of them taken from the Great American Songbook, with a Monk and a Brubeck composition thrown in for good measure. So, no original compositions or improvisations here, in contrast to Rainey’s (or LARK’s) output so far.  The playing as well is pretty different from what one might expect from this group of players.

Just in Time, the brief opening track is as be-boppish as one can get these days (the CD was recorded in 2013).  Add some crackle and groove hiss, imagine you’re listening to an LP, and you could be back in the late fifties, early sixties, listening to the first classic Miles Davis quintet.  It is not until after a while that the simple truth kicks in : this band is, indeed, a perfect copy of those classic quintet line-ups.   The horn section runs up and down over a steady basso continuo line, so typical for the age.

Brubeck’s In your own Sweet Way sounds a lot more mellow – and so do the next two tracks -but allows more scope for subtle interplay. Overall the playing is rather reserved and restrained, with every note delivered carefully and neatly; there’s nothing that reminds one of the fact that the majority of the players typically express themselves in free mode. No shrieking horns, no clashing of cymbals or clattering chord work on the piano are to be heard on this recording. It is only after repeated listening that the restraint opens up and allows us a glimpse at the different layers, so much so that one begins to hear more instruments in the mix than just the five of the basic quintet. Or is this my imagination running wild?

In Secret Love, the first cracks appear in the quintet’s persona and it becomes clear this is not just a bunch of young(ish) cats who are trying to show they can play in the classic mode as well as they play free improve. Underneath the surface there are occasional slips into freer expression, with unexpected drum rolls, some definitely no longer tradition bass runs, and non-classic bursts from the horn section. Still the playing remains tight and controlled. The music grows more free and meditative after the drum solo that opens Prelude to a Kiss, so much so that one really has to listen to recognize the original melody. As the record goes on, you realize how the standards’ melodies are skeletons slowly hollowed out from the inside and given new shape.

The CD ends where it started, with another take on Styne’s Just in Time, and back to be-bop mode.  What we’ve gone through is a 60-year journey and back in just over 50 minutes, with some hints at what straightforward be-bop has (or could have) grown into. The playing on this CD is impeccable throughout, and the delivery and interplay are unquestionably top-notch. Whether this is music you’ll often listen to, however, is a different question altogether, as it is a far remove from these players’ usual context. If it were not for the individual’s former output, this record would probably not qualify for the label free jazz. Definitely worth a listen, and certainly interesting if you want to hear these players in a different setting, but Obbligato sounds just a little too traditional to keep me on my toes after two or three listenings.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Jack Wright / Ben Wright - as if anything could be the same (Relative Pitch, 2014) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

I did a little internet research on this father and son duo before I cracked open their new CD as if anything could be the same. By the time I finally plunked it into my player and the music began I had already formed a rather positive feeling towards both musicians. I was taken by saxophonist Jack Wright's uncompromising story: his moves between the East Coast and the mountains of Colorado, his work in academia and subsequent move into performing free jazz, and enjoyed his DIY take on music and art. Bassist Ben Wright was a little harder to find out about, but even from the bits I read on Spring Garden, I found myself intrigued by his punk rock roots and current work out in New Mexico. 

So, I had really set my expectations up for this new album, and I wasn't disappointed. Restless and searching, as if anything could be the same is the outcome of two deeply connected musicians acting and reacting to each other with their instruments, unafraid to stretch boundaries. 

The tracks, improvisations broken up and named after each word of the album title, are each self contained showcases of free jazz experimentalism. The two musicians share a language comprised of staccato passages, breathy space, and intense workouts, that while unpredictable and full of surprises, is imbued with meaning and understanding. When Jack produces a percussive stanza, Ben responds in kind, not repeating it but acknowledging and proposing the next step.

It would almost be a futile, and certainly a long winded task to explain each track. Rather, it's suffice to say that the saxophonist and upright bassist work both within and outside their instrument's more traditional ranges and roles, often slipping into extended techniques and forms. They are always on equal ground, supporting and propelling each other through an eclectic, engaging and energetic set of free improvisations. In a way, it's everything I had expected from exploring the musicians bios but nothing like I had ever heard before. Highly recommended!

Available at

Friday, February 21, 2014

Arve Henriksen - Places of Worship (Rune Gammofon, 2014) ****

By Ed Pettersen

I’ve listened to Arve Henriksen’s fantastic new album four times now and it’s so beautiful, so subtle it creeps around you and reveals new layers every time you hear it.  I keep having to reach for the LP jacket (that’s right; vinyl for me thank you though it comes with a CD) to check on who’s doing what on each song.  Amazingly, producers Jan Bang and Erik Honore, who leave a strong imprint on this album, still found ways to ensure that the trumpet remains front and center and is the main melodic focus on each track but they wrap the songs in such beautiful vellum.

Mr. Henriksen has a habit of recording where and when the mood and inspiration strikes him, in hotel rooms, backstage in green rooms, etc. and this new album expands on that immediately in the opening track “Adhan” where he is obviously being recorded outside as you hear birds chirping and it sounds natural, not added after the fact.  But this record is clearly a studio creation with a great deal of atmosphere as a backdrop.  The ambience is perfect for his earthy and voice-like breathy tone.

Speaking of voice, I had to reach for the jacket again to find out who the woman was singing on the track “Lament” and had to rub my eyes a few times thinking it was a misprint but no, it is indeed Arve Henriksen.  I mean to say that it in no way sounds like a man trying to sing like a woman.  It is truly authentic and shocking in a good way and perfect for the song.

