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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bradford/Gjerstad Quartet - Silver Cornet (Nessa,2014) ****½

By Josh Campbell

Bobby Bradford has been a longtime favorite of mine, and I had the pleasure of seeing him perform back in October at the Angel City Jazzfest. Hints of Bradford’s time with Ornette are always present in his improvisation, but the dusty blues of growing up in Texas are the prominent and dominant presence in his voice on the cornet.  Augmented with Frode Gjerstad on alto saxophone and clarinet, the band flows freely like the crest of an ocean tide. Pulling out, crashing at times, and simply flowing at others. Gjerstad approaches the music like a painter to a blank canvas. Letting his saxophone paint the picture, and at times stepping back and admiring what is before him. His strategically places stokes fill the blanks left by Bradford.  With Ingebrit Haker-Flaten on bass and Frank Rosaly on drums, the quartet roars and whispers through-out the 45 minute journey.

The album begins with the, just shy of 19 minutes, “Silver Cornet tells”. The opener starts with Bradford playing fragments of various phrases before Gjerstad takes an extended, spacious solo.  Although the date is a quartet outing, you are more than likely to hear a smaller combination, either trio or duo, of any assembly than you are the entire ensemble.  About halfway through the opening track, Bradford returns with a mute and engages Gjerstad matching his cornet to Gjerstad’s jagged alto phrases. Afterwards Haker-Flaten takes a beautiful solo before matching wits with Rosaly, with a chemistry that appears to have formed long ago. The following song, “a story about you” features the quartet engaging more as a foursome. The music hits a high before Rosaly solos, playing, if I didn’t know better, everything in the kitchen. From there the music leaves Bradford back at the helm spitting fragmented boppish lines as Rosaly guides the tempo.  Gjerstad returns to trade blows with Rosaly before Bradford and Gjerstad engage in some friendly fire. The album concludes with “and me, me and you”, a spirited affair that leaves you wanting a second set. The CD comes packaged with beautiful artwork and liner notes that complement the music.  One of 2014’s best in my opinion and recommended highly.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Tony Malaby - Tamarindo & Tubacello

By Paul Acquaro

Not so long ago, I had the pleasure of seeing a gig that paired up saxophonist Tony Malaby, drummer Gerald Cleaver, and bassist Ingebrit Haker-Flaten at the tin foil lined JACK Arts in Brooklyn. The music from the trio was just cooking. There was a point in the groups playng when there was no longer a group, but a THING. To start this review, I thought I would first share a video of the gig - expand it to full screen and enjoy:

Tony Malaby's Tamarindo - Somos Agua (Clean Feed, 2014) ****

The release concert for this gem was at the Cornelia Street Cafe, a tiny sliver of old Greenwich Village - from a time before all the frozen yogurt, macaroon shops and luxury condos. You can still line up to squeeze into the basement of the club and enjoy some insanely good music. Malaby's Tamarindo hit the stage there last year to play 'selections' from Somos Agua, or rather, music like you may find on Somos Agua, because as far as I can tell, this is music that can only really happen once.

This release though does a great job capturing the trio, sounding as alive on the CD as they did on the stage that night. Between the interactions of bassist William Parker, drummer Nasheet Waits, and of course saxophonist Malaby, there is so much to hear. The great strength of Tamarindo, to my ears, is the way Malaby will play inside, outside and all around his saxophone, but never once will it sound out of place with whatever else is happening. Maybe it's Waits, whose drumming can be subtle and reactionary, exploratory and reserved, or rumbling and aggressive like on the opening "Mule Skinner". Or maybe credit goes to William Parker, whose participation on a session does not necessarily guarantee its success, but seems to come pretty damn close. His playing, whether arco or plucking a pulsating bass-line, directs individual embers into a mighty conflagration. But no, the credit goes to the whole combination, a trio of musicians who really know how to craft a sound.

As I write this, it may seem that Somos Aguas is a powerhouse of a album, burning on all cylinders, And while these three are more than capable of making your old CD player combust, here they often hold back the volume a bit and explore the tensions and textures. The follow up to Mule Skinner is 'Lorretto', in which space is used along with light extended technique to evoke a certain melancholy. '*matik-Matik*', up next, is an upbeat tune that relies on a tasty melody that spins our of Malaby's horn over time. Here, Parker and Waits syncopated play gives Malaby something in which to get entangled. the group expertly turns up the heat on this one - it is an absolute album highlight.  Honestly, almost the same can be said about "Can't Find You ...", another slow build that reaches an apex and then crumbles wonderfully as the trio deconstructs what they just built.

This outing from Tamarindo is really enjoyable, all three are master at their craft and what they accomplish together is certainly well crafted, but free and exciting. By amping up the quiet - so to speak - Somos Agua's high points are that much higher and the quieter stretches are nuanced and captivating.

Tony Malaby's TubaCello - Scorpion Eater (Clean Feed, 2014) ****

"This band has a different type of gravity that playing with just a bassist simply doesn't have," writes Tony Malaby about Tubacello, the group behind his latest Clean Feed recording Scorpion Eater. Needless to say, Tubacello, a new configuration for the saxophonist, is a bottom heavy combination - with tuba and cello adding new textures and sounds that are not too often heard in free jazz.

The group joining Malaby is Chris Hoffman on cello, Dan Peck on tuba and John Hollenbeck on drums. It's not just the instrumentation that make it different, but really in how they jell. In fact, after giving this a listen, I am reminded a bit of how the fantastic Dogon A.D. from Julius Hemphill made my jaw drop when I first heard it - especially in regards to how the cello introduced such rough hewn textures to the lurching grooves. Forty three years later, Scorpion Eater, though a much different recording, still introduces something unexpected and moving in its rich sonority.

The low frequency of the combo is really quite versatile and gives Malaby a lot of room to experiment. For example, on ''Buried', which opens the recording, the track beings mid sentence, so to speak. The group, already in full motion, shows off its full range of sound and fury between a syncopated melody that introduces and ends the short piece, and leads into the uptempo 'Trout Shot'. The track 'Fur' is a textural piece with sounds floating in the background as the instruments play slow measured lines. 'March (For Izumi)' sees the sax playing in the upper register with the cello providing counter motion in the lower middle, while Peck ably handles the bass role. 'Bearded Braid' slows things down. The ambient piece unfolds slowly, each instrument taking an extended solo as the song builds to an intense climax.

