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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wadada Leo Smith, Joe Morris, Jamie Saft and Balazs Pandi - Red Hill (Rare Noise Records, 2014) ****

Wadada Leo Smith, Morris, Saft and Pandi - Red Hill (Rare Noise Records, 2014) ****

By Ed Pettersen

Can a record be joyous, playful and pensive at the same time?  This may be one of the few and it’s a great listen.  Wadada Leo Smith has a cutting, distinctive tone that pays homage to Miles but is uniquely its own and he shines here as the main thematic instrument.  Jamie Saft’s playing is wonderfully creative in its dissonance and perfectly complements Mr. Smith, deftly weaving around his lyrical and mellifluous horn lines.  Joe Morris plays upright acoustic bass here and his playing on record may never have been better (which is saying a lot I know).  Constantly moving he holds the pulse of the ground, even when bowing, while still being harmonically complex and ingenious. Hungarian drummer Balazs Pandi, a new discovery for me, is absolutely perfect for this ensemble. Colorful flourishes abound and he never overpowers the rest of the group while constantly moving the performances forward.

Mr. Smith is known to FJ-heads from his work with Anthony Braxton, Henry Kaiser, Matthew Shipp and a long list of solo recordings.  Mr. Pandi has played with artists as diverse as Attila Csihar to Merbow and Sunn O))); Mr. Morris well-known for his excursions with Matthew Shipp, David S. Ware and many others and Jamie Saft with his own trio, John Zorn and Bobby Previte et al.  This is their first record together as a unit and for Rare Noise Records and it is a glorious thing.  Complex, intriguing, interesting, passionate and expansive it will never bore you and keep you coming back for more.  The recorded sound is also exquisite.  Top notch all around.  Highly recommended.


Wadada Leo Smith, Morris, Saft and Pandi - Red Hill (Rare Noise Records, 2014) ****

By Stefan Wood

"Red Hill" is the debut effort of a quartet comprised of Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet), Jamie Saft (piano), Joe Morris (bass), and Balazs Pandi (drums). Saft, Morris and Pandi previously worked together with Trevor Dunn in a group called Slobber Pup, a fusion of acid rock and free jazz improvisation that was imaginative as it was relentlessly furious. On "Red Hill," the addition of Wadadah Leo Smith turns the group into a more contemplative, simmering, expressive jazz ensemble.  While the intent is that each musician has equal voice, Smith's powerfully bold and rich trumpet dominates the album, infusing each track with flavor and meaning, Miles Davis like phrasing, letting the others shine as well.  Saft's piano work is outstanding, ranging from the eccentric Cecil Taylor like aggressions to Andrew Hill's intelligent phrasings.  Morris shines here as well, like on the track "Janus Face" where he's bowing on a medium to high register, complementing Saft's playing, as the two create this mini hive of activity while Smith and Pandi play off of them.  Pandi's drum work throughout is excellent, dynamic, always active.  "Agipatic" is a good example, as Pandi really punctuates the other's playing with a rolling percussion that propels the others into this agitated state.  "Tragic Wisdom" is a highlight track, featuring Saft's piano which is light and springy, but controlled chaos, as he works through the 12+ minute track like stride pianist on acid, embellished by Smith's blurts and bleats.  "Debts of Honor" is a similar toned piece, this time with Smith out front, low keyed and muted at first, then exploding forth, with Pandi's relentless percussion driving and sustaining the noise.  Very similar to a late 60's Miles Davis session, thinking a Silent Way but looking into the abyss. "Arvedsonite" has that similar feel as well.

"Red Hill" is an excellent effort by this quartet, unscripted, yet full of meaning, strongly influenced by past elements, yet constantly pushing and looking forward to create some very stimulating music. Recommended.




Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Nu trumpets

By Stef

Some years ago, I wrote this piece on "Nu Trumpets", about the more accessible kind of modern jazz that creates mood music by mixing trumpets with electronics, very much indebted to John Hassell, Nils Petter Molvaer and Arve Henriksen. Today another one of these combined overviews, showing the breadth of scope and quality of the sub-genre.

Jøkleba - Outland (ECM, 2014) ****


The fifth album by a band that exists since 1990 may not seem very prolific, but of course these three musicians are active on many fronts : Per Jørgensen on trumpet, kalimba and flute, Jon Balke on electronics and piano, and Audun Kleive on drums, percussion and electronics (with the first letters of their names forming the band's name).

The three seasoned musicians stay close to the core concept that has guided them over the years : sparse sounds vary between primitive incantations, electronics and avant-garde improvisation. And if their previous albums had a more solid rhythmic foundation, here it is completely gone, with the little blips of trumpet and piano and percussion seemingly wandering aimlessly instead of bouncing forward like a train on the tracks, yet there is structure to it, and vision, and beauty.

Balke tells us that the titles of the pieces are inspired by authors such as Sylvia Plath, Laura Restrepo, Sadegh Hedayat, Guy de Maupassant and Ken Kesey, "in particular to their descriptions of the disintegration of identity, the human mind when it gets lost”. And indeed, that is the impression you get: despite the small size of the sonic units, the overall music is expansive and spacious, and in doing so creating the feeling of being small or lost in a vast immensity. The sounds are tangible almost and primitive like rocks on an empty wasteland at night.

An excellent album, and for the second time this month, I must admit that my appreciation of ECM increases again.


Terje Isungset & Arve Henriksen - World Of Glass (Unique, 2014)  ***½


Also from Norway is this duo of Terje Isungset on percussion and Arve Henriksen on trumpet and various horns. Isungset is known as the "iceman", because of his preference for instruments made of ice, or performances in temperatures that would make normal humans flee or freeze. We reviewed several of his previous albums on this blog: check the search engine on the right.

Now he changed his angle of attack, mabye to prolong the lifespan of his instruments by making them all out of glass. Fifteen specialists worked on producing glass trumpets and glass percussion instruments, which create, not unlike the ice instruments, a strange atmosphere of fragile beauty.

The music itself is inspired by folk and tribal primitive - in the sense of most basic - sounds, as ingredients for very modern music, with deep resonating bass sounds at times, Henriksen's soaring horns, all woven around pockets of silence and contemplative wonder, further accentuated by the tinkling sounds of the glass percussion. Even if the instruments are now made of glass, which leads to some changes, musically the album is very comparable to Isungset's previous works.



Luis Vicente & Marjamäki - Opacity (JACC, 2014) ***


Jari Marjamäki is a Finnish electronics artist living in Portugal since 1994, here teaming up with Luis Vicente, whose trumpet playing has already figured on some great albums in the course of this year, including "Clocks & Clouds", and "Fail Better", two easy to recommend albums.

The music on this album is a little different, maybe more commercial in spirit, with a more accessible and less adventurous approach, much in the same vein as Arve Henriksen's albums and sometimes Nils Petter Molvaer, as in the rock-infused "Got That Zing". There are some great moments and some good ideas too, but the approach to the music itself is too varied to make it a coherent album.

That being said, Vicente is definitely a musician to look out for.



Erik Truffaz & Murcof - Being Human Being (Mundo, 2014) **½


I am not a fan of Swiss trumpeter Erik Truffaz, although his "Benares" was really enjoyable. He is one of those musicians who make 'mood' music for sad adolescents and middle-aged ladies, with long stretched trumpet tones floating over a valley of tears, full of melancholy, even on the more rhythmic tracks, on which techno and electronic beats form the foundation for his uninspired playing, like a second-rank Nils Petter Molvaer.

I am doing a little discredit to the other trumpeters in the review list here, but Enki Billal's artwork is really good ... and sure, not everything on the album is as bad as I say it is. But what is new here?




Monday, December 29, 2014

Skein – Skein (Leo Records, 2014) ****½

By Martin Schray

Sometimes it is a live experience that draws you into the music of a band, and sometimes it’s even the circumstances of the whole evening which influence the perception of the music.