Perfect for the song could be Arve Henriksen’s nickname in fact.  He never overplays or overindulges.  It is precisely what the song needs and no more, no less.  Other stand out tracks for me are the final song,  “Shelter From the Storm” written and sung by Mr. Honore (the only other vocal with lyrics on the album) and ”Alhambra” and “Bayon” featuring  one of my favorite guitar players, fellow Norwegian Eivind Aarset but truly this record needs to be listened as one piece in my mind. Everything flows together so beautifully from track to track it’s mesmerizing.

I consider “Places of Worship” part of his massive LP box released in 2012 which encapsulated his entire Rune Grammofon output on 4 LP’s and included hi res downloads and though it was quite expensive it was extremely thoughtful and very well designed (Personally I find it shameful when record labels don’t include a CD or at least a download card with new LP releases but I digress…).  It sounds like a natural extension of that box and the next logical musical step.  The only negative thing I have to say is the record is so seamless it was too bad I had to get up several times to turn the LP over while listening to it for this review.  But it was well worth it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tisziji Munoz – Parasamgate Nebula: The Death of Death (MRI, 2014) ***½

By Chris Haines

Tisziji Munoz is a free jazz guitarist as well as a spiritual master, although both disciplines are hardly kept as separate entities in his music and much of his music is about expressing a spiritual feeling or contains titles that invoke a spiritual idea or practice.  He has been releasing albums of mainly instrumental music since the late 70’s and has a substantial back catalogue of albums, which can be found at Parasamgate Nebula is part of a trilogy of albums also consisting of Alpha Nebula & Omega Nebula. The album contains eighteen tracks, which are a combination of longer instrumental improvisations interspersed with short spoken word pieces that talk of spiritual enlightenment and contain some atmospheric doodling on synths from John Medeski and chanting from Tisziji’s son Rebazar.  The music was recorded in two sessions, one from 2001 and the other from 2010 but has only been recently released from Tisziji’s archives, with the spoken word pieces being recorded between 2010 & 2012.

Tisziji’s playing contains sections of blistering improvisation where free modal playing mixes it up with more chromatic elements, containing a remarkable rawness and energy about his sound and the fact that he possesses a great technique that allows him to sustain an energetic and up-tempo style of playing.  The way that he approaches the guitar is more akin to a saxophonists ‘sheets of sound’ style in a similar vein to the way that Sonny Sharrock also used the instrument.  The instrumental pieces on this album fall very much into this style of emotional outpouring, whereas on many of his other albums he has worked in a more traditional structure where pieces might start with a theme before gradually developing into something more complicated.  This is not so apparent on Parasamgate Nebula, and although some pieces start with the hint of a more structured and formal riff or pattern, which is only briefly played and is hardly noticeable at times, it immediately moves into complex improvised passages.  This makes the music appear more textural at times and seems to avoid a melodic or harmonically linear bias/focus.

On this album Tisziji is supported musically on the instrumental pieces by John Lockwood & Don Pate on bass and Bob Moses & Tupac Mantilla Gomez on drums and percussion respectively, whose playing doesn’t so much provide an underpinning to the music but more a role of embellishment, allowing Tisziji’s guitar to come to the fore both compositionally and also in the mix.

At first listen the spoken word pieces might seem to detract from the improvised guitar driven pieces, but on further hearings these passages seem to provide an ‘ear cleansing’ opportunity before the intensity of the next fiery improvisation.  For those who are new to Tisziji’s music, Parasamgate Nebula probably wouldn’t be the most obvious place to start, but instead I would recommend trying out some of his other albums, in particular either Breaking the Wheel of Death or Auspicious Healing.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Aya Nishina - FLORA (Tzadik, 2013) ****

By Brian Questa

The music of Aya Nishina’s Flora is magical, mystical, and pure. Upon playing it I was frozen in my chair, staring at the wall, the sounds washing over me: sustained harmonies of soft dissonances, repetitive and song-like phrases rising from the 6 women choir, words alternating among foreign, perceived-as-nonsense, and profound, simplicity-meaning.

I am transported to a cold place, a place of arctic calibrations; the world is left behind, both my job and my commitments; I am in a desolate northern island, hidden in the most cavernous snowy cave, and deep within the ice flake, in the microscopic particles of hydrogen, I am cradled by Aya Nishina’s choir. A repetitive lullaby insists to me, “This world is once and one. This world is once and one. This world is once and one.”

Tzadik consistently challenges expectations, and while this work may not be the most fitting for a free jazz collection, I do not know to what genre it most welcomingly belongs.  Like much of the music of Tzadik, it defies classification, challenging you to erase the labels and titles and to suspend yourself in something new.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Roscoe Mitchell/Craig Taborn/Kikanju Baku - Conversations I (Wide Hive, 2014) ****½

By Josh Campbell

A year ago I didn’t follow Roscoe Mitchell with the fever or manic nature I followed other artists. But the half dozen or so albums I had of Roscoe held their own within my ever growing collection. Between Art Ensemble of Chicago and the endless group formations Roscoe has led, his discography has always intimidated me. As someone who finds an artist, and dives deeply into their world, I had, and still have not been able to give Roscoe the time and ears he so rightly deserves. But in early 2013 Roscoe released Duets with Tyshawn Sorey and special guest Hugh Ragin on Wide Hive Records. Since anything involving Tyshawn is an immediate purchase for me I jumped on it. It was love at first note. And so began the plunge into Roscoe Mitchell.

Fast forward to February 2014 and Conversations I. With Conversations I, Roscoe Mitchell releases his second album as a leader on the Wide Hive label. Teamed up with Craig Taborn on piano, organ and synthesizers and Kikanju Baku (who?!?!) on drums and percussions, Roscoe, at the tender age of 73 delivers again. Roscoe has always used space and silence almost as much as he has sound. A feature of his sound since his AEC days I expected much of the same. With little pre-release info, and no sound samples to give me any clue as to what to expect, I inserted the cd and excitedly pressed play.