Tubacello's instrumentation opens a lot of interesting possibilities - whether it's providing a ambient canvass on which to build his ideas slowly, or creating deep and effective grooves, the combination works.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Keith Jarrett Trio – Hamburg ‘72 (ECM, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

Today Keith Jarrett is rather notorious for the stern reprimands of his audience. The reasons are photographing or coughing. His public-bashings have earned him the reputation of a capricious diva, especially after he was expelled from the Umbria festival after a legendary rant in 2007 (the organizer took back the expulsion for the festival in 2013). Unfortunately, Jarrett is now in danger of being remembered more for his arrogance than for his art, which is a pity if you listen to recordings like Hamburg ’72, a beautifully recorded live concert by his first trio with Charlie Haden (b) and Paul Motian (dr).

And if you listen to Jarrett’s current Standards Trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, which has recorded marvelous albums on the one hand (for example the At the Blue Note box set) but which has also stagnated in high-polish boredom recently on the other hand, or to Jarrett’s rather failed solo performances like Radiance or Rio, this recording makes you feel nostalgic. Haden and Motian are congenial partners for Jarrett, they are far more present than Peacock and DeJohnette, especially Haden’s well-structured, voluminous and earthy playing enabled Jarrett to rock and swing lustily that it is a real joy. The band is moving to and fro between modern jazz, lyrical ballads and free improvisation, since Jarrett is not only on piano on this album but also on flute, percussion, and soprano saxophone. It is a real surprise how excellent Jarrett is on these instruments emulating his great idol Ornette Coleman (one of the compositions is called “Piece for Ornette”), even if it helps that he is augmented by an exuberant Motian and a robust Haden, who prove that they could play very freely as well.

“Rainbow”, a composition by Jarrett’s former wife Margot, is a typical Jarrett waltz and gradually shifts to an improvisation alternating majestic and very quiet chords – something he has become famous for with his later albums like The Köln Concert or Bremen/Lausanne. There is an enthusiasm in his playing which is so often missed today. The real highlight of the album is “Take Me Back”, a track based on the chord progressions which have almost become a Jarrett-cliché later on, but which sound so fresh and energetic here that you want to plunge in them forever. You can even hear Jarrett jubilating in the background before the piece flows into  “Life, Dance ”, a wonderful three-minute-miniature,  in which he varies the theme of the Friedrich Hollaender/Marlene Dietrich classic “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt”. The album ends with Haden’s “Song for Che” from the legendary Liberation Music Orchestra album with Haden bowing wildly and Jarrett who starts the piece on saxophone and comes back to sparkling piano chords at last.

Hamburg ’72 is a lost classic, only the flute part on “Everything That Lives Laments” is a weaker moment, which is just saved by Haden’s powerful expression and Motian’s very subtle, finely engraved and rattling percussion.  And itis another treasure raised from the ECM archives. It’s a great opportunity to re-discover Jarrett and this marvelous trio.

By the way: There is a lot of coughing in the audience.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Michael Francis Duch – Tomba Emmanuelle (Sofa, 2014) ****

By Dan Sorrells

Large auditoriums create metainstruments. Or in this case, large mausoleums.

“In the sense that it, too, changes sound, we can consider the musical space of a concert hall to extension of the musical instruments played within it,” write Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter. “When listeners attend a concert hall, they are placing themselves inside the large resonant enclosure of metainstruments.” Michael Francis Duch’s second solo album, Tomba Emmanuelle, was recorded in the Emanuel Vigeland mausoleum in Oslo, a building famous for its incredible natural reverb. Here, it also becomes the expansive grotto of Duch’s meta-bass, the dark resonant cavity in which the musician sits, like a homunculus in an empty skull, or—to borrow from Stig Sæterbakken—Jonah inside the whale.

Tomba Emmanuelle essentially begins in a state of reverb—a drone that materializes with no attack, no apparent force setting it into motion. The piece was designed to be played by one or more basses (and indeed has previously been performed with as many as seven bassists), and according to the liner notes “explores different registers, timbres and acoustic effects of the instrument in the relation to the room it is being performed in”—or, to put it another way, showcases the unique timbre and capability of a protean and immense metainstrument.

As Duch methodically bows the strings, amazing trails of notes begin to chase each other across the room, creating complex, pulsing drones and microtonal oscillations in pitch. Listening through headphones, a panning effect develops as the drones increase in volume: huge volleys of sound reflecting back and forth in the room, colossal waves cascading off the darkened, frescoed walls and crashing across the microphone.

“A wonderful sense of being consumed,” Sæterbakken once wrote, “this is what the Vigeland mausoleum offers its unprepared first-time visitor. But the feeling does not fade with repetition.” Such is the sense for the listener, too, the thick blanket of Duch’s bass offering no respite from its sonic weight as its reverberations steadily proliferate. A little over halfway through, Duch switches to a more percussive use of the bow, bouncing it in skittering glances off the strings, creating a hypnotic rhythmic figure that glides over organic feedback, at times converging into tones nearly as pure as sine waves.

What’s most remarkable about Tomba Emmanuelle is that in its relentless exploration of the performance space, it actually transcends it. What begins as acoustic bass in a really reverberant room becomes so rich and complex that at times the influence of the room drops away entirely—your brain stops aurally mapping the contours of the space and begins to perceive only new, emergent timbres. In the final minutes, Duch wrests a few harmonics from the bass, and hearing how the tomb splays and twists them before they melt away is almost as revelatory as the overwhelmingly dense passages of the preceding half an hour.

Tomba Emmanuelle was heroically recorded by Thomas Hukkelberg. The complexity and depth of sound could easily have overwhelmed a lot of recording setups. It almost goes without saying that the music on Tomba Emmanuelle could easily overwhelm a lot of listeners, too. But as Sæterbakken mused: “isn’t that what drives us, repeatedly, toward art in any form, the dream of being overpowered…of becoming one with the object in question, melting into it?” Huddled in the belly of the very instrument itself, dissolving into sound, delighting in being devoured again and again.