When I went to see Achim Kaufmann (p), Frank Gratkowski (cl, as), Wilbert De Joode (b), and Tony Buck (dr) in Weikersheim/Niederstetten it was clear that I would be home late. It is a 120-mile-drive from where I live and I knew that I had to hurry to get there in time. Unfortunately, I was stuck in a traffic jam and the band had already begun to play when I arrived. I was stressed out and distracted because of the delay and I was even afraid if I would be able to concentrate and focus on the music. But after two minutes my worries were completely gone. The music took me away, I was enchanted by what I heard, there was no way to escape from the sheer perfection and enthusiasm presented by the musicians. But what does this have to do with this album?

The quartet I saw then is augmented by Richard Barrett (electronics) and Okkyung Lee (c) here, which puts the already great gang of four on an even higher level. Like huge flocks of birds flying in formations (Skein is therefore a perfect name for the band), they seem to have an invisible radar sending out signals which shows them what they have to do – it is intuitive understanding par excellence. If you compare pieces like “Schacht” and “Adze” you can see what these musicians are able to do. “Schacht” is like a mad and free expressionist dance consisting of a free jazz piano trio part and which takes a different shift when electronics and cello drop in. The tempo of the piece takes incredibly fast turns, the structures seem to glide from one part to the next– and all this is done effortlessly, out of the blue, as if it was the easiest thing to do. There are moments when Buck and Barrett build a fundament of dense, impenetrable and tight percussive rubble and Lee’s and De Joode’s bowing on the low registers of their instruments create a very dark and sombre atmosphere which can only partly be redeemed by the harsh alto and piano breaks that end the track. On the other hand there is the almost accessible “Adze”, a composition full of scratching string sounds, smacking, hissing, and knocking saxophone tones and steaming electronics which are contrasted by lost piano notes, elegant cello lines and Tony Buck adding percussion that sounds like the melodious ticking of a clock.

This is one of the best albums this year, it is music of an austere beauty, full of the energy and unpredictability of free jazz and the subtlety of new music textures. Or, as someone put it after the concert, when we were talking to the musicians: “After five seconds I knew this would be a great concert”. There’s nothing more to add.

The album is available on CD and you can buy it from the label.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Solo Clarinet

By Stef

Yes, we love the clarinet, also solo. We've had great albums already this year with Joachim Badenhorst and Jeremiah Cymerman, both easy to recommend, yet there is more, demonstrating not only the great variety in clarinets, but also in what can be done with them.

Pawel Szamburski - Ceratitis Capitata (Self, 2014) ***½


We've come across Pawel Szamburski before on this blog, mainly as a member of Mikolaj Trzaska's bands, and now he offers us this great solo clarinet album. The solemn and subdued music was performed in a church in Blonie, Poland, and presents the music of five religious traditions from the mediterranean : catholic, judaic, bahai, sufi and orthodox, as are the titles of the five tracks. His playing is full-toned, warm, reverent and full of spirituality. The music is a little less adventurous than we are typically reviewing on this blog, but it's more than worth mentioning.


Listen and download from Bandcamp.


Doug Wieselman - From Water (88 Records, 2014) ***


My only knowledge of multi-instrumentalist Doug Wieselman is through is album "Dimly Lit" on Tzadik and his many other collaborations on the label. Now he offers us his first solo clarinet album, and unlike the other albums reviewed here, the "solo" has to be taken more flexibly, first, because of the many overdubs in the songs, and second because of the choir that is singing a reprise of his "Tennesee Valley" composition.

All the music is inspired by the flow of water, as heard and captured by Wieselman "This is music primarily made from melodies that I have heard from bodies of water - ocean beaches, streams, hot springs as well as wind. These melodies sound to me like a chorus of exuberant voices. Each melody is specific to the place. If I return to a beach, even after many years, I hear the same song. I think this has something to do with what the earth can tell us, if only we can take the time and patience to listen. This is an attempt to share what I have been hearing, through the filter of my perception, from water".

The music is varied, as you can expect from the various kinds of water it tries to evokate, lyrical and well-paced. There are no real musical statements or strong adventurous journeys, but that is clearly not the objective either. A nice album.

Listen and download from CDBaby.


Claudio Parodi - Heavy Nichel (CS, 2013) ***½


Claudio Parodi is also a multi-instrumentalist, classically trained and active on piano, clarinet and electronics. On this album he plays Turkish clarinet only, in four almost equally long improvisations. The sound overall is very intimate, without any spacial resonance at all, as if Parodi were playing next to you in your living room, offering the overall sound a nice quality of authenticity and proximity.

The music itself is real free improv, without any attempt even to create phrases or patterns. Notes come and go, timbres shift, internal dialogues are created and left behind, yet at times, Parodi makes reference to Turkish and Middle-eastern music, as in the intro of the third piece, with slow stretched and moaning tones, meditative or spiritual, and in my opinion that works best and in the way he brings it, without any pretence or grand goal behind it, just beauty of sound for the sake of the beauty of the sound.

The album is part of his "Sound Is My Shelter" series of solo improvisations, of which more are to come.


Jean-Luc Petit - Matière Des Souffles (Improvising Beings, 2014) ****


More improvised clarinet, but now on the contrabass clarinet, the largest sibling in the instrument's family with French specialist Jean-Luc Petit. As a self-taught saxophonist and clarinettist, he specialises in solo pieces and duo and trio formats, with close to fifty albums released so far. He also performs on Benjamin Duboc's "Primare Cantus", one of my favorite albums of 2011.

Of all the albums reviewed in this list, this one is surely closest to my heart, not only because of Petit's incredible love of sound, that transpires through every note he plays, including on the baritone sax he plays on the first track, as if he cherishes them all individually, in their vanishing beauty and their shifting tonalities. There is no plan or end-stage to be reached. Each sound evolves, organically, in the moment, and it takes not only lots of concentration, but even more vision to keep the intensity going.

The music is recorded in two different places, two churches, one the Eglise Saint-Pierre in Sers, and the other part in the Eglise Saint-Martin in Bignac, not that it matters much except maybe that the first two tracks have a stronger sonic resonance than the last three tracks ... churches have their character too.

In all, this album would get my preference. It sounds so real and true, so deeply felt and beautifully paced. A joy to listen to.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ken Vandermark/Paal Nilssen-Love – Extended Duos (Audiographic Records, 2014) *****

By Martin Schray

In the work of some artists there is an opus magnum, referring to the largest, and perhaps the best, greatest, or most renowned achievement of their art, often (but not necessarily) a late work in which they condense their mastership. Some examples might be Beethoven’s Symphony Nr. 9, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time or Rembrandt’s The Night Watch.

Extended Duos, the latest release from Ken Vandermark (reeds) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums), who have been working together since 2001and who have put out seven albums of the most excellent improvised music in the reeds/drums duo genre (for example Milwaukee Volume or the recently reviewed Lightning over Water), is such an opus magnum.

Extended Duos contains 6 CDs and 1 DVD and it is the duo’s first release on which they include guests like Tamaya Honda (drums), Jim O'Rourke (guitar), Akira Sakata (Bb clarinet), Masahiko Satoh (piano), Michiyo Yagi (koto) and Mick Beck on reeds (he appears only on one track on the DVD). The duo is also playing on its own and their performances bookend the box set.

Even the arrangement of the music is appropriate for an opus magnum. With their duo performance in Moscow on the first two discs Vandermark and Nilssen-Love present why they have always been one of the greatest  reeds/drums duos on the scene, it is a marvelous state of the art, an exhibition of their excellent interplay, a summary of their art – in a nutshell: a reference to their own past. The last CD, another duo performance, points to the future. Compared to the Moscow concert, the duo seems changed and willing to go somewhere else. In between, with the literally extended and augmented duos, they present something different, something which shows them on new territory, where they have never been before – and especially here they show that they are willing to take that risk and explore that territory.

In detail the first part of the Moscow concert presents a highly intensive duo which could easily compete with a large band. It is a blistering performance that starts off with both musicians at incredible speed, Vandermark cannot deny his love for hard bop and funk here and Nilssen-Love is willing to support him on the one hand but on the other hand he is self-confident enough to set own standards. But there are also contemplative moments when Vandermark plays balladesque and bluesy lines in front of Nilssen-Love’s hyperactive drumming. It is pure joy to listen to all the dropping ins and dropping outs, with Vandermark playing high notes which are at the threshold of pain, and Nilssen-Love being all by himself when he is just the typical tornado of drums.