Track 1. Knock And Roll. Instantly came the trademark sound of Roscoe. Sparse and dissonance. Slowly building, Taborn and Baku inserting ideas here and there. Engaging and what I expected. Then around the 1 minute mark, Baku starts to really get going. This led to more from Roscoe, while Taborn interjected notes around the percussion and reeds dance. And then all hell breaks loose. An absolutely unexpected and delightful free-for-all in sound. Bells, horns, drums, and piano exploding from my speakers. For the next 6 minutes I was left breathless. I was actually concerned with getting through the entire album because I had not mentally prepared myself for the onslaught. And suddenly at the 8:16 mark it all stops. Track 2 starts. Ride The Wind. And we are back to the Roscoe I’ve grown accustom to. The rest of Conversations I, plays out as expected with a Roscoe led album. For the next 9 tracks the music bobs and weaves, slowly building to a crescendo of noise at track 9, Darse only to lovingly slow and end on the final song Last Trane To Clover Five. After the initial shock of Knock And Roll the album falls into place and becomes a standard, as if anything Roscoe does is standard, addition to his his ever growing discography.

In all, Roscoe once again delivers, Craig Taborn displays his connection with Roscoe, as well as his ability to play the perfect supporting role. The unknown here was Kikanju Baku (literally his face is covered in all images), who I had never heard before. After the opening track it was surprising and pleasant to hear Baku play delicately and in-tune with the rest of the trio. Kikanju Baku should be a force within the free jazz world and I’m looking forward to more of his contributions. His addition made this album stand out to my ears. In April, Wide Hive is slated to release Conversations II, and I am eagerly anticipating it. For a collector who prefers a physical medium, the album comes in a digipak case. Very little info is provided but the packaging, as was his Duets release, is beautifully done. Sound quality is top notch.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mombu - Niger (Subsound Records, 2013) ****

By Antonio Poscic

About three years ago, the Italian jazz/noise/punk greats Zu ceased to exist. At the same time, Mombu surfaced. The band, featuring Zu’s saxophonist Luca T. Mai and his Italian compatriot, drummer Antonio Zitarelli (of Neo fame), was poised to take Zu’s place on the scene. Instead, it became clear from the very beginning that Mombu’s was an altogether different approach to art. The impressively massive and instantly recognizable sound of Mai’s baritone saxophone remains the only point of similarity between the two bands. Mombu nurture a very specific and unique style. As the duo tends to stress in interviews, their intent is to translate the authentic and primordial elements of African tribal music into the language of extreme music, jazzcore and free jazz. Their latest album, Niger, is a testament to their mission. Whereas on their previous two albums you could detect some elements evocative of Zu, Niger primarily sounds like a completely faithful reading of tribal music. The ideas behind their approach, their outrageous blend of African rhythms, free jazz, punk, and even grindcore, might seem oxymoronic at first glance, but the result of Mombu’s work is truly fascinating.

Niger is comprised of seven songs with each song sounding distinct enough without being repetitive and yet allowing the album to function great as a whole. The understanding and deep respect that Mai and Zitarelli have towards the roots of their inspiration can be heard throughout these songs. In contrast to many modern world music projects, the tribal influences are not trivialized and butchered. They are only slightly adapted and changed to fit their original, extreme styles. This is further emphasized when the duo is joined by the Senegalese musician Mbar Ndiaye. It is incredible how his singing, chanting, and percussions fit naturally and effortlessly into Mombu’s sound which leads us to believe that these songs was always meant to be interpreted like this.

Two elements can be seen as the driving force here: the hypnotic rhythms and the colossal, thunderous saxophone. Zitarelli’s drumming, stylistically planted somewhere between jazz and rock, brings forward the primal rhythms that can be identified in the music of so many different cultures throughout human history. Rhythms that are, for some weird anthropological reasons, so appealing to the human ear and mind. On the other hand, the guttural, vibrato sound of Mai’s baritone saxophone provides a layer of energy and creativity which becomes most noticeable in their free jazz inspired passages.

From the very first song, the main formula behind the song structures becomes clear. It consists of Mai repeating an interesting phrase on his saxophone, Zitarelli pummeling one of his rolling, trans-inducing rhythms. Then, suddenly, a change in rhythm: slowing down, speeding up, soon followed by an Ayleresque saxophone passage. And all along there’s electricity and incredible energy flowing from the record. It’s simple, yet enthralling and exciting music. The final element featured on this album is provided by Marco 'Cinghio' Mastrobuono on electric guitar. His contribution gives some of the tracks a more westerly feel, but doesn’t affect the sound in a substantial way.

All things considered, Niger is a captivating record that might make you rethink the ideas and preconceptions that are usually associated with “world music”. Even for the less adventurous listeners, if you look beyond the intensity and rawness that strikes you initially, there’s some great and smart music to be found here. Highly recommended.

A sample of their music:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tiger Hatchery - Sun Worship (ESP Disc, 2013) ****

By Matthew Grigg

ESP Disk, with the recent new additions to their roster, seem intent on preserving the ideals that informed much of their original catalogue. By giving the likes of Talibam! and The Naked Future a platform to release material, ESP seem to be drawing parallels between contemporary musics which are similarly as singular and wilful as those classic sides, whilst also acknowledging the influence that initial run of releases has exerted over subsequent generations. Chicago's Tiger Hatchery are the latest such group to be given the ESP seal of approval, this release having slipped out in the final weeks of 2013.

Whilst they've issued a slew of cassette tapes, a cd-r, a single sided 12" and a couple of split 7"s (including one with Wasteland Jazz Unit - the most harrowing 'jazz' experience this side of Borbetomagus), both self-released & on countless independent labels, Sun Worship is Tiger Hatchery's first widely available title.