Listen to the full second part of Tomba Emmanuelle here:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Alexandra Grimal and Giovanni Domenico: Chergui (Ayler, 2014) *****

Reviewed by Joe

This is one of those records released in the last half of 2014, however, due the sheer quantity of albums to listen to this one got stuck in the 'things to listen to' pile, which, unfortunately, means the review comes a little late, although in this case better late than never!  

Chergui, a double album, is a collection of duets and solo pieces which are - I imagine - a combination of improvised performances and some compositions. The record opens with the extraordinary Prana, a solo piece by Alexandra Grimal, who develops an initial idea on her soprano which also makes use of the sound of the room - recorded in the Theatre du Châtelet (Paris) - to give the piece this extra dimension that Lacy also enjoyed using. Grimal makes full use of the acoustic, taking advantage of the theatre's sound to get the best out of the space between notes. It is an 8 minute track which is completely hypnotic, showing perfectly how an idea can be developed into several layers. What also strikes me on this, and the following performances, is the amazing control and clarity of sound that Grimal brings to this difficult saxophone, making the recording a pure joy to hear. The album never lets up from here over it's eighteen tracks, leading the listener through an intimate and yet searching set of works. 

Alexandra Grimal chooses soprano on most tracks, however, on The Window was Camel-less we get to hear the tenor saxophone. Grimal's approach to the tenor is slightly different and brings something quite special to the duo's sound which makes you wonder why she didn't use the instrument on some of the other pieces. The album is, one could say, a celebration of sound and space where Grimal and di Domenico use the theatre's space and acoustic to build some remarkable duet and solo works. One such work that appears in different guises dotted throughout the album, six in all, is piece titled Koan - versions numbered 6, 7, 8, 10, 11 & 19. These wonderful duets, almost short vignettes between the piano and soprano sax, seem to have planned themes (slightly different each time), which the duo come back to, using a slightly different approach each time to create new work.

As mentioned already there are two discs in this set. The main difference between the two is that the second disc places the emphasis on Giovanni di Domenico. This gives us a perfect chance to really listen to this composer/improviser/pianist, working melody and developing improvisations in a way which are at times close to modern 20th century piano works, and truly captivating also. Pieces such as Zai or Let sounds be themselves show di Domenico's way of combining contemporary techniques and melody into his own sound world, complementing Grimal's solo pieces on the CD. Nevertheless, the second album also has several duets which carry on from the first album. Tema Per Jan Svankmayer has a melody which leads the two to explore delicate spaces in the acoustics of the theatre. Ballata dei Piedi Volanti is another piece, that as the title suggests, treads carefully, only revealing the true nature of the melody at the end of the piece.

This recording is a must for all that enjoy improvisation at its highest level and I should add, that if there's one album you should have bought last year,'s this one!

Head over to Ayler Records to get more details, and whilst your there don't forget to look over their excellent catalogue!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mike Majkowski: An Artist Deep Dive

31-year-old Mike Majkowski is - apart from Clayton Thomas - probably the most exciting double bass player in the current Australian improv scene. He has been been very active playing with people such as Jim Denley (in the very interesting duo Blip), Jon Rose (with whom and Thomas he runs the trio Strike) and Chris Abrahams. He is a founding member of the Splinter Orchestra, a large-scale electro-acoustic improvisational ensemble. Like Clayton Thomas (as to music they seem like twins) he has moved to Berlin where he has become one of the most active members of the Echtzeit network. His style seems to be influenced by the great Barry Guy since he is a technically excellent musician and he is interested in extended techniques, often using drumsticks and found metal objects in his playing. Despite his young age, Mike Majkoski has already been a part of many interesting releases. Several of them, including his intense solo works for his homeland label Avantawhatever or the latest one on Bocian Records, have been previously reviewed on these pages. He has also joined the florid orbit of NoBusinnes Records, giving us some penetrating albums like the Fabric Trio. According to the artist’s webpage there is a lot more to come.

He is also a member of the two trios which are presented here...

Lotto - Ask The Dust (LADO ABC, 2014) ***½

By  Paolo Casertano

In the Lotto trio Majkowski teams up with the two likewise young Polish musicians Łukasz Rychlicki on guitar and Paweł Szpura on drums. Ask the dust, their first recorded effort as a group, has been just released by the Polish label LADO ABC and it points out a really coherent and mature vision in its linearity and agreeableness. The insistent bass loops set by Majkowski (and this guy seems to be totally mastering the idea that “nothing is always the same even if you repeat it endlessly” as in his latest solo work) as in the opening “Gremlin-prone” evoke a misty and at the same time warm cinematic atmosphere. It builds the perfect trestle for the bluesy western guitar layers (never invasive even when the distortion grows) while the sparse drumming on toms and the many clattering carpets help us to identify the shape of a lonely rider in a cloud of dust emerging from the horizon. The central episodes of the album, “Longing to speak” and “Comet”, are probably the best embodiment of this approach. In some particularly diluted passages of “Divided”, which is made of really little variations given by mesmerizing repetitions (conception is pretty often behind Majkowski’s compositional vision again), but also in the crescendo of the closing “Man of medicine”, it would have been fun to assist the sudden outburst of an acid Sun-Ra-like synth riff. Last but not least, I believe the mastering of the album by Werner Dafeldecker, one of the most interesting “grey eminences” in the “wide jazz area” (see his contributions to the latest Fennesz masterpiece) is worth to be mentioned here.

Ask the dust is, in my opinion, a good example of open-minded jazz with no fixed or overwhelming references, pleasurable to listen and furthermore completely streamable here. But you can also buy the limited vinyl edition on the label website.

ROIL - Raft of the Meadows (NoBusiness, 2014) ****

By Martin Schray

NoBusiness has had a long history of piano trios from Marilyn Lerner/Ken Filiano/Lou Grassi’s Arms Spread Wide over Upcoming Hurricane by Pascal Niggenkemper, Simon Nabatov and Gerald Cleaver to Plaything by Gianni Lenoci, Kent Carter and Billy Elgart. Their latest release is ROIL, an Australian piano trio which was founded in 2007, consisting of Chris Abrahams (p), Mike Majkowski (b) and James Waples (dr).