The second part (“Moscow 2” – “Moscow 4”) showcases Vandermark’s physical, muscular and even voluptuous sound even more, he ejects repetitive staccato riffs that – if he played the guitar instead of the saxophone – were pure speed metal (if you feel like it, don’t hesitate to do some headbanging). These moments are juxtaposed by parts where they remind of John Coltrane and Rashied Ali on Interstellar Space. Both variations are also characteristics of the duo’s music.

The Chicago concert on the last CD, recorded at the Hideout in June, 2014, looks ahead. Especially in the first part and at the end the music is more transparent, straighter, sometimes even airy. Vandermark takes on elements of Colin Stetson’s circular breathing approach (although in a more fragmented way), melancholic blues lines alternate with disguised techno house riffs and minimal heavy rock. Nilssen-Love brings down his style to straight, yet complicated rock beats. Reduction and disruption seemed to be the order of the day, to the disadvantage of harsh overblowing and hard bop lines (although they are not completely gone, of course). In the end they do not deny their heritage, the proved and tested elements always shine through, they build the solid foundation for the future.

This would already make a very good album – but not a great one. However, Extended Duos is full of almost unforgettable highlights (another characteristics of an opus magnum), and these highlights are the co-operations with the guest musicians.

The Tokyo performance with Masahiko Satoh, Jim O’Rourke and Akira Sakata is awe-inspiring, especially on CD 4 when Vandermark and Nilssen-Love are first supported by piano and guitar and on top by Sakata on Bb-clarinet. First the quartet seems to look for a certain direction but after the first half of the 25-minute-trip (“Tokyo Part 7”) they make you feel as if you were sitting in a high speed car on a salt lake shifting up gear after gear to break the sound barrier. And when you have achieved this Sakata joins in and you literally take off (“Tokyo Part 8”). These six minutes belong to the best music I have heard in the last few years as to intensity, grandeur, madness, collaboration and beauty.

The last part of the Tokyo performance sees the two protagonists with different partners. Vandermark teams up with Tamaya Hondo as a drummer and especially the second piece with him proves how easily Vandermark is able to adjust himself to a different partner since he plays much more discreet (like Honda), almost dream-like. Nilssen-Love’s collaborators are Akira Sakata and Michiyo Yagi (koto) and from the very first note we have high-energy free jazz again (and maybe at the moment there is hardly a better drummer on the scene for this kind of music than Nilssen-Love). Sakata is a very powerful saxophonist (Japan’s equivalent to Peter Brötzmann) and Yagi’s sound reminds of Massimo Pupillo unplugged, she is strumming full chords yet she is transparent and crystal-clear. The last part of “Tokyo Part 15”, when Nilssen-Love joins the Yagi/Sakata duo here, is another climax of this magnificent concert.

Unfortunately, I received this outstanding box set too late, so it didn’t make it to my top ten list. Both musicians are able to fall back on their already impressive work, they use it and they are able to set new standards, not only for themselves, even for the whole genre of the reeds/drums duo. If there was no new release in January and you could only listen to these six CDs and one DVD you wouldn’t miss anything. A true masterpiece!

Listen to “Tokyo 8” here:




You can get it here.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ken Vandermark - Nine Ways to Read a Bridge (NotTwo, 2014) *****


Bridges are a symbol of bringing people together, of communicating with each other, of connecting ideas. What else could reading bridges in the context of the music we usually talk about here mean but presenting different approaches of making music and trying to understand how communication works? Who else but Ken Vandermark has been constantly presenting such approaches by crossing the borders between hardcore jazz/punk (with The Flying Luttenbachers), noise core (with Zu), free funk (with Made to Break), new classical music and of course with his various free jazz/improv projects (everything from duos to larger ensembles like Audio One or the Resonance Ensemble) – and these are only a few examples! Ken Vandermark is simply one of the great masters of notated music and completely free improvisation.

This year he has turned 50 and maybe this is why he has been inspired to release so many explicit and exuberant projects like DKV Trio’s “Sound in Motion in Sound” (5 CDs), his duo with Paal Nilssen-Love and guests called “Extended Duos” (6 CDs and 1 DVD) and “Nine Ways To Read A Bridge” (6 CDs), a collection of duos with Agustí Fernández (p), Christof Kurzmann (electronics, voice), Joe Morris (g) and Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet, alto & tenor saxophone, alto clarinet) and trios with Nate Wooley (tp) and Paul Lytton (dr) on the one hand and Eddie Prévost (percussion) and John Tilbury (p) on the other – nine musicians (including himself) which display their idea of working together.

And it is no coincidence that Vandermark is part of so many projects, it is part of his philosophy as a musician. In an interview with the Montreal Gazette he said that “to get a sense of what I’m about musically you’d need to be aware of some of the variety of what I’m doing, because they’re all connected. Most of the people I work with all work in a myriad of styles. I think that process has always been there, but the difference in recent years is that now musicians tend to work in parallel with a multiplicity of ideas as opposed to having one group with whom they work for years."

With “Nine Ways To Read A Bridge” Vandermark has released an album which puts this philosophy into practice. When he plays with Agustí Fernández he adds his whole arsenal of styles to Fernández’s (prepared) piano, it’s like a flight of weird bumblebees drunk on too much nectar. The Catalonian pianist is at his best in tracks like “Probes” and especially “Points versus Spheres” when he is scratching, bowing and tearing at the strings inside the piano, and with Vandermark almost playing like Colin Stetson.

Vandermark and Christof Kurzmann have known each other from their collaboration in their extraordinary band Made to Break. While the duo with Fernández can be considered as a clash of two soloists, Kurzmann rather adds sound layers over which the reeds can soar.

On “Krakow 2” Kurzmann’s voice, which sounds a bit like a dirty, working class David Sylvian (“… nor will it save our asses from a faith to cruel to mention when from our greed and madness we have sucked the planet dry”), adds a dramatic and sombre element to Vandermark’s desperate saxophone.

While Fernández and Kurzmann are about the same age, Vandermark’s duo with Joe McPhee is a meeting with one of his heroes (they have play together quite often in Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet). The concert, which was recorded in Milwaukee, is a collection of rather short and classical (free) jazz fragments. There are a lot of introspective, even balladesque moments (“Milwaukee 1”) which are contrasted by painful and angular outbreaks (“Milwaukee 3”) – but in the end the music shows where both actually come from (the blues). And last but not least the music focuses on the great respect the two have for each other.

His duo with Joe Morris on guitar is a complete contrast to the CD with McPhee. While that one is lush and rich as to sound, the concert with Morris is as dry as a bone (and this is not negative). It’s hard to believe that the set was recorded in Chicago, it is music for grubby, miserable deserts.

The highlights of this box are the two trio CDs at the end which could hardly be more different from each other. Vandermark joins collaborations that have a history: Nate Wooley and Paul Lytton have recorded several albums since “Untitled” (Broken Research) in 2008 and Eddie Prévost and John Tilbury, founding fathers of British improvised music, have been playing together at least since AMM’s “Laminal” in 1982. In the trio with Wooley and Lytton Vandermark sometimes plays percussive or minimal riffs to structure the improvisations (“Montreal 2”) and to give Wooley’s and Lytton’s solos a strong foundation. It’s the most free jazzy album of the box set – and my personal favorite. The last CD, recorded at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter at Høvikodden in Bærum, Norway, is an exploration in sounds – no real surprise with Prévost and Tilbury. You can hear a very different Vandermark here, a musician who lets the music breathe, whose notes seem to get lost in the halls of the museum, who perfectly contributes to the musical conditions and the environment. Compared to the hectic and joyful trio with Wooley and Lytton this one is much quieter, yet equally fascinating.

With this box set Ken Vandermark proves that his music and his style cannot be pidgeonholed or codified, ”as soon as you define an art form, it’s done, it’s over”, he once said.  My friend Peter, a dedicated follower of his music, says that his music has always been full of surprises, that he is constantly ready for the unexpected which is why he is one of the great innovators on the scene.