Formed when Mike Forbes (saxophone) met Andrew Scott Young (bass) in Denton, TX, upon transplanting to Chicago the pair met Ben Billington (drums) and the band began to cut their teeth amongst the experimental and noise underbelly of Chicago's more outré DIY scene (they were regulars and residents at The Mopery). Its fitting that the energy & grit of that grounding informs much of the jagged sonance that permeates this record. The sound they create tips a cap to the ecstatic power of the free jazz ESP championed first time around, the driven angular dissonance found on the likes of Amphetamine Reptile's catalogue, as well as the abrasive possibilities found in harsh noise.

Thats not to say that this record is an acerbic impermeable wall. In fact Tiger Hatchery, whilst always retaining a barbed edge, do quiet & subtle to dramatic effect, which serves to reinforce both the sheer musicality of their approach, and brings the overt power of their most intense moments into sharper focus. And what power. At times its easy to forget that so much can be generated by just three men. Post-Ascension or Machine Gun levels of intensity are common place but without ever resorting to posturing and needless blowtorching power plays. For every caustic burn there is a lyrical navigation in the approach, or soothing balm to help reduce the inflammation.

Sun Worship is at once visceral and deft, hailing from the Fire Music lineage without ever being tied to it or restricted by its historically recognised parameters. Its the sound of three men as conversant in the free noise of American Tapes or Japan's Alchemy Records, as they are the extremes of the Impulse or FMP's catalogue. A singular, wilful, brutally/beautifully realised release, that deservedly sits side-by-side with those fore bearers in the hallowed halls of ESP Disk, with whom they are ideologically and sonically aligned.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Fire!Orchestra: Second Exit (Rune Grammofon, 2014)

By Martin Schray

Not only in our opinion, but also in those of The Wire, Quietus, Mojo and Jazzwise Fire! Orchestra’s “Exit” was one of the most interesting, daring, adventurous, thrilling, exciting – in one word: best – albums of 2013. Maybe the exuberant reviews were also a reason why Mats Gustafsson and his men were touring Europe, in Scandinavia they really managed to stage the whole crew sometimes (up to 30 musicians), for the rest of Europe they boiled it down to at least 13 members including new member Goran Kajfes on cornet and previous Fire!guest and guitar wizard Oren Ambarchi. And if you think that this reduction weakens the impact the music has on you, you are definitely wrong.

Basically “Second Exit” is just a live version of “Exit”, the two tracks are again “Part One” and “Part Two”, so the frame, the notated parts are the same as on “Exit”. The music differs as to the vocals - Mariam Valentin’s hippiesque-psychedelic voice and Sonja Jernberg’s helium-induced phrasings are even more in the foreground than on the studio album – and the increased use of electronics and guitar. Again the music on this album creates an atmosphere which is strained to the breaking point, it is a permanent up and down of shock waves.

The most incredible and exquisite parts are the reeds battles between Elin Larsson and Goran Kajfes, Oren Ambarchi’s solo in front of the wall of sound of the orchestra, and the electronics’ meandering in “Part Two”, before the tutti parts bring the whole thing to a painful end.

“Second Exit” is simply another bitches’ brew of frenetic noise, dirty rock grooves, manic electronic sounds, genre-crossing elements, solo versus razor-sharp brass sections, and soul/free jazz.

So why is there no ranking? If I had to rate it, it would definitely be five stars, the music is excellent, those who loved “Exit” will love this album as well. But it is rather a collector’s item than a must-have for everyone, available as a limited vinyl edition of 500 copies mainly to be sold at the Rune Grammofon website and from

Fire!Orchestra on “Second Exit” is:
Mariam Wallentin – voice
Sofia Jernberg – voice
Elin Larsson – tenor sax
Anna Högberg – alto sax
Mats Gustafsson – baritone sax, electronics
Goran Kajfes – cornet
Mats Alekint – trombone
Sten Sandell – piano, electronics
Joachim Nordvall – electronics
Oren Ambarchi – guitar
Johan Berthling – bass
Andreas Werliin – drums
Will Guthrie – drums, percussion

Watch an extract of the concert here:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Matt Bauder - Nightshades (Clean Feed, 2014) ****

There are a lot of interesting connections and similarities between Matt Bauder and Nate Wooley, besides the fact that they know each other very well and that they play together on multiple records, including the one I review here. Both of them had huge success with the debut recordings for Clean Feed in 2011. Both of them presented albums where they lead a couple of musicians to fearlessly dive into the rich tradition of the jazz idiom. Nate’s quintet records recalled the sound of Eric Dolphy’s monumental Out to Lunch, Matt Bauder Day In Pictures managed to capture the essence of the famous “3 o’clock in the morning, downtown NY” Rudy Van Gelder sound. And then, both of them had somewhat of a strange sophomore release that followed.

Nate Wooley’s Sit in The Throne Of Friendship offered us an augmented lineup, a more expanded take on the debut record, somewhat more calm, almost pastoral “dust & dirt” sound, with a lot of wind in the tree tops. At first it was a strange record for me, not at all what I expected, but on repeated listens I started to perceive the layers, the depth, the meaning of the themes, the magic of the solos, the timbre, the pulse, the silence. Now for me it’s a regular, almost daily affair to listen to that album.

It’s almost the same experience with the new Matt Bauder record – Nightshades. The line-up change is here, the sound and structure that caught me off-guard are here, the whole new aura that surrounds the music – here. Instead of Angelica Sanchez on piano – here we have the tireless genius of Kris Davis. Angelica brought the rich piano sound and an interesting ear for counterpoint and the wit to find harmonies in the strangest places that expand the palette of sound. Kris Davis is more about movement - almost percussive, majestically restrained and controlled chromatic chaos, that sparkles totally unexpected and unusual lines trough the record. For me she is the main reason why this is an entirely differed record from the first one – Kris Davis just can make that much of a change in the structure and the dynamic. Nate Wooley is also one of the reasons why this record is different than the previous one. He is like… unrecognizable. The bright golden tone, the restraint, the discipline. Not that someone should want and expect discipline from Mr. Wooley’s trumpet, but its interesting to see all of his incarnations, all his of his coats and colors, to see how he can change, how he can answer a certain call.