Abrahams is mainly known for his work with The Necks (a highly successful piano trio featuring Lloyd Swanton and Tony Buck) and like them the music of ROIL is also slowly unfolding – but it provides a more open-ended context. However, as in The Necks the emphasis is also on collective improvisation and repetition to create a trance-like atmosphere. Abrahams’ inclination for weird yet simple figures and groove elements without confining the interactive possibilities of free improvisation meets excellently with Majkowki’s very physical and robust bass playing and Waples’ elegant and subtle interjections.

Very often the pieces begin with tentative structures from one of the musicians before the others comment on it, but then they never get stuck on a melody or a groove, they rather shift the track into another direction which often happens almost indiscernibly. A perfect example for this approach is the title track which is dominated by Majkowski playing stoically one single note accompanied by Waples on cymbals. Then Majkowski decides to alter the bass line and Waples drops out, but he is soon replaced by Abrahams playing a very contrastive and bumpy free jazz pattern with extremely high notes. In the meantime Majkowski has taken the bow and his shy arcos fade out the experiment.
It’s the controlled energy, the angular textures, the delicate dynamics that distinguish ROIL from The Necks. While The Necks’ approach is very accessible and sometimes even obvious (and I like that a lot) ROIL lives up to its name, with explorations of structures and timbres that are disturbing, fragmented and irritating.

Raft of the Meadows is available on vinyl in a limited edition of 300 copies.

You can buy it from Instantjazz.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Piano Trios

By Stef

Piano, bass and drums. I had planned a review of all the albums we received last year with this line-up, but then it grew into such a long list, with more than twenty albums, all of varying quality and approach, and many probably too similar, that I started to get confused about what was on which album by which artist. The long review died a silent death.

But here are two must-haves. Why? Because the quality of the playing is superb, as is the instrumental mastership and creative inventiveness of the musicians. Two trios with the most fascinating pianists, bass players and drummers of the moment. Both albums are a real treat.

WHO Trio - Zoo (Auricle, 2014) ****½  

This is only the sixth album in fifteen years of this fantastic trio consisting of Michel Wintsch on piano, Gerry Hemingway on drums, and Bänz Oester on bass, and we get a special present this time, with two CDs, making up for the fact that their previous album was only released in 2010, and the one before in 2004. In any case, we've been fans from the start, and they don't dissapoint us here, quite to the contrary.

The first CD is called "Acoustic" and is as we might expect, entirely acoustic, the second CD is called "Electric", and offers three longer pieces on which Wintsch also uses his synthesizer, although not all the time.

The acoustic album is my favorite. On the long "Raccitus" you could even think you're already listening to electronics, but we can only trust all the sounds are generated acoustically, again a fabulous example of how with a traditional piano trio things unheard can be created, music that captivates, that is compelling, a kind of musical page-turner where you want to know what happens next, because it will be surprising and unexpected. Even in the more accessible "Rembellarun" with its beautiful theme, the music gets elevated to an eery and yearning strangeness by Oester's weeping bass. "Sloeperr" is more percussive and angular, full of creative twists and sounds and rhythms.

I will not even try to describe the rest of the first CD, which is fairly accessible without being mainstream, never losing its intensity and incredible focus and coherence.

The electric album is also my favorite. It starts with a fun piece, with lots of quirkiness and playfulness, strong doses of surprise, and even little jokes. But then as we proceed, the music becomes darker with the long second track, called "Lamp Bowl", which starts with quiet restlessness and agitation, picking up intensity and percussive power, only to turn completely gloomy and psychedelic on "Kettle Opener", going far beyond jazz, with weird synth sounds over a mesmerising backdrop of power rhythms and nervous bass, with varying moods of quiet desperation but intense with small sounds from bowed bass, plucked strings and soft percussion building an atmosphere of agony and anticipated doom.

The whole album draws you across a broad spectrum of musical ideas, subgenres, stylistic traditions and innovations, calmly yet decisively leading the listener to its formidable climax.

An absolute joy of an album.

Grünen - Pith & Twig (Clean Feed, 2014) ****½  

Their debut album of 2010 has turned into the name of the trio consisting of Achim Kaufmann on piano, Robert Landfermann on bass and Christian Lillinger on drums. Their sophomore release delivers the promise of the first one, and we can only be sad that it took four years to hear them again on record.

Some tracks are very short, built around composed ideas, quite inventive, and full of open and unexpected interactions, others are longer, such as the albums centerpiece, "Foliage Misconstrued", which is a nervous, angular, intense seventeen minute workout, with all three instruments giving their best in a complex dynamic that is both physical and lyrical, full of contradictions and inherent tension that suddenly turns into a slow eery soundscape, full of dark rumblings and distant scraping.

On "Chitin", the extended techniques reign to create an ominous atmosphere of fragility and vulnerability, hesitating to see how far sounds can be stretched before they burst. "Mobiliar" brings us a percussion-heavy almost boppish intro that shapeshifts into a calmer, refreshing, middle section, then shapeshifting again into an open improvisation with percussive hits on drums and piano creating a context for Landfermann's bass to demonstrate sonic pecularities.

The music leads you in many directions, of nervous agitation, playful boppish treats, calm precision and avant-garde explorations into the nature of sonic interaction, and most often all in the same track.

Again, three outstanding musicians who bring us some of the best piano bass drums music around.

Don't miss either of these albums. The next equally strong album piano trio we can look forward to is Roil with Raft Of The Meadows, but that trio will be reviewed by a colleague.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Aine O'Dwyer - Music For Church Cleaners Vol I & II (MIE, 2014) ****

By Stef

Solo organ works in modern music are extremely rare, and especially improvised performances, such as this one by Irish harpist Áine O'Dwyer. She was given access to the pipe organ in St Mark's Church in Islington, UK, "while the cleaners were at work", hence the title of the album.