The album is available as a 6-CD-set and can be bought from the label  or from Instantjazz.


Side A - In the Abstract (NotTwo, 2014) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Side A's In the Abstract is the follow up to 2012’s wonderful In The Margins. The interaction between Ken Vandermark's reed work, Håvard Wilk's sympathetic piano playing, and Chad Taylor's impeccable drumming pushes the somewhat traditional, but wholly original, trio into exciting and new musical territories.

The opening track, 'Cadeau (for ManRay)', sets the stage. The trio delivers rapid lines, pulling melodically in different directions, while the drums steady pulse offers some grounding and mitigation of the tension. The follow up 'BMC' is a lovely track, featuring a lithe melody as playful as it is serious, playing deftly, dancing over, under and through the chord progression. The next one 'Semiology' is a lovely reminder of how connected Side A is as a group. Wilk's touch at the piano is just right for Vandermark's clarinet work - spare but precise, placing notes at exactly the right time and Taylor's percussion strikes the perfect time to texture ratio, never dominating and always right there. The mood changes on 'Dhill', which digs into the deeper registers and proceeds at a slower tempo, Vandermark and Wilk's melodies intertwine, eventually building to a crescendo at the end of the track. Playfulness ensues again with '29', puckish rhythms, bright tones and a brisk tempo lifts the mood (at least for a while). The closing track - '4 From 5 To 6 (for Fred Hopkins, Steve McCall, Henry Threadgill) ' is brilliant, with a Cecil Taylor like spirit inhabiting the piano.

Side A's In the Abstract is a pleasure to get to know. The diversity of approaches keeps each song feeling fresh and the ideas flowing from song to song. Put this one on repeat and spend a couple hours together, it's quite worth it!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Lehman vs Lazro & Léandre - A clash of two visions of music?


By Stef

I would like to have this discussion, and hear other opinions. The fact that Steve Lehman's "Mise en Abîme" is so highly rated in many end-of-year lists, including on this blog, but not only here, also on NPR and some other specialised jazz publications ranked the album in the number one spot, is a little surprising to me.

Lehman's album is good, without question. But only that. His concept is clear, the execution fabulous. On his "Travail, Transformation & Flow" of 2009, I wrote the following : "The overall complexity seems to have a suffocating effect on the liberating sounds that I would expect from jazz improvisation, here pushing the musicians to the kind of concentrated thinking that kills emotional delivery. There is, as a consequence, insufficient fluency, nor lyricism", and I could say the same about "Mise en Abîme". It sounds harsh, but it isn't. You cannot but admire the compositional complexity, including the shifting rhythms, the tight arrangements and the post production. You cannot but admire the great performance of all musicians, and of Tyshawn Sorey in particular. But then what? Art is more than skillfully organised sound. Art is more than perfect delivery.

Then listen to Daunik Lazro's and Joëlle Léandre's "Hasparren", which is almost the mirror image of "Mise en Abîme". And I chose this album because it came on my number one rank as album of the year. On this album, you have two musicians who improvise without any plan at all. Their sounds could go in any direction. Yet they don't. They interact freely, but in a focused way. They make you hear things behind the music. They offer authenticity of voice, depth of emotion, moving the listener from contemplative moments to instants of great agitation and nervousness, and you are even shaken at times, obliged to listen to things you may have wanted to avoid, but here you have no choice. You're in it. And you're part of it. You have no choice. It's gripping. It's true music.

Lehman keeps the listener at a distance. There is no other way. You are forced to watch the proceedings with your cognitive capabilities. It is cerebral music. You are stunned and perplexed by the complexity and the cleverness of what you hear. You are forced into admiration by the skills and you are forced reflect on it, all the time. Lehman seems to say: 'look at me, look at what we're doing'. The listener is kept at bay. He has no role to play.

Lazro and Léandre invite you in. There is also no other way, apart from turning of the music. There is only one way you can listen to this music, that is emotionally. How they do things is irrelevant. It's how it touches you, how it sounds. The purity of it. Because they have stripped the music of all irrelevancy. Done away with meter, with themes and structure and such. Done away with everything that could impede on the freedom of their authentic expression, unadultered and raw and pure and sensitive. The difficulty of that is beyond comparison. This can only be done by the most talented musicians. You have to be your instrument, so to speak, or your instrument becomes you. And then you dialogue, then you interact, challenge, reinforce, change and go deeper. And if this is done well, it resonates with the listener, at a depth that is beyond the music, that is beyond words. Call it an aesthetic experience, call it magic or even mystical, but it is in any case not cognitive. Your brain and your knowledge and your cognitive appreciation have nothing to do with it. Nothing.

Lehman puts music back into a straight-jacket, stifling and suffocating. Lazro and Léandre make it breathe, give it freedom, liberate the listener.

Don't misunderstand me. Lehman does a great thing : he is looking for new form. He is trying out new things. And that by itself deserves applause. He is not afraid to venture into new spaces. Yet he stays within the idiom of the jazz of the fifties (and in this case deliberately). The jazz that Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler and John Coltrane wanted to move away from. Their aspiration was to get music out of the confines of form, and entertainment, and set it free, expansive, majestic and spiritually ... and turn it into true art, as do Lazro & Léandre.


I welcome anybody with the opposing view to send in a reaction, and we will publish it too. You can send it to freejazzblog@live.be.


DKV Trio - Sound in Motion in Sound (NotTwo, 2014) *****

By Antonio Poscic

“You never know the value of what you have till you lose it.” In the case of DKV Trio, we’ve only recently become fully aware of the truthfulness of this statement. Indeed, we’ve missed them very much during their “hibernation” (early 2000s to 2008). Luckily, they are back in full force and they have been showering us with great releases for the last couple of years. There’s even better news: Hamid Drake’s (drums and percussion), Kent Kessler’s (bass), and Ken Vandermark’s (reeds) new mammoth release “Sound in Motion in Sound” (5 CDs, 5 hours of music!) is one of the peaks of their creative output.

This album actually consists of five recordings of extraordinary concerts performed in the past two years. The first two CDs feature two shows that follow closely in the steps of those which appeared on their “Past Present” box set released in 2012. These gigs demonstrate a well-known, familiar sounding DKV Trio in great form. Still, while these performances are a magnificent example of improvised music and free jazz, a feeling lingers that the musicians back then were searching for a proper common language and trying to renew a complete mutual understanding. It’s over the next three CDs, recorded during the end of last year and the first half of this year, that we really begin to understand the might and alchemy of the trio. They are tighter, more explosive, and ingenious than ever. Imagine every DKV Trio’s signature element coming together in a remarkably dazzling, fiery display of musical prowess. There’s an almost palpable quality to the way that the musicians meld their ideas and approaches together. There’s groove propelled by Drake’s funky, loose drumming, there’s melody in the bass lines, there’s dissonance and conflict in Vandermark’s fluid, mercurial playing.

The songs are mostly improvised, but since they often use a composed basis to get going, you’ll still find bits and pieces between various shows which sound similar and obviously emanate from the same ideas. Trying to understand these variations and changes in approach that the band embarks upon from evening to evening opens an entirely new dimension to the music. The mood of the players, the venue, the audience, all of these variables and subtleties fuel the entropy that forms a DKV Trio set. I must say, it’s quite an accomplishment that the band remains so fresh and creative after 20 years of activity.

It would take me a 50-page essay to correctly dissect and analyze the five hours of music on this album. The production values are high regardless of the venue and the musicians are equally inspired on each CD. It’s obvious that these performances have been carefully selected, although I suspect that you could pick any single concert of theirs on a tour and not be disappointed. This is a great recording by an unmistakable, intense group of musicians with a sound and feeling of their own. That much is clear now. I would even dare to call this album their best to date. Inspired, full of energy, harmonically, rhythmically, and even melodically rich, capable of wonderfully recreating the joy of listening to DKV Trio live.