And now, for the leader of this quintet.

There are too many musicians that are capable of capturing a certain era, structure or sound – and consider it like it's their own, so that they can chew on in till they turn themselves and the familiar quality into a shameless self-parody. Matt Bauder is not one of them. Matt Bauder is romantic about a certain era, but he never acts like he invented it. Matt Bauder is just happy to have the honor to play with the familiar sound and its endless possibilities, to challenge himself,  to hold hands with it, to look it in the eyes, to make love with it, to let it go. It's always a blast to discover how the story rolls on with his deep narrative solos, to let the inventive themes to take complete control of your feet. I can not recall a reference of such velvety tenor sound like the one of Matt Bauder… and man, that signature shivering sound… what can someone possibly say about that?!

It was nice to experience all the stages with this record, the disbelief, the boredom… and then the revelation. Why we tend to put things in boxes with labels and expect certain things? No one knows. Doubt that anyone in this quintet knows for sure. But “Matt Bauder and co.” know how to let go and not to chew on things over and over. Simply just let your self go on this magnificent record.

Highly recommended!

You can buy it from

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Polwechsel – Traces of Wood (Hathut, 2013)

By Dan Sorrells
To compose, at least by propensity, is to give to do, not to give to hear but to give to write. The modern location for music is not the concert hall, but the stage on which the musicians pass, in what is often a dazzling display, from one source of sound to another.
-Roland Barthes, “Musica Practica”
The liner notes of Traces of Wood begin with a Bartesian epigraph. I’ve chosen a different one, taken from the short essay “Musica Practica.”  In it, Barthes speaks of a divide between an older “practical music” and a new way of “coding” music that he sees pivoting around Beethoven’s work. The musical fantasy had shifted, and if you wanted to imagine a place for yourself in music that engaged you, it could no longer be as the source of the song, but only as a conductor, orchestrating something far larger than the individual subject. And so Barthes proposes a new practical music, an effort to sidestep the problematic move from music that had its heart in the individual interpreter to music of the “technician, who relieves the listener of all activity…and abolishes in the sphere of music the very notion of doing.
For Barthes, the composition should not exist as some static product or commodity to be passively consumed. Instead, like the reader of a modern text, the listener is to take an active role, to “cross [the composition] with an new inscription,” to not simply hear, but to do: to work through a piece to uncover their own application.

Though written about music we now find antiquated, it’s a program that’s well-suited for modern music, particularly of the sort made by groups like Polwechsel. The four compositions on Traces of Wood feel like a culmination: a summit where distinctions between composition and improvisation have become moot, and a place where the only logical approach to the music is an active working-through, on the part of both musician and listener. Each member of the quartet (Michael Moser on cello, Werner Dafeldecker on bass, and the dual percussion of Martin Brandlmayr and Burkhard Beins) contributes a composition, though it’s quickly apparent that what they each offer is less a rigid score than an environment in which a “composing” can take place. Traces of Wood marks out a realm where composition is unseen, or to evoke Barthes again, inaudible. There’s a sense in which Polwechsel represents both the furthest reach of the original abolition of “practical music,” and the best candidate for the mode of listening Barthes suggests to reboot it.

Traces of Wood is Polwechsel’s first album since their 2009 collaboration with John Tilbury, and the first since the departure of John Butcher later in that year.  It opens with Beins’ “Adapt/Oppose,” which engages in the intense dialectic its title suggests. The musicians move in and out of alignment with each other, and the music is jostled between long, collaborative drones and sections bristling with short blats of strings and light percussion. It establishes Traces of Wood as a music of friction. As the album progresses, we feel the resistance in a number of planes of movement, not just those of bow on string or stick against membrane.

“Grain Bending #1” is a fascinating piece in which each musician’s instrument is outfitted with a transducer that relays sine waves and other samples into its sounding box, allowing them to “act both as loudspeakers…for external sounds and as independent sound producers,” as Matthias Haenisch describes in the liner notes. It moves from periods of violent activity to eerie calm, as the musicians tease out a complex harmony from the bed of sinusoid tones. Perhaps most remarkable is the melody that eventually emerges: minimal and unobtrusive, yet surprising in the context of Polwechsel’s output. Moser’s piece maneuvers covertly into a position where this melodic turn can be accepted and integrated into the larger, abstract thrust of the entire work.

“Nia Rain Circuit” also uses technology in a subtle way. As the group performs, snippets of their playing are recorded and then re-injected into the performance on a predetermined schedule. The result makes for engaging and disorienting listening: I often believed I was hearing the musicians playing in real time, only to have the sound source abruptly cut short, revealing that it was a recording and the musicians were in fact focused on another element of the music.  Here we feel the friction between technology and performance, between what we anticipate and what we actually get.

The final piece, “S 64° 14" W 65° 37",” juxtaposes sharp interjections from the musicians against field recordings of a storm Dafeldecker made during a trip to Antarctica. Often, the music serves to interrupt the continuity of the raging blizzard, but at times, the group seeks to supplant the very storm itself. It’s the most aggressive of the four tracks, and perhaps appropriately so, standing in as it could for nothing short of the primitive showdown between man and nature.