I am not an organ fan, I don't like the pompous and dramatic multiphonic dynamics of it, of this first kind of acoustic synthesizer, the overpowering and religious connotations of the instrument, reminiscent of the so dreaded realm of falsehood, fakery and kitsch of childhood church experiences.

Yet to O'Dwyer's credit, she plays the instrument quietly, slowly and reverently, using the church's space as an inspiration. The ambient sounds of the church, not only cleaners, but also visitors and children give the overall sound a special dimension, one that is not out there in the stratosphere and even higher heavens, but one that is close to earth, contrasting sharply with the surroundings.

I like it a lot, despite my bias against the instrument.

Part of the music was already released in 2012 on cassette (sold out), but is now in full available on a double LP or digital recording. You can order from the label.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet - Afterimage (Driff Records, 2014) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Afterimage, recently released on Driff Records, was recorded live at Constellation in Chicago and follows in the footsteps of last year's studio recording Circuitous.  As you may already know, besides the Boston based group leader pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, the group is comprised mainly of Chicago based players* – and benefits wonderfully from this East meets Mid-West dynamic. Featuring all new compositions, like the previous recording, the songs still draw some influence from the compositions of Thelonious Monk and Steve Lacy, but this recording finds the group playing a bit farther out.

The high energy 'The Ledger' kicks things off in a melodically rich manner. A splash of piano and a syncopated horn riff and then off into a cooly abstract sax solo. 'Haunt' kicks off with an extended solo from bassist Nate McBride and builds into a group crescendo that ends abruptly as the song fragments. The spirit continues on 'The Nest', which features a two chord ostinato on the piano reminiscent of Filles de Kilimanjaro-era Miles Davis over which the horns go at it. We're back on solid ground with 'Velocipede' - the saxes are wailing, the pulse is strong, the bass is walking and the drums are swinging. Karayorgis plays a hell of a solo - unexpected chords and dissonant double stops fly by, economical and precise, unresolved, yet utterly fulfilling. The title track is a treat as well, from a few moments after the open ended intro and a great bass clarinet passage, the track evolves into a multifaceted conversation and the free interchange is just perfect.

Afterimage, captured live, but sounding studio sharp, is an excellent album whose tracks expertly strike a balance between free and composed. It seems that the group, by pushing out a bit further out into the free playing, deliver yet another top notch recording.

*The group: Pandelis Karayorgis: piano; Keefe Jackson: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet;  Nate McBride: bass; Dave Rempis: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone and baritone saxophone ; Frank Rosaly: drums.

Listen here:

Jorrit Dijkstra: New Crosscurrents - Live Bimhuis Amsterdam (Driff Records, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Reedman Jorrit Dijkstra: New Crosscurrents is a sextet that seamlessly meshes a classic jazz sound, descendent of the Tristano school, with a healthy helping of full on ensemble free-playing on their download only Live Bimhaus Amsterdam from Driff records. The group is comprised of Dijkstra on alto saxophone, David Kweksilber on tenor and alto saxophone, Wiek Hijmans on guitar, Guus Janssen on piano, Raoul van der Weide on bass and Wim Janssen on drums.

The group announces itself with 'Crosscurrent' an uptempo tune with a strong be-bop drive to it. The straight ahead sax solos is augmented by the excellent comping of Guus' piano. But, it's when we get to guitarist Hijmans, whose non-obvious note and rhythmic choices in both accompaniment and solo, that the song really jells into something else. The head of 'Extrucage' has echoes of Monk and Lacy in it's somewhat spasmodically unfolding manner (Djikstra is a member of The Whammies, a group dedicated to interpreting these two influential composers work).  'Konitzology' refers to the cooler and quieter style of Lee Konitz, whose influence is echoed through the sophisticated intertwining lines of the guitar and the saxes. Hijams' textural solo is the centerpiece of 'Marshcello', which seems to be an improvised piece and one that highlights the group's rapport – that is until a composed passage form the horns is juxtaposed over arhythmic comping on the piano, and a whole new song springs forth. 'Non-Stop' boils with defiant power chords and Cecil Taylor like tonal clusters from the piano.

Live Bimhuis Amsterdam is an accessible and high energy affair, the band concept is strong and all the members play excellently. The album is an engaging mix of composition and free playing and a fun listen.

Listen, download:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

We Like We - A New Age of Sensibility (The Being Music, 2014) **** ½

By Eyal Hareuveni

The debut of the all-female Danish-Copenhagen-based chamber quartet We Like We refuses to surrender to any conventional musical boundaries. The four musicians - vocalist Katinka Fogh Vindelev, violinist Katrine Graup Elbo, percussionist Sara Rosendal and cellist Josephine Opshal - are all classically trained but seek to expand and explore much wider sonic horizons. This democratic collective refers to American minimalism - the early operatic experiences of Philip Glass, the vocal ensemble of Meredith Monk  and the highly-disciplined, minimalist rhythmic modules of Steve Reich. In adding celestial vocal arrangements inspired by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and spicing it up with subtle layers of electronics that alter and enhance the instrumental vocabulary, the group excels in the open, versatile process of sound-oriented free improvisations. The intense, often very emotional, approach of the quartet is much closer to an art-rock bands rather than to any jazz-based outfit.

The album, a new Age of Sensibility, was produced in collaboration with sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard, and is released by the label of alternative singer-songwriter Jomi Massage (aka Signe Høirup Wille-Jørgensen), dedicated to women art.

The eleven compositions revolve around a loose dramatic narrative that contemplates failed expectations from a loved other and finding one’s individual voice, literally, through short, poetic texts and the suggestive vocals of Vindelev, even when she recites wordless syllables.  The a-capella “Wakey Wakey Beast” distills such approach when monotonous, repeated vocal articulations similar to the ones introduced in Glass and Robert Wilson opera, Einstein on the Beach, to a heartbreaking realization of a failed love. Later, on “The Sound of My Voice”, Vindelev haunting, fragile delivery is gently embraced by fellow musicians as she sings: “What am i supposed to give? / I only follow the sound of my own voice”, reaching the inevitable painful conclusion on “Separation” and “I Began to Fall Apart”.  This moving understanding is followed by the poignant, meditative “Tišina” that suggests new bright colors and delicate vibrations for the new found sensibility. Soon followed by “Unite Me”. the romantic anticipation for a peaceful, quiet relationship: “Unite with me / All is loud until / you /unite with me”.