The end of 2014 has brought us some wonderful music and DKV Trio’s “Sound in Motion in Sound” is no exception. In fact, it ranks amongst the best this year and the sheer grandeur of this release is commanding. Recommending this album is a no-brainer. Go and listen.

Available from Instantjazz.


Ken Vandermark / Paal Nilssen-Love - Lightning Over Water (LaurenceFamily Records, 2014) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Two LPs and a 7" - if you cannot get enough of the duo of reed player Ken Vandermark and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love on this album, you're insatiable - and that's just what we want. In fact, if we weren't just a little ... umm ... obsessed with the thrill that we get from music that skirts the edges, from the tightrope of free improv to the more considered composition and all that falls between, then this sad and depraved world would be just that much more sadder and depraved. So, a hearty salute to this intrepid duo and their muscular improvisation. 

Recorded at the Dragon Club in Poznań, Poland in October 2011, PNL and Vandermark continue to build upon their previously documented telepathic collaborations. On Lightning over Water, each track is engaging on its own, and taken as a whole, the set is pretty mesmerizing in its scope and depth.

Side one is comprised of the one track 'Farewell to Language' which begins with a strident groove and the throaty sound of the sax and ends with the impassioned squall of the Bb clarinet. During this journey we're treated to a range of approaches - avant funk, percussive textures, lithe melodies, and abstract yearnings.  Side two picks up right in the quieter moments where side one ends, but soon the clarinet and drums are hashing it out, with Vandermark throwing trills and PNL bashing back. The thrills continue after Vandermark puts down the clarinet and returns with the baritone sax, but most captivating is how expertly the duo creates space so that even the simplest lone woodblock can be used to fill the expanses that the two musicians inhabit. By the time they reach the final third of the side, the track titled 'Face Value', they are back with an infectiously rhythmic groove.

Throughout the recording, the two never waiver in their commitment to clear, driving, uncompromising and purposeful music that speaks directly to their dedicated - and slightly obsessed - listeners. 

Get it here or here.

Listen here:



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Albums of the Year - 2014

So another year and another 1500 albums considered for review (and that's just the ones we actually added to the list!). Taking a quick look back: this year Julian, Matthew, Chris, Ed, Antonio, Stefan, Josh, and Hugo joined the review team and we recently welcomed Eyal and Alfonso - you'll be seeing more of them soon. 2014 also saw Martin Schray bringing the Free Jazz Blog to the air on SWR2, public radio in southern Germany. His next show is on the 9th of January (stay tuned for more info on that!). Finally, thanks to all of you, we're seeing upwards of 75,000 page views a month and have a growing subscriber base ... all we can (and should) say is thank you everyone and keep listening!

And now here it is ... our hotly anticipated top ten list of albums of the year, tallied and calculated from the collective's personal top 10 album choices (listed below):

The Free Jazz Collective Top-10 albums of 2014
  1. Steve Lehman Octet - Mise en Abîme 
  2. Akira Sakata, Johan Berthling, Paal Nilssen-Love - Arashi
  3. Jemeel Moondoc - The Zookeeper's House
  4. Angles 9 - Injuries
  5. Audio One - An International Report
  6. Farmers By Nature - Love and Ghosts
  7. Ken Vandermark/Paal Nilssen-Love Duo - Lightning Over Water
  8. Marc Ribot Trio - Live at the Village Vanguard
  9. Wadada Leo Smith - The Great Lakes Suites
  10. Jeremiah Cymerman - Pale Horse / Lotte Anker & Jakob Riis - Squid Police

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


Stef Gijssels:
  1. Daunik Lazro & Joëlle Léandre - Hasparren
  2. Lotte Anker & Jakob Riis - Squid Police
  3. Jeremiah Cymerman - Pale Horse
  4. East-West Collective - Humeurs
  5. Ernst Reijseger - Crystal Palace
  6. Hugues Vincent & Yasumune Morishige - Fragment
  7. Luis Vicente, Pinheiro, Faustino & Franco - Clocks & Clouds 
  8. Skogen - Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long 
  9. Mikolaj Trzaska, Devin Hoff & Michael Zerang - Sleepless In Chicago 
  10. Magda Mayas, Damon Smith & Tony Buck - Spill Plus

Paul Acquaro:
  1. Marc Ribot Trio - Live at the Village Vanguard
  2. Nels Cline & Julian Lage - Room
  3. Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara-  Thumbscrew
  4. Ingrid Laubrock & Tom Rainey - And Other Desert Towns
  5. Raoul Bjorkenheim - eCsTaSy
  6. Max Johnson - The Invisible Trio
  7. Ken Vandermark / Paal Nilssen-Love – Lightning over Water 
  8. Ross Hammond - Humanity Suite
  9. Ideal Bread - Beating the Teens: The Songs of Steve Lacy
  10. Ana Weber - Simple

Tom Burris:
  1. Jemeel Moondoc – The Zookeeper's House
  2. Steve Lehman Octet – Mise En Abime
  3. Dave Rempis / Tim Daisy Duo – Second Spring
  4. Matthew Shipp Trio – Root of Things
  5. Wadada Leo Smith – The Great Lakes Suites
  6. Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble – Intergalactic Beings
  7. John Hebert Trio – Floodstage
  8. Colin Webster & Mark Holub – Viscera
  9. Akira Sakata / Johan Berthling / Paal Nilssen-Love – Arashi
  10. William Hooker & Liudas Mockunas – Live at Vilnius Jazz Festival

Josh Campell:
  1. Tyshawn Sorey - Alloy
  2. Roscoe Mitchell/Craig Taborn/Kikanju Baku - Conversations II
  3. Ivo Perelman - The Other Edge
  4. Bobby Bradford - Silver Cornet
  5. Jemeel Moondoc - The Zookeepers House
  6. Roscoe Mitchell/Craig Taborn/Kikanju Baku - Conversations I
  7. Darius Jones/Matthew Shipp - Darkseid Recital
  8. Wadada Leo Smith - Great Lakes Suite
  9. Matthew Shipp - Been To Many Places
  10. Nate Wooley/Hugo Antunes/Chris Corsano - Malus

Troy Dostert:
  1. Steve Lehman Octet, Mise en Abîme
  2. Marty Ehrlich Large Ensemble - Trumpet in the Morning 
  3. Franco D’Andrea Sextet - Monk and the Time Machine 
  4. Kris Davis Trio - Waiting for You to Grow
  5. Ivo Perelman - The Other Edge 
  6. Ken Vandermark/Paal Nilssen-Love Duo - Lightning Over Water
  7. Peter Van Huffel - Boom Crane
  8. Angles 9 - Injuries
  9. Max Johnson - Invisible Trio
  10. Audio One - An International Report 

Julian Eidenberger:
  1. Akira Sakata, Johan Berthling, Paal Nilssen-Love – Arashi 
  2. Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack – … Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire
  3. Steve Lehman Octet – Mise en Abîme
  4. Anthony Braxton, Tom Rainey, Tomas Fujiwara - Trio New Haven 2013
  5. Audio One – An International Report
  6. Many Arms with Colin Fisher – Suspended Definition
  7. Lean Left – Live at Area Sismica
  8. Joe Morris Quartet – Balance 
  9. Yoni Kretzmer, Pascal Niggenkemper, Weasel Walter – Protest Music
  10. Wadada Leo Smith, Jamie Saft, Joe Morris, Balázs Pándi – Red Hill

Colin Green:
  1. Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Peter Evans - The Freedom Principle 
  2. Konstruct & Joe McPhee - Babylon
  3. Paul Flaherty & Chris Corsano - Low Cost Space Flights
  4. Fail Better - Zero Sum
  5. Mats Gustafsson NU Ensemble - Hidros 6 - Knockin'
  6. Barry Guy New Orchestra - Mad Dogs on the Loose
  7. Ken Vandermark - Nine Ways to Read a Bridge
  8. Peter Brotzmann, Jason Adasaiwicz, John Edwards, Steve Noble - Mental Shakes
  9. Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit - Etra Ale
  10. Farmers by Nature - Love and Ghosts