In the end, it is far easier to engage this difficult, slippery music in listening than in writing. Even in detailing how it was produced or the history that shored up its making, Traces of Wood eludes easy description. The words are always inexact, loosely-fitting. This could be the last type of friction that’s touched upon: that between language and music. Again Barthes, this time from “The Grain of the Voice:” “if one looks at the normal practice of music criticism, it can readily be seen that a work (or its performance) is only ever translated into the poorest of linguistic categories: the adjective. The adjective is inevitable: this music is this, this execution is that.”

And so I’m left to sit back, hit play once more, to wrestle between this and that, and try to start again from the beginning.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Furthermore -- Achim Kaufmann & Michael Moore play Herbie Nichols (Ramboy recordings, 2013) ****½

By Hugo Truyens

In the many-hued mansion I call my head, there is a familiar room, well lit and well labelled, where the New Dutch Swing resides. Center stage you can see the ICP Orchestra  (an oriental carpet with intricate patterns) and off that carpet many strands lead to small pockets of interconnected wonders. In this case three threads converge: the music of Herbie Nichols, and the voices of Michael Moore and Achim Kaufmann. 

One reed and 88 keys, immediately surge into business on Crisp Day. Crisp indeed, Achim patterning the ground with angular chords allowing Moore to freely explore the boppy theme. Midway switching positions and jauntily bringing this ditty to its joyous conclusion. The curtains are drawn, sun slants in and seamlessly The Happenings take over, a stunning 12-bar blues variation, with beautiful call and response patterns throughout, with Moore setting his reeds on vibrate. You know, dust particles in that ray of sun. A simple way of assessing a potential new friend is posing the question: where do you stand on Herbie Nichols? What more do you want. You get more Nichols tunes, e. g. Change of Season, where a very soothing phrase appears and plays itself out, to a second appearance in a different register, in a slightly different way but all the way taking your hand and ears and leading them into pastures old and new. Every something is an echo of nothing says John Cage. Here the something echoes back into nothing and leaves you wanting no more. Harsh words, I know, but not a bad situation. 

This is music that frees the mind, it doesn’t push but gently offers you the opportunity to go wherever it moves you. The Andrew Hill tune that concludes this wondrous session (Yellow Violet) draws the curtains again, twilight sets in, the day recedes into nothingness and leaves you there. What happened is hard to say (viz. above) but somehow one dead composer and two live people have combined to give you the gift of hearing with new ears. Not much more is needed. It ends nice too, a door is closed, the music disappears around the corner.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Solo Sax

Adam Pieronczyk - The Planet Of Eternal Life (Jazzwerkstatt, 2013) ****

Polish saxophonist Adam Pieronczyk delivers an extremely beautiful solo album on soprano saxophone. To play solo on an entire album is a real challenge, yet Pieronczyk manages perfectly. Apart from his own repertoire, he deals with standards such as "Cherokee" and "Giant Steps".

He has always been a very lyrical improviser, and that aspect is at its best when you hear him play in a solo setting. He literally sings, often in an effortless, organic way, like birds on a spring morning, freely and without any sense of urgency, without any other agenda than just to sing for the beauty of the day, the beauty of life.

Pieronczyk's tone is crystal clear, warm and rounded, a pleasure to keep listening too.

Highly recommended for fans of intimate and optimistic music.

On a side-note : Jazzwerkstatt is one of these labels where it is incredibly difficult to find the relevant information on their website. The album is out, it is on iTunes and on eMusic, but that's about it. The label's website has no more information than the album's cover, it has no search engine either, no possibility to select by artist, etc. And to be fair, Jazzwerkstatt is not the only label with flaws like these ones.

Yong Yandsen - Disillusion (Doubtful Sounds, 2013) ***½

Yong Yandsen is a Malaysian guitarist turned saxophonist, and he is in a way Pieronczyk's mirror image, at least on the albums reviewed here. Yandsen plays fully improved solos on tenor, very much in the tradition of Albert Ayler, screaming and howling, but then without the spiritual sound to it, often closer to Brötzmann, reducing his soliloqui to raw power and outbursts of emotional expressivity. As the title suggests, this is music full of agony, distress and despair, desolate and ferocious.

You can buy it from

Various Artists - Solos Vol. 2 Blow Improvised Music from Blowing Instruments Players (Solosolo, 2013)***

Sure, "Music From Blowing Instruments" is not only solo sax, but you get a great overview of some of Japan's more foreward-thinking horn-players, all in a solo setting. You get them in the following succession :

Kenichi Matsumoto on tenor saxophone, Rabito Arimoto on trumpet, Takero Sekijima on tuba, Kunikazu Tanaka on tenor saxophone, Takumi Ito on amplified tenor saxophone, effects, Toshihiro Koike on trombone, Kunihiro Izumi on alto and tenor saxophones, Akira Sakata on clarinet, Yoichiro Kita on trumpet, Naoji Kondo on baritone saxophone, Yasuyuki Takahashi on trombone, Yasuhisa Mizutani on metal clarinet, Junji Hirose on tenor saxophone, Daysuke Takaoka on tuba, and finally Masafumi Ezaki on trumpet.

Those of you familiar with Japanese avant-garde music, is that they are daring to go into very far extremes of sound, and you get that here, with pieces that are close to silence, such as Kunikazu Tanaka, and others like Takumi Ito whose amplified tenor offers a wild screeching of feedback and noise. And of course there is some material that is more in between both extremes, but barely.

The John Lurie National Orchestra: The Invention of Animals (Amulet, 2014) ****½

By Martin Schray

When it was announced that there would be a new John Lurie album I guess not only Paul and I were very enthusiastic. There hasn’t been new music by Lurie for more than ten years and the last National Orchestra album is from 1993. But when “The Invention of Animals” was released it turned out that it was also music from the early 1990s. It seems that there is hardly a chance that Lurie will ever record again.