Beautiful and haunting work of art.

Visit We Like We's Soundcloud page for more...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Miles Davis Quintet - All of You - The Last Tour 1960 (Acrobat, 2014) *****

Some of my friends ask me why I rarely, very rarely, give an album 5 stars.  I always answer, “If it ain’t ‘Kind of Blue” it doesn’t get 5 stars”.  Now, that’s an exaggeration for sure because for one KOB isn’t really a free jazz album for one and secondly it’s a pretty high goal to reach for any jazz record.  Not merely because it’s the highest-selling jazz record of all-time, sales should never be a measure of artistic achievement, but because it really is a high-water mark of brilliance in any music genre.  The compositions, the arrangements, the players and the recording are a pinnacle in the annals of recorded music.  I’m sure many of us have friends who are music snobs but not jazz fans per se but I bet they own Kind of Blue (1959). 

So enter the 1960 European tour of the Miles Davis Quintet featuring John Coltrane.  20 dates, some of which is represented here on this incredible collection.  The most astounding part of these four CD’s is that no-one is playing this by then well-worn material by rote.  Do we really need eight different versions of “So What”?  Hell yes!  Because they never play it exactly the same way twice.  Though the solid and dependable rhythm section of bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb is here from KOB Wynton Kelly replaces the singular, delicate voice of Bill Evans on piano and more than amply fills these shoes.  In fact, he truly shines and I gained new appreciation for Mr. Kelly from these performances.  Much is made of Mr. Coltrane’s presence, and rightly so, but to my ears it is Mr. Kelly who is keeping the whole thing together rhythmically and harmonically and when his chance to solo comes he never ceases to amaze.  Unique, bold, original and innovative at every stretch. 

Back to Mr. Coltrane: his solos on this release are at times playful and harmonically complex as is his signature, stretching the boundaries of the themes and in fact the genre, and always interesting.  There are clear signs of the direction he would soon take on his own as a leader.  After sifting through all four CD’s I heard only one break where he seems to be sleepwalking through a blow but yet what was exciting was how he pulled his way out of it and ended up thrilling and titillating my ears, and the audience at the show, somehow (I won’t say which song it is lest I be delusional but you tell me ). 

Miles Davis himself plays some of his finest breaks in this set and clearly is inspired by the material and the band (Note: absent for these shows from the KOB band for the record is Cannonball Adderley) and very probably the audiences which are rapt during the songs and very appreciate after.  It’s clear they knew they were witness to giants in their land and showed due respect and generosity.  The recordings themselves are astounding.  Beautifully clear and detailed it’s hard to argue with the one song here that you can barely hear a Mr. Kelly solo.  Someone obviously knew what they were doing and somehow preserved it which is a wondrous thing for us to have lo these 50+ years later. 

Miles Davis first hired a then 29-year-old John Coltrane in 1955 and by 1960 his own star had rocketed and birthed what we now all call “free jazz” but these were his last performances with Mr. Davis.  This is a gift we should cherish.  Hell yes, 5 stars.  Are you kidding?  Go get it. 

P.S.-The liner notes in the book by Simon Spillett are superb and well worth a read.  Though KOB looms large around these concerts other material such as “’Round Midnight”, “Fran Dance”, “Walkin’” and “On Green Dolphin Street” also show up here more than once.  There’s also included on CD 1 an audio recording of an interview with John Coltrane backstage in by a Swedish broadcaster that is fascinating. 

Personnel: Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor sax), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums) 

26 performances in all (songs) across 4 CD’s. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Luc Ex’ Assemblée – Luc Ex’ Assemblée (Red Note, 2014) ***½

By Julian Eidenberger

It's tempting to compare this new project of Luc Ex’ with the improv quartet his former band-mates Andy Moor and Terrie Ex have launched under the Lean Left moniker. Not only do both projects (obviously) share ties to the long-running Dutch post-punk group The Ex, but both also feature some of the finest musicians the free jazz/improv world has to offer at the moment. In Lean Left, it’s Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love who hold their own against the two guitarists. Here, Luc Ex has assembled a stellar international cast of improvisers to appear alongside himself: Hamid Drake mans the drums to provide the rhythmic foundation alongside Luc Ex’ acoustic bass, while Ab Baars and Ingrid Laubrock let their tenor saxes soar above those often somewhat funky underpinnings.

However, as soon as you put on the group’s debut record, you’ll realize that there’s probably more difference than overlap between the two bands. Whereas Lean Left is dominated by two fierce and fearsome electric guitars, and by Vandermark’s and Nilssen-Love’s no less intense playing, the Luc Ex’ Assemblée is a purely acoustic affair that turns out to be comparatively laid-back; The focus here is on carefully constructed songs (all furnished by Luc Ex), not on unhinged improvisation. L’assemblage, the first track, serves as a statement of intent in this regard, with the two saxophones confined to stuttering staccato phrases, as though they’re holding back. Only towards the end of the track do they throw caution to the wind to provide some intricately intertwining lines, finally “hugging” each other greedily. This sense of careful development is also what makes the album’s highlights so appealing. On 'Zajj siht is', Baars and Laubrock again make some sweeping and dramatic statements, occasionally punctuated by more abrasive blowing and supported by snappy punk-funk rhythms. 'Primates Travel' by Train is somewhat similar in design, but a bit longer and more complex. It starts out with rather more abstract sax blowing, sometimes resembling the primates its title alludes to – and eventually giving way to a train-like chugging of the bass, on top of which Baars and Laubrock once again interact beautifully and melodically.