Matthew Grigg:
  1. Pharoah & the Underground - Spiral Mercury/Primative Jupiter
  2. Audio One - An International Report/The Midwest School
  3. Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble - Xenogenesis II: Intergalactic Beings
  4. Nate Wooley, Hugo Antunes, Chris Corsano - Malus
  5. Thurston Moore, Gabriel Ferrandini, Pedro Sousa - Live at ZDB
  6. Peter Evans Quintet - Destination:Void
  7. Broetzmann, Adasiewicz, Edwards, Noble - Mental Shake
  8. Roscoe Mitchell/Mike Reed - In Pursuit of Magic
  9. Jason Ajemain, Tony Malaby, Rob Mazurek, Chad Taylor - A Way A Land of Life
  10. Marc Ribot Trio - Live at the Village Vanguard

Chris Haines:
  1. Joe Morris Quartet - Balance
  2. Sei Miguel - Salvation Modes
  3. Eric Revis - In Memory of Things Yet Seen
  4. Jakob Thorkild Trio - Art Sleaze
  5. Tisziji Munoz - Star Worlds
  6. Ken Aldcroft - Threads 10/09/11
  7. Marc Ribot - Live at the Village Vanguard
  8. Andymusic - Heavydance
  9. Tomas Fujiwara Trio - Variable Bets
  10. Tellef Ogrim & Anders Berg - November

Joe Higham:
  1. Alexander Hawkins Ensemble - Step Wide, Step Deep 
  2. Marc Ducret - Tower-Bridge
  3. Oblik - Order Disorder
  4. N.E.W - Motion
  5. Cory Wright Outfit - Apples + Oranges
  6. Olie Brice Quintet - Immune to Clockwork
  7. Tim Daisy - October Music (Vol 1) 7 Compositions For Duet
  8. Antunes, Wooley and Corsano - Malus
  9. Alexandra Grimal and Giovanni Dominico - Chergui

Ed Pettersen:
  1. Zion 80- Adramelech, The Book of Angels vol. 22 
  2. Martin Kuchen - ...And Everything Inside Came Down As Dust
  3. Michael Francis Duch - Tomba Emmanuelle
  4. Frode Gjerstad - Hasselt
  5. Zeitkratzer - Metal Machine Music
  6. Wadada Leo Smith, Joe Morris, Jamie Saft and Balacz Pandi - Red Hill
  7. Thollem/Robair - Music Minus One (For Dennis Palmer)
  8. Joe Morris and Cris Cretella - Storms
  9. Stephan Meidell - Cascades (definitely taking the guitar forward)
  10. Ken Aldcroft - Threads

Antonio Poscic:
  1. Wadada Leo Smith - The Great Lakes Suites
  2. Steve Lehman Octet - Mise en Abîme
  3. DKV Trio - Sound in Motion in Sound
  4. Farmers By Nature - Love and Ghosts
  5. Lotte Anker & Jakob Riis - Squid Police
  6. Jeremiah Cymerman - Pale Horse
  7. Angles 9 - Injuries
  8. Tyshawn Sorey Trio - Alloy
  9. Zion 80 - Adramelech: Book of Angels, Vol. 22
  10. Jemeel Moondoc - The Zookeeper's House

Martin Schray:
  1. Flying Lotus – You’re Dead
  2. Frank Lowe Quartet - Outloud
  3. L’Étau – Chose Clandestines
  4. Ken Vandermark / Paal Nilssen-Love – Lightning over Water
  5. Ken Vandermark – Nine Ways to Build a Bridge
  6. Skein – self-titled
  7. Ballister – Both Ends
  8. Akira Sakata, Johan Berthling, Paal Nilssen-Love – Arashi
  9. Marshall Allen Presents Sun Ra and his Arkestra: In the Orbit of Ra
  10. William Hooker & Liudas Mockūnas - Live At Vilnius Jazz Festival

Dan Sorrells:
  1. Daunik Lazro, Benjamin Duboc, Didier Lassere - Sens Radiants (Dark Tree)
  2. Wacław Zimpel To Tu Orchestra - Nature Moves (For Tune)
  3. Benjamin Duboc - St. James Infirmary (Improvising Beings)
  4. Zanussi Five - Live in Coimbra (Clean Feed)
  5. Angles 9 - Injuries (Clean Feed)
  6. Max Johnson, Ingrid Laubrock, Mat Maneri, Tomas Fujiwara - The Prisoner (NoBusiness)
  7. Keir Neuringer - Ceremonies Out of the Air (New Atlantis)
  8. Jeremiah Cymerman, Evan Parker, Nate Wooley - World of Objects (5049 Records)
  9. RED Trio & Mattias Ståhl - North and the Red Stream (NoBusiness)
  10. Michael Francis Duch - Tomba Emmanuelle (Sofa)

Hugo Truyens:
  1. De Beren Gieren & Susana Santos Silva  - The Detour Fish 
  2. 1000 + 1 - Butterfly Garden 
  3. East of the Sun -  ICP Orchestra 
  4. Os Meus Shorts -  Os Meus Shorts II
  5. Sylvain Rifflet & Jon Irabagon  - Perpetual Motion (A Celebration of Moondog)
  6. Baloni  -  Belleke   
  7. Ideal Bread  Beating The Teens - Songs Of Steve Lacy 
  8. Franco D’Andrea Sextet - Monk and the Time Machine
  9. Marc Ribot Trio - Live at the Village Vanguard
  10. Sylvie Courvoisier - Mark Feldman Quartet Birdies for Lulu 

Stefan Wood:
  1. The Syrinx Effect
  2. Ethnic Heritage Ensemble - Black is Back
  3. Steve Lehman - Mise En Abime
  4. Akira Sakata - Arashi
  5. Farmers By Nature
  6. OOIOO - Gamelan
  7. The Swans - To Be Kind
  8. Thurston Moore - The Best Day
  9. Rodrigo Amado - Freedom Principle
  10. The Empty Sound - Case Study 1




Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Wadada Leo Smith - The Great Lakes Suite (TUM, 2014) ****

By Stef

Without a doubt Wadada Leo Smith is one of my favorite composers and musicians. Without a doubt the musicians in this quartet are among the best you can find, with Henry Threadgill on alto and flutes, John Lindberg on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Without a doubt the quality of the recording and the quality of the release itself, with booklet and great pictures, is excellent.

And even if, without a single doubt, some of the moments of the album are equally excellent ... somehow the album leaves me wanting. Smith's compositions are not unlike what he's created in the last few years, but they are little flattened even, less expressive, with themes that build up to long sustained high tones, full of dramatic effect, good to hear once in a while, but not the whole time.

And yes, the music is great, which can be expected with such great improvisers. It is a suite for the great lakes of North America, dedicated to origin, creation and transformation over time, their vast expanse on the continent, their dynamic flatness, their 'restrained explosiveness', as the liner notes describe. "Lake St. Clair", the last track is dedicated to Oliver Lake, and not a lake at all. The music is spiritual and uplifting and contemplative and all very aesthetic, yet in doing that also very repetitive in its approach and concept, with the ever ascending tones and lengthening notes as the core musical concept.

There is a lot to enjoy, withe especially Lindberg and DeJohnette offering us some fantastic moments, and it might be a great introduction to Smith's work for those unfamiliar with his music. For the real five-star albums by Wadada, check out this blog.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Gianni Lenoci, Kent Carter & Bill Elgart - Plaything (NoBusiness, 2014) ****½

By Martin Schray

Watching the German football team in the world championships semi-final against Brazil was a celebration of grace, efficiency and perfection. The team had just put on one of the all-time great performances, it was everything that constitutes the beauty of this game. The Guardian said it had been a masterclass, that no other word did it justice. Watching it was simply awesome (if you weren’t a supporter of the Brazilian team) – and I have been a very critical fan of the German national teams (Colin once criticized me for “cheering for the enemy” when I admitted that in the 1980s I had rather supported the English team instead of the horrible yet successful way the Germans had played then).