The reasons are really tragic. In the 1980s and 90s Lurie, the mastermind of the influential Lounge Lizards, was one of the most charismatic artists at all. He successfully combined a stylish punk attitude with jazz, he starred in Jim Jarmusch’s cult classics “Stranger than Paradise” and “Down by Law”, he had a show on television (“Fishing with John”), and he was also a gifted painter. He was good-looking, could purse his lips like no other, and had a fascinating, unique baritone – he actually was the personification of coolness.

In 2002 Lurie went to a restaurant and from one moment to the next he found out that he couldn’t move, he described it as a “creepy, ignoble, wormlike force” rising up in him. After a veritable odyssey of consulting doctors he was diagnosed with late persistent lyme disease which prevented him from leaving his apartment. He was not able to play the saxophone anymore, all he could do was concentrate on his painting. And as if this wasn’t enough he was the victim of a mysterious stalking affair which forced him to withdraw from the world for a longer period of time. Considering all these facts “The Invention of Animals” is a beautiful surprise although it is not really a “new” album.

The National Orchestra is Lurie on saxophones and Billy Martin and Calvin Weston, both on drums and percussion. On the one hand the album consists of material known from the “Fishing with John” soundtrack and an alternative version of the title track of the band’s 1993 album “Men with Sticks”, but on the other hand this is not only a sampler, the album also presents two previously unreleased live recordings: ”I Came To Visit Here For Awhile”, which was recorded at the Threadwaxing Space in New York City on May 7, 1993, and the title track, “The Invention of Animals”, a performance captured on February 12, 1994 in Thessaloniki, Greece. The first one is a meditation with Lurie’s sax in the focus, the second one a 19-minute energetic, free saxophone ride over loop-like drumming, a live expedition into hypnotic trance music based on subtle shifts of  rhythm and harmonies. It is as if you attend a weird heathen ritual, dancing round a campfire, high on drugs, blood pumping through your veins.

As usual the music is very percussive, there are oriental and African seeming sounds, even the miniatures are explosive and intoxicating, e.g. “Ignore the Beast” with its irresistible groove. It is pure dance stuff, and Lurie’s saxophone lines dance so elegantly over the beat that the track seems to take off.

Billy Martin once said: “John and I share the idea that this is like someone discovered a field recording of a lost civilization. Some strange and beautiful tribe unlike any other known to man.” Listen to this marvelous music and you know what he means.

“The Invention of Animals” features a John Lurie painting as cover art. It is available on CD and on LP as a limited collector’s edition of 180 gram vinyl.

Get an impression what the National Orchestra sounds like here:

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bohren & Der Club of Gore: Piano Nights (Play it again Sam, 2014) **** ½

An Artist Deep Dive
By Martin Schray

If you want to listen to Bohren & Der Club of Gore properly it might help if you follow these rules:
  1. Don’t start listening to their music before 2 a.m. at night
  2. Make sure that you are alone
  3. One of the following:
    1. If possible take a ride through western Germany’s Ruhr area on a deserted highway so that you can see the huge electric power stations (respectively any other highly industrialized area) 
    2. If you don’t want to drive turn out the lights and make sure that you sit at the window;  you might also have a glass of absinthe (not too much)
  4. Take a deep breath before you start
  5. Play it loud
  6. Don’t be afraid of your emotions, feel free to cry
  7. Let yourself go
As you can see this band is different from those we usually review on this site. No matter if you like it or not, Bohren’s music is unique (after a concert a friend of mine said that it was like watching Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now” endlessly repeating “The horror, the horror”), and in a similar attempt to pigeonhole it critics have indeed described it as “horror jazz”. It has also been described as a doom jazz version of Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtracks for David Lynch’s films or the perfect music for a modern European film noir. Albeit there is a grain of truth in these categorizations - particularly in the fact that there is a certain scoundscape quality to their music, for example in “Komm zurück zu mir” (Come back to me), in which Morten Gass plays guitar chords which he seems to have taken from Twin Peaks - Bohren’s music is much more that.

The band’s central idea is to build up textures – usually with endless organ or mellotron chords – in which they sink monstrous piano and bass chords with an unprecedented creepiness, like in “Fahr zur Hölle” (Go to Hell). There are drums, but they do not deliver a beat or at least a pulse, they are more like red wine slowly dropping in slow motion on a white table cloth – over and over again. And more than anything else Bohren try to illuminate the imaginary space a single chord or a single note can create and they savor it to the fullest because they stick to their concept in a relentlessly consequent way.

But there is another side to this approach as well – a heartbreaking emotionality. A track like “Ganz leise kommt die Nacht” (Night comes very silent) starts with lost vibraphone notes, they seem to drift through the air before Bohren add their typical chords. Then Christoph Clöser intersperses a forlorn melody on the saxophone which vanishes as suddenly as it appeared.

This music drags you away from your daily routine, it offers respite from the fast pace of our cities, it lends you a hand, it gives you solace – like a friend.

Bohren & Der Club of Gore are Morten Gass (organ, mellotron, baritone guitar, piano), Christoph Clöser (piano, saxes, vibraphone), Robin Rodenberg (double bass) and Thorsten Benning (drums),

“Piano Nights” is available on 180 g double vinyl (CD included) and on CD.

Listen to it here:

Further recommendations:

Bohren & Der Club Of Gore: Sunset Mission (Wonder, 2000) **** ½
Their third album (after Gore Motel and Midnight Radio) is their first masterpiece. It is the blueprint for their future works and especially saxophone and vibraphone are of a dark melancholic yearning that you have hardly ever heard before.