Those tracks certainly benefit from their short running time, feeling like well-developed musical statements while still being succinct and to-the-point. Elsewhere, though, the focus on short songs becomes a bit of a burden, and one wished that the more ballad-like cuts such as 'Unexpected Death of a Fortune-Teller' or 'When the Demiurg…' had been granted the time to fully unfurl, as they end before bringing their premises to a satisfying conclusion. Still, this is a worthwhile debut which – at its best – marries the punkish immediacy of The Ex to some rather impressive (avant-)jazz playing.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Aram Bajakian and Julia Uleha - Dálava (sanasar, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Dálava is an ambitious - and it seems - very personal project by husband and wife team guitarist Aram Bajakian and vocalist Julia Ulehla. It's a song cycle set to fragments and stanzas of poetry and verse recorded by Ulehla's great-grandfather Vladimir Úlehla in eastern Europe at the start of the 20th century. While the poems are set to music inspired by Moravian folk songs, they are performed with a free jazz ethos that straddles a line between folk and avant-garde.

The music is both ethereal and hard hitting. Bajakian's guitar slithers between sounds and scales that sets up at times a haunting atmosphere. Ulehla conveys the joys and struggle captured in the old songs. Though sung in Czech, the translations of the lyrics are printed in the CD case and a reading of them in English helps to deepen the listening experience. Timeless and to the point, the existential angst and small pleasures of life are laid out to the world again in the music Bajakian has composed:

'Eh, love, love, well, you're never stable, like water between the banks. Water flows, love ends, like dew on a clover'  - (Ej, lásko, lásko)
Ah, my god, how I have been wronged, but to who can I complain when I have no parents? In the cemetery in Strážnice there is a little bush, and there rests my old father. In the cemetery in Strážnice there is a gray dove, and there rests my dear mother.  - (Ach, bože muj)

Lyrics aside, the tunes are further brought to life by the group. Joining Bajakian and Uleha is Tom Swafford on violin, Skye Steeke on violin and Shanir Blumenkranz on bass and gimibri. You may recognize some of these names from some of Bajakian's other recordings on the blog - most particularly Kef and Axbraxas. Be rest assured their downtown ethos is fully intact and they interject the right amount of support and irreverence into the already evocative arragements. 

Be sure to check out this album, it is a refreshing take folk music, comprised of time tinted memories and remembered sounds set in a modern context. Just enjoy. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

100 Years Sun Ra (revisited)

By Martin Schray

Sun Ra is my musician of the year 2014 (together with Ken Vandermark). No kidding. Of course he left this planet 21 years ago but then again his 100th birthday was a great possibility to (re)discover seminal albums like Space is the Place, Art Forms from Dimensions Tomorrow, The Magic City, The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Lanquidity, Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy or Atlantis (to name just a few). I have also read (respectively I am reading) a lot about his life, his music and philosophy, for example John F. Szwed’s biography, essays by David Toop, John Litweiler and Valerie Wilmer and I also watched the marvelous documentary A Joyful Noise. Listening more closely to his music I recognized how influential he was and already is (for example for Mats Gustafsson’s larger ensembles).

Fortunately, there were a lot of “new” albums this year as well. The following two LPs released by the Roaratorio label even include music that hasn’t been released so far – on the one hand from around 1965 when he recorded the legendary Strange Strings album, on the other hand from 1973. Both albums present Ra as a man of contrast between way-out mumbo jumbo and profound avant-garde musicianship, his music being somewhere in space and then down to earth again. Karlheinz Stockhausen put it like that (after seeing The Arkestra perform in 1971): “I tell you, this first twenty minutes was first class avant-garde experimental music that you can’t put in any box. It was incredibly asymmetric! … But after this piece came some saloon wishy washy music. I didn’t like it at all. Sort of cheap, movie music.”

Both of the Roaratorio releases rather focus on what Stockhausen calls “first class experimental music”.

Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra – Other Strange Worlds (Roaratorio, 2014) ***½

In the liner notes to Strange Strings Tam Fiofori says that the music of Sun Ra on that record linked East and West, the instruments were “stretched, stroked, struck, picked and plucked to vibrate the air and radiate the rays of sounds in movements representing nature in music”, which is an excellent description of Ra’s music of that era. On Other Strange Worlds the Astro-Infinity Arkestra is reduced to a quintet of Sun Ra (percussion, strings, celeste, kalimba), John Gilmore (percussion, shakerae, cymbals), Marshall Allen (percussion, oboe, kora), Ali Hasaan (percussion, trombone) and Art Jenkins (percussion, space voice), the album is like a string study to Strange Strings. The titles of the pieces deal with space and the universe, the focus of the A side of the LP is on the strings and on celeste and kalimba while the B side rather features percussion – both elements referring to Ra’s music being centered in Africa (and ancient Egypt in particular). The reeds are sparsely used, the trombone only in “Voice within the Stars”, in a short dialogue with percussion, the oboe emerges twice in “The Other Beings” and in “Journey Amongst the Stars”. All in all a very nice finger exercise of one of the greatest bands in jazz history. 

Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra - Sign of the Myth (Roaratorio, 2014) ****½

Although Sign of the Myth also features the Astro-Infinity Arkestra, this is a completely different album – a studio recording from 1973, when Ra released two new albums (Astro BlackPathways To Unknown Worlds) or re-released Saturn back catalogue stuff for the Impulse label. Sign of the Myth originates from the Pathways To Unknown Worlds sessions and like In the Orbit of Ra, maybe the best of all 2014 releases, it also captures the brilliant and underestimated bass work of Ronnie Boykins – while Ra concentrates on spooky, spacey and psychedelic synthesizer sounds, which are like an electric carpet contrasting the wave of percussion and the free jazz reeds lines of the reed section consisting here of Eloe Omoe, Danny Ray Thompson, Kwame Hadi, Akh Tal Ebah, Marshall Allen, Danny Davis, and John Gilmore.  With a constantly shifting array of Moog horror movie sounds, Ra structures the pieces, for example the title track, which can keep up with the best Arkestra tracks. Ra, Boykins and the percussion section start off before the saxes fall in trying to take control of the improvisation but in the end it is Boykins’s walking bass and Ra’s synth lines which prevail and even give an outlook to where the Arkestra was heading with Disco 3000 only five years later.
Both albums are available on vinyl with download codes or on i-tunes (if you don’t have a record player).

Other Strange Worlds is sold out at the source but is still available via discogs, for example.