Listening to Gianni Lenoci (p), Kent Carter (b) and Billy Elgart (dr) is like watching such a well-rehearsed, perfect team. They are able to draw from the rich history of piano trios, like a good football team they can change their style whenever it is needed, they surprise their audience with a cornucopia of structures, sounds and improvisational ideas. When they swing they sound like Bill Evans’s classic trio (for example in the title track), they can explore new classical music (in “Leeway”), there is bumpy free jazz á la Alex von Schlippenbach’s famous trio as well as the meditative, dark atmospheres Keith Jarrett’s trio delves into when they are at their best (including some Pink Floyd drumming in “Drift”), they confront their audience with prog rock breaks in “Kretek” or repetitive minimal patterns in “Spider Diagram” which is then again contrasted by ECM “kitsch”.

And everything is displayed by marvellous musicians: While Kent Carter, whose bass playing is monstrous on this album, and while Billy Elgart has got an outstanding reputation especially in Europe (although he is American) for his albums with Paul Bley, Gianni Lenoci has been new to me. But he has played with a lot of first class musicians like Steve Lacy, Joëlle Léandre, Enrico Rava, Don Moye, Han Bennink, or Paul Lovens (to name just a few). His style is the real sensation on this album – suppressed, even reluctant (it reminds of Eve Risser), he also prepares his piano and uses extended techniques. On the other hand he can accelerate and slow down at the right moments. He is clearly the captain of the team (all of the compositions except the title track are from him) and therefore responsible for one of the most surprising and best albums in 2014.

“Plaything” is available as a limited vinyl edition of 300 copies only. You can buy it from Instantjazz or from the label , where you can also listen to some samples.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Matt Nelson - Lower Bottoms (Tubapede Records, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

One may think, from titles of the tracks on saxophonist Matt Nelson's solo recording Lower Bottoms that he's a bit a jaded .... 'Sunk Cost', 'Sworn Enemies', 'Motor Mouth' and 'To Believe in What' all seem a bit, well, down. However, good to know that Nelson seems to be a master of subterfuge - not only are the tracks teeming with lifeblood but the term solo saxophone is completely subverted with the tools he applies - loops and electronics that help construct a sonic world unto itself. The end result is not what you may think of as solo sax, but a soundscape of depth and precision that gives the listener a real experience. 

The nearly 10 minutes of 'Sunk Costs' begins with the lone sax, travels through a dense patch of post-rock intensity, and ends in a firestorm of melodic phrases. 'Sworn Enemies' follows suit - in that it's not what you would expect - after a percussive beginning where Nelson is maybe amplifying the sound of his keys clamping, creating a mesmerizing sound sculpture that slowly pounds its way into an electronic skronk. 'Motor Mouth' is unusual in that you hear the sax being simply a sax. Less electronically manipulated, but still treated to some processing, the song unravels like a long tangle of melody, captivating in its circular motions. The closing 'To Believe in What' is a forlorn cry - some part primal, some part a nautical horn, and all emotion - squalls of electronics threaten to swallow the bellowing sax but it always navigates its way through the fog.  

Nelson is a member of the recently reviewed Battle Trance, another unusual sax oriented recording that plumbs the depths of circular breathing and repetition. An unique sound and approach, and another great solo saxophone recording from 2014.





Saturday, December 20, 2014

New Ears 2014: Cast your Vote

What another great round of responses! You all have proven once again that your tastes are impeccable, ears are unflappable, and have helped to confirm the observation that it has indeed been another great year for new music!

We had over 150 albums nominated for the New Ears 2014 award and though it wasn't easy to take all of the great suggestions and tease out a select 15 16, but here they are … to the right ... ready for your votes.

You can vote between now and December 31 at midnight, when the winner will be declared and a new year of new music begins. Please remember - this is NOT ABOUT THE BEST ALBUM, but about the MOST INNOVATIVE LISTENING EXPERIENCE.

So as we have said before … “cast your votes, mobilize your fans, persuade the cynics, convince the indifferent, wake up the musical sleepers .... and have fun!”


Eldbjørg Raknes & Oscar Grönberg - You Make Me Feel (My Recordings, 2014) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Norwegian, Trondheim-based vocal artist Eldbjørg Raknes is known for her a highly expressive, free improvised and wordless, vocal technique, often enhanced with a subtle usage of electronics. She is also an esteemed educator, an associate professor at the jazz department of Trondheim NTNU University, a close collaborator of some of the forward-thinking musicians as pianist Christian Wallumrød, guitarist Stian Westerhus (who mixed this album) and sax player Eirik Hegdal and runs the countryside Sjøbygda Kunstnarhus, a hothouse for artistic projects (Raknes was the one who encouraged drummer Paal Nilssen-Love to form his dream band, the Large Unit, in this place).

Raknes is also an artist that never subscribes herself to any genre or style. So it is no surprise that she wanted to explore again the jazz standards tradition but as she defines it, “where one can go with it!” She invited Swedish pianist Oscar Grönberg, who now resides in Trondheim, member of sax player Hanna Paulsberg’s Concept and the free jazz Friends & Neighbors group, to join her. The album was recorded on the second rehearsal session, with a view of the beautiful, peaceful scenery of the Stamsund island in the Lofoten archipelago in northern Norway.

The quiet atmosphere of the recording, together with the fresh, skeletal arrangements of the familiar standards charged these songs with a unique aroma. Raknes sings Gerry Goffin/Carole King “You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman) or her own adaption of American poetess Dorothy Parker “On Being a Woman” like a mature, compassionate meditation on woman sensuality from a perspective of a wise, experienced woman who has her own insights about the elusive nature of love, romance, its fragility and its great, formative power of love in our lives. The economic playing of Grönberg on songs as “Blame It On My Youth”, “When You Wish Upon A Star”, “Takes Two to Tango” or Joni Mitchell’s “River” adds a deeper contemplative dimension to these topical songs. All songs suggest and do sound now, in its modest, subtle arrangements, as offering illuminating insights on love, in its many manifestations. The last song, Stephen Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein “Somewhere” receives a minimalist-meditative arrangement that turns it into a touching lovers prayer.

The patient, leisured phrasing of the clever lyrics highlights the rich, deep-toned voice of Raknes and the profound understanding of Grönberg of the melodic essence of these songs. Both suggest an organic vibrant interplay that attempts to reintroduce and revisit these timeless emotional songs from a contemporary angle that encompasses its innocence - in most of the lyrics and the melodic core - with a skeptic irony.

Listen here:




Friday, December 19, 2014

Cory Wright Outfit: Apples + Oranges (Singlespeed Music, 2014) *****

Reviewed by Joe

I have to say straight away that this is a new one for me, a great surprise. Singlespeed mentioned in a press release that he was bringing out a record from Cory Wright, unbeknown to me this record was going to blow me out of my chair (the sofa, in reality).

Next, what type of music is it?

What really defines the music on this release is the excellent ensemble playing, combined with beautifully written charts and arrangements, there isn't one duff track on the record. The underlying trend of the music is built on tradition, and in particular that of hard-bop. Yet, the group, and the compositions, take this much, much further. The music develops in an extremely organic fashion, using some intriguing methods, tempo changes, improvised sections and hot fiery solos. The music sits on neither side of the fence, taking in straight ahead and improvised musical traditions. Cory Wright has put together a set of charts which succeed in the same way that the Ken Vandermark Five have tried in the past. Other groups, such as Atomic or Motif, have also pushed in the same direction, combining accessible melodies with alternative ways of soloing over (or with) material. 

On this record examples of that can be found from the start Freddie Awaits the Sleepers blasts off the record, a theme that could come straight from the Marsalis song-book (with a difference). Great melody, wonderfully arranged interlocking hits and rhythm section breaks, before letting the soloists play their magic over the whole thing.