Bohren & Der Club Of Gore: Black Earth (Wonder, 2002) *****
Their opus magnum - even more abysmal, darker, slower and tougher than “Sunset Mission”. Again there is the soundscape quality, music cold as the air of a winter’s night but under the surface there is also something really warm. The names of tracks like “Skeletal Remains”, “Constant Fear” or “The Art of Coffins” say more than all the words.

Bohren & Der Club Of Gore: Dolores (Play it again Sam, 2008) ****
After they left out the saxophone on the predecessor Geisterfaust Bohren bring it back on this album and they also include a church organ. The result is that they find back to their old tristesse and the titles show some kind of humor as well (“Still am Tresen”, which can be translated as “Silent at the bar”).

Bohren & Der Club Of Gore: Beileid (Play it again Sam, 2011) ***
For the first time Bohren include vocals on an album – and invited Mike Patton to do the job. The central track “Catch my Heart” is a cover version of a ballad by Germany’s hard rock band Warlock and they transform the cheesy original into a gloomy piece of art. A nice mini album which cannot quite compete with its predecessors.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Charles Evans - Subliminal Leaps (More Is More, 2013) ****

By Paul Acquaro

With his teacher's signature soprano sax in mind, Charles Evans, a student of David Liebman, carefully crafted Subliminal Leaps, a set of both composed and freely improvised music. The considered combination of Evans' baritone and Liebman's soprano saxophones is ably accompanied by pianist Ron Stabinsky and bassist Tony Marino. The album is the result of a live performance recorded at a church in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

The pieces are generally abstract compositions that really take advantage of the timbers and textures of the instruments. I wonder how these songs would sound without the upper ranges and insistent pitch of the soprano sax and the woolier baritone, as the contrast of the instruments add much to the actual compositions. The other two instruments are important as well -- Stabinsky provides wonderful and often understated support while Marino's bass helps ground the abstract tunes, both leaving lots of space for the woodwinds.

The opening 'Dreamed-out March' features a long improvisational section for Evans and Liebman to spar and play, only to be brought back to a playful sequence from the rhythm section. 'Certain Soprano' is a showcase for Liebman, where he concentrates, at least at first, in the instruments middle register. In "Mahler Method" the projection of the two horns against the subdued piano lines is rather breathtaking. Another highlight is the uptempo passages followed by the atmospheric explorations in the title track in which all of the players reach for the outer limits of their instruments, experimenting with staccato bursts and wailing tones.

Subliminal Leaps is a sophisticated study in the contrasts of harmony and tonality, as well as a compelling combination of classical composition and free improvisation. This is one that could really stand repeated listening, as every time I do, I find something in it that I had not heard before.

Check out the video of the concert:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Kaja Draksler - The Lives Of Many Others (Clean Feed, 2013) ****½

By Stef 

Somehow out of the blue (really?) comes this young Slovenian pianist, immediately with a solo recording on the Clean Feed label. 

She has just obtained her degree in musicology with her master's thesis on "Cecil Taylor : Live As ... Structure within a Free Improvisation" at the Amsterdam Conservatory. Yet this is already her sixth album release, at the young age of 26, sorry 27 it is her birthday today. 

Her music isn't anything like Cecil Taylor's. Her music is an eclectic blend of classical, jazz, modernism, avant-garde, impressionism .... and Cecil Taylor. What is more, the music is Kaja Draksler's entirely. 

It is actually entirely modern, and that is possibly most audible in the constant change in her music, with ideas that never last much longer than a few moments, because other things need to happen, no need to keep expanding on what already is, new things need to happen, and do happen, with the restlesness and eagerness of a young adult discovering sound and telling us about it. No need to elaborate for her. Her messages are short, like on Facebook, or Twitter. But they touch life, they touch some essence of drama and storytelling. 

The title track starts with solid noise from inside the piano, rhythmic, scraping and pounding, as the intro to a beautiful, almost Jarret-like melody, with left hand and right hand dancing an odd-metered separate tune, just briefly, until the scraping takes over again. What has happened? 

"Vsi so venci vejli" (All the wreaths lay drying) is eery and quiet, fragile and sensitive, sad and beautiful, based on a traditional Slovenian poem. 

"Communicational Entropy/Andromeda" pulls us out of our reverie, with percussive playing, heavy chords and dramatic developments, but the story-teller that she is, Draksler then leaves space to silence, to emphasise the dying sounds, to slowly generate new light touches on just a few keys, well-paced, minimal, like new life emerging out of nothing. 

Then comes "Suite: Wronger/Eerier/Strong than (just a thought) I recall" and as its title suggests, thing move, things change the whole time, and sound eery, with phrases like ripples on the water, with both hands in colliding courses and in different phases, creating space, emphasis, single chords, silence, erupting rhythm by left hand stopped by the right one, yet gaining momentum, or not? She plays with patterns, and surprises the listener by shifting expectations, by going against the rhythm. 

"I Walked Into Yesterday" is also strange, with open structure and chords, almost hesitating, with an element of surprise. 

"Army of Drops" is more jazzy, faster, again in a well-paced and structured piece, with gradually increasing intensity over a single repetitive left hand, and light touches in the higher notes, contrasting darkness and light. 

The album ends with "Delicious Irony", a kind of deconstructed jazz piece, but one that again evolves into pattern and recognition, with a rhythm, a melody and chords that are pure jazz to finish, as if everything comes together at the end, and we come full circle, with a kind of wink to tradition, or to create a stark contrast with the avant-garde opening sounds of the album. 

In short, what you get here is fresh music, incredibly fresh, vibrant, clever and sensitive, beautiful and daring, coherent and creative, varied and strong. It is captivating too, because Draksler is a great story-teller, somebody who gets your attention and never lets it wander away, because new stuff comes up all the time, like twists in a plot and new characters entering. And it is so fresh, like morning dew, like a bowl of fresh salad, like cool water on a hot day. 


You can buy it from