Sign of the Myth can be bought from the label, where you can also listen to some of the music.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Peter Kowald – Discography (Jazzwerkstatt, 2014) ****½

By Dan Sorrells

Coinciding with Peter Kowald’s 70th birthday, Jazzwerkstatt has released a box set to commemorate the legacy of the late double bassist. Across four discs, music from a variety of contexts and time periods is presented, including previously unreleased music and badly needed reissues of 1990’s The Human Aspect and 1997’s Aphorisms: 26 Statements on the Situation. This music, combined with the gorgeous, exhaustive discography book that gives the set its name, makes Discography an essential celebration of Kowald’s formidable musicianship and the impressive company he kept over a nearly 40 year career.

“I want to play simple and complex at the same time. This is one of those contradictions that may never resolve, but it remains a good ideal,” Kowald once told Michael Heffley while Heffley was working on his book Northern Sun, Southern Moon. It’s an ideal he would chase until his premature death. Perhaps the closest Kowald got to a resolution was in solo performance, where the simplest of ensembles—the musician and his instrument—attempts to convey all the intricacies of that lonesome pairing. The first disc in Discography opens with such a performance, a previously unreleased solo set from 1981. As was typical with Kowald, complexity abounds: it’s 35 minutes of spirited, technically deft bass playing. Kowald was equally at home with pizzicato and arco playing, often coaxing and juxtaposing multiple simultaneous sounds out of the bass, overlapping layers of notes and harmonics. His approach was telescopic: zooming in and out, at once adjusting the focus on some fine, nuanced detail, and just as readily spinning the dial back to bring the larger instrument into view.

Later in his conversation with Heffley, Kowald said that he thought of improvised music as “having [a] strong element of both process and decision”—that improvising is as much about the process of sound-making as it is about deciding when and how to change that process. This is true not only in the moment of improvising, but also across the arc of a career, in choosing projects and collaborators. Kowald was a ceaseless collaborator, one of the original globe-trotting free jazz-men that served as the template for today’s musicians. While the diversity and sheer breadth of his partnerships may not be apparent in the musical component of Discography, it does reflect some of his most fruitful and lasting relationships with musicians like Conny Bauer, Günter ‘Baby’ Sommer, and Floros Floridis.

Despite some negligible disappointments (the short Smith/Kowald/Sommer track is hardly representative of the trio, and Kowald’s featured tracks from Grandmother’s Teaching are strange relics of tasteless 80s production), Discography’s four discs of music are of strikingly high quality. On the second disc, a cheeky quartet of Kowald, Bauer, Floridis, and Andrew Cyrille saunter through Bauer’s “Blau Blusen Blues,” Kowald’s strolling bassline underpinning the horns as they playfully subvert traditional jazz tropes. This is the first taste of Floridis, an under-appreciated musician whose lively, whip-smart reeds lend Discography much of its strength. He appears alongside the equally brilliant Vincent Chancey on The Human Aspect (the third disc), a French horn powerhouse who’s played with Sun Ra, Lester Bowie and Carla Bley among others, and who penned most of the tunes present here. His wistful, virtuosic solo on “The Spell” is a highlight. As much as it celebrates Kowald, Discography is also to be commended for rescuing these documents of Floridis and Chancey.

The set is capped with the aptly titled Aphorisms, 26 impeccably distilled nuggets of improvisational wisdom from the trio of Kowald, Floridis, and Sommer. The tracks rarely exceed two minutes, and cover an impressive amount of ground, from chimes and throat singing one minute to Middle Eastern clarinet and hand drums the next. Each “aphorism” is a decisive statement—perhaps a perfect encapsulation of Kowald’s formula from above—the execution of a musical idea just long enough to establish it clearly before wiping the slate clean and starting anew. The album was the result of two days of recording, and while the short pieces may represent creative edits culled from longer improvisations, their brisk, assertive nature is refreshing, even after nearly 20 years.

Great as it is, the real gem of this set is not the music, however. It’s the sleek, full-color, 208 page discography booklet, lovingly and painstakingly compiled by Klaus Kürvers. Kowald’s every appearance on record is chronologically represented here: from the earliest recordings with a Brötzmann-led quartet in November of 1965, to his final trio work with Alberto Braida and Giancarlo Locatelli a mere six days before his heart stopped suddenly in late 2002. Each recording gets a full page treatment, including cover art, musician information, track names and times, recording details, reissue art and information, and more. Also included are a filmography, essays and interviews (unfortunately for me in German, but this is a German release, after all), and some of Kowald’s artwork (which includes the striking cover art). Frankly, I’ve never encountered anything quite like it.

The index of musicians in the back of the discography is perhaps the most telling: a list of over 400 musicians and groups that Kowald appeared on record with (imagine the thousands of concerts, the hundreds of other musicians, dancers, artists who aren’t captured by this list). The list contains just about any name from this music you could dream of—a testament to how far Kowald’s reach was, to his solid legacy as one of the musicians who truly laid the groundwork for the global improvised music of the present.

In the end, the best compromise between simple and complex was forged in Kowald’s dialogue with others. As Discography makes clear, whether alone or with partners, Kowald was engaged in a ceaseless exploration not only of the capabilities of the bass, but of this very music and its players, probing the full spectrum of its character from the most essential forms to the limits of musical recognition. He is sorely missed.

CD 1:     

  • Peter Kowald solo (previously unreleased, 1981)
  • Peter Kowald, Wadada Leo Smith, Günter ‘Baby’ Sommer (previously unreleased, 1981)

CD 2:

  • Peter Kowald, Conny Bauer, Floros Floridis, Andrew Cyrille (previously unreleased, 1989)
  • Wolfgang Schmidtke, H.-P. Salentin, Ludwig Götz, Tobias Becker, Jan Kazda with Peter Kowald and Marilyn Mazur (from Grandmother’s Teaching, 1987)

CD 3:

  • Vincent Chancey, Floros Floridis, Peter Kowald, Louis Moholo-Moholo (The Human Aspect, 1990)

CD 4:    

  • Floros Floridis, Peter Kowald, Günter ‘Baby’ Sommer (Aphorisms, 1997)