That's just the beginning of the record, things keep coming at you! Low Impact Critter (tk2) starts off with some great free blowing before coming together for a theme, using an impro/theme/impro/theme type form, to great effect. St. Bruno's Preview (tk3), gives you a breather, a short 'to the point', quasi ballad. Many of the pieces tread a fine path between total freedom and organised melody, added to this the soloists negotiate each piece, fitting in perfectly. One of the key soloists, Evan Francis (alto sax and flute), plays some very fiery solos, using strong sinewy lines to bring tension to the music. Cory Wright also plays some excellent tenor sax, reminding me of Oliver Nelson at times - a way of playing a sax like a composer. He also plays clarinet on The Sea and Space (tk5), giving us new colours in the ensemble sound, and of course the solos also. But the whole ensemble is clearly top notch, Rob Ewing, on trombone, plays a key role in the ensemble's sound, adding fine imaginative solos along the way. Add to that the fine bass and drums team of Lisa Mezzacappa and Jordan Glenn who do a great job of bending over backwards to fit into all situations with equal energy and inventiveness. The album clearly works best listened to as a whole, the shorter pieces - all titled St. Bruno's .... - work as melodic interludes connecting the larger scale pieces.

Finally, as you can see there's plenty to say about this record. It's a top notch album that should be heard, especially by those interested to hear inventive music from the American west coast. This is how one imagines jazz should be, fresh, musical, adventurous, and certainly no pretensions.      

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The musicians: Cory Wright - tenor sax & Bb clarinet; Evan Francis - alto sax, flute; Rob Ewing - trombone; Lisa Mezzacappa - bass; Jordan Glenn - drums.

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p.s. Although the CD was recorded in 2013, I understood (maybe incorrectly) that the release was in 2014. Anyhow, its a great album, don't miss it! You'll find a nice live video on YouTube, for all interested. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wayne Horvitz: Conductor, Composer, Inspiration

Wayne Horvitz and The Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble - At the Reception (Songlines, 2014) ****½


By Paul Acquaro

On his Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble recording “At the Reception” - keyboardist, composer and conductor Wayne Horvitz leads a big band through a set of his compositions that involve a great deal of improvisation and are highly enjoyable to listen to, over and over again. The music is collection of themes that long time listeners of Horvitz may recognize from recordings like “American Bandstand”, “Sweeter than they Day”, and the Gravitas Quartet. What sets this set apart is of course the big band setting and the process in which he shapes the music.

In fact, it’s the later part that is discussed in the liner notes. Horvitz begins his notes referencing his work with the late Lawrence “Butch” Morris, who had developed an approach to improvisation and large ensemble improvization that he called “Conduction”. The site “www.conduction.us” offers an explanation of Morris' approach:
Conduction®: A vocabulary of ideographic signs and gestures activated to modify or construct a real-time musical arrangement (of any notation) or composition. Each sign and gesture transmits generative information for interpretation and provides instantaneous possibilities for altering or initiating harmony, melody, rhythm, articulation, phrasing or form.
As Horvitz explains, it was through a deconstruction and reconstruction of the methods that he learned when working with Morris in the 1980s that he came up with his own approach to working with a large ensemble. Unlike Morris, who worked with more spontaneous developments, Horvitz moves around composed sections and has his musicians develop their improvisations through his compositional frameworks. Though his initial work was with high school students, he transferred this approach to more seasoned and professional musicians. This ensemble is currently working out of the Royal Room in Seattle and creating music of wonderful subtlety and contrasting grand sweeps of sound. 

After the refined bass intro to “Daylight”, a composition from his rock oriented late 1990's group “PigPen”, the group explodes into  free playing that eventually funnels into a solo by trumpeter Samantha Boshnack. As interesting as the soloists are, the background playing needs to be called out too as it creates an ever changing tapestry of tonality and colors. The track “Trish” is a gorgeous movement of chords shifting and under a pleasant melody. Another highlight is on the following track "Barber Shop," a work Horvitz composed for a Charlie Chaplin movie soundtrack. It features the work of soprano sax player Kate Olson (from the duo The Syrinx Effect, whose other member Naomi Siegel also plays on this recording) and tenor player Skerik, who co-leads the joyful marching band-esque romp. “Ironbound” is a track that features the horn section in making an abstract picture. Broken into a virtual “Side A” and “Side B”, the album continues with a program of music that continues to captivate with an interpretation of Sweeter than the Day’s “Prepaid Funeral”.

At the Reception is an excellent large ensemble recording that doesn’t aim to challenge the listener by pushing them to edge, as it rather engages the listener with the spontaneous arrangements. These interpretations of Horvitz’s music are enjoyable to hear and can easily appeal to listeners beyond the dedicated avant-garde jazz audience. The album’s appeal grows more on each listen as new musical details emerge.

The collective is: Ivan Arteaga: alto saxophone; Samantha Boshnack: trumpet; Ryan Burns: piano; Eric Eagle: drums; Geoff Harper: bass; Jacob Herring: trombone; Al Keith: trumpet; Willem de Koch: trombone; Beth Fleenor: clarinet; Steve O’Brien: trumpet; Kate Olson: soprano saxophone; Naomi Siegel: trombone; Greg Sinibaldi: baritone saxophone; Skerik: tenor saxophone; Wayne Horvitz: conductor, composer


Wayne Horvitz - 55: Music and Dance in Concrete (Songlines, 2014) ****



When you pick up the LP of Wayne Horvitz's 55: Music and Dance in Concrete you may be struck by its austere beauty. The image, the booklet, the sound, all work to re-create the location of the visual and acoustic properties of a circa-1900 Fort Worden in Port Townsend, Washington, nestled amongst the temperate rain forests, jagged Olympic peaks and cool waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The album cover depicts concrete like the bunkers of the fort, and the LP size insert booklet sports a cover of a dancer, bathed in blues, reds and greens. The printed booklet captures a bit of the multi-media project it represents.

The music is modern classical and “modular”, composed out of short tracks that when downloaded from the internet (the LP contains a sampling, the download card several more) run from a minute to no more than four. According to the liner notes, Horvtiz composed 55 short pieces, and then additionally recorded 55 improvisations with a chamber group at the fort, and from these 110 pieces constructed the music that would then be later performed to dance choreographed by Yukio Suzuki.

The music is impressionistic and evocative, and it is no stranger to dissonance and uncomfortable contrasts. The tracks unfold slowly, some pieces are soundscapes and others unfold with more insistent tempos and structured melodies. There is a lot of darkness and minimalism in the grooves, as classical instrumentation, free improvisation, and a great deal of reconfiguration in the laboratory are stirred together. The resulting pieces are distinct and fascinating miniatures that are like small crystal sculptures - delicate and sharp, beautiful and just a little, satisfyingly bit, terrifying.

On the LP - or digital download - the sum of the parts is a rather a compelling soundtrack that can stand well on its own, but at the same time hints at the visuals.

The music is performed by many of the musicians that work with Horvitz in the Royal Room Collective Music Esemble. The whole group is: Steven O’Brien, trumpet; Naomi Siegel, trombone; Kate Olson, soprano sax; Beth Fleenor, clarinet/bass carinet; Briggan Krauss, alto sax; Maria Mannisto, voice; Victoria Parker, violin; Eyvind Kang and Heather Bentley, violas and Roweena Hammil, cello. Composed and mixed by Wayne Horvitz.

The Westerlies - Wish The Children Would Come On Home (Songlines, 2014) ***½


The Westerlies are a bass ensemble based in New York but originally from Seattle. They released Wish the Children Would Come On Home, an album of arrangements of Horvitz’s music, this past spring. The keyboardist contributes a Yamaha DX7 to four of the tracks, but otherwise, these are intricate, carefully arranged, impressions of Horvitz’s music played by an unusual brass quartet.

The music captures the essentials of Horvitz's compositions: the Americana tinged melodies, the sometimes abrasive but always thoughtfully juxtaposed harmonies, and their improvisational nature. With the instrumentation - two trumpets and two trombones - there is a classical feel to the music that adds some solemnity (Sweeter than they Day, Triads), along with humor (The Band with Muddy), joy (Home) and a bit of pure texture (Interlude, Wish the Children Would Come On Home). There are a lot of layers to the music, it moves slowly at times, and it’s a record that asks for repeat, attentive, listening.

The Westerlies are: Riley Mulherkar - trumpet;  Zubin Hensler - trumpet; Andy Clausen - trombone; Willem de Koch - trombone; and Wayne Horvitz - DX7 synthesizer (on 4, 8, 12, 16)